Institutional Homophobia?

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,  training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ,  who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
Titus 2:11-14

The use of these words as a blessing at the end of this morning’s church service reminded me that, despite the best intentions of those who want us to all just live together happily in our disagreement, there is no possibility of finding a middle ground. Take for example Giles Fraser’s words in this week’s Church Times,

I repeat his answer, because it makes a fascinating comparison with the recently unearthed legal advice that the House of Bishops has commissioned on gay bishops (News, 27 May) — not least, that they ought to repent of any previous sexual activity (however long ago), before they could possibly be considered eligible.

This advice shows how much the Bishops have been straining every legal sinew to exclude openly gay bishops — even celibate ones — from their number. Do we really think that straight bishops have been chal­lenged to repent of whatever they might have got up to at university, as it were? Of course not. And this double standard is a clear symptom of the fact that what is really going on here is prejudice, pure and simple.

The trouble is that, at the moment, a whole world of grammar is being invented with the express purpose of keeping gay people out of senior church positions. From the dreaded Anglican Covenant (whose purpose seems to be much the same) to this new advice, our Church is construct­ing its ground rules specifically to exclude homosexuals. And there is another phrase for that: institution­alised homophobia.

Here’s the issue – the behaviour/orientation distinction that is articulated in Issues in Human Sexuality, in the 1998 Lambeth Resolution, again in the teaching document, “Some Issues in Human Sexuality”, in the House of Bishops’ Pastoral Statement on Civil Partnerships and, most recently, in the legal opinion given to the Crown Nominations Commission is rooted in an orthodox understanding of falleness and self-control that is epitomised in Biblical proclamations like the one given by Paul to Titus. Christians are called to “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions”, to “live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” as we await the coming of Christ.

Of course, those who agree with Giles Fraser would argue that there is nothing ungodly or of a worldly passion about the sexual  expression of love between two people of the same sex.  This of course is a matter of theological discourse, though increasingly many in the church find the arguments put forward to validate same-sex behaviour by revising our understandings of the key texts untenable. On top of this is the clear understanding that for some in the revisionist camp it does not matter what the Biblical texts say. I remember sitting in a meeting with one of the leading advocates for recognising and blessing same-sex relationships in the Church of England who, when asked whether he would change his position if it was proved definitively for him that the texts meant what the conservatives said they meant, replied, “No, I will continue advocating for same-sex relationships regardless, for I believe them to be holy”.

Here then is the key split. Though there are many in the revisionist camp who seek to make a Biblical case for same-sex relationships, many appeal to a higher authority, namely their own experience and theological discernment. Thus, the Church of England is “institutionally homophobic”, not because it misinterprets the Biblical texts but rather because the Biblical texts are themselves homophobic and do not express the true mind of God.

What might be useful in this discussion is to ask whether the legal opinion leaked from the Southwark discernments have any basis in Scripture? Might we find in the Pastoral Epistles the very admonitions on leadership that some find so unpalatable? Perhaps that is the subject for another blog post, but until then, let me lead you with a thought. When Giles complains that,

At the moment, a whole world of grammar is being invented with the express purpose of keeping gay people out of senior church positions. From the dreaded Anglican Covenant (whose purpose seems to be much the same) to this new advice, our Church is construct­ing its ground rules specifically to exclude homosexuals.

is it not time that the CNC appointed a Bishop who, whilst openly gay, was not in a relationship and was publicly willing to endorse the traditional teaching on sexual expression? Might that not demonstrate that these restrictions on preferment have nothing to do with a hatred of homosexuals and rather a love of the Word, of discipleship and of the coming Christ as Paul points out to Titus.

If 13 bishops have already been outed, perhaps the “honesty” of those named might actually be the last thing the revisionists want, would actually be a shot in the foot for the liberal cause? That would be ironic n’est ce pas?

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69 Comments on “Institutional Homophobia?

  1. >>>>>>>>>>I remember sitting in a meeting with one of the leading advocates for recognising and blessing same-sex relationships in the Church of England who, when asked whether he would change his position if it was proved definitively for him that the texts meant what the conservatives said they meant, replied,“No, I will continue advocating for same-sex relationships regardless, for I believe them to be holy”.

    Is it not entirely possible that his response was due to the fact that "proof texting" does not actually offer proofs in any serious sense of the word? It cracks me up that some evangelicals can damn evolution as 'just' a theory whilst simultaneously believing that flinging cherry-picked decontextualised biblical verses and opinions of them constitute a 'proof'. Theology departments depend to be 'liberal' because the alternative is ignoring most of the significant strands in 20th century approaches to texts (and no, I don't think that "common sense" wilfully oversimplified approaches to scripture are a sign of piety. Quite the opposite).

    As for homophobia : everybody knows (or should) that the WORD antisemitism was coined by an antisemite to give the prejudice a more scientific and so respectable air, and the term doesn't make much logical sense as arabs (say) are 'semites' too. Yet most people know what is meant by antisemitism, and agree that it is a prejudice worth challenging. But when it comes to challenging anti-gay prejudice, many evangelicals are content to whip out the dictionary with a "aha! I'm not technically *afraid* of homosexuals! So there" flourish. Pathetic. And revealing.

    • Is it not entirely possible that his response was due to the fact that “proof texting” does not actually offer proofs in any serious sense of the word?

      So basically, when the Bible says something is true, it's not really? Isn't that what I said?

      • No, but quoting a text and giving an opinion on it is not "proof" ( e.g. people disagree with Gagnon's readings of Scripture; they are not incapable – wilfully or otherwise – of *understanding* them, nor are they ignoring any kind of logical 'proof'). And that's aside from the fact someone could legitimately not think that a particular opinion can be proved from Scripture and so the point is moot. If someone asked you a variation of "if I could prove from the bible that homosexuality per se is not sinful, would you change your mind?" would you really just reply 'Yes' (implying as it does that you believe that the bible could theoretically support pro-gay readings) or would you not say No and/or take issue with the presuppositions behind the question?

        And of course the evangelical line on e.g. masturbation or pornography does not derive from a list of clearly-delineated lists of 'do's' and 'don't' so contextualising extrapolating etc etc are hardly just 'liberal' vices.

        • If someone asked you a variation of “if I could prove from the bible that homosexuality per se is not sinful, would you change your mind?” would you really just reply ‘Yes’ (implying as it does that you believe that the bible could theoretically support pro-gay readings) or would you not say No and/or take issue with the presuppositions behind the question?

          I would reply "Yes". Problem is, no-one has managed to do that yet.

          • <cite>If someone asked you a variation of “if I could prove from the bible that homosexuality per se is not sinful, would you change your mind?” would you really just reply ‘Yes’ (implying as it does that you believe that the bible could theoretically support pro-gay readings) or would you not say No and/or take issue with the presuppositions behind the question?

            I would reply “Yes”. Problem is, no-one has managed to do that yet.</cite>

            What he said.

            I would actually love to be convinced that the liberal position is true to scripture. It would make my life a heck of a lot easier. I would no longer be a piranha in my church. My standing would go way up amongst my mostly secular liberal friends. It would alleviate a great deal of personal anguish for me, both as a pastor and as a person with partnered gay friends whom I love dearly and who are, by and large, better people than I am.

            So why don't I just go ahead and change my mind? Because scripture and holy tradition point in the opposite direction and tell me that to do so would be profoundly unloving. And I am called as a Christian to love people, even when doing so doesn't make them like me.

            But yes, wholeheartedly yes, I am open to being persuaded that the scriptures go the other way and that I am wrong. And I would love for that to become the basis of discussion.

      • Some things in the Bible simply are not true, Peter. Try this one:

        'Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.' Romans 13:1

        Does this 'express the true mind of God?' Were Christians wrong to fight against Hitler? Should they have followed Paul's instruction and submitted to the Nazis?

        Surely this is exactly why the Church Of England has always emphasised the importance of reason and reflection on experience in the interpretation of the scriptures. This text really is not true, is it? You cannot believe what it literally says. Paul was wrong.

          • No Paul is clearly wrong, Peter. You try to make Paul right by saying in your sermon 'I think this is what Paul is saying' (your actual words), and you then reinterpret the plain sense of the text, because what Paul has written is so unpalatable and untenable in the light of actual human experience. In so doing you concede the point. You are doing exactly the same as a defender of gay rights rightly does with other Pauline texts. You are engaged in exactly the same kind of revisionism. Paul was simply wrong here as he was in many other places. The only way to interpret the Bible is using reason and experience in the light of Jesus' twin love commandments.

            • You're wrong. The key argument in the commentaries is about the meaning of "do what is right" in verse 3. Is that do what is right as the authorities see it or what is right as God sees it? And once that question is answered with the obvious answer (God), the rest falls into place.

              Isn't that the way to do theology? Scripture, tradition and reason?

              • I'm afraid don't think the rest really does fall into place. In verse 1 Paul preaches submission to the authorities, any 'powers that be' (which by definition must include the Nazis, Stalin and Mao) because they are ordained of God. This cannot be right. Paul was mistaken. And the only way you can sustain the claim that he is not wrong is by reinterpreting it, and imposing and entirely different meaning. If verse 3 means what you say it means then it contradicts the plain sense of verse 1 which does not allow for any opposition between God and 'the authorities' and clearly indicates that to refuse to submit to 'the authorities' is to refuse to submit to God.

                My point is that the claims that you are making are not based on the literal meaning of the text, but on a non-literal interpretation you have imposed on it. Historically this text has been seen as giving divine sanction to all manner of regimes and tyrants. The more humane version you are now advocating is a revisionist interpretation. I entirely agree with you. But you need to be fair then to other revisionist interpretations of unpalatable and untenable erroneous statements in the Pauline texts, notably those relating to homosexuality.

                • I still think you're wrong, and your "wrongness" I believe stems from your unwillingness to let Scripture be consistent. We have Paul's words here in Romans and then we have (as I mention in the sermon) Jesus' words that we should render unto Caesar Caesar's things and to God God's. You seem to suggest that there is a tension between those two things that cannot be reconciled. I, within the mainstream of Anglican theology, believe that those things can be reconciled and are meant to be reconciled. Scripture, tradition, reason.

                  • >>>. We have Paul’s words here in Romans and then we have (as I mention in the sermon) Jesus’ words that we should render unto Caesar Caesar’s things and to God God’s

                    If you're altering the plain-meaning reading of the former in light of the spirit of the latter then why not the other way about? Can you cite a proof text that actually spells out what, in the 21st century, is actually 'Caesar's' and what is 'God's'? As for reason: it is indeed unsurprising that the Roman Catholic Church (who at least have Magisterium, and so avoid some of the worst proof-texting cul de sacs)have to invoke Natural Law to support anti-gay readings of scripture. Presumably you think that Reason (to simplify horribly and no doubt suggest a mental image of Reason Scripture Tradition and Experience as X-Factor Judges ;-)) shows that homosexuality is wrong. It does not. The cliched arguments against homosexuality are irrational, irrespective of how long they've been around. Most people don't "choose" to be gay. Most people who have gay sex do not die of AIDS, nor do they contract bowel cancer. The form of stimulation historically deemed 'unnatural' actually gives males vastly superior orgasms, hardly consistent with a God who self-evidently did not Design male bodies for backdoor stimulation. So that's three rational strikes against the crude anti-gay reading of Romans right there. Similarly, if evolution is scientific fact – which it is – then that fact trumps "tradition" or "rational" alleged commonsensical extrapolations from scripture.

                    NB don't neglect the Mark Driscoll thread! You could use it as a basis for a new "Challenge Peter!" feature;)

                  • Peter I would be delighted to let scripture be consistent if it was. It isn't and my reason will not allow me to believe something which is manifestly not the case. In your sermon you recognise that this passage used to be interpreted to justify any authority, however atrocious, and now it is not. The interpretation has been revised in the light of experience and reason. This is what you advocate in your sermon and I am wholeheartedly with you. You and I are both revisionists.

  2. Just one small point, Peter. I don't know why you have to use this French phrase "n’est ce pas", which you've done several times lately, but if you absolutely MUST use it for some purpose – and I can't imagine what that purpose may be – then at least spell it correctly: n'est-ce pas. There's a hyphen.

  3. Peter wrote: "Thus, the Church of England is “institutionally homophobic”, not because it misinterprets the Biblical texts but rather because the Biblical texts are themselves homophobic and do not express the true mind of God."

    I think it's even worse than that. Even if God spoke to them and explained that the sexual expression of love between two people of the same sex is ungodly, many revisionists would reply, “No, you are homophobic. I will continue advocating for same-sex relationships regardless, for I believe them to be holy”.

    • That's hardly a solely 'liberal' vice (if vice it is). For example, many evangelical woman would say that St.Paul was a feminist (!) and that gender equality is self-evidently moral. So problematic verses are read in that light – rather than having "objective" readings of the text alter the ideology extrapolated from them. Evangelicals can be feminists, or they can proclaim the unbroken two millenia Orthodox position on gender issues, but they can't, ultimately, have it both ways.

      • Ryan, scripture wasn't what I was arguing about.

        Here's the question to you directly: IF God spoke to you and explained that sexual expression of love between two people of the same sex is ungodly, how would you respond? (I am assuming that you are open enough to be able to put yourself in that hypothetical situation)?

        • You'll need to clarify what you mean by God speaking to me. Do you mean a fatima type unmistakeable appearance, or rather an interior spur that I took to be reflective of God's wishes? The latter, at least, could of course be quite as wrong as a spur in the liberal direction. But of course if I thought opinion x was God speaking to me then I would be duty-bound to take it seriously.

          • I suppose it depends what you wouold recognise as God definitely speaking to you – a light froim heaven (a la Saul) or an Angel maybe (a la Gideon or Joshua)?

            IF it were unmistakable THEN would you actually repent – or just take it seriously?

            • Sure, but it's not very protestant to expect God, millenia after the gift of His Word, to be interacting with people today as if they are Apostles, Prophets etc, is it? And at least with Fatima and the like there is more than one eye-witness – if I said that God appeared to me and told me to believe x why should you or anyone else take me seriously? Miraculous claims require miraculous evidence, and all that ;)

                • It's not really my place to dictate terms to God, is it? Plainly if I thought a communication was Divine then I would act on it, but I would stress that I think everyone should err VERY much on the side of caution in such circumstances. I'm not sure how helpful this exercise (since – theoretically speaking – Voices from Heaven need not accord with your own views nor contradict my current ones). Lots of people (Philip Dick is a famous one) have, after all, claimed to have "divine" visitations and views of said divinities and the effects on the visited hardly automatically suggest the One True God. Unsurprising, as He has already given us the revelation of Jesus Christ and Scripture, which are (to say the least) hardly insufficient.

                  • I just wanted to see whether you are actually open to God telling you you are wrong. It seems that the only possible means that you might think you are open to (ie direct revelation) is something you are more-or-less totally skeptical about …. ie you're not really open at all, are you?!

                    • Shouldn't all Christians be skeptical about direct i.e. NEW Revelation? I fail to see why this is a failing, let alone a liberal one. Similarly, people of all theological stripes have debated bible verses on this blog – recognising, perhaps, that merely stating a variation of "God told me I'm right, and you're wrong" is unconvincing at best!

                      If I told you that I was chatting to the BVM last night and she informed me that (say) the RC Church is wrong on homosexuality and woman priests you would, I think, be failing in your Christian duty to be anything other than wholly skeptical. Mormonism is a heresy for a reason.

                    • Err, Ryan, it was YOU who only pointed to direct revelation as the thing that might persuade you that same-sex sex inherently ungodly.

                      Christians normally take the New Testament texts, properly interpreted, as authoritative wrt issues of faith and godly behaviour – but you didn't see them as a source that might persuade you…. and these clearly assert that same-sex sex is ungodly.

                      Similarly, Natural Law (ie God's intentions revealed through how things are) is often a source for Christians as it reveals God's intentions – and this too shows that same-sex sex does not fulfil His intentions for sexual relationships (unless you think it's just about attraction and mutual stimulation).

                      On your point about heresies: Heresy is not just about rejecting Christian beliefs, it is also about rejecting Christian morality… That's why the New Testament has large numbers of warnings that people who sin, as well as people who don't believe on Jesus, will not inherit the Kingdom of God. In fact these two are directly linked: morality is faith in practice, or as Barth put it "Heteropraxy is heterodoxy".

  4. Ryan – your suggestion that back door stimulation giving greater orgasm, hardly argues that something is part of God's design. Your comment does not explain why someone would want to live that way or indeed why God would want someone to live that way. Given that condoms have only been around for, say 50 years. I am mindful of the thought that pursuit and maximisation of pleasure is a sign of godlessness not godliness. People also increase stimulation by all manner of godless behaviour. What is the godly life? Hardly the pursuit of pleasure. For me it also raises questions of , am I behaving as if I am made in the image of God? Is this the behaviour of Christ, who is living in those who believe? All you can say is, I have these desires. And God makes it clear in scripture that desires are deceiptful.
    His ways are not our ways, but we are commanded to follow the Father's will. Where does it claim these are God's will. A failure to do so, is a failure to love God, and we are asked as Christians to put love of Him above all others, otherwise it is idolatry.

    • >>>>Given that condoms have only been around for, say 50 years.

      And how long has AIDS been around? There are all sorts of paeons, hetero and homo, to the good old days before safe sex (which is why Christians should condemn promiscuity for reasons other than the potential for physical harm). For the record, I regard arguments from design and much natural law as flat out stupid (as Gore Vidal pointed out, our genitals have always done double duty for urination etc too, so it was never strictly accurate to say that they had ONE self-evident purpose all deviations from which are "unnatural"). I agree completely that the obsessive pursuit of pleasure is wholly at odds with the Godly, ascetic life. But much popular Christian culture does, sadly, emphasize pleasure and subjective emotion. It's common for evangelicals to say that Christian couples have "better sex", in which context it's disengenous at best to pretend that our bodies are somehow self-evidently wired for hetero but not homo pleasure (I think arch-homophboe Paul Cameron once said that gay sex is indeed more addictive and pleasurable than the straight kind which is, perhaps, going too far!) . Similarly, those who condemn promiscuity because it leads to unhappiness are hardly giving the Christian argument – and of course many people, women included, find themselves perfectly happy while engaged in all sorts of sinful behaviour.

      • Ryan

        Surely the measure of better sex, putting aside the fact of whether you are loving God, is not which maximizes pleasures but the intimacy and bonding that arises.

        As for people loving sin and the maximising of their own selfish pleasure rather than loving Jesus, Sctipture is clear that man prefers darkness rather than light, but it is also clear that the mocker has no lasting place in the heavenly temple of God. Promiscuity does lead to unhappiness, if you are unrepentant, as it may well lead to a wailing and nashing of teeth, but of course, they dont see that.

        • The two are not necessarily dichotomous. Lots of ungodly pairings would still score high on subjective scores of 'intimacy'. And, given that in this hypothetical exercise we're "putting aside the fact of whether you are loving God", why is the measure of better sex not founded on pleasure? If a woman had multiple orgasms with partner x) and zero with partner y) she might well regard the former as better sex irrespective of whether or not she had a greater emotional bond with the latter.

          Promiscuity may lead to unhappiness – but not always in this life. Masturbation is a good analogy. For years wackadoo pseudo-science said that masturbation would lead to insanity, hairs on the palms etc etc. The Church, instead of just teaching that particular behaviours are wrong *even if they don't appear to cause any pain or unhappiness* , had many who fell to the temptation to offer objections on pseudo-experiential grounds. Now we now that masturbation is actually good for you, cutting down the likelihood of prostate cancer. So any objections to masturbation now seem ludicrous, a fate that could have been avoided if the church hadn't capitulated to worldly focus on 'happiness' and 'experience'.

  5. Ryan

    >>As for homophobia : … when it comes to challenging anti-gay prejudice, many evangelicals are content to whip out the dictionary with a “aha! I’m not technically *afraid* of homosexuals! So there” flourish.<<

    I don't know who actually coined the word 'homophobia' but its a silly word because it doesn't actually describe the condition that gay activists want it to describe. I have no doubt that there are some evangelical and charismatic Christians (ECCs) that are genuinely scared of homosexuals. But the vast majority are patently not, just as they are not scared of any other person to whom they offer the gift of repentance from sin.

    But I don't think that is the point. 'Homophobia' has become something that one shouldn't do in polite liberal society, whatever it is. And it helps the gay rights lobby that it is a non-specific term as it can be used to define anything with which they disagree, up to and including the free proclamation of orthodox Christian belief on homosexuality. In this respect, 'homophobia' becomes a 'boo word' that can be used to justify the suppression of free speech without it being clear to most people what is actually being suppressed or why.

    What's wrong with gayism? It's clear, and would have the virtue for gay activists of stressing the supposed links to racism. I've never understood how homophobia – a patently useless word – became the adopted currency.

    Words matter! 'How can you mean waht you say unless you say what you mean?' Unless of course the objective is to create a deliberately unclear defintion of 'homophobia' which becomes a blanket tarring brush for any views you don't like!

    In 'Alice', Humpty Dumpty said (paraphrasing): "When I use a word it means exactly what I choose it to mean. … That is the issue – which is to be master".

    • Hello Philip. Words indeed matter, not least as language develops. For example, I have a pre-50s dictionary that defines homosexuality as the "perverted desire for a member of one's own sex" – that meaning is no more objective than the current definition (no offence, but people who 'write' dictionaries tend to be necessarily influenced by Foucault, Derrida, Theory et all from the allegedly commonsensical conscientious objectors to the word homophobia). I mentioned above that "antisemitism" isn't an "accurate" word. So why are there no avid campaigns to have it stuck from popular use? Could it be because people are more ok with actually *tackling* anti-Jewish prejudice than they are the anti-gay kind? "Heterosexist" is another word that the LGBT people use to describe anti-gay prejudice. Invoking it usually leads to conservatives laughing at the silly gays and their made up words. If the word "homophobia" disappeared tomorrow the phenomena relatively-accurately denoted by it would not, which shows that much of the rhetoric objecting to the word is simply an exercise is misdirection (suggesting as it does that we can't discuss – let alone challenge – anti-gay prejudice as we've still till to coin a suitably comely word for the phenomena).

      And "phobia" has some uses, as it suggests a not-necessarily conscious belief. Of course not all people who are tagged with the 'homophobia' label consciously choose to 'hate' or 'fear' gays. But many would agree with variations on "gay relationships are inferior to straight ones" or "homosexuality is intrinsically inferior to heterosexuality" or "those in gay relationships are perverts" all of which warrant the "homophobia" label.

      And the 'free speech' label is a strawman. One recalls the 'Family Values' objections to any works of art which portrayed gays as normal human beings (c.f. responses to Brokeback Mountain, Ellen etc) and the – yes, homophobic – alarmism that lead to the creation of Section 28. One wonders about the damage that would be done if the 'Christian' Institute zealots realised that any conservative canon of English Literature would necessarily include lots of gays (Auden, Foster, etc) and that Shakespeare himself was hardly averse to a spot of gender-bending (or – cf.The Sonnets – same-sex eroticism). Funny how the same people who evoke Peter Tatchell as the spokesman for the gay lobby fail to note that he's something of a free speech purist, too. In contrast, Christian Britain was – c.f. its record on censorship – was hardly a paradise of Free Speech. Whereas in America, those glorious documents like the First Amendment or the Bill of Rights were, in practise, curtailed by theocratic zealots. The evidence would suggest that a society that "tolerates" homosexuality is far more likely to allow free speech than one that imposes theocratic values.

      • As TS Eliot said in Burnt Norton:

        "Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
 will not stay still".

        Philip mentions the "gift" of repentance; we might not all agree. I am conscious that "Gift" in modern German means poison, even though it originally (etymologically) meant what it still means in modern English – 'one man's gift is another man's poison'. Now who said that? :-)

      • Ryan

        >>homosexuality is intrinsically inferior to heterosexuality<<

        Nice choice of words, given that the Catholic church refers to homosexuality as 'intrinscally disordered', a statement with which I agree. Again, words matter, and for this much-misunderstood Catholic statement its worth looking at what the words actually mean rather than at knee-jerk accusations of 'homophobia'.

        1. 'Intrinsic', as opposed to extrinsic, refers to something internal to the person or object. It therefore points, quite correctly in my view, to the belief that homosexuality is primarily a spiritual condition affected both by the condition of the soul, by its health or damage (very often but not always) from family, relational and spiritual hurts and by the Christian need to address homosexuality primarily by spiritual healing and submission to Christ.

        2. 'Disordered' immediately speaks to me of the 'ordering of the passions', a topic so central to classic Catholic spirituality, whereby it is recognised that in our sinful human condition we will be beset by temptations of our passions of all kinds. At the same time, we are required to 'order our passions' through spiritual discipline and humble submission to God, aided by the power and regeneration that the Holy Spirit brings. It therefore speaks to a vital component of the homosexual condition, whereby our sexual desires are seen as essential to who we are, rather than an aspect of our fallen human condition that must be brought in line with the will of God, aided by the love and support of fellow believers and by God's grace and compassion.

        I have little doubt that most gay people would see the well known description of homosexuality as 'intrinsically disordered' as 'homophobic', as probably do you. But, correctly understood and based on the words themselves, the phrase points to deep orthodox Christian truths about the nature of homosexuality that are not condemning but which point to the path for healing.

        And, with all due respect, 'homophobia' as a criticism of such a phrase does not even begin to do justice to the points that are being made.

        • I am aware of the CCC. As you say most gay people would regard it as homophobic – isn't saying that gay people are fundamentally flawed and defective more offensive than "love the sinner, hate the sin" boilerplate. Language is contested. Why should homophobia cease to be called homophobia just because some varieties of it can be highfalutingly buttressed with theology or philosophy?

          >>>.points to deep orthodox Christian truths about the nature of homosexuality that are not condemning but which point to the path for healing.

          How so? figuring all forms of homosexuality as – like immoral forms of heterosexuality – something to be avoided under the "Take up your cross" rubric does not necessarily suggest healing from them.

            • Isn't that an argument against – rather than for – treating gay people as a special category of especially defective people?

  6. "When the Bible says something is true." Then of course it must be true.

    "And the sun stood still and the moon halted" (Joshua 10:12)

    "Cretans are always liars, and that is a true statement" Titus 1:12-13

    "Thus saith the Lord of hosts, strike Amalek, do not spare him, but kill man and woman, babe and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and donkey." (1 Samuel 15:2)

    "Slaves be obedient to your masters" Ephesians 6: 5

    etc

    All true? Or do they perhaps require interpretation

    • By the way, the very fact that you think the Titus 1:12-13 reference is worth bringing up demonstrates that you have no interest in a reasonable answer to the question you're asking. The very verse you cite resolves the issue, but you chose to ignore that part of verse 13 that didn't fit with your agenda, because were you to have even read the chapter rather than just copy a list of "problems" from elsewhere you would have seen that the "Cretans are always liars" quote from someone being criticised by Paul is condemned by him in verse 13.

      Amateur.

      • I disagree, Paul confirms that the statement is true. These questions are serious ones. If loving relationships between gay men and women are to be condemned on the basis of a few Bible verses, which in my view do not address loving gay relationships at all, but which conservatives insist are true and must be obeyed, then how does one reconcile other verses which are manifestly not true – the sun cannot stand still in the sky, Cretans are not always liars and if God truly did order the murder of even infant Amalekites, then the whole thing comes crumbling down. But these are serious points which beg serious answers.

        I think you let yourself down by resorting to abuse, by the way.

        • I disagree, Paul confirms that the statement is true.

          No he doesn't. He simply confirms that the quote is a true one, that someone actually said it. He then condemns the false teachers.

          As for the Amalekites, are you suggesting that all the women and children were sinless and therefore undeserving of any judgement from God? If not, what is you problem with God judging sin?

  7. Of course Patrick went there looking for a story – he was certainly presented with one – but for him the real story is that such therapy even existed. I would like to know if he thinks gay-affirmation therapy is equally ineffective.

    • I agree that Patrick thinks that all conversion therapy is wrong. The 'therapeutic' consensus would seem to be closer to his position than Lesley's so, again, this does not discredit his experiences. Just because Patrick was predisposed – with good reason- to view conversion therapy as spurious, that does not mean that his account of it isn't to be trusted. In fact, you'll see that *Lesley* is the one who tried to get the recordings "struck from the record" under the therapist/patient confidentiality ethos. Are those the actions of someone who's done nothing wrong?

      What is 'gay-affirmation therapy'? And what basis do you have for calling it (assuming you are) inefective?

  8. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>Err, Ryan, it was YOU who only pointed to direct revelation as the thing that might persuade you that same-sex sex inherently ungodly.

    Wrong. You started this particular cul-de-sac with :

    "Ryan, scripture wasn’t what I was arguing about.

    Here’s the question to you directly: IF God spoke to you and explained that sexual expression of love between two people of the same sex is ungodly, how would you respond? (I am assuming that you are open enough to be able to put yourself in that hypothetical situation)?"

    .

    >>>>Christians normally take the New Testament texts, properly interpreted, as authoritative wrt issues of faith and godly behaviour – but you didn’t see them as a source that might persuade you….

    Wrong. Again. If I could write this in Words of Fire, I would: disagreeing with your INTERPRETATION of a particular Bible verse is, in no way, a rejection of Scripture itself. If I had a pound for every time an aspiring proof-texter either didn't know or didn't care that a word – homosexuality – coined in 1869 might not be the best translation for aresenokotai et all. One reason I hang out here a lot is the fact that the blog is in every sense exceptional; Peter actually looks in theological depth at particular bible verses rather than engaging in puerile proof-texting. He is in a minority of the evangelical team in doing so. I don't agree that Sola Scriptura is the only valid form of Christianity (in fact, if you take a sufficient time line, it's a recent innovation, no?). Even if it was, that would in no way justify the presuppositions behind textual harassment. Treating Holy Scripture with less respect and awareness for complexity that one would give for any half-decent 20th century novel is not something to be proud of – let alone a beacon of piety that shows up the failings of do-what-they-like liberals.

    For the record: I have indeed heard of – and even read!- Gagnon. I *understand* , but *disagree with*, his conclusion.I think his scholarship brings him into all sorts of areas of literary theory that are fraught with consequences he doesn't realise. Certainly the cruder Sola Scriptura can think that Paul could write with something of God's Omnipotence and Omniscience, but speculation on what Paul-the-man might have been aware of is a) exactly that and b) brings us into areas of history and archaeology that , if anything, validate the importance of Reason and Experience as albeit often interpretative theological sources (as I'm sure you'd agree, postgraduate level study – informally or otherwise – is not a prequisite to the Christian life)

    and these clearly assert that same-sex sex is ungodly.

    >>>>Similarly, Natural Law (ie God’s intentions revealed through how things are) is often a source for Christians as it reveals God’s intentions – and this too shows that same-sex sex does not fulfil His intentions for sexual relationships

    Wrong. Elaborate. Again: most people who have gay sex do not get aids; most CHRISTIAN sex (in the evangelical world at least) is recreational, not procreational, negating rather your pretenses of espousing an unbroken and self-evidently correct Natural Law. You're arguing for a very strange form of Catholicism (say) if you value Scripture and Natural Law but not see the need for Magisterium. And, if you want to bring in Natural Law, then you're already (sensibly) suggesting that it's a good idea to bring in other sources to test one's opinions on particular bible verses. I realise that the Natural Law brigade think that the Anti-Gay cliches are true. No wonder, as, like antisemitic and misognyistic ones, they've been spouted, often by Authority, for millenia. As Stephen Fry once said : it's a cliche that cliches are true, but that cliche, like most cliches, is false.

    (unless you think it’s just about attraction and mutual stimulation).

    >>>>On your point about heresies: Heresy is not just about rejecting Christian beliefs, it is also about rejecting Christian morality… That’s why the New Testament has large numbers of warnings that people who sin, as well as people who don’t believe on Jesus, will not inherit the Kingdom of God. In fact these two are directly linked: morality is faith in practice, or as Barth put it “Heteropraxy is heterodoxy”.

    No kidding! Thanks for the Christianity 101 refresher. There is of course a wide spectrum of "Christian Morality" on all sorts of things (which, unless you're going to pretend that all non-liberal forms of Christianity are in agreement, is something even you'd have to concede. Is legitimate 'Christian Moralit' espoused in the Southern Baptist Convention? Or by the Pope? Or – let's be honest – both, on the occasions when they happen to agree with YOUR Christian morality?)

    • Wow, that's a long reply!

      You did suggest at first that you would listen if God spoke to you directly that sexual expression of love between two people of the same sex is ungodly.

      However, you seem to have come to the position subsequently that He could reveal anything to you directly that you would be sure about. Ergo, you have no openness to God speaking to you directly that sexual expression of love between two people of the same sex is ungodly after all.

      Regarding Scripture: I did not suggest "puerile proof-texting" but the authority of scripture properly interpreted! And I didn't say that scripture rejects homosexuality (the orientation). Your problem with scripture is that, whenever it is refered to, sexual expression between two people of the same sex is condemned; indeed, there is no godly model of the sexual expression of love between two people of the same sex in scripture. Finally, unlike scripture, reason and experience are not authoritative sources of divine revelation for Christians – just human opinion (experience may drive us to reconsider our understanding of scripture, and reason is helpful in understanding it, but we are not divine – we didn't sit at Jesus' feet and we are not even apostles!).

      Regarding Natural Law: Human sex organs are complementary, not hermaphrodite; and humans (whatever their sexual orientation) usually want to raise offspring. Only sex between a man and a woman can achieve these "goods". Obviously many infertile couples have to find ways round this, but the point is that they have a problem (due to age, disease, disability or something) – but for people in same-sex sexual relationships this problem is naturally inherent.

      Regarding immorality being the same as heresy: No. Noone I know of, who submits to the authority of scripture (propery interpreted) on issues of personal morality, differs very much in their understanding of sexual expression of love between two people of the same sex – it is ungodly. Just like sex between adult siblings – in fact very much like it, I would say.

      SO: If you won't listen to scripture or natural law, and you wouldn't believe divine revelation, what makes you think you are open to God at all? "I am irretrievably sure I am right" is not a reasonable position for a conservative, even less so for a liberal, surely! Yet that seems to be your position… Is it completely unsubstantiated by any Godly Christian reasoning?

      • >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>You did suggest at first that you would listen if God spoke to you directly that sexual expression of love between two people of the same sex is ungodly.

        However, you seem to have come to the position subsequently that He could reveal anything to you directly that you would be sure about. Ergo, you have no openness to God speaking to you directly that sexual expression of love between two people of the same sex is ungodly after all.>>>>>>>>>>>>>

        If you had asked me "could you be wrong" then the question would, of course, be 'yes'. Did used to be an anti-gay evangelical. Are you open to God speaking to you and telling you that gay relationships are holy?

        >>>>>>>>>>>>>>.Your problem with scripture is that, whenever it is refered to, sexual expression between two people of the same sex is condemned; indeed, there is no godly model of the sexual expression of love between two people of the same sex in scripture.>>>>>>>>

        Really? Scripture is full of condemnation of *two person same-sex sexual relationships*? That's a new one. It's ironic that when conservatives talk of gay sexuality today they emphasise promiscuity, yet now they're in the position of pretending that e.g. Romans is probably addressing the sort of marriage-comparable relationship that 'revisionists' are advocating. Men burning with lust for another and choosing extremes of sensual pleasure might be an apt way to describe orgies, or random promiscuity, but is it REALLY consistent with primarily addressing loving, monogamous same-sex relationships? And said relationships are not 'modeled' because they are not addressed and condemned, whereas the principles for ethical relationships *are* espoused.

        >>>>>>>>>>>.lly, unlike scripture, reason and experience are not authoritative sources of divine revelation for Christians – just human opinion (experience may drive us to reconsider our understanding of scripture, and reason is helpful in understanding it, but we are not divine – we didn’t sit at Jesus’ feet and we are not even apostles!).>>>>>

        Your devaluing of reason does not do much for your claims of accurate interpretation. At least reason involves actually thinking and offering arguments; you, on the other, hand seem to think that flat out *stating* your scriptural views makes them less, not more, of an opinion. And you're wrong.

        >>>>>>>>>>>>.Regarding Natural Law: Human sex organs are complementary, not hermaphrodite; and humans (whatever their sexual orientation) usually want to raise offspring. Only sex between a man and a woman can achieve these “goods”. Obviously many infertile couples have to find ways round this, but the point is that they have a problem (due to age, disease, disability or something) – but for people in same-sex sexual relationships this problem is naturally inherent.>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

        Again, you're assuming that Natural Law means that sex is only about procreation. Why? Since we're talking Natural Law – not Scripture – take an 'objective' look at human sexuality. Does the amount of sperm the male produces REALLY suggest that sex is ONLY for procreation? And of course if you do think that sex is only for procreation then you are indeed part of a long Christian tradition (c.f. those Lambeth condemnations of birth control?), albeit one that 'evangelicals' largely ignore today. For example, in Joshua Harris' book about Sex, he cites CS Lewis as saying that all sex outside of sex between man and a woman is perversion. But of course CS Lewis (the reference coming from Mere Christianity) said (paraphrasing from memory) that there is nothing wrong with human beings reproducing in a certain way nor in the fact that it gives pleasure. So Lewis, unsurprisingly for an Anglo-Catholic, saw *non-procreational sex* as the perversion. If that's the Natural Law argument you're invoking then logically you have to condemn heterosexual recreational sex too.

        >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Noone I know of, who submits to the authority of scripture (propery interpreted) on issues of personal morality, differs very much in their understanding of sexual expression of love between two people of the same sex – it is ungodly. >>>

        LOL! That's because you think that 'scripture (properly interpreted' entails believing what you do on homosexuality! "People who agree with me on the bible and homosexuality agree with me on the bible and homosexuality" doesn't carry the weight that you seem to think it does.

        >>>>>>>>>>>>SO: If you won’t listen to scripture or natural law, and you wouldn’t believe divine revelation, what makes you think you are open to God at all? “I am irretrievably sure I am right” is not a reasonable position for a conservative, even less so for a liberal, surely! Yet that seems to be your position… Is it completely unsubstantiated by any Godly Christian reasoning?>>>

        Of course I could be wrong. So could you. Liberal, by the way, comes from the Latin for 'free man' so (as Gore Vidal pointed out) one has to worry about any society or ideology that would seek to demonise it. I note you ignored all my points about Gagnon. Again: disagreeing with your OPINION on Scripture is IN NO WAY a rejection of Scripture itself. Although, to be honest, proof-texting does something makes one suddenly understand the need for Magisterium ;-)

        • I certainly am open to understanding human sexuality differently – I've been listening to people on this for decades but remain very sceptical. Every allegedly serious attempt to reason that same-sex sex is godly always falls at the same hurdles – it depends on special pleading, rather than reasonable interpretation, to negate all the parts of scripture that support the view that godly sexual relationships are between a man and a woman (only).. and special pleading to make every reference to ungodly sex between people of the same sex either a limited restriction (eg it was REALLY just about religious practices) or irrelevant (eg this was not addressing the situation where the people felt love towards each other.

          Quite frankly, that sort of adding to or reasoning away the meaning if scripture, allows you to make the Bible mean whatever you want! The interpreter becomes the sole source of authority! That's what I mean about the subsidiary value of experience and reasoning. I'm very much in favour of using our minds and our experiences to reflect on the meaning of authoritative divine revelation but, in the end, I am not God!

          In the end, if Jesus is God then there is a lot to be said for learning through obedience – Jesus said "Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him."

          On the points you attempted to address, it would help if you discussed what I actually said.. Have you deliberately misrepresented it, or do you just not understand?

          * I didn't say that "scripture is full of condemnation of *two person same-sex sexual relationships" – I said, accurately, that "whenever it is refered to, sexual expression between two people of the same sex is condemned" and, again accurately, that "there is no godly model of the sexual expression of love between two people of the same sex in scripture".

          * I didn't say that "you’re assuming that Natural Law means that sex is only about procreation". Sex is about several "goods", but "Human sex organs are complementary, not hermaphrodite; and humans (whatever their sexual orientation) usually want to raise offspring. Only sex between a man and a woman can achieve these “goods”."

          * I didn't say that 'scripture (properly interpreted' entails believing what you I on homosexuality. I said that "Noone I know of, who submits to the authority of scripture (propery interpreted) on issues of personal morality, differs very much in their understanding of sexual expression of love between two people of the same sex – it is ungodly." Submission to the authority of scripture (propery interpreted) on issues of personal morality is hardly limited to godly/ungodly sexual behaviour!!!!

          But you still haven't explained why, if you won’t listen to scripture or natural law, and you wouldn’t believe divine revelation, you think you are open to God?

          • >>>>Quite frankly, that sort of adding to or reasoning away the meaning if scripture, allows you to make the Bible mean whatever you want! The interpreter becomes the sole source of authority!>>>

            You'd agree that the reader, to varying degrees, constructs meaning? And that all texts are intertexts? And you'll note that I tend to offer reasons for my interpretations, whereas you seem to assume that your opinions droppeth from the heavens, and so just assume that they're correct. No offence, but I do not see how such an attitude is *more* respectful to Scripture and our duty to treat it seriously. You're still using a variety of 'reason' to interpret scripture even if, worryingly, you're not willing to acknowledge your won subjectivity.

            >>>>>>>>>* I didn’t say that “scripture is full of condemnation of *two person same-sex sexual relationships” – I said, accurately, that “whenever it is refered to, sexual expression between two people of the same sex is condemned” and, again accurately, that “there is no godly model of the sexual expression of love between two people of the same sex in scripture”.>>>>>>>>>>>

            Sorry if the 'full' confused you. But your clarification repeats the initial error. If sexual expression between two people of the same-sex is not necessarily addressed then it can hardly be condemned, can it? I note you ignored my citing Romans, preferring simply to reiterate your opinion that sexual expression between two people of the same sex is condemned. That all possible variations of ethical relationships are not modeled in scripture (unsurprising, given differences in cultural contexts etc) in no way means that non-modeled relationships are necessarily immoral.

            >>>>>>>>>* I didn’t say that “you’re assuming that Natural Law means that sex is only about procreation”. Sex is about several “goods”, but “Human sex organs are complementary, not hermaphrodite; and humans (whatever their sexual orientation) usually want to raise offspring. Only sex between a man and a woman can achieve these “goods”.”>>>>>

            Again, you're flat out stating an opinion, not bothering to offer an argument. YOU were the one who cited Natural Law and the importance of procreation as a reason why gay relationships are wrong. Offer a "Natural Law" argument on why recreational heterosexual sex is ok whereas the homosexual kind is not then I will, of course, address it.

            >>>>>>>>>>>>>> I didn’t say that ‘scripture (properly interpreted’ entails believing what you I on homosexuality. I said that “Noone I know of, who submits to the authority of scripture (propery interpreted) on issues of personal morality, differs very much in their understanding of sexual expression of love between two people of the same sex – it is ungodly.” Submission to the authority of scripture (propery interpreted) on issues of personal morality is hardly limited to godly/ungodly sexual behaviour!!!!>>>>>>>>

            I quite agree, but, once again, you're not bothering to give facts or justify assumptions but are merely reiterate that people who agree with you on scripture agree with you on scripture. Big woop.

            >>>>>>.But you still haven’t explained why, if you won’t listen to scripture or natural law, and you wouldn’t believe divine revelation, you think you are open to God?>>>>>>>

            1) I'm open to Scripture. And I'm certainly open to grown-up,convincing interpretations of same. Unfortunately you've yet to to offer any. It's very self-aggrandising that you conflate "disagreeing with my interpretation of scripture" with "rejecting the authority of Scripture"

            2) The Natural Law arguments you've offered have been about procreation. Hopefully you'll try and offer, from Natural Law, an argument that manages to explain why recreational heterosexual sex is right but the gay variety is wrong.

            3) Are Protestants supposed to believe in Fatima-style "divine revelation"? For the record, of course God *could* tell me or you or anyone anything. Ironic that you disregard experience whilst simultaneously assuming that God is now engaged in 'divine revelation' to tell people the correct meaning of bible verses and His views on certain, controversial issues.

            • OK. ON SCRIPTURE: I'd point to 1 Cor 6:9-11 and 1 Tim 1:9-11. We can argue about what the individual words mean, but Roman culture, was well aware of same-sex sex and same-sex attractions (obviously not called homosexuality as that word was first coined in the 1800's – but then "same-sex", "sex" and "attraction" were all first coined since the 1600 's (when modern English emerged)!

              You might also like to look down both lists and, if you consider some of the other "sins" to be inoccuous, you might like to worry about whether you understand God. Why will He reject people for many "sins" that most people nowadays would feel very uncomfortable rejecting people for?

              ON NATURAL LAW: I'd point you back to what I keep saying: the meaning of sex for humans has several dimensions – attraction and intimacy being only two of them (and recreatio is not a particular "good" of sex)

              ON DIVINE REVELATION: here's a good short video:

              Enjoy!

        • I certainly am open to understanding human sexuality differently – I’ve been listening to people on this for decades but remain very sceptical. Every allegedly serious attempt to reason that same-sex sex is godly always falls at the same hurdles – it depends on special pleading, rather than reasonable interpretation, to negate all the parts of scripture that support the view that godly sexual relationships are between a man and a woman (only).. and special pleading to make every reference to ungodly sex between people of the same sex either a limited restriction (eg it was REALLY just about religious practices) or irrelevant (eg this was not addressing the situation where the people felt love towards each other. The argument then turns to the attraction people feel for each other and asserts that this love justifies sexual relationship (without explaining why this doesn't apply in other cases, such as adult siblings or people who are in open marriages, or why scripture fails to make this connection). This is usually backed up by an appeal to justice and human rights, and characterises biblical/traditional morality as an oppresive power over the individual.

          Quite frankly, that sort of adding to scripture, or reasoning away the meaning of scripture, allows you to make the Bible mean whatever you want. The interpreter becomes the sole source of authority! That’s what I mean about the subsidiary value of experience and reasoning. I’m very much in favour of using our minds and our experiences to reflect on the meaning of authoritative divine revelation but, in the end, I am not God!

          In the end, if Jesus is God then there is a lot to be said for learning through obedience – Jesus said “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”

          On the points you attempted to address, it would help if you discussed what I actually said.. Have you deliberately misrepresented it, or do you just not understand?

          * I didn’t say that “scripture is full of condemnation of *two person same-sex sexual relationships” – I said, accurately, that “whenever it is refered to, sexual expression between two people of the same sex is condemned” and, again accurately, that “there is no godly model of the sexual expression of love between two people of the same sex in scripture”.

          * I didn’t say that “you’re assuming that Natural Law means that sex is only about procreation”. Sex is about several “goods”, but “Human sex organs are complementary, not hermaphrodite; and humans (whatever their sexual orientation) usually want to raise offspring. Only sex between a man and a woman can achieve these “goods”.”

          * I didn’t say that ‘scripture (properly interpreted’ entails believing what you I on homosexuality. I said that “Noone I know of, who submits to the authority of scripture (propery interpreted) on issues of personal morality, differs very much in their understanding of sexual expression of love between two people of the same sex – it is ungodly.” Submission to the authority of scripture (propery interpreted) on issues of personal morality is hardly limited to godly/ungodly sexual behaviour!!!!

          But you still haven’t explained why, if you won’t listen to scripture or natural law, and you wouldn’t believe divine revelation, you think you are open to God?

          • just a quickie ,…… does the “proof text” theory relate to adultery, theft and other “sins” too ? Have I been mislead all this time thinking that scripture said some forms of behaviour were unacceptable when clearly they were acceptable ? I am a simple sort and thought that when it said “don’t do X” it meant you can’t do X, but now it seems all I needed was a proper theological paradigm and “don’t do X” actually means “you can do X”, presumably as long as you do it in “love”. #justsayin

  9. Aaaah the "authority of scripture (propery interpreted)". What a wonderful bon mot is that; what a sure foundation for every kind of argument there has ever been through the history of religion. We only need to look back 2000 years of organised Christianity to see how that has helped solve all the dilemmas produced by book-based revelation.

    As it is, if people could be entirely honest about it they will see that the holy-book theory, varieties of "The Bible tells me so I knows it's so" or indeed the Book of Mormon

    have not been an awful lot more helpful in solving ethical issues than the Delphic Oracle.

      • But how do you convince anyone of that? By proving beyond doubt that the Book of Mormon was made up by Joseph Smith as a deliberate fake? Enough people in the world seem to accept it as "scripture"…..

        No, my point was actually about the bracketed tag words "(properly interpreted)" which seemed to beg the question (in the proper sense of assuming the initial point). Hasn't that been the problem ever since the Reformation, if not before? Who is mandated to correctly interpret scripture, Jean Calvin, the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, Rev. Moon, you, me….? Does it amount to scholarship, knowing the biblical languages….or something else, like the commission from Christ assumed by the RC Church?

        With the doctrines of Sola scriptura and the inspiration of everyman who is a true believer to understand the "plain meaning" of scripture the Reformers opened up a can of worms; it led to the fissile state of modern Christianity reliant on the biblical texts alone, notwithstanding any extra bits of "scripture" tagged on like the Book of Mormon, Mary Baker Eddy's Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, the writings of L. Ron Hubbard or the writings of the Reverend Moon. Enough for discussion there, I'd have thought.

        • Tom, I must say that your attack on the idea of "scripture properly interpreted", offering no solution, is very revealing:

          – Either you are suggesting that Scripture is only helpful if it is interpreted incorrectly – which I doubt is what you meant!

          – Or you are saying that Scripture is irrelevant to Christian morality – which begs the question: are you following Jesus, or are you following some other authority… or are you just making it up as you go along?!!

          – Or you are saying that you have the authority, as reader, to impose your own subjective interpretation – which means you are definitely making it up as you go along!!!

          No. The authors of the NT texts meant something by what they wrote. Sometoimes they are quoting Jesus, God icarnate, himself. Other times they are written by or quoting His Apostles, anointed by the Holy Spirit to establish the Church.

          They are authoritative Christian teachings. Much in them is addressed to particular people and contexts, in which case we can look at the principles behind them to see how they apply in our contexts. But where they address issues that still pertain today we can't claim to be Jesus' followers if we don't obey them.

          • David, thanks for your reply. To avoid going round in circles let me pinpoint something you say to show what the problem or question is. (BTW I was not aware asking a question about the *interpretation* of scripture was an attack but let's not get hung up on that).

            You say: "The authors of the NT texts meant something by what they wrote…..in which case we can look at the principles behind them to see how they apply in our contexts."

            So I ask, who is "we"? Because it is not so clear or black and white as you purport. It is a principle of literary criticism that we cannot ascribe anything to authorial intention; Richard Burridge's Four Gospels: One Jesus? is good on this.
            http://www.amazon.co.uk/Four-Gospels-Jesus-Richar

            He says that when we read an ancient text we are looking back into the past as if through a window from the outside into a darkened room; we see beyond the glass but not wholly or completely clearly because the glass reflects ourselves back on what we see. So my question – Who is "we"? – surely it includes all those people I listed in my second post above and more (Who is mandated to correctly interpret scripture, Jean Calvin, the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, Rev. Moon, you, me…)?

            And it is a question of authority *in interpretation* (please, NOT in the scriptures themselves which is an entirely different question that I was not raising) then can I ask again what makes an interpretation authoritative; does it amount to scholarship, knowing the biblical languages….or something else, like the commission from Christ assumed by the RC Church…or indeed something completely outside all of that, such as scientific or archaeological findings? (An example of the latter would be geological evidence for or against the idea of a universal flood, or textual evidence of an earlier borrowed narrative that the biblical writers took and so on.)

          • And if I may add something to Burridge's analogy. He also points out that when we look through the window of a text we don't only see ourselves reflected but everyone else who has looked through that same window and commented – the Church Fathers, the Reformers, Luther, Calvin, right down to NT Wright, Gagnon and anyone else who has had a go at explaining the meaning of a piece of text.

            • Tom, I agree that understanding the author's intended meaning of text is not always easy (though often it is very clear) – I never said it was "black and white"!

              I was restricting my comments primarily to the NT. Much of the intended meaning is clear and Bible scholars are agreed on what most of the NT texts meant (originally). Obviously things get more complicated with the OT.

              Regarding how we see the meaning through our perspective: All sorts of things can affect our understanding of what the author meant. But you and I obviously believe that it is possible to interact with an original author's intent – or we wouldn't be bothering to read and respond to each other's postings here!

              Anyway, Burridge in Four Gospels One Jesus is talking about how we read the Gospels – in the light of the intentions of each author and especially the genre of the writing – so he's certainly not saying we can't understand them at all!

              Maybe we never know exactly (or everything) an author had in mind when (s)he wrote something. But words have meaning. And they are constructed into phrases and sentences by the author with the intention of communicating ideas. Other people can read and understand them.

              Finally, just because a text is old, doesn't make it incomprehensible – otherwise we could argue that people are wasting their time reading the Histories, the Illiad, Egyptian hieroglyphics etc etc as they must be just imposing their context and affected by centuries of other readers – obliterating the original. Noone argues that – because we can read them… and we do understand them pretty well!

              Similarly, we can understand the NT authors pretty well. But, as Prof Fee says, "the problem often lies not in understanding the text but in obeying it".

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