A Recipe For Change...
.... of the Church of England’s practice or doctrine on issues of sexuality
Have to hand 850 grams of “Living in Love and Faith - Christian teaching and learning about identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage”.
First, prepare a “choice”[i] of snacks - from 30 pages of “reflecting”, 107 pages of, “…what is going on?”[ii], 73 pages of “where are we in God’s story”[iii] and 29 pages of “real life stories”[iv] – this will ensure the majority of people are satisfied before they reach the main course.
Next, if at all possible, use a less tasty substitute[v], otherwise take the meat of the issue - what the Bible says - and hack it as clumsily as possible into two parts. Take care to separate the teaching of Jesus[vi] from that of the rest of the Bible[vii]. Do not risk leaving it whole[viii].
Once divided, use the pejorative mallet of “clobber texts”[ix] to hammer the meat until malleable. Then, mince the meat down further in a disorientating whirl of already discredited arguments and a handful of digressions[x].
Then set to one side for as long as possible.
In the meantime, mix a complex and intoxicating soup of “agape/eros/phileo/storge”—it doesn’t matter- any “love” will do—[xiii], sex[xiv] and guilt[xv]. Do not worry too much about weighing or balancing what goes in[xvi].
However tempting, do not add anything more—Islam’s approach to sexuality[xvii]— certainly not any analysis of Genesis 2:23-24 as a stand-alone, foundational text, and the special significance of marriage amongst relationships[xviii] or children amongst new life[xix] or homosexual practice in the list of what porneia might involve[xx]—they are not for the modern palate.
Return enough of the meat set aside earlier—according to your taste—to give the a hint of biblical credibility, and stir the pot well.
Bring to the boil with an emotive appeal[xxiv] and then let the whole thing simmer for a year of so in the parishes, until everyone can smell the inevitable.
Serve with an assertion that this as good as nourishment gets[xxv] and present with a side helping of sweet films.
If people recognise this thin gruel for what it is, make sure they understand that it is their lack of good taste and manners that is the problem[xxvi].
Those who cooked it up can still dine well off the flock.
Ingredients (can all be downloaded for free from the CofE website)
[i] Pg iii “Each of the book’s five Parts is intended to guide you as you proceed from one to the next. But where you begin your journey might depend on who you are and how you prefer to learn.”
[ii] Pg iii – referring to Part 2: Paying Attention: What is going on?
[iii] Referring to Part 3: Making Connections: Where are we in God’s Story?
[iv] Pg iii – referring to the Encounters which follow each Part of the book.
[v] Whilst LLF does refer to the Bible in positive terms – space is always given to those who would not accept it as God’s revealed word: Pg 39 “So it is to the Bible that we turn to find what Christians agree is a uniquely authoritative account of who Jesus is, how he lived and what he taught. It sets the story of Jesus in the story of God’s revelation and saving activity through the people of Israel and celebrates God’s work in the creation of the world”. Pg 40 “Telling the story of the God of Israel who becomes flesh in Jesus Christ, it becomes again the cornerstone of our learning together as we return to it again and again, confident that in its pages we will find the resources that we need for perceiving together the mind of Christ for his Church”. Pg 41 “It was the Church that saw how some early Christian writings seemed to be so God-given that they could be received in the same way as the God-breathed Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16 NIV) of their Hebrew heritage”.
[vi] Pg 246-252 – Jesus’ Teaching on Marriage
[vii] Pg 284-293 – Reading Some Relevant Texts
[viii] Pg 280 “And then there is Paul’s later teaching in 1 Corinthians 7, which refers to Jesus but also adds to his teaching (1 Corinthians 7.10-13). On hearing these various voices in the canon, how can we discern the voice of God?”
[ix] Pg 283 “…some texts in Scripture have been identified as particularly relevant to debates on sexuality and gender issues and have therefore been prominent in church debates. Although small in number, these texts are all negative towards the sexual behaviour that they describe and they have traditionally been seen as demonstrating a straightforward, consistent biblical witness against all same-sex sexual activity. Their prominence in debates means that we now need to turn to them, while, at the same time, acknowledging that there are questions about whether these passages should be used as a starting point and the weight that should be given to them. We need to be alert to the fact that narrowing our interest to a few texts is likely to give us a distorted picture of how Scripture as a whole speaks to us. We also need to recognize that these texts have sometimes been used to silence the voices and questions of LGBTI+ people, or to exclude them from fellowship- which has led to these texts being experienced and described as ‘clobber texts’.” [x] Throughout, the commentary on biblical passages (Pg 246-252/pg 289-293) refers to ‘traditional’ interpretations and then offers alternative readings which fully appreciate the ‘problems and complexity’ of the text. [xi] For example: Pg 186 Without a narrative to explore the lived experience of “The few verses that do speak about same-sex matters are all found either in legal material or in lists of sins in Paul’s letters, and so the narratives do not enable us to see how the lives of those involved actually played out.” Pg 291/293- describe 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 as a “vice list” that God has to “justify”: “A further difficulty we face is that vice lists offer no explanation as to why what they reject is sinful. This is not a problem when- as with the other terms on the vice list- it is fairly obvious to us. However, in a context such as ours, justification is increasingly sought as to why a loving, same-sex relationship would necessarily be sinful, or against the dignity of the body”. [xii] Pg 295/297/298- This view “I believe that God loves us enough to have given us a manual for living. By the grace of God, the Bible is truthful, without error, and clear. Everything we need to know for our salvation, and to live holy lives pleasing to God, is right there on the page. We simply need to read it, and obey it- and that includes all that it says about identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage. Most of what people mean when they talk about ‘interpreting’ the Bible is one attempt or another to avoid listening to its plain teaching” is simply unacceptable, it is described as “…beyond the mainstream of the church’s conversation about the Bible’s authority and purpose…” and as equally unacceptable as saying that, “I agree that the Bible is a collection of fallible human voices, but I’m wary of what you say about God bringing these texts together, and giving them to us for some central purpose. I do think that it is a book produced by people who were caught up in movements of God’s Spirit in history- but their words only do uneven and partial justice to what they glimpsed. You can certainly find some important truths in Scripture, sometimes powerfully and beautifully expressed, but they are mixed in with all kinds of other material, some of it horrific.” [xiii] Here are some examples Pg 17 "To love God and be loved by God, to love others and to let others love us, to love this creation of which we are part and to receive God's live through it, is at the heart of what it means to dwell with God and to be indwelt by God." Pg 171 “Human love, in all its richness and glory, reflects this prior love of God. Acts of self-giving for the good of the other- gifts of time, attention, nurture and care, the tender touch of lovers, the enduring commitment of friends- are luminous with God’s light. If we love one another, God lives in us.” Pg 171 “Love is the intersection of God’s life and our life. When we love selflessly, devotedly, truly, we come close to perceiving the nature of God’s love- indeed, the nature of the God who is love. Pg 30 “Marriage enables two people, through their covenant of love, to mirror the steadfast covenant love of God”. The book has already stated that “a sacred covenant” is possible between two men (pg 19) as is “vowed togetherness” in a religious community (pg 35). David and Jonathan were “covenanted”- pg 180-181/243. [xiv] Here are some examples Pg 34 “More than that, bodies joined in this kind of passionate, tender, faithful mutuality are an icon that opens to us a reality beyond themselves. As Jewish and Christian readers of the Song of Solomon have seen over the centuries, its story of desire and faithful loving points beyond the couple’s yearning for each other to the human longing for God and God’s delight in humanity: I am my beloved’s and his desire is for me (Song of Solomon 7:10)” Pg 177 “Bodies are the site of loving relationships between people. We see that between friends, such as David and Jonathan who embrace each other (1 Samuel 20.41), or John reclining on Jesus (John 13.23)…” [xv] Here are some examples Pg 6 “Engagement with this project will be more costly for some than others, especially LGBTI+ people…” Pg 41 “…listen well to voices that we may not have attended to before as we seek together to follow Christ, especially the voices of LGBTI+ people”. Pg 48 “By paying attention to the stories of people who have different, and even opposing, understandings of abundant life, we are taking a first step towards something that we do not yet see and cannot perhaps even imagine: a community of believers whose love for one another testifies to the living Christ. The book invites readers into this act of hopeful, attentive listening as an act of holy love.” [xvi] For example pg 130-1 creates a false equivalence between the convictions of the churches of the Evangelical Alliance /English Roman Catholics/Orthodox/Pentecostal (attendance approx. 2.5m and rising) and those of the Baptist Union/URC/Church of Scotland (attendance approx. 67,000 and falling) as if they are equally significant.
[xvii] Islam is represented only by groups that seek to include LGBTI voices Pg 127.
[xviii] Pg 25 state: “Marriage’s form, as described by Jesus, is the union of a man and a woman, and one that is intended to last for life. That’s is why the church’s ‘canons’ (its laws), echoing the liturgies which we have heard in our land for centuries, say that ‘Marriage is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong, for better or worse, till death them do part, of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side’. Marriage is defined by mutuality (sharing life) and fruitfulness (bringing life”, characteristics belonging also to the wider framework of relationships we explored in the last chapter”. But then take the sex/gender out: Pg 26 “Mutual society, help and comfort run like a golden thread through the liturgies of the Church, ancient and modern…” Pg 27 “They make a solemn undertaking to serve another human being in faithful love throughout that person’s life”- any human being of age. Pg 177 “Bodies are the site of loving relationships between people. We see that between friends, such as David and Jonathan who embrace each other (1 Samuel 20.41), or John reclining on Jesus (John 13.23)…” Pg 178 “Human beings are essentially interrelated, social beings, who can form bonded pairs united physically as well as emotionally”.. Pg 193 “Our intimate relationships, (defined as “including marriages and civil partnerships”) … can involve deep commitments to ongoing intimacy, the sharing of material goods and the reshaping of our public roles. They can create all kinds of expectations and obligations between people. They can involve all kinds of expectations and obligations between people. They must always, however, be mutual. They are relationships between people of equal value, equal dignity before God”. [xix] Pg 29 “Openness to life, not only enjoying life together but enabling life in others and bringing the world into fuller life, belongs to the character of marriage because that is the way of God’s love. It is a love that at its truest is never self-contained but always self-giving, always generative of life, good life, in others”. [xx] Pg 247 “However, he [Jesus] does also condemn sexual immorality (porneia) in general. We find this in a list of sins that he says come from the heart (Matthew 15.19 [Mark 7.22]). The term porneia covers a range of sexually immoral practices but can refer more specifically to prostitution, fornication, unchastity, forbidden marriages and, metaphorically, to worshipping any but the one true God. (There is no further discussion of this word in the book) [xxi] Pg viii “This is an Anglican method of theological reflection, based around Richard Hooker’s pattern of Scripture, reason and tradition: Scripture read together in the wide and long life of the church, with all the skills that God has given to us” It seems the Bishops may not have read any more of Hooker’s writing, for example, “He cannot love the Lord Jesus with his heart, which lendeth one ear to his Apostles, and another to false apostles; which can brook to see a mingle-mangle of religion and superstition, Ministers and Massing-priests, light and darkness, truth and error, traditions and scriptures. No, we have no Lord but Jesus; no doctrine but the gospel; no teachers but his Apostles" (https://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/hooker-the-works-of-richard-hooker-vol-3 Sermon V 7 [xxii] Examples Pg 21 “It was through others that Jesus’ understanding of his truest identity and deepest vocation grew”. Pg 48 “All the stories are about people trying to be transformed into the likeness of Christ (2 Corinthians 3.18) ….“The stories invite us to step out of ourselves, out of our own world and concerns into those of another. They invite us to listen actively and attentively, laying down for a moment our own anxieties and fears in order to be present to another. In doing so we create a space for the work of God’s Spirit in us. We are exercising faith in the reality of Christ in each person, and in the possibility of Christ addressing us through the life of another.” Pg 93 “When we categorize babies at birth, when we develop an understanding of our own gender identity or perform gender roles, when we make stereotypical assumptions about people, we are always responding to what we see and know in ways that are shaped by our whole history and all our social interactions…” Pg 182 “But even in Scripture itself, we see the shape of ‘marriage’ evolve”. Pg 186 “[The Bible] often tells the story from the point of view of view of those who had the power to tell the story. We know less of the lives and perspectives of women, of those with little power. There is also no explicit positive or negative narrative portrayal of same-sex relationships nor of trans people. The few verses that do speak of about same-sex matters are all found either in legal material or in lists of sins in Paul’s letters, and so the narratives do not enable us to see how the lives of those involved were actually played out. People, especially women, who were attracted to the same sex and may have been in some sort of relationship are invisible in Scripture… That has opened the way, as we will see in Part Four, to all kinds of arguments about the lived realities to which those texts might apply.” Pg 250 “[Matthew 19:3-12/Mark 10:2-12] opens up a window onto Jesus’ view of marriage, a view both steeped in the culture and expectations of his time, yet challenging to his hearers, and using the biblical tradition is unexpected ways”. [xxiii] Example Pg 194 “For some, there is an irreconcilable tension here: homosexual people are told that they are of equal dignity, and yet that there is something incomplete about them compared to heterosexual relationships that are open to (and highly valued by) others. Many lesbians, gays, bisexuals and others have experienced this as a relegation to second-class status and as a denial that they can belong as fully as others to the body of Christ.” [xxiv] Pg 420 “Our strong hope is that people and communities all around the country – everyone who looks to the Church of England as their spiritual home – will engage with this book and its accompanying resources and, as far as possible, do this together with those who have different perspectives and lived experiences. This work demands from us that together we face our differences, divisions and disagreements honestly, humbly and compassionately, and that together we stand against homophobia, transphobia and all other unacceptable forms of behaviour, including demeaning those whose views are different from our own. It requires us all to serve, honour and love one another as we seek the face of Christ in each other. It calls us all to enter into the suffering of Christ’s body as we embrace the pain of differences and see the harm that some of our disagreements cause. It implores us to seek the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that we may be led more deeply together into the mind of Christ. [xxv] Pg 420 This process offers us a taste of true Christian maturity “Therefore, we exhort you to walk with us in a new stage of our common life in Christ so that, ‘speaking the truth in love’, godly discernment and right decisions can be made over contested matters of identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage, for ‘we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ’ (Ephesians 4.15).”
[xxvi] Examples Pg iii “Don’t forget to read the Appeal at the end, which gives an idea of the way ahead and your part in it. The more you engage with the whole book, the more the Appeal and the journey beyond it will make sense.” Pg 3 “So it may be that, like the disciples, you can’t see the sense of getting everyone to ‘sit down’. And yet, this book is an invitation to do just that: to sit down to learn, listen and pray together. This is neither easy nor comfortable and is itself a step of love and faith. When Jesus ordered the disciples to make the crowd sit down, they had no hard evidence that everyone would be fed. In fact, quite the contrary. In the same way, this book offers no recommendations or guarantees of an agreed way forward for the church in relation to human identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage. But it does challenge all of us to believe that God is at work among us as we sit together to learn, to study, to listen, to talk and to receive; and, in so doing, to follow Christ together in his way, truth and life.” Pg 150 “Far from settling the debate or resolving divisions, however, Lambeth 1.10 has remained a continuing focus of contention across the Communion”.