Church Decline in England?

I wanted to add some form of contribution to recent debate over whether there is decline in numbers worshipping in the Church of England. I took some figures from the Statistics department of the Archbishops’ Council and analysed them on a diocese by diocese basis to try and assess whether the Church was really in decline.

My first analysis was on simple numbers. If you download the spreadsheet I used you will see that I rebased each diocese’s All Age Average Sunday Attendance figure for each year so that 2001 to 2010 was stated as a percentage of the 2001 figure. I then ran a simple linear regression regressing ASA against year. The results were as follows.

Significant Decline

34 of the 44 dioceses showed significant decline over the decade. This is defined as a negative coefficient with 5% or smaller p-value (indicating at least 95% significance). These dioceses are listed below in order of decline.

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Put your cursor over the chart and you can see figures for individual dioceses. For example, the worst diocese is Liverpool with an average decline per year of -2.43% of the 2001 ASA. Over a decade that has led to a quarter less people coming on average per Sunday.

No Significant Change

The next group of dioceses are those which so no significant pattern of change. These are defined as either positive or negative coefficients, but where the coefficient does not reach the 95% significance level. Put another way, we can discern a trend over the decade, but we cannot be sure that the trend is anything more than just random fluctuations (whereas in the group above we are pretty sure that the downward trend is significant).

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For example, London has a coefficient of 0.45%. This means that over a decade it has seen around 5% growth in Average Sunday Attendance. However, the p-value for the coefficient is 0.291, so (putting it in simple terms) we think that it’s only about 70% likely that’s a true growth trend. We normally like 95% certainty to say we confident a trend is a real trend.

Significant Growth

The last group is where the diocese shows a positive coefficient and the coefficient is significant to the 95% level. There is only 1 member of this group and that is the Diocese of Europe with a coefficient of 0.44% and a p-value of 0.008. Europe has seen small but solid growth for the past decade.

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Change in Growth Pattern

It’s one thing to see who is growing or declining, but of equal interest is seeing which dioceses are managing to slowly turn the problem around and which are seeing accelerating decline.  To examine this I regressed first differentials for each diocese.

There were only two significant results. First, London Diocese produced a coefficient of -0.00748 with a p-value of 0.032. What this means is that even though London has seen some growth over the past decade (0.45% a year, but with a p-value of .291) that growth is slowing down and has now turned into decline. What the first differential regression tells us with such a low p-value is that we are pretty sure that the trend of the past few years does not appear to be a blip.

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The other diocese that shows a clear trend in the first differential is Southwell and Nottingham. The coefficient is -.00974 with a p-value of 0.053, just shy of 95% significance. What this means is that we’re almost certain that not only is Southwell and Nottingham seeing significant decline, but that decline is accelerating.

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If we are honest, when we look at ASA figures over the past decade it is not a good picture. 34 of the 44 dioceses show significant decline and of those 34, none show any sign that that decline is slowing down and at least one diocese shows that its decline is accelerating. We have another nine dioceses where there is no significant decline or growth and only one diocese with clear significant signs of growth (Europe).

Of course none of this analysis explains *why* the decline is happening, simply that it is. What it does tell us is that in most places the decline is not getting any worse, but equally there is no real hard evidence of substantial growth or even a “slow turning of the liner” across the country.

In my second post I’ll turn to look at Adult Baptisms as a measure of conversion rates to see whether there are any signs that evangelism is growing in the nation. In the meantime, please feel free to comment below.

117 Comments on “Church Decline in England?

  1. So, my questions turn to what factors caused growth in London in the first place (evangelization programs? patterns of immigration to London and population migration?) and why growth is declining now. London peaked but what are the reasons they’ve stopped? (Moving out of the diocese, “backsliding”, changing to another denomination, moving out of London after the economic crisis changed their lives, etc.) These are the questions for sociologists.

    • There are two exhaustive studies of this on the London Diocese website if you look. *Very* worth reading – the best analyses I have seen.

      Multiple factors. Much to do with excellence in leadership, targetting resources to growth potential, maintaining full time clergy per parish, support networks (eg New Wine but others in other traditions), helpful demographics, and dozens of other things.

      HTB and family contributed a proportion of growth, but a relatively small fraction – I seem to recall less than a fifth.

      • URLs? Sounds fascinating.

        I’m not arguing in the slightest that in the 90s / first half of the 00s London saw tremendous growth. However the most recent evidence suggests that trend has finished and London is now in decline again.

  2. I wonder how far the HTB expansion of churches contributed to London growth. & whether the Co-Mission figures are included in Southwark.

  3. It would be helpful to know where the growing points are and whether weekly statistics are being kept. This shouldn’t be all that dificult because many churches count their congregations at collections. wonder if Bob Jackson’s findings about average-sized churches are being used significantly.

  4. With the number of Brits currently fleeing back to the UK following financial collapse in Spain, I highly doubt that the growth you’re seeing in the Diocese of Europe is sustainable.

    It’s all about decline, isn’t it? Whatever your personal opinion of Anglican doctrine, the public at large understands three things: homophobia, misogyny and exclusion. That’s the message of Christ as preached by the Anglican Church.

    Should we be surprised to see it slowly fading away?

    • Yes, Steve, the C of E’s three besetting sins, homophobia, mysogyny (it knows that and is uncomfortable about it) and exclusion are much more inconscionable than the RC Church’s (despite the recent bluster of our Scottish hierarchs) because they have done their picking and choosing piecemeal over the sexual issues that suit them – artificial birth control, remarriage of divorcees. Rowan Williams long ago admitted in the Body’s Grace that once you had artificial birth control you have prized apart the necessary connection between sexual activity and procreation so have lost of one of the main planks in the moral argument against same-sex activity. That’s why the RC Church will never give up forbidding condoms etc., because they, unlike the Anglican bishops at the time when the Lambeth Conference allowed a chink in the general prohibition against birth control, foresaw the inevitability of the logic. And in our own time the little matter of the remarriage of divorcees in church, which was supported by the progressive (in this matter) Bishop of Winchester among others who was otherwise known for his strangely regressive anti-gay stance….everyone else could see the accommodations being made over the selectivity of scripture….everyone could see how those with an axe to grind included bishops with children who were divorced and wanted Dad to do the new nuptials, and all those divorcing Evangelicals in the pews who would somehow work to get the new accommodations. But it was done piecemeal and left too many holes in the old moral certainties as Rowan Williams perceived. The RC Church has been able to remain much more consistent because it is ruled by men who don’t have to worry about wives and children and theoretically at least don’t care about the rude business of sex, sublimating their drives in other directions, golf, luncheons, or ecclesiastical millinery and footwear.

      • But surely the point is how are we going to be guided by scripture now? If we’ve erred in the past, surely the answer is not to say ‘oh, well, we might as well just go along with everyone else, we’ve blown it now’, but to revisit those questions of contraception and remarriage and examine whether Rome might have got it right.

        If these are the reasons that Church attendance is falling, that’s sad, but I think conservative Churches will just have smaller congregations. After all, Jesus lost huge sections of the crowds by saying things they didn’t like, and he just let them go. It’s their life. It’s their decision.

        • annalee you are right – in theory at least – but it would be a brave Archbishop of Canterbury who’d say to David Cameron “I want you to put a bill through Parliament repealing the Acts which permit divorce (after all there is only one marriage in law, not religious and secular varieties)…….. and after that we want contraception made illegal again as it still is in some Catholic countries”. Don’t forget, the C of E is by law established so it would not be enough just to revoke its Acts of Synod in these matters. There would be any outcry of dismay even from the very benches of HTB that the ex-Archbishop would hear in his new pad in the Master’s Lodge in Cambridge “All is forgiven; come back”.

          • If the stories about Stephen Green are true, then he’s not my favourite person and he CERTAINLY isn’t living by biblical values, which make it VERY clear that the primary responsibility of a husband is to love his wife as his own body (ie. you’d only beat up your own body if you were sick in the head): Ephesians 5:28-30.

            I think people do know what they mean by a return to biblical values. They mean a return to concepts such as faithfulness, love, men and women as created by God, rather than social constructs. The most painful thing about this debate isn’t same-sex marriage (which we basically have anyway through civil partnerships), but the way people keep twisting the Bible and taking verses out of context to try to make scripture look ridiculous.

            • As we gaze back into the past through the pages of scripture we do not necessarily see things as the authors of those scriptures did. The Rev Prof Richard Burridge of King’s College, University of London, in his Four Gospels, One Jesus? uses a very helpful analogy. Reading scripture is like looking into a window from the street outside; you see something of what is within but much of it is obscure and what you see is overlaid by the image of yourself reflected in the glass back at you. People who talk about “the plain meaning of scripture” need to tell us why since the Bible was translated and placed into the hands of ordinary people at the Reformation with its principle of ‘sola scriptura’ we have had a simply staggering fragmentation of Christian denominations (estimated at 33,000 and rising, everyone of which claims to know the plain meaning of scripture.

              • Good thing we’ve got two thousand years of collective reading and discussion to help us avoid going off the tracks, then.

                The problem with the ‘through a glass darkly’ type argument is that it’s normally followed by ‘so now, let me take some verses out of their historical and textual context to see if I can get them to say what I want them to say, rather than what the majority of scholars over the centuries have taken them to mean’.

                • Of course Tom Wright and others would give a completely different answer then Burridge. I have looked through plenty of windows in my time and seen perfectly well what is on the other side.

                  Reading Scripture is often like opening a book and reading the words that the author wrote. Nothing more, nothing less. The fact you don’t accept its words and seek to ridicule them, demean them and generally undermine them because the consequences of accepting them for what they are would be too challenging to your current choices in your life is your problem, not ours.

                  • I am sure Tom Wright would recognise an analogy if he saw one, Peter. And doubt even he would think reading the Bible is quite like reading a modern uncomplicated text like an airport novel you make it out to be. Parts of it might be straightforward but other parts need to be read with great care, the Book of Revelation for example. Just think how crazy and dangerous some of the interpretations that book has received. Some sects have made virtually foundational to their theology and boy, have they got it wrong. You know who I mean, Harold Camping, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Cyrus Schofield, John Nelson Darby and Dispensationalism to name a few. I understand the Greek Orthodox Church only allows it to be read liturgically on Patmos on the Feast of John the Divine and wasn’t it Luther who thought it should never have been in the Canon? I think your second paragraph is far too simplistic but we know parsons never want to share theological problems with their flock whom they often think could easily be scandalised and have their faith shaken, so they avoid the difficulties and telling how it is and instead say something like God will make it clear, or give an interpretation that suits their own prejudices. Shall we mention the story of Sodom and Gomorrah at this point? How many parsons go on allowing the old misreadings without challenging them with the modern scholarly approaches to that iconic but problematic text?

                    I don’t think I have done any ridiculing of the words of the Bible: accusing people who do not see things your way as disingenuous because they do not want to have their lifestyle challenged is a risky strategy because it is equally applicable to people who don’t particularly demonstrate their religion has made any difference to their behaviour except they want a comfort-blanket to suck on.

                    • Tom, I’m perfectly aware that the Bible has been translated etc. But in my experience I’ve been very disappointed with liberal readings of scripture. I go to good evangelical readings and find the author’s done all the scholarly work in terms of going back to the original language, looking at different interpretations over the centuries, looking at the historical context, cross-referencing with other texts in the Bible – it’s pretty thorough.

                      I just can’t respect liberal readings. The don’t do the same amount of work. They pick and choose the bits from historical debate that they like, they take words out of context to try to get them to say what they want. The point in them seems to be to confuse rather than to make something clearer. I’m sorry, but that’s why despite being initially attracted to liberal claims to be the ‘thinking persons’ approach to scripture, I was very quickly disillusioned by the shallowness and returned to evangelical exegesis. I’m an academic myself, and I know good scholarship from bad.

                    • annalee, perhaps you would like to tell us what is your favoured translation. I am not sure I understand what you mean by “evangelical” or “liberal” readings. Do you mean paraphrases?

                    • I think you misunderstood me. I’m talking about biblical exegesis. Most good biblical exegesis doesn’t rely on one translation.

                    • I think we misunderstood each other, annalee. I was discussing the text of the Bible itself and I think Peter was. Of course I agree exegesis is another matter and you might well look at the way different translators come at a difficult text. As far as this goes I prefer Jewish scholars for the Old Testament. Rabbi Jacob Milgrom’s multi-volumed commentary for the Anchor Bible Commentaries on Leviticus is unsurpassed, And Jewish scholars also have sometimes a useful contribution to make on the New Testament. Hyam Maccoby wrote some remarkable books giving the Jewish perspective on Christianity, _Mythmaker, Paul and the Invention of Christinaity_, _Paul and Hellenism_ and _The Sacred Executioner_. I wouldn’t expect you to agree with him because you are a Christian and not a Jew but for anyone who is interested in the Jewish perspective on how the Jesus movement evolved into a separate religion they give some fascinating and unexpected insights.

                    • But that’s just my point. A good, scholarly exegesis will look at the different translations, and how it’s been interpreted by Jewish and Christian commentators, and then explain what they think is the best interpretation. What they DON’T do is keep their readers in the dark about difficult words and areas of confusion. In my experience, these scholarly exegeses are written by evangelicals. A friend of mine wrote a book about Revelation that looked at all the different levels of interpretation and how it had been seen in different historical contexts. Anyone writing a serious work on the OT will almost certainly have read the Jewish scholars (the first place most evangelical pastors go is the Anchor Bible!). I would be surprised if somebody writing a comprehensive work on Paul didn’t include Hyam Maccoby. Your claim that evangelical ministers simply go with their own prejudices and leave their readers in the dark about areas of debate is simply false, in my experience.

                      When it comes to more meditative stuff on how theology should shape our view of the world, I prefer RC/Orthodox. Some of R. Williams stuff is good. I think evangelicals can be a bit weak on that. There’s a lot of ‘well, that’s what the scriptures say, so let’s grit our teeth and do it’ – stereotype, I know, but every section has it’s weaknesses.

                      But, in my experience of listening to liberal sermons and reading liberal commentaries, there’s little of value. Perhaps I’ve just had some bad experiences. If you could point me to some good liberal commentaries, I’ll gladly change my mind.

                    • I looked back and this is what I actually said, annalee: “How many parsons go on allowing the old misreadings without challenging them with the modern scholarly approaches to that iconic but problematic text?” Then you say I said this “Your claim that evangelical ministers simply go with their own prejudices and leave their readers in the dark about areas of debate is simply false, in my experience.” Quite a difference in implication between the two, wouldn’t you say? I assume some pastors might be quite ignorant, have not kept up with scholarship or have forgotten what they learned; but clearly this is not all. On the other hand I deliberately did not accuse evangelical scholars of misleading their public though I could show you where I think some translators have allowed their prejudices to affect their translation. An obvious example is where the Greek terms ‘malakos’ and ‘arsenokoites’ are baldly translated as homosexual. At best this is simply anachronistic because there is no word in Biblical Hebrew or New Testament Greek for the modern coinage ‘homosexual’. A lot of ink has been spilled on the meaning of these two terms in context and the honest scholar, whether Evangelical, Catholic or of no religious affiliation will admit that you cannot put a simple equals sign between the Greek koine ‘arsenokoites’ and the modern English ‘homosexual’. I hesitate to offer the following link, appearing as it does on the Pacific School of Religion website, but it is by Dale Martin Woolsey Professor of Religious Studies at Yale and I believe it offers a very fair and helpful discussion of the terms in question, as an example of what I am going on about.

                      Apart from that I appreciate your post and am glad to see you consult a broad canvas of views in your exegesis of works like the Book of Revelation.

                    • I did read your post, Tom, and I didn’t fail to reply out of disdain, but because I was happy with your reply, and felt the thread had run its course.

                      Unfortunately, the link to that particular article doesn’t work any longer, but I would have been happy to read it, wherever it comes from. When I said I was often disappointed with liberal theology, I wasn’t actually thinking about this particular verse, or the whole homosexuality issue. Some of the best Christians I know have done a lot of thinking about those verses and the difference between homosexual relations in biblical times and the faithful relationships that they seek to be in.
                      On the other hand, I don’t think you can say that conservatives stick to their stance because they haven’t done their homework. I’ve also read conservative interpretations of those verses that do take into account the original meaning of the terms. Also, conservative views of sexuality don’t tend to base themselves in one verse, but start with the plan in Genesis and work from there. Conservatives are nothing if not thorough, that’s why their books are often so fat!
                      I can understand why liberals are very angry at conservatives for continuing to teach that homosexual relationships are outside God’s plan – it has pretty huge implications for some people’s lives – but dismissing their views as unscholarly and ignorant is wishful thinking.
                      That said, I’ve known evangelicals say some pretty ignorant things about liberals and what they believe …

                    • Thanks for your response, annalee. Try this link to the Dale Martin article. It works for me:
                      It appeared in a volume Biblical Ethics & Homosexuality: Listening to Scripture, edited by Robert L. Brawley, 1996, Westminster John Knox Press.
                      And while I’m at it, and trying to be even handed :-), let me mention an internet published response I came across entitled ‘Dale Martin’s “arsenokoites and malakos” tried and found wanting’.
                      At the end you will find three sets of readers’ comments which are also worth reading. What they show is that the question is far from simple when trying to discern what scripture is “plainly” saying and people, whatever they say, always bring their own ideological lenses to bear on tricky issues such as this. I am always suspicious of people who tell me they know what the meaning of a certain difficult passages means (because it must concur with their theology e.g. the story of Sodom is *about* homosexuality) or they *know* the mind of God on any given issue. In Buddhism these sorts of ideas are called drsti – ”views – and they are regarded as almost entirely delusional. Although my background is Roman Catholic so I find the Calvinistic ideas of predestination quite abhorrent, I no longer believe in the supernaturalism of the Catholic Church, or any other supernaturalism, for that matter. They are drsti. As world religions go the moral teachings of Buddhism as formulated in the Five Precepts are vastly superior, according as they do to the Golden Rule, to the moral codes of the monotheistic religions, mixed up as they are with taboo and supernaturalist elements. But of themselves all religions are human constructs – bridges TO the divine rather than bridges FROM the divine. But that does not stop me being interested in how they work, much in the same way that a linguist is interested in the historical processes that brought about the evolution of language.

                    • Well that’s weird. I posted a long answer to annalee yesterday. It was there and even the top of it appeared in the side bar menu but now it’s gone.

                    • When I looked again it appeared momentarily in the bar but it is not there now. Anyway, luckily I kept the draft – I’ve learned to do that if I spent time concocting a post because sometimes things just disappear. If it turns ups again forgive the duplication.

                      Thanks for your response, annalee. Try this link to the Dale Martin article. It works for me:


                      It appeared in a volume Biblical Ethics & Homosexuality: Listening to Scripture, edited by Robert L. Brawley, 1996, Westminster John Knox Press.

                      And while I’m at it, and trying to be even handed :-), let me mention an internet published response I came across entitled ‘Dale Martin’s “arsenokoites and malakos” tried and found wanting’.


                      At the end you will find three sets of readers’ comments which are also worth reading. What they show is that the question is far from simple when trying to discern what scripture is “plainly” saying and people, whatever they say, always bring their own ideological lenses to bear on tricky issues such as this. I am always suspicious of people who tell me they know what the meaning of a certain difficult passages means (because it must concur with their theology e.g. the story of Sodom is *about* homosexuality) or they *know* the mind of God on any given issue. In Buddhism these sorts of ideas are called drsti – ”views” – and they are regarded as almost entirely delusional. Although my background is Roman Catholic so I find the Calvinistic ideas of predestination quite abhorrent, I no longer believe in the supernaturalism of the Catholic Church, or any other supernaturalism, for that matter. They are drsti. As world religions go the moral teachings of Buddhism as formulated in the Five Precepts are vastly superior, according as they do to the Golden Rule, to the moral codes of the monotheistic religions, mixed up as they are with taboo and supernaturalist elements. But of themselves all religions are human constructs – bridges TO the divine rather than bridges FROM the divine. But that does not stop me being interested in how they work, much in the same way that a linguist is interested in the historical processes that brought about the evolution of language, without believing that had it not been for the Tower of Babel we’d all be speaking French*
                      *See The Unfolding of Language by Guy Deutscher, p. 101.

                      “A certain Madame from Versailles who was overheard by Voltaire as saying: ‘What a dreadful pity that the bother at the Tower of babel should have got language all mixed up; but for that, everyone would always have spoken French’.”


                    • Some of your stuff did seem to go into the spam queue. I’ve authorised all those posts and that should not only bring them back but also help it not happen again.

                    • Perhaps because I edited the post later – the reference at the end about the Voltaire story? Now in the duplicate post something has fallen off the links, at least the first one. It seems to work in the original though. I was going in to edit but that button has disappeared.

                    • I can see why the link in my post to annalee posted 23 days ago doesn’t work; the first part is in blue but after arsenokoites it reverts to black so I suppose it breaks down at that point and yields up a “page not found” error.

                  • Reading Scripture is often like opening a book and reading the words that the author wrote. Nothing more, nothing less.

                    Actually, if that is the case then surely one is perfectly free to critically assess what one is reading in a bid to understand it? You can claim that scripture has one easy meaning available to all that demands automatic obedience OR you can say that people should just approach it as they do any other text, but those two positions are clearly contradictory.

                • actually nowconcerned it’s longer than that if you count the Jews themselves, and I agree with you – the Bible is a fascinating collection of books but my point still stands; there is no simple reading. For a start, there’s my reading and there’s your reading – perhaps neither of us reads the original languages (though I am making a start on learning Biblical Hebrew – someway to go though) so we have to rely on a translation. Which shall we choose? There are some major differences and some of the more modern ones are actually a lot worse than the King James, because they introduce words which entail some modern concepts which beg too many questions about what the authors may have meant. Decent study bibles like the Jerusalem Bible go in for a lot of footnotes which is certainly beneficial and though Christians sneer at it the Jehovahs’ Witness Bible is pretty scholarly. (They translate the opening of John’s gospel in a way that Christians don’t like but they are accurately representing an anomaly in Greek grammar about the use of the definite article and the fact that in certain circumstances we have to interpolate the indefinite article which does not exist in Greek grammar.There are lots of others things which make some translations better; Dr Robert M. Price an American scholar gives a good introductory survey of translations and approaches to Bible study in his podcasts The Bible Geek and The Human Bible, though I doubt Peter would like his approach because he believes all scriptural books are human creations, having moved on from his Southern Baptist fundamentalist ideas. But I find him intelligent and thought provoking. He has appeared on Justin Brierley’s show Unbelievable? which is a Christian based Radio show which brings together Christians and non-Christians to debate issues affecting Christians in a very calm and friendly way. Definitely worth looking out for.

        • PS annalee. We must hope that the Crown Nominations delivers a sensible candidate. If Stephen Green (in a nightmare scenario à la Hadrian VII) suddenly found himself elevated to Cantuar we’d get marital rape legal again on biblical grounds. Do people really know what they are asking for when they call for a return to “biblical” values? I’m not sure they do.

      • You know it isn’t the fact that the CofE is homophobic, misogynistic and exclusive that bothers me so much. Pretty much all churches are homophobic, misogynistic and exclusive so there’s no reason to expect Anglicans to be any different.

        As noted by Tom above, the real sins of the Anglican Church are hypocrisy and double standards. A church that refuses to bless gay and lesbian relationships while quite happily allowing the prince of Wales to waltz down the aisle with another man’s wife is morally bankrupt, in my opinion.

        I think the public senses this, which explains the accelerated rates of decline in Anglicanism as compared to other denominations. As far as I can see there’s no space for Anglicanism any more. It’s being pulled apart between Catholic and Evangelical poles and the isolationist, jingoistic glue that held it together in the past has decayed to the point where the whole edifice is now coming apart at the seams.

        Anglo-Catholics will swim the Tiber. Evangelicals will try to dominate what’s left and when they’re foiled by those pesky women and evil gays, will splinter off into their own hardline church (job opportunity for you there, Peter?) And what will be left over? Hopefully something resembling the American Episcopal Church, where all are truly welcome and hypocrisy has largely been left behind as the rightful apanage of ACNA and others like it.

        We’ll see what happens but one thing seems clear: in its current form the CofE can’t survive. Williams is right to be getting out now. Let someone else be at the helm when the boat sinks.

        • What nonsense. Your facts are completely wrong. Charles and Camilla were not married in Church but in a registry office. If you need to misrepresent such basic things, what does that say about your credibility?

          • OK, so Charles and Camilla’s marriage wasn’t blessed by the archbishop of Canterbury in full fig and panoply in Windsor Chapel then? They didn’t walk down the aisle to have the leader of the church tell them how marvelous and wonderful their relationship was? The supreme governor of the Church of England didn’t attend and give tacit approval to her son’s adulterous liaison with another man’s wife? Scriptural injunctions weren’t broken left, right and center in a typically British display of pomp, circumstance and utter hypocrisy just because a spoiled royal wanted to have his cake and eat it too?

            Strange really, because I seem to remember seeing the ceremony reported on the news here. Maybe it was an American telefilm and the French media just got their wires crossed. You can understand how. It’s hard to tell the difference between the House of Windsor and a fifth rate soap opera…

            • No-one waltzed down the aisle. There was a blessing following a civil marriage. But of course, if you want to argue that no-one who makes a mistake can ever be forgiven and allowed to start again and have another go, you just go ahead. Who’s being judgemental now?

              • Hogwash on all counts.

                I can provide pictorial evidence of both the aisle and Charles and Camilla waltzing down it. And of the archbishop blessing their adulterous relationship. If he can bless adulterers, why not gays?
                Of course your response to that is typically Anglican. Someone calls a sin a sin and suddenly they’re “judgmental”. Which is judgmental itself. And also a diversion tactic. And also false. I personally believe that divorce and remarriage is perfectly OK. But the Bible says otherwise. Look at scripture and find Christ’s very explicit words about marriage and divorce. Then try to explain to me why the Church of England thinks it has the authority to bless something that Christ himself condemned. And yet it won’t authorize something that Christ said nothing about.
                It’s the hypocrisy I object to, not the marriage. And I think the public feels the same way. The Church smiles and winks at two straight adulterers and blesses their relationship even though it’s clearly immoral from a Christian standpoint, yet it can’t do the same for gay people. What’s that if it’s not hypocrisy?

                • What hypocrisy? Divorce is not the unforgivable sin you want to make it. It isn’t the straw man you can wave around to criticise.

                  Real people get real divorces for all kinds of reasons. No-one is arguing that Charles and Camilla weren’t lovers before they got married. That’s the very reason why they couldn’t have a Church Wedding. But the simple fact of the matter is that the Archbishop wouldn’t have blessed their marriage if he didn’t think that they were repentant for previous actions.

                  You seem to think that the Church doesn’t do forgiveness and grace. Far from it, it’s our stock in trade. The difference between remarriage and same-sex marriage is that a same-sex couple, by their very nature, cannot be a “holy” union. A man and a woman coming together, regretting mistakes of the past and avowing to avoid them in the future is another matter altogether.

                  If we don’t have opportunities to forgive and help people amend their lives, then what is the Church for?

                  • “The difference between remarriage and same-sex marriage is that a same-sex couple, by their very nature, cannot be a “holy” union. A man and a woman coming together, regretting mistakes of the past and avowing to avoid them in the future is another matter altogether.”

                    What, holiness in the midst of adultery? Odd how straight sin can be sanctified by a wave of the archbishop’s hand whereas gay sin is always evil.

                    But no matter. Marriage equality is coming soon whether you like it or not. Refusing to recognize it won’t make it go away. But it will adversely affect the public perception of the Church and further contribute to its decline and eventual disestablishment.

                    Tell me, how long do you think secular government will tolerate an established church that preaches inequality and discrimination? The current right-wing government doesn’t like it. Left-wingers are even less enthusiastic. An established church should surely reflect the values of the state to which it belongs. But does the Church of England reflect the values of modern Britain? I don’t think it does and I believe that politicians are starting to wake up to this fact and realize that the links between the state and the church are going to have to be cut. Can’t come too soon as far as I’m concerned, although others will view it as an apocalypse. Who’ll crown the next monarch if there’s no state church? Or will the coronation be a secular affair with all references to Christianity removed? Time will tell, I guess.

                    • Peter’s the Bible scholar, but as far as I understand it, Jesus was arguing against a kind of no-fault divorce (so definitely has something to say to our society today). What view he would have taken of Charles and Camilla, who had a very longstanding relationship and really shouldn’t have married anybody else in the first place, is less certain. I know ministers who would have refused to marry them because they were guilty of adultery. Protestant ministers generally take remarriage on a case-by-case basis – eg. did the new couple get together after the divorce, or before? Was there abuse involved? Did their former spouse cheat on them, walk out on them? RC go through a process in which they try to establish that the original marriage was illegitimate and so can be annulled – personally, I don’t really agree with this as it means that any children involved are illegitimate, apart from anything else.

                      But leaving all that aside, the problem is Steve, are homosexual relationships legitimate or not? That’s the painful question that the Church has got to face head on. If they are legitimate, then they should be judged by the same standards as other relationships. If not, then no amount of love or faithfulness can make any difference to whether they can be blessed in Church or not.

                      Not being honest with people has led to some awful situations like the Jeffrey John situation, in which nobody comes out well – although it was pretty magnanimous of JJ to stand down.

                    • And the problem with divorce and remarriage is … is adultery legitimate or not? That’s the question the Church will probably never face head on because to do so would be to upset too many people. If it’s legitimate then adulterous marriages should be judged by the same standards as other relationships. If not, then no amount of love or repentance can make any difference to whether they should be blessed in Church or not.

                    • You really don’t like repentance do you? You really don’t like the idea of a second chance? You really don’t like the idea of forgiveness do you?
                      What is that about Steven? Why do you argue vociferously against these things? What happened to you?

                    • The whole question at the centre of this marriage debate is whether the legitimacy of a marriage is judged by the level of commitment/love/faithfulnes or whether there are other factors. Therefore the whole divorce/adultery question is irrelevant. Many Christians admire the love/commitment/self-giving shown by their friends in homosexual relationships, but, nevertheless, cannot see the sexual aspect as holy. Our society finds this baffling as their logic is ‘if you love someone, it’s a beautiful thing to sleep with them’, but that’s not how the Church sees it.

                      Just say, for the sake of argument, that you’re right Steve. Just say God is hopping mad at the CofE for the blessing service for Charles and Camilla. Just say he’s shut the gates of Heaven and vowed never to open them to C&C or the Archbish on account of this abomination. He’s also got a special ring in Hell for all the Anglicans that have used contraception since the 1930s. What’s he going to say to the homosexual couple standing on the sidelines pointing and jumping up and down saying ‘look! see! we told you they were the evil ones. thank God we’re not like them! you have to bless us because we’re better than them!’

                    • Hey, according to the conservative viewpoint I’m an unrepentant gay sinner so I’m for the chop whatever happens to Charles and Camilla or any other cherry-picking, selectively blind Anglican. So it’s not me who needs to worry. My fate is sealed.

                      You’re the one with a fighting chance of salvation. So you’re the one with everything to lose. Better make the right choices then, hadn’t you?

                    • I don’t see why I have any more chance of salvation than you or anyone else. Only God can see the heart, and I’m pretty certain mine’s no better than anyone else’s. I’m confused. What choices are you referring to? I try to make the right choices. I’m sure you do too.

                    • 1 Corinthians 6:9.

                      If this passage is to be taken at face value, the only way I can get to heaven is to become celibate. Short of castration or being locked up in solitary confinement for the rest of my life, that will never happen. And I’m not sorry for it. I like being the way I am and I most certainly don’t repent of my supposed “homosexual sin” So according to a conservative reading of scripture, I’m toast.

                      I know nothing about you, although I assume from the way you post that you’re a God-fearing heterosexual lady, so you can have sex and still get to heaven. I cannot. I’ve tried the man/woman thing a couple of times out of curiosity and it’s never going to work for me. The femaie form holds absolutely no attraction for me. You might as well ask me to have sex with a lamp post. So Peter’s “post-gay” thing wouldn’t work for me either. Marrying me to a woman would only have one result: adultery.

                      So don’t fool yourself that, according to a conservative reading of scripture, I have the same chance of salvation as you. That’s smug straight Christian-speak for “you can choose not to be gay”. I am who I am and if the Bible is to be taken at face value, I’m condemned for it. The cost of discipleship in my case is celibacy, which is a price I’m just not willing … or able … to pay. And the cost of discipleship for straights is marriage to one person for life (that or celibacy), which very few of them seem willing to pay either. The difference between them and me is that I realize what’s at stake whereas they blithely seem to think they can do what they like and still be saved. If the conservatives have got it right, Charles and Camilla will be toasting alongside me in hell. Unrepentant adulterers, gays, Liberal Democrat voters … we’re all doomed…

                    • I believe in salvation through the cross. I believe that God can forgive my sins and that I have a relationship with Him. For years I was bullied and left out at school because the kids said I was a lesbian. For years I was depressed, formed strong emotional attachments to women, had difficulty relating to men, and suffered from anxiety and an eating disorder. I’ve received a lot of healing from past rejection and now don’t suffer so acutely. I was celibate for years, but I recently got married. I discovered sex wasn’t as easy as I’d imagined it was and, like a lot of women, actually have quite a lot of difficulty with it. I’ve sometimes wondered if I’m gay, but I’m not that bothered about it. Being loved and accepted and knowing and learning to understand a member of the group of human beings from the planet Mars has been one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. Many of my friends are still single and celibate. I feel sad for some of them sometimes because I know they would really like to get married. I have a very good friend who’s much older. She’s never married. She went through a period of being sad about it for some time, but now she’s content that she’s doing with her life what God called her to do. I’d like to have children, but I worry if I’ll be able to cope with motherhood. I worry that I might not be able to have children and how I would feel about that. The Madonna culture makes me feel inadequate because I could never imagine being that confident in my sexuality.

                      Do you think I’ll get in?

                    • You seem to feel the requisite amount of shame and inadequacy for a conservative Christian. So if God really is the mean and vicious tyrant that Peter and others like him make Him out to be, the fact that you’re willing to deny who you really are and pretend to be straight in order to suck up to Him probably will get you into heaven.

                      I won’t be there. But as the conservative version of heaven sounds like Billy Bunter’s nightmare full of self-loathing, sniveling toadies willing to sell themselves (and everyone else) down the river for approval from a vivisectionist God, I probably wouldn’t enjoy myself there anyway.

                    • I don’t think you’ve read my post properly, Steven. The shame and inadequacy I feel come from the way society holds sex up as its God and rejects anybody who doesn’t meet its standards. I’ve had huge amounts of healing through the ministry of the Church (imperfect as it is). What I was trying to show you is that your simplistic way of dividing everybody into heterosexual and homosexual has meant that you can’t see that nobody’s life or relationships are as simple as they seem on the surface. Surveys show that, despite our society’s message that young people are having great sex, actually many women – especially young women – find sex difficult. I’m not going to go into the details (look it up on NHS) but the reasons are often medical and not psychological at all (ie. the Christian guilt myth has nothing to do with it). Another problem is that a lot of women feel inadequate about their body because of porn, film, pop, magazine industry setting impossible standards.

                      As for ‘pretending’ and ‘sucking up’ and ‘denying who I really am’, do you really think I’m going to go off and have sex with a woman because a bunch of 10yearolds said I was gay! If 2 women are in love and want to live together, then that’s their life, but that’s never what I’ve wanted. I’m happy with a husband and, if I’m lucky, some kids.

                    • I know nothing about sexual dysfunction in women, but I do know that society does no such thing as “holding sex up as its God and rejecting anybody who doesn’t meet its standards”. That’s just the conventional excuse you hear from people who’d rather sit around feeling sorry for themselves than actually do something to make their situation better.

                      It’s always someone else’s fault, isn’t it? And when there’s no convenient individual to blame (apart from those 10 year old children, of course), all you have to do to dodge responsibility for your own life is heap opprobrium on society. But I’m with Margaret Thatcher on this one (if on little else): there is no such thing as society. Or rather, all it is is the sum total of every individual in the land. So by claiming that society is to blame for all your ills, all you’re really doing is telling the world that everything wrong in your life is your neighbor’s fault. How very Christian of you…

                      There’s no problem with society. The problem lies with your own self-image. If you have medical issues that make sex difficult, get those issues treated. If they can’t be treated then learn to live with them. We all have physical limitations of some description. Part of being a responsible adult is learning to live with them without getting all bitter and tremulous every time you see someone who’s lucky enough to be better endowed than you. I’m fit enough, but I’m no Olympic athlete. So every time I see Usain Bolt winning a race, should I weep, tear my hair and shriek about how “society” is to blame for my feelings of inadequacy because it “holds up super-fit Olympic athletes as its God and rejects anyone who doesn’t meet that standard”?

                      Or how about this? Compared to most guys, I’m slim and slight. If I lived in your world where the scapegoat for every perceived problem is society, I could say: “Society holds up guys with a heavier musculature than mine as its God so it’s all their fault my bodybuilder friend Jules turns more heads than I do! Boo hoo! Wail! Gnash teeth! Tear hair! Society is EVIL!”

                      In my world however, there’s no getting off the hook quite so easily. In the world of reality and personal responsibility, the proper response to a perceived problem is this: “On average, people tend to prefer a more muscled body than mine. I guess I could get down to the gym and work at piling on some muscle fiber, but quite honestly I can’t be bothered and as I’m fit and healthy as I am, there’s no real need to be doing all that extra exercise. Sure, my bodybuilder friend Jules turns more heads than I do, but the measure of a man isn’t in how many heads he turns. And enough heads turn for me anyway, so why should I be upset if more turn for Jules? If no heads turned for me, I’d know there was a problem and then I’d have to do something about it. But things are just fine as they are, so rather than being jealous of Jules and demonizing my neighbors for their heinous crime of liking his big muscles, I think I’ll just chillax a bit and enjoy a nice slice of bÅ“uf Châteaubriand with some gratin dauphinois and a cheeky red from the Loire Valley. I invited Jules to share it with me but he couldn’t come. He’s too busy down the gym…”

                      You go ahead and blame society for everything if you like. I’ll try to take a more nuanced and balanced view and we’ll see how we both get on, shall we?

                    • Steven, I really am very happy. All I was trying to explain to you is that I have stuff in my life I haven’t sorted out yet – just like everybody else. Perhaps I was a bit vague in talking about ‘society’, when what I really meant was some industries that peddle less than healthy messages – and many feminists would agree with me.

                      Ah well, it could be worse. At least you haven’t told me my family is going to turn into custard …

                    • The blame game doesn’t really interest me. You can always find someone else to blame your own inadequacies on. If you’re fat, it’s the fault of the food industry for “peddling unhealthy messages”, when it”s actually your fault for indulging in gluttony and sloth. If you feel unattractive, it’s the fault of the beauty and cosmetics industry, when it’s actually your fault for indulging in vanity and self-regard. Feminism is just another way of assigning blame.

                      And as for your family, the same laws of entropy that govern everything else in this world (including Peter’s family) also govern you and yours. Everything tends to move from order to disorder over time. Which is why conservatives are fighting a losing battle. The universe is structured in a way that makes the long term preservation of the status quo pretty much impossible. Apparently God ordained it this way. So can God be a conservative? I very much doubt it…

                    • Actually, every single one of us is toast. That’s why we need Jesus.

                      The list in 1 Cor 6 is a list of examples of behaviour that Paul says don’t belong in the church because they are sin. His plea is to a bunch of Christians that they shouldn’t do these things because then they will look like the unsaved.
                      So let’s look at your response to that challenge. You “don’t want to pay the price”. That’s an interesting position, because it strikes me that such a line indicates you believe the price should be paid by disciples, but you don’t want to. That’s just simple rebellion.
                      Of course, the alternative is that you don’t believe the price needs to be paid in the first place. If this is the case, what’s your problem? We’re all deluded fundamentalists who are beating our bodies for no reason. You can happily carry on with your life in the knowledge that you know better than us and that what we believe is a nonsense and what we choose to act out as marks of discipleship are irrelevant delusional actions.

                    • I don’t want to pay the price because I know I can’t. If the conservative reading of scripture is correct then God has priced me out of the salvation market. I don’t have the funds to buy my way in and I never will. So God has predestined me for damnation. What does that say about God?

                      If the conservatives are right then God demands too high a price for salvation. It’s not just that celibacy is impossible to achieve. It’s that when I fail, I’m supposed to feel remorse for something I feel absolutely no remorse for. How can I beg for forgiveness for something I believe needs no forgiveness? It would be dishonest of me. So I have to be a liar in order to be saved? And doesn’t God see through all lies? He knows I’m not sorry about the sex I’ve had and will have in the future. He knows I’m not repentant. And what happens to unrepentant sinners?

                      The conservatives’ God created me specifically for damnation. Which means He isn’t benevolent. He’s a vivisectionist who doesn’t care about the pain He inflicts on His lab rats. We’re just a means to an end for Him.

                      Does that sound like God to you? If it does, I really wonder who you’re worshipping.

                    • But your reply is contradictory! Either you don’t believe that God has commanded you to be chaste, in which case you *haven’t* been predestined to damnation OR you do believe he has commanded you to be chaste and that sex outside of marriage is sinful, in which case you have every opportunity to repent of your sin and live in obedience to him. God is it standing in the way of your repentance – you can do it today!
                      But don’t give us this “evil God” nonsense if you don’t actually believe in such a God. Either God is or God isn’t, and your answer to that question is the qualifier for further responses to him. At the moment it seems that you believe this God but reject his commands and then blame him for the outcome of YOUR choices!

                    • Ah ha! So I see there are three choices laid out before me. I can believe in a good God, or an evil God, or no God at all.

                      Let’s eliminate them one by one, shall we?

                      Firstly, a good God.

                      I can’t believe in a good God because I see so much evidence of evil all around me. Where was this good God when the Asian tsunami struck in 2004? Where was he when my cousin gave birth to a baby riddled with cancer who died a few short weeks after being born, which caused his mother to sink into depression and despair that I don’t think she’ll ever recover from? Where was he when Hitler’s mother’s pregnancy came to term and she gave birth to a healthy baby boy who would grow up to murder millions? If he’s omnipotent and yet intervenes to stop none of these evils then what does that make him? Indifferent at best. But hardly good.

                      Secondly, an evil God.

                      An evil God is even harder to believe in that a good one. If there was a complete absence of love and good in the world, that might convince me. But some people do lead charmed lives and are born, live and die essentially happy. Sure, they’ll experience some evil in their lives, but on balance they’ll have seen more good than bad, so how can God be entirely evil? I suppose he could be some sort of wicked super-being intent on causing as much evil as possible, but just not powerful enough to destroy everyone’s life. In which case he isn’t omnipotent and he can’t be God.

                      Thirdly, no God at all.

                      If there’s no God and we’re all the result of accidental evolution, I wonder why we’re here. Having a purpose seems to be an essential part of the human psyche, so if we have no purpose and just are, how come we’re always looking for a purpose? If we were futile beings then it seems to me we’d be unthinking robots. The very existence of the mind, of concepts of good and evil, fairness and injustice, purposefulness and purposelessness seem to argue for the existence of a purpose. And a purpose presupposes a plan. And a plan presupposes a planner.

                      So if God exists and is neither wholly good nor wholly evil, then what is He?

                      This introduces the concept of God The Supremely Indifferent. I believe He’s there and that somehow we’re part of His plan. But I also believe He has about as much regard for us as we might have for a plastic cup or fork or some other throwaway item. We’re created to serve a purpose and if for some reason we can’t or won’t, we’re discarded like a cup with a hole in it or a fork without tines.

                      To describe what I mean, let me tell you a story. Suspend belief for a moment and think of creation as a battery farm churning out Christmas turkeys and God as a divine version of Bernard Matthews.

                      Good old Bernie sets up his farm in a part of creation governed by entropy (otherwise known as Norfolk) and watches his turkeys go forth and multiply. The freezer units of the heavenly Sainsbury’s are chock full of succulent and delicious birds and everyone’s happy on Christmas day. Except the turkeys of course, but who cares about them?

                      It all works bootifully for a couple of thousand years, but as time goes by (even a place as static and unchanging as Norfolk experiences the flow of time and the inevitable movement of order to disorder), problems start setting in. Entropy leads the orderly turkey production system to start breaking down. Turkey squabbles break out. False turkey idols arise and even the few who remain faithful to the Great Bernie start to question their fate and refuse to go willingly to the slaughter. Suddenly there’s a turkey shortage in Heaven. The angels are in an uproar! “Give us turkey!” they cry. In desperation, Bernie calls on His son to drive up to Norfolk and see what can be done.

                      Cut to Great Witchingham where Bernie Jr. has just arrived to be greeted at the factory gates by the site foreman who, to his great surprise, turns out to be a turkey. “Hold on a second!” he says. “Where’s your supervisor?”

                      “Supervisor?” gobbles the turkey. “What supervisor? When your old Dad turfed us out of the Great House back in the day, he chucked this instruction manual after us and told us to look after ourselves. We’ve been playing it by ear ever since.”

                      Bernie Jr. takes one look at the tatty and virtually illegible manual and another at the humungous farm with its millions of deformed, diseased and uncooperative turkeys and realizes the only ideal solution is to zap the whole thing and start again. So he calls Dad to break the bad news, but Bernie Sr. has a fit and refuses to write off the entire investment and start again. “Patch the bloody thing,” he yells down the line. “I don’t care ‘ow many turkeys go to waste as long as the angels get a bellyful on your birthday! Remember what ‘appened when we ‘ad to blast them blasted Nephilim! I don’t want another Lucifer situation on me ‘ands…”

                      So Bernie Jr. hangs up, scratches his head, has a think and finally comes up with a solution.

                      “Where it’s all going wrong is quality control,” he opines. So off he trots to the hatchery, picks twelve eggs at random and sits down to wait for them to hatch.

                      As the twelve turkey apostles struggle free from the shell and imprint on him, Bernie Jr. trains them to identify the most succulent of their brethren and convince them that being consumed in Heaven is their purpose in life. It’s certainly Bernard Matthews’s purpose and was the sole reason for him setting up the farm in the first place. But the turkeys have a problem with that. “Why should we sacrifice ourselves for you?” they ask. It’s a reasonable question and one for which the only reasonable answer (“Because I want you to.”) quite simply fails to convince them. So Bernie Jr has to resort to other tactics.

                      It’s a well-known but lamentable fact that turkeys are extremely sensitive about their odd appearance. They feel like the unloved children, so praise a turkey and he’ll be eating out of your hand in no time. Even the most gratuitous of compliments will win you a favorable hearing with a turkey. Tell him he’s bootiful and he’ll be yours for life.

                      So, having failed with the “because I want you to” argument, Bernie Jr. starts telling the turkeys how much he loves them and how they’re the best turkeys ever, etc. etc. As the praise starts to reel them in, he rounds off his speech with a bit of magic and prestidigitation by hurling himself onto the turkey production line, taking the electric shock that kills them but merely tickles his forehead, playing dead and then allowing himself to be plucked, stuffed and shrink wrapped. He then bursts out of the package in front of his amazed audience, who promptly fall to the ground and worship at his feet and then trot off to spread the good news amongst their turkey brethren.

                      Of course many just don’t believe it and go about their business as usual. But some are convinced. Enough to keep Heaven stocked with all the turkeys it could ever need. And the others, the ones who won’t let themselves be stunned, plucked, stuffed and shrink wrapped for the sake of the Matthews family? What happens to them? Well to be honest, who cares? The Matthewses have all the turkeys they need and that’s all that matters. To them anyway. They’re not bad people. They just don’t consider turkeys to be their equals and believe it’s their divine right to consume or discard them as they see fit.

                      Any of this sound familiar?

                    • Nope, that story doesn’t sound familiar at all. This does though:

                      Where was he when my cousin gave birth to a baby riddled with cancer who died a few short weeks after being born, which caused his mother to sink into depression and despair that I don’t think she’ll ever recover from?

                      He was on the cross, the same as he was when my son died.

                      Don’t think that Christians don’t struggle with living in a fallen world and don’t understand why God permits evil and sin and corruption to occur, but I can tell you from my experience time and time again that when you trust God in the darkness he does amazing things. But if you refuse to let him prove himself, how can he ever do so in your life?

                    • But what does that mean? Christians are always spouting open-ended statements like “you have to let God prove himself”.

                      So tell me, how exactly does God prove himself? And why should I require proof? Isn’t faith all about belief in the absence of concrete proof?

                      Well, just for the record, God has yet to prove himself to me. I have plenty of proof of the existence of blind chance and random coincidence, but none whatsoever of there being a benevolent guiding hand behind it all. Sure, basic logic leads me to conclude that there probably is a creator out there somewhere. But I’ve never encountered him and believe me, I’ve been looking for some time now.

                      But then I’m not alone in that. Well-known Christians such as Mother Teresa also drew a blank when it came to finding God, so I’m in good company. So maybe the view I have of God as supremely indifferent isn’t so far-fetched after all. I mean, I’m right here waiting. All he has to do is reveal himself to me. So where is he then? No doubt off dealing with things more important to him than me…

                    • No – faith is trusting that that which has already proved itself will prove itself again. As such the resurrection is the foundation of all faith – it demonstrates Christ’s triumph over death and sin and that as such we can trust him with our lives.
                      For example, last spring / summer we trusted that God had a plan for us despite us not being able to see it and being made homeless with a 3mo baby. And true to form God provided abundantly giving us a home, a job, a ministry and more. Everything we needed, and even if it wasn’t what we wanted.
                      You claim that God has not proved himself to you. Do tell us how you have followed God’s call, how you have sacrificed to obey, how you have trusted. If you’ve done these things and God hasn’t then proved himself then you would have a case.

                    • OK, I’m starting to get it. In order for God to prove himself I have to sacrifice my life and happiness to what you and others like you tell me he wants and then be content with the crumbs he flings my way as a “reward”, eh?

                      So let’s say I follow your advice and declare gay sex to be evil. I’ll lose my partner. I’ll lose pretty much all of my friends. Given my circumstances, I’ll probably also lose my job. I’ll have to sell my home and my half of the proceeds won’t buy me another in the same city, so I’ll have to rent. But no private landlord will touch me without a job, so I’ll have to go on a waiting list for a council house, which will never materialize because as a single, childless man I’ll be shoved to the bottom of the list and will basically rot there.

                      So there I’ll be, homeless, jobless, friendless, probably camping in a hostel of some description, or maybe under a bridge, and living off the proceeds of my home sale while I look for a job, pointless though that may be in the current economic climate.

                      So what do you think God will give me as a reward? Will some kind and concerned Christian landlord rent me a miserable one-room bedsit in a run-down suburb, do you think? Will he and his wife befriend me and invite me round for cheerless teetotal dinners while their brats run amok and we all sing hymns over (instant) coffee? Will the highlight of my week be attending church, singing more hymns and then being held up as an example of Christian faithfulness to a congregation who’ll treat me like a leper because even if I’m celibate, I’ll still be gay.

                      I suppose I could set up a fellowship group for same-sex attracted men and we could all sit around and lie to each other about how wonderful it is to be social outcasts and how we’re not lonely at all because God is enough. Only we all know he’s not. It says so right there in the Bible (“it is not good for man to be alone.”)

                      Hmmmm, well as exciting as the prospect sounds, I think I’ll say no. I’m sure many others reading this blog will be tempted by such a sparkling vision of the future but I’m afraid it holds no appeal for me. I guess I’m just too lost in my sin to see how amazing it is to live the life of a social pariah for the Lord. Or for your idea of the Lord. Because it’s all about you, isn’t it? On Planet Ould, I probably would be deliriously happy with the bleak scenario I’ve described above. It would be God’s plan for me, so how could I not be over the moon about it? Here on Planet Earth however, people don’t fit quite so neatly into the Christian pigeonholes you assign them to.

                    • Mock all you want Steven, but I note you didn’t actually answer the question. Behind all the bluster the truth seems to be that you rail against a God who you’ve never actually let be God of your life. You’ve yet to trust him to be good to you but you complain that he hasn’t been good to you. It’s a bit like moaning that no-one is serving you in a restaurant, but you still haven’t even left home.

                      Here I am. A gay, ex-gay, post-gay (pick whatever label you want Steve, I don’t mind) man who committed himself to God and decided to trust him. I chose to die to my self, to embrace celibacy. He gave me a wife and a wonderful family even though I never asked for it. When in our darkest hour we sought only to glorify him rather than reject him for taking our son from us, he used out lives to speak truth into others and show us his purpose in our suffering. He has provided for me time and time again when I thought the future looked bleak. He has proved himself to me and ultimately he has given himself for me so that despite my sin and rebellion I literally have eternal life and am a reborn man.

                      If you’re happy as you are, carry on. If you don’t want to give up the things that the Bible clearly say are coming between you and God, carry on. No-one is forcing you to become a Christian. No-one is forcing you to repent, believe and trust. No-one. But if you reject God’s offer to forgive you your sins if you want to repent, turn to him and be born again, don’t get angry if he doesn’t do what you want him to. That’s just being silly.

                    • So what’s coming between me and God? My partner? My job? My home? My labrador? How about my mixed fiber clothing or the fact that I eat shellfish every now and then?

                      I suppose I should give them all up just in case, eh? And then do what? Cover myself in sackcloth and ashes and sit under a bridge with a begging bowl? I guess I’ll have to wear a blindfold too, just to make sure my eyes aren’t tempted by any cute Parisian guys who might happen to stroll by and toss me a centime or two. Or maybe by that stage God will have cured me of my homosexuality and it’ll be their girlfriends I’ll have to avert my gaze from.

                      I wonder why God so frequently cures homosexuality, but never lust, or anger, or untruthfulness, or all manner of other sins? You’re living proof of that Peter. Born again you may be and gay you may (I say “may”) have left behind, but you haven’t got rid of anger yet, have you?

                      Why’s that, I wonder?

                    • As I said Steven, go ahead and mock. You know what the Bible says and yet you choose to reject it and mock those who trust in Jesus to be their saviour. Feel free to vent as much as you want.

                    • No, I question those who trust in the Bible as their idol. Jesus is not the Bible and the Bible is not Jesus.

                      Do I mock Bible-bashers? Perhaps. But aren’t we supposed to admonish idolators? I choose to admonish through the medium of irony, that’s all.

                    • I have no issue with repentance. As long as it’s real. Repentance without a resolve to sin no more is not repentance, it’s asking God for a get-out-of-jail-free card.

                      The more this conversation goes on, the more I’m convinced that hypocrisy is what it’s all about. As evidenced by the ad hominem attack above. It’s OK for you to undermine an opponent by manipulating others into thinking he must have emotional problems, but God forbid that someone does the same to you. Classic bully-boy tactics. Good thing I’m not a bish looking to fill a diocesan vacancy, eh? One look at this blog and my list of candidates would be one name shorter…

                    • Let’s keep this on subject rather than descending into ad hominem (and my challenge to you wasn’t ad hominem, though I’m perfectly happy to accept it wasn’t the most gracious thing I could have written, but then I wanted you to bite).

                      I asked whether you had a problem with repentance and forgiveness. Your reply is to say that “Repentance without a resolve to sin no more is not repentance”. So lets apply that to Charles and Camilla. Are you alleging that that are repentant, that they aren’t resolved to sin no more? If so, how do you know?

                    • Hey, be as condescending and manipulative as you like, it’s no skin off my nose. You’re the one exposing your interesting approach to pastoral care for the world and potential employers to see. This kind of thing is much more telling than a CV…

                      Anywho, back to the subject of Numbawun Pikinini Missus Queen and his number two wife …

                      If marriage to a divorced woman is adultery then true repentance and a resolve to sin no more must entail the end of the marriage. Charles and Camilla are still married. Hence they can’t be repentant.

                      Maybe they repent of the specific acts of adultery that led to their respective first marriages breaking up. But they can’t truly repent of the adultery that’s taking place in their current marriage or they’d do something about it.

                      If I hear that their marriage has been annulled and they’re going to live apart until Camilla’s first husband dies, then I might be convinced that real repentance has taken place. But until then, according to Luke 16:18, their relationship is anathema. As blessed by the Church of England.

                    • Actually, Peter’s just voicing what some of us are thinking ‘What happened to this guy that made him so angry?’. If you write angry posts, you might be asked to justify why. It’s like the really angry gay bashers are often asked ‘What’s you’re problem? Have you got something to hide?’ Rightly, or wrongly, when you express yourself in a very angry way, people take you less seriously.

                    • Diversion tactics are the sign of a weak argument. Don’t like what someone says? No problem! Just label him “angry” and instantly everything becomes his fault.

                      It’s so pitiful that it’s really not worth wasting any time on…

                    • Well let’s ask a question then Steven. Do you or don’t you agree that an adulterous couple can come to a point of repentance and be forgiven? Yes or no?

                    • Another diversion tactic is to sneer and jeer at someone, and then when they call you out on it to accuse them of being ‘insensitive’ and a bad pastor. That’s the sign of a weak argument and an immature person.

                    • Now who’s angry? Take a deep breath, count to 10 and calm down.

                      Of course I have to ask: what happened to this woman that made her so
                      angry? I mean, just look at her posts. They’re increasingly shrill and

                      Remember, rightly or wrongly, when you express yourself in an
                      angry way, people take you less seriously…

                    • Steve, I’m not angry at all. It’s my genuine opinion that your posts are sneering and that it’s you that’s below the belt suggesting that Peter is doing himself out of a job by showing his ‘insensitivity’. Why would it matter to me either way? It’s dificult to tell tone from internet posts.

                    • If it’s difficult to tell tone from internet posts then why are you accusing me of being angry and sneering?

                      You’re reading your own emotions into my words. Note that I’m not British. Understatement is not something I know much about.

                      And I disagree with your characterization of my comments about Peter’s employment situation as “below the belt”. His entrenched positions and combative approach to pastoral care are here for all to see, potential employers included. Taking controversial public stances is sure-fire way of dissuading a conflict averse organization such as the Church of England from hiring you. That should be plain for all to see and I’m sure it isn’t news to Peter. Everything he says here is in the public domain and may come back to haunt him at any time. Is me reminding him of that “below the belt”? You could interpret it as a friendly act. It all depends how you want to see it.

                    • I’m gentle to people who are gentle and combative to people who are combative. If you don’t like the heat then don’t start in the kitchen Steven. The lounge would have done quite nicely.

                      I find it extraordinary that you seem to know the exact reasons why my wife and I made the employment decisions we did. As it happens, I currently get to work for a brilliant firm doing something I enjoy AND I get to do some great ministry as well in the Church that I’m also working at (marrying a couple this weekend as it happens). You really should do less assuming as I’m actually quite a busy priest.

                    • My comments were based on one of your posts where you were bemoaning the lack of job offers coming your way. So things have moved on since then, have they? Well, bully for you!

                      And who says I can’t stand the heat? Just because I find your pastoral approach to be atypical for an Anglican priest doesn’t mean I’m scared of you. The Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog may well have teeth and he may even draw blood from time to time, but when all is said and done, even if he rules his own hutch with an iron paw, he won’t have much impact on the wider world.

                    • Well if you think that disestablishing the Church would be an act of persecution then your entitlement syndrome is more deeply entrenched than I realized. Not that I’m really surprised. The beneficiaries of undeserved privilege always cry persecution whenever anyone tries to level the playing field.

                      Let’s see how well the CofE does when it’s competing on equal terms with the RCs and other denominations.

                    • Ah, “persecution”. This country used to have the death penalty for homosexuality. That’s persecution. The fact that fag-baiting is no longer as de rigeur at middle-class dinner parties as some would like is, to riot in understatement, not.

                    • What, holiness in the midst of adultery?

                      Really? They were adulterers at the exact time they got married? Or were they previous adulterers who had repented?

                      Still waiting for the chapter and verse of your straw man.

                    • Luke 16:18. The act of marrying a woman with a husband still living is adultery. The marriage is by its very nature one long act of adultery. Until you come along and bless it and magically make the sin disappear, of course. Something you apparently can’t (or won’t) do for gay couples.

                    • Come on, party x no longer being able to technically commit adultery with party y because his wife had died is hardly necessarily indicative of deliberately chosen ‘repentance’

            • I think your comments are horribly judgemental, Steve. All your comments on this post are sneering and judgemental. The whole Charles, Diana and Camilla affair was a miserable fiasco, but Diana’s dead, Camilla’s marriage is long over. There’s nothing that can be done about the past. The blessing was simply an acknowledgement that people wanted to salvage something of their lives.

              Unfortunately, the Church can’t take the view that marriage is only about love and commitment. We seem to have developed a collective amnesia in which we’ve forgotten 2 thousand years of history in which many of these questions – the rights of children, the rights of husbands and wives, how far love justifies sexual relationships – were discussed. Love is important, but it’s not the only thing that defines or legitimises our relationships. We’re not angels living in the clouds. Life involves suffering and difficult choices for everybody – and none of us can say we haven’t messed up in the past, although what we did may have seemed right to us at the time.

              If you don’t accept a church’s teaching on homosexuality, then by all means leave – it’s your life, and perhaps you’re right and they’ve got it wrong. But I’ve never heard a judgemental sermon on homosexuality yet. All the sneering and finger pointing seems to come from posts link yours on websites like this.

              • According to the Bible, as long as Camilla’s first husband is still alive, her marriage is most definitely not “long over”. Any subsequent marriage is therefore adulterous. It really is as simple as that and if you don’t like me for pointing that out, well … too bad.

                Of course Camilla Parker-Bowles’s sins are none of my business. Her conscience is her own to deal with as she sees fit. What concerns me is the attitude of the Church. They wink at one sin while condemning another. That’s pure, blatant hypocrisy. This is why the CofE is in decline. The stench of moral bankruptcy pervades everything it does.

                  • Ah yes, I was waiting for the proof-texting to start. Let’s see what sort of spin you can put on this one:

                    Luke 16:18: Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.

                    The latter part of that verse convicts the prince and, if God really is gender-blind (because in heaven there is no male nor female, right?), the first part convicts Mrs Parker-Bowles.

                    But of course you’ll be able to explain this away because your king-in-waiting and supreme governor elect couldn’t possibly be living in sin, could he? In fact no straight man who gets sick of his wife and dumps her for a new model commits a sin. Or if he does, all he has to do is say “I’m vewy sowwy” and the Church will gladly bless him and his new squeeze and tell them how wonderful and holy their adulterous liaison is. But a gay couple can never be blessed because their sin is unforgivable.

                    Utter and total hypocrisy. There should be an event for it at your London Disneylympics. Anglicans would take home every medal.

                    • If you think I’m a big Prince Charles fan you really haven’t been listening.
                      Ask yourself this question. What is Luke 16:16-18 doing in the chapter? It seems to be completely out of context, stuck inbetween the Shrewd Manager and Lazarus. Why suddenly does Jesus bring the subject of divorce up?

                      Have you any idea?

                    • Luke 16:18 is a plainly worded passage. There are no qualifying words or phrases that limit its scope so we have to take it at face value.

                      Divorce and remarriage add up to adultery. Any divorcé(e) who remarries therefore commits the sin of adultery on an ongoing basis. The passage makes it clear that it isn’t just the sex that’s sinful, it’s the marriage itself. Remarried people are therefore living in a state of sin whether they’re sexually active or not.

                      Can they repent and be forgiven? Of course they can. But repentance involves contrition, restitution and an undertaking to sin no more. You can’t stay married to another man’s wife and be truly repentant because the marriage itself is an adulterous act, so you’re not even TRYING to sin no more.

                      What you’re arguing for is cheap grace. Isn’t discipleship supposed to come at a cost? Isn’t the cost of forgiveness true repentance and a resolve to sin no more? But how can you sin no more when your marriage is by its very nature adulterous?

                      You want to have your cake and eat it too. Be forgiven and be free to continue in sin. It’s a shoddy philosophy that cheapens the whole concept of grace. It also lays you open to charges of hypocrisy. Straights can have this cheap grace whereas gays most certainly can not. What’s that if it isn’t a double standard?

                    • Luke 16:18 is a plainly worded passage. There are no qualifying words or phrases that limit its scope so we have to take it at face value.
                      Steven has converted and is a fundamentalist.

                      Steven, are you willing to apply that argument to Genesis 1?

                    • “Steven has converted and is a fundamentalist.”

                      Ha ha! Not so fast. I didn’t say I believed any of this. I’m just trying to follow the internal logic of Bible-believing conservatives.

                      A plain reading of the Bible condemns divorce and remarriage just as it condemns gay sex, female equality, cross dressing, etc. What I don’t understand is how you can cherry-pick your way through the condemnations ignoring those that don’t suit you and enforcing only those that do.

                      If the Church countenances divorce and remarriage but refuses to accept gay marriage then in my opinion it’s being inconsistent and hypocritical. As well as manipulative. As a gay man, I know where I am with the Catholics. I might not like them, but at least I respect their relative honesty. I have no idea where I am with the Anglicans. They seem so nice … until they stab you in the back with a blade that comes from nowhere.

                      God grant me an honorable foe and visit the fate it deserves upon the Church of England.

                      EDIT: And I leave it up to you to determine whether or not Genesis 1 should be taken at face value. You’re the conservative, not me.

              • But I’ve never heard a judgemental sermon on homosexuality yet

                Lucky you. I’ve heard condemnations of the supposed gay USP “anal buggery” (as distinct from what other kinds?) , “ex”-gays who were abused as kids stuck in front of the pulpit in order to support that supposedly universal ‘aetiology’ of homosexuality, “Robert Gagnon says, and I agree with him” style supposed invocations of Revealed Truth. And so on. For the record, I will say that all these occured at the bunnyboiler-enabling cultic nuthouse that is St.Silage, and that other evangelical churches may be more sane and normal (which wouldn’t be hard admittedly, but still)

                • I don’t know anything about St. Silage, so can’t comment on that Church, but could you explain more clearly how stating that buggery might not be the most healthy act or somebody giving their personal testimony is judgemental?

                  Most sermons I’ve heard go something like ‘I know many of you will be struggling with sexual issues, both heterosexual and homosexual. Please understand that you are accepted here and this sermon isn’t intended to condemn anybody. It seems from scripture xyz that the guidance God has given us on this matter is that God created male and female for one another, both physically and emotionally. It appears that God’s intention for us is to form faithful sexual unions with someone of the opposite sex or to remain celibate. Our society has a different view of gender and sexuality. We believe they are misguided.’ This might include a discussion of possible causes of homosexuality – both hereditary and environmental. It will almost certainly include a statement along the lines of homosexual sex being a sin on the same level as any other sin, like greed etc.

                  You might not agree, but I fail to see how it’s judgemental. If somebody preached a sermon like that arguing that God did not intend mixed race marriages, I’d be pretty upset, but I’d say they were just plain wrong, not judgemental. If you think your preacher is misrepresenting scripture, go to another church.

                  • Firstly, “buggery”. Yes, it’s a well-established term that’s been used for centuries. So is “sodomy”. But I don’t expect reference to “cock sucking” or “pussy licking” in church either. If you want to present a serious argument supposedly founded in neutral, scientific fact then use that language. What’s wrong with referring to ‘anal sex’? The fact that “buggery” is a pejorative, anachronistic term not founded on medical fact hardly suggests a serious argument on medical dangers of anal sex, now does it?

                    Secondly, my point was the judgmental, dehumanising agenda that testimony is pressed into. I think you could see the problem if a church said “now we’re going to have a Jewish person talk about how much they love money”

                    There’s an amusing tendency of some conservatives to say ”look, we’re not even allowed to talk about topic x”. When in reality, what they really mean is “look, we can’t even talk about homosexuality and/or anal sex without ‘liberals’ pointing out the errors in e.g. Paul Cameron’s famously dodgy statistics”! We’re being persecuted by the gay lobby! No offence, but the fact that you – despite not knowing anything of the church in question – appear to think that pulpit slamming of “anal buggery” was actually potentially a serious, medically-informed discussion of anal sex is similarly concerning.

                    And of course the example you give is of Scriptural witness. Wouldn’t you object to a preacher who instead didn’t even bother with science (junk or otherrwise) to condemn homosexuality but instead used mere base epithets like “anal buggery” ?

                    • Here’s the problem Ryan. You’re complaining about Paul Cameron’s dodgy statistics on a website that complained about Paul Cameron’s dodgy statistics a while back. Why do you keep on bringing it up when most of us with any intellectual honesty won’t touch it with a barge pole?

                      Straw men are only useful for so long…

                    • It’s not a straw man – I said “SOME” conservatives; wouldn’t YOU agree that, on the conservative side, there is FAR more Cameron, buggery etc invoking blogs and people than there is fine sites like this? To be honest, if you do conflate this blog with Anglican Mainstream etc then I think you’d be doing yourself a disservice.

                    • But my problem is your repetitive reversion to this kind of criticism. If you want to complain about Cameron, go and do so on blogs that cite him as authoritative. We’re well beyond that kind of thing here.

                    • The comment was made in the context of nowconcerned claiming that he’s NEVER heard a judgmental sermon on homosexuality which, to be frank, is a bit like saying that one has never heard any swearing at a fitba match.

                      Point taken (although I’m still waiting on that Dark Knight Rises blog post…it’s not just Superman and crap like Narnia that are conducive to pop-culture Christ analogies you know! ;-))

                    • Well, actually, yes, I would feel uncomfortable if a minister started going on about ‘buggery’ in a sermon, as it’s quite a derogatory word. You threw me with the USP (which I thought was a reference to US Pharmacology). I still have no idea what you’re talking about. You really can’t write cryptic posts and then blame somebody else for not understanding your meaning. Normally I would talk about anal sex, but I was only using your own language. I’ve never heard a sermon go into that level of detail on sexual activity as it generally wouldn’t be regarded as suitable for a Sunday morning sermon.

                    • I had an experience in Oxford which made me convert to Anglicanism, and I did used to be v.conservative, although I was always quite High Church for a Glorious Glasgow Rangers fan ;-)

                    • USP – Unique Selling Point. Reference to the view that anal sex is the quidditity, coming into being, unique defining feature etc of homosexuality.

          • Isn’t the conservative line against gay blessings is that one can’t bless unholy things? Is the Charles and Camilla marriage merely different from ‘proper’ marriage but not necessarily morally invalid (with obvious implications for gay relationships)?

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