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Heaven is Weeping: An Open Letter to the House of Bishops @C_of_E @JustinWelby @JohnSentamu March 1, 2014

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Church, Current Affairs.
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MY LORD BISHOPS,

Greetings in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, your Lord and mine in our common journey of faith: to him be the glory for ever and ever!

I am writing this letter hesitantly because, as a member of a clergy household myself, I am aware of the immense pressure that you live under and of the immense burden of responsibility that you shoulder as the Lords Spiritual in our land: may the Lord give each and every one of you the courage, grace, strength and wisdom you need as you carry out your duties in his service.

First of all, I would like to thank you for all the time and effort that you put into so many different and often conflicting areas of life, especially on matters of injustice here in the UK and elsewhere in the world. Thank you, in particular, to those who put their names to the letter recently published in the Mirror newspaper challenging the government over the impact of its welfare reforms; my thanks also for the work that went into producing the Pilgrim Course, which has been well received and appreciated in the parishes I belong to; and for all the other work you carry out, so much of it unseen and unheralded by media attention.

My further thanks for the time, consideration and careful reflection that went into your recent Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage: this brings us to my main purpose in writing as I add my voice to the many others expressing concern and dismay over this matter.

I’d like to start by sharing something of my own faith journey: I was brought up as a free-church, conservative evangelical. The Bible, prayer and church were the bedrock of my early life: I read the Bible and prayed daily, more than daily; I attended the Christian Union at school and at college; and I became a Sunday School teacher and a street evangelist whilst still in my teenage years. I knew the Bible better than any of my contemporaries and was referred to as ‘the living concordance’, such was my enthusiasm; and I knew — or rather, believed I knew — what the Bible taught about sexuality. Homosexuality and Christianity were mutually exclusive: to be gay was a lifestyle choice that set a person at odds with Scripture and the revealed will of God. This did not mean that I hated gays: they were no worse sinners than anyone else and I followed the mantra of ‘love the sinner, hate the sin.’

I know, then, how some of you and some the churches under your care feel about homosexuality in the Church, for I too once felt that way; and in those days, not surprisingly, I had no dealings with gay people: why would any gay person want to know me, a person who would claim to offer them Christ’s unconditional love whilst simultaneously condemning that which lay at the very core of their being?

That was to change, however, not overnight or by any dramatic experience, but over time as I began to encounter gay people; and not simply gay people but gay Christians; and it became clear that God was as much at work in their lives as mine. Without any sign of repentance for their ‘lifestyle choice’, God was blessing them: the fruit and work of the Holy Spirit was as evident in the lives of gay Christians as it was in the lives of straight Christians!

What was going on? Was God a liar, saying one thing in Scripture yet doing another? Was God the ultimate hypocrite, playing games with people’s lives and sexuality? Surely not! So I revisited the Scriptures and by God’s grace my eyes were opened: it became clear that faithfulness was the key. From beginning to end, from Adam and Eve’s betrayal of God’s trust in the Garden of Eden, through the Law, the Histories and the Prophets and all the way on to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus’ trust in the Garden of Gethsemane and beyond into the book of Revelation, God’s call to his people has been to be faithful: faithful to God, faithful to our neighbours and faithful to one another. God loves faithfulness!

Everything fell into place: the condemnations of same-sex activity that we see in Scripture all represent betrayals of trust. The world of the Bible, of ancient Israel and of the Early Church, was a world where heterosexual relationships formed the bedrock of society, where homosexual activity could only represent a betrayal of trust; and so homosexual behaviour was condemned in the same way as other promiscuous behaviour such as adultery. This, however, is not the world we live in today: today we find ourselves in society where long-term, faithful same-sex partnerships co-exist and thrive alongside straight relationships; and against such relationships there is neither law nor biblical prohibition. Loose living, promiscuity and adultery are out, for all of these betray both human and divine trust; faithfulness is in, for this echoes the very heart of God.

Like St Peter in prayer on the rooftop, who found himself confounded by God’s apparent change of attitude towards the things and people he believed that God had declared unclean, I too was confounded; but also like Peter, seeing God transforming the lives of those whom I once regarded as unclean, I am set free and I ask, “Who am I — who are we, the Church — to deny blessing to those whom God is blessing?”

This, then, has been my journey of understanding and this is why I support equal marriage; this too is why I believe the Church of England should support equal marriage; and this is why I now find myself dismayed by your Lordships’ Pastoral Guidance on the matter when I see you making such a prohibition. Gentlemen, you are the Lords Spiritual: you yourselves commissioned the Pilling Report, which included the following amongst its recommendations:

… we believe that parishes and clergy, who conscientiously believe that celebrating faithful same sex relationships would be pastorally and missiologically the right thing to do, should be supported in doing so. […] Consultation and agreement between clergy and PCC on the policy would be essential, although the decision whether to conduct such a service in individual cases should be for the priest alone. (Pilling, paras 391-2, p.112)

Yet rather than accept that recommendation, rather than offer priests that support, rather than allowing them to follow their conscience, you advise that any prayer with a same-sex married couple should “be accompanied by pastoral discussion of the church’s teaching and their reasons for departing from it” then state unequivocally that “Services of blessing should not be provided.” (Pastoral Guidance Appendix, para 21).

How did this come to pass? How have you managed to turn that which is supposed to provide pastoral support into a blunt instrument that can only serve to drive a further wedge between the Church of England and LGBT people? How has welcoming a same-sex couple to prayer for their ongoing relationship become an opportunity to berate them for departing from church teaching? For make no mistake about it, that is how such a so-called “pastoral discussion” — no matter how sensitively broached — will be perceived by those on the receiving end. This approach, your Lordships, is a betrayal of trust that flies in the face of all that has gone before, that undermines almost all of your introductory remarks about gay people being children of God, loved and valued as full members of the body of Christ.

In your early paragraphs you cite Part 6 of the Dromantine Communiqué of 2005, stating that “The victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us” — but then you go on to do precisely that very thing, victimising and diminishing LGBT people by excluding their relationships from the possibility of affirmation or formal recognition by the Church, even going so far as to declare that “it would not be appropriate conduct for someone in holy orders to enter into a same sex marriage” (Pastoral Guidance Appendix, para 27).

So you place both gay clergy and gay laity in a double-bind, in a Catch-22 situation, caught out by the Church’s proper teaching that sexual activity belongs within the context of marriage but, when presented by the State with a lawful opportunity to marry, either denied that opportunity altogether (clergy) or denied the opportunity to celebrate that relationship (laity) by the Church.

You cite the Canons in support of your position; but you cite them selectively, for the Church’s Canons in the Thirty Nine Articles (Article XXXII) stipulate quite clearly that the call to the Priesthood within the Anglican tradition is not a call to celibacy: the clergy are free to marry at their discretion. So as the law of the land changes, you override one canon at the expense of another, making that canon which describes marriage as being between a man and woman more important than that which grants clergy freedom to marry, at the same time as denying the validity of state-sanctioned marriage in any case.

Which is it to be, your Lordships? Is the state sanctioned marriage in fact valid, such that it carries sufficient weight to threaten canon law? Or is it invalid, in which case it carries no weight whatsoever and is no different to a civil partnership?

As so often happens in theological disputes, your Lordships, you are right in what you affirm, but wrong in what you deny. You affirm the sanctity of marriage, but deny it to gay people. You affirm God’s love for gay people but deny them full inclusion as God’s people. You open the door to the sacraments of baptism and communion, but close it to marriage: you weigh the sacraments and say, “Thus far and no further!”

You are right when you say that Jesus affirmed male/female relationships; but you are wrong when you say that by that affirmation he denied same-sex relationships: for you know full well that Jesus did not say a word either for or against such relationships. He did, however, speak of the sanctity of marriage and declared that anyone who divorces and remarries, except in the case of their partner’s unfaithfulness, commits adultery — yet you allow priests discretion over whom they will remarry. Thus you not only pick and choose which aspects of Christ’s teachings you follow, but you make an area in which he gave no specific teaching more important than one in which his teaching is clear. If a priest’s discretion is permitted over remarriage of divorcees, upon what basis is it not permitted over a public act of worship which recognises a same-sex marriage?

A song from Boy George/Culture Club comes to mind and I’ve rewritten the lyrics for you:

You are men of deep conviction,
You are men who surely know
How to tell a contradiction?
You surely know, you surely know!

Your Lordships, you surely know! You surely know how Jesus responded to those whose lives were riddled with such contradiction, the religious leaders of his own day, men who swallowed camels whilst straining at gnats. I appeal to you, do not be like them! Do not say of LGBT people that the Church welcomes them as equals but deny that welcome in what you permit or prohibit!

You speak of ‘facilitated conversations’ but rather than pave the way for them, you make such conversations futile by issuing a statement that reinforces barricades instead of taking them down. You say, “[…] we are all in agreement that the Christian understanding and doctrine of marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman remains unchanged.” What, then, is the point of these conversations when you have unanimously predetermined their outcome? Forgive me, my Lords, but I find it difficult to believe your declaration that you are all in agreement on this: was there truly not even one dissenting voice, not one person open to the possibility of change?

More than this, gentlemen, I find your choice of words here less than helpful: the Christian understanding… — what? Is there but one definitive Christian understanding and doctrine of marriage? Do you really set your understanding over and above that of other Christian churches? By all means speak of the Church of England’s traditional understanding, but please do not presume to speak for the entire Christian community!

Your approach to this matter, your analysis of it and your response to it are not the way of Christ, the living door, who opens the Kingdom of Heaven to all who will come in. I appeal to you, as a fellow pilgrim on the way: do not close the doors that Christ is opening. Do not seek the way of the law when we are saved by grace: heed the warnings of St Paul, that those who choose to live under the law are obliged to obey the whole law — do not return to slavery but accept the freedom Christ offers!

Listen also to the wisdom of Gamaliel: if what is happening here is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to stop it — in which case you may even find yourselves fighting against God!

At the beginning of this letter, I thanked those of you who spoke out recently about the disastrous impact of the government’s welfare reforms: you protest injustice on the one hand whilst you practice it on the other, for that issue and this are both matters of injustice. Thus we have a government that is pro-equality in one arena but blind to its obligations to the poor, whilst we have a Church leadership that has a clear vision of its obligations to the poor but appears blind to injustice here: can you not see, then, why the media cry out and people castigate the Church as a haven for hypocrites?

May the Lord grant you, the leaders of his Church, the vision of our government to see that equal rights require equal rites; and may the Lord grant our government, the leaders of our nation, the compassion for the poor that you see so clearly.

And may he further grant you, as Bishops in his Church, grace and wisdom to facilitate conversations — as some of you are doing — rather than close them down, and so ensure that the gospel of Jesus Christ is indeed good news for all people in all times and situations.

As I draw to a close, the sun is shining in our garden, the sky is no longer weeping; but heaven is weeping, weeping over every lost sheep driven away from the Church by this failure of love. You are the Chief Shepherds appointed over Christ’s Church: I urge you, then, to behave as the Good Shepherd himself and follow where his Spirit is leading to help bring heaven’s tears to an end.

Yours sincerely in Christ,

Phil Groom


This letter was notified to the Church of England’s Communications Dept and to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York via twitter at the time of publication here, 1st March 2014. I have also sent it directly to both Archbishops and to the Administrative Secretary to the House of Bishops, Ross Gillson, with a covering letter inviting individual responses as well as a formal — and hopefully open — response from the House. If and when such responses are forthcoming, they too will be posted here.


For further reading, reflection and information

There is, of course, much more out there: these are simply a few links to material that I personally have found most helpful and interesting…

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Comments»

1. frsimon - March 1, 2014

Bravo. Well expressed. My thoughts entirely.

2. layanglicana - March 1, 2014

Thank-you for this, Phil. Shared on Lay Anglicana.

3. Phil Groom - March 1, 2014

Thanks both; appreciate the feedback & support — would that it didn’t need to be said though!

4. Rev Daniel (@RevDaniel) - March 1, 2014

THANK YOU. You expressed so well what so many of us – especially those who like myself are gay, Christian and clergy – are feeling and struggling to say.

5. atwilson - March 2, 2014

Thank you, Phil for telling your straightforward story so openly. It resonates all over the place for me. I just hope someone’s listening…

6. Cath Peach - March 2, 2014

It’s a relief to see this view so clearly expressed, thank you. Your explanation about your path to enlightenment upon this subject reflects my own….I wonder how many more of us hold this view..perhaps it is time for us to group together in support of our LGBT brothers and sisters….is there a forum already in existence? Perhaps the Bishops need to know how many of their flock see it this way…..

Phil Groom - March 2, 2014

One such forum, Cath, is the Changing Attitude facebook group (link also in my footnote). If you’re on facebook, I’d encourage you to join — and please bring your friends along too!

7. Elizabeth Nickless - March 2, 2014

Brilliant! Thank you

8. tgflux - March 2, 2014

Brilliant, beautiful and faithful.

9. An Anglican’s Response to the H.o.B. Statement on Gay Marriage | Kiwianglo's Blog - March 2, 2014

[…] Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Church, Current Affairs. Tags: Church of England, Equal Marriage, Homosexuality, House of Bishops,LGBT, Pastoral Guidance, Same-sex marriage trackback […]

10. Sandra Delemare - March 2, 2014

Reblogged this on MMM… Meditation, Mental health, Mindful crochet and commented:
This post is very much in line with my own thoughts, but much more eloquently put.

11. williambuggins - March 2, 2014

A good and thoughtful letter by Phil Groom. I believe too much is made of homosexuality as a separate issue to that of salvation. I don’t know whether people are born gay or ‘nurtured’ into gayness.

I thought at one point it had been proved that there is a genetic predisposition to homosexuality, but I now believe that link has not been scientifically made.

What I do believe is that all men and women are sinners, and that God provided the way of forgiveness and redemption through His son Jesus Christ.

So whether you are a homosexual, a drunkard or a sex addict, you need salvation. That is the main role of the Church to preach that Gospel and share God’s love with all. So for example a Bishop can be a (hopefully celibate!) homosexual saved by Grace, or a drunkard, or a sex addict, etc. etc. All saved by Grace, all manifesting in various ways the fruit of the Spirit and all acknowledging Christ as Saviour.

It gets more tricky (imv) when we come to marriage. I have never hated ‘Gays’ , never ridiculed nor bullied them even in my pre -Christian days. I am not against civil partnerships for Gays, (my wife and I are both divorcees active in our parish church).

But I cannot get away from what I believe the Bible consistently teaches: that marriage is a compact/commitment between a man and a woman with an expectation that there will be children and that the parents will care for each other and their children and bring them up in the knowledge and fear/reverence of the Lord.

“Male and female created He them.” Marriage is for a man and a woman because as with all animals it takes a male and a female to procreate. Homosexuality would seem to go against that original plan.

So my feeling is that whilst the Church should welcome Gays into its midst, there is no Biblical precedent for Gay marriage.

If a Gay couple (civil partnership) come into a church and attend services, that’s great. We should make them welcome. If they respond to the Gospel and surrender their lives to Christ we must trust the Lord to move in their lives by the Holy Spirit.

If they then want their relationship blessed by the Lord then I think we can do that, but the distinction between a civil partnership and marriage must be maintained.

Just as Christ challenged the rich young man to give up everything and follow Him, there are demands that Christ makes upon us which may cause some great offence. He commands, He does not negotiate.

I would love to hear others views!

Phil Groom - March 3, 2014

Thank you, William, for this thoughtful response. As with the House of Bishops in their Pastoral Guidance, it seems to me that you are right in what you affirm — that LGBTI people should receive the same love and welcome as anyone else — but wrong in what you deny, namely the possibility of their relationships being recognised as marriage.

I’m rather more immediately concerned by your ‘them and us’ approach, however: there is no ‘we’ who ought to welcome and/or bless ‘them’ for ‘they’ are as much a part of the Body of Christ as you and I. LGBTI Christians are as fully involved in the Church of England as straight Christians, serving as bishops, clergy, lay readers, on PCCs and synods, in diocesan offices, in cathedrals, in every conceivable role. Some are single, forced into that by straight people’s prejudice; others are in long term, stable, loving and faithful relationships; others are as screwed up and confused in their relationships as many straight people. But ‘they’ are not a breed apart from ‘us’ for we are all one in Christ.

Now as to what the Bible supposedly teaches about marriage: you may find this post by Robert Cargill enlightening: What exactly is biblical marriage? There simply is no consistent teaching about marriage in the Bible, and what there is does not cohere as you describe it. The Church may derive its teaching about marriage by selective sifting of the biblical text — but that is another matter entirely.

As for “male and female created he them” — if only it were that simple! I’d encourage you to read Mike Higton’s recent post, Disagreeing about Marriage – and Gender, to gain some idea of how complex this area is. There is no simple binary male/female divide within the human race: some, for instance, are born intersexed; some are transgendered; some long to be transgendered, knowing themselves to be a man or a woman trapped inside a body of the opposite sex. Oh, and your reference to “all animals” is quite simply factually incorrect: some species are all female; others have mutable gender — and animals don’t marry, they simply mate, as do many humans: procreation may take place within marriage, but it is by no means an essential part of the relationship, which is far more about companionship, mutuality and fidelity.

You are right when you say that there is no biblical precedent for “gay marriage” — but nor is there biblical precedent for democracy, social media, electric kettles, kangaroos, aeroplanes or the Church of England. But there is biblical precedent for marriage that takes the form of faithful, loving, monogamous relationships; and I can find no biblical basis for denying the validity of those relationships between same-sex people or for refusing to recognise those relationships as marriage: in this I believe you are wrong.

Finally, back to your “them & us” approach: would I be correct in guessing that you have no LGBTI friends? I’d encourage you to go and make some. It’s the principle of incarnation, as established by Jesus: I daresay you’ll find it transformative.

Thanks again for stopping by. May the Lord bless you richly as you seek his way.

12. Michael Ardern Mason - March 2, 2014

As a gay Anglican Christian who has been in a faithful committed relationship with my partner for 38 years I find your comments helpful and comforting at this difficult time. May God bless you in your witness for the truth.

13. David Gillett - March 2, 2014

Thanks Phil for this. I too am more than disappointed, gutted even by the HoB statement. Such an opportunity missed when we could have got at least on the back of the curve re. equal marriage instead of being stuck in the most hopelessly indefensible position way behind where I believe God is at work. I am very happy that you associated my brief blogpost with yours. Blessings. D

Phil Groom - March 3, 2014

Thank you, Bishop David – I found your reflections helpful and encouraging; would that more of our bishops showed the grace and openness that you and Bishop Alan show! And congratulations on your appointment as a Patron of Accepting Evangelicals: excellent news!

14. preacherwoman - March 2, 2014

Reblogged this on My Word and commented:
A passionate letter to the Archbishops

15. williambuggins - March 3, 2014

I have been reading the exchanges between Philip and Stephen J March which I found as I explored this blog further.
I must say that it seemed to me to be a most exemplary exchange of views on a very difficult subject, and whilst I found myself agreeing with Stephen’s position -if not all his reasoning- I think it is how we as the body of Christ should debate such issues.
The part of the conversation dealing with divorce was very relevant to our own situation, as we had both come out of broken marriages.
My wife (also a practicing Christian) divorced me, and my wife divorced her husband. No children from my marriage, my wife had two grown up daughters.
It was my own divorce that caused me to wander in the spiritual wilderness for over 20 years. I couldn’t understand it! I believed with all my heart that marriage was for keeps, and ditto I believed that God had put us together.
I couldn’t get any answers from any of my Christian friends or leaders, and in the end I stopped asking the questions. I still believed I was a sinner saved by grace but I was no longer close to the Lord or practicing my faith.

We made the decision to start going to our little local church when we moved here. We invited the vicar around and told him our history.
We didn’t take Communion for a while until we had personally recommitted our lives to the Lord. We have not asked for a blessing or sought to change our status.
My/our thinking is that we are accountable to the Lord, and He will deal with it all one day. In the meantime we ask His Holy Spirit to work in our hearts and to use us where we are.
On one level I still do not believe in divorce and think the Church especially should do all it can to prepare those wishing to narry in church, and also offer as much practical support as possiblle to those going through tough times in their marriage.
So on one level I agree with Philip, but on another level I agree with Stephen.
The Church must stand by and proclaim the values and practices as evidenced in the New Testament; but within the true Church the Body of Christ, we must allow the Holy Spirit to lead us in conviction of sin, contrition, forgiveness and renewal..

Suzy Andrew. - March 4, 2014

Dear William Buggins….I just happened to read this and would like to share a very helpful article I read and hope it will be useful to you. Re divorce and remarriage.

Suzy Andrews - March 4, 2014
Suzy Andrews - March 4, 2014

Sorry William, I tried to say I hope you’ll find this recent article helpful. It struck me as a humble and sensitive and exegetical if that’s the right word. See below.

16. williambuggins - March 3, 2014

Thank you Philip for your response.
You will see below that I found your dialogue with Stephen J March which I thought was excellent and sensitive.

Regarding the marriage thing, my objection to your well made and thought provoking points still revolves around the Genesis pronouncement that God created them male and female..

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Genesis 1:27,28
The point of the two sexes is for Eve to be a helpmate to Adam and for them to be fruitful and increase in number..

I certainly agree that there are all sorts of men among men, and all sorts of women among women, but I suppose if one believes in ‘The Fall’ and the entrance of sin into the world then we also accept that there are all kinds of breakdowns and imperfections amongst us.
I myself can be quite emotional in a shouty, gruff kind of way, very opinionated and moved to tears by tenderness or suffering in books or films. I don’t think I would qualify as an Alpha male!

Now taking all the very valid points you made about divorce to Stephen, it still seems to me that everywhere in both Testaments it is marriage between a man and a woman that is honouring to God’s model of creation.
There is no mention of homosexual relationships as being blessed nor of homosexual marriage; presumably because this was not in God’s blueprint.

As I understand the basics of Christianity, all men and women are sinners, and all are invited to repent and receive God’s free gift of salvation.
So whether we be morally ‘pretty nice folk’, or we be absolute villains, we all need salvation and regeneration.
In that sense homosexuality is a side issue for Christians. Salvation is the name of the game, and then “By their fruits shall ye know them.” The desire of a true Christian should be to be more like Jesus, to worship Him and to be a blessing to others.

The danger of abandoning that definition of Christianity (I think) is that Christianity becomes politicised, that it loses its ‘usp’ it becomes a force for Accommodation rather than Salvation.

And finally, where would this process stop?
It seems to me we would be in danger of becoming a mirror image of the Humanist Society; proclaiming a God that endures all, accepts all and approves all.
As it is I believe the Church should welcome all to come in. It should proclaim the Good News without fear nor favour, and those that accept the faith should seek to live a life l honouring to He whose blood made it possible.
I try not to be dogmatic and I am I think open to correction and other views, so I do find all this most stimulating.

Phil Groom - March 7, 2014

Thanks for coming back, William — although if you persist in calling me ‘Philip’ then I shall have to start calling you Bill!

More seriously, however: with regard to Genesis, first of all I think it’s important to acknowledge that we’re not dealing with science here: this is primordial myth and Genesis presents us with two differing accounts of human origins; but however literally one may be inclined to take the stories, what they offer us is descriptive, not prescriptive. Why should that which is descriptive be regarded as prescriptive?

Second, Adam and Eve weren’t married in the sense that we know it: no ceremony, no contract, no priest or registrar: just lovers doing what lovers do and producing babies. The Genesis account isn’t about marriage: it’s about procreation, another step in the great epic of creation itself. We’ve taken hold of that story and imbued it with a theology of marriage — but marriage and the conventions we’ve placed around the reproductive process are human constructs, which God has graciously seen fit to bless.

Beyond the ‘be fruitful and multiply’ there is no commandment associated with these stories; and that’s an instruction that was hardly necessary. Why should the writer’s observation that God created us male and female be read as a definitive pattern or divine blueprint for human relationships? Yes, opposite-sex attraction is the way things usually are — the way things must be if reproduction is the number one priority — but that’s not to say it’s the way things always are, have been or must necessarily be, especially in an age when reproduction isn’t the number one priority, when the instruction to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ has been more than adequately fulfilled, and more than enough people are happy to go on fulfilling it irrespective of marital status.

In other words, those who say that marriage is about having children have got things back to front: marriage isn’t about procreation; but procreation is best reserved for marriage if we want social stability, family security and clearly defined lines of inheritance (not to mention tax breaks).

What, then, is marriage? It’s essentially what we make of it: love, companionship, commitment, mutuality and faithfulness are some of what I’d describe as the essential ingredients; it’s faithfulness v/s unfaithfulness that makes or breaks a marriage; and those things are the same whether a couple is straight or gay.

Now as for what you say about sin and salvation: quite so, we are all sinners saved by grace; and whether a person is straight or gay should be neither here nor there. But sadly that’s not the case because that’s where the Church chooses to draw its line in the sand: for gay Christians, it’s thus far and no further — as I said in my letter to the House of Bishops:

You affirm God’s love for gay people but deny them full inclusion as God’s people. You open the door to the sacraments of baptism and communion, but close it to marriage: you weigh the sacraments and say, “Thus far and no further!”

And you, William, do the same: you talk about sin and salvation, acceptance and welcome then you say no to equality and full inclusion for LGBTI believers.

This has nothing to do with abandoning the definition of Christianity: the Gospel remains the same, good news for all: recognising that we are sinners, repentance, regeneration, becoming more like Christ as we follow in his footsteps. It’s the same Gospel for gay, straight and everyone in between in the rainbow-hued spectrum of human sexuality. Male, female, transgendered, longing to be or lost in uncertainty, we are all one in Christ, who draws us to himself and to that glorious future where gender differences are immaterial for, as he himself said, at the resurrection, we shall neither marry nor be given in marriage but shall be like the angels in heaven.

You ask where it will all end, where this process might stop: there’s your answer, in the very words of Jesus himself — and read carefully the words immediately before those: what does Jesus say to the Sadducees, trying to catch him out with their trick questions? “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God.”

Don’t stop there: read on to his exchange with the Pharisees as they ask him which is the most important commandment. What is his answer?

‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’

That, my brother, is the central issue: love God and love your neighbour as yourself. The Church is wonderful at expressing its love for God with its hymns and liturgies, its choirs and cathedrals — but when it comes to loving one another, to loving our neighbours as ourselves, to loving LGBTI people as equals and fellow citizens in the Kingdom of Heaven, it balks, it backs up, it says no — and worse, it threatens action against clergy who would follow their conscience, who would follow what I and many others see as the Holy Spirit’s prompting.

If you are, as you say, “open to correction and other views” then I urge you to listen: to revisit Scripture as I have done, with your eyes and ears open to the Spirit’s prompting.

17. philandjanrees - March 3, 2014

An erudite letter from the heart.

18. penwilcock - March 3, 2014

Re the original blog post: well said.

19. Daniel - March 4, 2014

Marriage predates Christianity anyway. Christians shouldn’t be able to define marriage as they see it. If atheists and agnostics can get married, why can’t a Christian who just happen to love a person of the same sex. Sexuality doesn’t define a person, it is just one aspect of who a person is.

Phil Groom - March 4, 2014

Quite, Daniel: well said.

20. German Bishop Declares Support for Gay Civil Unions, Says Sexual Doctrines Must Change.Queering the Church | Queering the Church - March 5, 2014

[…] Heaven is Weeping: An Open Letter to the House of Bishops @C_of_E @JustinWelby @JohnSentamu […]

21. williambuggins - March 6, 2014

Daniel,
Of course marriage predates Christianity. It’s been called all sorts of things and defined in different ways. What we can’t escape from is the fact that no society (at least as far as I know) ever practiced same sex marriage, even if they indulged in same sex relationships. the Greeks and Romans for example.
The other thing is that neither Testaments give us any precedent for same sex marriage or even homosexual practices. If anything it is positively frowned upon. (See Genesis 18..)
Christianity essentially is about being reconciled to a Holy God through His Son Jesus Christ, and having our inner person made into the image of Christ: a lifelong and sometimes stuttering process! 🙂
It is not in my view about trying to please everybody and ‘fit in’.

I think you are also right that sexuality does not define us as a person. We may believe that as individuals, but seem to forget that we believe it when we are together! 😉 What Christian man or woman fails to notice an attractive person of the opposite sex, now matter how purely? We all struggle in/with our physical beings even as we seek to lead lives pleasing to God.

So I go back to my original point. We are all sinners and need to be reconciled to God. Churches should welcome everybody in regardless of who they are. If they respond to the Gospel, or are content to fit in with with Church life, that’s wonderful.
But we can’t adapt the Gospel or water down its core values to please its critics. I think it’s because we think we can, that the Church is losing influence and credibility. Islam for example makes no concessions in its core beliefs. It stands fast by what it believes, and its influence is growing within this once Christian nation.

22. williambuggins - March 6, 2014

Suzy,
thankyou.

23. williambuggins - March 7, 2014

“And you, William, do the same: you talk about sin and salvation, acceptance and welcome then you say no to equality and full inclusion for LGBTI believers.”
???

I thought I had already made it clear that I am all for Christian homosexuals of all kinds being in the Church. I think we make too much of an issue of it.
It is quite clear from the New Testament that God would have all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge
of the truth.1 Timothy 2:4 That means and includes everybody I think
That the early church accepted all kinds of us sinners is clear here:_

“Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
1 Corinthians 6:9-11

But when it comes to marriage the New Testament is equally clear as illustrated here,

“An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.”
Titus 1:6-9
Please notice that Paul says an Elder must be blameless and faithful to his wife..
Then there’s this passage:-

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body.
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”
This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”

We could ask why Paul does not emphasise Christ’s injunction to love God and love your neighbour as yourself. Perhaps because there is a need for order and adherence to sound doctrine in the churches? Perhaps because we are the Body of Christ and called to be holy?

When Christ was talking to the Pharisees as you quoted, he was pointing out their adherence to the letter of the Law, and their neglect of love and forgiveness.
Jesus ‘tailored’ his remarks to his audiences, and he was quite scathing of hypocrisy and holiness as a form of religious superiority.
It is quite clear on many other occasions that Jesus expected people to change their lives as a consequence of sincere repentance.
So by all means we reach out to everyone and accept them as they are and seek to share our faith with them.
But in doing that I don’t think we get to change the rules regarding marriage… 😉

24. williambuggins - March 7, 2014

Phil
Did you see this?

On Wednesday the House of Commons voted in changes that will airbrush cherished terms such as ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ out of English law.

A raft of centuries-old statutes were amended ahead of same-sex marriage laws coming into effect later this month.

360 MPs voted to replace longstanding terms such as “widow” with ridiculous changes such as “woman whose deceased spouse was a man” or “that person’s surviving spouse”.

We predicted this massive rewrite of legislation when the Government rushed its same-sex marriage Bill through Parliament without revealing these wider consequences.

Over 80 Conservative MPs voted against the changes, despite the political pressure on them to keep quiet.

There remains a strong body of opposition to same-sex marriage in the country at large. C4M is planning to raise the redefinition of marriage as a major issue during the upcoming European Elections. We will be in touch with you about this in the coming weeks.

Remember – in reality marriage will always be the union of one man and one woman, whatever the politicians may say.

Yes I ‘fess, I am a supporter of Coalition for Marriage, but primarily because of my concerns for the impact on society of Mr Cameron’s misguided bill.
I also exchange emails with my MP on the issue, as well as other issues that concern me.
Have you had a good read through of Stonewall’s website regarding their educational goals?
My wife and I have fostered children and we have worked with looked after children in care, the vast majority of whom had been sexually abused. We also had female staff who were in same sex relationships and had children with donated sperm from a third party.
So I do have concerns outside of Church as to what the effects of same sex marriage will have on society.

25. Petition by Revd Mark Kenny to @C_of_E’s House of Bishops to rescind their opposition to equal marriage and take back their recent Pastoral Guidance | Phil's Boring Blog - March 10, 2014

[…] FOLLOWING ON from my recent Open Letter to the House of Bishops, I have signed and wholeheartedly endorse the Revd Mark Kenny’s petition via change.org […]

26. Daniel - March 17, 2014

William though the bible says that homosexual acts are an abomination, it also says eating shellfish and wearing clothes woven of 2 types of materials are an abomination. The bible also tells slaves to “obey your masters.” Do you agree with slavery? If the bible got something as simple as slavery wrong, why should we expect it got a complex issue like sexuality right.

The bible was written by men, not god and is based on the morals of the bronze age. We have knowledge now that was not available then. The bible says that the moon produces it’s own light. The bible is so full of contradictions. If you take it to be the literally you will end up in a catch-22 situation where there are hundreds of things that you both must do and are forbidden to do.

Would you rather christianity be more like fundamentalist Islam, with the death penalty for homosexuals and stoning and oppression of women?

Any god with such animosity and hatred for his own creation isn’t worth following or believing in. Maybe it’s time the bible got another revision.

Phil Groom - March 17, 2014

Some good points there, Daniel, though you’ve fallen into the same trap that most fundamentalists fall into: saying, “the bible says” as though the Bible were a single, coherent whole when — as I’m sure you know — it’s actually a collection of writings accumulated, collated, edited and redacted over a period of several thousand years. Saying “the bible says” makes as much sense as saying, “the internet says.”

What we’re dealing with in the Bible is first of all ancient Israel’s then the Early Church’s attempts to reconcile their experience of life with their developing understanding and experience of God — so what you perceive as contradictions are for the most part steps along the way in the track record of theological evolution. With so many different writers, it’s inevitable that there will be different viewpoints: the challenge is working out which viewpoints we should give most weight to; and asking the question why — why did this particular writer hold this particular view?

And that’s the question so many people fail to ask when it comes to those few verses that condemn same-sex activity but which I address in my letter to the Bishops: it’s all about faithfulness. Way back when the biblical writers were doing what looks to us like gay-bashing, the idea of stable, faithful same sex relationships wasn’t there: in their worldview, everyone was hetero and you could only have a same sex relationship by betraying that norm, by being unfaithful to a straight partner. In today’s world, that’s no longer so; and the dear old Bishops in the C of E — and, I think, William — are still living in yesterday’s world, thinking heteronormacy rules: in their mindset, the accident of gender difference takes priority over the virtue of faithfulness; and until they can get their heads around that conundrum, they’re stuck in a rut.

That’s the problem we’re up against here: it’s not the Bible that’s the problem, it’s the way some people read it.

27. williambuggins - March 17, 2014

Daniel,

Thank you for responding,There are lots of important issues which some Christians don’t think are important -yet become amazingly “conservative/funamentalist” when it comes to altar cloths or robes or ceremonies.. 🙂

What I think you are doing is quoting from the Old Testament and the Covenant made between the Jews and the Almighty. When I was young and even as a young (sshh!) evangelical Christian, it was quite common to mix the Old with the New.

These days I would say that context is all, and you have to look at who is saying what to whom in what circumstances. I believe that God is found through the Bible rather than the Bible being the absolute literal word of God. I do think you make a very good point about applying Bible verses too literally so that one ends up an unquestioning fanatic!

As I understand it one looks for strands of teaching which remain consistent, such as salvation through faith and the fruit of the Spirit in a believer’s life.

However in regards to this issue both Testaments make it clear that homosexual practices are forbidden, and when you think about it the relevant parts of the body that may be involved are designed for the expelling of waste, not as genitalia.
Also I would gently point out that all Christians struggle with at least one and usually many more, bad habits or sinful behaviours.

Lust is often a big problem. We are after all basically animals with all the urges that animals have. My personal theory is that as Christians we learn how to overcome the sins of the flesh (the animal) and prepare ourselves for Eternity with God. I myself have struggled with that one, with drinking and smoking. It is only recently that I have been meditating on “Greater is He who is you than he who is in the world”. and experienced the Lord’s enabling grace in these areas.

I do think the Church dwells too much on homosexuality, but where I disagree with Phil is that I don’t believe a Compassionate Holy God who hates sin but loves the sinner gives us license to change commandments so as to be inclusive.

The Church should welcome all sorts into the churches, and if we profess a living faith in Christ Jesus that should be enough for us to fellowship together, and bear each other’s burdens. We are called to be holy as well as loving,
God bless you Daniel.

28. Daniel - March 18, 2014

William, where is homosexuality referenced in the New Testament? In the New Testament Jesus says he did not come to change any laws, but fulfill them, so if you believe in the bible, you should believe in all of it.

The issue is that more and more christians are taking the fundamentalist literal approach to the bible. The evangelical organisations all state on their statements of faith that the Old AND New testaments are the literal word of god and a guide to live your life by.

If the bible was so sacred and important to me I would consider it my duty to correct those out in the world who so dangerously misinterpret it. Not all views should be respected, especially if they cause harm around the world.

Even if the old testament is not taken literally and used as allegories or metaphors they have horrible messages. Whether flooding the earth and murdering all but a handful of the living creatures on earth including babies and children, torturing Job after being goaded by the devil, Getting Abraham to almost kill his son and Lot offering up his daughters to be raped instead of the angels, all are horrible, twisted immoral stories, literal or figurative, and show god to be a childish, arrogant, evil creature.

It seems from what you say Phil that the bible is just a book written by men, with no input from god. Is that correct?

William the bible says homosexuality is a sin but condones rape, murder and slavery. You say that the “relevant parts of the body that may be involved are designed for the expelling of waste.” Last time I checked the penis and vagina are also used for expelling waste, so that argument doesn’t stand up.

29. williambuggins - March 18, 2014

Daniel,
“William, where is homosexuality referenced in the New Testament?”

Matthew 19: 1-8 Marriage (original meaning from the classical Latin verb maritare, to marry, used to refer to people, animals, and the crossing of grapes in viticulture and the nouns maritus/marita, husband/wife).
Romans 1:18-32
1 Corinthians 6:9-11
Galatians 5:19

“In the New Testament Jesus says he did not come to change any laws, but fulfill them, so if you believe in the bible, you should believe in all of it.”

I do believe all the laws, but the Old Testament is about God’s covenant with the Jewish people, not us ‘goyim.’ As I said earlier, you are confusing or mixing the two covenants.We acknowledge the ten commandments, but most other laws in the Old Testament relate to the calling of the Hebrews to be God’s Chosen people.
(Which incidentally, I believe is still the case.)

“The issue is that more and more Christians are taking the fundamentalist literal approach to the Bible.”

I would have thought it was the other way around!
But anyway, I would say that the Old Testament is the record of God’s dealings with the Jews. There is blood and gore and compassion and miracles and forgiveness. I accept it, even though it was written by different people over hundreds of years, and even though there are parts that I struggle with intellectually rather than ethically.
What you regard as “horrible twisted and immoral stories” I accept in their context, because I believe the Bible portrays a Holy, compassionate and loving God. This God proved His nature by sending Christ into the world to provide a means of reconciliation between sinful/wilful men and a Holy Righteous God.
Everything I read in the Bible is filtered through that understanding of the nature of God.The bits I don’t understand or struggle with will have to wait ’til Heaven.
The danger I see is that people who study these things (theology etc.) can find themselves worshipping their intellectual critical facilities rather than God.

Finally God does not condone murder – Cain and Abel?, Moses and the Egyptian overseer? King David and Uriah the Hittite?. God used the Hebrews to punish the idolatrous nations around about because of their practices and worshipping of false gods. Rape?
I don’t think God condones that either!


[… EDITED. Gentlemen, please note that no further discussion of the mechanics of sexual activity will be permitted. Thank you – Phil …]


How homosexuality came about I guess is as a result of the Fall, but it is no more an evil thing than any other form of sinful behaviour. Any gay person who professes faith in Christ should be welcomed into the community of believers. We should love, accept and support each other.
As Philip has pointed out previously, the Church is often guilty of judging other Christians socially, professionally and intellectually and ‘fellowship’ is often conducted on the basis of social or professional compatibility rather than that we are now in a family made possible by the willing sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross.

Phil Groom - March 18, 2014

One brief observation for the moment: Matthew 19 does not mention homosexuality. There are no references to homosexuality in the Gospels. Nor is homosexuality mentioned in Galatians 5, which refers generically to sexual immorality. More thoughts later…

30. Epitaph for an Archbishop? For fear of sailing over the edge of the world, he never put out to sea | Phil's Boring Blog - April 7, 2014

[…] the launch of the Listen to God: Hear the Poor initiative with Cardinal Vincent Nichols. As I noted with reference to the House of Bishops, he is right in what he affirms, but wrong in what he denies: he is right to be appalled and he is […]


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