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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].

Marinade the meat thoroughly in a mix of desiccating pejoratives[xi]. Take care to rub it in that most normal people over-estimate the richness of what is on offer[xii].

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.

Lastly, throw in a seasoning of misrepresented theologians[xxi], a sprinkling of dubious assertions[xxii] and a pinch of straw man[xxiii].

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 ge