March 26, 2017

June 19, 2013

Straddling the Divide

Parliament in the UK is currently considering a government proposal to legalize same sex marriage.  You may have read some of the debate coming from members of the Church of England.  What you may not realize is the debate by the bishops is just not banter back and forth among clergy.  They are actually members of Parliament.  Here’s how the CoE describes their duties

Their presence in the Lords is an extension of their general vocation as bishops to preach God’s word and to lead people in prayer. Bishops provide an important independent voice and spiritual insight to the work of the Upper House and, while they make no claims to direct representation, they seek to be a voice for all people of faith, not just Christians.[ Emphasis added]

The newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury recently gave a speech on the proposed legislation.  Here is an excerpt from his speech:

It is clearly essential that stable and faithful same sex relationships should, where those involved want it, be recognised and supported with as much dignity and the same legal effect as marriage. Although the majority of Bishops who voted during the whole passage of the Civil Partnerships Act through your Lordships’ House were in favour of civil partnerships a few years ago, it is also absolutely true that the church has often not served the LGBT communities in the way it should. I must express my sadness and sorrow for that considerable failure. There have been notable exceptions, such as my predecessor Archbishop Ramsey who vigorously supported decriminalisation in the 1960s.  [Emphasis added.]

My struggle begins with the concept of the ABC declaring it as essential for same sex relationships to be recognized and supported.  He is not arguing against same sex marriage simply that it needs be have its own path.  Equal yet separate.  The ABC did not say, “Despite the fact that non-celibate same sex relationships are contrary to Scripture, the secular world has elected to embrace them and we must therefore find a way to protect traditional marriage.”  Instead, he called them worthy of recognition and support.  Possibly he means this in a secular context but that is not what he said or ardently advocated.

We on the orthodox side of this argument are not here because we like being called ugly names or because we have some deep seated dislike of homosexuals.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  We are here solely because we believe that Scripture is our foundation.  Scripture is the sole basis for our Christology.  If it fails, all fails.  We have begged for years for theology to support the position that same sex relationships are blessed by God.  None has been forthcoming although many liberal theologians have done mighty acts of verbal gymnastics to wish away the words of Scripture.  When pressed, most of the pro-LGBT crowd will admit that it was emotions that brought them to support the change in their thinking.  Human feelings.  The oh so fallible and changing emotions of mankind. 

Supporters of the ABC are adamant that his words are being misconstrued.  We are urged to read carefully and not project into what he is saying.  Unfortunately, the only way his statements can be construed to fall within the orthodox position is if one misconstrues them.  The ABC is clearly arguing that same sex relationships are (1) good (2) something worthy of recognition and support and (3) the church was in error in its handling of non-celibate same sex relationships in the past.  Even if he meant this as only in a secular context, how can the church declare a relationship as good and worthy of recognition and support in the secular world and still be outside the acceptance of the church? 

Peter Ould (twin brother of our very own David Ould) recently defended the ABC’s comments in a friendly debate over at T19. Peter is someone I respect and find myself in agreement with most of the time. Unfortunately, we do not agree on this issue.  He seems to sum up the issue as Gay relationships are here - deal with it.  Minimize the damage and work toward a solution that doesn’t “marry” it to traditional marriage. That’s a great argument from a secular point of view.  Unfortunately, this is not a secular debate.  It is one that will impact not just the Anglican Church but the Church Universal.  The primary duty of bishops is to be shepherds of the flock of God - not mediators brought in to reconcile God’s Word to the secular world. 

Peter Ould defended the ABC’s position by positing that good can come of same sex relationships because the parties within them are capable of doing good things.  His example was the sacrificial caring for a dying partner.  Does that make the relationship good and worthy?  Does an act or a million good acts of kindness redeem a relationship that falls outside the parameters of God’s laws?  No, it means that even the most debased among us are capable of decent acts.  An axe murderer can pull an elderly woman from in front of a bus.  A thief can donate money to the poor.  All decent acts - even worthy acts.  Does it, however, have anything to do with the core issue?  If all pedophiles suddenly ban together and open shelters that provide warm beds, nourishing food and good education for children, do we then consider it essential to consider the practice of their sexual preference as worthy of recognition and support? 

Peter comments: 

You seem to both be living in a fantasy world where with a snap of our fingers we can turn back time to the point where homosexuality was illegal and we could just all tell derogatory jokes about “poofs”. Life isn’t that simple - we live with the complexities of the modern world and the best way to defend traditional marriage isn’t to wish away the assault on it but rather to establish Civil Partnerships and then to address why they are fundamentally different to marriage.

Peter’s perspective is quite understandable.  He wants to limit the damage to marriage.  Don’t we all?  The problem is that the
Communion chose to avoid taking the necessary steps of discipline when its liberal counterparts in the US and Canada encouraged the secular world to move the line and embrace that which God did not.  They chose Anglican Fudge instead and we are all paying the price.  Archbishop Welby cannot now think that he can straddle the divide and all will be well.  We cannot “undo” this failure by further fudging   If the CoE and the Anglican Communion are interested in saving traditional marriage, they need to do what should have been done a long time ago.  We need to lovingly remind the world that Scripture is not made of modeling clay and is, in fact, our firm foundation.  The Anglican Communion cannot continue to lay claim to holding Scripture as its foundation while ignoring it. 

A second speech given by the Bishop of Leicester contained some excellent points that reiterated reasons why same sex marriage can never be the same as traditional marriage.  Here he discusses complementarism:

I could not help noticing in the debate in this House on International Women’s Day the underlying assumption that women bring a special quality to the public square and that the complementarity of men and women is what enriches and stabilises society. Yet, in the realm of public discourse, assertion of sexual difference in relation to marriage has become practically unspeakable, in spite of the fact that it is implicitly assumed by most people in the course of everyday life. Equal marriage will bring to an end the one major social institution that enshrines that complementarity.

An excellent argument but it fails without the full theology behind it.  It is only one aspect of why the bible is specific that non-celibate same sex relationships are not blessed.  Piecemealing the theology is a trap waiting to spring.  Where will the good bishop go when the issue of blessing incest comes to the forefront?  It is a good analogy for this discussion because one of Peter’s questions was to ask if we want to go back to the days of making a relationship illegal.  Just for the record Incest is illegal in the UK.  Enforcement includes incarceration.

If the goal is “equality” based on sexual preference, why would the church seek to punish certain groups?  Is it because the secular world is lagging behind in recognizing certain sexual preferences?    How long do you think that will last

Using human reasoning, it is difficult to defend discriminating against certain relationships.  Aren’t the people in relationships like the ones linked above capable of doing good deeds and exhibiting good qualities?  Does that make their sexual relationship good and worthy of recognition and support?  It makes one wonder if advocates have really thought through the slippery slope argument.  Nothing good ever comes of substituting man’s judgment for God’s.  Worst yet, what damage is being done to those who are being given pat answers and encouraged to continue in a relationship that Scripture does not condone?  What advice are these clergy giving to those who come to them for issues involving other, currently taboo, sexual relationships? 

The time for debate is over.  The last General Convention for the American branch made this a huge issue for us in the states.  We are already seeing bishops who gave lip service to their dioceses now implement these ceremonies.  The Diocese of Upper South Carolina immediately comes to mind.  How long will these bishops protect the orthodox within their dioceses?  Reliable sources in the Diocese of Louisiana have confided that the meeting the bishop called to discuss same sex blessings had little to do with discussion and a lot to do with shut up, sit down and listen to how it is going to be.  Now that they have the draconian Title IV disciplinary procedures, exactly how long do you give orthodox clergy? 

It is really not complicated.  The Archbishop of Canterbury needs to quit acting like a politician. Speak clearly and plainly.  If he believes Scripture allows non-celibate same sex relationships, he needs to clearly say so.  There should be no doubt in the minds of the membership as to where he, the Anglican Communion and the Church of England stand on the issue.  There is no Solomonic decision to be made here.  The ABC cannot straddle the divide.  He needs to let his yes be yes and his no be no.   And so do we Anglicans as well as the leadership in the Communion.  We must not stand silently by or condone prevarication or sidestepping as we did with his predecessor.  Should we choose that path,  then the Anglican Communion will soon join the Episcopal Church on its way to total insignificance.

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Why are the pointy hats so afraid of supporting the Word in public? I know that the parts about adultery, marriage, divorce, sex, sex, and sex offend the current worldview, but get with the program guys!

I don’t think that the Gospel was ever intended to be spoken out of both sides of the mouth.

[1] Posted by Undergroundpewster on 6-19-2013 at 09:31 PM · [top]

The argument from social, or legal, approval is no argument. Capital punishment for sodomy was at one time the law.  And yes, you could get away with crude “poof” jokes, but c’mon, were they really right? The scripture tells us to be kind to one another and control our tongues because we to easily run cruelly at the mouth.

Personally, I’m against any recognition of same-sex relationships, including civil partnerships, for the simple reason that the end-game is not the legal benefits of secular marriage, but a complete acknowledgment that same-sex relationships are as normal as ... normal relationships.

[2] Posted by Words Matter on 6-19-2013 at 10:04 PM · [top]

1.  17 passages of Holy Scripture in both the Old and New Testaments make it very clear having sex outside of marriage, which is defined as between one man and one woman, is a sin.
2.  Clearly our “plumbing” (as designed by our Creator) clearly indicates that man/woman belong together; not so with man/man woman/woman relationships.
3.  85% of AIDS cases in US are from homosexual behavior
4.  Average life expectancy of male engaging in homosexual behavior is 45 years
5.  Those who engage in homosexual behavior are far more likely to have issues with Alcoholism (VGR is an example) and other mental health issues

Despite all the physical and religious evidence agains them, the homosexual agenda marches on…obviously this behavior isn’t good for society…which is why it has been illegal for years. 

But in our PC society we throw common sense right out the window…and we will watch society crumble right before our very eyes.  Very sad for our children and grandchildren.

[3] Posted by B. Hunter on 6-20-2013 at 09:22 AM · [top]

...and this ABC isn’t any better than the last one…I wonder if either has a millstone handy?  wink

[4] Posted by B. Hunter on 6-20-2013 at 09:23 AM · [top]

I think I would have to agree with Peter on this one.  I do not think the ABC is trying to fudge.  There is a difference between what we can do in civil government, and what we can do in the church, especially when you are in a European state with it’s anti-discrimination laws.  The fact that sodomy was once a capital offence does not help any. 

The ABC does seem to say that marriage and same sex unions are of a different category. 

It confuses marriage and weddings. It assumes that the rightful desire for equality – to which I’ve referred supportively – must mean uniformity, failing to understand that two things may be equal but different.

And the end of the matter is:

And so with much regret but entire conviction, I cannot support the Bill as it stands.


This is not fudge.  It is the realistic recognition of what can be done in a pluralistic civil society.  If he gave this same speech in the House of Bishops about same sex unions in the church, I would say it was tragic.  In the civil parliament, I would say its realistic and not at all bad. 

All of this is why I thank God for the establishment clause (when it is rightly interpreted) that keeps us from having to try to reconcile the church and state in a pluralistic society.

[5] Posted by observer145 on 6-20-2013 at 11:11 AM · [top]

I should specify that by equal, I take the ABC to mean legally equal from the context of his speech, and not morally equivalent.  If he said morally equivalent, I would disagree with him entirely.

[6] Posted by observer145 on 6-20-2013 at 11:13 AM · [top]

B. Hunter [3]—while I agree with your assessment, you make the mistake of thinking that it can be legislated away.  The problem is not with legislation, the problem is that the church has not been doing much to evangelize.  We’ve done a pretty good job of making sure that the world knows that the church does not approve of homosexuality, well, most of the church anyway.  The problem is that we have done a pretty poor job of introducing people to the love of God in Christ Jesus.  We haven’t really done much to convert our own children to the gospel of Christ.  It is the love of God through the power of the Holy Spirit that will set people free, not anti-sodomy laws.  We can brandish our fists at the nominal Christians in our governments (most of our elected officials, and most of the British MPs claim Christianity, but show little sign of it in behavior) or we can work toward the conversion of men and women to the gospel of Christ. 

If we care about our children and grandchildren, I would suggest that we set to work evangelizing them and their generation, and doing so in a way that does not turn them off to the gospel completely. 

One of the worst things that we can do is to throw around statistical misstatements that are easily researched like 85% of aids cases in the US are from homosexual behavior.  In 2010 63% of new HIV cases involved men who have sex with men.  56% of the total cases in the US involve men who have sex with men.  The transmission between lesbian women is a statistical 0%, though not impossible.  For the statistics that I did not just throw out without any research, look <a >here</a>  If you have a valid source for your stats, please share, and I will offer a suitably humble apology.  If you don’t have the source, please remember, when you quote it to a young person, they will know how to use Google, and walk away saying, “Now I know those Christians like to make stuff up.”

[7] Posted by observer145 on 6-20-2013 at 01:35 PM · [top]

Sorry, I did not get the link formatted properly.  It is here:

I assume everyone can block and copy.

[8] Posted by observer145 on 6-20-2013 at 01:37 PM · [top]

it is also absolutely true that the church has often not served the LGBT communities in the way it should. I must express my sadness and sorrow for that considerable failure. There have been notable exceptions, such as my predecessor Archbishop Ramsey who vigorously supported decriminalisation in the 1960s.

I just spent a couple of hours looking at the House of Lord debates concerning decriminalization of homosexual offences in 1965 and 1967. Archbishop Ramsey repeatedly supported decriminalization of homosexual offenses (crudely, that men over 21 shouldn’t be prosecuted for what they did in private) in part as he said in 1965 to make “a greater possibility for some to find their way from wrong uses of sex and to be helped towards better uses of their energies. In the moral state of our country we need all the forces available to combat evils, of which homosexual practices are one.”

But - and this marks the distance traveled in 50 years - he was able to state without qualification the church’s traditional teaching. Here is speaking in a debate on 12 May 1965:

I am glad that the noble Earl has brought this Motion to the House. I wish to support him. I want to start by making clear what is the moral standpoint from which I approach this question. I believe that homosexual acts are always wrong in the sense that they use in a wrong way human organs for which the right use is intercourse between men and women within marriage. Amidst the modern talk about the “new morality” I would uphold the belief that just as fornication is always wrong so homosexual acts are always wrong.

and on 21 June 1965

Let me say, not for the first time, that I regard homosexual behaviour as abominable, utterly abominable.

[9] Posted by driver8 on 6-20-2013 at 03:27 PM · [top]

We’ve done a pretty good job of making sure that the world knows that the church does not approve of homosexuality

I’m a careless reader, where would one find that in the Archbishop’s speech?

[10] Posted by driver8 on 6-20-2013 at 03:40 PM · [top]

BTW just in case anyone wonders, I do think that decriminalization was and is right for exactly the sorts of reasons that persuaded Archbishop Ramsey. However, reading the debates, not just the bishops but almost every speaker seems extraordinarily naive. The anxieties of the crusty opponents of the change were in fact better predictors of what has come to be than the gentle confidence of the bishops.

[11] Posted by driver8 on 6-20-2013 at 03:54 PM · [top]

Driver [10]  That is not in the Archbishop’s speech.  That is from Barna research in the book unChristian in which the research shows that the majority of the Mosaic generation assumes that the church is anti-homosexual.  I was speaking of the church as a whole, and not of the ABC in that statement. 

My point is that taking the stand against homosexuality in the public square has done little to turn anyone toward Jesus.  I think there is a difference between what we should try to legislate in the public square, and what we should expect of those within the Christian Church.  I have no expectation that an atheist or an agnostic will behave in line with Christian morals.  I do expect that members of the church will try to order their lives according to the standard of scripture. 

I think that is the distinction we have to keep in mind when the ABC addresses the Parliament.

[12] Posted by observer145 on 6-20-2013 at 04:12 PM · [top]

Hi Driver8,

You are absolutely correct…there is no sense from the ABC’s speech or from the words of the bishops that there is anything morally wrong with homosexual behavior or that the impulse is in any way disordered. He said civil partnerships are beneficial to society and that these relationships are valuable and deserving of equal dignity though not the same institution. This, mind you, describing the legal structures surrounding relationships God says will lead to hell.

They bishops had the opportunity to explain the Christian view and speak the truth instead they decided to compromise. The ABC’s speech was especially repugnant…a subChristian effort.

[13] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 6-20-2013 at 04:29 PM · [top]

1. Right, and I think the post is about the Archbishop’s speech.

2. There are churches that are determinedly positive about homosexuality. I’m part of one. Our national membership declined by something like a quarter over the last decade. In other words, there are some indications that tracking the mobile views of the population hasn’t performed very well as an evangelistic strategy, though it will get you a temporary reprieve from the Guardian’s ridicule.

3. I agree that the church ought not to legislate Christian morality for an increasingly non-Christian nation. In fact, the bishops often seem to agree at least concerning what we call personal morality, less so on economic, foreign and other social policy, and have said so in the Lords since at least the 30s. However until they are ejected from the Lords they ought to at least politely and clearly to say what the church believes. When the ABC delivers a major speech on gay marriage, I don’t object to him pointing out clearly the church’s shortcomings, I do object to think not once mentioning the church’s teaching.

[14] Posted by driver8 on 6-20-2013 at 04:33 PM · [top]

RE: “a friendly debate over at T19

Actually it stopped being “friendly” when Peter decided that those who don’t accept that gay non-celibate civil unions are a valued institution from a societal point of view, and that—though individuals within a same-sex relationship may exhibit virtue—the actual relationship does not exhibit virtue were “homophobic” and wanting to “tell derogatory jokes about “poofs”.”

Then it just became your standard boilerplate that one hears from revisionist activists in TEC, though Peter is no such thing.

I attributed the reasons for that rhetorical descent to the same reasons that revisionist activists so descend.

[15] Posted by Sarah on 6-20-2013 at 07:10 PM · [top]

Sarah, it is unfortunate that the conversation took the direction it did.  I think that we, in the church, need to find a way to engage in the discussion without compromising our Christian worldview, while allowing for the fact that we are increasingly a minority in western culture. 

The Episcopal Church has failed in that it has simply adopted the culture.  Many evangelicals have failed in that they have allowed themselves to be defined by what they are against rather than what they are for, and gone home feeling good about being rejected on the basis of what they oppose. 

We need to be defined for being for Christ.  If rejected for that, well and good.

[16] Posted by observer145 on 6-20-2013 at 10:57 PM · [top]

50+ years ago, the Church of England taught that homosexual acts were immoral. Such views were shared by the great majority of the population. (In the Lord’s debates from 1965 and 1967 on decriminalizing homosexual offences no one I read argued that homosexual acts were not immoral or sinful). I presume that such a view was argued to be consonant both with revelation and reason.

In the half century since the COE’s teaching has muddied somewhat - non celibate same sex unions are permitted for the laity but formally forbidden to the clergy - but the views of the surrounding society has undergone a sea change, unimaginable to all but the crusty old nay-sayers of 65 and 67.

The church, in England at least, has potentially found itself in an oppositional role, not because they have come to feel good about being rejected (one only has to read the ABC’s speech to see how much he wants not to be rejected), but because the cultures around them - and in particular the cultures of the more educated and more youthful - have dramatically come to reject the traditional teaching of the church. 

What ought one to do? Here are three thoughts, very boldly stated - there are surely others:

1. The Episcopal Church offers one model (change the teaching of the church).

2. Another alternative is simply to stop talking about the church’s teaching in public and say things one hopes will resonate with a changed culture (hold onto as much of the tradition as possible - people widely approve of marriage - so try to preserve heterosexual marriage).

3. Another is simply to uphold the traditional teaching, try to persuade people of its truthfulness and so face the ire of a culture that largely deeply disagrees with it.

[17] Posted by driver8 on 6-21-2013 at 12:27 AM · [top]

Let me add some stats. To get a view of the sea change in British culture just since the early 80s look here.

And though one would never guess it, something around a third of adult Brits (that is around 15 million folks) contumaciously continue to think that sex between adults of the same sex is always or mostly wrong. Of course they tend to be more regular worshipers, and/or older, poorer or less well educated. Of course these are the precisely the sorts of folks who almost never get to set the communicative agenda but the exist all the same. The CofE might try to encourage their communication and enable their action (it is possible, as the French have shown) but it does not, apparently, desire to do so.

[18] Posted by driver8 on 6-21-2013 at 12:53 AM · [top]

RE: “I think that we, in the church, need to find a way to engage in the discussion without compromising our Christian worldview, while allowing for the fact that we are increasingly a minority in western culture.”

You know—I think most of the church is doing a good job, Observer, regarding All-Things-Gay, though not on other matters.  I’m not in the least disturbed over what the culture thinks of us, and I’m comfortable sticking to our guns, even in defeat.  I’m not *happy* to be defeated—nobody is—but I won’t be changing my articulation of truth for the likes of the Susan Russells of the world.  It’s good to make the right enemies and revisionist activists are definitely the right enemies.  ; > )

As far as being defined by what we are against—that’s necessary reality since the revisionist activists will *always* be about defining those who oppose their ideology by “what they are against”—after all, they wish to get what they are for enacted and forced upon others!  Others in the culture, though, I think are quite calm about it all.  I have many pagan and seeker friends who fancy themselves “pro-gay” and they don’t spend a minute of time defining me or the church by our beliefs about same sex unions or marriage. 

I think the church has a lot more to worry about then worrying about being defined by what they are against—after all, the church in Rome was so “defined” [idolatry, the Emperor, children left out to die, etc.].

I’m with Matt—I think the ABC is who he is, and that is thoroughly compromised and therefore untrustworthy.  I do not think gay “civil unions” are of value to “society” in the least, any more than I will think that polyamorous unions are of value to society or adult incestuous unions are of value or polyspecies unions are of value or life-challenged unions are of value, or any other unions that various countries see fit to legally establish for various minority sexual attractions which are currently not faddishly popular. 

I look to Welby for absolutely nothing. I do not read what he writes in general [unless it’s something people are pointing to] and I’m indifferent to his thoughts about whatever he wishes to share.  Far more serious, to me, than his random, wandering, disorganized capitulative comments on same sex marriage, though, are his underlying foundational views on “reconciliation” [sic] which are dangerous in their utter bumbling incoherence and vacuity.  He lacks rigor and precision of both mind and speech, and the only thing that faithful Christians in the COE need to think about is how they can work around him, just as they attempted to do [most of them, except the clueless wonders] with Rowan Williams, in order to achieve any elements of reform and renewal that God sees fit to call them to.

[19] Posted by Sarah on 6-21-2013 at 07:15 AM · [top]

When I think about the saintly sacrifice of Bishops like Sts. Thomas Becket and John Fisher in relation to some of their 21st Century successors, one cannot help but cringe and weep at the current state of affairs in the Church. Perhaps it is only hindsight perspective, but it seems that Bishops, and clergy in general, in an earlier time were more willing to stand up to the state when it was acting in ways contrary to their given mission. It would seems that a truly florishing society will foster religious bodies, not even just amongst Christians, that willing to assert their position on questions of morality when they interfere or frustrate the practice of their given tradition, especially when those traditions have been for so long in concert, not in conflict, with the state’s practice. July 6th in coming up shortly. Let remember saints like John Fisher and Thomas More and pray that we may have and possibly demonstrate such a willingness to stand up to the state when its acts contrary to the divine law.

[20] Posted by ILAnglican on 6-28-2013 at 09:31 AM · [top]

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