Category Archives: Same Sex Relationships

Some resources on the debate surrounding same sex relationships.

Why are we staying in?

The staying-in Church of Scotland evangelicals are a diverse bunch.  We may be standing in the same place, but we took a number of different routes to the same conclusion .  Here is an non-exhaustive list of routes that seem to be out there (and thanks to Graham Nash and Malcolm Duff for some helpful additions)

1. “Church of Scotland until I die” – a strongly held, passionately, unshakeable conviction that we were called to the Church.  The Church of Scotland is an intrinsic part of me (not just my call to ministry).

2. “I was called to the Kirk” – a sense that we were not just called to ministry, but that the denominational choice was an intrinsic part of that call.  We stay until we are kicked out.

3. “I haven’t been called away” – close to the position described by Colin Sinclair at the Perth gathering – “God has not left, and neither do we; only when God leaves do we, not unless and not until.”  This is also quite close to Kenny Borthwick speaking of his own congregation listening to the Spirit on this.

4. We need to reclaim the denomination – memories of William Still’s quiet infiltration.  The more people leave, the harder this task will be.  For some, this includes staying to fight for the original 2b and overturning 2d.  “All is not lost, all is not lost” is what some have said.

5. “Where would I go?” – none of the alternatives seem particularly attractive

6. If we believe in the salvation of the Scottish nation, then the Church of Scotland is the only game in town.  The position taken by Andy McGowan and much criticised by David Robertson.

7. The Church of Scotland is a great boat from which to fish, why would I change when God is at work here – passionately spoken to by Stephen MacDonald from Martin’s Memorial Stornoway, the Sunday after the Assembly

8. The Wheat and the Tares – The Church will always be divided, there is no such thing as a pure Church.  And the Church remains the Church, it is not yet apostate.

9. I don’t want to abandon my local congregation.

10. The time is not right – I may go in 2015 if 2d is passed under the Barrier Act, I may go sooner than that.

11. 2d represents a gracious hospitality – Peter Neilson the Sunday after the Assembly.

12. I’m an Evangelical Revisionist – alla Steve Chalke and Lewis Smedes.

13. I don’t want to leave over this issue – either for fear of being regarded as anti-gay or because I don’t regard it as entering into the substance of the faith.

14. I don’t see any sense in being able to lead some of my congregation out, and then abandoning our buildings.

15. The money – it is not viable for my own congregation to sustain a minister, and there is no obvious financial pathway for me to leave and support those around me.

16. “I am going to wait and see what happens”, which for some means “I don’t know what to do so I’m not going to do anything (yet)”.

A response to David Robertson

 

 

I don’t agree with this.  OneKirk are liberals who think they are superior.  They critiqued me and asked me to go on.  I did and as a result received a level of abuse that has been horrific.  I have tried to deal with their arguments and then they play the ‘hurt’ card etc….


But let me take you up on your invitation, to smite in kindness (and fully expecting a few blows back, although hopeful we can stick to the Queensberries) , because there is much in what you write here (and by the way I envy your prodigiousness, in terms of word count, this is half way to being a Masters thesis) with which I want to enage.

There are problems for me.  The biggest problem I have with you what write is it that too often it doesn’t seem to listen for subtlety and complexity: it simplifies and distorts and then it smashes, it misrepresents and than destroys the misrepresentation.

I would hate if that were the case – and the reason I wrote such a lengthy piece was to avoid such misrepresentations and distortions.  The best thing would be for you to let me know where that happens.

And those are the bits that are not helpful to me.  I want you to help me think as an evangelical brother.  But instead I find myself going “that’s not what I meant…”, “no, that’s not why he said that…”, so we never get to the substance because I am too busy wanting to clarify, and if I’m being honest, if I am with someone who distorts what I say and the destroys that, I ask the question “are they just trying to destroy me?”  Those are the questions that I find myself asking too frequently when reading your writing, and they don’t help.

You know the bit down below when you criticise the idea that anyone is saying “come and join our pure Church”, and you get upset because no one you know has ever said that  I agree with you.  I have never heard anyone say that, so it’s wrong to suggest that such an idea is out there.  But I plead with you, think about that emotion, that annoyance of being misrepresented, because that’s how I feel so often when I read your writing.

Just let me know where that happens and I will publicly repent and apologise for it and set the record straight.

There are bits where you do represent correctly, and then you criticise, and those are the bits that are far more helpful for me (like the point you make about subjectivism – see below).  In other words, you don’t have to do this distortion.  I urge you, please criticise the thing as it is, in all its complexity, even try to present it in a nuanced and sympathetic light, and then critique.  You know that thing “until you can represent my view in terms I am happy with, you cannot disagree with me”,  it’s that thing I am getting at.

When you do this, and there are several times below, those are the parts that sting the most, because I think “he’s got me there, I have to listen here, this is where I might be wrong.”

So with those preliminaries, can I respond to a few points you make:

 

I read this apposite quote this morning just before sitting down to write. There is a time to be silent, and I was kind of hoping that time had arrived. But after listening to four talks over the past few days and preaching God’s Word on Sunday evening, I feel obliged to put into practice what I preached. I hope that people will forgive me if I say anything that hurts, and I hope God will forgive me if I say anything wrong. I think my desire is simply to see the Gospel flourish in Scotland, but God alone knows my heart. Anyway to the matter in hand.

Everyone has a strategy. A mission statement. A plan. But it is surely Gods plan we should be concerned with discerning – “Many are the plans in a man’s heart but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” Proverbs 19:21. This article is written in the conviction that God is shaking up the whole church in Scotland today, and that we need to listen to what he is saying. It is also written with the belief that Christ is the head of the Church and that we need to listen to, obey and follow him.

 

Amen.

The saga continues. After the extraordinary decision of the Church of Scotland Assembly, the dust has still not settled. Several congregations have announced their intention to leave, some ministers have already left and there have been individual members and elders who have had enough. From a personal perspective the church we work closest with, Logie and St Johns Cross, have publicly announced that they are leaving; St Peters has had visitors each Sunday since the Assembly from a C of S background, and I have spoken to several elders who either have resigned or are in the process of resigning. I doubt that Dundee is very different from the rest of the country.

In order to counter this, some 350 evangelicals (ministers, elders and members) gathered in Perth in mid-June and issued a statement encouraging fellow evangelicals to remain within the Church of Scotland, representing over 100 of the 900 (or 1400 depending on whose press release you believe) congregations

 

I can help you here – we have approximately 900 charges and approximately 1400 congregations – as you know one charge (to which a parish minister is appointed) can have more than one congregation (i.e. a linkage).

 

in the Kirk. It is for many a confusing picture. But this latter gathering provides us with an insight into the state of evangelicalism within the Church of Scotland today and so it may prove useful to examine what was said. Perhaps some might think that having the Crieff Fellowship and Forward Together plus a number of other evangelical groupings, the last thing that is needed is yet another evangelical group. But this one is clearly different. It is far broader than the other groups

 

I think the choice of the word “network” is to imply that it can be a contact point for other networks; so Kenny Borthwick made the point that that the existence of this network did not threaten his membership of another evangelical grouping (at which point I think he may have been referring to CLAN).

 

and deliberately seems to have a very limited agenda. On the one hand there is the motherhood and apple pie truism of ‘working for reformation and renewal’ within the Church. On the other the more specific agenda seems to be to counter the tide of congregations and individuals leaving the denomination.

 

I think the thrust here is towards the former – it is actually to focus on mission and regeneration, and not to spend too much energy on the specific part of the agenda.

Thus the appeal was made to be as broad as possible. The three speakers at the Perth meeting included a representative of charismatic evangelicals, another from the more broadly evangelical, and another from the more Reformed evangelical. Their talks were fascinating and worth reflecting on. You can hear them here – http://www.thesteeplechurch.co.uk/church-of-scotland-evangelicals/

I was most impressed by the charismatic representative, Kenny Borthwick, who preached from John chapter 7.

 

I was extremely impressed by what Kenny said.

 

He spoke with clarity, humility and a sense of real spiritual devotion and commitment to evangelism. He pointed out that God would say, “the only trajectory that matters is my trajectory”. Therefore we need to listen to what the Father says, and determine what His timing is. We need to repent of our divisions and seize the window of opportunity that God has for us today. Kenny questioned why he should let the agenda for his congregation be determined by a vote for immorality, or even by other evangelicals. That was his weakest point – because Kenny is not minister of an independent church. His congregation belongs to a Presbyterian church, which does give oversight of doctrine, discipline and government of the church, and to which he has sworn obedience. To that extent by agreeing to remain within that denomination, then the agendais being set by the votes of the Assembly. That is the price of Presbyterianism. The question is when does that price become too much?

 

I think this is a good point you make here.  In congregations we have to be influenced by the wider whole.  But I think also Kenny was saying, “Why does the good thing in my congregation have to suddenly stop – which is what would happen if we left, because someone else is doing something I don’t agree with.”  And this particularly relates to the motion that the assembly voted for.  It said “we give permission for someone, somewhere else to do something else.”, it permits but also distances the behaviour we regard as errant.

If Kenny was saying that I would disagree with him, because if he was saying that the good things would stop because they could only happen within the C of S he would be showing a lack of faith and of understanding.  How does he know that?

There is a spectrum that runs from autonomous congregationalism to undifferentiated collectivism; Kenny is suggesting that the congregational nature of Presbyterianism can get us away from the influence of the some of the decisions of the collective.  We are shielded to an extent by our congregational structure.  The question I want to ask is how much of a shield is that?  We must still at some point incur some of the associations mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5.  How do we deal with that?  What are the options?

These are good questions – but a bit of a smokescreen.   The collective is very important.  As I pointed out before just try not sending money to 121 or refusing to baptise infants, or refusing to ordain women and see what happens to you!

 

I was particularly impressed by his desire that we should go for the bigger visions wanting to see salvation out of every tribe, people and language. Kenny talked about evangelicals getting their ‘tic’ back, so that they became evangelistic rather than just being a dwindling evangelical constituency within a dying church. He suggested that just setting up an alternative evangelical synod without being evangelistic would just be another form of slow lingering death, the only difference being that we would be surrounded by friends! Personally I thought it was a brave and visionary statement – with a wonderful emphasis on listening to God and evangelism. However I would like to suggest that although his vision was big, brave and sincere, it seemed to me to be a little naïve and a little out of step with the smaller vision that seemed to be at the heart of the new grouping – which seems to have moved from an evangelicalism which is trans-denominational to one that is quite narrowly denominationally specific.

 

You are right to suggest that Andy later took us into a specifically Church of Scotland territory, but I don’t think that Colin did to nearly the same extent, and I don’t think that the gathering (which is why it is a network) would make that move.  After all, Colin Sinclair, in his association with SU and Spring Harvest, has lived in the trans-denominationalism you advocate for his whole ministry, and most of those in the Evangelical Network would be of the same mind.  This is not a new move from one place to another, if anything there is perhaps a desire to capture the importance of our denomination, that it is not incidental, that there is something important about the Church of Scotland which should not be lost.  You might think that that’s still wrong, but it’s not a new idea.

I have listened to Colin’s talk again and he is saying precisely what I said.  He went very deeply into C of S territory – we need to support 121, to get stuck in etc.

 

As the other two speakers evidenced.

First up was Andy McGowan, who preached a shortened version of a talk he had given earlier in this crisis. Andy gave seven reasons for staying. I mention each one – with some comments afterwards.

Nothing has changed and so it would be premature to leave at this point. Every time there is a vote this is what we are told. Nothing has changed. It will all be reversed. The fact is that the General Assembly when presented with a choice of following the Word of God (which Andy and others had so ably presented) or going against it, chose the latter.

 

I am always wary of sentences that begin with “The fact is…” – it over-simplifies something that is more complicated.  What the Church did, I think, is to say this is what we believe about the word of God, but if others have a different interpretation (and the revisionist writers in the Special Commission’s report – unlike other defenders of the Revisionist stance in previous years – were clear that they felt they were basing their opinions on the Word of God) then we will let them go their way.

I’m sorry but the fact is that what I said the fact is, is true.  A decision was made.  It was incoherent and nonsensical.  The C of S upholds the traditional position that those in same sex partnerships cannot be ministers, but the C of S will allow those in same sex partnerships to be ministers.  The Assembly was presented with a clear choice, and despite all the machinations of the spin doctors (who would make Alice-in Wonderland look coherent), that choice was made.

The choice that you characterise as “follow” or “go against” the Word would have happened had 2b (“follow”) gone against 2c (“go against”).

Everything has changed.

 

Now I think you exaggerate.  “Everything has changed”  – really?  How about this for a more complex reading, “some things have changed.”

Of course not everything has changed in the sense that the buildings havn’t fallen down.  My evangelical minister up the road will still continue to preach the Gospel.  etc.   But in the context it was clear what I was saying – I was countering Andys view that on this subject nothing has changed.  In my view everything has changed.   The context makes the content clear.   To imply otherwise is what I would call misrepresentation.

This was not just an aberration of some liberal theologians stretching the meaning of the Acts Declaratory to Alice-in- Wonderland proportions. This was the final decision making body of the Church choosing deliberately to go against the Word of God.

 

Not “Final decision making body” since no General Assembly can make final decisions (except in judicial cases).  Probably the “highest decision making body” would be more accurate.  Unlike the analogy with the parliament below (which is why the analogy doesn’t work), future Assemblies can reverse previous decisions.  This is actually what this one did – the 2011 Assembly set us on a path to 2a, and this Assembly took a step back (amongst other things, dropping the liturgy for the blessing of civil partnerships).  I can anticipate you arguing that effectively it didn’t but there are subtle differences – for me those are important, I am guessing for you they may be mealy mouthed window dressing.

That is playing with words.  The General Assembly IS the final decision making body of the Church of Scotland because there is no higher court, as you know!  

Now Andy is technically correct in pointing out that we have to go through the whole process again in 2014 and then in 2015. But no one seriously expects the ‘trajectory’ to be reversed. It is at best myopic and at worst playing with words to say that ‘nothing’ has changed.

 

Andy’s point still stands.  Nothing on the ground has changed.  I would argue that it  is playing with words to suggest “everything has changed.”

Remember how all the evangelicals were told – wait, wait , wait until 2011, then 2013.  Now they are being told nothing has changed wait until 2015.  Is it any wonder that so many people do not believe that?

A more honest interpretation would be to say that technically nothing has changed but that we should expect the change to be complete by 2015 and prepare for that.

 

Yes, I’ll agree with that.  This is the stuff that I appreciate best from you.  It’s accurate, and now let’s disagree.

 

It is analogous to the same sex marriage bill going through parliament just now. Parliament has voted for it, although it is not yet law because of all the procedures that have to be gone through – but it will be.

 

See reasons above for why this is not analogous.

It is directly analogous.  Just as SSM is not yet legal, yet Parliament has voted to make it legal (and it will happen).  Just as being a minister in a same sex partnership is not yet legal in the C of S (although that seems to be being ignored) yet the Assembly has voted to make it so.  There could not be a more direct analogy.

God and the nation. There is nothing in the bible about denominations. The Bible talks about nations. Neglected the place of Gods corporate dealing with nations. Establishment principle remains vital for our self-understanding. Scotland as a covenanted nation under God with one true Kirk. The Church of Scotland provides pastoral care, worship, and bible study in every corner of the land. If you want to reach the whole country the C of S is the only game in town. The kirk is the mother kirk of the whole Presbyterian Church in the world. I have heard this several times and every time I hear it I am still stunned by it. The notion that God converts nations or that the New Testament intended to set up national churches, specific to each country, is just an extreme example of eisegesis (reading into the text) rather than exegesis (reading out of the text) that one would be surprised at any Christian making it. I think the bottom line is that we find no mention of this at all in the New Testament and indeed we find the opposite. The Church of Jesus Christ is not divided into national churches but is instead one indivisible body, of which local congregations are a part.

The second massive error here is to consider that the Establishment Principle has any relevance at all in a secular Scotland. I hold to the Establishment Principle, but it just does not apply in a secular state where only 2% of the population attend the ‘national church’. Scotland has long ceased to be a national covenanted nation in which there is only One True Kirk.

From irrelevance we move into the realm of fantasy. The Church of Scotland does not provide pastoral care, worship, and bible study in every corner of the land – at least not in any meaningful Christian sense. Robert Murray McCheyne wrote this of the Church of Scotland in his day – “It is confessed that many of our ministers do not preach the gospel –alas! Because they know it not. Yet they have complete control over their pulpits, and may never suffer the truth to be heard there during their whole incumbency. And yet our church consigns these parishes to their tender mercies for perhaps fifty years without a sigh! Should not certain men be ordained as evangelists, with full power to preach in every pulpit of their district – faithful, judicious, lively preachers, who may go from parish to parish, and thus carry life into many a dead corner?” If McCheyne could write that in a pre-Disruption Scotland where the vast majority of the population attended the National Church, how much more is it true today when only a tiny percentage do? When the Church has voted to allow those in sexually immoral relationships to teach ‘the Word of God’ is that not negating the provision of gospel ministry to every area of Scotland?

 

That’s an interesting point.  Is the allowing of sexually immoral relationships so contagious, so poisonous that it is powerful enough to “negate the provision of gospel ministry to every area of Scotland?”  By the way, what did you mean by that last sentence (I ask in a spirit of genuine enquiry), did you mean “in every area of Scotland, the provision of gospel ministry is negated, even where there is a gospel preaching Church?” or did you mean “there are now some areas where the gospel ministry is negated, and therefore it can no longer be considered to be happening in every area of Scotland?”.

The McCheyne quote should have made that obvious.  It is the latter.  There are many areas of Scotland where there is a C of S parish ministry where there is not a Gospel ministry, nor Gospel churches.

To claim that the Church of Scotland is the ‘only game in town’ for reaching the nation is a fatal combination of wishful thinking and arrogance.

 

Andy has a theology of nations here.  It appears to be biblically based.  He said there is nothing about denominations in the Bible, but there is a lot about nations.  I was arguing for a collectivist idea of salvation,  I don’t think it’s one I wholly agree with, but I want to think about for a while.  I don’t think it’s right to accuse Andy of “wishful thinking and arrogance”, no worse than accusing others of schism which you describe as “one of the most destructive and divisive things” you have heard.  He is arguing that for the salvation of the nation as a whole, the Church of Scotland is the one which covenanted to do this.

If it appears to be biblically based perhaps he, or you, could provide the biblical basis.  I have heard him make this statement twice now – without any biblical basis.   The view that the C of S is the only game in town for bringing the Gospel to Scotland IS fanciful and arrogant.

Sometimes this arrogance can have real damaging effects for the Gospel. And not just in the fact that evangelicals often leave souls at the mercy of those who would deny the basics of the Gospel but also in how the Church of Scotland seems to think that if it is not spreading the Gospel then no one else can. Take for example St Andrews where the Free Church and the Baptists are both experiencing growth and development. When the Free Church started there I was told by the then minister of Martyrs Church that we were the future, and that she expected her church to close. Her prophecy came true. When Martyrs church was put up for sale, rather than sell (or heaven forbid, give) it to the Free Church or the Baptists, it was sold for as much money as possible to the University for a library. It seems as though the charitable purposes of the Church are making money rather than advancing the Gospel, unless it is assumed that only the Church of Scotland can advance the Gospel?! It has been suggested that the Trustees of the Church of Scotland are limited by the Charities body, OSCAR so that they have to sell their buildings to the highest bidder. As someone involved in several charities I know that is not true. They could give the buildings away as long as they were fulfilling the stated charitable purposes of the church – to spread the gospel. And this is where we see the danger of the delusion that the Church of Scotland is the only game in town. Because at this point the Acts Declaratory are usually referred to, in particular that the Church of Scotland is duty bound by law to provide the ordinances of religion in every parish. So you can have the situation where the vast majority of a congregation decide to leave, but the Church of Scotland refuses to sell or hire them the building because a handful of people who could not possibly do anything other than maintain the shell, are considered to be fulfilling this legal ‘mandate’. It is a charade, and a damaging one for the Gospel. And if evangelicals believe that the gospel of the Kingdom is more important than the denomination we must not go along with it.

Speaking of arrogance I think our brothers and sisters in other Presbyterian churches will be delighted to know that they are mostly in sin because they do not follow the example of their ‘mother’ Kirk and have national state churches!

A good point.

 

The Reformed doctrine of the church. There is no such thing as a pure church. Calvin’s church was a 1000 times worse than the state of the Church of Scotland! The church is a covenanted community. We should not pick and choose our denominations. I am really curious as to why Dr McGowan thinks that Calvin’s church was 1000 times worse than the Church of Scotland. Were there ministers in it who denied the Trinity (remember the recent vote of Glasgow presbytery where only by a vote of 83-80 did the Presbytery affirm that the Trinity was at the heart of Christianity)?

 

This is a distortion. I can check the Presbytery minutes, but I am confident the motion was more complex than that (this is a common theme, I am defending complexity and subtlety).  If you had spoken to the 80 that voted against that motion, I doubt they would have said “I don’t’ believe the Trinity is at the heart of Christianity.”

I have the wording.  I was actually being very mild – it is worse than I portrayed.  There were two amendments – one which said “However since we worship one God in the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we will only share joint worship with those who do likewise”.  This was not accepted.  The second amendment to which I refer “However in accordance with our first article declaratory, we will worship only the one God in the Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and no other” was accepted by 83 to 80. Christian worship IS at the heart of Christianity.  Christian worship is the worship of the Triune God.  To have 80 people vote against that was horrendous.  You are a member of the Presbytery so you must know what was involved.

Or the resurrection? Did the Church in Geneva ever declare that ministers in sexually immoral relationships could continue as ministers? Andy’s views are so extreme that it means he must regard the rest of us as being sinners who have broken away from the covenanted community. Of course the logic of his position is that not only those who leave the Church of Scotland now are wrong, but also those who took part in the Disruption, and ultimately even the Reformation was wrong. No one should leave Mother church.

 

As if to prove that the Church of Scotland Evangelical Network is heterogeneous, those were the very thoughts that were going through my mind when I listened to Andy.  But I also remember thinking “this is interesting, I must go and think about this”, I don’t remember getting as upset as you appear to be.

It is the illogicality of someone saying that you should never leave Mother Church, whilst supporting staying out of the RC Church which got to me…Not least the view that the present day C of S is 1000 times better than the church in Calvin’s Geneva – the fantasy non-historical aspect really got to me!

The Sovereignty of God. There are those who claim to be Calvinists but deny that God can change things. He is able to do whatever pleases him. The whole of the Soviet Empire fell in 12 months; the C of S is not such a big task. This is a classic example of putting two and two together and making five.

 

I don’t think this is quite right, but there is some difference here.

If A is “God is able to do whatever pleases him”

B is  “the Soviet Empire fell in 12 months”

C is “reforming the Church of Scotland is not such a big task”

I don’t think we have a “2+2 = 5” error here (which would be of the form A & B => C).  Rather, I think Andy is saying something like

A => B;

therefore

A => C because B>C;

And you are disagreeing, partly because you are not so sure B>C, and partly because you are not so sure that C is so evidently a part of the will of God as B was.

I have no idea what the will of God is as regards the C of S.  The things that are not revealed do not belong to us.  But the things that are revealed do.  And that is what we should stick to.  At best Andy’s misuse of doctrine was special pleading.

Of course God is sovereign. And I doubt there are any people who deny that God can change things in the Church of Scotland (although given that Andy has told us that nothing has changed in this covenanted national church, one has to ask why should he?).

 

I don’t think Andy believes that in April 2013, the Church of Scotland required no reform.  Even if one thought “nothing has changed” that is not the same as saying “nothing needs to change”.

God is able to do whatever pleases him. God can please my preaching if I don’t prepare. He can overrule my laziness, sin, arrogance etc. He can. But will he? And should I presume that he will do so and acting on that presumption, continue in my sin? God can bless the preaching of those who don’t bother going to study theology, but does that mean we should close down HTC?! The comparison between the Soviet Union and the Church is an interesting one – some would suggest that reforming the Soviet Union is easier! The bottom line is that using the sovereign power of God as a justification for inaction or an excuse for sin is not Calvinism.

 

I don’t think that Andy is urging inaction (he later argues for “firewalls”, and the whole point of the gathering was refocus on mission) and neither is he excusing sin (surely we can agree on that, after all he wrote the traditionalist section of the Theological Commission’s report).  This is another distortion which distracts from the good point you make which is that there are places where an argument from sovereignty is inappropriate, and and we have to ask the question “is it right to use a sovereignty argument in this situation?”

I think in effect he is urging inaction. There was nothing in his talk that indicated any specific course of action – other than stay in.  The dual synod idea, as he knows is a non-starter and was already rejected by 121 and the powers that be – at least twice (one of these I was involved in – the other happened during this latest commission).  For Andy to hold his out as a possible carrot was just wishful thinking.

The providence of God. God has been doing a remarkable work in the C of S over many years and I see no reason why he would stop now. If the present crisis had not divided us we would have been on our way to a majority. It takes that bit longer for everyone who leaves. This is again both fantastical and dangerous talk. Is it really the case that if the handful of congregations had not left then there would have been a majority of evangelicals at the Assembly?

 

I think this is a distortion.  Andy did not say “if a handful of congregations had not left we would have won the vote”.  He is saying “if, in the next few months, many congregations leave, it will be harder to gain a majority at future assemblies.”

Again that is what he said.  I don;t think it was a distortion at all.  He specifically blamed the congregations who HAD left (he used the past tense).. He has often said this – we are nearly there – 400 ministers….one more push and we will be in the majority.

Even if that were true there is no guarantee that a biblical position would have been voted for. It was after all an evangelical who proposed the motion that congregations should be allowed to call ministers in same sex partnerships – and many evangelicals have lauded this as a brilliant compromise that brings peace. Peter Neilson in a passionate, articulate and confused sermon after the Assembly declared that things were handled well. He stated, “the church retains its stand but not in a hard judgemental way but with what we might call a generous orthodoxy – this is a complicated matter – not black and white.” It is interesting that none of the speakers mentioned the illogicality or wrongness of the Assemblies decision or made any kind of call for repentance of those evangelicals who voted for this. There was talk of those evangelicals guilty of the sin of schism, but not of any other sin. This does not bode well for whatever is meant by reformation and renewal. I also really question this ‘remarkable’ work that God has been doing in the C of S over the years which Andy believes will just continue. Whilst there have been some great congregations and some wonderful faithful ministries, the overall picture is not quite so bright. Yes – the change from the late 1940’s where outside the Highlands there were very few evangelical ministers, to the 1970’s was remarkable. But that has not been a steady trajectory and although the number of evangelical ministries (in the broadest sense) is now about 400 (out of 1200) that is not the whole story. One leading C of S evangelical told me that he thought only 100 ministers would be accepted in the PCA (hardly a hyper strict Presbyterian church) and that the big mistake they had made was to equate evangelical ministries with evangelical congregations.

 

The C of S is losing 15,000 members per year. Last year only around 1300 people became new members in the Church – and we have no idea how many of them are believers. This is not the picture of a church in which a remarkable work is occurring. It is the picture of a church under the judgement of God, albeit one in which he still has the 7,000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal.

 

It’s telling you quote the Elijah story, because the thrust of that is to affirm the remnant, and also to chastise Elijah who refuses to recognise it (“I am the only one left” he says to God, when he knows about Obadiah’s 100).  Also, I think you are saying that the Church of Scotland is not like Israel because it is not God’s only chosen vehicle for God’s salvific purpose in our current age, but it is like Israel because it is under judgement.

The Church of Scotland is NOT Israel.  In the NT sense it is part of the New Israel – =or at least those who believe in the Gospel who belong to the C of S are.

The sin of schism – We are not in that extreme situation today. We must be careful in the language that we use and the situation in which we find ourselves. “Those who are calling our people to leave and join them on the grounds that they are a pure church need to reread their bibles’! The Church of Scotland is recoverable. Those of us who are true to our orthodox reformed heritage should not walk away from the Church of Scotland. This was even more disturbing than the other points. Why? Firstly it is a dishonest straw man argument. I

 

Honestly, I think there are more than a few of these in your  article.

Please point them out.  It is one thing to accuse another to evidence.  I need the evidence before I can apologise and correct.

challenge Andy to let us know of anyone who is calling on C of S evangelicals to join them because they are a ‘pure church’. I suspect he had in mind the Free Church. But I know of no one in the Free Church who thinks we are a pure church.

 

I agree with you here.

We do actually read our bibles and we all subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith (without Acts Declaratory or crossed fingers!) which tells us that no church is without error. I think to accuse Willie Philip, Robin Sydserff, Peter Dickson, Pete Humphries, James Torrens, and Dominic Smart etc. of being guilty of schism is one of the most destructive and divisive things I have heard. Evangelicalism used to be across denominational barriers, but it seems as though Dr McGowan wants to take us back to the bad old days of a uniformitarian and authoritarian view of the Church.

 

I don’t think he does.  I think you are exaggerating his position. But even if he did, I doubt that many others there would think that.

I was interacting with what Andy says – not with others.  And I think I was mild in summarising his position.  It is one of the most extreme I have heard.

Whether one belongs to the Church of Scotland seems to matter more than whether one belongs to the Church of Christ.

I guarantee you that the number of people in Perth who thought that was zero.  I guarantee you.

Thats strange because a minister who was there came to St Peters on Sunday night and told me that he was disgusted with the whole thing – he was told by a colleague ‘I would die for the Church of Scotland’.  His response was that this chilled him to the bone because people who will die for a denomination might kill for one as well.  I told him that that was a bit extreme but nonetheless I could see that people with that degree of denominational loyalty would be prepared to let it affect all their actions.  I know that no evangelical in theory will say that the Church of Scotland is more important than the Church of Christ, but in practice?  That is a different matter.

The lessons of history – disruptions rarely achieve anything. Four ministers in one place – do we want to make it five? We need to be liberated for mission. The C of S are like Israel – God kept his covenant promises. You don’t leave the family when the family gets into trouble…This is a very skewed view of history. One could just as easily argue that staying in corrupted state churches rarely achieves anything. It would be interesting to hear of one example of a corrupt state church that has actually been turned around by evangelicals staying in.

 

There are some good arguments about various parts of the Church of England being renewed, in particular the Diocese of London, in the book “Church Growth in Britain.”

That’s interesting – because we have just appointed an Anglican vicar from that Diocese to be Free Church minister in St Andrews. He tells me that there is great work being done through a) Holy Trinity Brompton and Alpha, b) St Helen’s Bishopsgate and Gospel partnerships and c) African immigrants coming in.  But he also says that the Anglican church is falling apart.  It is certainly not an example of a corrupt state church being truly turned around.  

In terms of Scotland the Disruption actually achieved a great deal of good. Admittedly not for the national church – but it certainly did for the Gospel and the Kingdom. The evangelisation of Scotland in the latter half of the 19th Century was quite extraordinary. And the missionary impact on many countries in the world was equally extraordinary. I also think Andy is somewhat out of date with his four ministers in one village scenario. That disgrace is largely part of a bygone era. Most churches can’t afford that. The real problem is the vast number of places without any clear, vibrant gospel ministry. Perhaps if evangelicals actually did get together and act together we might be able to do something about that. This is not going to happen when a significant number believe that the Church of Scotland is the only game in town. I suspect though that where Andy is right is that in some instances we will end up with yet another denomination, rather than more gospel unity.

I agree you don’t leave the family when you get into trouble…but you need to ask who the family are! The Mafia? (I have visions of those who leave ‘the family’ finding donkeys heads in their pulpits! The Godfather certainly gives a whole new slant to the concept of the Fatherhood of God!) Or the family of God? I personally regard all believers of whatever denomination, as being part of the family of God, even if they don’t have the sense to go to the church I belong to! When someone leaves the Free Church to go to another biblical Church I don’t think they have left the family. And this may be breaking news for some – but neither the Free Church nor the Church of Scotland is Israel. I do however agree that we need to be liberated for mission. We need new wine. Was there not someone who taught about new wine in old

 

I think this is common ground between me and you.  And many who were at the Network’s meeting are still asking the question “Does this require a new wineskin?”

Agreed!

wineskins….! They don’t go. Perhaps the new wine of the Gospel will be better served in new wineskins?

After these seven points, which as you will have gathered, I found to be almost totally unconvincing, Andy suggested that evangelicals should have another look at the structure of the Church if the current ‘trajectory continues. His suggestion of a measure of ‘separation’ after 2015, involving not separation from the Church but from the prevailing party in the Church, by means of a dual synod was interesting, but unlikely to be allowed or work. I was unconvinced by his argument that sexual immorality was an insufficient reason to separate, not least because no one who has left has given that as the reason. It is the attitude to the Word of God that is the key issue. Which is why I welcome his remark that if the Church of Scotland denies the uniqueness of Christ then that would be the time to leave. Although again this was more than a little surprising. Those who advocate same sex partnerships in general do deny the uniqueness of Christ. Life and Work has carried articles by ministers who deny the uniqueness of Christ. The Assembly last year refused to discuss the issues of a Church of Scotland being used for Hindu worship. But I welcome wholeheartedly Andy’s commitment to leave the Church of Scotland if it does continue its trajectory and end up even more explicitly denying the uniqueness of Christ.

In some ways I found Colin Sinclair’s talk the most disturbing of all. Colin is a fine servant of Christ whose warm and gracious manner in teaching the Word of God has been a blessing to many. Which is precisely what made his talk so disturbing. He cited George Philip stating ‘when God gives up on the Church of Scotland we will leave’. He declared that God was not worried about His reputation. God had called him to the Church of Scotland and until that call was lifted he would remain. This was all hopelessly subjective.

 

This is where your critique is at its most challenging.  When does the language of call move into “subjectivism”?

 

How do we know when ‘God has given up’? How do we know that the call is lifted? Do we really have that direct access to God telling us our every move? Much of the argument here reminded me of the people of Israel in Jeremiah’s day who too said they would not leave, because they believed that God would not judge them and destroy Jerusalem. It is very easy for us to reassure ourselves, stay where we are and claim the sovereignty and call of God as our justifications. And to declare that God is not interested in his own reputation is to go against all of Scripture – God really does care that we hallow his name and honour him. God is jealous for his honour.

But then Colin got quite specific and urged a new form of evangelicalism. At least it is one that I have not heard explicitly stated before in public, although I have seen it in practice. We are to work for the peace and unity of the Church. Commitment begins only at the point of disagreement. Staying in the Church of Scotland is not enough you have to get stuck in or you will be a negative influence. Evangelicals must not be the elephant in the corner. We have been concealed Congregationalists and must be more committed to what the Church of Scotland is doing. There are more senior people from councils and committees in the gathering that afternoon (identifying as evangelicals) than had ever been before. We should not write off 121. We are Presbyterians not Congregationalists. We must get involved. My son is going to New College and my God is big enough to look after him.

It is hard to know where to begin here. Again the idea of the majesty and bigness of God being used to excuse foolishness, is foolish.

 

You have just accused Colin Sinclair of foolishness.  Is this not also divisive and disturbing?

Yes.  But true.  So justified.  We could play the game that saying anything someone says is wrong, is divisive so therefore to say it, is itself wrong.  To me that is post-modern semantics – not biblical faithfulness.

My son is going to study theology and I would plead with him NOT to go to New College, not if he wants to be trained in the Word and for Christian ministry. Why do evangelicals think we are immune from the poison of false theology? Of course there are in the theological faculties of Scotland’s universities, including in New College, good men and women who teach the Word of God and train others to do so. A couple have even preached in the St Peters pulpit! But one wonders what Colin would say to Dr McGowan, the founder of HTC. Why bother starting another theological college if the ones that exist are already adequate and fine for training? My God is big enough that if I drink poison he can prevent any harm. Does that mean I should drink poison? Mind you there is more scriptural warrant for drinking poison than there is for sending the lambs out to be taught by the wolves!

What was new here for me though was this explicit commitment to working for, rather than in, the Church of Scotland.

 

What is this?  That there is something intrinsically bad about working “for” the Church? Is working in a Parish not also working “for” the Church?  Or does Parish work have a necessary distance which means it is not “for” the institutional Church (which Kenny Borthwick’s description of Presbyterianism might have allowed, although I don’t think Kenny meant that)?  Is working “for” the Church,  in Fresh Expressions, in selection and training of ministers, is all this especially bad, an unacceptable collaboration?

Yes – there is.  We work for Christ.  We work for the Gospel.  We don’t work for the denomination except insofar as it goes along with the first two. It is ridiculous to say that you are going to work for reformation and renewal within the denomination and then say that you are going to work for the non reformed and renewed denomination. That to me was one of the major errors of the Perth meeting.  You cannot have your cake and eat it. You either recognise that the denomination is corrupt at the core and pledge to work for its reformation and renewal, or you get out.  What you cannot do is say we want reformation and renewal but meanwhile we are just going to go along with things as they are.

This raises an enormous problem. And it does bring out the elephant in the room. What is the church? Who do we regard as belonging to the church? Are those who say that the resurrection did not happen, or the Bible is not the Word of God, or the Trinity is not essential to the Christian faith, our ‘brothers and sisters in Christ’? Are we bound to work together with them, rather than against them as false teachers? I noticed that the liberal OneKirk group were largely very welcoming of this new evangelical grouping – not seeing it as a threat to their position but rather an ally. One comment expressed it clearly “What struck me very strongly today as I worshipped in Letham St. Marks this morning (a conservative evangelical church) as a visiting minister from St. Matthew’s (a more progressive, liberal evangelical church in the same town) was that in so many, many, many ways we are exactly the same and would do well to speak well of each other and do even better to work well with each other. I dream of such a day and I hope others will join me in praying for that day.”. Take heed to Augustine’s warning – But if one who errs praises you, he confirms your error. When fellow evangelicals who actually believe the Bible are condemned as schismatics and you end up being praised by those who do not, then something has gone far wrong. C of S evangelicals are at a crossroads. Which is going to be more important – working with fellow evangelicals in the Gospel (whatever the denomination) or putting the denomination first? The message of the new Church of Scotland Evangelical Network seems to be the Church of Scotland Alpha and Omega.

 

This is probably the worst distortion.  To take your language, you are saying that we are saying “the Church of Scotland is Christ (who is the Alpha and Omega)”.  If the Church of Scotland Evangelical Network really felt that, it would be urging members of other denominations to leave and join the Church of Scotland.  It isn’t doing this.  If anything, its message (although I admit Andy McGowan’s “the Church of Scotland is the only game in town” went further than this) is “remain where you are.”

But at heart I think that is what Andy did say and is saying – and I think it is what many evangelicals practice.  They resent Baptists, charismatics, Free Church etc taking ‘their’ people.  Only ‘their’s because they are in ‘their’ parish.   The whole message of the Perth meeting came across as it is the Church of Scotland first.

It is denominationalism at its most destructive.

Colin Sinclair told the oft-cited story of Martin Luther’s wife, Katie, coming down dressed in mourning clothes. What is wrong with you? God has died. What do you mean woman? Well if he has not died why are you so miserable? Colin asked – has God died? That of course is a nice story but the wrong question.

 

I thought it was quite a good story in this context – the point being that we should always be hopeful because God is not dead.

A pointless truism.  Because who said he was.  The question is whether a particular denomination is dead or not.

The real question is, does God need the Church of Scotland for his name to be honoured in this land? No. He does not. Nor for that matter does he need the Free Church, Baptists, IPC, APC, or any of the other denominations. But in his grace and mercy he has given us His Church. As his people we must stand together, even if we are in separate denominations. Even if the Church of Scotland is dying.

Just after I finished listening to the three talks from the Church of Scotland Evangelical Network, I returned to Peter Neilson’s sermon. In it he summarised the position of the new evangelicals…

 

Interesting use of the phrase “new evangelicals” – are you suggesting we are a little like Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Dennett et. al?

No.  I am suggesting that evangelicalism is losing its grip, and is becoming very confused.  And that this new group exists for one primary purpose – to keep evangelicals within the C of S.

“We have moved the debate from the power struggles of truth to some understanding of how we operate in grace to allow other people to find their way”. Once you untangle the nice sounding jargon that is a poisonous message. Of course people don’t want to be involved in power struggles and would prefer to ‘operate in grace’. But it is a false dichotomy. Truth and grace are not opposed. Jesus is full of grace and truth. Truth does not necessarily mean power struggles.

I would suggest however that the move away from truth as the criteria by which we base our judgements leads precisely to the type of power struggles that Peter wants to avoid. Indeed this new network is primarily about power struggles

 

Is that really what it is “primarily” about.  You might say it is perceived that way by some.  I think the Network is “primarily” about contending for two ideas – 1. The primary focus for evangelicals must be mission; 2. Evangelicals can remain in the Church of Scotland with integrity.

Both those things are true.  I don’t believe that the new group evidenced that.  In fact you should rephrase the second one to Evangelicals should remain within the Church of Scotland and those who leave are betraying the cause.

– trying to maintain the position of evangelicals within the C of S. Those who have been offered a seat at the table on the understanding that they will deliver the evangelical constituency are terrified that they are going to lose their position in the pond (forgive the mixed metaphors).

 

David  – this is harsh.  I think this is passing judgement in a way that is unwarranted.  I don’t think many evangelicals are particularly desirous of a seat at any institutional table.

Yes it is harsh.  But it is warranted.  I have been involved with this at quite a high level for some time.  I won’t name individuals but this is the game that is being played.  You can come and be part of the committees etc in 121 providing that you a) play the game and b) keep evangelicals on board.  It is part of the political and bureaucratic structure of the C of S.  I could say a lot more but I will leave it there!

If you want to see power struggles then Albert Bogle’s motion and speech at the General Assembly was a classic example. It was a clearly political power play. This was no last minute deal. Anyone who has been involved in politics knows how this works. You meet with your alleged opponent (and the supposedly neutral ‘officials’). He presents an extreme motion on one side, you come up with your compromise, he withdraws and everyone rejoices at the consensus and the ‘middle ground’. I was really puzzled why, given the incompetence of Albert’s motion, the clerk and moderator did not rule it out of order, but I suspect it was because they were in on the whole deal. In fact the spin coming from the C of S establishment afterwards made it abundantly clear that this was their angle all along. So why the politics? The whole intention was to keep evangelicals on board (who after all is going to pay for the church?). They were played in a somewhat clumsy way and they fell for it. How else do you explain evangelicals voting for a motion that allowed ministers to be in same sex partnerships? When both Stonewall and the Equality Network praise evangelicals then Augustine’s warning again applies.

 

Here’s another interpretation – it was pragmatism.  Now you can criticise that as well.  But if it was guilty of anything it was pragmatism.  The accusation of wanting a seat at the table is unwarranted.  What table exactly does anyone want to be a part of?

It was not pragmaticism.  It was cold calculated politics that borders on the deceitful.  Giving the impression that it was something that came to him last minute when it was something that was worked out well beforehand.  Evangelicals were played – and the sad thing is that it was other evangelicals who did the playing.  What table?  The establishment – the decision making process etc.

So where does this leave us all? In a confused mess. I do not think that it is sinful to stay in the Church of Scotland. However it is sinful to stay, talk of reformation and renewal and yet not fight for it.

 

I think the Church of Scotland Evangelical Network is attempting to do precisely that – fight for reformation and renewal.

How?  There is at yet no sign of fight.  I am not a prophet but I will prophecy that most of the time will be spent fighting other evangelicals who don’t agree.  There is a reason that OneKirk generally welcomed and expressed appreciation for the Perth gathering.

We must not hide behind pietism, truisms, or a distorted view of history. We really do have to get ‘stuck in’ – not in the sense of co-operate with, but rather take on, those within the Kirk who go against the Gospel. If not then the danger is that, instead of fighting those within the Kirk who oppose the Gospel, this new organisation is really going to be used to fight fellow evangelicals who are perceived as schismatics. Those who have left or will leave should be regarded as brothers not enemies, traitors or apostates.

 

I quite agree.  And many in the Network speak of working hard to keep their relationships with those who have left, and those who have left speak of working hard to keep relationships with those who, at the moment, are staying in.

I am glad that was the case.  But it was not what I was responding to – which were the public statements released and the talks on the internet.

Just as those of us who cannot in all conscience join the Church of Scotland should not regard all within it as enemies, traitors and apostates. If evangelical unity is to mean anything then it must transcend denominational boundaries.

Is it possible that this form of blogging harms the attempt at such evangelical unity?

What evangelical unity?

My fear is that the new evangelical network, whilst paying lip service to the idea of gospel unity across denominations, is in practice about putting the denomination first.

I don’t think it is, and I would like to allay that fear.

Time will tell.

I realise that there are those evangelicals who will throw up their hands in horror, talk in public about my lack of grace and demonise in private

 

This is the biggest reason I am going to put this up on the web – I am not going to criticise your writing in private.

No problem with that at all..

(I still have the bruises from my brethren after my earlier attempt to defend the Tron – doubtless the twelve anonymous evangelicals who sent me that letter ‘in love’ will be rejoicing in the new network!). But we do need to wake up to what is happening, be more realistic and grow up. Church politics is not the answer. Yet another evangelical network is not the answer. Yet another denomination in Scotland is not the answer. Everyone joining the Free Church is not the answer.

Open our eyes – We must look with wider eyes at what God is doing in Scotland. Whilst we are secularising faster than any nation in history, the work of the Lord is on going. Whether it is through the work of Baptists like Paul Rees in Charlotte Chapel, church planting in urban housing schemes like Mez McConnell, the wonderful work of the Trussel Trust led by Euan Gurr, Bethany Christian Trust, Banchory Evangelical Church, Smithton Free Church, Kilmallie Free Church, St Catherine’s Argyll C of S, St Columba’s Free Church, Solas CPC, the Cornhill Trust and the Tron….and many others from a wide variety of denominations (including the Church of Scotland) there is a work of God going on. I am very encouraged by the return of leaders like Dr John Nicholls from London City Mission and Dr Sinclair Ferguson to our land. I am also intrigued at the number of young men that God is raising up. Surely this is for a purpose that includes greater blessing? I note that very few of these young men currently in training are training for the ministry of the Church of Scotland. They will all be looking for places to serve. Is it not time for us to recognise that God is doing a new thing and for us all to work together in church planting, church revitalisation and church based evangelism?

 

I agree.

 

Preach the Word – I have noticed that one thing some of the more extreme charismatics and the liberals have in common is that they both claim to be able to hear Gods new Word to the churches today. Of course I believe that God speaks to us through providence and circumstances and through nature. And personally I don’t doubt that He can use visions, dreams etc. He is after all God. But his special revelation is His Word. So why do we neglect it? Why do we ask, what is God saying and then ignore what He is saying? I think Peter Neilson’s sermon was a classic example of that. He gave an overall summary of Romans to show how we are to ’accept one another’. But in the context it was so filtered as to be ludicrous. It really does depend who the ‘one another’ are. Does anyone really think that Paul was suggesting that those who approve of and encourage homosexual practice should be accepted as part of the Church? Romans 1 is part of Romans and without a great deal of special pleading and twisting it is impossible to read Romans as saying to the Church of Scotland today that it should just ignore or approve of those who want to be ministers of the Word, whilst living in defiance of that Word. If evangelicals really believed that the Bible is the Word of God (rather than just ‘contained’ it), we would preach it with all our hearts and minds as if it were God speaking freshly to us today. Because it is God speaking freshly to us today. Every time we try to add to, or take away from, the Word of God we are diminishing it. We are suggesting that God got it wrong, or more likely that the early Church got it wrong and the Holy Spirit is now speaking more clearly to us today. We need to repent of this and let Scotland flourish by the preaching of the Word.

 

Apart from what you say about Peter Neilson, I agree.

You think Peter was right?

 

Pray for the New Wine – As I finished listening to the Andy’s talk on my iPhone, the next song up was ‘In Christ Alone’. My hope is not in the Free Church, or the Church of Scotland, or my own understanding and wisdom. It has to be in Christ alone. I share Kenny Borthwick’s passion for reaching out to the lost. If he can do that most effectively within the Church of Scotland I rejoice and pray that he and others like him will prosper and flourish as we work together for the Gospel. My concern is that the Church of Scotland will increasingly become chains around that mission rather than enabling the freedom of gospel ministry through and in gospel churches. I also share his concern about Gods trajectory. To me it is away from the concept of a national State church with all the trappings of civic religion in a secular society and towards a renewed New Testament style church in a post-Christian paganised culture. These are days of great threats and great opportunities. I think we have a window of opportunity in Scotland for the Gospel and for a renewed church. Its time for the new wine. And the new (or renewed) wineskins.

 

And that is why I need to listen to you David, because you prevent me dropping into a myopic view of ourselves, and from allowing a love of the institution to put chains around the mission.  May God lead us to “one mind”.

Agreed…thanks for your input and sorry for wasting so much of your time!

Later David Added:

You state that I misrepresent views and that is your major concern.  If it were true I would totally agree.  There is little point in arguing against what people are NOT saying.  I like to deal with what I read.  Having read your comments I don’t accept that you have demonstrated any misrepresentation, with the one possible exception of the Church of Scotland Alpha and Omega which I accept is hyperbole – but the point that this new grouping is primarily about keeping evangelicals in the C of S still stands in my view.  Still at least you did not accuse me of being unloving!


Biblical Perspectives on Same Sex Relationships

It is important to be explicit about these two different approaches to the Bible.  The argument about the blessing of same-sex relationships is also, by proxy, a debate about our use of the Bible.  Some fear that the marking of same-sex partnerships would fundamentally undermine the authority of Bible.[13] Others suggest that not to bless such relationships would fundamentally betray the Bible’s essential message.[14]

 

The remainder of this paper will discuss answers to the question “Does the Bible explicitly condemn loving and committed same-relationships?”[15] This question is crucial for those who take the first four approaches outlined above.  It is less important to those adopting the fifth approach, since theirs is a framework which relies less on individual scriptural texts.[16]

 

In this discussion I will focus on what are regarded as the key prohibitions of same-sex relationships in the Bible: Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10.

 

There will be no discussion of the attempted rape at Sodom (Genesis 19:5-7 and interpretation in Jude 7) and the ban on temple prostitution (Deuteronomy 23:17-18): though these passages may say something about same-sex relationships, they are indelibly linked with the issues of violence and pagan fertility religion.[17] Other texts lie at the centre of the argument.

Genesis

“Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife (lit. woman) and they become one flesh.” Genesis 2:24

 

There are two issues of debate here.  Firstly, how essential was Adam and Eve’s gender-otherness for their becoming one-flesh?

 

For some (normally as a preliminary to suggesting that the Bible forbids all same-sex relationships) male-female “complementarity” is essential.  In the context of Genesis, the “one flesh” of Adam and Eve represents both a return to the primordial pre-sexual human (Genesis 2:7-20) and is reflective of the male-female image of God (Genesis 1:27).[18] For others it is Adam and Eve’s intimacy, not their otherness, which enables their oneness.  Sexual relationships resolve the loneliness of Genesis 2:18.[19]

 

The second issue is the extent to which this text represents a binding norm on all sexual relationships.  For some, Jesus’ citation of this text (Matthew 19:5[20] alongside Jesus consistent adherence to Old Testament sexual ethics[21]) and Paul’s appeal to “nature” (Romans 1:27) are evidence that Genesis 2:24 remains normative for the Church.  Others counter that the very idea of “binding norms” derives not from the Bible but medieval ideas of natural law[22] and that the categories of male and female will be lost in the new creation (Galatians 3:28).[23]

 

A second counter-argument (particularly important for those advocating the fourth approach above) is that just as divorce is prohibited by Jesus’ reading of Genesis 2, and the Church allows remarriage as a “pragmatic concession”[24], so the Church should allow a similar concession for those in same-sex relationships.[25]

 

This Genesis framework is an essential preliminary to the interpretation of texts in Leviticus and Romans.

Leviticus

“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman.  It is an abomination” Leviticus 18:22

 

The principle discussion around this Levitical text is its relevance to the Church.[26] Those who argue for irrelevance assign it to the Old Testament Law’s purity code[27] (where its function is to police Israel’s ethnic boundary[28]); those who propose relevance assign the text to the moral component of the law (where its function is to witness to the “unchanging pattern”[29] of creation).

 

Those who emphasise the purity function of the Levitical code cite the proximity of Leviticus 18:22 to now outmoded prohibitions such as those against sex during a woman’s monthly period (Leviticus 18:19), and the mixing of textiles (Leviticus 19:19).[30] Furthermore, they argue that the Hebrew word to‘evah (often translate “abomination”) may better be translated “taboo”.[31]

 

Those who counter, group Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 with the many Levitical injunctions which remain binding on the Church.[32] There are other arguments for contemporary relevance,[33] but the strongest seems to be that these texts build on a Genesis framework[34] (see discussion of Genesis 2:24 above) rather than an arbitrary purity code, and that they are implicitly restated in the New Testament (see discussion of Romans 1:27, 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10).

Jesus and the Gospels

The absence of any explicit reference to same-sex relationshisp in the gospels has been read in two different ways.  For those advocating the marking of same-sex relationships, this absence suggests that for Jesus this issue is peripheral to the central message of the gospel, which is about love for God and neighbour.[35]

 

Others counter that Jesus’ silence is due to his being in agreement with the dominant Jewish viewpoint of his time, and that Jesus saw no need to challenge this particular orthodoxy.[36] Also important is Jesus adoption of a Genesis framework when addressing sexual relationships.[37]

 

Another critical factor in this debate is our understanding of the community that gathered around Jesus.  For those opposed to the blessing of same-sex relationships, Jesus’ welcome was unconditional but he still refused to shy away from naming what was sinful.[38] However, for many advocates of the blessing of same-sex partnerships, begin or conclude their case by looking to Jesus’ this community.[39] A Church which follows Jesus must welcome without condition, and must not place upon gay or lesbian people the burden of celibacy.[40]

Romans 1:26-27

Current debate concerning Paul’s condemnation of same-sex relationships in Romans centres around the idea of: “nature”.  A literal translation of the text will illustrate its importance:

“For this reason, God gave them up to degrading passions.  For their women exchanged the natural function, for the one against nature, and in the same way also the men, gave up the natural function of the female, were consumed with their desire for one another, males with males committed the shameless deed” Romans 1:26-27 (adapted from the NRSV)

 

One interpretation of “nature” here, is “one’s own nature”, the “form of sex appropriate to one’s own sexuality”.[41] This text is about straight men and women having sex with others of the same sex, which is perverse to their own nature.[42] This interpretation is strengthened by Paul’s use of the word “exchanged”, [43] and evidence of Roman contexts where this behaviour occurred.[44]

 

The second interpretation of “nature” is “the natural order of creation”.  The text doesn’t read “one’s own nature”, and “one’s own natural function”, but “nature” and “the natural function”.  Paul writes in absolute rather than subjective terms.  He is referring to the natural order as ordained in Genesis (particularly in this case Genesis 1:26-27 and 2:24) with its emphasis on male-female sexual pairing.[45]

 

There is an additional question of interpretation here.  Even if we accept that Paul’s own understanding of “nature” was derived from Genesis, might contemporary readers augment their understanding of “nature” to include insights from the social and natural sciences.  This moves closer to the fifth approach outlined at the beginning of this discussion.[46]

 

Finally we must address Paul’s phrase: “the shameless deed”.  What is it that makes the deed shameless?  Is it the context of idolatry, rebellion and excess which Paul evidently has in mind here,[47] or for Paul, is the deed intrinsically shameless. Those arguing the former emphasise the importance of context in any interpretative discussion.[48] Others note that Paul refers to “the shameless deed” (rather than something like “deed which is rendered shameless”) suggesting the deed is shameless regardless of context.[49]

 

1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10

“male prostitutes, sodomites” 1 Corinthians 6:9 (NRSV)

“nor effeminate nor abusers of themselves with mankind.” 1 Corinthians 6:9 (KJV)

“nor male prostitutes, nor homosexual offenders” 1 Corinthians 6:9 (NIV)

“nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality” 1 Corinthians 6:9 (ESV)

 

“sodomites” 1 Timothy 1:10 (NRSV)

 

The translations above reflect the difficulties in translating two words from the litanies of wrongdoing in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10.  The words are malakos (lit. “soft man”, used only in 1 Corinthians 6:9, and translated in the NRSV as “male-prostitute”) and arsenokoites (lit. “man lying with a man”, in both passages, and translated “sodomite” in the NRSV).

 

Arguments about the meaning of these Greek words cannot take place in pure lexical isolation, but have inevitably been coloured by the wider debates to which they contribute.  Martin has carried out an exhaustive survey of their use, and concludes that malakos brings with it a whole Graeco-Roman ideology of gender,[50] and any contemporary application is dubious.  The use of arsenokoites is so rare  that its meaning is impossible to deduce with any certainty.[51]

 

The main counter-argument centres on the term arsenokoites, which has verbal parallels with the Greek translation (Septuagint) of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.[52] In particular, 1 Timothy 1:10 uses the term in a list of behaviours prohibited by the Jewish Law.  If we ask “To which texts in the Jewish law is arsenokoites most likely a reference?”, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 seem the most likely candidates.

Overall Summary

This paper began by putting forward five possible approaches to the question “Should the marking of same-sex civil partnerships be a matter of pastoral freedom?”

 

Here I do not wish to advocate any one of these approaches.  However, it is my view (and I write as someone who was sympathetic to these approaches at the beginning of researching this discussion) that, from a Biblical perspective, the second and third approaches are less tenable than approaches one, four and five.

 

Approaches one, two and three rest on the question “Do the Biblical texts prohibiting same-gender sex refer to all same-sex relationships, including those which are marked by mutual love and commitment?”.  Approach one answers “yes.”, approach two assumes that the arguments are finely balanced, and approach three answers “no.”

 

Approaches two and three seem less tenable because the Biblical texts prohibiting same-sex relationships seem to be articulated within a universal framework derived from Genesis 1:27 and 2:24.[53] I do not discount approaches two and three, but set against the most recent discussions[54] I have been able to access, their arguments appear weaker than the other approaches.

 

In my view, this leaves three possible approaches: continued prohibition (approach one), pastoral concession (approach four) or radical revisionism (approach five).  I conclude with three voices from each of these approaches.

 

From Katherine Greene-McCreight

Let me say for the record that I am among those who wish they could be convinced that Scripture and tradition could be read to support the revisionist position, which would argue for the theological and religious appropriateness of homoerotic relationships for Christians who feel drawn to them. . . .  While I have not yet been convinced by the revisionist position, I keep listening in hopes that someone will come up with something new.[55]

 

From Lewis Smedes

Some homosexuals feel devalued when people like me say that their orientation and their way of life is not how the Creator originally intended his sexual children to live out their sexuality. They say that their homosexuality is as at home in and native to God’s creation as heterosexuality is. Some say that it is God’s special gift for them to celebrate and thank him for just as their sexuality is gift for heterosexuals to celebrate. I cannot believe it is. I have not found quite the right word for it, but it seems to me that homosexuality is a burden that some of God’s children are called on to bear, an anomaly, nature gone awry. But I do believe that homosexuality is the only raw material they have for living as good a life of sexual love as they can within our broken world where so much of life is bent out of shape.[56]

 

From Gordon Atkinson

You want to know how it happened? I’ll tell you how it happened. I got tired. I couldn’t do it anymore. I fought an inward battle with orthodoxy for years and tried to figure out what the Bible has to say about this. I took six years of Greek, hoping the original language of the New Testament might shed some light. I got a Bachelor’s degree in religious studies and a Master of Divinity. I read everything I could find and talked to everyone I respected. But in the end, it all came down to this – I could not be orthodox in this matter. I could not. So I gave up and gave in. And the minute I did I felt a flood of cool relief, like water after forty days in the desert.

 

There was no wideness to God’s mercy in those days. I did not know the way out of the darkness, so I chose the way that seemed right to me. Having chosen, I will not turn back now.

 

For my brothers and sisters in Christ – Dave, Brian, Carol, Dylan, Tom, Don, Jeremy, Brenda, Lou Ann, and Julie R.[57]

 

From a Biblical perspective, I believe these three voices represent our choice.

Bibliography

 

Affirmation Scotland  (2006) Theological Position at http://www.affirmationscotland.org.uk/page003.html

 

Atkinson G.                (2006) This is how it happened at http://www.reallivepreacher.com/node/698

 

Barth F. (ed.)              (1969) Ethnic Groups and Boundaries : The Social Organisation of Culture Difference, Allen & Unwin, London

 

Bailey S.                      (1955) Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition, Longmans

 

Beckett D. M.             (2006) A Biblical Perspective on Civil Partnerships – Listening to the Bible and Jesus at http://www.onekirk.org/civil_part4.html

 

Borg M.J.                    (2003) The Heart Of Christianity – Rediscovering A Life Of Faith, How We Can Be Passionate Believers Today, Harper Collins: New York

 

Brueggemann W.        (1997) Theology of the Old Testament, Fortress Press: Minneapolis

 

Clements R                 (2002)  Why evangelicals must think again about homosexuality at www.royclements.co.uk

 

Compton L.                 (2003) Homosexuality and Civilisation, Harvard University Press: Cambridge Massachusetts

 

Dunn J.D.G                 (1988) Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 38a, Romans 1-8, Word Books: Dallas

 

Evangelicals Concerned Inc (2006) The Bible is an Empty Closet at http://www.ecinc.org/Scriptures/clbrpg.htm

 

Forward Together       (2006) A Step Too Far

 

Gagnon R.                   (2005) Why the Disagreement over the Biblical Witness on Homosexual Practice? in “Reformed Review” 59.1 (August 2005) and at http://www.westernsem.edu/wtseminary/assets/Gagnon2%20Aut05.pdf

 

Greene-McCreight K.G. (2000) The Logic of the Interpretation of Scripture and the Church’s Debate Over Sexual Ethics in “Homosexuality, Science and the ‘Plain Sense’ of Scripture”, David L. Balch (ed.), Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, Michigan

 

Holben, L. R.              (1999) What Christians Think About Homosexuality – Six Representative Viewpoints, Bibal Press: Texas

 

John, J.                        (2000) ‘Permanent, Faithful, Stable’ – Christian Same-Sex Partnerships, Darton, Longman and Todd: London (First published 1993)

 

Johnston J.P.N.           (2006) Stepping Forward: An Approach to Civil Partnerships, S.N. Productions

 

Loader W.L.               (2006) Determining Right And Wrong From Scripture, Considering The Options on http://www.onekirk.org/loader_rightwrong.html

Martin D.B.                 (1996) Arsenokoites and Malakos: Meanings and Consequences in “Biblical Ethics & Homosexuality”, R L Brawley (ed.), Westminster John Knox Press: Kentucky

 

Milbank J.                   (2006) Commentary on the Anglican Communion’s argument over homosexuality (Unpublished)

 

Moberly W.                 (2000) The Use of Scripture in Contemporary Debate about Homosexuality in “Theology” 105

 

Myers D.G. & Scanzoni L.D. (2005) What God Has Joined Together? A Christian Case for Gay Marriage, Harper Collins: San Francisco

 

Powell M.A.                (2003) The Bible And Homosexuality in “Faithful Conversations, Christian Perspectives on Homosexuality” (ed. James Childs), Fortress Press: Minneapolis

 

Richardson J.              (2003) What God has made clean… if we can eat prawns, why is gay sex wrong?, MPA Books/ The Good Book Company: Baulkam Hills, New South Wales, Australia.

 

Rogers E.F.                 (1999) Sexuality and the Christian Body, Blackwell Publishers: Oxford

 

Smedes L.                   (2006) Like the wideness of the sea at http://www.soulforce.org/article/638

 

Scroggs R.                   (1983) The New Testament and Homosexuality, Fortress Press: Philadelphia

 

Stott J.                         (2003) New Issues Facing Christians Today – Fully Revised Edition, Marshall Pickering: London

 

Vasey M.                     (1995) Strangers and friends – a new exploration of homosexuality and the Bible, Hodder & Stoughton:London

 


[1] This paper was prepared by Neil Glover as part of the work of the Glasgow Presbytery special committee which was formed to consider the General Assembly 2006 proposals for the marking of civil partnerships.  The purpose of this paper is to identify the background material that was used to prepare the “Biblical Issues” section of the special committee’s report.  Although there are slight differences in the areas covered by this background paper and the special committee’s report, the overlap between the two documents is substantial.  It should also be noted that this paper does not attempt to be a complete review of the (vast) literature available on this subject.  Significant contributions by Walter Wink, Stephen Moore, Richard Hays and Jack Rogers are not fully discussed here.  In addition, the author only became aware of “Truth And Love in a sexually disordered world” (ed. David Searle) shortly before completion.   Despite these inadequacies, it is hoped that this paper accurately reflects the current shape of the debate.  Note also that this paper refers to “marking” and “blessing” same-sex relationships interchangeably.  The meaning of these terms is subtly different, but does not significantly alter the substance of the debate.

[2] Though I suggest five approaches to the relationship between same-sex relationships and pastoral freedom, there are considerably more positions in the larger debate.  Holben 1999 outlines six views that Christians have held in relation to same-sex partnerships.  These are: abomination, change is expected (i.e. gay people are expected to become straight), celibacy is expected, tolerance, equality and liberation.  A summary of these is available at http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom6beli6.htm

[3] Effectively the position put forward by Forward Together 2006.  There is only one position mentioned here, because those arguing against the blessing of same-sex partnerships seem to adopt similar arguments, rather than because there are fewer advocating the first approach outlined here.  Those advocating the blessing of same-sex partnerships do so from a much greater variety of directions.

[4] The position argued by Johnstone 2006:8, and close to the position outlined by the convener of the Legal Questions Committee, Ann Inglis (Life & Work, October 2006, page 6-7).  A more recent position taken by Peter Johnstone’s (Life & Work, October 2006, page 7-8) is closer to approaches 3 and 4.

[5] The phrasing “Permanent, faithful, stable” is taken from Jeffrey John (see John 2000:1) who in turn takes it from the Anglican Gloucester Report of 1979.

[6] This position is broadly congruent with the Affirmation Scotland 2006.  Advocates of this position may argue that pastors should not be free to decline the invitation to bless a same-sex partnerships, however I am not aware of any of the major groups or voices in the Church of Scotland debate taking this position publicly.

[7] This condenses the four categories offered by Loader 2006.  The first understanding corresponds to Loader’s first two models (“These are the words of the Lord”, and “This is the word of the Lord.”) and the second understanding corresponds to Loader’s third model (“Is this the word of the Lord?”).  Proponents of both understandings would claim Loader’s fourth model: “Your word is a lamp for our feet , a light for our path.”

[8] Forward Together 2006: 5 outlines this interpretation of the Church of Scotland’s ordination vow referring to the Word of God being contained within the scriptures.  Many Borg 2006:46 describes the view that in scripture “every word is inspired by God and thus has the truth and authority of God standing behind it.” as plenary inspiration.  2 Timothy 3:16 would be the central text in arguing for this viewpoint.

[9] An example would be male circumcision which is instituted in Genesis 17:10 and abrogated in Galatians 5:2 (amongst many other places).

[10] Borg 2003:45 describes the Bible not as “God’s witness to God”, but as the witness of two historical communities to God, and thus is a “their witness to God.”  However, he still argues that this does not prevent the Bible being Christianity’s foundation document and the principle document in shaping Christian identity (Borg 2006:47).  Martin 1996:129-131 probably goes further than this in arguing that answers must be found in Christian discourse which “includes scripture and tradition but not in a foundational sense”.  The best course is in asking the question “What is the loving thing to do?”

[11] Milbank 2006:3 writes of “building upon the letter rather than the Spirit of Scripture.”  Beckett 2006 writes about the necessity of “selection and interpretation”.  Affirmation Scotland 2006 “remember with sorrow that the literal imitation of Biblical injunctions has caused mayhem in history”.

[12] On the idea that we must somehow move beyond the Bible, note Desmond Tutu’s “New Theologies have been espoused to reflect deeper insight and new thought” (cited by Jim Francis and Peter Johnston in Life & Work, October 2006, page 7).  George Newlands writes “Through the understanding of  scripture within the living tradition of Christian discipleship in community , we come to know  the unconditional, reconciling love of God in incarnation,  in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through Jesus Christ, and within the story of what comes before and after, faith grows and constantly seeks deeper understanding” (cited from personal correspondence).  Johnston 2006:2 notes “the Church has always maintained that Scripture is to be interpreted by the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the light of Jesus Christ who is himself the living Word of God.” – this too leaves room for insight beyond the scriptures.  One correspondent said he felt that those adopting this second approach to scripture tended to refer to scripture on “big” issues such as love and justice, but were less concerned about “small” issues such as chronology, cosmology and the ethical detail.  George Newlands writes “For Christian faith, the substantive content of big ideas like love, justice and righteousness is always referred  to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as the way, the truth and the life. Some Christians understand the gospel more inclusively, some more exclusively.”

[13] Wolfhart Pannenberg has said that “if a church were to let itself be pushed to the point where it ceased to treat homosexual activity as a departure from the biblical norm, and recognized homosexual unions as a personal partnership of love equivalent to marriage, such a church would stand no longer on biblical ground but against the unequivocal witness of Scripture.  A church that took this step would cease to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” (cited in Gilbert Meilander, “What Sex Is – And Is For”, First Things 102 (April 2000)  44.  Gagnon 2005:19-25 argues that blessing of same-sex partnerships constitutes a reversal of the traditional hierarchy of scripture – reason – experience, and therefore a critical reversal of Christian self-understanding.

[14] For example Affirmation Scotland 2006 write “Jesus made himself an outcast and died for the outcast – this was courageous hospitality.  We affirm that this is the essence of the Gospel.”  The implication of Affirmation Scotland’s theological position (although not explicitly stated) is that failure to permit the blessing of same-sex partnerships would breach the essence of the Gospel.  Eugene Rogers Jr. 1999:28-66 suggests (based on an analogy with the Jew-Gentile debate of the early Church) that straight Christians who do not affirm same-sex relationships are endangering their own salvation

[16] An example of this would be Milbank 2006 who says “I actually think the conservatives are more or less right about the Bible” but still advocates the blessing of same-sex partnerships.  George Newlands writes “I don’t see much point in ministers throwing biblical texts at one another over this” (public statement issued prior to the 2006 General Assembly).

[17] Gagnon 2005:46-50 argues for the inclusion of Genesis 19 in the debate, but even here the discussion does not sit at the centre of his argument.

[18] What Stott 2003:392 refers to as an essential “complementarity”.  Gagnon 2005:47 writes “The image of one flesh becoming two sexes grounds the principles of two sexes becoming one flesh.  The only way to restore the original sexual unity is to reunite (not just unite) the primordial constituent parts, man and woman.”  Gagnon qualifies his position (in response to the accusation that his argument is prejudicial against singleness) by asserting that “male and female are two incomplete parts of a sexual whole is not the same as saying that all people must marry if they are to be whole persons.”, but if a person has sexual relations, these must be male-female to constituted a “two faceted sexual whole.” (Gagnon 2005:40)

[19] Clements 2002.  There seems to be a similar point in Powell 2003 (an article I have not read, only seen cited) that the union of Genesis 2:24 is not so much a re-assumption of a primal one-ness (as in Genesis 1:27) but a resolution to the problem of being alone (Genesis 2:18)

[20] Also note that Jesus pairs Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24 in Matthew 19:4-5.

[21] I am grateful to Peter White for his investigation of this topic.

[22] Evangelicals Concerned 2006

[23] Clements 2002 points out that the correct translation of Galatians 3:28 is “no longer male and female” and that this text implies that “the creation order in regard to heterosexual pair-bonding has been radically relativised by the kingdom of God.”

[24] Clements 2002

[25] Clements 2002 shows some sympathy to this argument.  The strongest statement of this position I have encountered comes from Smedes 2006. Smedes concedes that many gay people may feel devalued by his implication that “their way of life is not how the Creator originally intended his sexual children to live out their sexuality.” but (citing his own experience of adoption) that “God blesses us when we improvise on nature’s lapses.”  This is close to a position described by Powell 2003:35 – same-sex relationships are “intrinsically unnatural but not intrinsically sinful”.  Others suggest that in the issue of remarriage and divorce, scripture already exhibits some pragmatism.  There is no such pragmatism evident in the issue of same-sex relationships.

[26] There is another argument that this text presupposes temple prostitution, as Deuteronomy 23:17-18 certainly does.  I have not been able to find this argument in the literature I have consulted, however one quote suggested it may be present in “Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality” (Jack Rogers, 2006, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville), a book I have not yet been able to consult.  This argument though does seem a difficult one, since the language of Leviticus is absolute and universal.

[27] As in Johnston 2006:5 and Brueggemann 1997:194 sees the Levitical command against same-sex practice as belonging to the trajectory of holiness in the Old Testament Law, and as such has been set aside by the teaching of Jesus (who preserves the social-justice trajectory of the law, but abrogates the holiness trajectory).

[28] Johnston 2006:5 emphasises the importance of the holiness in policing the ethnic boundary of the Jewish ethnie.  Some of the writing on this subject betrays some ignorance of the way that cultural anthropologists write about the policing of ethnic boundaries.  Barth 1969 (now a dated, but still foundational treatise) writes of the difference between visible boundary markers (e.g. circumcision, dietary codes) and internal standards of excellence.  These standards are held not solely for the purpose of policing the boundary, but because they reflect some deeper truth.  It is my view that the Levitical codes concerning sexual conduct fit this latter category, rather than belonging to the category of external boundary markers.

[29] Vasey 1995:127.  For a full and nuanced discussion of the Church’s relationship with the Old Testament law, see Richardson 2003.

[30] John 200:12 writes “Next you see a clean-shave fundamentalist wearing a poly-cotton shirt and eating a shrimp remember to shout ‘Abomination’”

[31] Moberly 2000:255

[32] Such as Leviticus 25 which provided much of the basis for Church’s Jubilee 2000 campaign.  Moberly 2000:255-256 points to incest as a particularly important case.  Certainly Paul (who fought harder than most against the application of the Jewish law in Gentile Churches) still felt that the injunction of Leviticus 18:8 was binding on the Church (1 Corinthians 5:1).  John 2000:12 argues that we arrive at these laws without need of Leviticus, “Of themselves, the Levitical rules are never regarded as having moral force for Christians.”

[33] Gagnon 2005:51-54 includes that Leviticus 20:13 includes same-sex relationships are included in the “first rank” of Levitical crime, and the use of the word to‘evah is used as a general plural in Leviticus 18:26, 27, 28, 29 30, but only specifically (and in the singular) in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.  The word is not applied to any other Levitical injunction (thus separating same-sex relationships from the category of shrimp eating and beard trimming, contra John 2000:12).

[34] These texts do not just say “A man should not lie with a man”, but “A man should not lie with a man as with a woman”, Gagnon 2005:52-53 takes this as a reference to a “creation/nature” model of sexual relationships.

[35] Myers & Scanzoni 2005:103

[36] Gagnon 2005:59-60

[37] Jesus’ joining of Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 being particularly significant.  Gagnon 2005:57-59 cites 9 other reasons for assuming Jesus’ opposition to same-sex relationships: his use of the term porneia (which, Gagnon argues, was used as an umbrella term for all sexual practice prohibited in Leviticus), quoting the adultery commandment (also an umbrella term for all sexual practice prohibited in Leviticus), his singling out of Sodom, Jesus’ view of the law of Moses, Jesus general approach to sexual ethics (which went beyond the restrictions of Mosaic law), Jesus and John the Baptist (who took a strong stand against an incestuous relationship), the univocal stance of early Judaism, and the univocal stance of the early Church.  Christine Goldie suggests that Jesus uses this Genesis framework in the context of an argument about divorce, and that due to the rhetorical context and the specific question about divorce we cannot say that the amalgam of Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 represents the totality of Jesus’ viewpoint on all sexual relationships.

[38] For example in the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 7:53-8:11

[39] For example the Affirmation Scotland 2006 statement which states “central to the gospel are generosity and hospitality.  Christian hospitality is hospitality to the stranger.”, Vasey 1995:249-250 ends his book by an appeal to Jesus identification with the outcast.  George Newlands writes that “Desmond Tutu once said  that we are made to tell the world that there are no outsiders. This issue is a litmus test of the church’s future: to be open and generous or to retreat into a corner.”  For many, the interpretation of the texts in Romans and Leviticus is of considerably less importance than following Jesus’ example in establishing a community of unconditional hospitality.

[40] I cannot find this stated explicitly, however it seems that most who advocate a community of unconditional welcome to the marginalised do not have in mind any condition of celibacy for gay and lesbian people.  Such an approach would not be devoid of moral seriousness: George Newlands writes “A Christian understanding of sexuality rules out any sort of coercion or manipulation”.  However, for him, any approach which extends a welcome to gay and lesbian people but demands their celibacy (“Nowadays all claim to be compassionate, to love the sinner,”) is in effect “anti-gay” and has caused “caused damage and hurt to countless people in Scotland”.

[41] This interpretation goes back to at least the seventeenth century (Vasey 1995:131).  Bailey’s distinction between an invert (a gay or lesbian person who remains true to that identity) and a pervert (a straight person experimenting with homoeroticism) was influential in later literature (Bailey 1955:xi, 37-40, 168ff)

[42] E.g. John 2000:15, and Johston 2006:7-8

[43] Johnston 2006:7-8 argues that the key word here is “exchanged”, that this text is about those who have exchanged their innate heterosexuality rather than those who regard themselves as lesbian or gay.  Scroggs 1983:115 suggests that this is text about pederastry.

[44] Scroggs 1983:115 (and many others since) suggests that this is text about pederastry.  Gagnon 2005:70 argues that words like “exchange” and “leaving behind” do not suggest a context of coercion or exploitation.

[45] The linkage of these Genesis passages is made by Jesus in Mark 10:6, the Greek in Mark 10:6 and Romans 1:26-27 as well as the LXX(Greek) translation of Genesis 1:26-27 is similar.  Dunn 1988:53 notes that that Romans 1:18ff is freighted with Genesis vocabulary.

[46] See Vasey 1995:133 for a discussion of the hermeneutics here.  I have not yet had access to “Can hermeneutics ease the deadlock?” by Anthony Thiselton (in Timothy Bradshaw (ed.), 1997, The Way Forward: Christian Voices on Homosexuality and the Church) which may well be helpful.  Certainly the Church has not always understood Paul’s conception of “nature” as universally binding.  He uses the same word in 1 Corinthians 11:14, a passage which is generally regarded as being particular to its context.

[47] As John 2002:13-15.  Vasey 1995:132 writes “the gay movement has its origin as a defence of certain humane perspectives inherent in the created order  that are under threat in wider society… Those who wish to locate contemporary forms of homosexuality within St Paul’s argument face the challenge of demonstrating its outworking both in the culture and in the individual life stories of gay people.”

[48] E.g. Vasey 1995:130.

[49] Gagnon 2005:65 states “The standard used by Paul for assessing homosexual behavior was not just how well or badly it was done in his own cultural context but whether it conformed to God’s will in creation for male-female pairing”.  Also relevant here is that the word translated shameless (aschemosumen) is a word common to the Greek translation of Leviticus (e.g. Leviticus 18:6 where it is often translated “nakedness”).  The Leviticus prohibitions are not contextual but absolute, says the argument, and so too is Paul’s.

[50] This included notions that men were dry and women were wet.  Martin 1996:123-124 notes applications including those who liked soft clothing, rich food and associations with laziness, tenderness and studiousness.  Its meaning is more general than the occasionally cited “one who takes the feminine role in sex.”

[51] Martin 1996 notes that the word arsenokoites often appears in an economic context, and therefore “pimping” is as good a possibility as any other.

[52] See Gagnon 2005:72

[53] A framework which Jesus worked from in Mark 10:6.

[54] Many biblical scholars who advocate the Church’s blessing of same-sex relationships take an approach which might be “we need to move on from Paul.” (e.g. Martin 1996, Compton 2003).  Gagnon 2005:64 asserts that arguments suggesting Paul was unaware of homosexual orientation have been abandoned by many scholars, and that many scholars advocating the blessing of same-sex partnerships now hold a misogyny argument, that Paul’s horror at same-sex practice was his understanding that this involved a (dominant) male adopting the role of a (subordinate) female.  He states “The misogyny position has not yet fully seeped into Church debates.”  Compton 2003:114 (a pro-same-sex relationships scholar notes “The idea that homosexuals might be redeemed by mutual devotion would have been wholly foreign to Paul, or any other Jew or early Christian”

[55] Kathryn Greene-McCreight, 2000:245

[56] From Smedes 2006

[57] From Atkinson 2006

Civil Partnerships Summary

Different Interpretations of the Biblical Texts

The first discussion concerns the interpretation of particular Biblical texts.

 

Overall argument: The Bible prohibits all same-sex relationships

Overall argument: The Bible says nothing about committed same-sex relationships

Genesis 2:24 (alongside Genesis 1:27) identifies male-female complementarity as an essential component of sexual relationships

Genesis 2:24 (alongside Genesis 2:18) only identifies intimacy and permanence as an essential component of sexual relationships

Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 belong to Old Testament moral law and remain binding on the Church

Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 belong to Old Testament purity law and are no longer binding on the Church

Romans 1:26 – 27 refers to all same-sex relationships.  It suggests that same-sex relationships violate the pattern established in Genesis 2:24.

Romans 1:26 – 27 refers to straight men and women having sex with someone of the same gender.  This passage is about heterosexual people abandoning their innate sexuality.  It does not refer to lesbian and gay men and women.

The prohibitions in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10 preclude all same-sex behaviour.  The unusual Greek vocabulary is a reference to the language used in the Greek version of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.

The prohibitions in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10 used to condemn same-sex relations employ unusual Greek vocabulary.  The meaning of this has become obscure and arcane and condemnation on the basis of these prohibitions no longer valid.

 

This leads to arguments about pastoral freedom and scriptural interpretation

The arguments in the left-hand column (above) are overwhelming.  The Bible teaches unequivocally that all same-sex relationships are sinful, therefore these cannot be blessed by the Church.

Or

The Biblical injunctions against same-sex relationships are so severe that the burden of proof rests with those making the arguments on the right.  These arguments are not proven, therefore the blessing of same-sex partnerships should not be permitted.

The arguments in the right-hand column (above) are overwhelming.  Since the scripture is silent on committed same-sex relationships, their blessing should be a matter of pastoral conscience.

Or

It is impossible to adjudicate between the arguments in the left and right hand columns.  Where two valid scriptural interpretations exist, freedom of conscience should be permitted.

 

The Example Of Jesus

Jesus never departed from the Old Testament’s teaching on sexual relationships, and frequently reaffirmed it.  He never mentioned same-sex relationships because he saw no need to depart from first century Jewish thinking in this regard.

 

Jesus adopted a Genesis framework when addressing sexual relationships (Mark 10:6-9; Matthew 19:4-6).  Such a framework only allows for male-female sexual relationships.

 

In addition, Jesus’ indication that Sodom would not enjoy judgement day chimed with contemporary Jewish writing which viewed the crime of Sodom to include homoerotic relations alongside lack of hospitality and violence.

 

Jesus’ new community was one where the marginalised sensed deep belonging, but Jesus still spoke clearly against sinful sexual relationships (e.g. the story of the woman caught in adultery).

 

The Church can only follow Jesus example if it offers Jesus welcome to the marginalised whilst reaffirming Jesus’ strongly held conviction that sexual relationships be only between male and female.

Jesus never mentioned same-sex relationships, and their condemnation cannot be regarded as central to the gospel.

 

 

 

 

When Jesus drew on a Genesis framework (e.g. in Mark 10:6 or Matthew 19:4-6) he was either responding to his enemies’ questions about divorce (where reference to common ground was a rhetorical strategy) or addressing only the issue of adultery.  These two particular contexts do not allow us to assume that a Genesis framework represented the totality of Jesus’ view on all sexual relationships.

 

 

In addition, Jesus’ unconditional identification with the marginalised, offers a model for the Church’s own affirmation of gay and lesbian men and women.

 

The Church’s expression of love towards gay and lesbian people is meaningless, if the Church should also demand they remain celibate.

 

The Church can only follow Jesus’ example if it affirms gay and lesbian people and also the loving relationships they belong to.

 

Pastoral Concession And The Analogy Of Divorce

There is an argument about pastoral concession (note that many people who advocate the blessing of same-sex partnerships would not use this argument, since it suggests that lesbian and gay relationships are less ideal than their straight counterparts)

Genesis 2:24 sets out the inviolable pattern for all human sexual relationships.

The texts in Leviticus 18:22, 20:13 and Romans 1:26-27 are further condemnation of any violation of the different-sex nature of this pattern.

 

Unlike the issue of divorce and remarriage, there are no texts which make any concessions regarding this issue

 

A more fitting analogy is with the scriptural position on incest, where the Church would advocate the dissolution of any such relationship.

 

Genesis 2:24 sets out an ideal, but for pastoral reasons, the Church must make pragmatic concessions for the wellbeing of its members

 

 

 

There is an analogy with the remarriage of divorced people.  This was prohibited by Jesus, but permitted (as a concession) in the law of Moses, and is permitted within the Church.

 

The Authority Of The Bible

Fourthly, there is an argument about the authority of the Bible.

All scripture is authoritative and binding.  There are no grounds for setting aside scripture on account of the testimony of those in same-sex relationships.

 

The comparison with slavery and the role of women does not fit, because in those debates there were scriptures which explicitly argued against the old orthodoxy.

 

The Church cannot bless what the Bible condemns.

Many same-sex relationships are evidently good.  As in previous debates over slavery and the role of women, some Biblical texts must be set aside to be true to the essence of the gospel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Church cannot refuse to bless what the gospel celebrates.

Jesus and the Bible

 

For some, their opposition to same-sex relationships seems to be stem from a visceral reaction to homoeroticism; however the bulk of evangelical consternation in this seems to stem from the place that any celebration of same-sex relationships would give to the Bible.

 

The evangelical anxiety over any departure from the traditional position on same-sex relationships is that this would reverses the classic prioritisation of scripture, tradition and experience; placing the latter as most important, rather than the first.

 

So the questions we must address, before asking about the goodness of same-sex relationships, are “How did Jesus read the Bible?”  “How much did he trust it?” “What modes of interpretation did he employ?”

 

To allow us to frame the answer to this question within the current debate, I want to note four Biblically-sympathetic approaches that have been employed.  There has also been a non-sympathetic approach which might be described as “Rejectionist” –the Bible is antiquated and anachronistic, “as it was with women, as it was with slavery, so it is with same-sex relationships.”

 

The four sympathetic approaches might be described as:

  1. Completist and Traditionalist
  2. Completist and Revisionist
  3. Essentialist and Revisionist
  4. Essentialist and Traditionalist

 

Completist Traditionalist

Any Biblical condemnation of same-sex relationships (Leviticus 18:22 or Romans 1:26-27) is sufficient to maintain a traditionalist stance.  No further discussion is necessary.

Completist Revisionist

This approach does not dispute the authority of scripture, but argues that certain passages (Leviticus 18:22 and Romans 1:26-27) do not apply to loving same-sex relationships.  Neutralising the problem texts legitimises a new ethic.

Essentialist Revisionist

The essentialist here will look to a passage like Matthew 9:9-13 (“the friend of sinners”) or Galatians 3:28 (“no longer male nor female”) and allow these passages to operate as a hermeneutical trump card, to erase all discordant voices (Leviticus does not stand much of  a chance in this, with the exception of course of Leviticus 19:18).  Having claimed one verse as containing the “essence” of scripture, it is not a big move to adopt a revisionist position with respect to same-sex relationships.

Essentialist Traditionalist

The essentialists here normally look to the Genesis ethic for relationships; and detect a vision for sexuality which demands both permanence and difference.  This approach is seen in the writings of Robert Gagnon, Richard Hays, and John Stott.

 

 

 

In this paper I want to argue that away from the question of same-sex relationships (which, contrary to popular myth, Jesus probably did allude to), Jesus was often an “Essentialist Revisionist” but in one area, which comes close to the issue under discussion today is closer to being an “Essentialist Traditionalist”.

Jesus Use Of The Bible

Throughout the gospels, Jesus quotes his Bible (i.e. the Old Testament) on 51 occasions.[1] This ranges from 39 times in Matthew to 4 times in John.

 

The citation count for Old Testament books is:

Book

Citations

Deuteronomy

12

Psalms

11

Exodus

8

Isaiah

8

Leviticus

5

Genesis

4

Hosea

3

Daniel

2

Jonah

2

Numbers

2

1 Kings

1

Micah

1

Zechariah

1

 

The vast majority of the quotations are from the Torah (31).  11 are from the Writings (all from the Psalms) and the remainder from the Prophets[2] (20 in total, 8 from Isaiah).

 

What is striking about these quotations is that Jesus nearly always takes a meaning which is non-obvious and profound.  Exodus 3:5 (“the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”) points to the resurrection of the dead (quoting Daniel 12:2 might have been easier), Jezebel’s seemingly futile curse made demands on the life of John the Baptist (Mark 9:13 can only be a reference to 1 Kings 19:2).  When arguing against the devil (Matthew 4:4,7,10; Luke 4:4,8,12), the Sabbatarians (Numbers 12:8 quoted in Matthew 12:5) or the manual hygienists (Mark 7:1-23) Jesus is always uncovering some essence, a truth that lies at the heart of the text.

 

When Jesus mocks his critics with the biting “Have you never read in the scriptures?” (Mark 12:10) he is not gently enquiring if they might have skipped over Psalm 118 in their journey through the Psalter nor is he questioning the coverage of their Bible reading plans  Rather Jesus is demanding that “reading” be about something more than literacy, it must be about profound interpretation.  Psalm 118 is about something more profound than civil engineering.  Someone who truly “reads” the scripture will know this.

 

On Easter evening, Jesus “opens his disciples’ minds” to understand the scriptures, he not only shows that the Messiah must suffer (Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 were doubtlessly quoted) but that it was also written that the Messiah would rise from the dead on the third day.  Where in the scriptures was this third day taken from?  The only possible candidate is Jonah 1:17 (as alluded to, not in Luke –although 11:29-32 comes close – but in Matthew 12:40).  When we first read of Jonah’s submarine incarceration, who had thought that this was about the gap between Good Friday and Easter Sunday?  Only one it would seem, the one whose reading of the scriptures went as deep as the whale.

Trust Of The Scriptures

Jesus can only let the scriptures bear such profound interpretation if he believes them to be utterly trustworthy.  We only allow the profound to be discovered in the best of texts:  one is more likely to subject the language of Shakespeare to literary critique than the disposable prose of the Daily Record; the intertextual resonances of a Ken Loach film are taken more seriously than those in the latest episode of Emmerdale.  We go deep with the texts we trust.

 

Jesus’ trust of the scriptures is evidenced in the repeated formulation that certain things must happen in accordance with the scriptures, or that events must happen “as it is written” (e.g. Mark 9:12, 14:49; Luke 18:31, 21:22; 24:27).  Jesus never argues for the authority of scriptures, he simply assumes it; furthermore for Jesus the scriptures not only reveal reality, but they also shape it.  Upon this, he stakes his life.

 

The Essentials

Despite Jesus’ trust in the authority of all scripture, he remains an essentialist.  Some scriptures seem shape the interpretation of others.  This placed Jesus within the school of thought sketched out by one of Israel’s great rabbi’s, Rabbi Hillel (Hillel lived from 60BCE – 20CE, a contemporary of Jesus for over two decades)

 

One famous story illustrates Hillel’s essentialism:

 

The Talmud (Shabbos 31a) records a famous incident involving the Sages Hillel and Shammai. A gentile approached Shammai and made the following request: “Convert me to Judaism on the condition that you teach me the entire Torah while I am standing on one leg.” Shammai did not approve of this request and chased the man away. The gentile then approached Hillel with the same request. Hillel responded that he would do so, and encapsulated the Torah into one statement: What is hateful to you do not do to your friend.”

(From Rabbi Jehuda Prero)

 

What was it that enabled Jesus to allow certain parts of the scripture to shape the interpretation of, and even supersede others.  I want to suggest that this was because Jesus knew what the “difficult bits” were there for.

Jesus Ethics – The Inside And The Outside

The great anthropologist, Fredrik Barth, once divided the laws and customs of an ethnic group (or an ethnie) into two kinds: rules and laws which are used to police the boundary of group belonging; and laws which embody that which the ethnie holds as good.

 

Laws which police the boundary of the group are those which mark the separation from other groups (tribal markings, circumcision, laws about who can be eaten with and who can be married).  Other laws concern the embodiment of what is good – laws about property, neihbourliness, finance, inheritance and agricultural management.

 

When Jesus said:

18And he said to them, “Then(A) are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19since it enters not his heart(B) but his stomach, and is expelled?”[a] ((C) Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20And he said, (D) “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft,(E) murder, adultery, 22coveting, wickedness, deceit,(F) sensuality,(G) envy,(H) slander,(I) pride,(J) foolishness. 23(K) All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
Mark 7:18-23

What Jesus seems to be doing here is saying that the parts of the law which are about essential goodness still apply.  The ritual laws are somehow superseded and dealt with in Jesus, he, rather than Torah, will mark the boundary of God’s people.

 

In other words, the ritual parts of the Old Testament mark a boundary that doesn’t need to be policed any more.  Jesus knew what the “difficult bits” were there for.

Not A Jot Nor Tittle

It is possible to view Jesus’ ethics as simply going through the 613 commandments and putting a tick next to the ones which still applied.  This is difficult to square with his assertion that every jot and tittle of the law still stood (Matthew 5:18).

 

However Jesus also said that this law was to be fulfilled – he knew what it was there for.  This allowed him to sketch out a new vision for life, which functioned differently from the law.  Because the law was fulfilled, something new could be given.

 

The sermon on the Mount was something more than Leviticus 2.0; the law updated for a new generation; rather it was about being good in from a new starting point.  Being good began with being blessed.  The Sermon on the Mount isn’t so much “Here are the new requirements for God to like you”, rather than “Here is the kind of life lived by those who are blessed.”

 

Jesus Ethics – Mercy Not Sacrifice

There are two occasions in Matthew when Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6 “I desire mercy not sacrifice”.

 

In the second of these, Jesus seems to be using Hosea to choose between seemingly competing Old Testament instructions.  This is the incident where the disciples (but notably not Jesus himself) have been plucking grain on the Sabbath.  Some passages suggest their condemnation (e.g. the Manna story of Exodus 16) whilst other passages tilt towards leniency (admittedly these are more obscure -the incident of David taking the bread in 1 Samuel 21:1-6; the right of priests to eat bread on the Sabbath – Numbers 28:9-10).  The “Mercy not sacrifice” principle leads to selection of the more lenient passages.

 

When law competes with law, Jesus asks which law leans towards mercy.  This principle can be seen at work in all of Jesus Sabbath controversies.

 

The first “mercy not sacrifice” incident is different, however.  This is Jesus’ eating with tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 9:9-13).  It is not easy to find Old Testament verses that would get sinners into the company of Jesus; but even without the equivalent of a David-ate-forbidden-bread story (Moses ate with Pharaoh?) Jesus still tends towards mercy.  What is significant though is he still refers to his table-mates as “sinners”, he doesn’t use mercy to redefine sin, he uses it to redefine hospitality.

Jesus And The Beginning

It is often noted that Jesus sided with Rabbi Hillel in every issue, but the one exception was with an issue which comes analogously close to the vexed issue under discussion today.[3]

 

When Jesus was questioned about divorce, for once he advocated Shammai at the expense of Hillel:  divorce was not to be allowed (with one exception).

 

Had Jesus made this one-off alliance with the Shammai’s teaching because on this issue he had suddenly become a conservative literalist?  No, Jesus gives his own reasons.  Moses had allowed divorce but “from the beginning it was not so” (Matthew 19:18).  Jesus finds another essence that pre-dates the commandments – he looks to Genesis.

 

In questions of ethics, Jesus defers to the beginning.  Eden trumps Sinai.  Sinai wasn’t the purest vision, it contains compromise; Torah is more than Mitzvoth: it doesn’t begin at Exodus chapter 20.

 

Here Jesus’ “difficult bit” was the part that allowed divorce (most of us would find the prohibition more problematic).  However, because he knew it an accommodation to hardened hearts (he knew what it was there for), he could espouse the ethics of creation, rather than those of Moses (notice here that Jesus does not say “the scripture allowed this” but “Moses allowed this” – he seems to be allowing some distance between “the scripture” and “the words of the scripture”).

 

A moment of pragmatism

Having noted Jesus’ uncompromising position with regard to divorce, it is curious to investigate what happened on the one occasion we know of when it is highly likely that Jesus met a divorcee.[4]

 

When Jesus engages in theological discussion with the Samaritan-well woman (whom I prefer to liken to Pat Butcher, rather than the elfin figurine of the Good News Bible) the divorces and unsolemnised cohabitation are named (if Jesus’ revelation in John 4:18 had been about mere clairvoyance he could have told the woman when her birthday was) but it is not an impediment to call.

 

If we want to espouse Jesus approach to the scriptures, we must not only interpret the way he interpreted, but also apply in the way that he applied.

Some possible conclusions

  1. Jesus demanded a reading of the scriptures which was deep, and not always obvious
  2. Jesus had great trust in the scriptures
  3. He could deal with the tricky bits because he knew what they were there for.
  4. Jesus occasionally viewed the creation stories as containing the purest ethic, with the Mosaic law being accommodation
  5. Mercy is more important than sacrifice
  6. Jesus’ first demand was commitment, the ethical demands may have followed later.
  7. Jesus was a traditional essentialist.

Questions

  1. What would Jesus have said about the Canaanite conquest narratives (which are never alluded to)?
  2. When would Jesus have spoken to the Samaritan woman about her living arrangements?
  3. How did Jesus manage not to lose his dinner guests whilst calling them “sinners”?”
  4. What more do we learn from the other occasions where Jesus alludes to the Old Testament (e.g. the reference to Namaan’s leprosy in Luke 4:27; the refusal to stone the woman caught in adultery John 7:53-8:11; “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life?” John 5:39)

 


[1] This approach is limited because it doesn’t include the occasions where Jesus is alluding without quoting.

[2] Here I am adopting the Jewish definition of “Prophets” which includes historical writing like 1 Kings.

[3] Gagnon, failing to pull any exegetical punches, claims that incest is the more fitting analogy.

[4] It is possible that the five husbands had all died, but this undermines the crescendo of “and the one you are with now is not your husband.”  Note also the woman does not say “He told me all that has ever happened to me.”(which she would have said if the men had died)  but “He told me all I ever did.” (John 4:39)

Discerning Christ

Richard ColesFrom former Communard, and present-day sit-com consultant, game-show panellist and vicar, Richard Coles:

If the dean of St Albans has got it tough, spare a thought for the archbishop of Canterbury. Rowan Williams, Anglicanism‘s greatest asset in his efforts to hold the Communion together, is left looking like a liability. I cannot think of another archbishop who has so obviously shouldered his cross, but I wonder if, in the long run, that kind of sacrifice might be the only way to turn darkness into light.  For this one is not going away and, when the present hoo-ha has died down, we are faced with the ineluctable necessity of hard theological and pastoral graft; first, to get some clarity about the moral status of homosexuality, and, second, to find ever more creative and imaginative ways of discerning the likeness of Christ in our ugly mugs.

Picking the wrong fight

Tradionalists may continue to protest that Jeffrey John lives with his partner, that he is vulnerable to tempation.  However, after many years of living like this, surely Jeffrey John is a better judge of the situation than outsiders. If Jeffrey John thinks that this is the most whole way to live, if this is better than the loneliness and lack of companionship to which much conservative teaching condemns gay people, then he deserves support.  He holds a beacon to the possibility of another way to live.  His stance in this tortured debate has cost him much more than it has costs most of us.  We have little right to start throwing stones.

The statement by Anglican pressure group Reform (I note that the Scottish pressure groups have so far stayed silent) mentions nothing of Jeffrey John’s lifestyle, but simply opposes his appointment on the grounds of his teaching.  Which then begs the question “why oppose this bishop on the grounds of doctrine and not others?”  This leaves evangelicals open to the charge (again!) of having double standards.

And finally, there is the impression once again that evangelicals will fight dirty when it suits them.  This story has broken because of the leaking of confidential information, something that evangelicals should have nothing to do with.  Or if they do, leakers should themselves come out the closet and admit what they did was on the grounds of conscience.  You can’t leak as an act of holy war, and then hide to keep your job; we must fight our battles with different weapons.

Rowan Williams Argues With His Younger Self

Williams: I can see why she says that.  And none of this is about her capabilities as a human being, as a person, not at all.  It is though about the fact that right throughout the Church’s history and throughout most of the Church today, the way you decide to live your life, the relationships you are part of, are part of your ministry, are part of what you bring to it.  If someone is living in an active sexual partnership that the Church, that the Church overall, doesn’t bless or sanction, that just does pose a problem.  And that’s not in any way to diminish the enormous pastoral contributions that many people make who are lesbian and gay.  It’s just there’s an issue, because the Church has historically said ‘this is not an acceptable form of life for someone in leadership.’

Now, that’s the difficulty.  That’s what we’re all wrestling with.

Mayo: What would the Rowan Williams of twenty years ago made of that answer, do you think?

Williams: The Rowan Williams of twenty years ago would I guess have said, “Well Archbishops talk waffle, in generalities and seem to have more interest in keeping the show on the road than firm principle.”  And I think the Rowan Williams of twenty years ago would have been saying what he said because he didn’t know what it was like to have these particular responsibilities of trying to keep the conversation going and trying to keep relationships alive in our Anglican family for the sake not just of peace and quiet, because that’s not what we ever get, but for the sake of the really constructive, transforming even, relationships that can exist between Churches in different parts of the world.

And the fact is that the Anglican Communion, the worldwide family of Churches related to the Church of England, is able to provide support and assistance to Churches under pressure in Pakistan or Burundi or Sudan.  It’s able to exchange experience and wisdom between the United States, Kenya and South India.  And that flow of life, that flow of exchange is no small thing.  And I want to keep that alive.

Love and Sex

The sex theme has two ideas behind it – permanence and difference.

The idea is that you when two become one, God joins.  And what God joins shouldn’t be seperated.  That’s the permanence part. 

The second idea is that sex represents the maleness and femaleness of God (Genesis 1:27, and something that Jesus alludes to in Matthew 19).  That’s the difference idea.

The reason that Paul gets so bothered about same-sex in Romans 1 is that it no longer points to God.  It doesn’t have enough difference.

The end of Romans 1 is about people no longer pointing to God.  They no longer worship the creator, but the creation.  We distort our relationship with creation, so it somehow becomes god.  That’s the problem in Romans 1 – people are having sex that doesn’t point to God.  

Most of the time the love theme and the sex theme are in harmony with each other.  This is no surprise.  They have the same composer.

But what happens when they pull in opposite directions?

That’s what this whole discussion is about.

The first answer is that love always wins.  It’s the theme that trumps all other themes.   So when a relationship has broken down, when people are harming each other by being together, then the love theme says “split”.  The sex theme says “let no man cast asunder”.  But the love theme wins, because it’s the bigger theme.

There’s an American writer called Lehmann who says that rules are like buoys that mark out the swimming area off a beach.  You would be a fool to swim outside the area – it’s unsafe, there are currents that we don’t understand, and we could drown.  It’s the same way with rules.  Don’t swm outside the buoys.

But sometimes you have to go outside the buoys.  Sometimes there might be a shark that has broken into the swimming area, or a slick of oil.  Then you swim out the buoys, but you only do it when existence has become so disordered, when what once was safe has become poison, only in dangerous places do you swim outside the buoys.

Divorce is a bit like that.  Sometimes you have to swim outside the permanence buoys.  You do it, because the love theme is played with louder notes.  Sometimes the demand for permanence has to make way to love (love being the opposite of harm).

The Bible seems to go along with that.  That’s why divorce is almost always spoken against, but very occasionally, in odd circumstances, when there is a shark in the water (in Matthew 19 the shark is called “sexual immorality”), it is allowed.

The Bible might yield on the permanence part of the sex theme.  It yields very reluctantly and very occasionally.  Jesus’ strong words on divorce suggest that for him, the themes of love and sex were not often in conflict.

But the Bible  never yields on the question of difference.

All the texts – Genesis, Leviticus, Romans, Jude, Matthew, 1 Corinthians, 1 Timothy.  They all point the same way.  They are all somehow about the difference theme.  And they always say the same thing.  The difference thing stays.  Sex must always point to God.  It needs to be male and female, because God is male and female.

But what about the love theme.  Why did the Bible never let the love theme play louder than the difference theme.  It did with permanence.  Why not with difference?

The first possible answer is that the Bible never knew that love and difference could pull apart.  The Bible didn’t know what we now know: that same-sex could also be love.  The Bible only knew about pagan orgies.  It had never seen Tom Hanks in Philadelphia.

The second answer is that the Bible did know something like this.  It did know that gay men and women could make commitments to each other, but it still stayed firm.  It still insisted that the sex theme shouldn’t yield to the love theme. 

It couldn’t yield because love and sex were never were in fact pulling each other apart.   They are always in harmony.  Though a thing calls itself “love” and looks like love, perhaps it isn’t always love.  Our ears are not sensitive enough to all the notes.  Love is a bigger mystery than we can fathom.

We don’t always know best what love is.  Sometimes the folk inside the relationship have a better idea.  Sometimes they are blinded, and the folk outside spot something that folk inside can’t see or don’t want to know.

So what’s it like here, when lesbian and gay people talk about being in love?

Is it like two parents who were distraught when their 19 year old daughter got married, but twenty years down the line, eventually coming to see in their son-in-law what their daughter had always known, they gladly concede that they were wrong?

Or is it like a wedding where the couple make speeches and vows about love, but one or two discerning friends have been concerned by a flaw at the heart of the relationship, they hear love, but fear that something in future is going to unravel with painful consequences?

Which is it?

That’s what we need time to answer: to ask if we really have understood love. 

We need time to let the love theme and the sex theme run alongside each other.  To see if there is ever dissonance between them.  If there is dissonance then love must always win (as Smedes argues here).

We need to ask if celibacy is always the best option, or if sometimes the love theme demands that difference is not insisted upon.  Do we sometimes have to swim outside the buoys, or on this do we, like the texts of the Bible, always swim within them.  If the sex is same, can it really be love?

Do the grand Biblical themes of Love and Sex ever pull in opposite directions?

That, I think, is the question.

 

On Hearing Peter Jensen

 

The Archbishop of Sydney said the issue of human sexuality was “inextricably connected” with the issue of females being ministers -which the Church of Scotland supports, but the Archbishop does not- therefore I do not accept that such debates are dead and buried in the past.

 

The Archbishop said the faith, “which once and for all God has given to his people” (Jude v3) proved that the Bible was the complete and absolute truth within the boundary of Genesis to Revelation. However, such an understanding is rather strained as Jude was talking about “the faith” which God had once and for all “given” to his people through faith in Jesus; “It is finished!” ( John 19:30). Another problem with the Archbishop’s view is that it denies the role of the Holy Spirit who “reveals the truth about God, he will lead you into all the truth”-John 16:13 as one cannot be led by the Spirit of Truth if the truth has “once and for all” been revealed in Jude’s era, unless we are talking about the recognition of Jesus as the Messiah…

 

‘Some godless people have sneaked in among you and are saying, “God treats us much better than we deserve, and so it’s all right to be immoral.” They even deny that we must obey Jesus Christ as our only Master and Lord.’ (Jude v4)

 

‘Their [Sodom and Gomorrah] people became immoral and did all sorts of sexual sins” (Jude v7)

 

So how can we recognize a fake Christian? By their fruits, Matthew 7:17. I return to Jude, the “godless people” with “immoral ways” act: “For the sake of money“, “they take care only of themselves“, “They are like trees that bear no fruit“, “these people are always grumbling and blaming others…they boast about themselves and flatter others in order to get their own way”.

 

Yes, God created humans, ‘male and female he created them’ according to the Eden narrative. But by God’s grace some people are born without a penis or a vagina, some are born with both sets of genitals; some are born with a mind that does not suit their birth, others have deformed genitals; some have bodies that don’t match their chromosomes; others have chromosomes that aren’t XX or XY. Most of these people find a way of publicly identifying as male or female, but their bodies may in fact be more like the opposite gender, or anywhere in between. It’s not their fault they were born with these difficulties, and this is the only life they’ve got.  So if they fall in love with someone who loves them just as they are, how do we advise them?  We can’t just write it off as “an exception to the rule” – not if we really believe that gender, defined by biological sex, marks the difference between holy marriage and living in sin.  If we are to trust in the natural law argument (Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!) then it follows we must tell hermaphrodites et al to choose their identity according to their genitals, which is ridiculous as it requires God’s law to be arbitrary in nature if identity can be chosen (say, by an operation). Unless we’re going to start requiring women to wear head coverings (1 Cor. 11:3-13), we’re going to have to find a clear, consistent way of determining which passages in Scripture we’re still obligated to follow, and which ones we’re not.  And it has to be a standard that we can apply in every culture and in every context, not something that lets us reinterpret things every few years to suit our desires.

 

 Does anyone argue a person chooses who they find attractive?

 

 It cannot be denied that the vagina accommodates the penis, but does that mean use of the penis for anything other than penetrative intercourse is sinful? Is the missionary position the only godly sex, or does marriage allow love? That is the traditionalist position as I understand it ie based on “unnatural acts” from Romans 1.

 

 Shall we say some people are born morally disabled? Those are the ideas from Thomas Aquinas that form Roman Catholic doctrine, “[those with] deep seated homosexual tendencies…[suffer from an] inclination, which is objectively disordered…’. But, just because there are no recorded same-sex marriages in the Bible does not mean that same-sex relationships are evil in themselves. Indeed, one would not expect any same-sex relationships given the context of the historical reality during which the Bible was written since gays only felt able to publically express their love in Britain after the 1960s. In ancient Israel especially, marriage was as much about inheritance rights as anything, which resulted in such bizarre practices as levirate marriage (where men were required to take a dead brother’s wife and produce heirs for him – Deut. 25:5-6; Gen. 38:8) and God-ordained polygamy (Exodus 21:10-11; 2 Sam. 12:7-8). Even more shocking, a master could buy wives for his male slaves and then keep the wife and kids for himself after setting the slave free (Exodus 21:2-4),

 

 In the other Biblical references to perverse sexuality the offenders are described as: “fornicators, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites” (1 Corinthians 6:9)-that is arsenokoitai and malakoi; the active and passive male partners in sexual intercourse. These words are translated in the New American Catholic translation as “boy prostitutes,” and the New International Version reads “male prostitutes.” I don’t think that “prostitute” is the best word to use to describe these relationships, but it does at least convey the idea of a sexual relationship outside of marriage.

 

 Is Paul categorically condemning sexual acts between men because of the nature of those acts themselves irrespective of the context? Surely when Paul wrote of men and women exchanging ‘natural intercourse for unnatural’ (Romans 1:26-27) he had in mind the institutionalized forms of homosexuality known to him from the Gentile world of his own day. For example those men who either forcibly exploited their social inferiors or paid for sex. Paul does say homosexuality is “shameful” and “unnatural,” but he says the same thing (using the same Greek words) about men with long hair in 1 Corinthians 11:14, and we generally consider that to be cultural.  Is this a prohibition for all time, or is it a matter of context, like with the tax collectors? Indeed, Romans 1 is clear that the men and women criticized made a conscious choice to surrender their natural inclination and seek sexual gratification from the same sex. For example vv26-27 says “exchanged” and “giving up” and then such a rebellion leads to “consumed by their passions”. Verse 23 also says “exchanged” but this time the rebellion is the surrender of the glory of God for a man-made image. In both of these sections the rebellion begins with a conscious choice-giving up God & giving up marriage. I do not see how Romans 1:26-27 relates to people born with their mind and body not aligned. I’m sorry but I do not believe that people choose their sexual orientation (on the basis of Romans 1:26-27). I do however, believe people can choose to change their actions and that is the perversion Paul warns of. We must all be alert to every verse in the Bible- 2 Timothy 3:16- and that is why we should not be rooted in tradition but be open to the Spirit of Truth when analysing verses like Romans 1:26-27.

 

 In addition to male prostitution there was a lively trade in young boys, castrated prisoners of war, who were sold as sexual slaves. This is further suggested by 1 Timothy 1:9-10 where the condemnation of arsenokoitai is adjacent to the condemnation of slave traders. I think it’s clear that Paul’s war was against the contemporary “homosexual” behaviour that was exploitative and hedonistic in character. This is clearly of another fruit than the committed sexual love of many same-sex Christian couples today whose relationship is permanent, faithful and stable.

 

The men of Sodom were rapists overwhelmed by the desire for sexual gratification in Genesis 19: 4-9, where God destroys the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness. However, these men were an entire community and were married men. Their actions were gross because they were seeking to humiliate others by using sex; their “homosexual” nature was of secondary importance in the crime. The gay community nowadays is a tiny minority (evolutionary inevitability) and does not go around gang-raping their enemies. Judges 19 tells a very similar story about a town mob threatening to gang rape a male visitor in the city of Gibeah, though in that story they end up murdering his concubine instead.  Does this mean that in Bible times, the landscape was dotted with “gay cities” everywhere that loved to rape men?  Of course not.  A threat of gang rape should be interpreted as an act of humiliating violence like a gang rape in modern day prisons. Thus the sin in Genesis 19 is completely different to same-sex marriages.

 

Another of 6 controversial passages is Leviticus 18:22. However, the inclusion of, “as one does with a woman” makes it clear that Leviticus 18:22 is talking to heterosexual men whose natural desire is for women and thus defile their marriage by having sex with men- as in Genesis 19. Lev. 20:13 is similar. These quotations from Leviticus are from a 5th Century BC law code. We need to understand why these laws were needed and the nature of other “crimes” that are identified within Leviticus such as: not eating shellfish, pork, no meat and dairy in the same dish, not wearing clothing containing more than 1 fibre. Clearly these abhominations are not ones we would enforce today so we need to discern truth, as Christians have always read the Old Testament in the light of Christ. Also, we need to have a fuller understanding of the nature of sexual relations in the contemporary society. For example Deut. 22:28-29 the law clearly states:

 

“If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her, and tey are caught in the act, the man who lay with her shall give fifty shekels of silver to the young woman’s father, and she shall become his wife. Because he violated her he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives.”

 

Demonic? Clearly early Israelite law was based on radically different assumptions to ours, here that women are valued primarily as the property of their fathers. Further, a woman known to not be a virgin would have found it nigh on impossible to marry and bear children. This seems to be irreconcilable with Jesus’ reaction to the adulterous woman- “Go in peace, but sin no more.”

 

Again, “these people slander what they do not understand”, Jude v10. By now I imagine my analysis of the scriptures has upset a few in the evangelical camp. I apologise.

 

No one in the Biblical literalist camp applies every word literally in every context in 2009. Look at Romans 13 and tell me the Zimbabweans must submit to Mugabe. Romans 13, which condemns “sexual orgies”, also says:

 

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

 

Literally, Paul is saying that whatever other commandment there may be we will satisfy the demands of the law if we live with a truly loving spirit. Does it seem ironic to any one else that the anti-gay brigade seek to prevent love and marriage? Hebrews 10:1 says, “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming – not the realities themselves.”  Colossians 2:17 says, “These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.”

 

This helps explain why God seems to change His mind so much in the Bible.  Just compare Deut. 23:1-3 to Isaiah 56:3-8 or Leviticus 11:1-47 to Mark 7:15.  In cases like these, God gives a command for a particular purpose (for instance, eunuchs are excluded to demonstrate God’s holiness).  Once the command is no longer necessary to accomplish that purpose, it becomes obsolete.  Then other considerations (such as compassion) take over.

 

 

Following the principles behind each command shows us that adultery can happen in your heart (Matt. 5:27-28), that hatred is no better than murder (Matt. 5:21-22), and that even giving to the poor is useless if it’s done for the wrong reasons (Matt. 6:1-4).  Over and over again, Jesus reiterates that God is more interested in the underlying principles than in the rules themselves.

 

 

 

 Does this sound like the gay men and women in our church who humble themselves before God? I see little difference between the anti-Gentile brigade in Acts 10 and the traditionalists of the Archbishop’s group. The Archbishop said that “gay culture” was the extravagance of the Mardi gras parade in Sydney. I cannot agree that that is the culture of a gay Christian. The Archbishop’s idea cannot be reconciled with Galatians 3: 25-29, particularly that “there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” This is because the Archbishop and the evangelicals associate anything “gay” with post-modernism, New Atheism, and the decline of Western Christendom; as if people suddenly chose to be gay because society didn’t lock them up and throw away the key (Oscar Wilde anyone?). The phrase “male and female” dates back to Genesis, where God creates Adam and Eve as the first couple, and we are told that “male and female He created them.”  Many Traditionalist Christians have taken to quoting that phrase, saying that if God created them “male and female” then that means that every couple for the rest of humanity should be male and female, and that any deviation from that is sinful. 

 

    That’s why I think it’s so interesting that Paul wrote this passage as he did.  First he says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek,” and the matter of inviting Greeks (i.e. Gentiles) into the Christian community was the first major controversy of the church.  Then he says, “neither slave nor free,” and we know that the issue of slavery and the integration of the races was another huge hurdle that the church had to overcome to be what God intended.  Finally Paul says, “no ‘male and female,’” and that’s the phrase we keep   hearing in the current debate over gay couples in the church.

 

    If we truly believe that the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible’s authors, we need to be on the lookout for those hints embedded in the Scriptures that may speak to us in a way their original authors wouldn’t have expected.  Paul would have had no idea how this passage could alter our modern view of slavery or sexuality, but I think the grammatical error here is a clue to us that God knew exactly what He was doing.

 

 

The Tron audience agreed that it was possible the West was being punished by God for “letting gays in” by the rise of Islam in Europe. Could it be the evangelicals are missing the wood for the trees and focusing on the whole of church politics instead of individuals?

 

The main problem with the evangelical doctrine on this issue is that the Bible itself must be understood in its historical context and with regard to the rest of scripture. Is Jude a reliable source of God’s will or a reflection of the Early Church’s position? In verses 14 and 15 Jude quotes from the book of Enoch as a reliable source…you will find the book of Enoch nowhere in the Bible because later church scholars decided it was falsified. Jude also believes that Enoch was “the sixth direct descendant from Adam”. LOL. Does anyone really believe in a literal Adam and Eve? Genesis 1:11-12, 26-27 disagrees with Genesis 2:4-7 on whether Adam was formed after or before the plants.

 

I conclude by saying that it is for God to determine who is and who is not one of his chosen people. The church must respect His decision regardless of our sensitivities. The overwhelmingly affirmative decision of Reverend Rennie’s parish should be respected by everyone and an apology should be written to the man in question for the anxiety and worry caused.