Having a Difficult Conversation

by the Rev Canon Simon Butler, Prolocutor of Canterbury

Difficult-Conversations

Once in a while everyone has to have a difficult conversation. The work colleague who isn’t too keen on personal hygiene; someone you manage whose performance requires attention; a long-term relationship where something seems to be going wrong. They are inevitable, often unwelcome, sometimes completely necessary and therefore need careful preparation.

General Synod members are having a difficult conversation in July, on Human Sexuality (actually it’s about homosexuality but we’re now stuck with the unhelpful title, complete with Important Capital Letters). We know it’s been coming. Some have been dreading it and wish it would just go away. Others have been polishing up and putting on their theological and psychological armour, for both offensive and defensive purposes (we seem to find talking to one another almost impossible in the Church of England, so we resort to proxy conversations by talking at each other in advance by writing and blogging!); meanwhile, many other people have been wondering why we need to have the conversation at all because the world has moved on.

Nevertheless, it’s time for the long-awaited Shared Conversations. We can’t avoid talking to one another any longer.

So how am I preparing to take part? How am I going to Have a Difficult Conversation?

The most important thing I am doing is…nothing. This isn’t just because I’m tired of the conversation already – I am, I feel like I’ve been having it for a generation. Rather, it is because the most important thing about this difficult conversation is that it is between fellow-disciples. I realise not everyone agrees about this and that some people believe that people like me are Not Proper Christians – in my worst moments I can be tempted to think the same about them! That apart, the best thing I bring to the conversation is my discipleship, my walk with Jesus.

My discipleship happens to include being attracted exclusively to people of the same sex. But that is nowhere near the sum total of it. The way I have worked out my calling to be a follower of Jesus; the way I have responded to the promises made at my baptism, confirmation and (in my case) ordinations; the way I sustain these in prayer, in theological reflection and in service – these are what truly make me an authentic contributor to this conversation. Despite my inevitable failures as a disciple, it is its authenticity – the way I think about it and the way that it works itself out in love – that is the most important thing I can bring. If I’m not seeking to be faithful in those, then my contribution is likely to be limited, even unhelpful.

Second, to have the right conversation I must be clear about what it is about. We aren’t having a conversation about the ethics of same-sex relationships within the church. We know that conversation will continue and there are strongly-held and stoutly-defended, often-opposing, biblical and theological convictions held. Having that conversation will likely get us nowhere in July. Instead, this difficult conversation is about whether we can actually live together holding the views that we do. The Reformers called it adiaphora: are the disagreements we have, and the divergence of practice they imply, enough to materially affect the ability of Christians to live together in unity? Remembering this essential point helps me to realise that, even though we LGBT people seem to be the subject of the disagreement, it is not our fault that it is going on. The responsibility lies with the whole church to come to an answer about the question of adiaphora. Personally, that takes the pressure of a bit. I’m a baptised disciple, not a problem-causer or a trouble-maker.

And finally, of course, I’m praying. I’m praying for my fellow-LBGT members of Synod in all three Houses, some of whom are clearly more apprehensive about the conversations than I am and fear they have the most to lose. Please join me in praying for them, whatever side of the conversation you are on. Some feel very exposed and vulnerable, despite the strong assurances that have been given. We need to find courage to be able to speak with integrity as disciples.

But I’m also praying for my ‘opponents’. Almost a year ago, at the end of the last General Synod, I found myself praying with Julian Henderson, the Conservative Evangelical Bishop of Blackburn. I promised myself afterwards that I would try to pray for Julian in his ministry, precisely because we held very different views on sexuality. I can’t say I’ve been entirely successful in doing that through the year, but I have remembered him regularly and am doing so in these days leading up to July. His ministry is important to the work of the Gospel in Blackburn: praying for him reminds me of our mutual calling as disciples, deacons and priests, and his as a bishop. It’s hard to argue unlovingly if you’re praying for God to bless someone.

Having a difficult conversation is, well, difficult. But these words of Paul, admittedly taken out of context, have come to set the standard for my own preparation and contribution to Having a Difficult Conversation: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:6).  A good thing to remember.

 

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58 Responses to Having a Difficult Conversation

  1. David@Montreal says:

    love and prayers from Canada Simon – love and prayers.

    Like

  2. What does Canon Butler mean by ‘Christians living together in unity’?

    I cannot prove it and I would be glad and humbled to be proved wrong, but I think that members of the Church of England can be divided into two broad groups.

    Group 1 believe that (as Articles 9-18 and 31 state) all human beings are born with a nature inclined to evil and facing God’s wrath and condemnation, incapable, without divine grace, of taking any steps towards God, and that God has chosen in eternity those whom he will save and those, those only, will certainly be saved, and that the death of Christ propitiates and satisfies God’s just wrath, and that God and Christ sincerely and genuinely invite, exhort, beseech, command all to submit to Christ in repentance, faith, love, obedience and fear. Group 2, whatever they believe about God, Man and salvation, would disagree with most of these convictions.

    This means that the two groups are seeking to proclaim different versions of fundamental Christian truths. Both versions cannot be true. One is right and the other is wrong. There is no overarching synthesis whereby both can be right.

    This disagreement is more fundamental than the same-sex disagreement. So, regardless of the outcome of the Synod debate, there is already, in terms of what Anglicans believe, disunity.

    Phil Almond

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    • Pete Jermey says:

      Phil – I think that is a bit unfair.

      I am sure there are “Christians” within the CofE who do not agree with everything in Group 1, but the disagreement here is what exactly is sinful. Everyone has a different view, but I think it is more accurately categorised as

      Group 1 believe that merely being gay* is sinful

      Group 2 believe that it is ok to be gay, but labelling yourself as “gay” is sinful

      Group 3 believe that it is ok to be gay and to label yourself “gay”, but all forms of expression of love/affection are sinful

      Group 4 believe that it is ok to be gay and that expressions of love/affection are OK short of sex, but sex is sinful

      Group 5 believe that it spins ok to have one sexual relationship in the context of love and faithfulness, but sex outside that relationship is sinful

      Group 6 believe that sex is not sinful if it is an expression of love (NB and consented to!)

      *gay here means attracted to the same sex and not attracted to the opposite sex.

      The groups are then further divided on what the Christian response to sinful gay people should be in practical terms (are they allowed to attend worship? How involved in church life are they allowed to be?)

      Those groups will be further subdivided if we add in people who are bisexual (somewhat attracted to both sexes).

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      • fluff35 says:

        Pete, I think your definitions of the 6 groups are really useful. I’ve said it before (https://wordpress.com/post/sharedconversations.wordpress.com/261) and I’ll probably say it again, but what are we talking about when we say, e.g., that a group believes ‘sex is sinful’? What is sex? I get the feeling that in many Christians’ minds there’s some invisible list of what counts, and in particular what counts if both people are of the same sex and that sex is male. And those assumptions here don’t reflect the realities of relationships.

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      • Pete Jermey says:

        Yes I think that’s an important point. I’ve encountered Christian views ranging from sex counts even just a kiss to it just meaning the full thing.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Kate Phizackerley says:

      “This means that the two groups are seeking to proclaim different versions of fundamental Christian truths. Both versions cannot be true. One is right and the other is wrong. There is no overarching synthesis whereby both can be right.”

      But both might be wrong, or at least incomplete.

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      • Kate
        The doctrines of Original Sin, the Wrath of God, Inability of the Human Will, Predestination to Life, the Propitiation of God’s wrath by the death of Christ all fit together. I was trying to make the point that either they are all true, or they are not all true. There are only these two alternatives, corresponding to the convictions of ‘Group 1’ and ‘Group 2’.
        Phil Almond

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  3. Pete
    My post is a much shorter version of a longer post which the moderator understandably refused to post because of its length. Possibly my attempt at a summary has lost some detail which would have made my meaning clearer and perhaps saved what I said from possible misunderstandings. I was just trying to point out that, as I see it, Anglicans disagree about what to me are fundamental doctrines expressed in the Articles of Faith which I mentioned. And that this fundamental disagreement, relatively more important than the important homosexuality disagreement, already prevents ‘Christians (i.e. in this context, Anglicans) living together in unity’. Some of my longer post can be found in a post to the Fulcrum website on the thread Cracks in deal to avert Anglican schism over homosexuality – Daily Telegraph.

    I try to explain my view on same-sex attraction in this way:
    Pride is a sin like any other sin and has its root, like all sins, in original sin. If those with a tendency towards pride become Christians they are called upon to recognise that pride is a sin, to repent of it, and to seek to put to death the tendency to pride by the Spirit in a lifelong struggle to overcome that tendency. Since, as Article 9 also says, original sin is an ‘infection of nature’ which ‘doth remain, yea in them that are regenerated’, there is no guarantee that such a struggle will end in final victory before such Christians are glorified when their salvation is completed and final victory is certain. If in the ongoing struggle they sometimes ‘depart from grace given’ and fall into the sin of pride they are called upon to repent and ‘by the grace of God arise again and amend their lives’ (Article 16) with an earnest determination by the use of all the means of grace not to fall into sin again. Every Christian whether layman, minister, bishop, archbishop has some indwelling sin to struggle against and mortify. If not pride maybe selfishness, cowardice, unrighteous anger, heterosexual lust….or sexual attraction to members of the same sex.

    In his ‘Original Sin – Illuminating the riddle’ Henri Blocher quotes Jonathan Edwards:

    ‘This doctrine teaches us to think no worse of others, than of ourselves: it teaches us that we are all, as we are by nature, companions in a miserable helpless condition; which under a revelation of the divine mercy, tends to promote mutual compassion.’

    Phil Almond

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    • Peter JERMEY says:

      That’s fine but the disagreement is over how to interpret scripture, ie not the importance of Scripture but what it says.

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  4. Pingback: Having a Difficult Conversation | Kiwianglo's Blog

  5. Kate Phizackerley says:

    I commend Acts ch 10 to you which reports St Peter’s struggles with his evolving liberalism. There are two key points:

    1. St Peter, who had benefited from being taught by Christ Himself, was still receiving further instruction from the Spirit and his liberalism evolved beyond what was considered canonical at the time of Christ’s death.

    2. Some fellow believers argued against his liberalism because less had been revealed directly to them.

    Is the situation today in Shared Conversations truly much different? Go forth to Synod in Peace and may the Spirit light the path for you. And remember that if others hold different views to you, no matter how sincerely, there is nothing wrong in trying to persuade them to change their views just as Peter did.

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    • Kate

      The situation with Shared Conversations is fundamentally different:

      1 The Acts 10 incident is in the Bible and comes with the Bible’s (God’s) authority. General Synod has not got that authority.
      2 Peter’s vision, God’s words to Peter, his visit to Cornelius, Cornelius’ conversion are in line with the OT prophecies and the words of Jesus (including about his fulfilling the Law) which give the biblical basis for preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. By contrast all the OT and NT references to same-sex attraction are negative.
      Phil Almond

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      • Pete Jermey says:

        Phil

        Sorry but your second point is not accurate. I think you mean all the OT and NT references to same sex *sex* are negative. There are no OT or NT references to same sex attraction (which is partly why there is disagreement). The closest would be David and Jonathan which is presented as neutral or positive.

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  6. Pete

    My copy of Nestle-Marshall Interlinear Greek-English New Testament has Romans 1:26-27 literally translated as ‘Therefore God gave them up to passions of dishonour; for even the females of them changed the natural use to the use against nature, and likewise also the males leaving the natural use of the female burned in the desire of them toward one another, males among males working the unseemliness and receiving back in themselves the requital of the error of them which behoved’. How can that not be a reference to same-sex attraction? I agree (and I take it that you agree) that ‘all the OT and NT references to same sex *sex* are negative’ as well. I agree that my assumption is that same sex *sex* results from same-sex attraction.
    I have debated this very fraught and sensitive disagreement on the Fulcrum website but my posts are no longer in the public domain since Fulcrum reorganised the site. In brief, my view is that Romans 1-3 is universal in its scope and about all humanity as a result of the Fall and the situation described in Romans 1 is a result of the Fall. Are we not all, by fallen nature, idolaters; since idolatry is to worship and obey and love something or someone (usually ourselves) instead of the only God?

    Phil Almond

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    • Kate Phizackerley says:

      You are generalising from sodomy to all same sex sex and I don’t think that is justified.

      Also the Catholic Church differentiates in the case of heterosexual sex between sex without condoms (OK) to sex with condoms (not OK). The Bible only spoke of same sex sex without a condom so, applying Catholic logic, it says nothing about same sex sex with condoms.

      The truth is we have to extrapolate and interpolate. We all do it differently. I happen to think your personal extrapolation and interpolation is wrong on several grounds.

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    • Peter Jermey says:

      But that is surely lust … and is about normally straight people having gay sex. This is hardly not sex and hardly “same sex attraction”

      Liked by 1 person

  7. jayneozanne says:

    Phil Almond – I’m not quite sure what you’re trying to do here? It seems a fruitless exercise trying to convince those who hold very differing views to you that you are right and they are wrong.

    As I’m sure you’re aware, others hold very different understandings of Scripture to you, but value it just as you do. Wouldn’t it be more profitable to think about how we can recognise this and look at how we might then move forward? Otherwise you are just going to get into a long tennis match as to “I think it says this” whilst others will respond “well I don’t”?

    This was of course the whole purpose of Simon’s original post, and indeed this blog site…

    Like

    • Kate Phizackerley says:

      Jayne, you are suggesting a passivity which I do not think is Scriptural.

      Like

    • Jayne
      Good question! What am I trying to do here? I arrived on this site by clicking on ‘Oliver O’Donovan – A Role Model for Good Disagreement?’ on the Fulcrum website and got to Angus Ritchie’s article. I posted a comment there and then I must have noticed Canon Butler’s article ‘Having a Difficult Conversation’. My summarised opening post was prompted by Canon Butler’s ‘….are the disagreements we have, and the divergence of practice they imply, enough to materially affect the ability of Christians to live together in unity? and was to give my view that Anglicans disagree about foundation doctrines which are more fundamental and important than the important disagreement about same-sex attraction and sex, and to point out, therefore, that there is already, in terms of what Anglicans believe to be the truth about God, Man, Sin and Salvation, deep disagreement – no matter what happens as a result of the Shared Conversations. What I am trying to do here is what I want the whole Church to do in my post to ‘Cracks in deal to avert Anglican schism over homosexuality – Daily Telegraph’ on Fulcrum: (slightly amended)

      ‘But does this disagreement between Group 1 and Group 2 about what is the position of all of us before God not ‘corrode and destroy unity’? What part should love play? Well, we are commanded to love even our enemies. Are those in Group 2 the enemies of those in Group 1? They are certainly, Group 1 would say, among those who are ‘preaching a gospel besides what ye received’ because the wrath and condemnation of God is part of the gospel that Paul preached, and therefore they would seem to be faced with Paul’s anathema. On the other hand we are commanded to pray for and persuade and seek to restore in love those who are in error, and that is the attitude of Group 1, from its point of view, towards Group 2, and, no doubt, the attitude of Group 2, from its point of view, towards Group 1. How did Paul seek to convince those who disagreed with him. In two ways: he prayed for them (kinsmen according to the flesh – Romans 9) and he disputed with them (Acts 9:22). This disputation is a matter of exegesis. That is what we should do. But do it with total and painful honesty, (for lack of honesty also corrodes and destroys) and, in my view, it can only be done by open debate on the internet. It would involve those Anglicans in Group 2 being ready to say that they do not believe that Articles 9 and 17 are true, and being ready to support that view with exegesis, and those in Group 1 being ready to say that these terrible doctrines are true, and support their position by exegesis.
      I am not advocating at this point the fragmentation of the Anglican Communion. I am advocating total and painful honesty about fundamentals –ceasing to ignore the brontosaurus in the room, the undoubted fact that while we are using the same words (like ‘gospel’) we are, like Humpty-Dumpty in ‘Through the Looking Glass’, using them to mean different, irreconcilable, things. After we have had such a debate then we will be in a clearer position to decide what the honest course of action is.
      My prayer and hope is those in Group 2 will by God’s grace come to realize that the Group 1 convictions are true, so that the Anglican Communion can speak with one united voice to an unbelieving world about diagnosis, sin and salvation’.

      Phil Almond

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      • Peter Jermey says:

        I’m in Group 1 and I don’t agree at all with your interpretation of scripture about gay people!

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  8. Peter
    I’m glad you are in group 1. We disagree about the same sex issue.
    Phil Almond

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    • fluff35 says:

      I’ve definitely lost the plot here. Are we currently with Phil’s two groups or Pete’s six?

      More generally, if one of the take-home messages here is that there was plenty of disagreement among Anglicans and among Christians before we discussed sexuality, then I agree, and for me one of the key points the Shared Conversations have made is that a lot of this depends on how we read the Bible – it’s just that the various attempts to use the Bible to answer a modern question reveal that we don’t all read it in the same way. We need to accept that all parties in the debates have a ‘high’ theology of the Bible and try to learn from each other.

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      • Fluff35
        The ‘two groups’ relate to the deep disagreement about the fundamental doctrines of wrath, sin and salvation.
        ‘We need to accept that all parties in the debates have a ‘high’ theology of the Bible and try to learn from each other’.
        The assumption in the first part of that statement needs to be tested to see whether it is true. For starters I would pose the question that I often posed to the Fulcrum Leadership Team (they never fully responded):
        Did God and Christ say and do all that the Bible asserts they said and did? I invite the main players on this website to respond.
        But I point out that I have asked Jayne Ozanne whether it is appropriate for me to continue to post on this website in the light of the background statement ‘Avoiding divisive positions, the writers look at issues in the Church and the wider world as they seek to bring a fresh perspective to areas of controversy’.

        Phil Almond

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      • fluff35 says:

        Phil, I think we have to accept rather than test that assumption, otherwise we’ll just be back arguing with each other!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Fluff35
    ‘We need to accept that all parties in the debates have a ‘high’ theology of the Bible and try to learn from each other’.

    What my question is trying to do is to learn what contributors to this site mean by “a ‘high’ theology of the Bible”.

    Surely it matters whether or not God and Jesus said and did (and will say and do) all the things that the Bible asserts they said and did and will say and do? Including the terrible things that none of us, in our ‘natural’ selves, want to believe? Because what they said and did and will say and do tell us a lot about who they are and what they are like and have a direct bearing on what the truth is about sin, final judgment and salvation.

    Phil Almond

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    • fluff35 says:

      Phil, I’ve been thinking about how best to answer you (while being occupied by a few other things, like a flash flood in our road) and today had my attention drawn to this, which sums up what I believe about how we read the Bible: https://quiteirregular.wordpress.com/2016/06/18/can-we-read-the-bible/

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      • Fluff35
        Thanks for your response. The article you pointed to: ‘Can We Read the Bible’ touches on various issues but (excuse me if I am missing something) I do not see how it helps us with your ‘We need to accept that all parties in the debates have a ‘high’ theology of the Bible and try to learn from each other’. Let me try to put my point another way.
        If the ‘parties to the debate’ mean very different things when they say that they “have a ‘high’ theology of the Bible”, we are back to Alice’s conversation with Humpty-Dumpty:

        “I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ ” Alice said.
        Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’ ”
        “But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.
        “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
        “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
        “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
        Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. “They’ve a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they’re the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!”

        If we cannot agree what God and Christ said and did, we have no common ground for any interaction of views. So I repeat my (slightly extended) question/challenge to all participants on this site:
        Did God and Christ say and do and will say and do all that the Bible asserts they said and did (and will say and do)?
        Phil Almond

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      • Pete Jermey says:

        Yes

        Liked by 1 person

  10. jayneozanne says:

    Phil
    I don’t think social media is the right place for you to be trying to ask/seek answers to these very broad and deep questions. The key to this ViaMedia.News site, and indeed this original post, is to try and show how we can respect people’s different interpretations of the Bible. I fear that this is not something that you are that happy with, from what I’ve seen. You may find a lot of the answers you are looking for in my new book Journeys in Grace and Truth, which touches on the questions you raise.
    KInd regards
    Jayne

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    • Jayne

      As I see it the articles by Canon Ritchie and Canon Butler are already exploring ‘very broad and deep questions’.

      I reflect on your word ‘respect’ in your

      ‘The key to this ViaMedia.News site, and indeed this original post, is to try and show how we can respect people’s different interpretations of the Bible. I fear that this is not something that you are that happy with, from what I’ve seen’.

      When someone holds a particular view or conviction on any important subject (I include myself), it is always possible that they hold it for reasons of personal advantage or other discreditable reason. But if I have no grounds for supposing that, then I assume that the reason the view/conviction is held is the sincere belief that it is true. So in that sense I respect the conviction and the person holding it. But that is quite compatible with my believing, my conviction, that their belief/conviction is not true, and that the person holding it is mistaken in their belief/conviction. For instance, I have no reason to doubt that those women who have been ordained as Anglican Presbyters sincerely believe that the Bible supports that or at least does not rule it out. So I respect their position. But at the same time I am convinced that they are mistaken because I believe that the Bible does rule it out.

      When you say ‘to try and show how we can respect people’s different interpretations of the Bible’ do you mean ‘try to show that the different interpretations of the Bible are views held for sincere reasons, concerned with what is the truth, and not for discreditable reasons’? If so, I am perfectly happy with that. I already believe that all the views expressed here are held for sincere reasons, concerned with what the truth is. It is up to others to say what they think my reasons are. But there must be more to your remark than that. Surely what matters to all of us is which ‘interpretations of the Bible’ are true and which are not true. In Canon Butler’s original post he acknowledges that ‘there are strongly-held and stoutly-defended, often-opposing, biblical and theological convictions held’ . In other words, some of these convictions are true, some are not true. In his post the Canon maintains that the ‘Difficult Conversation’ is about whether these disagreements ‘materially affect the ability of Christians to live together in unity’. I started out by pointing out that Anglicans are already in deep disunity about what the truth is about God and Man. We are now close to, if not already at, the centre of the labyrinth which is the source of that disunity: It is not clear whether or not we all believe that Jesus Christ said the things which inescapably point to the seriousness of sin and to eternal punishment for those whom God has not saved before they die. Do I really need to read your book to find out where you stand on that question?

      Phil Almond

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  11. Peter
    Thanks for your definite and clear reply. I’m glad we agree on that point.
    Phil Almond

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  12. Jayne
    I have ordered your book. I may post again after reading it.
    Phil Almond

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    • ‘Journeys in Grace and Truth’ is a serious, earnest and personal compilation. It contains several lines of thought. These include:
      1 The passages and texts in the Bible which have been traditionally understood to mean that homosexuality is a sin do not, when correctly interpreted and understood, mean that. And there are Biblical passages and examples which indirectly or directly support that same-sex relationships are acceptable to God.
      2 Christians who have entered same-sex relationships clearly show the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives, evidence by their orthodox beliefs (setting aside for the moment whether their convictions about same-sex relationships are true) and exemplary behaviour.
      3 Christians who experience same-sex attraction have, in some cases, had nervous breakdowns and even committed suicide because of the stress and agony of trying to lead celibate lives while asking God for grace.
      4 The personal experience of Christians who have entered a same-sex relationship even when they believed it to be wrong testify that their personal fellowship with Christ has not been affected.
      5 There are Biblical instances where the Church changed its doctrine on the basis of experience (e.g. Peter’s vision and conversion of Cornelius) and an instance (the Syrophenician woman) where Christ changed his doctrine on the basis of experience.
      6 There are examples from history where the Church has changed its view, e.g. the ordination of women and slavery.
      7 Evangelicals who have had doubts and questions about same-sex issues have felt inhibited from raising the issue for fear of being considered ‘unsound’.
      8 Evangelicals who experience same-sex attraction have felt they were regarded as second-class Christians.
      9 Evangelicals who experience same-sex attraction and believe it to be acceptable to God wished to be recognised by other evangelicals as fellow evangelicals.
      10 it is important to continue the conversations on this sensitive issue.

      I would like to comment on all these lines of thought but would welcome any comments on this list before I try to do so. Have I missed any line of thought? Have I not quite captured a line of thought?

      Phil Almond

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      • The disagreement about same-sex attraction would appear to have largely lacked the context of the doctrine of Original Sin. Are we all agreed that Article 9 is true, with its teaching that we are all born with a corrupt nature inclined to evil? I don’t think we are all agreed it is true. But the truth of this doctrine is essential in the same-sex disagreement. Romans 1-3 is universal in its scope and about all humanity as a result of the Fall. Paul is setting out a universal gospel for a universal human condition. What other explanation can there be of the descriptions of humanity given in 1-3 other than the Fall? ‘Natural’ (1:26-27) therefore means the ‘very good’ male-female sexual attraction as created by God before the Fall intervened.

        Throughout the Bible, in a remarkable constellation of interrelated pictures, the husband-wife relationship is used to illustrate God’s relationship with his people and Christ’s relationship with the Church. Asymmetry is a key feature of these relationships. Those in Christ, male and female, (whether married, remarried, single, divorced, separated, widows, widowers) are all ‘female’ in this relationship.

        By denying the essential male/female asymmetry of the sexual act and the sexual attraction which precedes it, homosexuality shatters this constellation.
        In the light of these pictures it is inconceivable that same-sex attraction could have been part of the ‘very good’, asymmetric, pre-Fall human nature described in Genesis 1 and 2.

        But people like me, who hold these views, have to be aware of beams in our own eyes. I mean this: the picture of mortification which Christ (the honest God-Man) uses, of plucking out an eye and cutting off a hand warn us of the excruciating experience (so vividly described in Jayne’s preface) when we try, really try, to put to death our members on the earth. Have I tried, really tried, tried to the point of agony, to mortify my failure to obey the command to be content with food and clothing and give the money saved to those in need? The Bible says much more about such sacrifices than about homosexuality.

        Phil Almond

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      • Pete Jermey says:

        Philip – it is possible to believe in original sin without believing that same sex relationships are sinful or unnatural.

        If you believe the existence of gay people is due to the fall (and I don’t know that we can say either way) that information alone says nothing about how gay people should live or what their relationship to the church can be. Genesis 3 is clear that the subjugation of women is a result of the fall, yet people who only accept male priests are not seen as sinful by the church, nor are the excluded from the church or from the priesthood.

        We live in a fallen world, but we *have* to live in a fallen world. We can work to make it better but it is no good acting like reality is not as it is.

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      • Do you think ‘The Fall’ was a historical event? Do you think there was an ancestorless man called Adam, from whose rib a woman was made? Do you think death came into the world, after ‘The Fall’? If so, how do you account for dead creatures (like dinosaurs) for millions of years before humans even existed? If Paul talks of ‘order’ in terms of male headship over women, because of Eve sinning first, do you think there actually was a first man and woman, and an actual first sin committed by Eve, or was it all just a story, to be understood as a story, not as fact. And if so, does that mean that ‘The Fall’ is also non-factual? And if sexual intimacy is natural, loving, tender and good… then if the Bible is not factually true about an ancestor-less Adam… (or Noah’s Ark to take another story)… then doesn’t that create a precedent for other things in the Bible being fallible, and reflective of the values and cultural or scientific limitations of its authors… and does that even matter, if we get the key messages about love and grace and living in community with one another (just as the Trinity do)? ‘The greatest is love’ not biblical literalism that was perhaps never intended.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Peter
        If, as I have argued and I believe, same-sex attraction is, like any other ‘besetting’ sin, a part of the corrupt nature inclined to evil which results from the fall, then it is part of the ‘members’ on the earth which we are called upon to put to death, part of the ‘eye’ and ‘hand’ which we are called upon to pluck out or cut off. I have also argued that male headship is part of God’s very good pre-Fall creation, and this is a key part of the (to me, conclusive) case against the ordination of women but for the ministry of women.
        Phil Almond

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      • Pete Jermey says:

        I think if you start from the assumption that gay relationships are sinful then necessarily gay relationships are sinful, but that is a circular argument.

        The consequences of the fall according to Gen 3 are

        The snake will have to crawl in the dust
        Emnity between man and the snake
        Painful childbirth
        Subjugation of women
        Agriculture is tough

        This doesn’t make being a farmer or being a woman sinful. It doesn’t make farming or childbirth sinful activities. It is possible to have a characteristic or action that is due to the fall, but is not in itself sinful.

        I would say something like 70-90% of the gay Christians that I know have devoted most of their lives to trying not to be gay (plucking out the eye). If orientation change was Gods will for them don’t you think he would help them? Or at least create a situation in which it was possible for them to change?

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      • Susannah

        Before I make my main point I just point out that my view that male headship is a part of the very good pre-Fall creation is not ‘because of Eve sinning’ but is the conclusion of Ephesians 5 (the tightly coupled Christ-Church/Husband-Wife analogy) via 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 and Genesis 2.

        But my main point is:

        Your ‘……then doesn’t that create a precedent for other things in the Bible being fallible’ raises the most enormous controversial subject of all, which lies at the root of many of our disagreements – is the Bible wholly reliable, or should we, somehow, using criteria from outside the Bible, decide what is fallible and what is true – to extract the “key messages about love and grace and living in community with one another (just as the Trinity do)? ‘The greatest is love’?”?

        I have debated this and related questions at great length on Fulcrum, including definition of terms like ‘fallible’, ‘fact’, ‘literalism’ (which is necessary to avoid misunderstanding) in posts which are no longer in the public domain since Fulcrum altered the way the site works. I am willing to debate the question here but it may be that Jayne Ozanne does not think that would be suitable on this site. In fact, in my post of June 20 3.19 pm I said to Jayne,

        ‘I started out by pointing out that Anglicans are already in deep disunity about what the truth is about God and Man. We are now close to, if not already at, the centre of the labyrinth which is the source of that disunity: It is not clear whether or not we all believe that Jesus Christ said the things which inescapably point to the seriousness of sin and to eternal punishment for those whom God has not saved before they die. Do I really need to read your book to find out where you stand on that question?’

        Jayne replied, ‘Yes’. Well I have read her book and I may be missing something, but do not see how it gives her view on this specific question of whether Jesus said all, some, or none of the things the Bible declares he said. I don’t know whether Jayne wants to pursue this specific question here.

        Perhaps, Jayne, you could advise.

        Phil Almond

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      • Pete
        I don’t think your ‘I think if you start from the assumption that gay relationships are sinful then necessarily gay relationships are sinful, but that is a circular argument’ does justice to my July 9 2016 9.43 am post.
        For the consequences of the Fall regarding sin we have to go to Romans 5:12-21, and to Paul’s teaching about being ‘in the flesh’, and to ‘That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts’ and to ‘Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me’.
        In your July 9 2016 11.20 pm post you said, ‘Philip – it is possible to believe in original sin without believing that same sex relationships are sinful or unnatural’. I assumed from this that you were agreeing that Article 9 is true. Your latest post suggests, please forgive me if I am wrong, that perhaps my assumption was mistaken and that you don’t think Article 9 is true.

        Your last paragraph about the experience of gay Christians asks a good, serious and important question. I hope to reply in another post.

        Phil Almond

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      • Pete Jermey says:

        I agree with article 9.

        I’m not sure what your evidence is that same sex attraction / relationships is a result of the fall nor why they are sinful or oriented to sin? From my understanding of what you have written you seem to have just assumed these two points. If they are as a result of the fall it doesn’t necessarily make them sinful.

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      • Peter JERMEY says:

        If I may, you also seem to be framing your thinking as a choice between heterosexual sex or homosexual sex, which isn’t really the issue. The issue is homosexual marriage or celibacy.

        Like

      • Peter
        I am glad that we agree that Article 9 is true and therefore agree that we are all born with a corrupt nature inclined to evil.

        I comment on your July 10 post that you did not mention, among your list of the consequences of the Fall, the most significant ones – spiritual death, exclusion from the garden and from the presence of God and from the tree of life, eventual physical death. And, of course, all the consequences of the Fall, including the ones you mention, are the judgments of God on the serpent, the man and the woman because of the sin that has been committed.

        My case that same-sex attraction is a result of the Fall and sinful is in the first three paragraphs of my July 9 2016 9.43 am post. I will try to expand on that in this post.

        There are two lines of argument.

        First:

        The right understanding of Romans 1:26-27 in the context of Romans 1-5. In Romans 1:26-27 ‘natural’ means the ‘very good’ male-female sexual attraction as created by God before the Fall intervened. Homosexuality by women or men is ‘against nature’ and in the context of Romans 1-3, which must be Paul describing the sinful results of the Fall, and God’s judgments (‘God also gave them up to uncleanness…’ (1:24); ‘God gave them up to passion of dishonour…’ (1:26); ‘God gave them over to a reprobate mind…’ (1:28)) must be a result of the Fall and sinful. This is true whether homosexuality is practiced by heterosexual men or women or by homosexual men or women (to counter your June 13 2016 9.01 pm post). Because sex between members of the same sex is still ‘against nature’ even when it occurs in a stable, loving, consensual relationship.

        Second:

        In the words of Francis Schaeffer in his book ‘The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century’, ‘So there is a very strong intertwining of teaching about the two relationships, the man-woman relationship, and the relationship of Christ and the Christian, and Christ and the Church’. Those in Christ, male and female, (whether married, remarried, single, divorced, separated, widows, widowers) are all ‘female’ in the Christ-Christian relationship; the relationship is asymmetric, as is the husband-wife relationship in Ephesians 5 (Properly understood, Ephesians 5 (the tightly coupled Christ-Church/Husband-Wife analogy based on kephale), via 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 and Genesis 2-3, establishes that male headship, and therefore male-female asymmetry, is a feature of God’s good pre-Fall creation).
        But underlying the view that same-sex sexual attraction and sexually active, loving, stable same-sex relationships are acceptable to God is the conviction that the sex of the participants is irrelevant. In the light of all these Biblical God-Christian, Christ-Christian pictures, in which the Christian is always ‘female’ and God and Christ are always ‘male’, I don’t see how the sex of the participants can be irrelevant in God’s sight.

        Lewis’ essay ‘Priestesses in the Church? (1948)’ was written from an Anglo-Catholic perspective. Despite this I agree with him when he says, ‘One of the functions of human marriage is to express the nature of the union between Christ and the Church. We have no authority to take the living and semitive figures which God has painted on the canvas of our natures and shift them about as if they were mere geometrical figures’ and with his final words:

        ‘….With the Church we are farther in: for there we are dealing with male and female not merely as facts of nature but as live and awful shadows of realities utterly beyond our control and largely beyond our direct knowledge. Or, rather, we are not dealing with them but (as we shall soon learn if we meddle) they are dealing with us’.

        Phil Almond

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      • Kate says:

        I read Romans as denouncing free sex (sex outside marriage). I don’t think it says anything about committed same sex unions.

        Also, the case for Biblical infallibility of the Gospels is that they are a record of Christ’s ministry. Both the Gospels and Acts reveal re-evaluation of OT Law so if the Gospels are infallible then the OT +cannot+ be infallible. The OT restricted worship of Yhwh to the Jews so there is a conflict too between OT and the Epistles addressed to Gentiles and it is impossible for both to be infallible.

        Jesus taught us how to evaluate the OT and Acts and the Epistles show us how those nearer to Jesus in time and space (one or two degrees of separation) tried to make sense of his teaching. The Bible is authoritative, yes, but I think Jesus expects us to always read it in the light of his personal teaching.

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      • Pete Jermey says:

        Sorry Phil, I was listing the things explicitly listed in the text. The list was not intended to be exhaustive, it was intended to be the things we know for sure.

        I repeat that your argument is circular. Your interpretation of Romans 1 is based on the assumptions that Paul is talking about what we now call homosexuality, that homosexuality is a consequence of the fall and that homosexuality is unnatural/not good.

        Your second half is pitting homosexuality against heterosexuality. But that is not really what the discussion is about (since heterosexual partnerships are not an option for gay people). It also makes an assumption that women are naturally inferior/submissive to men which seems to be contradicted by Gen3

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      • Pete

        We do know for sure from the text of Genesis 3 that exclusion from the garden and from the presence of God and from the tree of life are results of the Fall. We do know for sure that spiritual death and physical death are results of the Fall from Romans 5:12-21 (see also Ephesians 2:1).

        But to respond to your main points. In my first point I argue on Romans 1: Paul is describing the judgments of God as a result of the Fall. Included in these are what is described in 1:26-27. In these verses both men and women are described as changing the ‘natural use’ and acting ‘against nature’. In your June 13 post you argued that, ‘But that is surely lust … and is about normally straight people having gay sex. This is hardly not sex and hardly “same sex attraction”’. So your view is that Paul is saying that for straight men to have gay sex with men and for straight women to have gay sex with women is sinful, but Paul is saying nothing about gay men having gay sex with gay men and gay women having gay sex with gay women. I think it is very unlikely that the Apostle meant that. However, to continue with my argument. As I see it ‘natural use’ in 1:26-27 must mean sex between a man and a woman and that is what is described, pre-Fall, in Genesis 2, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh’. In present day loving, stable, consensual sexual relationships between members of the same sex this ‘natural use’ obviously does not occur. Whatever sexual activity which occurs in these relationships is ‘against nature’. I expect you will counter this by saying something like, ‘But gay men having sex with gay men and gay women having sex with gay women is ‘natural’ for them, just as for normally straight men having sex with straight women and normally straight women having sex with straight men is ‘natural’ for them. So, on your understanding, this is the position: You accept, I presume, that Genesis 2, pre-Fall, is talking about the creation of a straight man and a straight woman, with no mention of gay sex, but, and this is a crucial point, gay sex must have been an aspect of ‘very good’ human nature as created by God. Since, (we agree) all of us are born with a corrupt nature, which has affected every part of us, both straight people and gay people are corrupt and disobey God in various ways, but, the crucial point – straight sex and gay sex are both on the same footing and equally acceptable to God. If I were to argue that Genesis 2 is a very important account of the creation of the human race and it just an unwarranted assumption to believe that, though nowhere mentioned, gay sex is included alongside straight sex, you might reply ‘well, that is just an argument from silence; you can’t assume that gay sex is not included’. Have I fairly summarised your overall view? If I have, how do you cope with Genesis 1:28, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number…..’? Doesn’t this mean that an aspect of ‘very good’ human nature is the ability to conceive and bear children?

        Also, this is where, as I see it, my second point kicks in. I don’t understand your, ‘Your second half is pitting homosexuality against heterosexuality’. My second half argues that because human marriage between husband and wife (both faithful and unfaithful) is used throughout the Bible as a picture of the God-Christian and Christ-Christian relationship, and because in these pictures God and Christ are always ‘male’ and the Christian (whether man or woman) is always ‘female’, then the sexual difference in sexual attraction and activity is a vital feature, and I don’t see how its absence can be acceptable to God and (I should also have said) how gay sex can be an aspect of God’s very good human creation.

        Your other point, ‘It also makes an assumption that women are naturally inferior/submissive to men which seems to be contradicted by Gen3’ takes me back to long disagreements on Fulcrum about the ordination of women. My case against the ordination of women (but much in favour of the ministry of women) can be found on fulcrum-anglican.org.uk, thread ‘Paul’s concern for the women in Timothy’s churches: Notes on 1 Timothy 2:8-15’ by David Atkinson on August 27 2014, in Articles. My post there is Phil Almond on August 28 2014 at 3.42 pm. Male headship before the Fall is a vital part of my case, but I can only refer you to Fulcrum for my line of thought, which does not mean that women are inferior but does mean that Paul in Ephesians exhorts wives to submit to their own husbands and exhorts husbands to ‘die’ for their wives.

        Phil Almond

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      • Pete Jermey says:

        I’m sorry, but I still think this is a circular argument. I do not “buy” that Romans 1 includes all gay relationships because the text itself tells us that the attraction/lust is a punishment for idolatry, which simply doesn’t fit what (the vast majority of) gay people experience.

        I agree with you that whether relationships for gay people are “natural” or not depends on your definition of “nature” and, with your definition, *depends* on whether homosexuality is a consequence of the fall or not. I see no reason why it should be. If it is, as I have pointed out, not every consequence of the fall is sinful. Blind people are not sinful for being blind and using a guide dog is not sinful. Neither are natural according to your definition.

        My view is that Romans 1 is about idolators, not gay people (it says so in the text). I think if I was forced to have an opinion either way, I would say that homosexuality probably was a consequence of the fall, but that alone does not make it sinful. Saying, as many do, that homosexuality isn’t sinful, just gay sex, is problematic to me on at least three accounts 1 – it is not usually good for man to be alone. We are built for romantic relationship and deliberately turning your back on that can have very negative consequences if not properly supported and if not a calling. 2 – where is the line drawn between sex/not-sex? I would have thought that sex involved, if you will excuse me being crude, penetration, but most people who are conservative on this seem to include *any* form of romantic affection, which would render being truly celibate an impossibility for a gay person. 3 – we then have an overall picture of God who is love, but tells a certain subset of his followers they may not love, even though he has created them for that purpose.

        Leaving aside the fact that gay people can and do have children. I fully accept that it is not as straightforward as for a heterosexual couple, but I think this is potentially an area where homosexuality can ameliorate other fall consequences (assuming it is a fall consequence) in that gay people adopt (and according to a recent report are pretty good at it!) and gay people assist heterosexual families (they are more likely to have the time and inclination to do so). Sorry, this is off topic, but it angers me when certain right wing lobby groups pitch gay rights as being anti family, because this is an outrageous lie from my perspective!

        Leaving aside bisexuals, you are falsely pitting heterosexual relationships against homosexual relationships because gay people do not have the option of heterosexual relationships. If you were gay you probably wouldn’t see the same emphasis in scriptural metaphor on heterosexual relationships because you would be so used to seeing all manner of heteronormativity (assuming all are straight) in every aspect of culture that you naturally blank it out. I don’t think that the metaphor of Christ and his bride renders homosexual relationships sinful any more than it renders celibacy sinful. I think the fact that the vast majority of people are straight and will have straight relationships is much more likely to be the reason that this metaphor is used than it being a veiled attack on gay people.

        I think the thing is, we are not dealing with Adam and Eve, but with gay humans today who have to play the hand they were dealt. They are no more likely to be idolaters or God-haters than straight people. Most of them have a capacity, desire and calling to a loving romantic relationship, just as most straight people do. It is the same need that drew Adam and Eve together before there was a law. We know this need makes us in the image of God.

        I don’t agree with male headship, sorry. My reading of Genesis is (from the plain text) is that Eve was created as a co-equal partner to Adam and male dominance occurred as a consequence of the fall. Nothing pre-fall (well maybe the snake?) was sinful.

        Like

      • jayneozanne says:

        Please can I suggest the two of you take this “argument” off line. As we all know, this is likely to go on for all time – which is why Synod has just had the Shared Conversations. I also do not believe that Via Media is the place to have it.

        Phil, I tried to explain this to you right up front, and have been very grateful to Pete to constantly putting the other point of view. I really would encourage you to start thinking about how you look to recognise that there is more than one way of understanding scripture, and that there is a very large part of the church that no longer agrees with you.

        It is what we agree to do about that which is what the real discussion should ideally focus on,

        I will remove further posts on this.

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  13. Kate Phizackerley says:

    Phil
    You are right but there is a problem. Many liberals believe we should respect people’s differing interpretations but seem incapable of seeing that in seeking to impose that view on those like you and I who believe there is a universal truth (even if we struggle to find it) we need to unite behind, that they are doing precisely the opposite of what they claim. It is the contradiction at the very heart of liberalism.

    I’m not sure where you stand on same sex marriage, but suspect we are poles apart. But I agree with you about truth. I think a move like the SEC proposal which leaves the decision to individual priests is the worst possible outcome and would far rather there was a settled doctrine, whatever that was. Just because there is a single doctrine doesn’t mean it can’t be promoted with compassion, love and understanding.

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  14. Jayne
    It would be helpful please if you could indicate the specific points in the piece you suggest which I should consider.
    Regards
    Phil

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    • Jayne
      I have now remembered that I posted a comment on David Ison’s piece on June 2. But if you want me to comment on any other points please let me know.
      Regards
      Phil Almond

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  15. Jayne

    “I really would encourage you to start thinking about how you look to recognise that there is more than one way of understanding scripture………………”
    Of course I would say the same to you. Thank you for your patience – I will not post here again.
    Phil Almond

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