Blessing Civil Partnerships in Church

A letter today in the Times has reignited the debate over whether Civil Partnership ceremonies should take place within religious establishments. Lord Alli is going to move again his amendment next month in the Lords, and the authors of the letter take the opportunity to lay out their case.


The Civil Partnership Act 2004 prohibits civil partnerships from being registered in any religious premises in Great Britain. Three faith communities — Liberal Judaism, the Quakers, and the Unitarians — have considered this restriction prayerfully and decided in conscience that they wish to register civil partnerships on their premises. An amendment to the Equality Bill, to allow this, was debated in the House of Lords on January 25. It was opposed by the Bishops of Winchester and Chichester on the grounds that, if passed, it would put unacceptable pressure on the Church of England. The former said that “churches of all sorts really should not reduce or fudge, let alone deny, the distinction” between marriage and civil partnership.

In the same debate, the bishops were crucial in defeating government proposals to limit the space within which religious bodies are exempt from anti-discrimination law. They see that as a fundamental matter of conscience. But it is inconsistent to affirm the spiritual independence of the Church of England and simultaneously to deny the spiritual independence of the three small communities who seek this change for themselves (and not for anybody else).

The bishops’ “slippery slope” argument is invalid. Straight couples have the choice between civil marriage and religious marriage. Gay couples are denied a similar choice. To deny people of faith the opportunity of registering the most important promise of their lives in their willing church or synagogue, according to its liturgy, is plainly discriminatory. In the US it would be unconstitutional under the First Amendment: Congress shall make no law . . . prohibiting the free exercise . . . of religion.

The amendment will be re-presented by Lord Alli on March 2. We urge every peer who believes in spiritual independence, or in non-discrimination, to support it.

Iain McLean
Professor of Politics, Oxford

Diarmaid MacCulloch
Professor of the History of the Church, Oxford

The Right Rev David Stancliffe
Bishop of Salisbury

The Right Rev John Gladwin
Former Bishop of Chelmsford

Lord Harries of Pentregarth
Former Bishop of Oxford

The Right Rev Bill Ind
Former Bishop of Truro

The Right Rev Peter Selby
Former Bishop of Worcester

The Right Rev Kenneth Stevenson
Former Bishop of Portsmouth

The Very Rev Nick Bury
Dean of Gloucester

The Rev Jeremy Caddick
Dean, Emmanuel College, Cambridge

The Very Rev Jeffrey John
Dean of St Albans

The Very Rev Colin Slee
Dean of Southwark

Canon Dr Judith Maltby
Chaplain, Corpus Christi College, Oxford

Canon Brian Mountford
Vicar of the University Church, Oxford

Canon Jane Shaw
Dean of Divinity, New College, Oxford

The Rev Sarah Coakley
Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity, Cambridge

Sarah Foot
Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History

Alec Ryrie
Professor of the History of Christianity, Durham

Stuart White
Director of the Public Policy Unit, Oxford

Jill Green

Now, some revisionist commentators are already engaging in pejorative hyperbole in support of this proposal (“Hardline religious activists opposed to any extension of rights for LGBT people are already lobbying vocally against the change.”), but there are genuine issues with the proposals in the letter that need to be addressed.

To begin with there is the issue as to whether allowing Civil Partnerships in churches would change the nature of that institution. When the Government introduced Civil Partnerships it assured faith communities that these were not “gay marriages” but rather an altogether different type of union. The authors of the letter however base their arguments on the similarities of the nature of the vows in Civil Partnerships and marriage, which means that they are working from the basis that the two are just different forms of the same institution. The only way that the argument that “Straight couples have the choice between civil marriage and religious marriage. Gay couples are denied a similar choice” works is if Civil Partnership and civil marriage are analogous. If Civil Partnership is a different institution to civil marriage then one cannot apply a justice argument on the basis that one would expect to do exactly the same thing when registering both of them.

A request therefore to allow Civil Partnerships to be held in churches is an attempt to create an equality in doctrinal stance. For the Church of England at least (which is still the established church) it is clear that Civil Partnerships do not equate to marriage. Furthermore, the stance of the Church of England, clarified in 1989, is that all sex outside of marriage is sinful, even that conducted within “permanent, stable, faithful” same-sex unions. If same-sex unions (for that is what Civil Partnerships are) are to be blessed within churches (for there is no other reason to register a Civil Partnership in a church other than to bless it, for that is the key distinction between a civil and religious marriage), then would those doing the blessing not be legally entitled to bless the sexual component of the same-sex union? If there is no legal barrier to blessing such unions (and in particular their sexual component) then such ceremonies can only be seen as “gay marriage” and the institutions (including the State in this instance) will be seen as advocating the position that same-sex unions and other-sex unions are identical in all respects.

If however the advocates of such ceremonies in churches agree that there should be no blessing of or reference to sexual union (in order not to change the doctrinal stance of the religious body involved), why did this month the supporters of equalising pension provision in the Church of England for surviving civil partners reject an amendment which would have extended pension provision to any named next of kin, regardless of the existence (or not) of a sexual relationship between the deceased and the next of kin? To reject such an amendment was to support the idea that Civil Partnerships are de facto sexual unions (which of course familial connections can never be) and so it would be disingenuous of proponents of this latest move to now argue that Civil Partnerships are not de facto sexual unions.

Of course one course of action would be to permit religious denominations as a body to allow Civil Partnerships if they chose so to do, but not to obligate them to do so if they did not wish to. There are two issues with this. Firstly, such an action would clearly see the Government equating marriage with civil partnership since there would be no difference in where the two ceremonies could take place. This is indeed then the “slippery slope” which the letter claims is not so, for in the initial debate over Civil Partnerships the Government made it clear that Civil Partnerships were not synonymous with marriage. Allowing for an equality in the place where the ceremonies could take place would destroy any last vestige of a pretence that the two were not synonymous.

Secondly, there would have to be absolutely cast iron safeguards in the legislation to permit religious denominations (such as the Church of England) to forbid its clergy to perform such ceremonies and to be allowed to make the performing of such ceremonies a sackable offence with no recompense. Without such a drastic option (and I do recognise it as drastic) there would be nothing to stop clergy of the relevant denomination performing a Civil Partnership in their religious building (which they would be legally entitled to do) with impunity. Such a situation could not and should not be tolerated.

Perhaps Lord Alli’s amendment will pass and perhaps the law will change. If so we might just have reached the point where the Church of England will have to stand by its beliefs, reject the demands to hold Civil Partnerships in church and challenge the Government to do its worse. And perhaps that’s actually what the Church needs right now in order to save it from just being a spiritualised organ of the secular society’s sinful excesses and to discover again what it is to be a witness to the transforming power of the Resurrection.

69 Comments on “Blessing Civil Partnerships in Church

  1. Peter+, I saw in one news article that this would include mosques but in another, the demand was only for churches and synagogues to open their doors. Can you clarify?

  2. Evening Peter and all,

    briefly: Peter, you say, "Of course one course of action would be to permit religious denominations as a body to allow Civil Partnerships if they chose so to do, but not to obligate them to do so if they did not wish to". As I understand it, this is indeed what the authors of this letter are proposing. Note that the letter itself speaks of "the three small communities who seek this change for themselves (and not for anybody else)". The three are Liberal Judaism, Unitarianism and the Quakers. So, linking to your post Habakkuk, as far as I can see this proposal is that religious denominations that have decided as a body to support same-sex unions (Quakers certainly have; am guessing the other two have also) should be allowed the freedom to carry them out on their premises. But those who don't support same-sex unions would not be coerced or pressured – so presumably mosques would have a choice about whether to do this or not. My hope is that this amendment is passed and that this is its effect (ie that there'll be no pressure or compulsion on, say, the C of E to hold civil partnerships – that there'll be some safeguards as you hope for, though not to sack anybody without recompense).

    I don't think that the passing of Lord Alli's amendment would change the nature of civil partnerships much at all, except that they wouldn't mirror civil marriage quite so closely – 95% instead of 99% maybe – given that of course civil marriages can't be held on religious premises. The govt did indeed say they weren't marriage while the law was in the works but this was (in hindsight especially) clearly disingenuous, though it gave the C of E bishops some cover. I note your post 'Civil sisterships?' is linked to above, Peter – in it you seem to accept that the 'CPs aren't gay marriage' line was never very plausible (and that in today's post you use the word "pretence").

    I guess one key thing here is that, thinking of something Rowan WiIliams has said perhaps more than once, this amendment doesn't try to push any religious body into deciding on a change of practice / policy – that there's still the freedom for an organisation (such as the C of E, but obviously including others also) to work things through with their own tools at their own pace. As I say I think that this amendment does allow such freedom, and I think it's to be welcomed.

    in friendship, Blair

  3. Did I say "briefly" in that comment above? ;)

    Just wanted to ask about your headline for this post Peter – after all some churches already bless CPs as Jeffrey Heskins' book tells, for instance. I know this is pedantic but…..

    in friendship, Blair

  4. 'Perhaps Lord Alli’s amendment will pass and perhaps the law will change. If so we might just have reached the point where the Church of England will have to stand by its beliefs, reject the demands to hold Civil Partnerships in church and challenge the Government to do its worse. And perhaps that’s actually what the Church needs right now in order to save it from just being a spiritualised organ of the secular society’s sinful excesses and to discover again what it is to be a witness to the transforming power of the Resurrection.'

    Peter, you seem to be describing an institution that I did not know exists! Is this the Church of England that has just given pension rights to the partners of gay clergy in civil partnerships, has bishops and priests blessing same sex relationships, remains in communion with the Episcopal Church, has bishops and theologians questioning the traditional line on sexuality, has thousands of unmarried folk in congregations worshipping and serving God – I could go on. Why would such a Church stand up for its beliefs, whatever these might be, in the light of all of this?

      • No, it is not for me to divulge such information, particularly in the present climate. My point Peter, which you did not address, was that the Church that you want to resist the developments that you outline in your posting does not exist. It is not cohesive, the House of Bishops does not speak as one, our theologians radically differ in their perspectives, Gene Robinson remains in situ, the Episcopalians remain part of the communion, people like me bless gay relationships, our partners get pension rights, our congregations affirm us, unmarried people in relationships serve on our PCCs, teach Sunday School etc. We will continue to do this until we are ejected from this Church that has nurtured us for such a very long time, and which we will not allow to speak for us in the way that you suggest that it should.

      • By the way, in reference to your earlier comment about Canon Law, a certain Priest who even corresponded with you Peter, blessed a civil partnership using the Prayer Book service of marriage, and re remains in place – great law! This is despite what you said would happen Peter. It would be interesting if a bishop did try to act against anyone who did bless civil partnerships; I am not sure that they have the balls though because they know the fallout would be too dangerous.

        • I think the problem with that line of thinking is that Chartres very much laid down the law with Dudley and were anything similar to happen again the case law has now been made.

          You underestimate I believe the resolve of some conservative Bishops to hold fast to whatever line in the sand they eventually choose to draw.

  5. There is no evidence that I have yet seen that this amendment is designed to do anything else but make it permissible for those communities that wish to celebrate civil partnerships in their premises with the rites that pertain to their religious traditions to do so. This is presumably why the Bishop of Leicester, the convenor of the bishops in the House of Lords, is cited as being a supporter of the move.

    Peter, you say
    "Allowing for an equality in the place where the ceremonies could take place would destroy any last vestige of a pretence that the two were not synonymous." This is a bit daft – if you don't mind my saying so – as CPs and Civil Marriages (which I guess you think ARE marriages) already take place in the same venues. In terms of their civil rights and responsibilities the two are very similar, but they are not synonymous.

    No one is saying that all religious bodies MUST have CPs in their premises – this is what the Noble Lord said in Parliament:
    "Its intention is to remove the prohibition against civil partnerships taking place in religious buildings. I shall repeat that: it is to remove the prohibition against civil partnerships taking place in religious organisations. It is a straightforward amendment. It does not seek to force religious institutions to host civil partnerships" Hansard 25.01.10 Column 1198
    So your column is scare-mongering unecessarily.

    What the amendment will do is make available choice for same-sex couples who are both religious to have, if they belong to those communities supportive of their partnerships, a religious ceremony to give them encouragement at that very important point in their lives. In just the same way that heterosexual couples can choose what kind of a marriage they want.. I sometimes feel that some discussion of this overlooks the seriousness with which many same-sex couples approach their partnership ceremonies. Sure, there are frivolous ones – but are there not frivolously contracted marriages too? And some of the most serious include religious people. Even from your own "post-gay" position you surely can welcome the notion that people are wanting to make their relationships more serious and more committed?

    I don't think the amendment itself will alter the similarity that Blair observes between civil marriage and cvil partnerships one iota – it will simply remove a very unnecessary and intrusive ban and will extend religious liberty.

    • We really need to see the language of the amendment before I can comment. I can say for the moment that you seem to be disregarding the levels of liberty that Church of England clergy have at the moment to conduct (or not conduct) weddings in their parish church. It Parliament permits Civil Partnerships to happen in churches on the basis of them being similar to marriage (which is what the justice argument is about) then there *would* have to be denominational safeguards.

      • Well, the Church of England is not a police state and never has been, and I hope it never will be. The clergy have always had a good deal of liberty to shape and exercise their ministry according to their consciences – which is why there is such an astonishing diversity to be found, in liturgy, in dress, in doctrine, in priorities of mission and ministry and so forth. So yes, if something is legal according to the law of the land, some clergy will very likely take advantage of that and do it – just as they did over the remarriage of divorced people in church long before the Church of England agreed that we should allow that.

  6. At the moment it seems to me that the church only gets tough on people who offend against secular ideals, so a change in the law that tempts clergy to openly disobeying canon law, and Christian morality, might finally provide the church with an opportunity to get rid of them! I'm sick of hearing about clergy who take a nice title and a cosy income, at others expense, but then spend their time undermining, or even openly defying, the Church's beliefs and teachings.

  7. Peter: 'You underestimate I believe the resolve of some conservative Bishops to hold fast to whatever line in the sand they eventually choose to draw. '

    Likewise, the liberal and moderate bishops with their resolve, so it seems that we have stalemate – how Anglican!

    David – As one of the clergy you refer to, even though your description of us is fantastical, if the Church of England were to get rid of us, it would be come a Protestant sect with even more swathes of the people of this country wanting nothing to do with it. Now, what bishop is going to cause that to happen? Of course, just because this would happen doesn't make our expulsion inherently wrong! However, our expulsion could only be justified by showing us that we are defying the Church's beliefs and teaching – of course, this is where the battle has been for a very long time, and we are no nearer to it being resolved. In the mean time, I will happily lead the people in my care, who find your beliefs and teachings incomprehensible, who support me and my partner wholeheartedly, and believe it is right for me to bless gay relationships. I am expelled, they are expelled, a community looses it Church!

  8. Of course, it is! However, we have been discussing these issues for a long time Peter, and I suspect you have failed to convince me to change my views, and vice-versa. So, where do we go from here – wait for one set of people to leave or be expelled? Well, I guess neither side will leave, so we are left with expulsion. Well, my side (awful term) will not do any expelling, nor do I think there are mechanisms to do it anyway. So, it is down to people like David to try and expel us – good luck, it wil be a lot of people who have to go! I suspect the longer you leave it as well, the numbers will grow in that a lot of the evangelical bishops seem to be watering down their position, and certainly a lot of evangelical, young people on the ground do as they begin to realise more and more of their friends are gay.

    By the way Peter, Martin Dudley – gay blessing officient – would desribe the conclusion of his investigation very differently from you. Even the people who were investigating the incident knew that nothing would happen, and many of them were his friends. Bishop R. wanted the whole event to go away – he hates talking about sex as I know well since he refused to ask me directly anything about sex when I told him that I was having a civil partnership!

    • Err, the Church of England, and the Anglican Communion, have both re-affirmed the scriptural and traditional belief – that same-sex sex is against Biblical teachings and should be met with a call for repentence (GS '89 and Lambeth '98) …while striving to listen… and that CofE clergy must agree to conform to live according to this standard (HoB "Issues" '92).

      Just 'cos "liberals" keep a challenge to Biblical teaching alive does not mean that a matter is not decided – any more than when conservatives keep challenging the ordination of women!

      The difference is that the conservatives are not just interested in keeping a cosy living – as we've seen in America – they are prepared to sacrifice position, money, and reputation to be true to their beliefs.. something I admire in "liberals" when I seem it – but rarely do!

      If you don't believe in Christianity, in theology and in practice, as it has been handed down from Christ and His apostles, and affirmed by the CofE, why are you taking up ecclesiastical space and (other people's) money?

  9. What a conundrum this places upon the Church of England! I’m basically with Blair on this: the amendment does promote religious liberty in giving liberal denominations that believe same-sex partnerships are not sinful the freedom to bless these partnerships in their places of worship. If we believe in religious liberty, such denominations should be free to bless same-sex partnerships: it is clearly massively inconsistent for the CoE, just because it is the established Church, to insist that all denominations are banned from blessing same-sex partnerships.

    And as a charismatic, low-church evangelical who is strongly against the establishment of religion, it would be hypocritical of me to defend the right of religious institutions to refuse to bless same-sex partnerships while not allowing that right to other religious institutions that have come to a different conclusion. Let religion be free from government regulation and let the marketplace decide – that’s my view anyway for what it’s worth.

    Having said that, I was saved through evangelical Anglicans and, though I live in South Africa, I retain a soft spot of the good old CoE as she lurches onwards from crisis to crisis! I can see that this amendment is likely to have the effect of blowing traditional Anglican compromise out of the water, as the old ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy to gay relationships in the CoE gets replaced by gradually and strategically revealed ‘facts-on-the-ground’. And, to be fair, it is more open and truthful to reflect what is actually happening than to attempt to cover it up.

    That is clearly the strategy for gay rights lobbyists within the CoE. Once this amendment is passed, there will probably be a strategically placed ‘blessing’ of a same-sex partnership in an Anglican church for the benefit of the media. It will probably be of a couple of ancient literary lesbians that have been together for years, rather than a couple of young guys that go searching for threesomes at the local leather bar! And it will be a direct challenge to the CoE hierarchy against its stated policy.

    So we seem to be moving towards something like the US ‘culture wars’ within the CoE. The problem is that the CoE doesn’t do church politics Yankee style, it’s much more knife you in the back while affirming brotherly love. But the CoE has much more vested in the worldwide Anglican Communion than ECUSA, and that communion is overwhelmingly conservative and biblically orthodox on homosexuality. What to do? I forsee much more crisis lurching ahead!

    • Hi Philip,

      I think you're right that this amendment creates a conundrum for the C of E, though I also agree with Peter's comment further up the page where he says that we need to see the language of it. To my knowledge the amendment hasn't been published – or can anybody correct me on this? Lord Alli put it to the Lords but withdrew it the other week, I think, but despite that, a quick check on Google didn't bring it up.

      …though, on a quick tangent, the nearest thing I could find was the Hansard report from 25 January, in which Lord Alli says: "I hope Amendment 119A will be less controversial. Its intention is to remove the prohibition against civil partnerships taking place in religious buildings. I shall repeat that: it is to remove the prohibition against civil partnerships taking place in religious organisations. It is a straightforward amendment. It does not seek to force religious institutions to host civil partnerships [Column 1199] and I would not intend it to. It simply has to be a matter for them to decide whether or not they wish to do so".

      But going back to the conundrum, my hunch is that you're right when you talk about likely ending of 'don't ask, don't tell'. As you say, "it is more open and truthful to reflect what is actually happening than to attempt to cover it up". And speaking as someone of little if any moral courage who took (and often still takes) a long time to come out, I'd suggest that the tangles around honesty / concealment are pretty near the nub of this. (This probably isn't an askable question, at least in public, but it would be very interesting to ask Rowan Williams (or maybe any senior bishop) what effects he thinks the closet has had on the C of E at all levels.)

      I hope it won't be 'honesty' deployed as strategy – I don't doubt it's happened and will again, though I was a bit bemused by your fourth paragraph about a "strategically placed 'blessing'". There's already been at least one much-fanfared blessing of a civil partnership in a C of E church (and lots more under the radar) well before the passing (if that happens) of Lord Alli's amendment. In 2001 Jeffrey Heskins' book Unheard voices told the story of how one parish church began to make blessing same-sex unions part of its life (could I say ministry) from the late '70s onwards – to no great reaction at the time I don't think (though may be wrong about that).

      "So we seem to be moving towards something like the US 'culture wars' within the CoE" – would you join me in praying this does not happen? We'd be in good company: if you search YouTube for 'Rowan WIlliams' you'll find a short, quite recent clip where he's asked how he prays on issues of homosexuality (look in calvinaltworship's channel to find it). He gives a one-word answer – "hard!" – then says he prays for both sides to have the generosity to give each other a little space. Amen to that…

      in friendship, Blair

  10. It might surprise some here, but when I'm asked what I think the key issues facing the Church of England are today, I say firstly Mission in a post-Christian society and secondly the issue over same-sex and relationships and my fear that we are rapidly approaching in effect a shooting war in the Church over that, and that means that folks on all sides, with real lives and real loves, are going to get hurt. That thought pains me.

    • Maybe it is time for you to put down your gun then? Just a thought. If that's what really pains you, you have some of the power to stop it.

      • Andrew,

        how can a Christian pastor "put down the gun" on a salvation issue?

        You don't have to read far into the Gospels to realise that Jesus taught that sexual morality is a salvation issue, and you don't need to read far into the Epistles to learn that the Apostles taught that same-sex sex is immoral.

        Before you suggest that this is because the Bible writers knew nothing of homosexuality as an orientation, or that that was not what they were writing about, don't forget that Greeks knew that some men were attracted primarily to other men, and that same-sex sex was accepted in Greco-Roman culture. St Paul would have been aware of same-sex sex from the surrounding culture but never shows an 'flexibility'.

        Furthermore, nowhere does any Bible writer indicate that the morality of *any* sexual relationship (same-sex sex or any other) depends on who you feel attracted to or "love". What we feel attracted to, whether a flight of fancy or a mostly fixed orientation, is not a good indication of what is moral!

        • David

          The gospel set for today's Eucharist is really helpful here. Luke 6:36-38 seems to be the real salvation issue here, and putting down the gun is something that might just help the world come to Christ.
          I can't see that Jesus says anything anywhere in the gospels about same sex relationships. But the whole narrative of the bible calls us to faith, stable, permanent relationships with God and each other. That's a good indication of what is moral.

          • Andrew, I think that your theology is a bit confused at this point. At least, St Paul did not agee with you that we could drop issues of morality to "help the world come to Christ":

            "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor 6:9-11)

            Indeed Christ taught that whether people do good or bad is crucial: "… as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. …"(John 5:26-30)

            Although we are not The Judge, able to pass judgement on someone, the church does sometimes have that kind of responsibility – see Matt 16:18-19 and 1 Cor 5 for instance. And we are to insist that certain actions are good, or bad (1 Cor 5 again). Indeed, as Jesus said, woe to us if we encourage people to sin (Matt 18:1-20)!!

            In the Gospels Jesus taught that sexual morality is crucial, condemning lust as well as adultery. He didn't teach that any sexual relationships is ok if it is " faithful, stable, permanent". He did teach about marriage – and that it should be between one man and one woman, and should be exclusive (not just faithful) and life-long (NOT permanent Matt 22:30).

            However, in the Epistles homosexuality is taught to be sinful (see first quote above for instance) …. and I doubt that you are able to claim enough authoritative inspiration to negate the Christian Scriptures. A particular relationship having some virtues (eg love, faithfulness, permanence, even exclusivity, respect, or discovery of some self-worth a la The Body's Grace) does not necessarily make it holy, righteous and good.

          • But the whole narrative of the bible calls us to faith, stable, permanent relationships with God and each other.

            That is really such a poor argument. Jesus says absolutely nothing about consensual incestuous or ebophilic sexual relationships. Are you seriously suggesting that as long as those are "permanent, stable, faithful" they are consequentially moral? If not, why do you use the argument with consensual gay relationships?

            • Ahh.. arguing about other forms of relationship that are illegal and abusive is such a poor argument. I have never heard anyone in a Church context argue the morality of the other relationships you refer to. And neither do I know any clergy in such relationships. But I do know lots of clergy in same sex relationships who are faithful ministers of the Gospel whose work is blessed by God.

              • For pity's sake Andrew! You're the Canon of a Cathedral and this is the best argument you have? Let's just dissect what you're saying.

                relationships that are illegal – So are you saying that if a relationship was legal that would make it moral? If not, then the illegality of an ethical consideration is neither here nor there.

                <abusive – So if I could find you an incestuous relationship or ebophilic relationship which was not abusive then you would have no problem with them? And please don't come back with the "they don't exist argument". That would demonstrate the kind of narrowness of pastoral understanding that you seem to be suggesting I demonstrate.

                • The argument Peter is that you have to compare like for like. Please show me any clergy arguing for the kind of relationships you have referred to.

                  • Can I take it, since you haven't answered any of my questions, that as far as you're concerned something is moral if either (a) it is legal, (b) it is consensual, (c) a clergy person argues in favour of it?

                    On the last one, have you ever met the Rev Rob West?

                    • Sorry Peter I thought I had answered. Bur for clarity, no I do not think something is moral simply because it is legal or consensual or argued in favour of by a member of the clergy.
                      Yes, I've heard of Rob West. It is entirely unclear where he derives the title 'Rev' from. Is it self styled do you think? Or do you know which church he claims membership of?
                      Have you heard of Jeremy Marks and Courage(UK) Peter?

                    • for clarity, no I do not think something is moral simply because it is legal or consensual or argued in favour of by a member of the clergy

                      But hang on a moment, just an hour or so ago you rested your argument on something being immoral because it was either illegal, non-consensual or not advocated by a member of the clergy.

                      Which is it Andrew?

                      For the record, I know Jeremy. I've even had lunch with him once.

                    • Don't recall resting any argument on that Peter. I just asked you to compare like with like. You made assumptions without facts.
                      What do you make of Jeremy's arguments in 'Exchanging the truth of God for a lie'?

                    • You rested your argument against two kinds of relationships that Jesus didn't mention on the basis that they were either illegal or non-consensual. That seems to imply that you would have no problem with relationships that were legal or consensual, otherwise you wouldn't have rejected them on the basis of being illegal or non-consensual.

                      Following your logic you should have absolutely no problem with either a consensual sexual relationship between a brother and sister OR between an adult and a minor. To argue otherwise is to reverse your previous rejection of my point about consent and legality.

                    • Not quite the case Peter. I simply responded to David's point about Jesus' teaching on sexual morality. It's simply factual to say that he does not say anything about same sex relationships.
                      If something is moral it does not necessarily make it legal or vice versa. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are obvious examples.
                      Maybe you could respond to my question about 'Exchanging he Truth of God for a lie'.

                    • But you move on from saying that Jesus says nothing about same-sex relationships to implying that *therefore* if they are "permanent, stable, faithful" they are moral. All I'm doing is asking you whether you would apply exactly the same argument to an identical "permanent, faithful, stable" relationship between a brother and sister? Your dodging of that issue demonstrates, I believe, that you understand the logical inconsistency of your position.

                    • No, as I have already confirmed, you have made the link between those two – and not me.
                      Would you answer the question I put about Jeremy Marks book? Or do I take it that your avoidance of the question a recognition that it presents a serious challenge to your own views and to conservative evangelical interpretations in general….

                    • Jeremy Mark's book is very poor. It is simply a collection of anecdotes and not thought through arguments. Although there are some interesting insights at points, it's terribly experiential and subjective and there are far better books on the revisionist side.

                      But I want to return to this argument you're dodging. In response to my raising examples of two kinds of relationships Jesus said nothing about, you said "arguing about other forms of relationship that are illegal and abusive is such a poor argument". Now to any reasonable reader that seems to be implying that you believe those kind of relationships (incest eg) are not for consideration because they are illegal or abusive. But you and I both know that there are brother/sister sexual relationships which exist which are consensual and non-abusive. So I ask you again – why did you reject the idea of one kind of sexual relationship Jesus didn't mention possibly being moral if it was consensual and non-abusive (incest) if you are prepared to accept another (homosexuality)? It's not good enough to say "no-one is advocating for it" – this is a question of theological consistency. I would really like to here you present us with an argument against a "permanent, faithful, stable" incestuous relationship that could not be used against a same-sex relationship.

                    • I am not dodging the issue – I simply didn't raise it – you did.

                      As you note, there are some good theological works that explore same sex relationships. 'Issues' and 'Some issues' are two such works. I disagree with you about Jeremy Marks book, and believe that it does pose a significant challenge to conservative evangelicals in particular.

                      I am not aware of any theological arguments in favour of incest and have no inclination to undertake any. Feel free if you wish to but it is not a subject I wish to consider and do not know of any faithful, stable permanent sexual incestuous relationships. If you know any clergy in such relationships, feel free to name them. God's intention, so far as we can determine, is that people leave their familial ties at the point of maturity in order to bond with others outside of the family. An incestuous relationship would defy that piece of natural law. Same sex relationships are of a different order because they allow for the possibility of a distinctly new human community.

                      The fact that something is not attributed to Jesus in the Gospels does not automatically mean that it is acceptable, and you make a false link by assuming that because it might be true in one case it must be logically true in other cases. Logic does not follow when we are dealing with texts that are neither scientific not historical. The bible is faith history, and faith is used to reshape the world – not as the basis of logic. Jesus does not mention nuclear warfare, but that does not make it right.

                      However, as Jeremy Marks and others demonstrate, there is sufficient in the New Testament to indicate that the Church 2000 years later has the freedom and necessary theological tools to argue in favour of faithful, stable, permanent same sex relationships.

                    • For some reason this last comment of yours went into the moderation queue. Perhaps that's a sign we need to call it a day at this point?

                      I find it remarkable that you are prepared to accept a conservative natural law argument on incest but not on homosexuality. I also find it remarkable that you are prepared to admit that the absence of a direct quote from Jesus on an issue has no bearing on its morality (or otherwise), yet this is the exact argument that you use earlier on – that since Jesus doesn't condemn it and since it's "permanent, stable, faithful" then it's OK. I simply can't see how this doesn't apply to incest? You reference leaving family ties, but the line in Genesis (quoted in Ephesians) that you cite is only referring to heterosexual union. You are using that to support gay unions when there is no suggestion in the text that is what is suggested. You cannot condemn argument from absence and use it in the same breath – it's just inconsistent.

                      Do you not

                    • I think the point that Jeremy Marks makes well in his book is that argukents from natural law in 1st Century Palestine *can* be adapted to 21st Century Western culture, and that is the line I am taking.
                      Having huge difficulties using the 'comments' today so it may indeed be a sign to call it a day on this. Thanks for your engagement.

                    • Oh and should have added that the experiential argument for same sex relationships is, for me anyway, what makes them different from an incestuous relationship. We have to deal with reality as well as logical theory.

              • I'm sure that God graciously blesses the ministry of sinners (being one myself) but I do not think that it is reasonable to assert that someone is a "faithful minister of the Gospel" if they are in a sinful sexual relationship that is condemned in scripture! Repent of resign are the options…

                • They don't seem to be the options David – else the house of Bishops would not have considered that clergy undertaking civil partnerships was acceptable.

                  • The HoB accepted that clergy may enter civil partnerships if they abstain from sex. Surely you know that.

                    Why are you accepting a nice title and a cosy income if you don't believe in Christian morality as confirmed by GS89, Lambeth 98 and the HoB in "Issues"? Shouldn't you be honest and stop taking up the ecclesiastical space and money of an institution many feel insults and rejects you?

                    • David I really don't think there is any need to be so personal or to question my belief in Christian morality when you do not know me at all. It does no service to the Gospel or either of us.
                      Archbishop Rowan recognised the plight of many sacrificial clergy in same sex relationships at synod last month and apologised for the church's lack of care. It marked an important moment in a long journey. I know what the HoB say. I also know, and I'm sure Archbishop Rowan does as well, what the reality is. It is always important to work with reality.

                    • Andrew,
                      I don't need to know you personally to know that you don't believe in, or adhere to, Christian morality in your own sexual relationship. You wrote yourself that you neither believe it nor adhere to it!
                      Whatever Archbishop Rowan apologised for, and whatever 'facts on the ground' exist, it's God's judgement that counts: Take a look through the Gospels and Epistles again – sexual morality is always a salvation issue, not just some point of indifference.
                      I don't think that you are being very sacrificial if you are taking a position and money from a church whose beliefs and teachings you reject.. but I do know faithful gay Christians (and other single Christians) who sacrifice – living abstinent lives to be true to the Gospel.
                      I don't think you can justify your title if you won't believe in, and (try to) conform to, Christian morality.

                    • David, as your post has just proved, you do not know anything about me or my circumstances. You would do well to check various facts before making posts like that. Fortunately I am finding your assumptions rather amusing lol

                    • Andrew, I'll certainly be praying for God to speak to you and to bless you. If I lost the thread somewhere I apologize. If not, you may want to reflect that you didn't seem to actually engage with many key questions put to you (by me, or in the other discussion with Peter). That would have been helpful.

                    • ps I did loose the thread, it wasn't you who said earler that they did not adhere to Christian morality.

                    • David, thank you for your apology which is accepted. Thank you for your prayers, which are reciprocated; yet I am very aware of God speaking to me and blessing me, and have ben so aware for many years. I think we are all agreed that the issue of same sex relationships is one that causes division, and we need to be careful how we handle that division. It is in some ways easier for those of us who are NOT in same sex partnerships to speak up for those who, and whose ministry and friendship we value, and whose good consciences we entirely support. Some people simply do change their minds – Jeremy Marks is one such example. What I find unacceptable is either 'side' writing the other off. I work closely with colleagues with whom i disagree about this issue. I am licensed by a bishop with whom I disagree about this issue. But we still pray together daily and still acknowledge that the 'other' is 'in Christ'. In doing so, both of us are blessed.

                    • Andrew, thank you for your gracious reply.

                      I agree with you that how we handle the divisions being caused by this and other issues of theology, morality and order is very important. Like you I have friends on all sides of this (and other) serious controversies.

                      Of course, in the end the issue is the issue, not just how we handle disagreement. And the seriousness of a problem really defines how far any compromise can go.. (though it seems to be current debating style to wrap every issue in absolutist language). That's maybe an approach that got lost with the demise of the 39 Articles.

                      From what I hear the CofE would very much like this debate to go away. Probably because it is (and has always been since the 16th century) really a groups of churches. But I'm not sure how much longer this can continue with the current controversies unless Bishops are prepared to let some churches go into Ordinariates within the Church of England.

                      I was surprised that Rome could offer such an arrangement when the CofE had always rejected similar proposals. Do you understand how Bishops can be liberal on theology and morality but more conservative than Pope Benedict on order?!!

  11. Blair

    I’ve just caught up with your comment from Friday, so let me try to be short!

    I’ve lived outside the UK since 1988 so I’m not really up-to-date on church trends there. I hadn’t realised that there had been blessings of same-sex partnerships in CofE churches. It does fly in the face of their stated policy though doesn’t it?

    I’ve just looked at the Rowan Williams clip on YouTube and it struck me again both what a humane man he is and what a thankless task he is in trying to keep the Anglican Communion together. He makes a plea for both sides in the ‘gay debate’ to give each other the space and to listen to each other. But surely that has now been happening for a very long time, so that the positions on both sides are understood, as well as the real and deeply felt hurt, again on both sides.

    I’m quite happy to pray with you that the UK situation does not get as nasty as the US ‘Culture Wars’. But I’m less happy putting church unity above all other considerations.

    I guess it comes down to whether same-sex relationships are viewed as a fellowship breaker, on both sides. As you know, I share Peter’s view that gay is not an identity, and especially not a Christian identity. You know the drill by now …..

    I can understand why gay Christians feel that their identity is gay, and I can empathise with the difficulty, hurt and pain involved in leaving homosexual practice. But there is a huge difficulty for me, and I suspect most evangelicals and charismatics, when gay Christians claim that ‘stable, loving and faithful’ same-sex relationships are a gift from God to be celebrated and blessed.

    It is a perilous place for a Christian to be in to claim that that which is sin, is not, especially when it flies in the face of biblical scholarship and the position of the church down the ages. And Rowan Williams seems to have come to the conclusion that the Anglican Communion cannot move away from the orthodox biblical view that homosexual practice is a sin, whatever his personal feelings. The church catholic worldwide is overwhelmingly orthodox on the issue of homosexuality and will remain so.

    • Hi Philip,

      good to be 'virtually conversing' again…
      A few quick responses:
      – "He makes a plea for both sides in the 'gay debate' to give each other the space and to listen to each other. But surely that has now been happening for a very long time, so that the positions on both sides are understood….". I think you're undoubtedly right that the debate's been happening for a long time – but one of the things that strikes me about what RW says, is that it's a call for the character of the debate to change. It hardly needs saying that often it's been raucous, ugly and thoroughly uncharitable – looking at the way the 'debate' has been conducted, we've hardly looked Christian much of the time (am trying to use 'we' very widely there, maybe too widely). So I'm not sure that there is much mutual understanding – there's still a lot of caricaturing and hectoring from voices on both sides I'd suggest (with notable, honourable exceptions, granted).
      -Continued in a moment…

      • – "But I'm less happy putting church unity above all other considerations". Don't want to get too self-justifying here, but I wasn't calling for unity at all costs – was suggesting we join with RW's prayers and also pray for conversations in rather more penitent, and perhaps even merciful, tones.
        – "You know the drill by now". the penny is slowly dropping ;)
        – "I can understand why gay Christians feel that their identity is gay". …except that, for myself anyway, I wouldn't say simply that 'my identity is gay'. Obviously I am hardly the best judge of whether I actually live this: but i hope I'm coming from a place where baptism, being in Christ, is primary, and where that baptism relativises and transforms other, secondary, identities, of which being gay is an important one. Of course that could just be words, and may not mean much…

        Having to split this again (argh)…

        • – "It is a perilous place for a Christian to be in to claim that that which is sin, is not". It's risky, granted – but then again from this angle I would suggest that that's begging the question. It isn't a settled matter (within the churches, and indeed other religions) what the true characterisation of homosexuality is, and therefore whether same-sex sex is always and everywhere wrong or not.
          Yet another split – don't understand why i can't post longer comments…

          • – "And Rowan Williams seems to have come to the conclusion that the Anglican Communion cannot move away from the orthodox biblical view that homosexual practice is a sin, whatever his personal feelings". I'd quibble with the 'cannot' – i haven't seen evidence that he thinks quite that. I think it's more that (remembering an interview he gave to the Guardian ) he believes that in a deeply polarised church it is wrong for an archbishop to 'advocate' for one or the other side; rather he should seek to help 'hold' the conversation, and help each side understand the other in the hope that truth can be discerned together, not by casting anybody out or refusing to listen to any voice(s).
            OK, time for a resolution – I will not start these comments saying I'll be 'brief' or 'quick'!!

            in friendship, Blair

            PS sorry for the multiple replies – kept getting messages that my comment was too long. Someone trying to tell me something :)

  12. Blair

    Good to be chatting to you as well. I always like the tone in which you conduct debate. I didn’t get any ‘splitting’ problems but the splits seem to have ad the effect of comparmentaising your points, so I’ll follow the same format!

    1. Change the character of the debate

    I totally agree with you and I think that one of the pluses of this board and of ongoing dialogue is that we can at least disagree respectfully and also begin to understand the hurt and pain on both sides.

    2. Gay Christians feel that their identity is gay

    You’re right to pull me up. I shouldn’t make generalisations like that and I love the way that you frame your own personal sense of identity.

    I guess that the greatest problem I have is with gay Christian activists that join the campaign to denigrate or ban spiritual healing therapies. A particularly bad example is Savi Hensman’s article early in Feb on ‘dubious remedies’ on the Ecclesia site. I can fully accept gay Christians pointing to flaws in reperative or other therapies, but not campaigning for a blanket ban or in vicious and aggressive terms against spiritual healing.

    In my view, this is thoroughly unChristian behaviour and also flies in the face of the research by Jones and Yarhouse that documents significant orientation change amongst Christians seeking sexual orientation change through Exodus. It is now clear that, at the very least, a significant minority of gay Christians want to change their sexual orientation and are successful in doing so. Why does this fact intimidate many gay Christian activists so much?

    3. Perilous places and sin

    Granted the debate is going on. But in the meantime the overwhelming concensus of the church catholic worldwide is that homosexual practice is a sin. So if church unity is at all important then the onus remains on gay activists within the church to refrain from same-sex blessings. And the church also cannot automatically follow what the world sees as gay identity and rights. At least, those are some of the main things I read from the ABC’s ‘Communion, Covenant and our Anglican Future’ (CCAF) of last year.

    And it would help while debate is going on, if gay lobbies within the church could refrain from statements that fly in the face of ‘committed, loving and faithful’, such as the now notorious: ‘While it is clear to us as LGBTs when we survey the gay scene, and indeed much of contemporary social life, that casual sex can often be addictive and destructive, we think it is important to remain open to the possibility that brief and loving sexual engagement between mature adults in special circumstances can be occasions of grace’ (Changing Attitude, ‘Sexual Ethics’, 2006). It is statements like these which lead me to the discernment (rather than judgement, if you know what I mean) that such lobbies are first and foremost gay before being Christian.

    4. Rowan’s conclusions

    To be honest, he’s not my Archbishop so it’s not a really big deal to me either way! But he is an important leader in the church catholic so what he says is important. I see CCAF as a statement firmly directed at the worldwide church, and recognising the reality that whatever cultural changes have influenced the declining European and North American churches, the rapidly growing, overwhelmingly biblically orthodox churches of Latin America, Africa and Asia are not persuaded. And remember these churches are an ever greater majority of the church catholic!

    • Hi again Philip,

      wanted to respond to a couple of the things you said above:

      "I love the way that you frame your own personal sense of identity". Thank you – but please note the caveats I put with it! I still have lots to learn about what it means to live out what I wrote and am not at all sure that I'm doing that particularly well or committedly at the moment. Something else to pray about I guess.

      Have just looked up the article on Ekklesia by Savi Hensman that you referred to and skimmed it very briefly. Am not sure about her comparison of 'reparative' therapy with 'drug dumping', but have to say I don't have any great objections to her article. She could have pointed to the Jones and Yarhouse research (I'll come back to that in a sec) but she does at least back her argument with evidence. She doesn't come across as "vicious" or "aggressive" in my reading of her piece. To the extent that it's about uncovering truth, I don't think this can be called unChristian behaviour, either. On Jones and Yarhouse: I think it should be noted that (if I remember rightly) 15% of their sample experienced significant orientation change. Their sample started at around 90 people and declined to 70-odd by the end of the period their research covered, I think. I'm sure Peter can correct me, but I'm not sure that's a statistically significant number. For my part I accept that some people's orientation does change, as I may have said before.

      I think you're right about what RW's statement says, but I don't think I agree with you about Changing Attitude's document (maybe I should say at this point that I'm not a member of CA as it happens). I would note that the sentence you quoted is far from a blanket endorsement of promiscuous sex and is fairly tentative and carefully qualified. Also, could it be said that an 'occasion of grace' can only be recognised retrospectively – if so I'm not sure that one could take that sentence and use it as a spur to plan to seek casual sex. I'd have to read their document again but to my knowledge it's not a definitive statement of a position, nor advocacy as such but rather a document that tries to think through possible sexual ethics for LGBT Christians, a discussion piece.

      "Gay before being Christian"? – well, see first paragraph above! Maybe that is a risk or a trap but I hope not because I hope ultimately that the two are not in conflict… Perhaps it's true that for any of us living, 'humanising', our sexuality, integrating it (which is what I think the Catholic catechism says chastity means) is a struggle. If so could it be said that it's a thornier struggle for those of us who start from a place of being particularly ashamed about our sexual desire. I'm wary of putting that because I don't want to start any games of 'competitive suffering' – but one reason I typed it is that maybe it shades in a bit of background, so to speak, about why statements such as CA's are produced and maybe how they could be read.

      Not sure if I'm making much sense tonight…

      in friendship, Blair

  13. Peter

    This current exchange between you and Andrew is a repetition of previous debate exchanges that have come to the point where you challenge theological liberals: ‘On what basis do you decide that homosexual relationships are moral and incestuous relationships are immoral?’ I observe that this challenge is never answered, because it cannot be answered with moral consistency by liberal theology. The honest response from liberals should be: ‘Because we know that ‘committed, loving and faithful’ gay relationships are good and that incestuous relationships are bad’.

    But that just postpones the question doesn’t it? Because the obvious next question is ‘How do we know what is good and bad’? For the biblically orthodox Christian the answer must be ‘What does God say through scripture?’ Clearly theological liberals and conservatives come to different answers to this question. But, in my view, you have been doing an excellent job in your ‘Sexuality and Slavery’ postings of showing that the liberal position is based upon bad use of scripture, in some cases taking scripture or classical texts out of their surrounding context.

    And, to follow on my earlier response to Blair, the ABC in his ‘Communion, Covenant and our Anglican Future’ (CCAF) of last year asks ‘whether the Church is free to recognise same-sex unions by means of public blessings that are seen as being …. analogous to Christian marriage’. He answers his question by stating the obvious: ‘In the light of the way in which the Church has consistently read the Bible for the last two thousand years, it is clear that a positive answer to this question would have to be based on the most painstaking biblical exegesis and on a wide acceptance of the results within the Communion, with due account taken of the teachings of ecumenical partners also. A major change naturally needs a strong level of consensus and solid theological grounding. This is not our situation in the Communion. Thus a blessing for a same-sex union cannot have the authority of the Church Catholic, or even of the Communion as a whole’. It is good to have had such a strong statement from him!

    And, whatever the ABC thinks or says, his statement certainly reflects the reality that the worldwide church catholic overwhelmingly views homosexual behaviour as a sin.

    So, the worldwide catholic church has the view that homosexual behaviour is a sin and that the theological case for recognising same-sex unions has not been made. It seems to me that any Christian who is serious about church unity cannot go forward an bless same-sex unions, or at least not without a very powerful and grounded arguement that ‘committed, loving and faithful’ (CLF) same-sex relationships (SSR) are ‘good’.

    Well we know the evangelical arguments that SSR are sinful as you express them clearly on your site. And the conservative-liberal arguments over scriptual interpretation have been played out here so many times that we all know them by now. Does anyone want to go down this road again?

    Liberals also argue strongly from experience, that same-sex attracted (SSA) people experience their sexual orientation as unchangeable and therefore it must be something that God has created and which is therefore good. To summarise, what are the main conservative arguments against this?

    1. ‘Gay’ is not a scriptural identity and is essentially a moder and post-modern social construction created by social forces acting within society rather than through discernment from scripture.
    2. While many self-identified gays experience their orientation as unchangeable, others wish to change their orientation. The reserach currently shows that highly motivated, previously self-identified gay Christians can change their orientation, primarily through spiritual healing coming from finding their identity in Christ.
    3. The research also shows that while the causes of homosexuality are complex and undertain, it is not proven that homosexuality is an innate characteristic, like race or gender. American Psychological Association (APA): ‘There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors’.
    4. The research also shows that most people experience changes of up to 1 point on the 6 point Kinsey scale during their lifetime. Indeed, it seems to me that most of the more astute gay lobbies (Peter Thatchell being a prime example) have moved beyond the nature/nurture debate and accept that sexuality is ‘plastic’.

    So if experience does not prove a gay identity then the main liberal argument that is left is that ‘committed, loving and faithful’ SSR are ‘good’. But, to return to my original point, how do we determine what is ‘good’? Well ultimately there are only two answers: What God (or whatever your own ‘god’ or worldview) says is good, or what people say is ‘good’.

    The debate on what God actually says is good (or not) about homesexual activity is one of scriptural interpretation and has been extensively articulated on Peter’s board. But the liberal answer that is left is: ‘We know that CLF SSRs are good because we see the same fruits and acts as in CLF heterosexual relationships. But ultimately this comes down to saying: ‘We know CLF SSR are good by matching them against what society currently says is good’. And surely, given our fallen state and the history of human sin in action, this can never be a biblical standard.

    And, in my view Peter, this is why you never get an answer from liberals to what I can perhaps term ‘The Incest Challenge’. Liberals know, deep down, the inconsistency of comparing SSR against society’s current standards of ‘good’. Because, as we all know, ‘good’ is not something that is innate to people. Society’s standards of ‘good’ can change rapidly, and have changed rapidly, under the impact of political, media, or elite driven forces.

    So let me take up ‘The Incest Challenge’ (source Wikipedia, ‘Incest’). Certainly there are powerful social taboos against incest across culture and history. But it is far more common than perhaps we would suspect even today, with estimates of ’10-15% of the general population as having at least one incest experience. … Among women, research has yielded estimates as high as 20%’. It is also well documented in history with ‘sibling marriages … widespread at least during the Graeco-Roman period of Egyptian history. Numerous papyri and the Roman census declarations attest to many husbands and wives being brother and sister’. This is especially relevant as Christianity was birthed in Roman times.

    So, even if it is only the lunatic fringe that currently advocate for CLF incest that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t go mainstream. Only someone with a blind, ahistorical faith in the progressive nature of society (against all evidence) could trust in the safeguards provided by changeable public opinion. Indeed the following most illuminating article from Johann Hari amply demonstrates how the argument could be couched in ‘freedom’ terms.

    So does that answer your challenge Peter? Ultimately the only answer that liberals have to the question for why is CLF incest bad and CLF SSR good is the rather lame ‘because society says that it is good’ (or perhaps more honestly: ‘Because we say so’!)

    So, as with all the great questions of life, we are forced back to the question: ‘What is Truth?’. I must quote from an excellent article by Alister McGrath on the Fulcrum website describing his ‘conversion’ from liberal theology:

    ‘It seemed increasingly to me that liberal values determined liberal theology. … But where did those values come from? They seemed to be little more than an uncritical repetition of the views of liberal society at large. Having been attracted to liberalism by its agenda of ‘adopting a critical approach’, I found that this critical approach was only applied to certain matters (for example, scripture), and appeared to be used rather sparingly in other areas (such as with regard to the values of secular liberal society, or the validity of appealing to common human experience as a central theological resource). This selectivity raised doubts in my mind. It seemed that culture was allowed to criticise Christianity -but that Christianity was not allowed to criticise culture. In any case, the liberal agenda seemed to deprive it of the resources it needed to do this. No doctrines; no foundation for a criticism of society’.

    So to determine what is good we are forced back to God. And, as the rich young ruler was told by Jesus when he thought he was ‘good’ – ‘Why do you call me good? No-one is good except God!’ Our standard for good can only be God himself and his revealed good in His Word’.

    • Hello again,

      could I butt in here….

      *sallies forth without waiting for an answer*

      Philip, and Peter, would like to ask, what exactly in your view(s) is the analogy between same-sex sex and incest? Now maybe this is a case of 'I would say that wouldn't I', but I'm not sure there is a good analogy there. Just to be clear I am taking it that you meant committed adult incest, Philip – I'm well aware we're not talking about child abuse within families.

      Looking at Leviticus: the language of the incest prohibitions, and that of 18:22, is very different, which suggests to me that the rationale for prohibiting incest is not the same as that for prohibiting 'lying with a male the lyings of a woman'. (Admittedly I'm not entirely sure what the Levitical rationale for prohibiting incest would be, but that's an aside and I'm not trying to question the prohibition). Trying to build on this: in one of Robert Gagnon's arguments, he suggests that those two prohibitions could have been analogically related (see for instance his piece in God, gays and the church ). He argues that incest and same-sex sex are prohibited because in both cases there is too much sameness, on a formal or structural level. But is sameness of gender analogous to sameness of genes? I'm not sure in what sense it would be. Moreover, if Dr Gagnon's argument were followed through, same-sex incest would have to be deemed worse than other-sex incest because in the former the 'sameness' of the partners would be even greater. But Dr Gagnon himself does not make this distinction, and biblical texts certainly don't (see Leviticus 18:6 for instance). Perhaps more could be said here but I'll spare you for now!

      So, could I ask again: why link same-sex sex with incest?

      Also, Philip, could I challenge something else you said above?

      "But the liberal answer that is left is: 'We know that CLF SSRs are good because we see the same fruits and acts as in CLF heterosexual relationships. But ultimately this comes down to saying: 'We know CLF SSR are good by matching them against what society currently says is good'." I would like to suggest (I fear I have held forth on this before) that this doesn't (necessarily) come down to identifying 'what is good' with 'what society currently says is good'. Picking up on a word you used – what about 'by their fruits you shall know them'? If the fruits of the Spirit are discerned in (to borrow your tags) CLF SSRs as they are in marriages, those are not criteria that can be simply identified with 'what our society happens to say is good'. Something similar could perhaps be said of the kind of sacrificial love Jesus calls us to (gulp) in John, and acts out on the cross.

      I strongly agree that the pivotal question is 'what is truth?' in this area – it's just that we disagree in our discernment of what is true… ;)

      in friendship, Blair

      • Hi Blair,

        I don't think there's much similarity between same-sex relationships and incest, apart from the fact that they are both different forms of fornication (sex outside of marriage). The reason why I was raising the issue of consensual incest is that one could use exactly the same arguments that Andrew uses in this thread to support same-sex relationships to support incest. I really don't think that's a robust form of argument if it leads one to be open to other forms of consensual sex which are Scripturally wrong.

  14. Blair

    Alot of points from you to respond to, but then I gave you alot of points too! Let me try to be brief (oh dear, here we go again …) :-)

    I noted your ‘qualifications’ to your statement of being ‘in Christ’ but I saw those as being additional to ‘who you are’. You yourself stated them as being ‘secondary’. I loved your formulation because for the Christian our identity is surely being ‘in Christ’, everything else is secondary. So I have no problem if we disagree on anything, you are a Christian brother.

    But I do think that there are Christians that see their identity as being gay before being Christian and I think that is not a good place to be in. I cited the Savi Hensman article because it seemed to me to be a particularly glaring example of how Christians of differing beliefs on ‘the gay issue’ (TGI) should be speaking to each other. Actually, to be honest, I think that Ms Hensman only writes one article which goes something like:

    1. Introduce the topic at hand.
    2. Talk about how it affects gays, using as many examples as possible of how gays are nice, warm, human sorts of people.
    3. Talk about how they are being opposed by nasty, right wing, fundamentalist Christians who are BAD PEOPLE.
    4. Ergo, we need more freedom and liberty for aforementioned nice warm gay people.

    And I see her ‘cure’ article as yet another bad example of her genre, as follows:

    1. Talk about drug dumping in the two-thirds world which is clearly a bad thing.
    2. Link to the operations of mission groups in Africa to ‘cure’ homosexuality that we are led to assume is also a bad thing (on the basis of what evidence – she gives none, and how is similar to drug dumping anyway?)
    3. Go on to talk about gays in concentration camps in Nazi Germany, Alan Turing, ’50s ECT which is so clearly abusive that noone can argue against it (what on earth is the link with drug-dumping, or with said mission groups)
    4. Cite some testimonies of awful hurt by gays from ’50s style treatment that no-one can argue indicates appalling treatment
    5. Leap back to the present and some selective quotes from APA reports on sexual orientation change being unlikely. No mentioning of Jones and Yarhouse, loads of carefully tailored quoting all round (no evidence is presented that African mission groups, Exodus, etc are using ’50s style treatments and sticking the electrodes on the noggins of poor gay people)
    5. Go to present-day Uganda and pin the offensive Uganda anti-homosexuality bill on ‘three visiting Americans’ (Make sure we know that they’re 3 Americans Savi, so we can all boo and hiss, and we’ll leave aside the racist view that the Parliament of a country can be swung in favour of a bill by only 3 Americans)
    6. Conclusion: Nasty right-wing American fundamentalists are pushing outdated, ’50s style, ‘cures for gays’ onto Africa just like drug-dumping.

    Do you see what I mean? It’s such bad polemics that it would be comical if people didn’t actually believe this rot. In her defence, Ms Hensman is a self-described ‘activist’ so she doesn’t know any better. (As an aside, what a horrible, self-conscious word ‘activist’ is, with its implicit tones of elitism. Presumably all the rest of us are ‘passivists’ and need people like Savi to tell us how to think).

    Frankly, this is what I would expect from highly politicised secular gay lobbies, but as a Christian Savi Hensman should be able to do better than this. If we can’t speak with respect, honesty and proper use of facts then what hope is there for dialogue?

    Anyway, moving on ….

    My Jones and Yarhouse doesn’t have an abstract but I’ve just skimmed it again. It has the advantage of tracking a sample who have undertaken therapy with Exodus for now 6 years. It is self evaluated through questionnaire but using techniques common to psychiatrists. Some of the most important results seem to be:

    1. 11 out of 69 (15%) had ‘converted’ to a substantially heterosexual orientation after 3 years and 14 out of 61 (23%) after 6 years.
    2. A further 17 out of 69 (23%) were ‘chaste’ after 3 years and 18 out of 61 (30%) after 6 years.
    3. Out of 14 categorised as ‘Truly Gay’ with a self-defined exclusively homosexual orientation at the start of the sample, 8 (57%) had ‘converted’ after 6 years.

    Jones and Yarhouse conclude that ‘Our first hypothesis was that sexual orientation is not changeable. If we take change to mean a reduction in homosexual attraction and an increase
    in heterosexual attraction, we found considerable evidence that change of sexual orientation occurred for some individuals through involvement in the religiously‐mediated change methods of Exodus Ministries (23% by self-categorization)’.

    ‘Our second hypothesis was that the attempt to change sexual orientation is intrinsically harmful, and hence harmful on average. We found no evidence that the attempt to change sexual orientation was harmful on average for these
    individuals. Indeed, the persons in our study who have continued with the pursuit of “reorientation” unstintingly over the extended time frame of this study, six to seven years or more, showed modest gains in the diminishing of psychological distress’.

    As I’ve said before, the only time I really get angry in this debate is when gay Christians refuse to recognise the reality that orientation can change, and worse still, engage in the type of polemics against orientation change typified by Savi Hensman.

    Got to go and pick up the kids from school ….

  15. …. continued from earlier

    I’d like to move onto your second post because it raises some really important issues. To answer your specific question, I don’t think there is any analogy at all between concensual incest and same-sex relationships (SSR). I think its fairly clear that society (at least in the UK) is currently firmly against concensual incest and broadly in favour of concensual SSR. The point that I was making (and which Peter was making as well) is that exactly the same type of argument can be used to justify consensual incest as is being used currently to justify concensual SSR. And if the views of society change then the way will open for the radical end of the ‘sexual politics’ lobby to argue that concensual incest is ‘good’ as well! (That Johann Hari article really is well worth a look!)

    But I would argue a stronger position anyway: that the position taken by society is irrelevant to the position that should be taken by the Church. Secular society is by its very nature fallen and is under the control of the devil (Ephesians 2:1-3) until it has been redeemed by Christ. Christians are likewise fallen and also prone to error but we have the words of eternal life and the prophetic task to reconcile individual people and society itself to Christ (2 Corinthians 5:16-20). We are the answer, not the world!

    I think that the idea of ‘cultural memory’ can be used to further my argument. Christian cultural memory can be defined as the collective memory (in UK culture) of some 1,500 years of Christian culture and its impact on society and its politics, government, and collective sense of what is ‘moral’. I would argue that this culture has had a largely positive impact on the UK over a very long period of time and especially since the Reformation. I would also argue however that UK, and the rest of Europe, is now moving very rapidly away from that Christian understanding of how society should be organised and of what is ‘moral’.

    It is apparent from history that society’s idea of what is moral changes radically over time. To take one example from our exchange of views, incestual marriage was well known within Egyptian and Greco-Roman culture. Infanticide was also common in the same societies, and it is well documented that disabled or unwanted children were left out in the open to die. Indeed, one of the distingushing marks of the early Christians was their taking in of such abandoned infants. It is illuminating, I think, to consider the extent to which such practices have made a return (albeit in different forms) as western societies have moved away from Christianity over the last century and a half.

    But as our western cultural memory has been shaped by Christianity for so long it retains a Christian understanding of what is ‘good’ or ‘moral’. Hence the continued public abhorrence of concensual incest. However, this Christian cultural memory is not inevitable and it is being lost very rapidly. Society’s collective understanding of what is ‘good’ has changed, I would argue for the worse. And it can change to the point that consensual incest is seen as tolerable or even desirable. Such is the post-modern condition where ‘truth’ stems only from human experience applied to situation.

    So, I would argue that society’s ‘good’ is culturally determined and is only GOOD to the extent that the Christian memory of the culture is retained and enhanced (or diminished) by good (or bad, ineffective or absent) Christian witness.

    If the Christian faith means anything in society, then surely it means that God has revealed timeless and absolute truths through history and, ultimately, revealed the way to salvation through Jesus Christ, His Son. It is our task as the Church to live that out and to undertake the task, however imperfectly, of reconciling the world to Christ. (I think I can add a Phew! there as well!)

    A.W. Tozer: ‘Historians will conclude that we of the 20th Century had the genius to create a great civilization…but we lacked the moral wisdom to preserve it’.

  16. Unfortunately all your arguments are riddled with the deadly sin of pride. As you are all corrupted by the deadliest of the seven deadly sins I comes as no surprise that you all condone the most abhorred sin of the flesh, Homosexuality, condoning the cohabitation and copulation of couples in the name of God (sacriligious), and it comes as no surprise that 'intellectuals' such as yourselves are blind to the consequences. Ask yourself this question and try to answer it truthfully; Do you love these sinners enough to save their souls? John Murphy

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