This morning I went along to one of the regional discussions on human sexuality being hosted by the Evangelical Group of the General Synod, with Ed Shaw (livingout.org and a church planter in Bristol) and Stephen Hofmeyr QC (interim chair of Church of England Evangelical Council) giving presentations.
Ed Shaw spoke from personal experience on “Is God anti-gay?” and “How churches can welcome those with same sex attraction”.
Stephen Hofmeyr QC (interim chair of Church of England Evangelical Council) spoke about the “shared conversations” and the possible outcomes in the life of the Church of England.
Here are my notes – please excuse any spelling and punctation mistakes etc.:
Ed Shaw, Living Out
Grew up in a Anglican evangelical family, always professed faith. Brought up with deep convictions about the Bible being God’s word for us, and sex being for marriage and between a man and woman. An interesting experience having those convictions and during puberty being clear having desires for other men. Thought through it and during teenage and twenties thought it was just a phase. Reached mid-twenties and realized it wasn’t a phase and shared in an accountability group with other ministers, but kept it private, until 2-3 years ago when realizing some were going to have to ‘come out’ as the issue became a central issue for the church. Had a wonderfully positive response, and released a day a week to help with Living Out.
This will be a deeply political issue, and the danger is we get focused on the politics, can we stay within the CofE etc. We lose the focus that it is a personal issue for many in our churches, and one of the biggest issues for evangelism in the church today.
- What is our verbal apologetics – how do we answer is God anti-gay?
- How do our churches and church life that will engage people from the gay community – how can they be seen as welcoming and inclusive in the right sense.
Is God anti-gay?
In reply to the question often hear:
- God loves the sinner but hates the sin – instinctive but problematic as it is really hard to make the distinction between me the sinner and the sin. The Bible says it isn’t just the sin, but it is in our hearts. For the gay community their sexuality is a massive part of their identity and so doesn’t work.
- John 3:16, God loves everyone, he loves you. But people find it hard to understand how love can involve saying no to things. How can God be loving and say no to a loving relationship. There are answers today but it is difficult to work through in our culture.
- God is anti all sin – not just anti homosexuality but a whole host of categories, God puts all of us in the box of those who have rebelled against Him. They should see fairness in that. It is seen as quite negative, and for unbelievers it can be hard work to help them see what sin is.
You want to nuance what you say. Want to say no and yes.
It is a very personal talk, evangelical Christian who believes in the Bible and trusts in Jesus but finds myself exclusively attracted to men, would call myself same-sex attracted, society would call me gay.
Didn’t choose to be gay. Some people thought I had to be made to be gay, it was done to me, I had a bad relationship with my dad or abused as a child – neither happened to me. What was natural for my friends to fancy women, was natural for me to fancy men. I thought it was a phase but I see now it is a permanent decision. So the question is a personal question for me.
Why do people think God is anti-gay? One of the definitions people know of God is love so how can they think he is against them. Maybe because they’ve experienced homophobia from Christians, the Stonewall definition of homophobia is helpful. That is wrong and Christians should be repenting, and if you see that you should challenge that.
They’ve read the Bible, they’ve read passages where gay sex is described as an abomination. Want to in one sense apologise for that, but one of the claims is that the Bible is right for us today and so cant get the tippex out and edit it, the Bible says difficult things. Leviticus 20 – they are to be put to death – very clear – God is anti-gay, in black and white in the Bible.
Want to say today it isn’t that simple. There is a big nuance if we’re to interact with this subject. He is anti gay sex but clearly loves gay people.
Clearly anti-gay sex – Leviticus passage might make that. Some might think the NT would be different but let’s read 1 Corinthians 6 – any sex outside marriage is not compatible with what a Christian should do. Saying to someone they can’t do something they want to do doesn’t mean you’re anti them or hate them. My parents stopped me doing loads of things I wanted to do things out of love for me, e.g. thumping my sister, punishing me out of their deep love for me and my sister. My father God in stopping me having the gay sex I want to have is doing that for me – it would not be good for me or them. It is possible to be anti behavior and still love the individual.
You might instinctively have objections. How can God be loving in stopping me having gay sex. Let me tell you something counter cultural – sex isn’t everything. It is a good and pleasurable thing but you can have a good life and not have sex – it is possible. Look at the life of Jesus, he is the example for a Christian as to how human life is lived to the fullness. All a Christian is being asked to do is to follow Jesus and live life to the full. Doesn’t that mean we have to live a lonely life – you’re condemning us to misery. No, because the NT tells us the Holy Spirit is creating a radical community called the Church. In my church I have spiritual uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters – it is the family that will last for all time. Not starved of love due to the network of love, often receive more than my married friends. Although the bible is clearly anti-gay sex, God clearly loves gay people, people like me.
Unlike our society today God doesn’t put gay people in a separate category. God doesn’t put people into different boxes saying to the straight people he loves you and the gay people he hates you. The label he gives me is the label he gives anyone who comes to trust in him is to be an adopted child – regardless of what has or hasn’t happened in our sex lives – I love you. God doesn’t put gay sex into a category of special, serious sin – he puts it in 1 Corinthians 6 in a list of things that everyone has done at some point in our life – not picked out as a particulary bad case of rebellion against God – put in the same category as everyone else.
Wonderfully Jesus died on a cross to forgive me for everything I’ve done wrong be it my sexuality or other things I’ve done wrong. And that’s what he’s done for you – having sex with someone of the same gender doesn’t mean God can’t forgive you. The cross shows he loves us all.
There are lots of questions but soon to focus on how you thrive in community without sex, lots of young people feel the world hasn’t delivered what it promised, they’ve tried sex and it wasn’t what they were told it would be. Lots that is hard but some stuff that they are intrigued about.
How can our churches be seen as pro gay people?
We have a massive challenge on this issue. Whenever faced with a massive challenge I need motivation. Need to turn to Jesus in the gospels where he was consistently welcoming and inclusive of those who weren’t by the religious societies of the day – women, lepers, children, Gentiles. We know that as Christians we know we need to be like him. We need to recognize that we’ve not done what Jesus would do for minority groups such as the gay community.
Tim Keller in The Prodigal God: “Jesus’ teaching consistently attracted the irreligious and offended the religious, our teaching today doesn’t do this … it can only mean one thing, we must not be declaring the same message Jesus did.”
Andrew Marin: “I’ve never met such a loving community as the gay community – there is room for everyone – they want to give the same love to others as they want to receive. … I was being out-Jesused by gays and lesbians, they put a bullet in my soul.”
Three things that need to massively communicate, three big truths that we all believe but failed to broadcast:
- We are all sinners. The world needs to hear that you will be welcomed as you are all sinners. We give the impression that the sinners are out there, and the salted are in here. Very good at doing 1 Cor. 6:9-10, and people have got that they don’t belong if they’ve done one of those things, but what hasn’t been heard is v. 11.We’ve somehow managed to hide the fact that we have people who have done all those things that mean we shouldn’t be here, and continue to struggle with things and because of the grace of Jesus can be here. They think you have to be perfect to belong and so they know they don’t belong. We enjoy self-righteousness – not happy with any specific analysis of what our sins and struggles are. We need to remember that Jesus’ harshest words were for those who were self-righteous and his warmest words were for those who recognized their sins.
Some thoughts: the Anglican liturgy helps us as the service begins with confession of sin – but we’re not good at reflecting and explaining that. It would seem to be a formula we go through rather than a reality we accept. If we are more specific, not necessarily asking people to stand up and confess their sin, but naming sins like self-righteous, consumerism, idolatry of the nuclear family. Let’s use our sermons – your church probably know what your sins are – they’ve lived and worked with you so they know what your sins are – but have you confessed them in the pulpit so they know you consider yourself to be a sinner. It would be helpful if the people at the front get that you are a sinner, you are broken and a mess like them. We need to not just condemn gay sex, Justin Welby did us a great favour when he turned our attention to Wonga and the consumerism that sits behind it. We need to condemn gay sex, but all the other sins in those lists so people get we’re not sex obsessed, but bothered about anything that is not good for us.
- God’s word is good for all – one way for being inclusive and welcoming is to say that gay sex is fine. Why can’t we say that? Because the Bible is quite clear. Psalm 19 helps us when we reflect that God’s word is out to get us and screw us up. God’s word is perfect, trustworthy, right … . Look at the affect it has – it revives my soul, brings light, endures forever, in keeping them there is great reward. C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, reflects on this – the Bible is good even when it sounds like it is screwing up our lives.
We have got to resist the attempts to say God’s word is bad on this issue. We’ve got to be unapologetic that God’s word is good on this issue. God’s word is often hard for us in it’s initial application and yet will still be in the long-term a good thing for us. We can best do that in our churches by sharing the reality – those who are stuck in a difficult marriage, knew what God said about divorce, they see the benefits from that; when people give self-sacrificially it is really hard but that is good and good things come from that – the most generous givers consistently testify to the reward that giving brings.
- Church is family – one of the biggest pressure points is that we can’t ask people to live alone, a lonely misery so we have to embrace talk of gay marriage. Church is a family but we often only use that to enable the oldies to cope with the noise the children make. It is a realistic idea: Matthew 12:46. The NT redefines family – it is no longer biological – but spiritual. Not those we are biologically united to but those we are united to through the cross. Cf. John Piper, Marriage is temporary.
The truths are very counter cultural, especially in evangelical churches, we have idolized biological family in response to family breakdown. We haven’t communicated that they are not the be all and end all – they won’t necessarily last – but our spiritual family will. No Christian should walk alone, every Christian should feel part of a family, good news for the single, the childless, the widows. We need to restore the idea of church as family.
We need to treat church family like family. Churches need to function and feel like family. When I go to church I will always be embraced by Ruth, a lady in her 70s, treat each other as honorary aunt and nephew. Chatted with his goddaughter before church about the last week, her parents paid for the deposit on my house. The sort of thing families do, the sort of thing church families should do. Reflect on what would be particularly hard for single people, especially those with same-sex attraction:
- Birthdays – people get together and plot for my birthday so something happens
- Holidays – holidays for single people – you don’t have anyone to go with, you don’t have anyone to help make decisions. Go on holiday with a family, and now widened to two other families and several other singles.
- Making decisions – who do you make it with? The people who listened and helped make decisions, and shared their decisions with me.
The challenge is great, but the solution is just the gospel. It will get us to think about the things we haven’t had to confront for a while – key truths that we’re all sinners, God’s word is good, and church is family. We’re certainly in danger of forgetting and definitely applying these truths.
When we find it really hard we need to remember how welcoming and inclusive Jesus was and is of you and me. How deep the Father’s love was in welcoming us to his family, for us to bring our mess into his family.
Stephen Hofmeyr, Chair of Church of England Evangelical Council
What are the possible outcomes, and how might they play out in the Church of England?
Western society is currently experiencing a moral revolution. Our societies moral code has undergone a complete reversal. That which was once condemned and is now celebrated and the refusal to celebrate is now condemned. It is taking place at an unprecedented velocity.
The current debates on sexuality presents to the church a crisis that is inescapably theological. It is similar to the crises of Gnosticism or Pelagianism. It challenges our understanding of the gospel, sin, salvation and more. Biblical theology is indispensable for the church to craft a response to the current sexual crisis. It needs to read scripture with a historical context, an understanding of the meta-narrative, and the progressive revelation from God. Evangelicals need a theology of the body, and God’s plan and purpose for the body which is grounded in that Biblical framework.
The Pilling report from November 2013 recommended that the churches internal dialogue on human sexuality might be best done through shared conversations. This was endorsed by the College of Bishops in January. The House of Bishops agreed a plan in May but has not published this. They have agreed a central process, and authorized the standing committee of the House of Bishops to sign off final meetings. The Standing Committee met and reported in July to General Synod that the conversations would have two objectives:
- To clarify how we can most effectively be a missionary church in a culture which has changed its view on human sexuality. // We as Evangelicals want to say the truth of the Gospel is the truth for all people in all ages. So it is not about whether we are free to change what is taught by how we change how it is communicated. It presents a wonderful opportunity for the whole church to assess the effective proclamation of the Gospel.
- To clarify the implications of what it means for the Church of England to live with so-called “good disagreement” on issues of human sexuality. // This was foreshadowed by the House of Bishops said: “… In its discussion the House noted that the process of shared conversations needed to demonstrate primarily how the Church of England could model living together with issues of tension, where members took opposing views whilst remaining committed to one another as disciples of Jesus Christ – members of one church in both unity and diversity …” The second objective is astonishingly brazen – it assumes the answers to two prior questions, which are the real and fundamental questions.
It assumes that the Church’s teaching should be changed to make accommodation for those who don’t model and accept the church’s teaching on sexuality. An opposing view can only be practiced if it is formally accepted and accommodated. Evangelical Christians cannot tolerate this change under the concept of how to be a missionary church.
It assumes that it would be appropriate for those teaching opposing views to “live together” in the Church of England.
Should the Church’s teaching be changed? If so, would it be appropriate to continue to “live together” in a united Church of England? Neither of these will be considered or answered – they will have been pre-judged and the answers assumed.
Why do we need facilitated conversations to model living together with opposing views as this has been true for years, but quite inappropriately. In the light of the doctrine of our church nothing has been done about it. True to the promises of our Bishop’s at their installation when will they challenge inappropriate doctrine. For too long in the name of the broad church we have, like Lord Nelson, put the telescope to the blind eye! We have allowed institutional hypocrisy.
This disfiguring growth requires careful but invasive surgery – it demands drastic change. If as the Windsor Report suggested, we are dealing with a first order issue, a salvation issue, the answer from scripture is clear, no we cannot live together.
How will they be conducted?
Under the Archbishop’s Adviser for Reconciliation, Canon David Porter, 20 facilitators will support a process of conversations around the Church of England. At the College of Bishops they spent two days with the facilitators, using resource material, with theological material from scholars with differing viewpoints. That material will be refined and then
The conversations will be clustered in areas of approximately four Dioceses, hosting nationally 12 regional conversations – each involving about 60 participants, with 15 from the Diocese of Winchester. The only restrictions is that the groups must consist of equal number of clergy and laity, equal numbers of women and men, with a quarter under 40, and at least more than one LGBTI person per group. The range and balance of views should reflect the range and balance within the Diocese – how will this be done – have surveys been taken?
The work will come to a conclusion in July 2016 when the recently elected General Synod will spend two days themselves in shared conversations.
What are the possible outcomes?
We need to have in mind where this could take, not where it should or will take us.
- A renewed vision for evangelism
- No renewed vision for evangelism
A renewed vision for the evangelization of England will only happen if the church will commit itself to the taught in the Bible. It is likely that there will be little change in the next two years between those who are gospel focused and those who aren’t.
- Anglican fudge – just enough compromise to enable most people to stay together – this is what most people at the centre seem to be hoping and praying for, as Justin Welby calls “good disagreement” leading to institutional hypocrisy. Martin Davy says it is radically misconceived biblically and is anyway an oxymoron.
- The traditional understanding is affirmed
- The revisionist understanding wins the day
Realistically, short of revival, it is not going to happen. The Standing Group from the House of Bishops says there is no expectation in achieving consensus in either direction in the foreseeable future.
Two other outcomes involve division if traditionalists continue to believe that this is a salvation issue, stating it clearly and graciously. Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, in Peterborough in April 2007, said “unity is very precious for believers. We cherish it. But we do not cherish it above truth. There are certain things which disrupt fellowship … One is persistent and systematic false teaching … And the other is persistent sexual immorality … those are the two things that do not disrupt fellowship, and we must take this very seriously in our present situation.” Love is hard, but love compels us.
The division may be messy – costly, divisive and an obstacle to mission like it has been in the USA and Canada with litigation and littered arguments. But division may be ordered – gracious, generous and facilitating mission. The idea that has been floated is parallel provinces with overlapping jurisdiction, with traditionalists keeping the current model, and revisionists changing Canon Law. Parishes would be able to self-select their home, with Diocesan Cathedrals serving both provinces.
If we are to be realistic, if we are to remain faithful to the truth of the gospel, if we are to embrace truth and love in equal measure, what the Church of England needs is not “good disagreement”, but “gracious division”.
We need to reflect on our part, and our leadership.
How is it people come to same sex attraction?
A number of theories, some say it is a choice; it is something done to you through sexual abuse or a poor relationship with same gender parent. The shortest answer is we don’t know, and bound to be a mixture of biological and contextual. People seem to go for the theory that best suits them. Doctrine of original sin, says tendencies to behave in certain ways that aren’t necessarily right.
There is a danger of assuming a simplistic situation, not everyone is straight or gay, it is more complex, and helpful to think of a spectrum. Some people will always feel attracted to a particular gender, others will experience changes during their lifetime. No one has found any specific genes that provide a biological underpinning, and brain scans haven’t yet produced any particularly strong answers. Twins surveys – identical v non-identical twins – if it is biological then identical twins should experience it 100% – some studies show 50%, more recent larger studies varies between 10-35%, but even they are not recognized as being adequate.
We hear of people being healed from their sexual orientation, what do you think?
All things are possible with God but he hasn’t promised to heal you, that’s why not everyone recovers from cancer etc., so yes pray, but God doesn’t promise he will heal. Instead he promises to make you more like Jesus, we see that in cancer patients, and we see that with those who have same-sex attraction.
Lots of reports of those who have experienced change, sometimes with an obvious trigger, sometimes there isn’t an obvious trigger. A psychiatrist might see someone with same-sex attraction who isn’t happy with it, e.g. religious faith conflicts with it. The question is how should psychiatrists help in these cases. One is to put the same-sex desires as the priority, and to participative in gay-affirmative therapy. Another approach is to treat using the other aspects of your person in the driving seat, not the same-sex desires, so you may go down the therapeutic route which either leads to no change but has a better sense of acceptance, or it is seeking change. The question is is this therapy harmful – right expectations of the therapy makes a big difference. So in theory it should be possible to have therapy available to bring a possible change. There is not the size and quality of studies to allow for research on this, it needs Controlled Trials, which currently don’t exist. Yahouse and Jones looked at 100 people who attempted to change, 15% reported significant change, 23% found acceptance in their desires, the others experienced little change.
How easy is it for those are promiscuous bi-sexual to change?
Ten years ago the soap opera had the gay character, now it is focused on bisexual characters. There is very little discussion around bisexuality and the ethics would be quite problematic, there was no one who would talk about bisexuality on the panel to the Bishops. The binary model is dead, although in true fashion the CofE is 30 years behind.
Is the Royal College of Psychiatrists still campaigning against reparative therapy?
Yes currently they are.
On the matters of origins how does that impact our pastoral work?
The Bible has everything to make sense of my lived experience and other peoples lived experiences. Genesis allows for biological, psychological, social and spiritual problems that are behind a range of issues. But we do need to find out someone’s context to help meet their needs, it is dangerous to have one model in dealing with a pastoral situation.
What happens when people challenge the authority of the Bible or reinterpret the passages that focus on
Not just do theology on proof text, but look at the meta-narrative. It only makes sense if it is unity and difference rather than unity and sameness which is what gay marriage would represent. Marriage is so important from Genesis to Revelation it is a pointer of the relationship between God and his people for eternity. Need to emphaises the Psalm 19 the Bible is good, the hard things are good for us. Hard doesn’t make it bad, but Mark 8, we are called to suffer and take up our cross.
How do you include unrepentant gay people in our church families?
How do you deal with those who actively promote gay relationships?
Presume we think through this issue in a heterosexual context. The answer should apply across, if you’re not consistent then you are homophobic and the world rightly judges you. It is difficult as we could now be challenged in the CofE for example if you withdraw communion.
What would you do if you are presented with a couple with same-sex attraction for Holy Communion?
The legal position to consult the Diocesan Bishop, they are the person who ultimately decides sacramental discipline. In a local context you could suggest it might not be wise, or right, and you could ask them not to take it. In 2005, the direction said people should be requested to give assurances about their relationship in the context of baptism, confirmation and communion. In 2014 neither they or the children they care for should be excluded from the sacraments. The 1987 vote in General Synod makes it clear the same sex practice falls short of God’s design. Issues in Human Identity, 1991 changed this a tiny bit but in effect stayed the same. Lambert 1998 developed on this context. So the question is what would a Diocesan Bishop do, and does it become a post-code context.
We have the believing and belonging issue and we grapple with this issue regularly in regard of a range of sins. It is easier to be clear if you have a position on sexuality generally, rather than homosexuality specifically.
When was the last time church discipline preached on and seen as a good thing. If I fell into sin I would be encouraged that my church would love me and care for me. They show their love for me by showing me there is behavior that is not good for me.
The comparison of a gay couple with a heterosexual cohabiting couple is not fair. The cohabiting couple is saying they love one another, but they aren’t doing it right, and marriage is the way to resolve this. For gay couples we are asking them to split up in the next few years. Yes but the issue is still what God ordains in scripture.
People need time to understand and learn behavior and to reflect on their own behavior. How sure are we as to who is truly repentant on any issue?
North America had a very messy and aggressive division – is that inevitable in the CofE?
We are culturally different so it will be done in an English way. Nothing is inevitable. The key issue will be evangelicals working together, to prevent some of the messiness of being picked off one by one. It is key that people come and support one another – how can you despite division have fellowship? The reason to raise division at the outset, as sometimes discussion can lead to people becoming more entrenched in their views, so rather than enabling that, asking how we could graciously split if division does come.
The shared conversations are designed for compromise and reconciliation so we need to be clear at what point we are willing to walk away from the deal. Parallel provinces would be a dead duck in the Synod. Lay members of General Synod are critical to this discussion.
Do you have a short sound bite to encapsulate grace and truth on this issue?
- If you are looking for the perfect church don’t join it as it won’t be perfect anymore.
- Jesus calls everyone to himself, and everyone to change.
- Why? The context is so important so that you speak to the person in front of you rather than the person you last had this conversation with.
- Let’s pray for this is not a human battle.
“The Church is inclusive upon repentance” + Peter Hancock