The Sexualisation of Heresy

An absolutely superb piece by Melanie Phillips this morning on her blog.

The Equality Bill currently going through Parliament is the latest and potentially most oppressive attempt to impose politically acceptable attitudes and drive out any that fall foul of these criteria. Since the attitudes being imposed constitute an ideological agenda to destroy Britain’s foundational ethical principles and replace them by a nihilistic values and lifestyle free-for-all, they represent a direct onslaught on the Judeo-Christian morality underpinning British society.

The most neuralgic of these issues is gay rights. This is because the tolerance of homosexuality that a liberal society should properly show has long been hijacked by an agenda which aims at destroying the very idea of normative sexuality altogether – and does so by smearing it as prejudice. The true liberal position, that it is right and just to tolerate behaviour that deviates from the norm as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, is deemed to be rank prejudice on the grounds that homosexuality is not ‘deviancy’ but normal. ‘Normality’ is thus rendered incoherent and absurd and accordingly destroyed altogether.  The agenda is therefore not liberal tolerance but illiberal coercion against mainstream moral values, on the basis that the very idea of having normative moral principles at all is an expression of bigotry. So anyone who speaks out against gay rights is immediately vilified as a ‘homophobe’ and treated as a social and professional pariah.

One of the key tenets – possibly the key tenet – of a liberal society is that it grants religious groups the freedom to practise their religious faith and live by its precepts. Preventing them from doing so is profoundly illiberal and oppressive – and it is not made any less so by the fact that ‘progressive’ voices inside the church themselves deem such precepts to be ‘homophobic’. This is merely the sexualisation of heresy. And what follows from heresy, whether religious or secular, is persecution.

Persecution needs an enforcer. And such a tool of oppression has been duly created in the form of the Orwellian-styled Equality & Human Rights Commission, whose role is to stamp out all such heresy. Accordingly Stonewall, the gay rights pressure group whose de-normalising agenda has been enacted virtually in its entirety by this Labour government, has not one but two commissioners on the E&HRC. And yet despite this blatant loading of the regulatory dice, gay activists have kicked up a stink over the appointment of one token evangelical Christian on the Commission, Joel Edwards — even though by all accounts he is meek and conformist in his approach – so much so that at the same Faith, Homophobia, Transphobia, & Human Rights conference addressed by Maria Eagle the Commission’s head, Trevor Phillips, actually expressed contrition over Edwards’s appointment:

Trevor Phillips, Chair of the Equality & Human Rights Commission, spoke candidly about his position in the face of the controversies over the appointment of the Rev Joel Edwards, former General Secretary of the Evangelical Alliance, to a Commissioner role for faith issues. Responding to tough questioning, he told the conference that had he known at the time of the appointment what he knew now, how deeply people had been hurt and alienated over this, maybe there would have been a different outcome.

Truly, as the joke goes, what was once prohibited has now become compulsory. Once, homosexual practice was outlawed. Now, it appears that Christian practice is to be afforded the same fate. This is a matter of fundamental civil rights. So where are the upholders of progressive values on this? Where are the human rights lawyers? Where is the voice of Liberty, Britain’s powerful human rights NGO? And where are the supposed defenders of core British and western values? Where (don’t laugh) is the Conservative Party?

Marching in the ranks of the secular inquisition, every one of them.

If any of my readers think that the banning of criticism of sexual practices is acceptable (for that is what Clause 61 in the Coroners and Justice Bill which removes the Waddington Amendment from the CJA seeks to do), please could you outline below why?

Update – For reference, here is the relevant details of the proposed legal changes:

The offence of ‘inciting hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation’ is part of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 (‘CJI Act’). Lord Waddington successfully inserted a free speech clause into that Act, which clause 61 (formerly clause 58) of the Coroners and Justice Bill now seeks to remove. Clause 61 has been passed by the Commons. It reads as follows:

61 Hatred against persons on grounds of sexual orientation

In Part 3A of the Public Order Act 1986 (c. 64) (hatred against persons on grounds of sexual orientation etc), omit section 29JA (protection for discussion or criticism of sexual conduct etc).

Section 29JA (which clause 61 seeks to omit) reads as follows:

29JA Protection of freedom of expression (sexual orientation)

In this Part, for the avoidance of doubt, the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred.

116 Comments on “The Sexualisation of Heresy

  1. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>they represent a direct onslaught on the Judeo-Christian morality underpinning British society.
    The most neuralgic of these issues is gay rights. This is because the tolerance of homosexuality

    Many of the historical manifestation of “Judeo-Christian morality” in UK law are not something to be proud of, and would most people really want a return to it?

    >>>>>>>>>This is because the tolerance of homosexuality that a liberal society should properly show has long been hijacked by an agenda

    “Tolerance” of homosexuality is certainly better than criminalising it, but I don’t see why gay people should accept that the concessions made (e.g.) in 1967 represent full equality. They don’t. “Tolerance” isn’t inclusion/representation, and the latter (even for the Tories!)should be the sort of vaues reflected in modern society.

    >>>>>>>Truly, as the joke goes, what was once prohibited has now become compulsory

    Yes, I’m sure it wont be long until conservative Christians are forced (at gunpoint?) to engage in gay sex by the evil liberal rulers.
    And I don’t think (generally speaking) conservatives do themselves any favours by saying that gay rights (in the church) are about embracing worldly pressures in a bid to fill the pews.

    Gay rights are about justice – not just “tolerance” and not “politically correctness” – which undermines the author’s argument.

    For the record, I certainly do no think that criticising sexual practise should become a criminal offence.

  2. The Waddington amendment strikes me as something of an own-goal in the first place. Seems to amount to a tacit admission that “discussion or criticism” etc. by their very nature “stir up hatred” – not an idea we want to see enshrined in law in a liberal society.

    In any event, I think your interpretation of clause 61 is questionable, even tendentious. It does not seek to “ban criticism of sexual conduct”. Assuming it passes into law, there will be no legal ban on such criticism. The legal position will remain exactly as it is now: criticism that does not amount to inciting hatred will be legal, criticism that does amount to inciting hatred will be illegal. That’s what the law says now, and it’s what the law will say after clause 61 becomes law.

    ISTM that the importance of clause 61 is – like the Waddington amendment itself – largely symbolic; a fear that its passing will represent another victory for “them” and defeat for “us”, just as the Waddington amendment was seen as a defeat for “them” and a victory for “us”.

    The net result is that Christians are now seen to be fighting tooth and nail to protect their right to incite hatred against gay people; not the most attractive situation in which to have placed ourselves.

    • I disagree. The problem at the moment is that the law makes no distinction between sexual orientation and sexual practice. That distinction has to be built in.

      For example, do you think the following sentence falls foul of the CJA? – “Having sex with someone of the same sex is immoral and ungodly. You need to repent of it”.

      A recent employment ruling in Haringey ruled that such a statement was discrimination and harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation. However, the statement makes absolutely no reference to the sexual orientation of the person addressed. The Waddington Amendment removes this perverse reading of the law.

      • Not sure my mobile phone browser can cope with your threaded comments system, but here goes. :-)

        I don’t think the statement you quote would amount to incitement to hatred. I can see how – depending on the context – it could amount to discrimination or harassment in the workplace. If I told my unmarried (straight) colleagues that they were sinning by living with their partners outside marriage, that would be regarded as highly inappropriate, especially given my relative seniority within the firm.

        • Don’t worry, I’ll thread it for you.

          Yes, the context is everything, but if a colleague says that the Christian perspective is bigoted and you respond in the manner above, and you are the one thrown out of a job…


  3. One final thought: if clause 61 does have a “chilling effect” by “terrifying” Christians into silence lest they be prosecuted for mere “criticism”, that will be more the result of CCFON’s culture-war scaremongering rather than any substantive change in their legal rights.

    • What makes you accuse CCFON of scaremongering? Are they inventing any of the persecution they are reporting? I think it’s fair to call most of the cases they publicise persecution. Some of the earlier ones were perhaps a stretch (I think the Christian sex therapist who was happy to counsel non-married couples but not homosexuals had his biblical morality all messed up) but the latest is a nurse sacked for suggesting in a training roleplay session that going to church might help relieve the stress of someone who doesn’t have long to live!

      Unless we understand the Bible as saying that Christians should be entirely silent about their faith in public and in private, that seems to be an entirely reasonable (and very mild) thing to say. And therefore it’s wrong that he was sacked for saying it, and such action is persecution.

  4. Thank you for posting this Peter. This is the take-away quote for me:

    One of the key tenets – possibly the key tenet – of a liberal society is that it grants religious groups the freedom to practise their religious faith and live by its precepts. Preventing them from doing so is profoundly illiberal and oppressive – and it is not made any less so by the fact that ‘progressive’ voices inside the church themselves deem such precepts to be ‘homophobic’.

    • This was an interesting blog post to run across. And I’d tend to agree with the quote you highlight here (although I think, in general Melanie Philips – here and elsewhere – take sensible arguements way too far).

      However – as you say, religious groups should have the freedom to practise their faith and live by those precepts – particularly (in this case) with respect to homosexuality. And this doesn’t change, even when progressive voices within the Church call for a different approach to homosexuality.

      I’d agree that everyone has the right to practise their religion as their conscience dictates. Absolutely.

      However, here’s the rub – conservatives within the Church (I’m a Church of Scotland member and a supporter of Scott Rennie) want to take away MY religious freedom to act on my religious faith. A faith which is wholely convinced that the Jesus who ate with the outcasts of his society would in no way condemn gays and lesbians when they find loving, committed, supportive partners.

      What about my religious freedoms? Scott Rennie’s? He has been supported by many within the Kirk – yet conservatives are now threatening to withhold funds from the Central Church.

      Why? Because we progressives are actually being allowed to live out our own religious convictions, rather than being forced to live out the religious convictions of the conservatives.

      Do you see the problem here? I agree – we all have the right to freedom of religion. But the conservatives have been trampling on the religious freedoms of gays and lesbians (and others who believe God does not condemn homosexuality) for years.

      How do we reach a balance on this? Where is the compromise, so that EVERYONE has actual, genuine freedom of religion?

      I’m content to live in a Church where people have differing opinions and those are respected when they are lived out in different congregations.

      Conservatives, however, seem only happy to live in a Church with me if I deny my own religious convictions and abide by theirs.

      • Hi Carolyn,

        Good to have you on board!

        I think the issue around homosexual practice within the church is slightly different to the general national issue of religious rights versus(?) lgbt rights. In the second, the issue is how to balance two contradictory positions, both of which are shared by large groups of the population. The traditional answer has been to have one perspective that has been the majority position and to tolerate (in the strictest sense of the word) other positions. Of course, things are more complicated then that, but I think the jist of Melanie’s argument is that LGBT rights should not be allowed to out-trump religious rights. There must be some compromise, even if that means that some people have to get used to being offended by what other people say.

        The situation in the church is different. Quite simply, the church cannot hold two contradictory positions at once. Either homosexual practice is sinful or not. It cannot be both, it simply cannot. Add to this the fact that we are dealing with matters of eternal salvation (if you carry on sinning without any sense of the need for repentance it won’t look good for you on the last day) then you have a situation where you simply cannot live and let live. The Kirk (and other churches) has to take a clear position one way or the other, otherwise any claim it has to help people discover God is null and void. How can you help people meet Jesus if you disagree on the most basic issue of whether something is a sin?

        No one is stopping you living out your religious convictions – far from it. What they are saying though is that it is simply illogical, irrational and non-sensical to pretend that conservatives and liberals both have the correct position. They can’t, it won’t wash and ultimately a decision has to be made as to what is true and what isn’t. Once that decision has been made then you (and the conservatives) can either stay and submit to such a decision, or leave and freely live your religious convictions in another organisation.

        See the difference? One is about balancing different, contradictory opinions, the other is about realising that the same organisation cannot believe two things that are utterly in opposition to each other.

        • The Church does compromise on some very serious matters, such as whether re-marriage after divorce is permitted, or whether it is adultery. I know priests who hold very different views on this and give opposing views to those who seek counsel. So it is not true to say that, ” The church cannot hold two contradictory positions”- (or at least not true that it cannot allow for different opintions) as the Church of England seems to allow for a degree of difference of opinion and practice in this area. Furthermore, the issue of adultery is ( like sexuality)a matter of eternal salvation, it is one of the ten commandments – homosexuality is not -and is part of Christ’s teaching, homosexuality is not specifically mentioned in the gospels. Moreover, divorce, to me, is a more troubling area as it involves a third party and often children, who may be affected and hurt.It amazes me that the church tolerates what are arguably adulterous priests ( who may have caused pain and suffering to spouses and children) but not two men or women in a loving, monogamous relationship. There is always room for moral guidance, but we are also warned to avoid judgement,to police our own sins and not those of others. This issue should be seen as one on which we agree to differ, as LGBT Christians we make our choices in the light of our conscience, reading of scripture and knowledge of God’s love and know that it is to that Holy but loving God that we are all ultimately answerable.

          • Sue – I appreciate your insight…the issue of divorce and remarriage is a very good (and relevant) example of an issue on which the Church acknowledges and accepts a difference of opinion.

            What makes homosexuality different (other than the simple fact that divorce doesn’t make us heterosexuals as uncomfortable as homosexuality does)?

            • Thanks Carolyn – and I’ve enjoyed reading, and agreed with, your posts. Just to warn you, you’ll be arguing forever on this site…:)

        • Thanks for the welcome. Just a warning – I’m very long-winded!

          The Church isn’t an ‘organisation’ – it is the people of Christ. One of the hallmarks of the Reformation was the freedom of believers to read and interpret the Bible for themselves – we see that in the proliferation of Christian denominations! Christians disagree on many theological particulars, even within the same denomination, and we manage to talk with each other about our differences, without forcing other people to go against their own personal convictions.

          But for conservatives, this cannot be true in the case of homosexuality. Why? Because they are ‘right’ and so must force their religious convictions onto others.

          I think your argument only works if one is Catholic, with a commitment to ‘Church teachings’ and papal infallibility. However, the Church of Scotland is Presbyterian – and it is specifically a ‘broad church’ and recognises liberty of conscience on the non-essentials of the faith (and the Bible says that salvation is through faith in Jesus – how I interpret Biblical passages that may or may not refer to homosexuality is irrelevant to the question of my salvation).

          No – both positions can’t both be ‘right’. But until we stand before Jesus, we won’t know which position is right. Both sides believe strongly that their argument is the correct one (as with any other theological disagreement), but that doesn’t give either side the right to force that belief on others in a Church body which (as above) specifically guarantees ‘freedom of conscience’ on the non-essentials of the faith.

          When one side insists that they have the ‘corner on the market’ of religious truth, things can get very unpleasant and hurtful indeed. Pride goes before a fall, as Proverbs says, and horrendous things have been done throughout the centuries in the name of ‘the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ’.

          I’d suggest that among those horrendous things is the shameful way the Church has treated (and continues to treat) gay and lesbian Christians. :-(

          Again – I haven’t signed up for Catholicism. I signed up for a Church which specifically allows ‘freedom of conscience’ (or freedom of religion, if you like) – yet the conservatives within the Church of Scotland will do all in their power to deny me that.

          I find it very ironic. They are outraged when people condemn them as ‘anti-gay’, and they fight strongly for their right to ‘religious freedom’ in both expressing and acting on their belief that God condemns homosexuality.

          Yet they seek at every turn to deny me, and those who share my theological convictions, the same consideration (in terms of acting on my religious beliefs at least – I’m free to believe that God does not condemn homosexuality, as long as I don’t act on that belief by choosing as my minister someone in a loving, committed homosexual partnership).

          • Of course both positions can’t be right..but as you say, that is true of quite a few other areas of Christian life as well….part of the whole Anglican experiment has been how you hold seemingly contradictory things in tension.
            But the thing that so stands out in this whole (well worn, and well worn out) debate is the near obsession the conservative lobby have for this particular issue above all others. As Richard Harris once said: why this issue?

            • The appearance of Carolyn on this site has triggered renewed debate, quite rightly in my view as she makes valid points very clearly. Sound also asks ‘why this issue?’

              I would like to attempt a response to you both and to try and show why ‘the gay issue’ is so important to evangelicals and why it goes way beyond the immediate liberal concern with lergerbiti (LGBTI) equality. Apologies in advance as I’m even more long winded than Carolyn!

              I will argue from a Calvinist and reformed perspective. I’m guessing that might be a problem for you sound, but Carolyn you should be cool with that as the CoS still has the Westminster Confession as a subsidiary statement after the Bible.

              First a couple of definitions, which I recognise you may not agree with but which I think most evangelicals would. ‘Homosexuality’ is a physical act of sex with a person of the same sex. A ‘homosexual’ is a person who does, or has, experienced same sex attraction.

              I will try to list evangelical objections in decreasing order of importance, starting with most important first. (Only my view you understand!)

              1. Homosexuality is a sin against God’s creation and its order (Remember my definitions please). Put simply, sex matters! While I recognise that the Bible has comparatively few verses that are direct prohibitions of homosexuality, the whole weave of scripture from start to finish is that man (you could say ‘people’ in modern parlance) is created male and female ‘in the image of God’ as the culmination of the process of creation. ‘Male and female’ are therefore right at the core of God’s purpose for the created order. Male and female in their creation and the living out of their nature: in sex, in relationship, in difference and in similarity reveal the very nature of God. This, as Ephesians states, ‘is a mystery’ that we spend our whole lives fathoming the depths. See Peter’s essay ‘A Theology of Sex’ for some of the deep aspects. It does mean however that homosexuality is an abhomination (in the literal, root word sense of meaning that it is ‘not of man’ and not of God’s created order and purpose for man).

              2. Homosexual is an incorrect, modern definition of identity, not a biblical definition of identity. Literally, a ‘homosexual’ does not exist, in biblical terms. Nowhere in the Bible will you find homosexual as a defintion or category of being (ontology). Now liberals argue that that means the Bible has no understanding of modern, loving and committed homosexual relationships. I argue that it means the opposite, especially as God has clearly set out his purpose for ‘male and female’ (see above). We must remember that homosexual, as a definition of identity, is very modern idea. It owes its existence to to modern philosophies of being and to identity politics, not to the Bible. Literature and history supports my conclusion that the homosexual is a modern idea.

              Two examples out of many will suffice. Keynes (my personal hero as an economist) was an enthusiastic seeker of ‘rough trade’ for the first thirty-odd years of his life. With his diarists passion and mathematicians precision he documented his encounters, cross-referenced by type and location (eg ‘Pretty blond lad; lifts at Claridge’s). He married the love of his life, a Russian ballet dancer, in his late thirties and although his diaries continue as prolifically ever there is no more mention of any gay encounters. Nor is there any mention amongst the Bloomsbury Set (who liberally and notoriously batted for both sides) or anyone else in his wide social circle. Did he become a closted gay, or (say it soft, so as not to offend delicate modern sensibilities) a man who simply stopped having sex with men? I think the evidence points to the latter – indeed Keynes may be one of the earliest ‘post-gays’.

              For my second example I present none other than the gay hero Oscar Wilde. After a scandalous, openly-gay life, his confession at his trial (well worth a read see Section XVI Preface at described his own behaviour as ‘perverse’. He was also received into the Catholic Church on his deathbed. Self-loathing gay proto-hero or rejector of a ‘gay identity’. You be the judge, but I firmly believe the latter.

              My basic point is that there have always been men who have had sex with men (and vice versa of course). And very often, after a while, they have stopped! It is only in modern times that this has anything to do with identity.

              3. The homosexual identity is rooted in a modern philosophical ‘human rights’ discourse, not in the Bible. The protestant, reformed Christians that drew up the Westminster Confession (which is, let us not forget, the subsidiary statement of faith for the CoS) had a biblical worldview where God was sovereign over his created world and had entrusted the different domains of creation to man (male and female) to rule in accordance with his principles and law as set out in Scripture. It follows that finding God’s purpose for sex was very important to our spiritual forefathers, and they determined that sex was to be within the bounds of marriage between a man and a women, as is clearly set out in the Bible (see arguments under 1 above).

              Nearly four centuries later however we are in a very different moral universe. Under the impact of Enlightenment philosophy (I noticed you used the word ‘enlightened’ in one of your posts Carolyn) God is no longer seen as creator or as sovereign over His world. As the great Jim Packer puts it in the foreword to ‘Knowing God’: ‘For more than three centuries the naturalistic leaven in the Renaissance outlook has been working like a cancer in Western thought’. It follows that if He is not creator or sovereign over his world, then His Word becomes but one source of many sources of knowledge, from which is is man’s (male and female) job to discern truth. The human rights discourse is rooted in this idea of man’s sovereignty rather than God’s sovereignty, with all the philosophical errors that flow thereof, such as the gay identity.

              4. ‘Committed, faithful, loving’ partnerships are a relative rather than an absolute defintion. The liberal Christian gay rights argument sets great store in the committed, faithful and loving definition. I do not deny that gay relationships can be committed, faithful and loving in the modern sense of the word, but the modern sense is relative rather than absolute.

              Let me try and explain. Words and their defintions are important. As Christians our first port of call is the Bible in defining what words mean. In the Bible we see: ‘committed’ defined as a God sends His Son to die for us as the just penalty for our sins; ‘faithful’ defined as God who will not let us go despite our inherited tendency to spurn and reject him, and; ‘love’ defined as obedience to His commandments. This has nothing to do with whether we seem to be committed, faithful or loving in the modern sense of the word – it has to do with how God defines these terms in His Word. The Rev Scott Rennie may well be one of the most sensitive and humane people of this generation, and a thoroughly good egg all round. That’s not the point: we are called to weigh actions in the light of God’s Word and not in the light of our faulty experience. And in that light, his partnership cannot be loving as it violates obedience.

              This has now become too long. I could say much more, but I wanted to show why ‘the gay issue’ has become the line in the sand for evangelicals. I fully accept that many evangelicals have used hateful words and speech in their comments on gay rights. While such actions are wrong, I believe they most usually come from the passion that evangelicals have for God’s word and his revealed sovereignty, love and care for his wayward, sin-weary creation; a creation that is often too busy defining Him out of existence to hear His voice.

              In closing, I believe that the dialogue between evangelicals and liberals on gay rights should come to agreement over homosexuality (behaviour not orientation) as a sin and hate speech as an equally serious sin. So that’s all done and dusted then!

              I actually believe in civil partnerships being legal for gays (and others) on the basis that the state should not intere with consenting non-harmful sexual practices between adults but should strongly regulate to ensure the safety of third parties. On this basis I am against gay adoption (children need a father and a mother) and in favour of stronger law on divorce, abandonment, maintenance and domestic violence (for both gays and straights).

              Tootle pip!!

              • Hello Philip,

                a thought or two… so you know a bit of where I’m coming from, I’m a gay Christian much influenced by the work of James Alison (see if you wish).

                Starting at the end, seems odd that you’re pro civil partnerships – given your preceding arguments, aren’t they confirming people in an erroneous identity? And are you pro CPs for Christians or only non-Christians – if the latter how would you argue for a ‘two-tier’ system?

                Going back to paragraph 1: what about singleness / celibacy, consecrated or otherwise? If “Male and female in their creation and the living out of their nature: in sex, in relationship, in difference and in similarity reveal the very nature of God”, what of single-sex communities and vowed celibates – does it follow for you that they only partially or poorly reveal the nature of God?

                In para 2 you say “Literally, a ‘homosexual’ does not exist, in biblical terms. Nowhere in the Bible will you find homosexual as a defintion or category of being (ontology)”. On a factual level this is true – but it’s also true of ‘heterosexual’. Also the fact that something does not exist, in Biblical terms, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist! (Slightly silly example: nuclear weapons ‘don’t exist’ in the Bible either… I realise that’s not much of an analogy). The fact that ‘homosexual’ doesn’t exist in the Bible could also be said to mean that biblical writers didn’t conceptualise things as we do – but it doesn’t automatically follow that ‘homosexual’ is an error, or that everybody is intrinsically heterosexual really (is it fair to say this is what you’re implying?).

                I don’t doubt the stories of Wilde and Keynes that you quote but I’m not sure they help your argument… after all there are people who married but subsequently divorced to seek a same-sex partner. Out of interest what would you say to folk like me who’ve experienced no change in orientation?

                I think your opposition between human rights and the Bible in para 3 could be challenged….. but not by me as I’m not remotely qualified. Rowan Williams’ lecture, ‘Religious faith and human rights’ from May 08, could be worth a look, tho I’m not claiming to understand it fully!

                Not sure that your argument under 4 works… You say “This has nothing to do with whether we seem to be committed, faithful or loving in the modern sense of the word – it has to do with how God defines these terms in His Word”. But we can only read and hear that Word and try to apply it here and now, in our lives – within our experience. That doesn’t mean that experience is a final arbiter – but it does seem to me that the ‘relative / absolute’ distinction starts to blur somewhat. Also it seems to me there’s a risk here of arguing solely on a priori grounds (as when you say Scott Rennie’s “partnership cannot be loving as it violates obedience”), when such a statement needs to refer to experience and observation if it’s to carry weight – it refers to a specific person, and by extension a specific group of people, so is empirically ‘testable’ in a sense.

                I realise I’ve gone on rather, and also not done much more than just pick at your arguments. Perhaps I should add that part of me still wishes there were a knockdown argument I could brandish – I do realise that there isn’t… and that ‘the gay issue’ is not going to be resolved quickly. Maybe the challenge is how we live with, and talk to, each other during this time of non-resolution… in that light I’m glad of your constructive, open way of arguing.

                in friendship, Blair

  5. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>For my second example I present none other than the gay hero Oscar Wilde. After a scandalous, openly-gay life, his confession at his trial (well worth a read see Section XVI Preface at…..h_djvu.txt) described his own behaviour as ‘perverse’. He was also received into the Catholic Church on his deathbed. Self-loathing gay proto-hero or rejector of a ‘gay identity’. You be the judge, but I firmly believe the latter.

    I don’t think a trial in Victorian england would have been quite the place for a defense of gay sex, and said comment hardly negates Wilde’s many defenses of same-sex attraction (although obviously there are limits to what he could have said publicly). The Jonathan and David “noblest form of affection” speech (I would agree) not something easy to associated with Wilde’s predilection for being masturbated by hoodlums, but I don’t think he was (post trial) a convert to a view of same-sex love that didn’t involve sex. And Wilde was hardly an orthodox Catholic, given his belief that Christ wasn’t divine (“It would place too broad a gulf between him and the human soul”). Of course Gore Vidal rejects the “gay identity” too, but you can still claim him (and indeed Wilde) as people who, in a heterosexist society, spoke of the value of same-sex erotic love.

    • You are quite right Ryan, Oscar Wilde is not the best example to back my argument, especially as he was a practicing homosexual right up to the weeks before his death. He was also treated shamefully and so can be seen, quite rightly, as a ‘gay martyr’. Still, his confession does make you think, doesn’t it?

      I think that Keynes is a far stronger case as he appears to have stopped having gay sex quite abruptly after his marriage.

      And perhaps more up-to-date examples are more pertinant. Tom Robinson, the original ‘Glad-to-be-Gay’ man who is now married, although he still claims to be gay. David Bowie, ’70s gender-bender who is still happily married to Iman. Julie Burchill, who has flip-flopped more times than I can count (uh, let’s not go there!)

      Still, the point is that sexual orientation is not fixed, can change a number of times through a lifetime, and is therefore not inherited. To their credit, the more erudite amongst the lergerbiti lobby (Peter Tatchell & others) have realised that the ‘nature or nurture’ debate is dead. They now focus on sexuality being ‘plastic’ and therefore changeable through life.

      That really leaves two extreme positions. 1, the extreme liberal ‘Yeah man, do what you want with who you want, as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody’ and the orthodox Christian position of sexual faithfulness within marriage between a man and a women. I recognise of course that there are points in between, but then we hit the problem of the modern definitions of keywords like ‘faithful, committed, and loving’ being relative rather than absolute, as I posted earlier.

  6. Philip,

    Thanks for taking all that time (and it’s nice to see someone who is definitely more long-winded than I am!).

    I have lots of work I should be doing right now, so I’m going to limit myself to your first point – the primacy in conservative arguments against same-sex relationships of the ‘male-female’ theme you see in the Bible.

    You know – when I first realised (about 10 years ago) that this was the foundation of the anti-gay position in Christianity – that’s when I dropped my opposition to same-sex relationships (I was brought up to believe that homosexuality was wrong, and my parents are still very hardline against it).

    It just intuitively doesn’t make sense to me, I’m afraid.

    It has to do, I suspect, with underlying assumptions. In accepting this argument, one accepts the assumption that in talking about the male/female relationship, the Bible is saying that this relationship is the only legitimate one. For me, one has to go in with the assumption that same-sex relationships are wrong in order to make the leap from ‘male-female relationships are good and give us a picture of God’ to ‘because male-female relationships are good, and reflect God to us in some degree, that means that same-sex relationships are bad and don’t reflect God’ (even when we can see God’s love in those same relationships).

    So this argument struck me as ‘special pleading’. In other words – we’ve already decided that same-sex relationships are wrong, so let’s come up with another reason to support our a priori belief. I do understand the need to do this, because the passages used to condemn loving same-sex partnerships are irrelevant to loving same-sex partnerships. Why? Because they don’t address them.

    However, for me, this is putting one’s own assumptions onto Scripture, instead of letting Scripture speak for itself – particularly in light of passages like Luke 6, John 13, Romans 13, etc. (I realise others will disagree!).

    One also assumes, it seems to me, the irrelevance of cultural norms/expectations in how the Bible addresses issues or makes analogies. That is, this argument assumes that Biblical analogies, commands, etc always transcend their cultural (and in this case, biological) circumstances – and I think that assumption can clearly be shown to be faulty.

    I realise that many conservative evangelicals claim to work on this principle (that the Bible transcends the cultures within which it was written), but we see Biblical authors working within the cultural limitations of their day throughout the Bible (in the Bible’s regulation of slavery, for example, as well as its treatment of women [in the OT] as property of men, in its understanding of the world as created in 6 literal days, etc). God speaks to us through the Bible – but the Bible also clearly reflects the culture within which it was written.

    This makes sense – if the Bible did not reflect its own cultural situation, it would have been unintelligble to its original hearers – which kind of misses the point, I would think.

    Given Jesus’ insistence on the primacy of God’s law of love, it seems much more likely to me that this ‘male and female’ theme you see is simply a reflection of the fact that God spoke through the Biblical authors to their original listeners (and on to us), using culturally normative examples – in this case, the union of a male and female.

    The union of male and female is foundational to the human race – without men and women, the human race dies. We know that God is the giver of life and our sustainer – so it is natural that the male/female partnership (from which come children and the continuation of the species) is the analogy of choice for Biblical writers when attempting to help us understand some of the nature of God.

    Yet this analogy (and the command, for example, for male and female to ‘be fruitful and multiply’) doesn’t mean that we can’t come to see God and learn more of Him and His nature through other types of relationships – family relationships, friendships, relationships in which we help those in need.

    We see God reflected in all of these relationships – yet they are not the male-female marriage relationship. So why would one assume that a same-sex romantic relationship is the one type of equal, loving, caring relationship in which God’s love cannot be reflected?

    I’ll note as well, that you have to infer the importance of ‘male and female’ to God – you are inferring this ‘creation order’ and then using it to support your contention that God condemns loving, accepting homosexual relationships (and you are using circular arguments when you say that – based on your a priori belief that same-sex relationships are wrong, that they can’t be ‘loving and accepting’. You may believe that, but you haven’t demonstrated it through rational argumentation – you’d get deducted lots of debating points for tactics like that!).

    I don’t infer God’s law of love. It’s stated explicitly and repeatedly throughout the Bible. Luke 6, Romans 13, John 13, to repeat my 3 examples above.

    I’ve never seen a coherent conservative attempt to harmonise these passages, with their clear message that our actions are to be judged by whether or not they reflect God’s love (and that is to be judged according to whether or not they harm others), with the unloving, harmful, unaccepting treatment conservative evangelicals mete out to gays and lesbians in our churches.

    And this is an explicit command from Jesus himself. It isn’t something I have to infer and spend lots of time justifying from obscure ‘male and female’ phrases here and there.

    Jesus has already given us the standard by which we should measure our actions in relationship to a changing culture. And that standard is love. Are our actions loving? Do our actions harm others or help them?

    That’s the standard. And the conservative evangelical position condemning committed homosexual relationships? Well, as above – I’ve never heard anyone even attempt to explain how the conservative evangelical position with respect to gays and lesbians is loving and does no harm.

    Which is why I reject it.

  7. One other quick example, which I think demonstrates the untenable nature of your contention that ‘male and female’ is ‘God’s created order’ and anything that deviates from that sexually is sinful:

    I have a friend from university who grew up female – never had any questions about her gender identity, etc (and my husband assures me that she is very pretty!).

    When she was a teenager, however, she never had a period. When this was eventually investigated medically, it turned out that she didn’t have any internal female reproductive organs (despite having female external genitalia).

    Why did this happen? Well, genetically, ‘she’ is a ‘he’ – her chromosomes are XY. She is a male. Some problem with hormones/etc in the womb meant that she didn’t develop externally as a male however. Her brain also developed under the influence of feminine hormones (lacking testosterone at male levels), so her gender identity is also female.

    She is now happily married and she and her husband have three adopted children.

    Does her relationship with her husband reflect ‘God’s creation order’ because they have different genitals? Or is her relationship with her husband anathema to God, denying his ‘creation order’, because their chromosomes are the same?

    Or (and this seems to make much more sense – I certainly don’t have to tie myself in theological knots trying to explain her/his situation away) does their relationship point us to God because it is loving, caring and supportive – and God doesn’t care about either her genitals or her chromosomes?

    • I would like to see a conservative position on inter-sex. Where does someone stand if born with male and female genitalia, or with a mixture of organs that makes them indefinable? Is “corrective” surgery tampering with God’s will? The chromosome question is not clear cut either as your example above shows- also I believe some fully “male” presenting heterosexually inclined men have XX chromosomes ( and vice versa for women )- or so I was told by an inter-sex person I once met.

  8. “For me, one has to go in with the assumption that same-sex relationships are wrong in order to make the leap from ‘male-female relationships are good and give us a picture of God’ to ‘because male-female relationships are good, and reflect God to us in some degree, that means that same-sex relationships are bad and don’t reflect God’”

    But isn’t that exactly what’s going on in Romans 1?

    • Hi Gervase,

      I think you’re right that Paul assumes same-sex sex is wrong (because born of desires that come from idolatry if I’m reading it right…), but it could be said that Romans 1 builds an argument leading to the ‘puncturing’ of Romans 2:1 – ie an argument that none of us can judge each other. If so Romans 1 can’t be used to judge folk who have same-sex sex without misuse of the text – so it isn’t as immediately ‘useful’, to either side, in the ‘gay debate’ as it might seem. (This is a rather mangled version of James Alison’s argument in his lecture on Romans 1, and a point Rowan Williams made in his Larkin-Stuart lecture on reading the Bible).

      Taking refuge in quoting again…

      “Those theologians who’ve defended same-sex relationships from the Christian point of view in recent decades have said you’ve got to look at whether a same-sex relationship is capable of something at the level of neutral self-giving that a marriage ought to exemplify. And then ask, is that what Scripture is talking about? That’s the area of dispute.” (Rowan Williams, ‘Time’ magazine interview, June 2007)

      in friendship, Blair

      • So the argument is that the latter half of Romans 1, the beginning of a letter which the church has been trying to get its head around for around 2000 years, is basically not normative at all – it’s Paul explaining how _not_ to think? I think that’s incredibly unlikely for an enormous number of reasons. It’s all Paul speaking in the indicative – “The wrath of God _is_ being revealed from heaven”, not “You might think the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven.” Paul is not attributing these views to his hearers, he’s explaining truth to them. I know in other places Paul briefly quotes the views of his correspondents before responding, but doing so for 12 verses has no parallel. And the language just doesn’t read that way.

        Have I understood the argument? Is it really that Romans 1:18-32 consists solely of the views of other people that Paul then goes on to refute in Romans 2:1ff? If so, my question is: what are “the same things” in Romans 2:3? Surely they can be nothing else than the sins from Romans 1?

        I’m afraid I don’t understand what you (or Rowan :-) means by “neutral self-giving”. Doesn’t Scripture already tell us what a marriage should exemplify (Ephesians 5:32)?

        • v quickly as am at work… I agree with you and ryan that ‘neutral’ sounds strange – but it’s a quote from an interview transcript, so I wonder if RW was misheard and actually said ‘mutual’, which would make sense…?

          Will say more later!

          in friendship, Blair

        • Gervase,

          I think you need to look at the context of the same-sex relationships that Paul is talking about in Romans 1.

          Is he talking about loving, committed same-sex partnerships? Well, it’s fairly obvious he isn’t – he’s talking about same-sex, lustful acts that take place in the context of idolatry.

          And if you look at the 1st century world – the only types of same-sex activity that Paul knew about was distinctly un-loving (remember – that’s the standard by which we judge whether actions are acceptable to God or not).

          What context did Paul see same-sex activity in? Pederasty and sex with slaves (abuse of power relationships), as well as same-sex activity with wronged wives in the background (so selfish, hurtful sexual activity – male-male sex was acceptable to Romans, but only having male-male sex wasn’t – there needed to be a wife in the background for the Romans. And Paul seems to have recognised this for the hurtful, selfish activity that it was).

          But what does all of that have to do with loving, committed, supportive homosexual relationships? relationships we can look at and clearly see God’s love and faithfulness reflected in? Relationships that show love and do not harm anyone?

          Remember – that’s Paul’s (and Jesus’) standard for how to understand God’s law (have a look at Romans 13).

          Now – have a look at the conservative evangelical demonisation of loving same-sex relationships. Is that loving? Has that caused harm?

          It clearly has caused harm. It clearly does not having loving results in people’s lives (the only way you can see it as loving is to define it ‘a priori’ as loving, despite the negative, harmful effects it has in people’s lives).

          For me, it is conservative evangelicals who are sinning here (as judged by Jesus’ and Paul’s explicit standards). Not gays and lesbians who are in loving, committed relationships.

          • “remember – that’s the standard by which we judge whether actions are acceptable to God or not”

            I think you have that exactly backwards. It’s not “I decide whether it’s loving and, if it is, it must be acceptable to God”, it’s “If it’s acceptable to God, it must be loving.” The former puts you in the driving seat, the latter puts God there. And what’s acceptable to God is what Scripture says is acceptable to God.

            Being loving may sometimes have (what some would classify as) “harmful effects” in people’s lives. If another country’s soldiers are invading yours, and you kill them, is that sinful? Is it possible to love your enemy while accepting that fighting and killing is the right thing to do in that circumstance? I think so. Or the parents who confine their heroin-addicted teenage son in his bedroom so he can’t go out and buy more drugs – can that be a loving action? In some circumstances, even though it will have “harmful effects”. Telling an adulterer gracefully but firmly that what he is doing is sinful – can that be loving? Even if he is hurt and offended by your words, and it has a “negative effect in his life”? (Of course, I am not saying that everything any church has ever said on this subject has always combined the right mix of firmness and grace. But it’s a darn difficult thing to do.)

            The Bible is clear that the only context for sexual activity is a marriage between a man and a woman. To the extent that churches (albeit perhaps understandably, under considerable cultural pressure) have spoken about homosexual practice as sinful more than they speak about adultery or pre-marital sex as sinful, then that’s wrong of them. But it’s a wrongness of emphasis, not of fact.

            The text in 1:27 is not “men also abandoned loving, faithful partnerships with other men or women and became inflamed with lust for them instead – goodness, isn’t lust bad”. He could have made that point without even bringing homosexual practice into it. Paul is particularly contrasting, several times and in different ways to make the point, the exchanging of man-woman for woman-woman or man-man relationships, and speaking negatively of the latter.

            Is “loving, committed and supportive” enough to make a sexual relationship acceptable to God? You seem to be suggesting that it is. Would you say that loving, committed, supportive adulterous or paedophilic or incestuous relationships are similarly acceptable? (Note, although it shouldn’t need pointing out, but sad previous experience of others in this debate means it’s probably necessary: I am not saying homosexuals are paedophiles.)

            • I have pointed this out before but here goes again; a sexual situation between an adult or child is NOT loving but abusive. Now of course there are blurred lines ( the sixteen year old sexually active with a fifteen year old is not, I think, a paedophilic relationship.) A paedophile cannot be “committed” to a child, as he or she will lose interest when the child reaches adulthood. Moreover it is NOT “a relationship”!!! relationships involve mutual consent and a degree of parity and equity.Even when children seem most compliant, they have no real knowledge of what is involved or sexual desire for that adult and it remains abusive. Having been abused myself and having worked with women who were abused, the consequences are devastating.

              As for “loving, committed, supportive adulterous” relationships – can you give an example? Do you mean someone who has left a spouse ( for reasons other than that spouse’s adultery) and remarried – this remarriage being , in strict scriptural terms, adulterous? If so, well the Church does tolerate such “committed adulterous ” relationships, I have known many priests and even bishops who were in them. Even hardline conservatives are often happy to ignore or re interpret scripture when this is convenient to heterosexuals rather than homosexuals.

              • If you mean someone who is married but has a loving relationship “on the side” – my main problem is the dishonesty and betrayal of trust involved. If all parties are aware and consent to this – well, I personally would feel someone cannot be “committed ” fully to two people simultaneously. However, unlike some conservatives, I would recognise that moral areas are not always black and white. I would remember that others are answerable to God and not to Sue or Gervase!

              • A paedophile cannot be “committed” to a child, as he or she will lose interest when the child reaches adulthood.

                But they might say: how do you know that? Why are you being judgemental of our relationship? Surely it’s for us to say whether it’s loving, committed and supportive? Paedophiles don’t necessarily only like children.

                relationships involve mutual consent and a degree of parity and equity.

                From which authority does this principle which overarches all relationships come?

                As for “loving, committed, supportive adulterous” relationships – can you give an example?

                Someone who spends half their time in one city with one woman, and the other half in another city with another woman. Both women probably get more attention than e.g. the wife of a soldier who goes off regularly on tours of duty would get, so the “not enough commitment for either” argument isn’t watertight, I don’t think.

                • Gervase, you know this is absolute rubbish. The reason a sexual relationship between an adult and child is wrong is because a child is not sexually mature or emotionally equipped to deal with it nor is a child in a position to give informed consent. The well documented consequences of childhood sexual abuse are devastating and I would ask you to bear in mind that, as I have said, this relates to my personal experience and to show some sensitivity. It is true that paedophiles do not necessarily only like children, most, but not all, are actively heterosexual men. Patterns of paedophile activity suggest the abuse usually does not last until adulthood ( although its effects for the survivor are often lifelong)moreover most paedophiles abuse more than one child, often many, many children and often are abusing several children simultaneously. I personally see such behaviour as rooted in power and control over a sexual party rather than in the qualities of respect, love, trust, commitment and mutual benefit which I applaud in all consentual adult relationships, whether between those of the same or opposite sex. The “authority” for my belief that relationships should be based on mutual consent and parity is my humanity, my reason and my faith in a God who asks us to love each other and to act justly and show mercy.
                  As for the adulterous relationship you describe – I’d refer you to my second post about betrayal of trust, dishonesty to a partner and lack of commitment. For example what if both women became seriously ill and needed full time nursing? What if one party found out and was desperately hurt and jealous?

                  In short, morality is not about your sexuality, morality is about treating others and yourself with the utmost respect and integrity.

                  • If “paedophilic” is controversial, let’s switch to “incestuous” if that’s a clearer example. I apologise if I have been tactless and upset you; that was not my intention at all.

                    My overarching point is that I suspect you do not wish to entirely discard God’s restrictions on which sexual relationships he approves of. And that you do agree that he has requirements in this area. And if that is so, then “respect, love, trust, commitment and mutual benefit” or “respect and integrity”, while good in themselves, cannot be the sole criteria for determining which are acceptable. There must be more. And we come again to the fact that every single mention of homosexual behaviour in the Bible is negative.

                    Claiming that “no-one in Bible times knew of/commented on homosexual relationships such as we know them today – the Bible is silent on how we should deal with them” is saying that God’s word is not sufficient. This has fairly serious systematic consequences.

                    We seem to have shed a few points along the way in the discussion :-) Would it be possible for you to comment on my points of the possible “harmful effects” of love (and therefore my suggestion that you are incorrectly defining ‘harm’), my comments on Romans 1:27, and my critique of your explanation of the flow of Romans 1-2?

                    • Hi again Gervase,

                      seems to me it’s not that the paedophilia analogy is controversial or tactless, but that it’s not a good analogy for adult same-sex relationships. I would suggest that you haven’t made the case as to why sex with a child (or for that matter incestuous sex) is a suitable analogy.

                      Also, you say above that “we come again to the fact that every single mention of homosexual behaviour in the Bible is negative”. But by itself that isn’t that strong an argument: every mention of lending money at interest in Scripture is negative to my knowledge (e.g. Psalm 15:5).

                      Fair point about Romans though – not sure if you were talking to me but I didn’t expand on my comment above about Romans 1 – 2. Will come back to this but maybe in a new comment!

                      in friendship, Blair

                    • Hi Gervase,

                      First of all, can I point out that you are getting me mixed up with other contributors? You ask me to reply to “my suggestion that YOU are incorrectly defining harm.” That was actually Carolyn on June 2nd 2:21pm. You also ask me to comment on, ” my critique of YOUR explanation of the flow of Romans 1-2.” I have never commented on Romans, that was Blair on June 1st at 10:27am.

                      (I don’t want to defend other people’s arguments on their behalf!)

                      As for incest, well most incest involves abuse as there is an age and power gap – father/daughter, uncle/ nephew. It is rare for siblings brought up together to enter into sexual relationships. This was seen in the kibbutz system, where children brought up in proximity did not see each other as sexual partners and wanted to seek out less familiar partners to marry. Where sibling sex does occur this is, almost invariably, in the context of a family dynamic where there has been other abuse, from adults, and the appropriate boundaries have been broken down. The same is true for children who abuse other children ( this accounts for almost a third of abuse cases. ) The abusing child has usually been subjected to prior abuse from an adult and learnt this behaviour.

                      As for bibilical interpretation, I agree we differ. I believe scripture should be interpreted in context and taking into account the understanding and mindset of the time in which it was written.For example we would not use the verse in Ephesians to justify slavery, no matter how clear cut that verse it – and it is clear cut – because we recognise it is inhumane to do so, people matter too much to enslave them!

                      Jesus actually exemplifies this humane approach to scripture. Think of when the disciples are condemned by the Pharisees for eating corn. Christ says that “the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.”
                      (ie People matter!) Think of when Christ condemns those who obey every specific, but burden others by neglecting the important things – mercy, love and justice( again – people matter!) Think of when Christ tells us to put first things first – to obey the first commandment “love God with all your heart and mind and soul.” Then Jesus adds in something not in the original text, which is to love your neighbour as yourself ( again – people matter!) I believe that Christ teaches us that loving God and others comes first. I believe him when he says that on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets!

            • Gervase,

              All of your examples seem to miss the main point I’ve been trying to make.

              Telling an adulterer that his/her actions aren’t loving – yes, that’s hard for the adulterer to hear. But the adulterer’s actions are manifestly unloving – they have been unfaithful to a partner, etc., etc. (although past experience of this situation has taught me not to be so quick to judge the alduterer – there are always, always, always two sides to every situation).

              The same can be said of pedophilia and incest – these types of relationships are defined by the fact that they are harming someone. Clearly not loving (I’m kind of amazed that you used them as examples at all).

              As for the Bible being clear that the only proper context for sex is between a man and a woman – how many women are you talking about?

              Conservatives want to say ‘one man and one woman’ – but of course, that isn’t the ‘clear teaching of Scripture’ at all. Throughout most of Scripture, we see the clear acceptance of polygamy and the treatment of women as property.

              God tells David after he’s killed Uriah in order to take Bathsheba – ‘I (God) gave you all of your wives, and would have given you more – you should not have taken someone else’s wife’ (rough paraphrase, but you get the point!).

              So – God ‘gave’ David all of his wives. And he could have given him more, if David had asked!

              How does this episode fit into conservative evangelical theology, I wonder? Surely, if God is consistent and always transcends the cultural situation of the Biblical authors, this type of scene is very difficult to understand?

              I’d love to hear what you make of this from a theological consistency perspective, Gervase.

              • Could somebody answer this post of Carolyn’s from a conservative position, please? Philip? Gervase? Peter?

                • I’d also love to hear your position on people who are intersex from a conservative evangelical position?

                  Surely, if God is consistent and loving, then there is not one rule for us and another rule for people like my friend (who is outwardly female, but who is genetically male).

                  What is the status of her marriage (to another man, although they outwardly look like a heterosexual couple)? Is it reflecting the relationship between Christ and his church because their genitals don’t match?

                  Or is it an abomination to God becuase their chromosomes are the same?

                  I would very much like to here a conservative evangelical response – based on Scripture – to people in my friend’s situation.

  9. “Neutral” seemed a strange word to me too; think liberals would dispute to what extent the male/female symbology of Ephesians and elsewhere relates to (mere) cultural assumptions on female authority. I realise when people point out that Paul’s knowledge of sexuality doesn’t match ours, Peter and others claim that this makes a mockery of God (roughly : couldn’t He conceive that “gay” people would come along later) but it’s not a very convincing to me. One way as well say “wouldn’t God have known that people would have used some biblical verses to justify male supremacy? Surely He would have been more unambiguous”.

  10. This is very silly, even for Gagnon-esque standards. If children can’t (rightly) give sexual consent then how can said relationship be “mutual” (the inability-to-make-informed-consent point is also those who invoke the future social acceptability of bestial relationships as a logical consequence of gay ones)

  11. Looks like there’s a maximum depth on this comment system… have to reset to the top :-)

    Firstly, sorry, Sue, you are quite right. I’ve been mixing people up. I need to pay more attention. And When Peter comes back, I’ll try and remember to ask him to implement per-commenter colouring or make the names bigger.

    Does God forbid an incestuous relationship between two consenting adult siblings which is characterised (by both parties) as having “respect, love, trust, commitment and mutual benefit”? You may say it’s rare, but that’s irrelevant to the question. Or, as a separate question, and to return to your reasonable point about how I define adultery, a relationship between man X who is married to woman Y but has left her, without getting a divorce, and is now in a non-marital relationship of “respect, love, trust, commitment and mutual benefit” with woman Z (who would herself also characterise the relationship in those terms)?

    If he does disapprove, then logically those characteristics you list are not, by themselves, sufficient to say that a relationship is one of which God approves.

    You are absolutely right that all the law and the prophets hang on the commandments to love God and to love your neighbour. But that doesn’t prove anything in this discussion. Who defines what love is? God, not us. How does Jesus say we love God? Obeying his commands. (John 14:15 and other places in John.) And it’s never possible for sin to be the right or the loving thing to do – either towards God or towards your neighbour. So the question is not: “does Sue think that homosexual sex is loving? If so, case closed.” The question is: “does God define all sex outside heterosexual marriage as sinful?”

    We are also confusing “love” and “sex”. If I may attempt to lay our your logic (tell me if I’ve mischaracterized your argument):

    1) God wants me to love him and my neighbour.
    2) Person X is my neighbour.
    3) I am in a sexual relationship with person X.
    4) Therefore I am loving my neighbour.
    5) Therefore God approves of my sexual activity.

    The problem is moving from 3) to 4). To make that jump you have to define all sexual relationships as “being loving” in a “love your neighbour” sense. And that’s begging the question.

    • I think many of these are difficult moral areas. There have been cases where siblings separated at birth have met and have (either knowing or not knowing they are related) fallen in love and become sexually involved. I am not sure how I feel about that, but the people involved are human beings and I would find a reaction of listening and compassion to be more “Christian” response than disgust and condemnation. There are many, many cases of heterosexuals who have left spouses and remarried ( adulterous by strict scriptural standards) – many who are priests or bishops. I’ve also known people whose marriages break up and they have “moved in” with someone else, and act towards that person with commitment and love ( the example you give.) I am passionately committed to the ideal of lifelong monogamous marriage and I don’t think leaving a partner is ideal but I have compassion for anyone who leaves an unhappy marriage and I would at least be glad for the positives in the new relationship. I suppose my answer to you is that I am well aware people do not lead “perfect” lives – that includes myself. I do not think sexual sins are the worst type of sins ( though they can be amongst the worst – for example rape and abuse and I think divorce can have terrible consequences for children and I have witnessed the hurt of abandoned partners.)
      When I was a lot younger I sought the moral certainty that you and other conservatives seem to be ( forgive me) slightly obsessed with. However, experience has taught me how damaging religious “legalism” can be. To give one example, I once knew a Christian woman who had been sexually abused. She was told that, because he was her first sexual partner ( they had become “one flesh”) that, if she married someone else, it would be adulterous. You can imagine the anguish and resulting severe depression she developed. I know this is an extreme case, but it is an example of the wounds we inflict on others in Christ’s name.

      I can quite happily live my life knowing I do not have all the answers to what is the “right” thing for people to do. My faith admits of areas of moral ambiguity or areas about which I reserve judgement in a way yours clearly does not. After a lot of thought and prayer, I have decided that what God requires of me is to set the highest standards of behaviour in my own relationships, not to “police” the adult relationships of others. As in the parable of the tax collector and pharisee I try not to say “Lord, thank you that I am not like this tax gatherer” (…or adulterer, or promiscuous person, or fornicator, or prostitute.)I am much too aware of my own faults and limitations to be overly worried about those of my neighbour.

      Your points- structure 1-5 by the way does not in any way represent my logic or the way I approach things.

      • I asked you a question starting “Does God…”, and your reply contains no references to Scripture. Doesn’t that worry you at all?

        I was reading the latest issue of a magazine called “The Briefing” today – I don’t know if you come across it. It’s an Australian Christian magazine, although it has a UK version. There were a couple of things in it which I thought were really relevant to this discussion. Wonderfully, both are available online.

        The first article was a satirical set of possible “response letters” which might be received if Galatians had been published in Christianity Today. For example:

        Dear CT,
        I’ve seen other dubious articles by Paul Apostle in the past, and frankly I’m surprised you felt that his recurrent criticisms of the church deserved to be printed in your magazine. Mr Apostle, for many years now, has had a penchant for thinking he has a right to ‘mark’ certain Christian teachers who don’t agree with his biblical positions. Certainly I commend him for desiring to stay faithful to God’s word, but I think he errs in being so dogmatic about his views to the point where he feels free to openly attack his brethren. His attitude makes it difficult to fully unify the church, and gives credence to the opposition’s view that Curistians are judgemental, arrogant people who never show God’s love. — Ken Groener, San Diego, CA

        Do you think Paul’s comments about the Galatians were entirely in order, or are they in the category of “disgust and condemnation”?

        The other thing which struck me was this great article entitled “To Mourn or not to Mourn?” Not the bit about mourning, but the excellent point that there is a third way between “this activity is bad, and you are judged and condemned” and “let’s say that this activity isn’t actually bad”. It’s called the gospel – “this activity is bad, but forgiveness and restoration is available for all the repentant”. Calling people to moral purity and holiness of life is not “disgust and condemnation”.

        I’d commend both articles to you, and would be interested in your thoughts.

        When I was a lot younger I sought the moral certainty that you and other conservatives seem to be (forgive me) slightly obsessed with.

        This statement assumes that it’s not possible to have such moral certainties. Do you think that God does not have a clear moral will, or do you think that he does have one but he hasn’t clearly told us what it is? To put it another way, where is the uncertainty introduced which you think conservatives are trying to cover up/avoid in their futile search for certainty?

        • Hi Gervase,

          I am not worried at all! Many of my posts contain references to scripture and, in any case, people can use scripture in very damaging ways.Hear Christ’s words in John 5:20,

          ” You diligently search the scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

          A person can refer to scripture abundantly,and so believe themself justified, yet still be very far from God’s love.

          I have explained to you in detail ( June 5th 3;11) my humane approach to scripture and how I see the gospel as exemplifying a radical and empowering love for humanity over an arid legalism. I have acknowledged that we differ on biblical interpretation and do not intend to reiterate my posts ad infinitum.

          What does concern me is the refusal of some Conservatives to recognise that their own approach to scripture is selective and arises from a “personal ” agenda, as much as does liberals. Most conservatives minimise, or ignore, what scripture has to say about slavery, lending money at interest, remarriage and divorce and – for more liberal conservatives – the role of women and women’s ministry.

          I read both articles you linked to and thought them interesting, they represented different perspectives but didn’t see how they refuted any of my views or described them. The second article describes a casual attitude to issues such as divorce and abortion etc. Again, if you read my posts, I say that I am passionately committed to the ideal of lifelong , monogamous marriage and I have certainly been both distressed and angered to witness the pain of abandoned spouses and children. Of course I know and accept that “divorce happens” – but so do you, don’t you?

          I wonder if, on some level , you are stereotyping me as a “liberal for whom anything goes”, when I am far from being such?

          You are right to say that “calling people to moral purity and holiness of life is not necessarily “disgust and condemnation” ( although it can often be expressed in those terms.) LGBT Christians, by the way, do lead lives characterised by integrity, moral purity and holiness.

          As for moral certainty, I think Christ was ( and still is) on a quest to challenge moral certainty. In particular he challenged the moral certainty of the experts and teachers of the law – you can’t deny this, surely?

          I know you genuinely believe that a homosexual relationshop, however loving and committed is “sinful.” I know you do not consider that the anguish you inflict on others, through this stance, might be cruel and “sinful”. I do understand this and both of us can only really agree to differ over the issue and speak respectfully about it.

          • Do you think that in John 5:20, Jesus’ point is “people can misuse Scripture, so best not to pay too much attention to it”? Or is his point “people can misuse Scripture, so be sure to understand it correctly”? After all, these are the Scriptures which testify about him.

            You did explain why loving God and loving other people was primary, and I agreed with you. But you didn’t explain why you get to define what “loving” is. As I said, the question is not: “does Sue think that homosexual sex is loving? If so, case closed.” The question is: “does God define all sex outside heterosexual marriage as sinful?”

            LGBT Christians, by the way, do lead lives characterised by integrity, moral purity and holiness.

            But you are begging the question again. If homosexual activity is sinful, then the above statement cannot be true.

            As for moral certainty, I think Christ was ( and still is) on a quest to challenge moral certainty. In particular he challenged the moral certainty of the experts and teachers of the law – you can’t deny this, surely?

            Do you think his quest was to replace moral certainty with moral uncertainty, or do you think he was trying to replace incorrect moral certainty with correct moral certainty?

            I know you do not consider that the anguish you inflict on others, through this stance, might be cruel and “sinful”.

            Why does calling person X’s homosexual behaviour sinful inflict anguish on person X? That is a genuine question. The gospel says those who trust in Christ are all sinners, and yet valued and loved by God nevertheless. Could it be that person X has incorrectly absorbed the world’s view that one’s sexual practices define who one is as a person, and therefore to criticise the practices is to devalue the person?

            If someone tells me that a certain behaviour of mine is sinful, then I (hope I) would carefully consider their words, with reference to Scripture. If I came to the conclusion they were right, then there might well be anguish and repentance. But if I searched the Scriptures and, to the best of my understanding, found that they were wrong, why should I feel anguish?

            • No, neither of these, Gervase. I think he is saying that ransacking the scriptures and thinking that this will suffice is futile. What we also need is the spirit of Christ and his love and compassion living within us.

              You say the question is not “does Sue think homosexual sex ( I’d say “relationship”) is loving” If so, case closed. But nor is the question, “does Gervase think homosexual sex ( relationship) is sinful. If so, case closed.”

              You believe that God defines all sex outside heterosexual marriage as sinful. I do not believe God defines all sex outside heterosexual marriage as sinful.

              Both of us base our beliefs on a reading of scripture and our own “insticts” – and I think you are being dishonest if you deny that your “instincts” come in to it – after all you have already minimised or contextualised Scripture on the basis of your “instinct” that it is wrong to for one human being to enslave another, despite the clear cut injunction that slaves must obey their masters.

              ( Can’t believe I am explaining all this again!)

              Of “LGBT Christians lead lives of moral purity” – you say “you are begging the question again.” Of course I am – so are you!

              Regarding Christ and whether he wanted “moral certainty” or “moral uncertainty”. I think he knew that humans would always, in all times, face difficult moral questions and that the answers are not always easy. I think he wanted us, above all, the be certain that we must think long and hard before judging others, that our role is to “police” ourselves.

              ( Can’t believe I am explaining this again, either!)

              I think if you believed that you must lead your life without the close intimate love of another human being you might feel anguish. I think if you loved someone and were told that for that you were going to hell you might, even if you didn’t believe it, feel hurt and rejected. I think if you had come to a complete acceptance that you could have a same sex relationship and be justified in God’s sight – but your family had not and they broke ties with you, you might be anguished. If you had experienced no change in orientation following “healing” and someone told you this was because you “are not sufficiently motivated” – wouldn’t you feel anguish? These are all things that have happened to gay Christians.

              Are you seriously, seriously saying you do not believe the question of homosexuality has never caused anguish to a single gay Christian?

  12. I have seen all the comments in the last week by Carolyn, Blair, Sue and Gervase on this thread and I think there are many very good points raised. I want to respobd and I will, soon I hope. I just have work that I have to finish by Wednesday! Ah, the dreadful need to earn one’s crust!

  13. I’m just coming back to this website (life is busy at the moment), and I wanted to say Sue, that I really appreciated (and agree with) all that you’ve written.

    I think the point that we all ‘beg the question’ is a crucial one – and it is one that conservative evangelicals either ignore or deny.

    We all have our own preconceptions/opinions/values that determine which Scriptural passages we give precedence to when we come to interpret Scripture.

    As a side note, Gervase – 2000 years of Scriptural interpretation, reinterpretation, schism, new denominations, more interpretation and reinterpretation leads me to believe that Scriptural interpretation cannot possibly be as straight-forward and easy as you and your fellow conservatives like to assert. And it always amazes me when conservative evangelicals seem to imply that they, and they alone, are (finally!) properly interpreting Scripture in all particulars.

    Sue and I give precedence to those verses in which Jesus tells us that love is the key. Gervase – you asked (I believe) what determines whether or not something is loving? Well, Paul answers that – do our actions harm others?

    As Sue clearly pointed out, the conservative evangelical position is abundantly harmful. It causes intense pain, self-loathing, shame, marginalisation, stigmatisation and fear in gay and lesbian Christians.

    So this position is, I believe, sinful. It harms other people. It does not show love.

    And that is the basis on which I reject it as ‘unlawful’ in God’s eyes. It harms people.

    I watched ‘For the Bible Tells Me So’ the other day – very good documentary, I’d recommend it. But what struck me was the interview with the documentary maker at the end.

    He told of his fight to tell through the media the story of gays and the Church. He finally got to make a radio programme about this issue, in which he talked about challenging the conservative position that the Bible condemns all homosexuality. Once the programme ended, he thought that was probably that – he wouldn’t pursue that story any longer.

    Until he started getting mail about the programme. And one letter stood out. It read:

    ‘I bought the gun. I wrote the note. I heard your programme. I threw the gun away. My mother never needs to know.’

    I cannot understand how conservative evangelicals can, in good conscience, continue to deny the harm their position (and the subsequent stigmatisation of gays and lesbians) causes in so many lives.

    Conservatives are not condemning a ‘sin’. They are condemning something (physical attraction) that is inherent in who that person is (just as my heterosexual attractions are a basic part of who I am). You are saying: ‘You are bad’ (and this is said to gays and lesbians, even when they are celibate. It is the same sex attraction – something they have no control over – that is bad, although granted, acting on that attraction is seen as much worse in conservative circles).

    Gervase – your argument is circular and can’t be refuted; you define the terms, then argue from those terms, with no reference outside your own definitions.

    You accept that God’s law of love is important, but then you define homosexuality as ‘not loving’ (because you believe God says so). And you say that you are right, even when all the practical, physical evidence says that you are wrong.

    Conversely, you say that pointing out a homosexual’s ‘sin’ IS loving and not harmful (presumably, because you beleive that God says that’s what you should do). And you continue to say this, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

    We’re at an impasse, I’m afraid. But again, Sue’s point is worth noting again – you choose to prioritise passages like Romans 1 over passages like Luke 6 (in which Jesus ignores the law, because, as Sue said, ‘people matter’) and Romans 13.

    We choose to prioritise different passages. Why? because they seem to give the over-riding principle, while the Romans 1 passage can easily be understood culturally.

    • I’ve commented on several of your points below (the perils of reading blogs from the bottom up!).

      I don’t claim to be “properly interpreting Scripture in all particulars” – but I’m sure you don’t either, so unless we want to give up on the task of Scriptural interpretation as impossible, we will just have to continue doing the best we can, with close attention to the text.

      I do not recognise your characterisation of the “conservative evangelical” position as my position, Peter’s position, or the position of anyone else I know. I do not condemn the temptation of same-sex attraction, and I do not stigmatise people who have particular sins (I hope; and if I found I was, I would repent). Do some churches screw this up? Certainly; we’re all sinners, including church leaders. Does that mean the answer is to uncritically accept homosexual practice? Back to the Bible!

      On that point, I don’t think it’s a question of “prioritising passages” or “giving precedence” – that would imply that God’s word contradicts itself, and so we have to decide which bits are right and which have been obsoleted. That’s a Muslim understanding of scripture, but not a Christian one. I think the right thing to do is reach the conclusion which best takes into account all the Biblical evidence.

      You mentioned Like 6, Romans 13 and Romans 1. I don’t think that Jesus ignores the law in Luke 6, I think he explains how the Pharisees have misunderstood it. If he were to ignore the law, he would have been sinning – for the law is not abolished (Matthew 5:17-20). Jesus is saying that it’s entirely fine to feed yourself on the Sabbath – that’s not what the Old Testament means by “work”. I think that the Biblical definition of love cannot involve sin, and so whether Romans 13 can be used to approve of homosexual practice or not depends on whether it’s a sin – something we must determine from the passages which address that question. And so I hope to hear in detail how you understand Romans 1.

      • Gervase,

        Just a quick point – if you read further in Luke 6, you’ll also find Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath. Something that was completely unnecessary (you have to eat on the Sabbath, but the withered hand had waited years – surely it could have waited another few hours?).

        And what reason does Jesus give to the watching Pharisees, who wanted to catch Jesus out breaking the law (and they seemed to expect him to break the law – wonder why? Could this be a pattern with Jesus?)?

        Jesus asks whether it is permitted to do good or evil on the Sabbath? The answer is obvious, right? One should do good, not evil.

        The law is there to protect us – to help us to ‘do good’, to ‘show love’, to ‘not harm others’.

        How can we tell whether or not our particular interpretation of the law is doing good or evil? Look at the effects of our interpretation on those around us.

        This is what conservatives fail to do. They, just like the Pharisees, say that the Law says ‘Homosexuality is evil. Full stop.’ So therefore homosexuality is not loving, is outside of God’s law, etc, etc. But, of course, you are starting with your definition and also ending with it – that is not proof, merely circular argumentation.

        But the important point – this is NOT the model we see from Jesus. Jesus asks us to judge our interpretation of the Law by how that interpretation affects those around us.

        And by this standard, the conservative evangelical interpretation fails miserably. Absolutely miserably. Because it causes abundant harm, misery, self-loathing, pain, grief, marginalisation, stigmatisation, etc, etc in the lives of gays and lesbians.

        That may not be your individual intention, Gervase. But the evidence is clear that these are the results of your interpretation of the law (just as slave owners’ interpretation of the Scriptural admonitions to slaves to obey their masters failed Jesus’ standard miserably as well).

        As a history graduate, it is always fascinating to me to read Scriptural arguments from years gone by. It seems perfectly obvious to all of us that slavery is not at all compatible with Jesus’ teachings – but if you read the impassioned defences of slavery by slave owners, you hear eerie echoes of the rhetoric used by anti-gay Christians today.

      • I’m going to come back on the ‘giving priority to certain passages’ comment.

        I totally agree with you – the priority is to reach an interpretation which best takes into account all of the Biblical evidence.

        If Scripture interprets Scripture (a very conservative viewpoint), then we use one passage to interpret another. But which way around do we go? This is what I mean by prioritising one passage over another.

        And you and I both do it – but we prioritise different passages (I feel, like Sue, that I am repeating myself).

        You start with assuming that Romans 1 is a once and for all time prohibition of all homosexual activity – despite the fact that, for example, this passages doesn’t even pretend to address committed, loving same-sex partnerships.

        Then you use this a priori interpretation to ‘prove’ that when Romans 13 tells us that ‘love doesn’t harm’ that it can’t be harmful to homosexuals to deny them a life-partner and to tell them that their sexual orientation must be resisted. Why is it not harmful? Not because of any ‘on the ground evidence’, but because of your interpretation of Romans 1 – which takes precedence for you.

        It’s much the same position the Pharisees of Jesus’ day found themselves in with respect to the Sabbath Law, for example. They had decided – a priori – that ‘Thou shalt not work on the Sabbath’ meant doing things generally regarded as ‘work’ (like picking corn to eat and healing someone – after all, you were supposed to pick your corn earlier, and the healing surely could have waited).

        But Jesus tells them that interpretations of the law can’t be separated from the following question: is the law for good or for evil?

        What are the effects of how we interpet the law? That is how we can tell if we’ve gotten it right. That is the key.

        And that is how (once again) I interpret Romans 1. The homosexuality Paul knew about in the 1st century (and the lustful, idolatrous orgies he appears to be specifically referring to in Romans 1) do not at all pass the ‘law of love’ test, do they? So it isn’t surprising to find Paul condemning them.

        But what do these orgies have to do with committed same-sex relationships? Relationships which clearly and abundantly pass the ‘law of love’ test? Nothing at all.

        Which is why I’d come back to Romans 13 if someone asks my position on same-sex relationships. Do those relationships harm people? Or do they help people? Are they demonstrably evil or demonstrably good?

        It’s clear that these relationships, when they are committed and loving, help people and are demonstrably good. So why in the world would I think that God would condemn them?

        I think what God condemns is what Jesus condemned to the Pharisees – interpretations of the law that harm people and cause evil in people’s lives. Something that is (again) a clear result of the conservative evangelical position on homosexuality.

  14. Whew! After all of that, I thought I’d post this link, as I think it is relevant to this discussion:

    This blog post refers (and links) to an article exploring the different moral underpinnings of conservative vs. liberal moral judgements.

    Basically, we are forming our moral judgements based on different weightings given to 5 different ‘moral foundations’. Liberals tend to weight ‘doing no harm’ and ‘fairness’ highly, while conservatives make moral judgements based more on authority and purity issues.

    Very different moral foundations – thus, very different moral conclusions.

    I think for Christians, the key question is this: on what basis did Jesus make moral judgements? Which of these 5 ‘moral foundations’ did Jesus give most weight to in his life and ministry?

  15. Hi Carolyn,

    Nice to see you again and nice to have some moral support. I agreed with all you said, except I would point out, in all justice, that many conservatives, such as Peter, do say that homosexual attractions are not “sinful” in themselves , but only acting on those attractions. ( Obviously, that is not my position, just pointing out that it is consistently Peter’s.) I do actually think it is a position which begs some other questions – but I don’t want to go into those right now.

    I see a rigid focus on unbending rules and certainties as a retreat from or an inability to deal with, the complexities of human emotion and relation. Rigid rules, in the area of human relationship, are “safe”, engaging with messy human complexity is much more “risky” and, to some people deeply threatening. And, of course, all of us fall back on our parameters and culturally shared beliefs to give us security – I know I do.

    Your article on different emphasis on different levels of moral value was very interesting. The comments on “disgust” reminded me of a post I read a while back on a conservative, evangelical forum. A woman cited a long list of extreme and bizarre sexual practices and fetishes, which, in her view, would eventually be legitimised if homosexuality was widely endorsed by society. What struck me was the sheer detail ( she must have done a lot of research!) and that it suggested a scatalogical disgust but also, I thought, an element of prurient fascination. I am not saying I see that prurience on this forum by the way ( I don’t), but I do see a tendency to want to focus on homosexual acts in isolation, not as part of a relationship, which may contain many other elements such as love, support – even mundane domestic arrangements such as walking the dog and getting the shopping from Tesco’s! I know of one conservative priest whose attitudes completely changed when he watched a parishioner nurse his lifelong partner through two years of cancer and his grief at his death. I don’t think there was much sex in that relationship during those two years but ( I hope and guess) a lot of cuddling as well as a lot of tears.

    Guys ( and girls) rethink your attitudes! Those of us who are LGBT Christians are not only perfectly ordinary but also your brothers and sisters in Christ.

  16. Sue – I see what you are saying about the distinction some (many?) conservatives want to make between having same-sex attractions (not sinful) and acting on them (sinful).

    I do wonder, however, how this plays out in reality? If having same-sex attraction in and of itself isn’t sinful, then why do those attractions have to be resisted, and at such high personal cost?

    I do know, though, that many conservative evangelicals do try to make this distinction, and you are right to point that out. :-) But I would imagine that it still feels very isolating and fearful to be a LGBT Christian and to hear that, even if same-sex attraction itself wasn’t sinful, it was still something that had to be resisted at all costs, you know?

    I did find the Experimental Theology link very interesting (and helpful). In the blog post I linked to, the blog author links to another series of posts he’s written about love/disgust in relation to Jesus and his ministry. Those are well worth a read as well.

    The author makes the point that this disgust (or socio-moral disgust, when it is applied to humans) is deeply dubious morally, and it is something that Jesus spends his entire ministry fighting against.

    All the people that 1st century Judaism found ‘disgusting’ – those were exactly the people Jesus gathered to himself. As Desmond Tutu said at the Church of Scotland’ General Assembly this year – we serve a God who is notoriously biased towards those in our society who are the most vulnerable (symbolised in Biblical times by the ‘widow, orphan and alien’).

    And Jesus consistently stood up for, protected, sought out the company of – not the religious leaders, but those whom the religious leaders disdained.

    I once read a very wise comment on the issue of homosexuality and affirmation of same-sex partnerships.

    Imagine you’ve gotten it wrong (whichever side of the Biblical argument you come out on). Which position do you want to have to stand before Jesus and explain?

    That you marginalised, stigmatised and failed to accept children of God whom God himself loves, accepts and affirms?

    Or that you followed Jesus’ example in loving and accepting individuals who were sinning in some way?

    • Yes, I did say that the position ( that same sex attraction is not sinful, but acting upon it is) does “beg questions.” One of those is that, as you say “in reality” one would have to feel shame about those same sex attractions. Otherwise, if they are not “sinful” then presumably it would be alright to enjoy homosexual THOUGHTS? you could even feel OK about FANCYING people of the same sex? surely it would be perfectly acceptable to FANTASISE – as long as you didn’t act upon those fantasies? After all, all the actions in capitals are to do with orientation, not practice, aren’t they…

      I think we both know that the reality for conservative-gay Christians is more complex and anguished with enormous internal pressures – sometimes self loathing, certainly repression.

      I like your last point as well, hadn’t heard that one, but it gives food for thought for everyone here.

      • I would be interested to know where the idea of temptation fits into both of your understandings of the Christian life. That is how a distinction is made between wanting to do something and actually doing it, and why something can not be sinful but still have to be resisted.

        Homosexual feelings are a temptation, and should be resisted – just as when I have thoughts about how much fun it would be to have sex with a woman to whom I am not married, that is a temptation which I must resist. But to be tempted is not sinful – Jesus was tempted “in every way, just as we are” but was without sin, Hebrews 4:15 tells us.

        This does not mean that the activities Sue lists in capitals are “alright” – Jesus also said that if you fantasise about adultery, it’s the equivalent of committing it in your heart (Matthew 5:28). So having homosexual or other sex-outside-marriage thoughts is not sinful, although it would be wise to quickly change the mental subject to something else, but enjoying and dwelling on them, and fantasizing, is.

        But I would imagine that it still feels very isolating and fearful to be a LGBT Christian and to hear that, even if same-sex attraction itself wasn’t sinful, it was still something that had to be resisted at all costs, you know?

        I really don’t understand why you think that. My temptations to have sex outside marriage aren’t sinful, but must be strongly resisted, and yet this fact doesn’t make me feel “isolated and fearful”. We are all sinners in different ways; no-one can claim superiority. But that fact doesn’t mean we all look at our sins and say “well, it’s OK, because everyone’s doing it and no-one’s perfect”, it means we encourage one another in holiness, with the strong in one area helping the weak in that area, and vice versa.

        Imagine you’ve gotten it wrong

        Here’s the alternative version of that question.

        Imagine you’ve gotten it wrong (whichever side of the Biblical argument you come out on). Which position do you want to have to stand before Jesus and explain?

        That you called holy what is sinful? That you perverted Christ’s best illustration of his relationship with his church? That you encouraged and affirmed what Paul describes as one of the primary examples of the world’s godlessness and idolatry?

        Or that you encouraged people to find their identity, value and worth in Christ and not in a sexual relationship, but thereby mistakenly required some people who would otherwise have had sexual relationships to be celibate?

        I don’t think this is a particularly helpful way of thinking. Both disobeying God’s commands and adding restrictions where God has not added them are bad things. Legalism and licence are the two ditches either side of the Christian walk.

        I also want to comment on this:

        That you marginalised, stigmatised and failed to accept children of God whom God himself loves, accepts and affirms?

        People with homosexual attractions should not be marginalised, stigmatised or fail to find acceptance as people in any church. And I wish you would stop characterising all churches which believe that all sex outside marriage is wrong as places like that, because there are many Christians struggling with same-sex attraction who would testify that they are not.

        However, the church should also call all those who sin to repentance and change. Our sin, whatever it may be, should cause us to be ashamed of it before God. So, your paragraph should probably be something like “that you called something sinful which the Bible does not, thereby causing people to abstain from entirely reasonable sexual practices”.

        • Gervase,

          I really should have left for work about 5 minutes ago, so I don’t have time to say much.

          But I’m linking you to this forum, where gay and lesbian Christians speak about their disillusionment with the Church:

          I think that your comments about people not feeling marginalised and stigmatised by the church and Christians for feeling gay/lesbian – well, that might reflect your INTENTIONS, but it does not reflect the wider reality.

          And I think it demonstrates a lack of empathy/understanding of the situation that gays and lesbians find themselves in.

          There is simply no way that your example of feeling tempted to have sex with a woman who is not your wife is IN ANY WAY comparable with telling someone who is homosexual that they must resist ALL sexual/romantic urges they have (or else must ‘become straight’ in order to have a fulfilling relationship).

          After all – you have a wife in the background. Your sexuality can be expressed in a loving, committed relationship (or, if you don’t, you always have that possibility – gays and lesbians, in your world, don’t).

          Please, please, please, read and listen to the voices of the people that you are – yes, marginalising, whether or not you actively intend to do so.

          Will be back with more later…

        • I wanted as well to reply to how you changed my ‘what if you are wrong’ dilemma (even though you don’t think it’s a good way to think about things! That is such a conservative thing to say, don’t you think? And it’s premised on the idea that you conservatives really do have things right, and we liberals are just plain wrong).

          I’ll accept your reformulation of your own position – that’s only fair. The only question I’d ask is this – do you see homosexual sin as worse than other sins? Because it sure as heck sounds like that from the way you have phrased your own position.

          Have a look at your position again. Can you not see the difficulty you put gays and lesbians in when you hold that position, even when you claim to not be stigmatising them?

          I mean – if they fall in love with someone, and form a loving wonderful relationship with them – that relationship is ‘perverting Jesus best illustration of his relationship with his Church’? Please try to think how you’d feel to know that you could never express your sexuality, that you would always be alone, that you could never form a family of your own, but would always need to be on the outside, looking in.

          Not nice.

          But your formulation of my and Sue’s position is inaccurate (as was my formulation of your position, I admit).

          It is not just that you ‘mistakenly prevented some people from forming relationships.’ It’s that you create an entire culture which stigmatises a minority group of people, victimising them and creating pyschologically damaging conflicts.

          You create an enviroment in which those whom God accepts and loves (and remember – our God is notoriously biased towards those who are marginalised) are repeatedly cast out and denounced. This is how gays and lesbians in our Churches (and sometimes in wider society) feel.

          You prevented gays and lesbians from exercising their callings from God (see the Scott Rennie case) – or if you aren’t successful, you make their lives as difficult as possible in your attempts to stop them from following God’s calling in their lives.

          And as for encouraging them to find their identity in Christ – I would do that as well. Surely we should all be finding our identify in Christ?

          That statement has nothing to do with your own position with respect to homosexuals, because that is a command to us all – but ‘finding our identity in Christ’ doesn’t stop us heterosexuals from also finding a life partner (which fact all our friends and families then celebrate with us). You’ve just put it into your formulation of your ‘wrong position’ to try to make your position sound better, it seems to me.

  17. Hi Gervase,

    Again, you have responded in the same post to points made by both myself and Carolyn. I only intend to respond to issues that I have myself raised.
    I would challenge your idea that the things I list in capitals are not “alright”, if it is accurate that only same sex ACTIVITY is wrong but NOT orientation. One of the things I list in capitals is, “FANCYING people of the same sex.” Now, what IS orientation if it is not finding people attractive/ fanciable? Are you saying ” we have no issue with you having a homosexual orientation” but “we do have a problem with you finding other men / women attractive?” I sincerely hope not as it makes no sense whatsoever! Now, I can see more consistency in the position that says, ” We have no problem with you finding people of the same sex attractive – but you must not dwell on this.” However, it does still extend disapproval beyond activity. The example you give of adulterous thoughts is not exactly the same is it? After all, the heterosexual man who represses these thoughts still can turn to his wife. He is not being asked to be a “sexless” person and never to permit any sexual feelings or have any outlet for those feelings.

    What about the situation of a gay, married man who finds that he can only have sex with his wife by fantasising about other men? Naturally, this causes him anguish, but his wife does not want the relationship to become celibate?

    I remember once a very anguished young man ( he was single, in his mid twenties and heterosexual) asking a group leader about masturbation. The response he was given was that it is OK, as long as it doesn’t become obsessive and it was suggested to him that God might have provided this as a means to avoid the temptation of sex outside of marriage etc. Now, you may or may not agree with this advice, but should different advice be given to a young gay man rather than a straight one and is that fair – and is it realistic?

    Now as to how “temptation” fits in to the Christian life, I do believe how we behave is more important than how we feel and think. We have less control over how we feel, more over our conscious thought and most control over our behaviour. However, I think it is very difficult for gay Christians to believe that same sex activity is wrong and NOT to feel shame and guilt over same sex thoughts and feelings, however involuntary these may be. I think until you have been in this situation, it is difficult for you to appreciate the depth of conflict it can cause. It is fine to say, “well, they shouldn’t feel guilt and shame and why should it cause anguish? but in reality, it often does!

    I read with sadness the all-too- familiar words “godless, perverted, idolatory” above and wonder how you can expect LGBT Christians not to feel isolated and fearful when they read it. Thank God that there are other voices saying “good”, “accepted”, “beloved by God.”

    • “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – – that’s all.” Lewis Carroll ‘Through the Looking Glass’

      And that seems to be the point that we have got to in the ‘gay debate’ on this current thread! Our liberal friends (Carolyn, Sue, and probably Ryan and Sound) place primacy on the ‘Royal Law’ of LOVE, while conservative contributors (Gervase, myself and probably Peter although I shouldn’t attribute views to him while he’s on holiday) place primacy on OBEDIENCE to scripture. I’ve deliberately not placed you anywhere Blair as I think you raise some different points which I’ll turn to later. Now what do these words mean?

      Where to start? Firstly by emphatically refuting Carolyn, who says that I assume ‘a priori’ that homosexual sex is wrong (and who has been trying to pull the same trick on Gervase). My dear lady I do nothing of the sort! My first point on my now ancient post was that ‘Homosexuality is a sin against God’s creation and its order’ This is not ‘inferred’ or ‘a priori’, but a central theme of scripture from Genesis onwards. God created man ‘male and female’ to reflect His nature. Male and female in sex, in relationship, in difference and in similarity reveal the very nature of God. If you still think the bilical prohibition of homosexuality is an assumption drawn from God’s nature, Carolyn, when I suggest that you reflect on Peter’s essays on this site, especially ‘Theology of Sex’. The Ugley Vicar also has a useful recent contribution on how the growing influence of sin on people after the creation led to an increase in sexual sin.
      But let’s cut to the chase. In Scripture, god ordained sexual relationships are always between a man and wife, and homosexual practice (note my language) is expressly prohibited. The Scriptures were written in plain Hebrew and Greek, to be read by all people, and the teaching of the Bible on sexual morals and practice is correspondingly clear!
      There are three classic ways liberals address this problem, all of which have been raised in this thread. (As an aside, as someone living in South Africa, during the debate on whether to allow gay marriage, I was amused to hear an Anglican priest on TV claim that the church had ‘got around the problem’ of scripture prohibiting homosexual practice. Oops, what a give away!)
      1. Scripture is only condemning ritual homosexuality associated with pagan worship: While in the Ancient World homosexual practice was indeed associated with many pagan cults, it was also socially widespread. Carolyn and Sue are right to point out that the homosexuality of the New Testament era was exploitative and involved wronged wives, slaves and youths. Greek and (to a lesser extent) Roman homosexuality was well known throughout the Ancient World, with Paul using the words that are used for homosexual in other ancient literature. So why did he give a blanket prohibition of homosexual practice in Romans 1, when the diversity of homosexual practice was well known and documented. Why was this not qualified with ‘consenting adults’ or some other category? Surely it is because God intended the Scriptures to clearly prohibit homosexual practice in line with the clear thread of Scripture!
      2. The Ancient World had no conception of ‘committed, loving and faithful’ homosexual relationships: Liberals are on stronger ground here as there is no record in Scripture (or indeed in any ancient literature as far as I know) of committed loving and faithful homosexual partnerships. I suspect that two gays trying to live together as life partners in the Roman Empire would have been up on the nearest gibbet, toute suite! A powerful disincentive to ‘committed, loving and faithful’ I’m sure you’ll agree! It immediately raises the question however of how we define ‘committed, loving and faithful’, which I posted on earlier.
      3. The ‘Royal Law’ of Love is given primacy by both Christ and Scripture. This law requires that we accept and affirm committed, loving and faithful gay relationships: I agree that Love is given primacy by Christ and Scripture. I do not agree that this overrides the clear command of Scripture that homosexual practice is not allowed. In Scripture, love is always exercised within the framework of obedience, with Christ stating that ‘if you love me you will obey what I command’ (John 14:15 NIV).
      Which brings me back to my quote at the start. ‘Love’ and ‘Obedience’. What do we mean by these words, and which is to be master?
      Gervase has had a useful exchange with Sue and Carolyn on this topic. He has consistently brought the discussion back to biblical orthodoxy on sexual and asked ‘how do you apply love when Scripture consistently prohibits homosexual practice’. The response by Carolyn and Sue has been to assert the primacy of love (my point 3 above) and the existence of ‘committed, loving and faithful’ gay relationships (my point 2 above) which must be met with ’empathy, understanding and acceptance’. This reveals the liberal position to be based on assumptions: because gay relationships that are ‘committed, loving and faithful’ exist therefore they exhibit God’s love, therefore they must be affirmed. Such a position negates the clear Scriptural injunction that love always operates within the framework of obedience, and the absence of a biblical mandate for homosexual practice as a godly lifestyle.
      Remember, love is a much abused word in this modern and post-modern period, and has been and is used to justify all manner of abuses. ‘Voluntary’ euthanasia has been justified in the name of love, and there is now evidence emerging that families are using the provision in countries where it exists to dispose of unwanted relatives. Abortion has likewise been justified and has resulted in the mass destruction of unborn children. Never under-estimate the capacity of the fallen human heart to justify good reasons for doing bad. (Remember the ‘T’ of your ‘TULIP’ to all you good Calvinists out there!)
      So it seems that we, liberals and conservatives, are at an impasse where, as Carolyn puts it ‘we choose to prioritise different passages.
      It is at this point that I want to turn to Blair’s response to my earlier post, which asked about singleness and celibacy, and what I would say to those that have experienced no change in orientation. Both are fair questions and deserve responses. So let me try!
      Firstly, singleness and celibacy are given high status in Scripture. Those who are single, as Paul says, have more time to devote themselves to the Lord. He also wishes that all were celibate, like him, while recognising that celibacy is a gift of God and that it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
      Lack of change of orientation is a far harder question to consider, and I guess might be one reason for folks visiting this site. Please forgive me in advance if I come over as ‘preaching’. I think that sexual orientation is one of the most complex subjects with which we wrestle today. The only certainties seem to be that the determinants of sexual orientation are both biological and genetic. The American Psychological Association (APA) has moved back from claims for the genetic origin of homosexuality in its latest brochure: ‘There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian orientation…. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles’ (Note to Carolyn: stay up to date on the research!).
      Sexual orientation is certainly complex and must be met with the utmost pastoral sensitivity, something that evangelicals have undoubtedly failed to do in many cases. However, for me, this is an issue of Truth not Identity. In my earlier post I disputed that a gay identity exists, and that it is fixed. In biblical terms, there is no such thing as a gay Christian! (To respond to your point that there is no such a person as a straight Christian either: granted, but the Bible is clear that only straight sex is god ordained sex.) However, a Christian may experience same-sex-attraction (SSA). This might sound like just playing with language, but I think that Peter and others have correctly identified that the first step in the spiritual healing of homosexuality (which I think is probably the best term) is recognising that God sees you as a deeply loved child of His, who is struggling with SSA (NOT as a gay Christian). There are many rich resources on this site on the issues and healing that follow from this recognition of true identity.
      And this, I believe is where many evangelicals have gone wrong, as they treat SSA as a sin, when it is NOT a sin, it is a temptation. I recognise that it is a difficult temptation to be overcome, but there are many Christians who have successfully been spiritually healed of SSA (of which I am one, and judging from his testimony elsewhere on this site so is Peter).
      And if God does not heal someone of SSA is he unloving? Is he unjust? Of course not! There are many examples in Scripture where God acted in ways that the modern mindset would say were unloving. Paul’s thorn in the flesh (whatever it was) that he pleaded to be taken from him. Isaiah, who was told by God in the morning that God would kill his wife in the afternoon as an illustration of His rejection by Israel. Hosea, who was told to marry a wife that he was also told would be unfaithful, to illustrate the unfaithfulness of Israel. I repeat, to the modern mindset such treatment by God is harsh and unloving. But these saints of old were sustained by the love of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit, and they knew that whatever their troubles God knew what was best for them and could not be anything less than love, His very nature.
      And, after another very long post, I really need to stop! The love of God is sufficient for all of our needs in all of our contexts. And best trust in that love through obedience. To sum that up, let my turn back to Alice again!
      Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.” “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

      • Philip,

        I can’t respond to every point in your post. However, I think your original diagnosis of the impasse we liberals and conservatives come to is incorrect.

        You say we prioritise the ‘Law of Love’ and you prioritise obedience to Scripture – with the implication that we do not prioritise obedience to Scripture.

        Which is, of course, wrong. I absolutely prioritise obedience to Scriptures. And Jesus tells me that when my interpretation of the law is ‘for evil’, then my interpretation is wrong.

        Paul further makes the point, by telling me that I can tell whether or not I am obeying the law by seeing whether or not I am harming others.

        In both those instances (as I’ve said before) conservative evangelicals clearly disobey Scripture, as their position on homosexuality cause much evil and harm in many, many lives. :-(

        Again – this is all about interpretation. You interpret Paul’s condemnation of homosexuality as a blanket condemnation of ALL homosexuality – despite acknowledging the fact that the homosexuality Paul knew about, in his first century context, was abusive, exploitative, etc – i.e., lacking in love.

        On this basis alone, one would expect Paul to condemn the homosexuality he saw around him. No other reason is necessary, in order for Scripture to be consistent.

        Then you ask why Paul didn’t put in a ‘but consenting, loving adults are OK’ caveat. But this is an absurd requirement. What would that kind of caveat have meant to Paul and his listeners, when that kind of homosexual relationship was unheard of for them? We don’t expect Paul to address any other non-1st century situation in order for us to be able to make a judgement call on that particular situation. Why is this one different?

        Again – both Jesus and Paul give us the standard by which we make decisions on situations that are not dirctly addressed in the Bible – and that is: are you loving others as yourself? Are you doing good and not evil? Are you making sure you are not harming others?

        And again – lesbians and gays in committed relationships pass those tests with flying colours.

        Conservatives fail them abysmally.

        We are able now (although 19th century slave owners couldn’t – they used Scripture then, exactly the way you do now, to affirm that ‘God’s creation order’ meant that slavery was good and acceptable to God) to see that slavery is incompatible with Jesus’ life and ministry. Despite the lack of direct statements like, ‘I know slavery is acceptable in our society, but it isn’t acceptable to God’ from Paul.

        But Philip, you also affirm that ‘God’s word is clear in its condemnation of homosexuality’, without backing that statement up. You also say that it is clear that only heterosexual sex (within a monomogamous marriage, I assume) is acceptable to God.

        But of course, I can give you numerous examples of things that are unequivocally condemned in Scripture (having sex with your menstruating wife, wearing mixed fibers, loaning money at interest, etc) that we have no problem with today – what so different about homosexuality?

        Similarily, your contention that a monogamous heterosexual relationship is God’s only acceptable sexaul relationship is clearly contradicted by Scripture (in which God ‘gives’ David his numerous wives, for example).

        I think this is the frustrating thing about the conservative position. They claim utter fidelity to Scripture and that their interpretation of Scripture is completely consistent – yet they ignore these glaring inconsistencies (and these issues have been raised before on this board, and I notice that they have been studious ignored by those espousing the conservative position).

        I think we all see what we want to see (and psychological research supports this – political partisans have been shown to get an endorphin rush in the brain when they successfully rationalise away information that conflicts with their preconceptions).

        I think your Alice quotation at the end is very appropriate. Conservative evangelicals, like the Queen, are very adept at believing the impossible – that their position on homosexuality is actually loving and that it causes no harm/no evil in the lives of the minority group whose sexuality they attempt to control.

        Let me just quote again the letter from the young gay man who had received a ray of hope in a hopeless world when he heard a radio programme which questionned the idea that God condemned homosexuality:

        ‘I bought the gun. I wrote the note. I heard your programme. I threw the gun away. My mother never needs to know.’

        • The whole of Philip’s post seems to me to repeat the “biblical orthodoxy” argument.

          I strongly agree with Carolyn that several issues raised have been “studiously ignored by those espousing the conservative position.”

  18. One comment on my last post – this ‘unequivocal condemnation of homosexuality’ in Scripture consists of, basically, two passages: the Romans 1 passages (which we’ve discussed) and the Levitical texts (and I don’t know how anyone expects me to take an anti-gay argument from Leviticus seriously unless you are obeying all the other Levitical prohibitions as well).

    The 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy passages are both, as you know, difficult to translate, and there is much disagreement about the words Paul uses – which some translators (who, of course, have their own biases, which influence their translation) translate as ‘homosexuals’.

    The ‘condemnation of gays’ in the Bible is remarkably thin on the ground. Which is why conservatives have to reach for the ‘But God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve’ argument (I realise that is being flippant, but that is the essence of the position you espouse). And I have already gone through the reasons why I find this argument unconvincing.

  19. Carolyn:

    You suggest that Paul only knew about “abusive” and “exploitative” gay relationships i.e. adulterous relationships and religious orgies.

    How can you possibly know that?

    And what is it about an orgy that is necessarily “abusive” and “exploitative”? Maybe everyone there is very committed to everyone else’s needs, very considerate, very loving. And who exactly is being harmed by an orgy?

    For that matter, why must only two people be involved in committed sexual relationships? Couldn’t three or four or five people live together in a committed relationship, as long as they all love each other and don’t do anyone else any harm?

    Talking about morality as fundamentally a question of minimising harms is very problematic conceptually – as you have proved by implying that conservatives are to blame, in some vague and unexplained sense, for many of the pathologies and problems of the gay community.

    • Perhaps you could elaborate on these pathologies? Hopefully using something better than, say, Paul “kicked out the APA for research abuses” Cameron’s infamously dodgy statistics (which are even used in Gagnon’s allegedly definitive The Bible and Homosexual Practise – talk about a castle built on sand!).

    • According to the bible three or four or five people CAN live together in a relationship entirely acceptable to God ( as Carolyn has pointed out in her posts.)I am not saying I think this, I actually think an ideal standard is for two people to share a lifelong commitment to each other , that that “I will be true to you, and you only” exclusivity provides a depth and “freedom within constraints” that offers huge rewards. Hey – but it doesn’t matter what I think, look in the bible, God has provided more than enough justification for polygamists in there.

        • Sure Peter – have a look at 2 Samuel 12, where Nathan comes and confronts David about taking Bathsheba.

          In this passage, it is clear that God is the one who gave David ‘all his wives’. And God (who conservative evangelicals insist is absolutely consistent, always transcends the Biblical cultural context, and furthermore, says that only monogamous sex between a man and a woman is OK) goes on to say that He would have happily given David even MORE wives.

          It seems to me that the clear meaning of this Scripture is that God is actively involved in giving men multiple wives and is happy and content with those polygamous relationships, yes?

            • You’re kidding me, right? v. 8 says, ‘

              ‘I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms…and if all this had been too little I would have given you even more.’

              In what way do you interpret this to mean that God was disapproving of polygamy? When God was actively involved in perpetuating it?

              You know – I was just coming back downstairs (leaving my laundry pile for the moment!) to comment on what you are doing here.

              It’s interesting – you have completely different standards of proof for your interpretation of Scripture vs. my interpretation of Scripture.

              For my interpretation of Scripture to be true with respect to Romans 1, you insist that God would have had to make Paul address a 21st century cultural phenomenon (committed, monogamous homosexual partnerships) that his 1st century context knew nothing about.

              Yet when it comes to your interpretation of Scripture, you hold to the view that God only approves of monogamous heterosexual sex when we have a direct statement from God that he gave David multiple wives! And in order for my interpretation to be correct, God would have had to have qualified his statement to say ‘Oh, but I don’t approve of or commend polygamy to you!

              As I said – psychological studies have shown that we get an endorphin rush when we take contradictory information and distort it to fit into our own preconceptions. It seems clear to me that this is happening here (and I’m aware I’m prone to this as well!).

              Out of interest – can you explain to me why you think God disapproved of David’s polygamous situation when God was the one who instituted it?

              God certainly didn’t have a problem calling David on his theft of Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah. So why would he have hesitated to correct David’s polygamy?

              • How does 2 Samuel 12:8 commend polygamy? Here God is very clearly referring to the fact that he handed over Saul’s possessions and wives into David’s hands. There is however no statement whatsoever in this verse on the morality of David having several wives.

                The question remains – where in Scripture does God commend having several wives?

                • You can’t seriously ask us to buy this , Peter?

                  (If you ask “why not”, I’d refer you again to Carolyn’s post above, which explains with precision and clarity her very valid point.)

                • Yes – God handed over Saul’s possessions (including wives) to David.

                  And it sounds as if God tells David that if he’d really wanted more wives, he shouldn’t have taken Bathsheba. Instead – God would have given him more.

                  Could you explain to me why God would do something which is sinful (as you allege all sexual activity outside a monogamous heterosexual marriage is)?

                  I’m afraid I don’t understand the distinction you appear to be making between God DOING something and COMMENDING something.

                  Presumably if God does something, it therefore is NOT sinful, right?

                  So giving David multiple wives (which used to belong to someone else, with the wives in question having no say over their fate) was presumably not sinful, right?

                  In fact, it must have been holy – because God can’t do anything that isn’t holy, right?

                  And if this is the case (which it presumably is, because God is holy, He cannot sin, and everything He does is perfect and good by definition) – how do you reconcile this with your contention that the Bible is consistent in saying that only heterosexual, monogamous marriage is acceptable to God?

                • Peter –

                  Here are a couple of other verses which are relevant to this issue:

                  1 Kings 15:5
                  because David did what was right in the sight of the LORD, and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life, except in the case of Uriah the Hittite.

                  It’s difficult for me to read this as a condemnation of polygamy. It sounds much more like an acceptance and affirmation of polygamy (and the treatment of women as property, for that matter).

                  Also, Deuteronomy 21:15-17 (God’s law) regulates polygamy (if it’s sinful, why not condemn it? Similarly, if slavery is sinful, why not condemn that, instead of regulating, which the OT also does):

                  15 If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons but the firstborn is the son of the wife he does not love, 16 when he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he does not love. 17 He must acknowledge the son of his unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has. That son is the first sign of his father’s strength. The right of the firstborn belongs to him.

                  Yet conservatives assert that a monogamous heterosexual couple is God’s only consistent standard for sexual relationships.

                  This clearly isn’t the case.

                    • King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. 2 They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. 3 He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. 4 As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been.

                      (1 Kings 11 verses 1-4)

                      I wonder (rather cheekily) if you’ll say that doesn’t prove the point… if so I would just point out what’s condemned in the text is Solomon’s being led astray, going after false gods, not his polygamy. Presumably if Solomon had had only one wife and she had ‘led him astray’ that would have been equally condemned (OK, I speculate).

                      in friendship, Blair

                    • I think the point I’d make is that the Bible observes Solomon having many wives. It certainly doesn’t commend him for it does it?

                    • Indeed it doesn’t – but surely he (and others, eg Jacob – see Genesis 32:22 etc) would have been condemned for it if it were deemed wrong? But it’s just noted, observed as you say – something unexceptionable. Tacit commendation perhaps? Or accepted as customary…?

                      in friendship, Blair

    • WC –

      But I don’t talk about morality as a question of minimising harm – that is what Paul does in Romans 13. This isn’t my standard – it is God’s standard (if we are Christians and hold Scripture as authoritative in our lives).

      And it gets you pretty far in life. :-) If the standard by which you judge your actions (as a Christian) is whether or not those actions are loving – whether or not those actions hurt others or ’cause evil’ in the lives of others (and this is dirctly from Jesus).

      I don’t think your examples are very good ones, I’m afraid. Why were idolatrous orgies bad/evil for Paul? Well, they were taking place in a context where people were being hurt (wronged wives), ones of sexual exploitation (temple prostitution – often involving slaves, who had no say in the matter), etc, etc.

      Sure, some people taking part in the orgies would argue that they were hurting anyone (just as conservative evangelicals argue that their blanket condemnation of homosexuality doesn’t hurt anyone) – but both of these arguments would be/are made in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

      You know, I changed my mind about homosexuality years ago. But it has been in the past few months, in listening to the experiences of gay and lesbian Christians (both in person, and particularly through the video ‘Through My Eyes’) that I have become convicted of the damage the heterosexual majority does to our homosexual brothers and sisters in Christ.

      This debate here is interesting, and I enjoy the back and forth of the debating process. However – as I’ve mentioned a couple of times, our brain ‘protects’ us from having our basic preconceptions challenged by conflicting information – so I’m not sure that this debate will convince anyone who is already convinced of the ‘rightness’ of the Scriptural arguments on one side or the other (as we all seem to be!).

      I wonder if a more productive way forward is to listen to the voices of those caught in the middle of this debate – gay and lesbian Christians – about their experiences both in society and within the Church.

      Because – like it or not – our actions/attitudes/beliefs create a climate or cultural situation that other people have to live in. And when we are in the majority (as heterosexuals are) we have a lot of control over the cultural pressures put on minorities (like homosexuals).

      Here is a link to a trailer for the video ‘Through my Eyes’, in which gay and lesbian young people (some of who believe God accepts same-sex relationships and others who believe God calls gays and lesbians to celibacy) talk about their experiences of being gay in the Church.

      If you listen to their stories, and see the climate created for them as a result of the evangelical position on homosexuality, I don’t think you can honestly conclude that this position does not damage gays and lesbians.

      Now, some will say that – ‘Yes, the Church sometimes gets it wrong, but that’s no reason to be accepting of same-sex partnerships.’

      But only God can convict, right? It is not our job to convict others, but only our job to follow Jesus with all of our hearts, minds, soul and strength.

      We can’t change others – but we can change ourselves. When the Church is so culpable in harming and failing to accept gays and lesbians, what right has the Church to say anything at all to gays and lesbians about how they should behave?

      Surely we should get the plank out of our own eye (in terms of how we treat those who are different from the majority) before worrying about the speck in someone else’s eye.

      In this instance, conservatives and liberals are not going to agree (although the odd person may – against all psychological odds! – switch sides here and there). But (and this gets back to the original topic of this thread) – surely we should all be worrying about our own sin, rather than worrying about imposing our particular interpretation of Scripture on those who don’t share that interpretation of Scripture?

  20. I am simply referring back to things that liberals have said earlier on this blog, which they appeared to blame on conservative Christians.

    One commenter referred to an “entire culture which stigmatises a minority group of people, victimising them and creating pyschologically damaging conflicts.”

    Perhaps pathologies was a poor choice of word, and like you I am very wary of the whole Gagnon/Cameron school, but I do not think it is very controversial to point out (a) that gay men tend – on the whole (and I am attending the wedding of 2 wonderful exceptions later in the year) – to be quite promiscuous, and (b) that anal sex is substantially more risky to health than most other forms of penetrative sex, and that gay writers have often suggested promiscuity is a reaction against conservative social mores.

    For what it’s worth I am on your side (my partner used to be head of the LGBT group at university) but many of the arguments used by sexual liberals here are spurious and irrelevant.

    • Hi Wicked,

      There is some truth in what you are saying about young, gay, male culture often being promiscuous. This is one reason why the church could offer so many positive role models IF it could openly support and acknowledge its faithful, partnered gay clergy. Jeffrey John writes that a gay priest who is able to be open about his sexuality AND his Christian values soon attracts other gay people looking for such positive role models for their own lives and relationships. Unfortunately I don’t have the book to hand, but he writes something along the lines that heterosexuals don’t really look to the vicar and his wife as a role model for their own marriages – but gay people do!

      We have had centuries when gay culture has largely had to be about shame, secrecy and the furtive, casual sex that goes along with it. We are now seeing gay relationships legitimised and included – this is the time when the Church could offer so much to restore a sense of human dignity to a group of people who have been degraded in so many ways.

      By the way, if you think I personally have used any spurious arguments, I am happy to defend them. Incidentally, I’m not sure I’d see myself as a “liberal.”

  21. I’m posting separately so that Carolyn can take the reply slot to Peter.

    2 Samuel 12; Then Nathan said to David…The Lord, the God of Israel says, ” I anointed you king of Israel and saved you from the power of Saul. I GAVE you his house AND HIS WIVES and the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. And if this had not been enough, I WOULD HAVE GIVEN YOU MUCH MORE”

    Also verse 14 :”Because of what you have done, I , the Lord will cause your household to rebel against you. I WILL GIVE YOU WIVES TO ANOTHER MAN AND HE WILL GO TO BED WITH THEM IN FULL VIEW.”

  22. Yes Sue you are right that several issues raised have been ‘studiously ignored by those espousing the conservative position’. From my side, this was not by intent, but simply due to my long-winded contributions :) So let me take up your challenge and have a go at addressing the issues that I see as ‘still on the table’.

    On the slavery/gay rights parallels, I think there are three main arguments. Firstly, scripture nowhere commends slavery, indeed Paul advises slaves to seek their freedom in any non-violent way possible. If you can point me to any new testament scriptures that commend slavery as an institution I’ll be happy to change my mind!
    Secondly, I’m sure that all on this board agree that elements of the church have misinterpreted scripture. For I example, I live in South Africa where the Dutch Reformed Church misused the scriptures for false scriptural justification for apartheid. However, these misinterpretations have occured most often historically when elements in the church have sided with the state and with prevailing culture and colluded in the oppression of others. Again, South Africa and the DRC/NGK is a good case in point. The fight against slavery is also a good example of elements of the church colluding in oppression. The main church supporters of slavery, in both the UK and USA, were the established or institutional churches, especially elements within these churches that were close to the commercial slaving interest. Indeed, the fight against slavery is the high-water mark of evangelical political action. The anti-slavery movement, in both the UK and the USA, was led by evangelicals, non-conformists and the historic peace churches. Pro-slavery rhetoric came mostly from the established and institutional churches. We should always be most wary of scriptural misinterpretation when the church sides with those in power, be it political or commercial.
    Which brings me to my third point. The situation is now reversed in the church debate over ‘gay rights’. The liberal position reflects, or is close to, the current culture, with its emphasis on sexual rights. The liberal position is also increasingly close to that of the state, especially if the Equalities Bill is passed. This is the reverse situation compared to the fight against slavery. The conservative evangelical position on ‘gay rights’ is both counter-cultural and against the position of the state. The church should always be wary when it finds itself in a majority position and in agreement with the predominant culture. It is easy at that point for it to be co-opted and for it to lose its prophetic edge. In all humility, we should face the possibility that the orthodox Christian position on sexual faithfulness within marriage between a man and a woman is prophetic witness to an increasingly hedonistic and sexualised culture. I believe therefore that evangelical witness to society has been prophetic on both slavery and sexuality?

    Carolyn, your example of your intersexed friend is a very good one, and I am sure that she had many painful struggles growing up and coming to terms with her status. You didn’t say whether she was a Christian or not, which would of course make a great deal of difference in how she approached her situation. So even though I only have partial knowledge, let me have a go at an evangelical perspective on the intersexed (where angels fear to tread, etc!)
    Sin has created far more damage than we care to admit. According to the Bible, the whole of creation is groaning in anticipation of its salvation. Until Christ returns (or later if you’re a post-millenialist) all of creation is damaged by sin. There’s lots of theology there that you can unwrap if you want to but the main point I want to make is that it explains why bad things happen to ‘good’ people (remembering that no-one is good except God). Your friends situation was not her fault and no Christian should claim otherwise. But it was the impact of sin in creation that caused it. We are not promised an easy life by God, and as I posted earlier, God has asked and continues to ask things which the modern mindset would view as ‘unloving’. God does always provide his presence and the comfort and strength of the Holy Spirit to those that ask, however difficult their situation, and for the Christian, however difficult their trials, that is sufficient.
    But I guess you probably want to cut to the chase and hear what I think about her having sex as an intersexed person. Well, as an anatomical female she is equipped for sexual relations with a male and so her identity is female. Happily, she seems to have followed a female identity, although I am sure that many intersexed people need significant counsel to find and accept their identity. Remember, in biblical terms sexual identity (ontology) is given by God as male and female! Before you protest, I’ll choose to leave a contribution on the hermaphrodites to someone else!
    Sue, you and Carolyn have also posted most eloquently on the hurt and damage that have been caused to gays and lesbians by insensitive and hurtful treatment and comments. This is an area where many evangelicals have not had a good record and we need to acknowledge this.
    Your argument however is that because gays and lesbians have been hurt, and because they can have ‘committed, loving and faithful’ relationships, the only loving response can be to affirm their relationships within the church. I would want to make two points in response to this assertion.
    Firstly, it sidesteps the issue of whether homosexual practice is sinful. I don’t want to get us back into the whole discussion again as we clearly disagree on interpretation of scripture, but far too many liberals minimise this issue.
    Secondly, and more importantly, it denies the possibility of any loving response other than affirmation. Remember, evangelicals see homosexuality as a temptation, not an identity. So the loving evangelical response, as to anyone facing temptation, is to come alongside and to love that person, to understand their situation, to offer prayer and counsel and help them through, without condemnation. I fully accept that many evangelicals have failed in this task, but that is not what you and other liberals are claiming. You are claiming that the only loving response to the homosexual is full acceptance, inclusion and affirmation. Can you at the very least see how authoritarian and illiberal this claim is?
    As you will be aware, there are groups of evangelicals who come alongside gays and lesbians who voluntarily ask for counsel to leave homosexual practice, as a loving response to a brother and sister seeking to leave sin. And this my friends is the only point at which I get angry in this whole debate. Because when these evangelicals groups (be they called ex-gay, post-gay, or whatever) get to work, the **** really hits the fan and the counsellors and counselees become the most vilified sexual minority of the lot. Christians that claim to have ‘left behind gay’ are derided, demonstrated against, told they are self-loathing traitors and much worse. How can it be that Christians who want to help other Christians leave sin, surely the most loving response possible, are treated in such unloving and illiberal ways?
    Yet again I’ve gone on too long but I hope I’ve addressed some of your outstanding points. But, in all fairness, the liberal submissions have also been ignoring points that have been consistently raised. So let me set you a number of challenges in response.
    1. Read through the essays by Peter on this site ‘Theology of Sex’ and others that clearly set out the orthodox Christian case that sexual relationships are between a man and a women within marriage, and then comment further?
    1. Show me where ‘committed, loving and faithful’ gay relationships are clearly mandated in scripture, without resorting to the contextual arguments that you have used so far.
    2. Show me where the ‘gay identity’ is clearly mandated in scripture.
    And, with that I must now love you and leave you. As I was writing this last night, I had to break off and pick up a teenage daughter from a (too late) movie showing. As they say, ‘show me a Dad with a 16 year old daughter and I’ll show you a conservative’:)!

  23. Hi Philip ( and God bless you)

    Firstly I want to comment on this “where does God commend” approach that yourself and Peter have recently adopted. I am not quite sure what you mean, if the scriptures Carolyn gave are NOT ( in your views) God commending polygamy, then I assume the only wording that would satisfy your scruples and be sufficiently unambiguous would be “I, the Lord, commend polygamy / marriage/ homosexuality/ slavery etc.

    So, for example, if I were to use Peter’s tactics, I could take some verses on heterosexual marriage such as ” God made them male and female..this explains why a man leaves his mother and father and is jointed to his wife..they are one..let noone separate them, for God has joined them together.”

    I could say “Now where in this does God COMMEND marriage, just because he was involved in making them male and female, doesnt’ mean he COMMENDS that complementarity. The phrase “a man leaves his mother” is just an EXPLANATION it is not a COMMENDATION , just because God has joined them together, does not mean he APPROVES or that he COMMENDS this.

    Can you find any verse in Scripture which actually says “God commends” a state of action we’ve discussed?

    So, scripture does NOT “commend” committed, loving homosexual relationships, nor does Scripture condemn loving, committed homosexual relationships. Scripture is silent in terms of specific comment about the matter and I have explained to you why I think this is.

    As to the argument about the abolition of slavery being “counter cultural” and gay rights being a coming in line with a secular culture, it is interesting but I do not see it carrying the validity you claim. If we see that the oppression of people on the basis of race is wrong, we should oppose it, if we see the oppression on the basis of sexuality is wrong,we should do so too. I know that you do not think it is wrong to deny gay people the right to relationships ( and maybe that you don’t see this as oppression.)

    I do want to say a little about the LGBT people who “voluntarily come alongside for counsel” as I grew up close to some elements of ex-gay culture. Firstly, I know people who are gay and celibate and completely accept their right to follow their convictions on this matter. Many people who are gay and married wish to honour their committments to their marriage and spouse. I personally believe this is a wise and honourable path,( although I cannot condemn those who cannot follow it. )

    I listened with interest to the “Sex in the City” people interviewed on radio, the line was always “No, we don’t pressurise people at all, if they want to be gay, we say that’s their choice, it is just if people with unwanted same sex attractions seek us out that we help them.” Now, is this really true? It is not my experience! Even on this site, is there an attitude of “well, it is personal choice at the end of the day..” Emphatically no!

    You say that I am “authoritarian and illiberal” to say that “the only loving choice toward the homosexual is full acceptance , inclusion and affirmation.” Surely this IS the only loving response? Except to me, when someone says to me , ” I can’t see my way clear to a relationship, I remain celibate / married”, I still fully accept both the person and the choice they have made. I don’t tell them they are repressed, self loathing or living a lie!!( honestly I don’t.) I have some met celibate gays and evangelical heterosexuals who have the grace to accept someone in a gay relationship, despite the fact that they would not do the same ( except the heterosexual doesn’t actually know what they would do in that situation.)

    As to people being “healed” of their sexuality, and I know this applies to you, well I do believe all voices must be listened to with respect. I do not believe that anyone’s story should however be used as a weapon to bludgeon or shame other LGBT people who are happy to be who they are without needing “healing”. Moreover, you cannot universalise from individual experience. The area of sexuality is very complex. How do we know that yourself, Peter and a few others ( I’ve only heard a few such accounts as against hundreds of quite different stories) were not always innately bisexual and have discovered things that were always within you? We also know that it is possible to lie to others and ones self about sexuality for years. I am not saying this is true of you, but it is definitely true of many others. Look up John Paulk, Michael Johnston, Wade Richards, John Evans, Colin Cook, just to name a few, and you will hear of those who were found to be visiting gay bars, involved in relationships while overtly “cured”.

    Now, these cases do not mean that others do not experience a full change in their sexuality, but it does suggest quite a high failure rate.

    To answer your last three points: 1. I’ve read one of Peter’s articles ( on divorce) and was entirely unconvinced 2. I cannot show you where faithful gay relationships are mandated in scripture without resorting to context – because I believe in interpreting scripture in context. 3. Same question as 2 ( or your second 1.)

    By the way, I do not want to characterise you personally as “unloving”. There are different, deeply felt stories and convictions on both sides of this debate, perhaps it is good that we listen to each other?

    • God bless you too, Sue. I agree with you that sexuality is complex and that there are many deeply personal stories and hurts. There is therefore a great need to speak and act in love and to listen carefully. If we can’t do that as Christians, then who can!

      But you really shouldn’t argue scriptures with an evangelical! Don’t you know it’s what we’re good at?

      The Genesis verses that you cite (Gen 2:23,24) very clearly commend man and women as complementary sexual partners. The words ‘cleave’ and ‘flesh’ both have strongly sexual connotations, with ‘cleave’ meaning to hold fast together (including physically) and ‘flesh’ meaning ‘one body’ (including one body sexually). God created man and woman with matching twiddly bits for a purpose! :-)

      One of the points that I have been making is that, right at the start of scripture, man and women are created physically and sexually for each other, and that this is then one of the core threads running throughout scripture. Married, heterosexual sex is God-mandated sexuality and anything in scripture that moves away from that norm is always categorised as sin. I really feel that you and Carolyn have failed to take on board the full significance of this very clear theme of scripture.

      And this significance is fundamental: to nature, to purpose, and to identity – all of which comes from who we are in Christ – who God says that we are, not what the surrounding culture says that we are.

      The main reason that I asked the three questions at the end of my last post was to get a recognition from you that the biblical case for homosexual affirmation is based on a contextual reading of scripture. It has to be: there is no clear affirmation of homosexual practice throughout scripture.

      Now I have no fundamental problem with contextual readings of scripture – much good theology comes from establishing bilical principles and then applying them to situations that the Bible does not describe. That’s the core of the liberal case really, isn’t it? That as ‘committed, loving and faithful’ gay relationships did not exist in biblical times the prohibitionary scriptures are talking about something else. We therefore apply the ‘royal law’ of love to determine how to act.

      The problem with contextual readings of scripture are, in my view, twofold. First, context should always be secondary to clear biblical commands and guidance. As I’ve already posted, the biblical mandate of married faithful heterosexual sex is so strong and continuous throughout scripture that there is no room for ambiguity. But I think we’ve got to the point where we just disagree on this point and respectfully move on.

      Secondly, contextual readings always run the risk of biasing us towards current values and views of the situation, and towards the pressures of the dominant culture. Our own context inevitably dominates as it is our own experience. And in doing this we can easily allow our own views on the context to over-ride or ignore what scripture is saying.

      Before I carry on I want to restate the four points I made in my original post:

      1. Homosexuality is a sin against God’s creation and its order;
      2. Homosexual is an incorrect, modern definition of identity, not a biblical definition of identity;
      3. The homosexual identity is rooted in a modern philosophical ‘human rights’ discourse, not in the Bible;
      4. ‘Committed, faithful, loving’ partnerships are a relative rather than an absolute definition.

      I feel that we have pretty much argued through point 1 to a place where we respectfully agree to differ. There is much however that can still be said about points 2-4 (in my usual abbreviated manner :-)

      Which brings me onto your next point. I disagree with you that the arguement on race and sexuality is identity, as I disagree that sexuality as a category is at all meaningful. It certainly is a biblical category. The key verse for me is Galatians 3:28, which gives us the three fundamental categories that God uses: race, class and gender (funny, this is beginning to sound like a sociology lecture!) We are told not to dicriminate on these grounds as we ‘are all one in Christ Jesus’. I know you will use the contextual argument again, which we know we disgree upon :-)

      Yet again a long post and I’ve only dealt with two of your points. I’m sorry I’m such a windbag! I’m off to bed (with my wife, married in church, just so you all know)

      • Philip,

        We are, of course, going to have to agree to disagree. However, I used to be an evangelical (raised in the fundamentalist American South!), so I know my Bible pretty well. ;-)

        I feel that I’ve raised quite a few issues that you haven’t addressed – I’m not sure if that is intentional, or if you just haven’t gotten around to them yet!

        However, in your latest post you say this:

        >>>The problem with contextual readings of scripture are, in my view, twofold. First, context should always be secondary to clear biblical commands and guidance.>>>

        I think this shows a fundamental misunderstanding of texts. You see, without understanding the context of a command, you cannot understand the command.

        Context is key to everything. An example I read recently:

        Imagine a woman snapped at her husband: ‘Don’t touch me!’

        Now – if this was said in the context of a nasty divorce battle, it’s probably safe to assume she meant it as a ‘once and for all’ command – i.e., ‘Don’t touch me ever again!’

        But if it was said in the context of a happy marriage, but while the wife was sick in bed with an achy flu-bug – then one is safe in assuming her command was limited to the current situation.

        And that is exactly the situation we find with homosexuality. The Bible’s prohibitions (all 2 of them!) of same-sex activity is in the context of cultic activity.

        It takes a lot of extrapolating (and ‘special pleading’ back to the ‘male/female’ theme in the Bible) to get from specific cultic activity prohibtions to a blanket condemnation of same-sex relationships.

        I’d be interested to know what you make of David and Jonathon’s relationship? It is never decried, only spoken of positively (and we know that only in taking Bathsheba did David displease God) – yet this relationship is characterised by feelings which clearly go far beyond the platonic (they kissed, they loved each other with a love surpassing that of women, etc).

        As you can see, I don’t think one has to rely entirely on contextual evidence to make the case for God’s affirmation of same-sex partnerships!

        Here’s a blog post that others might find interesting in relation to this debate (my husband is the author). :-)

  24. Philip,

    I like that there is someone as long-winded as I am! :-)

    I’ll address your different points in different posts (might make it easier to follow).

    I don’t think your argument works (surprise!) regarding slavery. You state that the Bible doesn’t commend slavery – yet you ignore the fact that it both regulates it (OT) and sustains it (NT).

    Our argument is that in failing to condemn it outright, the Biblical authors were working within their cultural context – i.e., God didn’t come down with lightning bolts and insert his REAL feelings about slavery (which would have been next to impossible given the cultural settings of the Biblical writers) in the text where it was culturally inappropriate.

    And you accept this – God doesn’t do the ‘thunderbolt and lightning’ thing to get his anti-slavery position across. You have to infer it from other passages in the Bible, and there is a LOT of room for misinterpretation.

    Yet you hold advocates for homosexual affirmation to an impossible standard – and one that you accept God doesn’t meet with respect to slavery.

    In order for homosexuality to be affirmed, you insist that God has to have explicitly commended, through the Biblical authors, something that didn’t exist in the cultural worlds of those authors (this gets onto your last point).

    In what possible context would such an affirmative statement have come? When there wasn’t a cultural understanding of those relationships?

    Just as we get no outright condemnation of slavery because there was no cultural understanding of a world without slavery, so we get no explicit affirmation of monogamous same-sex partnerships because there was no cultural understanding of those kinds of relationships.

    You say that the liberals have ignored this aspect of your arguments, but we haven’t. I’ve addressed it at least once, possibly more often. This is an impossible standard, and one that you don’t hold the Biblical texts to in relation to other issues.

    This is another example of the inconsistency I find so frustrating in the consevative evangelical position (particularly given the fact that conservatives claim to be totally consistent!)

    As for your arguments from positions of power, saying that the Church has to be careful whenever it is arguing in line with the powerful – I totally and completely agree.

    But on which planet are the homosexual minority the ‘powerful’ and the heterosexual majority the ‘weak and oppressed’?!

    In fact, one of the conservative arguments against homosexuality is that the Church (and society) have opposed homosexual expression for 2,000 years. In other words – your position has been the position of the powerful for the last 2,000 years, and that is one of the points evangelicals use to say their position is right!

    But now you want to use the fact that the powerless and oppressed are now challenging their oppressors in order to argue that the conservatives are the oppressed? I’m afraid that just doesn’t work.

    So – you still find yourself in the position of the slave owners: arguing from a position of power/majority for your ‘right’ to oppress and control a minority.

    I would encourage everyone to go back and read the words of slave owners and their use of the Bible to justify their position and compare that to the use of the Bible to condemn loving, committed same sex relationships. It is very, very similar (as you would expect from the powerful exerting power over those without power).

  25. I really should be making dinner, but I just wanted to point out that your last question could be flipped on its head (and I have read the relevant articles on this site, as well as other anti-same sex relationships scholarship).

    You ask us to give you a Scriptural citation for where ‘committed, same-sex relationships’ are clearly mandated in Scripture (despite the fact that history tells us such relationships were not part of the Biblical cultural landscape, so there would be no conceivable reason for them to have been explicitly addressed).

    You ask for the same about ‘gay identity’ – again, despite the fact that ‘gay identity’ was unknown – in fact, the word ‘homosexual’ wasn’t even coined until the 19th century. Again – what possible context could there have been for the Biblical authors to explicitly address something that wasn’t part of their cultural experience?

    Although in relation to this last question, we do seem to have Jesus addressing ‘those who are born eunuchs’ (grouped with those who are made eunuchs, and who ‘make themselves eunuchs for the same of the Kingdom’) without any condemnation of any kind (Matthew 19:12). And these words seem to indicate an acceptance of the biological fact of ‘gay identity’, although it wouldn’t have been understood as such in the 1st century (it was just known that there were some men who were not attracted to women).

    But here’s my question – can you give me an explict Biblical condemnation of loving, committed monogamous same-sex partnerships? There are condemnations of homosexual acts in cultic settings, and you extrapolate from that to a condemnation of committed, monogamous relationships.

    But just as there is no explicit affirmation of same-sex relationships, there is also no explicit condemnation of such relationships.

    Why? Because they didn’t exist in the cultural understanding of the Biblical authors.

    So – to answer the question of whether or not God affirms or condemns such relationships, one MUST contextualise and try to understand from things that are implied, or from Biblical principles, what God’s attitude towards such relationships would be.

    Which is what Sue and I (and others) have been doing on this thread.

    • I’m new here, so apologies if I miss out on any local ettiquette. Also, it’s a small box to try and manage an argument flow.

      Two things, one short, one longer:

      First, you assert that same-sex relationships didn’t exist at the time the Bible was written. Thus we can’t draw any conclusions about it from the Bible? Is that your position?

      Secondly, I’m intrigued by the constant return to, ‘loving, committed monogamous same-sex partnerships’ in various responses.

      You’ve agreed that ‘homosexual acts in cultic settings’ are condemed, but then by adding ‘loving’ these relationships are suddenly not condemned – and your arguement is then that they are acceptable. If I’ve missed your point, then apologies.

      Thus we have to look at ‘loving’ to see whether this makes any real distinction. I’m not picking up monogamous, as it’s either completely objective in definition, or pointless; George Michael was quoted talking about ‘serial monogamy’. Committed is a similar word that can be well defined for any pupose, ‘I’m committed at the moment,’ for example!

      Unless I’m horribly wrong (in which case, ignore the rest of this post), then the ‘loving’ part of this is very subjective and is a fairly modern addition to relationships; certainly I can’t recall any biblical relationship being romantically described.

      This idea of the supremacy of romantic love would also seem to cause problems for other relationships. If one were to ‘fall out of love’ with one’s spouse and ‘fall in love’ with someone else (of any gender), does the ‘new’ loving, committed, monogamous, relationship have supremacy over the old loving, committed, monogamous marriage? Dare I point to 1 Corinthians 5? Presumably the context of Corinth made such behaviour contextually appropriate – by some of the arguments in this thread, then Paul shouldn’t have condemned them for what was natural and appropriate for the Corinthians at that time.

      Actually, why monogamous? I know a couple of people in polyamorous relationships, they would describe them as loving and committed relationships, in which everyone is happy. Would they be OK as well?

      The arguments presented seem to rely on a person’s innate nature and feelings being most important. That I shouldn’t go against my nature. Presumably my measure of that is my happiness, after all, if I am going against my nature, I will be unhappy. This seems a dangerous road to travel down, and is a hop, skip and a jump from hedonism.

      • Hi Hopeful and welcome!

        I’m being a bit presumptuous answering you as I think most of your comments address Carolyn’s contributions – so, bear in mind this is my take on your points!

        I would say that the bible only describes same sex acts in the context of cult prostitution or “experimental” sexual behaviour, You could read, for example Otto Keifer’s “Sexual life in ancient Rome” to get some flavour of what first century Christians objected to. I doubt that Paul even had the concept of someone being innately “homosexual” but only the idea of a heterosexual behaving in “perverted” ways for “kicks”. No, adding the word “loving” to this behaviour would not justify it in my opinion – like you I would then ask what we meant by “love”?

        “Committed” and “monogamous”, when I use them, do not mean “serial monogamy” or “committed -but only for the time being.” I am talking about the concept that we have of marriage vows, to stay together for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health and forsaking all others.

        Polygamous relationships pose more questions. I suspect a strong biblical case could be built! (See earlier posts.) To me the ” I will be true to you only” exclusivity of a one to one relationship offers a depth and “freedom within constraints” that make it the Christian ideal, despite biblical (OT) evidence that polygamy is acceptable to God.

        As to “love” being a modern construct, I’d disagree. However, I think the way we define “love” has changed. Ephesians 5 says,

        ” Husbands must LOVE their wives with the same love Christ showed the Church. He gave up his life for her…In the same way men ought to love their wives as they love e their own bodies.He who loves his wife, loves himself.”

        So there is plenty of mention of love here and it is a love that involves enormous self giving, a putting first of the other.It is certainly not a hedonistic love, not a “while- everything is sweetness and light, then I’m in love” response but a deep respect and commitment to another through thick and thin. LGBT people are as capable as this depth of love as are heterosexual people.

        It is unfair and unjust to characterise LGBT Christians as hedonistic. It is true that it is important ( I believe) to be true to one’s “innate nature”. It does not then follow that one’s life is all about “happiness” and “feelings” or hedonism over integrity and honour. I posted above of the couple I knew where a man nursed his partner through two years of cancer. The hospital visits, tests, constant caring, changing of soiled sheets , tears and anguish at watching a loved one suffer were very far from hedonistic.

        I don’t know it this will have answered any of your above points? I hope so.

        Good luck in your bid for ordination, if successful, you will take on a vocation to care for others with a Christ like love and compassion yourself.

        • “It is unfair and unjust to characterise LGBT Christians as hedonistic. It is true that it is important ( I believe) to be true to one’s “innate nature”. It does not then follow that one’s life is all about “happiness” and “feelings” or hedonism over integrity and honour.”

          It wasn’t my intention to make that characterisation, so I’m sorry if that can be inferred from my post.

          My point was more to do with how we determine ‘innate nature’. This quite often seems to be related to an internal measure of ‘does this make _me_ happy’.

        • Thanks, Sue – I really can’t add anything to your post…I agree with everything you’ve written.

          It does always surprise me the way that progressive Christians and their theological positions are characterised, though.

          Sadly, it seems that many conservatives have accepted the idea that liberals/progressives think that ‘anything goes’.

          That could not be further from the truth. When you are measuring all of your actions against Jesus’ standard – whether you are showing love to others and ensuring (as far as possible) that you are not harming them, there are many, many behaviours that are not acceptable at all.

        • Sue: “As to “love” being a modern construct, I’d disagree. However, I think the way we define “love” has changed.”

          Which is the point I was making. Society has changed love from the self sacrificing love of a husband for a wife (and of Jesus for the church), to a romantic love. Generally speaking, I would agree that everyone is capable of this kind of sacrificial love – I wouldn’t want sexuality to determine whether, or not, an individual was capable of that kind of relationship.

          Do we, then, look for relationships based on the biblical ideal of love (Eph 5, 1 Cor 13, etc.), or do we accept the ‘modern’ definition as our benchmark? How far do we contextualise? If we accept the biblical ideal for loving relationships, why then contextualise out the patterns the Bible also puts around that ideal?

          • How far do we contextualise?

            Well, there hangs a question- and to be honest, I’ve spent so much time, as has Carolyn, laying out my answer that I am reluctant to revisit it. You could read the posts, Hopeful :)

            • A quick response, Sue, as I’m working. You have hit the nail on the head!

              I agree that we all contextualise scripture, but read my posts last night above for some of the dangers of contextualisation. The difference is that conservatives believe that married heterosexual practice is the only sex mandated by God (due to all the earlier arguements from scripture) and so has the status of a clear command. Liberals do not believe that this command is clear, and so feel free to contextualise.

              The difference between the debate within the church (and on this board) and the debate within wider society (which does not have the benefit of biblical insight or the mind of Christ) is that while Christians (gay and straight) can probably come to agreement on a shared definition of ‘committed, loving and faithful’ wider social views (both gay and straight) of this are now very different.

              In the context of society, the conservative evangelical position on sexual ethics is seen as outdated and is therefore now massively counter-cultural (at least in the so-called ‘developed world’). Hence the very grave dangers of contextualising scripture on such an important issue, when an increasingly sexualised and hedonistic wider society will use the liberal position that homosexual sex is not a sin to argue that ‘anything goes’. This comes back to my original post on why the ‘gay rights in the church’ issue is such a line-in-the-sand for evangelicals.

              Now, time to write a report on education and training in Burundi. Bye! :-)

              • I’ve absolutely no problem with living “counter culturally”, having said that, the majority of secular people I know live lives that are generally as respectable as my Christian friends! I do understand conservative fears that the acceptance of homosexuality will “open the floodgates” to a whole load of other sexual practices. But we have had other movements which people saw as “lines in the sand”, such as the liberation of women and greater reproductive freedom – or universal education, which many felt would break down class structures, with a resulting degeneration of society and place. Opponents have always argued that social movements will lead to a total breakdown in established structures and to moral chaos. Certainly, society will be “different”, it is more pluralistic. That does not mean that people do not have morals or find values to live their lives by. Society will evolve and change, as it always has and , yes, the progress of the gay rights movement over the last few decades has been rapid and amazing. In my lifetime, I have seen an incredible shift in attitudes. I can understand how to some this shift is as frightening and catastrophic as, to me, it is breathtaking and liberating.

    • Carolyn, I’m going to respond to your three posts of yesterday at once, so I’m afraid its going to get LONG :-)

      Firstly, you say that you are a former evangelical but you’re in the Church of Scotland which has the Westminster Confession as its subsidiary statment of faith after the Bible. Now the WC is pretty much top of the tree of the great reformed Calvinist confessions. Surely if the CoS has the WC in such a high position, then this means that all ministers in the church must be evangelicals, doesn’t it? (Note: I’m being flippant and a bit naughty here so you don’t need to respond. I know its all to do with church politics and dirty stuff like that!)

      However, if you’re originally a cracker from the ‘Sowerth’ raised as a fundamentalist then that explains alot – to which I’ll choose to come later!

      Moving briskly on: David and Jonathan, the example so beloved of Oscar Wilde and ‘the love that dare not speak its name’. A kiss is a common greeting between men in the Middle East to this day and has no erotic connotations in the slightest. ‘Love greater than a man for a women’ need not be erotic in the slightest. I love the great economist Keynes but I certainly wouldn’t have joined in his early C20 shopping trips for ‘rough trade’ if I was there! Gay love has to be added in by a ‘queer reading’ of scripture. And if you do that, strangely enough, it then contradicts your other, contextual readings of scripture. Didn’t you say that loving gay relationships were unknown in biblical times? So if David and Jonathan had an equal, loving sexual relationship, then Saul/Paul who was VERY well schooled in the scriptures also knew about it. So his condemnation of homosexual practice becomes blanket prohibition. Oops! :-)

      Leviticus/Homosex prohibitions, mixed fibres and shellfish, etc: COME ON Carolyn, you’ve been raised as a fundamentalist in the southern States. What DID they teach you? You should know as well as I that there are three types of law in Leviticus: Religious ceremonial law; Civil government law, and; Health and Safety regulations.

      The religious ceremonial law almost entirely falls away in the light of the new covenant (remember that scripture is always your first source to interpret scripture). Health and safety regulations (mixed fibres and shellfish) fall away in view of the knowledge that we now have of our physical environment and of scientific findings applied within the overall framework of God’s sovereignty. Mosaic civil law has in fact become the original basis for much of our governmental law in the so-called developed world. And don’t you dare throw ‘stoning adulters’ back at me! Jesus forgave the women caught in adultery in the light of the new testament covenant of grace over law, but did not deny that she had committed sin (Go and sin no more).

      As for the whole David, Uraiah, Bathsheba mess, I’m not even going to go there! Peter’s response is enough: God does not commend polygamy. He allows it to happen as a fruit of fallen sinful nature (see Ugley Vicar post on the degenerative affect of the Fall (original sin not the rock group) on human sexual practice, and delays
      judgement until the coming of Christ, after which all sexual relationships are restored as God intended to a man and wife within marriage. (Shucks, I responded anyway)

      Your point: ‘But on which planet are the homosexual minority the ‘powerful’ and the heterosexual majority the ‘weak and oppressed’?!’ Answer: This one, especially C21 UK! To be fair to you, I think your point holds in many African countries (where I live and work) where homosexual practice is illegal and ‘homophobia’ (that awful, self-concious, linguistic mess of a word) is serious. I also concede that a gay youth in Govan in your neck of the woods is also going to find it pretty tough!

      But in the university educated circles that no doubt you and I both move in (and which always form social attitides for the next generation)? Come on Carolyn, gay rights has been orthodoxy for the cogniscenti for the last 20 years or so. Heck, I got slammed by my student union for opposing gay rights (we didn’t have the useless word ‘homophobe’ then) when I argued that homosexuality is against scripture in the uni magazine. And that was in the early 1980s!

      Tell you what, I’ll give you a test. Say something like ‘Gays need to be healed by the love of Jesus’ at your average professional party and watch people start to avoid you like the plague! Let me know how it goes.

      Your comment: ‘This is an impossible standard, and one that you don’t hold the Biblical texts to in relation to other issues’. You know, I’ll just reword my statement on where we disagree to the following.

      Conservatives on sexual ethics follow the ‘Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve’ approach (as you paraphrase it, I know what you mean) as of top importance. They see married, heterosexual sex as mandated by scripture so strongly that all verses prohibiting homosexuality should be read as that: blanket prohibitions.

      Liberals on sexual ethics place great importance on the ‘royal law’ of love. They also see parallels between the way that gays have been treated and racial minorities and women have been treated. they read scripture contextually within the overall principle of love and therefore argue that Jesus, as the Lord of Love, intends ‘committed, loving and faithful’ gays to be married and affirmed in the church.

      Will that do for you?

      One more response to points that you’ve raised and then beddy-byes. I looked at the ‘experimental theology’ link that you provided and I found it very interesting. Many evangelicals would benefit from reflecting upon the categories. But, given your backgound, it is much more applicable to the USA (its source) and the sharp divisions of the so-called ‘Culture Wars’ than to the two-thirds world context where I live.

      Let me explain. The categories of ‘Justice’, ‘Fairness’, ‘Purity’, etc, once defined are politically driven. I can understand how that comes about in the pressure cooker of US Christianity, and it probably applies to the minority in the UK that are actually bothered about Christianity. It doesn’t apply to me though. I got saved out of an unchurched backgound and lots of exposure to liberal/radical views at university. I also work in a profession (development economics) where most practitioners are radical, sometimes quite far left. My views are, broadly speaking, conservative on personal morality and liberal/radical on economic policy, especially for the greedy corporate bankers who have ****** up the world economy (Ed: Stay on track and keep to the point)

      See what I mean? The categories are primarily politically driven, and reflect the primacy that the left/liberals give to politics. It certainly doesn’t reflect reality in the two-thirds world, where Christianity is growing most rapidly, and where Christians (including and perhaps especially evangelicals) are overwhelmingly socially conservative and pro-social justice. This fact is also reflected in the ‘Anglican Wars’ over homosexuality in the church.

      Let me close with a quote from my great love C.S. Lewis (only in the lierary sense you understand, I don’t want to be accused of doing a ‘David and Jonathan’).

      C.S. Lewis, ‘Mere Christianity’: ‘If there were such a (Christian) society in existence and you or I visited it, I think we should come away with a curious impression. We should feel that its economic life was very socialistic and, in that sense, ‘advanced’, but that its family life and its code of manners were rather old fashioned. …. Each of us would like some bits of it, but I am afraid very few of us would like the whole thing’.

      That’s pretty much my guiding principle for policy. And it’s what keeps me in dialogue with good people like you. I suspect that CS Lewis is right, and that if we really saw a Christian society ‘none of us would like the whole thing’.

      ‘Eye’, ‘Plank’, ‘Mote’: rearrange and form a biblical proverb) :-)

      • Well, Philip – something we can agree on! I’m pretty ‘liberal/lefty’ when it comes to economic policy as well. :-)

        Thanks for your reply. You’ll be unsurprised to hear that I disagree with (almost all of!) your analysis, and it feels that you make assertions without backing them up.

        To give just a few examples: You claim that God ‘allowed polygamy’ while strongly condemning it, despite the fact God gave David multiple wives (something you haven’t attempted to explain). You assert that Jonathon & David’s ‘love surpassing the love of women’ has to be read through a ‘queer’ lens in order to get a homoerotic connotation, when it seems that the ‘clear meaning of Scripture’ (in that phrase beloved of conservatives!) is homoerotic – unless, of course, one is steeped in a heterosexual world view (as undoubtedly Paul was, so I’d expect him to gloss over/not recognise the homoerotic connotations of David and Jonathon’s relationship, just as you do).

        And I know that conservatives claim the division of Levitical law into 3 different components, but no one has ever tried to explain to me why they think the ‘anti-gay’ command is normative for all time, while the stoning your child for talking back and not having sex with your wife during her period (in the same passage as the anti-gay command) are NOT normative for all time, but can be safely ignored. The answer always seems to be ‘Well, OF COURSE, we don’t stone our children, and OF COURSE, God doesn’t care about sex during menstruation’ – but there is no reason given, other than that the one command and the other prohibition are (understandably) seen as culturally irrelevant by the particular conservative I happen to be talking to. But homosexuality doesn’t feel ‘culturally irrelevant’ to them, so they insist that is normative, while the other commands aren’t. But this, of course, is based on their own feelings, and not any consistency in Scriptural interpretation (which is what I’m looking for here!).

        Here’s the crux of the matter for me – I think you’ve summarised the conservative and progressive positions very well when you say:

        <<<Conservatives on sexual ethics follow the ‘Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve’ approach (as you paraphrase it, I know what you mean) as of top importance. They see married, heterosexual sex as mandated by scripture so strongly that all verses prohibiting homosexuality should be read as that: blanket prohibitions.

        Liberals on sexual ethics place great importance on the ‘royal law’ of love. They also see parallels between the way that gays have been treated and racial minorities and women have been treated. they read scripture contextually within the overall principle of love and therefore argue that Jesus, as the Lord of Love, intends ‘committed, loving and faithful’ gays to be married and affirmed in the church.<<<

        And here's why I think the liberal position is the strongest one Biblically: it is the only position that can reconcile all of the Biblical passages.

        You see, your position, which reads the two clear 'anti-gay' passages as normative for all time, is then stumped when it comes to Jesus' command that all of the law is summed up in 'Love others'. This difficulty for your position is further confounded by Paul's explication of Jesus' command by telling his readers that to love is 'to not harm others'.

        We can clearly see that the conservative position harms many, many gays and lesbians. Here's a study showing just that:

        So conservatives are reduced to arguing, 'Well, it must not REALLY harm them (despite mountains of evidence to the contrary), because of [our interpretation of] what God says. ‘

        Which is a circular argument, of course. Not very convincing (unless, of course, one is already convinced a priori!).

        The liberal position, on the other hand, sees Jesus' command to 'Love others as themselves' and the command to ‘not harm others’. We also see the ostensibly anti-gay passages (all 2 of them!) and asks – how are these reconcilable? Are they reconcilable?

        Well, when you look at the cultural context within which both of these commands (in Leviticus and Romans) were given, one sees how the homosexual activity being addressed failed the 'law of love'. So it would be condemned on that basis alone, right? Because this is the overarching principle we receive from Jesus by which to guide our actions.

        We also recognise that the Bible fails to address the issue of same-sex relationships that are committed, loving and supportive – those that manifestly pass the 'law of love' test. And we conclude that, when a type of relationship is nowhere addressed in Scripture, surely the validity and acceptableness of that relationship to God will depend on whether or not that relationship embodies Jesus' command to 'Love others as yourself'? And – ‘Does that relationship harm others?’

        But we totally miss Jesus’ point when we focus solely on the same-sex relationships, and ask Jesus/Paul’s questions about them. More importantly for the heterosexual majority – we need to ask, ‘How does MY behaviour conform to Jesus' commands to me to 'Love others' and to 'Do no Harm'.’

        This is the question I ask in relation to this issue. And when I see the clear harm cause by the conservative position in the lives of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters – why would I cling to it and defend it?

        As a follower of Jesus, who calls me to love and to not harm others, I must reject it – I can do nothing else.

        It's interesting – I feel that it is when I left my fundamentalist roots behind (despite all the Biblical knowledge/study that came along with them!) that I came to really know, appreciate and love Jesus for the first time. The conservative position makes me so sad these days, because it seems to completely miss the radicality and immense goodness of reaching out to those who might, perhaps, make others uncomfortable – a radicality and goodness that formed the heart of Jesus' life and ministry.

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