Saturday, 28 April 2012

The Bishop of Salisbury and the gospel of sexuality

If you follow this link to the Thinking Anglicans website, you will find a summary of the message the Bishop of Salisbury delivered to the 'Cutting Edge Consortium' last weekend (as discussed here).

It is as clear, and as absolute, an endorsement of same-sex marriages as anyone could hope to find. Indeed, according to the Bishop, "there is an evangelical imperative for the Church to recognise that covenantal same sex relationships can be Godly and good for individuals and society".

What the Bishop seems to mean by an 'evangelical imperative' is that the maintenance of its traditional stance  is making the church's message difficult to get across. And yet, as those of us engaged in evangelism will know, this is nothing new. The message that people are sinners for whom Christ died, and that having been raised by God from the dead, he is Lord of their lives who is coming again in judgement, has scarcely ever been easy to get across. (Although when it is received, the subsequent individual transformation testifies to the truth of what has been proclaimed and believed.)

So I fined myself seriously wondering, does the Bishop imagine that, by condoning same-sex relationships, the churches will suddenly attract people to the gospel? Is it the church's current view of human sexuality that makes it hard today for people to believe in the resurrection? I hardly think so.

Nevertheless, by using the term 'evangelical', the Bishop elevates this to the level of a gospel issue. And thus, although the headline for the conference is given as "Making space for an honest conversation", surely the only 'conversation' possible in his view must be 'When is the rest of the Church going to accept this development?" And this must surely have implications, not least within his own diocese, as discussed here.

This is also why so much effort and energy is being spent on an issue which must end one way or the other -- either with the Church of England endorsing the latest 'new morality', or standing over against it. We have to choose, just as people have to choose regarding the gospel itself.

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  1. For many years I lived a celibate (miserable) life - and here I think it needs to be stressed that same sex attraction and same sex relationships are NOT necessarily about SEX. Indeed I was engaged to be married, but I knew that marriage would be either a failure, a sham and/or misery for the woman I loved (and still DO love) - because emotionally I wanted to share my life with a man (the sex bit has always been secondary – and now ranks a good deal lower on our agenda – tho’ I know in the minds of some of our lasciviously minded conservative friends, all homos have sex for breakfast, lunch and dinner the F... Plan Diet – but perhaps this is just wishful thinking on the part of some!). Church provided the usual flimsy supports of fellowship (house group, walks (men in gingham shirts, corduroys, gortex, beards – and alas, often poor personal hygiene – I learned to walk upwind of several of my fellow parishioners!) men’s group (like the walks, but without the gortex) and (thankfully) the odd lasting and deep friendship). But church could not provide much more. For one, if you’re daft enough to be open about your sexuality at church, then expect to be watched, expect prejudice, expect to be a second-class parishioner or at best someone to be pitied (you only have to read the excesses of AM – and, to be frank, some of the posts here - to see that altho’ some may believe men are from Mars and women from Venus, some of our Christian friends believe homos are something from under a stone). The worst of these excesses happened within a well known Evangelical church where I worshipped for four years – and was on its staff for part of that time! So I gravitated to community living in a more Catholic setting, but that didn’t really meet the need either: monasteries may look, to the outsider, places of love, peace and brotherly love, but I can assure you they’re not! They can be places where self-obsession is mistaken for piety.

    After 20 odd years of trying, in the end I met my present partner ten years ago and life has never been better - I would call that an answer to prayer for without my partner it is pretty certain I would have become just another queer statistic - i.e. suicide or the slower, yet earlier death caused by anxiety, unhappiness, depression and/or alcohol.

    Despite my journey and the surprising fact I’ve ended up exactly where I never thought I would have done, thirty years ago (i.e. in a same sex partnership) I do not think it is the place of the Anglican Church to provide a means of ‘marriage’ for gay people. Yes, it would be nice if it could, but as Jeffrey John withdrew himself from the office offered him, for the sake of unity, I think same-sex couples should do the same. However some will not do this – and I can’t blame them: there is so little good will on the part of a few sex obsessed, gay maligning, salacious, witch-hunting, finger-pointing, self-righteous, fear and hate mongering, holier than thou, conservatives that it is no wonder that a war is being fought. If you kick a dog long enough, it bites back – and so I can understand the fight for SSM – particularly when so much vileness is preached, written and broadcast by those who claim to be ‘orthodox Christians’ – well, if some of the wicked slanders passed off as ‘news’ on AM and its like minded sites is the work of Christians, then God help the churches.

    For my part, as my primary school teacher used to say when heated disputes arose among classmates: ‘Two wrongs, don’t make a right.’ and until both sides of the debate (but particularly the more vocal and vitriolic members of the ‘orthodox’ camp) change their tactics the only real casualty is the Gospel itself.

    ‘By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’ Jn 13:35

    There’s precious little evidence of this either side of the divide at present is there?

  2. peter, you've had a hard time, that's clear. BUT first, a lot of us have had a hard time - including on the sexuality front. And second, think about what you're saying: "sex obsessed, gay maligning, salacious, witch-hunting, finger-pointing, self-righteous, fear and hate mongering, holier than thou" people are sinners too.

    Apologies about the small p - my keyboard is still knackered after the 'tea party' a few weeks ago.

  3. I think it will be interesting to see how + Bishop Kings is going to work 'creatively' with all of this.

    Will this be the open evangelical's 'squeeze point'?

    Chris Bishop

  4. On the point of..

    God made us gay so if it feels right it must be God's will etc. Just because it feels right (to you) Peter, does not mean it is!

    It cannot be repeated too often that desire is not its own vindication. The simple fact that a man authentically experiences desire does not immediately prove that he should act according to that desire. People authentically desire to do evil things. So the "People do not choose to be gay" is not dispositive. It proves the case for homosexuality only if you already assume the case under question - that men should be free to act according to their homosexual desire.

    Homosexual sex is a behaviour. Behaviour is always a choice. A man is never compelled to any particular behaviour

    On the point that only the older Christians object to SSM

    As I have posted before my daughter's UK University CU refused to allow the University appointed Chaplain (A Lesbian) speak at any meeting. The battle was Long (around 14 months)and often difficult, the CU was threatened with closure a number of times, but eventually the Chaplain left to the great joy of the Students. My daughter has said it also left a far stronger CU. She tells me not to worry the young people have no time for "the liberal crap in the Church".

    1. @Phil – don’t you dare put words in my mouth! Where have I said ‘just because it feels right?’ I have laboured long and hard to be a celibate Christian – how easy it is for the heterosexual, so concerned with the righteousness of others, to presume s/he knows their hearts and minds of others. Did you choose to be a heterosexual? Or have you struggled and mastered homosexual temptation? Please share with us how you did this, if this is the case!

      Re: the argument ‘Behaviour is always a choice. A man is never compelled to any particular behaviour...’ this is rather simplistic and certainly not true – as any dip into behavioural psychology will tell you. As a rather radical means of controlling his prostate cancer, my father opted for an orchidectomy (surgical castration). Several years down the line, I then worked as part of the oncology team at one of London’s teaching hospitals (homos are so selfish, we often work in palliative care, social work and nursing). During a lull in a discharge meeting a colleague – an internationally known authority on prostate cancer – asked how my father was getting on. I noted he was much better, a low PSA and an improved prognosis. The doctor then asked ‘Is he a much nicer person now?’ I smiled and said that he was indeed a much nicer a person. ‘Yes’ the doctor replied ‘that is always the case with men, once they lose their testicles – no more testosterone improves their behaviour...’ Which suggests some behaviour isn’t a choice. Similarly if you have worked with people with brain injury, stroke or dementia, you see changes in behaviour that are not choices – which again suggests your assertion is just an accusatory tool to justify homophobia and self-righteousness.

      As for the tale of your daughter, I remember being revolted by it when you told it on CC’s blog. I found myself picturing some Pharisee College, in downtown Jerusalem, circa 30AD and a riot ensuing after someone invited a guy called Joshua Ben Yusef to speak about his radical ideas of healing on the Sabbath, loving one’s enemies and ignoring Kashrut laws. ‘Away with all this liberal crap...’ they cried and waxed in a prison for their own devising... It would be interesting to do a longitudinal study of your daughter’s CU and see if the same scruples are applied to speakers when it comes to financial, class, race or gender issues, or whether a concerted effort was put into the cheap righteousness of gunning for the lesbian – it would be even more interesting to learn what career paths these fine upstanding Christians chose and whether their personal integrity matched up to their outward orthodoxy!

      Again, don’t put words into people’s mouths or believe you know my story, Phil, it’s not big, it’s not clever and it is certainly not Christian!

      Every blessing:


    2. Peter

      I have never in the slightest felt any Homosexual desire so I am happy to moralize on this!

      However, I committed many sins and yes they did fell right at the time and no this does not make them right.

      I work with young people (ages 16 to 20) every day. Generally they are not as sick as the older generation who grew up in the 60s.

      I don't know why but it gives me hope for our society

      However, "It must be right because it feels right" is the basis of your argument, that is why you are so upset about it.

      I make no claims to personal integrity Peter. I sin every day, I am no better person than you or anyone else in God's eyes. However, I am a sinner saved by grace and I am immeasurably thankful for that.

      To that end I try to tell others of the transformation that awaits them in this life if they accept the message of the cross.

      Life would be easier if I didn't bother and most people don't appreciate it.... I know.. but surely I am pleased that someone bothered with me.

  5. The Bishop of Salisbury is the cuckoo in the nest.
    The orthodox Graham Kings was there first.
    Why should he be silenced/curtailed?!

    Speak up Bishop Graham!

  6. Revd John

    Thanks for this. Actually, as I was typing the above (in the wee small hours – I’ve been stricken with a kidney infection and have had several days of prostration, fever and (for a while) delirium – having slept much of the day, I was wide awake for part of the night!) – I thought to myself that my situation isn’t that dissimilar to other singles in any given church. However there IS a distinct hierarchy of ‘singleness’ and of ‘sins’ in any church – willy-woofters are usually well to the bottom (along with unmarried single mums – esp. non-white mothers, in a mainly white church).

    Yes, I know churches are places for sinners, but really John, you have to admit the tactics of AM, CI et el suggest some are more sinful than others – and that smacks of self-righteousness and pride. There is also a curious irony in the use of positivism to ‘prove’ homosexuals fair less well in society – and of course this relies heavily on the myth of the ‘homosexual lifestyle’ – in reality the vast majority of homosexuals don’t enter a gay bar of club from one year to another – but it seems in the minds of some (not least some commenters on this blog) that all homos engage in risky sexual activity, are possessed of a reckless promiscuousness and spend their waking hours in bars and clubs looking for sex. As Revd Peter Ould noted in January, for many Christians with gay friends and relatives, this picture just appears as a nasty fantasy; the majority of gay people are remarkably ordinary. This dissonance between the pronouncements of AM et el and many people’s experience of homosexuals looses the former any credibility or integrity (as was perhaps demonstrated by the poor show for AM’s last conference). Yes there are those who cling to the words of AM or LieSlightAbuse.Com etc. (aka – but I strongly suspect this has more to do with assuaging their own demons and propping up their own (self-glorifying?) twist on the Gospel than a desire for any informed debate on the matter of sexuality.

    As you say, it must end one way or the other... Yes, I am sure the ‘ending’ of this impasse is what we all yearn for – and it will come in time. But I think this is not one of those ecclesiastical/theological decisions that will be remembered for its outcome; I think it is the journey to it, that will resonate in people’s memories long after the event. There will be hurts that won’t heal; there will be memory of an obsession with sex, of hypocrisy and of some pretty underhanded nastiness. The victory – for which ever faction – will be a picric victory and the wounds of this war will probably never heal.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Peter

      You do talk a load of rubbish.... Most of do not care what Gays get up to (or want to know)

      However, we do want to be able to teach from the Bible without hindrance and oppose attempts to indoctrinate the young or stifle any opposing viewpoint

      You will need to get the cattle trucks ready if you want to stop us permanently

      Hope you are feeling better


    3. @Phil

      “Most of [us?] do not care what Gays get up to (or want to know)...”

      Perhaps you can explain (oh polite one) why at least one in five posts on the AM blog is concerned with something gay..?

      I couldn’t give a toss myself, a good deal more foot washing, turning the other cheek and service would say more about God, righteousness and the purpose of man and salvation, than all the self-righteous, sneering, cheap jibes and obsession with the lives of others that passes for ‘teaching from the Bible’ in the (small and pernicious) minds of some of our Christian brethren.

      Yes, I am much better!



  7. Can I please remind contributors that they are asked to give a FULL NAME and a LOCATION when contributing to this blog. As a rule I tend to overlook this requirement when the comments are relatively innocuous. However, if you are going to make 'personal' remarks, I must insist that your own 'person' is fully made known. Otherwise I will feel free to delete comments.

    Sorry to say this, but I have been asked by another contributor to point this out.

  8. It is difficult to take the bishop seriously for his comments under the dubious heading "An honest conversation".
    When he says for example, "Of course I accept the traditional teaching of the Church and the ordering of personal relationships, family and society in marriage," how can he be taken seriously when the rest of his comment obviously reflects support for SSM?

    How "honest" can it be to pretend that, in his words, "Christians conscientiously disagree about the interpretation and significance of the six Biblical passages referring to homosexuality", when what he means is that only a tiny minority of theological liberals within the episcopate and the Anglican church disbelieve the plain texts of Scripture in the Biblical passages concerned ?
    It is a fact that the consensus of the church over centuries, its accumulated wisdom and tradition, and above all the clear testimony of Scripture in both testaments all reject the views of the bishop and his friends.
    I therefore fully agree with you John about the need for the Church to make a definitive choice about this issue, and such a choice is the real "evangelical imperative".

    The bishop and the secular advocates of 'gay marriage' have cleverly cloaked their agenda to make it appear that the issue is about "equality" - thus the bishop exclaims "gay people are equal members of our society" & etc.
    But opponents do not for one moment deny this and it is not in contention. What is however, is the claim that the homosexual act ITSELF is comensurate with that of the hetrosexual union of one man and one woman for life in what we deem to be normal marriage as ordained by God.
    There is no "equality" there!
    Finally, the choice has to be made because the church has to decide whether or not to bend to the wholly secular alternative to Christian marriage which would be a sexual free-for-all, thus debasing and prostituting the institution. It is really the issue about the old heresy of idolatry in its modern form - as Paul argues in Romans 1:21-32.

  9. The Bishop of Salisbury is still a bishop in your Church. He is allowed to proclaim the Gospel as he sees it, and his understanding is as valid (at least) as any other bishop's. The fact that you disagree with him is based on your own understanding of the homosexual phenomenon, which, from your opinion here, is lacking - perhaps because of your innately heterosexual orientation.

    It might be more 'Christian' to allow others - who do know what it means to be homosexual - to state their opinions without prejudice. Sadly, this is what most heterosexual Christians seem not to be short of.

    The problem may just be one of a natural fear of the unknown and the different. Perhaps if one has a family member who is intrinsically gay, it makes a difference. One is prone to become more open to the possibility that God has allowed for a greater diversity in creation than the writers of the Scriptures were ever cognisant of.

    And, Yes! We are all sinners. It's as well to remember that

    1. Ron

      So if Rev John took 2 wives and preached that it was a good thing. Then we should say it is OK? He is allowed his lifestyle choice ETC etc


  10. "He is allowed to proclaim the Gospel as he sees it"

    Can somebody help me here. What are the boundaries for a Bishop proclaiming the gospel as he sees it? Or are there not any?

    Chris Bishop

  11. The boundaries stop, Chris, when a Bishop states something against your personal prejudices.

  12. I don't think you have really answered my question Fr David other than reveal what appears to be your own liberal prejudices.

    The boundaries to not stop when a Bishop states something against your own views as +Kings appears to be finding out. The Bishop will just ignore you.

    To repeat, I want to know what is the limit of proclaiming the Gospel as a Bishop sees fit.

    If one Bishop say, preaches universalism and the other does not which of them is right? Or is it just fine for a Bishop to proclaim Jesus as just one way to God or even proclaim a new doctrine of marriage?

    Does not the CoE's own formularies have something to say or is it de rigueur for Bishop's to hold them lightly?

    Chris (not a Cof E Bishop) Bishop

  13. The cliche about Anglicanism being "a broad church" is true only if a variety of theological and moral views are accommodated. For the Bishop of Salisbury to hold a view different from his suffragan is a cause for rejoicing, not criticism.

  14. However, if that view is contrary to the stated position of marriage in the Cof E then how can that be a cause for rejoicing? If in the marriage service the CofE indicates that the union of a man and woman finds its picture in Christ and the church then in the case of SSM, how can the church marry the church?

    My understanding is that Bishops are expected to uphold the teachings of the Church of England -not try to change them.

    Is there anything in the Cof E formularies that state that they are able to do this? Are you asserting then, that it is the Bishops who decide what 'variety of theological and moral views are accommodated'?

    Chris Bishop

  15. "The cliche about Anglicanism being "a broad church" is true only if a variety of theological and moral views are accommodated."

    Do remind Synod of this come July.


  16. Chris.
    "If in the marriage service the CofE indicates that the union of a man and woman finds its picture in Christ and the church then in the case of SSM"
    I believe you touch here on the central issue, and by so doing identify why SSM is an impossible concept, or should be for any Christian, and particularly so for a SSM supporting bishop. The issue of SSM is really theolgical and not sociological or political, and it is Scripture (not the church!) which makes the assumption, indeed the claim, from Genesis to Revelation that heterosexual marriage is "normal" and that deviation from it is not.
    Heterosexual marriage is identified then by Paul the Apostle as being a "great mystery" (Eph.5:25-33) as a picture of something far greater, namely that it is SO intimate, and a parable of the enormity of God's grace to sinners, and something of the relationship between Christ and his redeemd church, that it is beyond Paul's normal powers of doctrinal understanding to be able to articulate. It is indeed a 'mystery'.
    For that reason alone SSM must be, in terms of relationships the ultimate lie and heresy that it is, for it presumes to corrupt and prostitute that which God sanctifies.
    So when Bishop Holtam and his secular friends in government and the "gay lobby" engage in special pleading for SSM on the basis of "equality" they miss the point entirely. Thus Holtam's apologia for his position is headed:
    "Gay people are equal members of our society". Of course they are, and opponents of SSM have never argued otherwise.
    However, what is not considered "equal" by Christians traditionally, and because Scripture plainly teaches so, is that the homosexual act itself can be equated with the normality of a heterosxual union of one man and one woman in marriage.
    I would have thought that for all Christians including the bishop, that the endorsement of Christ of a uniquely heterosexual union "from the beginning" (i.e. the creation order in Genesis) should be the end of all argument.
    John Stott's pithy summary of the "one flesh" text (Mark 10)reflects Biblical truth: "And Scripture envisages no other kind of marriage or sexual intercourse, for God provided no alternative"

  17. Norman Yardy, Brentwood, Essex.
    For 46 years I have failed to come to terms with the Churches toleration of homosexuality, particulary in places such as Southwark Cathedral.
    What has happened to the leadership to allow this prevalent Liberalism to get such a firm grip in certain sectors? I can only conclude that in all their niceness they are afraid to say Boo to a Goose. It's not Christian to criticise! O dear. What did our Lord have to say to the Pharisees? Sinners he coped with, but those who should have known better he despised.

  18. What I meant to say re the Post is that by accepting sin as OK in order to encourage the promotion of the Gospel is a counter action. Saint and Martyrs have been imprisoned or burnt at the stake because they would not deny what the Gospel states and neither should we. It is Gods responsibility as to who will respond the Gospel message and it is our responsibility to preach it without compromise.