Many of you will know Anthony Bush of Noah's Ark Zoo Farm, Wraxall. He wrote to our church leadership team about the consultation on redefining marriage. After an exchange of emails he and I have agreed to publish our correspondence in the hope that it may inform the debate. It is quite lengthy but I hope helpful.
Dear HT Leadership Team,
Conscious that Noah would have been in the heroic book of failures had he taken same-sex couples on the Ark (especially his family) and that he was a preacher of righteousness I am trying to follow his lead.
Hoping that HT might discuss the subject I am enclosing a letter I have sent to some in the press and most of it to the Prime Minister.
With best wishes,
'So Cardinal O’Brien is reported as saying Britain would be shamed in the eyes of the world by the grotesque madness of redefining marriage to include same sex couples. Not the Anglican moderation we are used to, but understandable. Many of us are searching for God’s mind in this, aware that, for the Israelites entering the profligate Canaan and Christians struggling to please God in promiscuous Rome, Corinth and Ephesus, the Old and New Testament texts were given. These texts unambiguously prohibited both homosexual acts and heterosexual adultery with equal clarity and force (Lev 18:22-4, 20:10,13, Rom 1:26-7, 1 Cor 6:9-10, 1 Tim 1:8-10). The argument that marriage is about love not gender parts company with Genesis 2:24, where it is all about gender. Love was and is a luxury extra, and remains all too transitory.
'All of us are trying to help ourselves and others reach heaven and please God. Some of us might want to put a more pastoral angle to these texts in the light of young adolescents with ambiguous sexuality until they are perhaps 25, in an age where experiencing sexual activity of some sort seems to be an increasing media imperative. Temptations or tendencies should be absolutely free of condemnation, but lots of young people are confused and easy prey to media writers, commentators and others grooming them for promiscuity of any sort. Chastity is ridiculed and any sexual temptation used as a means of fixing a person’s sexuality far too young. It has always seemed to me that God was fierce in His apparent prohibition of homosexual acts not only because He wants procreation, but also because they were easier to fall for than the harder work of forming heterosexual friendships and marriage. And casual sex of any form is easier to fall for than patiently working at a prospective exclusive, loving, life-long marriage.
'I could myself so easily have become a homosexual, but for the prohibitions of the day and the intervention and help by some caring people and some sensitive spousing. Our 4 children, 14 grandchildren and Golden Wedding last month are a consequence. I hope Christians will discourage the State from rushing into redefining marriage just because a vociferous few covet the same name for a different union. They cannot use “husband” or “wife”, so why are homosexual couples not content with the legal rights of marriage they already have in a civil partnership?'
As many of my colleagues know I disagree most strongly and have written why here. Even more though is that, whatever our intention, we will be seen as homophobic if we object to the change of definition. This is a time to keep our heads down.
You may not know that many gay and lesbian couples do choose to identify their partner as their husband or wife.
You know that you and I disagree in many ways in our interpretation of a scripture. I join with you in condemning promiscuity and sex without commitment. I part company with you in your willingness to condemn loving, permanent, same sex, to-the-exclusion-of-all-others relationships. I will not.
Thanks for your reply. Robust as I would expect from you, but in my opinion you are not right, as you would expect from me!
First, you apparently ignore the Biblical evidence advocating heterosexual marriage over homosexual acts. Yet Scripture is given for our good and for everyone’s long term health and wellbeing. You use the emotive word “homophobic” to imply a persecution of downtrodden people. I am opposed to the wrong use of explosives/fire, of soil/mud, of laser/light not to persecute the users, but would want these used correctly.
Wikipedia suggests that in 2008, 6% of the country described themselves as homosexual or bi-sexual. I am sad for them and in the next generation would hope that number was reduced. You are saying that we, or is it I, will appear homophobic (defined on the Web as ‘with contempt, aversion, or irrational fear of homosexuality?’) if I want the definition of marriage to remain. As is so often the case with an angry minority, the opposite is the case. Why should a tiny number insist on a change of definition to suit themselves? And then call us homophobic if they don’t get their way?
I am not contemptuous of homosexuals, I talk to some often without aversion, I have no fear whatever of them, I want them to know Jesus loves them, but God does not approve of homosexual acts. God is also against adulterous acts, but he is not against all those with heterosexual inclinations or homosexual inclinations, He has better plans. I think homosexuals are too often heterophobic, in the sense of having irrational fear of a close relationship with the opposite sex; and I would like them helped and delivered.
As Dr Christopher Shell, writing to the CEN this week suggested, heterosexual and homosexual intercourse should not be equated for “six massive differences. The latter bears no fruit, making its biological purpose questionable. It’s high risk even without promiscuity. It involves penetrating a sphincter. It involves no lubrication. It involves a wall-lining only one cell thick (so that contraception dangerously increases pressure on surrounding skin). It involves micro-fold cells which actively attract microbes. How are we either loving or intelligent if we normalise this?” Dr Shell asks.
I know pastors like you Steve do not want to appear judgmental. I wholly understand that and the motive is probably good. But the prophetic can be lost and thousands will suffer if we fail to teach what Jesus taught. My reading this morning was Matthew 5, and there is some very tough stuff in there, including v 17-20 and lots more which will probably never be covered at HT if we are only concerned about not appearing judgmental. More important is winning people for heaven and God being pleased with us. I think people will know whether we love them by how we do this.
I expect we agree on this bit anyway.
Your brother in Christ
Here we are again. I do enjoy our little chats online although you are an infuriating debating opponent. One moment we are talking about a legal definition and suddenly the discussion has broadened out into all sorts of other areas. It is this particular tendency of the anti-homosexual-practice lobby that so inflames matters.
Still. To take your points in order (and not raise any new ones):
Still. To take your points in order (and not raise any new ones):
Just because I didn't recite all the biblical evidence dos not mean I ignore it. I take my Bible seriously and it is my more or less constant companion. I do not believe the culture of the Bible world (spread over its two millennia) says anything about the one group of relationships we are talking about - the long-term, committed, same-sex, exclusive ones. It seems to me to be anti homosexual offenders and to have ritual, cultic and casual prostitution in mind in its criticism. The world of the Bible starts (if you take it all as history, which as you know I don't) with the confusing question of who Adam and Eve's children were fruitful with, goes through a period where a king has 1000 wives and concubines but is only criticised when they lead him to foreign gods, and ends with an instruction that a leader should be the husband of but one wife (so presumably a follower can have more). In other words there is a developing understanding of relationships and our job is to apply the principles not get stuck with the precise examples.
I used the word homophobic not to accuse you but to anticipate what you will be accused of if you say what you believe in public and loudly. You are wrong when you talk of an angry minority. I think the majority of society are now becoming comfortable with the presence and aspirations of gay people. Many people will not object to the change of definition being debated.
No-one, as far as I know, has accused you of being contemptuous towards homosexuals. If they do I will defend you. I have seen you in action. You are not.
Dr Shell accidentally betrays his disgust. Whilst I didn't intend this to be part of our discussion it gives the game away. Like it or not people have been having sex without the prospect of procreation for a long time now. I am up to 27 years and counting. There is no limit on where you can put lubrication. Anal sex is not only a homosexual phenomenon. Imaginative sex can take place in many different ways and, maybe, a hint of danger makes it better. Who knows what turns people on?
I have no problem with being judgmental. I judge, and pronounce, that our church is insufficiently geared towards the alien and the stranger and the poor and I said so on Sunday. I have great problems with being judgmental about something that needs attract no judgement.
I am sure that one day we will find out, when the dead rise again to be in the place where there is no marriage, what it was we were striving after in all these messy and complex human relationships. Meantime let's tread gently. I am not even going so far as to say that same-sex, exclusive and permanent relationships are undoubtedly all OK. All I am saying is that I will not condemn them and do not think other Christians should.
I would be happy to make our correspondence more public. Would you?
Have a good day my friend,
Thanks for your thoughtful reply and yes I would be delighted to publicise our correspondence further, though if my opponents are like the last ones my staff may not thank me for the next two years of demonstrations!
I am glad to hear you take your Bible seriously. However you have a liberal tendency to write off lots of it as being culturally out of date. When I was on the General Synod’s Marriage Service Revision Committee in 1982 we had difficulty finding a Biblical example of a monogamous marriage. Isaac is the only certain one in the whole Bible. That does not alter Genesis 2:24 for those of us who believe Genesis is God’s word about marriage, confirmed, word for word by Jesus and Paul. Most Biblical teaching about marriage implies its purpose is physical union more than for breeding babies and you are unfair on Dr Shell by saying his comments about anal intercourse betray his disgust. He is reminding us which orifice was made for what purpose and which defences they have naturally and which they don’t.
When I was in Nigeria the reason for “husband of one wife” became highly relevant as lots of Muslims were becoming Christians having up to 4 wives. European missionaries made them divorce all but one, so the CAC started as an indigenous denomination (to whom I was preaching) with more compassion for the wives, but the pastors only had one wife.
You seem to be selective about which homosexual acts you think the Bible indicates are wrong, quoting the NIV (UK) translation of 1 Cor 6:9, arsenokoitai, (literally man-coitus) as “homosexual offenders” to mean homosexuality with ritual, cultic or casual-only meaning. The original NIV and other translations have “men who have sex with men”, or men who practice homosexuality, or homosexuals. The OT law points to all homosexual activity being wrong, because the Israelites were told (Lev 18;22) “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable”. That sounds clear. Before you suggest its context makes it a text for its time only, then follows an anti-bestiality command, with the reason “that is perversion”. These are preceded by hygiene laws with no moral comment, and by the laws of incest (for the first time, probably, as Abraham’s marriage with his half-sister was the blessed one). These incest laws were evidently needed now, despite the Pharaoh’s being compulsorily incestuous for god to marry god. They also remind us where Adam’s descendants came from - marriage between his children, likewise probably with Noah, for those of us happy with the historicity of the whole text. The gene-pools would have been strong and unlikely to produce harmful mutations through close breeding, for thousands of years. Indeed lots of animals breed that closely now with no harmful effect.
So I cannot see that you have any grounds for saying God’s view of same-sex activity depends on how serious or permanent they appear to be. “Detestable”, sounds very different from His view of creation after He had made both male and female as being “very good” (Gen 1:31). In Jesus day homosexuality was probably unknown in Israel but widespread in the Roman Empire (especially its emperors) so Paul mentions it to warn the Romans, Corinthians and Ephesians, as I quoted last time.
I am all for treading gently. No one wants to be condemning, but we have young people looking for guidance, struggling with their sexuality and making friends and decisions which could mean they marry and have children or not. There is also a Gay Pride lobby who are keen to get into schools and “help” the children. I personally feel sure lots of youngsters who end up homosexual could have become heterosexuals with the right encouragements. I am one who narrowly escaped, so am biased. My book in April will tell more.
In many ways this is a similar debate to the remarriage after divorce one, which I was also deeply involved in on G Synod. That one was partly about how marriages begin, the choice of spouse and purity or otherwise before marriage; the effort each side puts into keeping the marriage hot and free from predators. Obviously those who are on their second marriage will not like first timers being told those words of Jesus that suggest remarriage equates to adultery. So the church is silenced for fear of sounding condemning. Perhaps many of the voices that shouted “crucify him” were of those whom He upset.
In case we all need to know how many people the redefining of marriage is for, the ONS states there were 6281 civil partnerships formed in 2009, which were 2.7% of the number of marriages that year. It is difficult to compare break-ups at 5.5% for CP’s as they have only been going since 2005. I would expect them to be far less, as children are a huge extra strain on marriages, so marriage is so much more difficult than CP that for this alone it deserves its own exclusive name. I would be happy to leave Civil Partnerships as they are, with that name, or invent a new name for them.
A la prochaine fois – meilleurs voeux
We might have gone as far as we can because we have isolated the one thing we disagree about - our use of Scripture.
Trouble is I love watching the twists and manoeuvres extremely conservative evangelicals have to make to preserve their insistence upon historicity in the Bible. I would find it great sport if it wasn't so sad to the outside world that there are still people out there who hold such views.
I will not publicise this if you don't want me to but I had in mind putting it on my blog and telling my Facebook friends and Twitter followers where it was. Of course you can do likewise and we might be able to step back and watch the debate in the comments box. The blog traffic is not particularly heavy - 100 or so people a day at the moment tops.
I will not accept '...you have a liberal tendency' as anything other than praise. I know what you mean by it but it seems to me that we are all liberals when it comes to the Bible - we simply draw the line in different places. For me a liberal wants to give fellow humans as much freedom as the Bible describes God giving all of us. And a liberal approach to the Bible sees it as divinely inspired but as an agreed starting point rather than a fixed end (Rowan Williams' expression). 2,000 years of history gives us many things that the Bible knew nothing of and we have to apply its principles rather than look for proof texts (often out of context). For Jewish scholars the whole business of Midrash - discussing the scriptures - was as much doing scripture as reading it. I am tentatively trying to work out what it means to be liberal and evangelical.
Genesis 2:24 says 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother...' It is not obvious which of the previous clauses is the reason:
Because he needed a helper
Because the woman was made from his rib
It seems to me to be a story to answer a child's question about why people leave home. It can't, by itself, be used to support monogamy. We must beware of asking one text to bear more weight than it can.
And I am unconvinced by your specific quotations from Leviticus. It seems to me that the past is another country and they do things differently there. We can admire the desire of the fledgling community of Israel to keep themselves pure and holy listening, as they thought they were, to the voice of God the while, but we have to beware of cherry-picking our favourite prohibitions from the Law whilst ignoring the clear, apparently divinely condoned acceptance of destroying whole ethnic groups, stoning people to death for what we would now call relatively minor matters and a whole bunch of stuff about fabrics and spots.
I look forward to your treatise on orifices and their specific purposes. Do you mind if I pick my nose while I write? No-one is looking.
I'm not sure people will find it easy to listen to examples from Nigeria these days as a place of reason and tolerance but I accept that our Victorian missionaries did harm as well as good.
Your church would obviously be quite a hard place to be a divorcee, a homosexual and a liberal. I hope mine isn't. What have I achieved if I tell someone who is on their second marriage that they are committing adultery?
And finally I fear that your closing paragraphs anticipate a disaster that will simply not happen, a floodgate that will remain resolutely closed. If people, who are gay, opt to live an openly gay lifestyle it is not the thin end of any wedge. If some Christians, who are gay, choose to read the scriptures carefully and come to the conclusion that God is interested in mutual encouragement and support one for the other just as much as he is about procreation, I will not condemn them. If some of those want to enter into life long commitments I will not condemn them. If some of those wish to call their relationship 'married' I will not condemn them. If they wish to find some way to raise children as a couple I will not condemn them.
I'll look forward to reading your book.
I'll let you have the last word. Once you have replied I will put this on the blog unless you tell me not to.
Given that we seem to have changed our greetings into a foreign tongue (for added gravitas?) then I sign off as all Brummies do,
Thanks for your amusing caricature of my position. I smiled quite a lot and you deserve readers of your blog as you are an entertaining writer.
However as you know you are the same age as my children so I would expect you to have a different set of understandings of Biblical text. The beginning of WW2 saw this country extremely serious about calling on God and expecting His help. He appeared to give us astonishing deliverances. My book expands this. Subsequently the secular world and much of the church moved from this dependence on God and sincere search for His will in the Bible, to a more man-centred theology, with God brought in often, but not as final arbiter. Post rationalism has become the norm; if it feels good it is probably OK as long as no one gets hurt. The trouble is people do get hurt, often quietly. What God thinks about it is assumed to be fine; He is a nice forgiving guy. He doesn’t want anyone to perish, it says, so do what you like, He will have you in the end. Going to church is not one of those things, so those churches’ attendances are declining.
As you know there is also a conservative wing of the Church that thinks largely as I do. You cannot be ignorant of this position, so you must choose to parody it and ridicule it for other reasons; perhaps entertainment on the blog? If I am to take your reply seriously it will probably not make entertaining reading, though a few might get through it.
When Christina and I were married divorces stood at about 30,000 per year. Quite worrying, because in 1858 (or so) there were 2, when divorce first became permitted, and there were about 2,000pa until WW2. Divorce law was sought by liberals, promising that a tiny number of people were hurting badly from bad marriages, but after a few years of bulge the figures would settle down again. They were warned it was Casanova’s Charter and divorces would double, we needed to put in place marriage preparation, marriage counselling or the social fabric of the country was in danger. We would become the divorce capital of Europe, hurting single mothers and disfunctional children. They denied it vehemently or course and it went ahead. 8 years later divorces were 110,000, and another 6 years later they were 168,000. We have become all that was prophesied.
My book will show you our response. I am skeptical about younger people who were never taught their history. The law on abortion was changed with similar promises, sex education and contraception were introduced into schools without any moral background. We warned that we would become the abortion capital of Europe, the unmarried mother capital, etc. Sadly all this has happened. Where were most theologians? Living blameless lives answering questions no one was asking.
So I am skeptical about your plan to keep your head down over homosexual marriage and let this all pass; because you think no one will really be badly affected. I foresee much more inflationary consequences, as I suspect do the advocates of change. You have been warned.
My own take on all of this is that the church has lost conviction about God. There is lots of talk about loving neighbours, doing stuff in the community, living good lives if possible. But most people do not really think God is there, and if He is, then He is not particularly interested. “Do you believe in God?” I often ask. No nature all came from the big bang and evolution.
So I am not going to deal with any of your parodies of Old and New Testament verses. I am just going to say that God in His mercy can forgive all the messes we have made and do make every day. Repentance and seeking Him are key to His revival. No one is turned away, no matter how many abortions they have had or how many marriages. Jesus still says “neither do I condemn you, go and do not sin again”. We desperately need to be forgiven and filled with the Holy Spirit daily and have the courage to reach people where they are, in all the ways He can inspire us. This will need considerably more courage than is usually displayed by God’s people, but it is not too late.
I hope we are concluding on common ground, Steve. I will be delighted to discuss any of this again when we next meet.
With my love in Christ
Profoundly tempting as you have made it for me to want to write again I will, as promised, not and will now publish and let people make up their own minds.