Sunday, February 09, 2014

The Pilling Report and The Church's Response to Homosexuality - some jottings

 The traditional teaching of the church

Faithful, monogamous, life-long heterosexual marriage is the only (ideal) God-given context for sexual intercourse

Homosexual sex is wrong

It is not sinful to be tempted or to experience same sex-attraction

(Some Christians experience same sex attraction from a young age and no heterosexual attraction. Even if something seems to come naturally to me or feels right, that doesn’t make it right. Often our sexuality is more complicated than “gay or straight”. The nature / nurture debate continues. Some people who predominately experience(d) same sex attraction have formed happy heterosexual marriages.)

People who experience same sex attraction, like all people, are called to celibacy or heterosexual marriage if that is possible and wise for them

A change in attitudes in our culture and a conversation in the church

The church is called to be distinct from the world and counter cultural where necessary – Romans 12:1-2

As Dean William R. Inge said: “Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next”

The Pilling Report

Part of an on-going conversation about homosexuality

A working party report to The House of Bishops

The report suggests:

It is not clear what the Bible teaches / how it should be applied today

A process of facilitated listening is needed to work out God’s will

By way of a pastoral accommodation, clergy, with the agreement of their PCCs, should be allowed to hold public services (for which no authorised liturgy would be provided) to mark the formation or continuation of a sexually active same sex relationship
(It seems to me these services would inevitably be seen as some kind of “blessing” even if the report wants to avoid that language)

Questions of method

The supreme authority of Scripture as God’s Written Word

Jesus always treated the Bible as authoritative – and Jesus is Lord

On Jesus’ attitude to the Bible see John Wenham, Christ and the Bible (Wipf & Stock Publishing; 3 edition)

On the doctrine of Scripture see, Timothy Ward, The Words of Life: Scripture as the Living and Active Word of God (Nottingham, IVP, 2009)

The Bible is the Church of England’s theological norm

Canon A5: “The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teaching of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal.”

The 39 Articles of Religion: “VI. Of the Sufficiency of the holy Scriptures for salvation: Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the holy Scripture we do understand those Canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.”
“VII. Of the Old Testament: The Old Testament is not contrary to the New….  Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral.”
“XX. Of the Authority of the Church: The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: And yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation.”
“XXI. Of the Authority of General Councils: General Councils may not be gathered together without the commandment and will of Princes. And when they be gathered together, (forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and Word of God,) they may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of holy Scripture.”

The declaration of assent made by the clergy etc.: Preface: “The Church of England… professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation. Led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons.” Declaration: “I, A B, do so affirm, and accordingly declare my belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness;…” (Common Worship, p.xi)

The clarity (or perspicuity) of Scripture
God’s Word a light to our path - Psalm 119:105, 130 – gives understanding to the simple
The Bible writers generally seem to assume that the Bible can be understood and applied
E.g. Dt 6 – it is expected that parents will be able to explain the Law of Moses to their children
Dt 29:29
The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) 1.7

For more on this see, Mark D. Thompson, A Clear and Present Word: The clarity of Scripture – New Studies in Biblical Theology series (Nottingham, Apollos IVP, 2006)

The sufficiency of Scripture
Ps 119:1; 2 Tim 3:15; Rev 22:19-19; The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) 1.6

The helpful but subordinate role of Tradition and Reason (and experience)

What the Bible says about homosexuality

Genesis 1 and 2 foundational – quoted by Jesus

Genesis 19:1-29 – the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, though homosexuality is not the only issue in that passage – see also Jude 7 – “just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire [lit. other flesh], serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.”

Leviticus 18:22 – “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”

Leviticus 20:13 – “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.”
How does the Old Testament law apply today? The 39 Articles – Article 7 - Of the Old Testament (above)
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 – “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practise homosexuality, [Greek: μαλακοὶ and ἀρσενοκοῖται], nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. 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.”

malakoi – the passive partner in male homosexual sex e.g. in Philo as Robert A. J. Gagnon has shown in The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Abingdon Press)

arsenekoitoi – those engaged in homosexual sex,  a compound of “male” (arsen) and “intercourse” (koites, literally “bed”) - used in the Septuagint (= LXX), the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament of Leviticus 20:13, suggesting that Paul is talking about the same things and has a man lying with a man as one lies with a woman in mind.

1 Timothy 1:8-11 (esp. v10) – “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality (arsenekoitoi), enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.”

Romans 1:18-32 – esp. vv24-28: “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.”

Some people have argued that had the Bible writers known about sexually active, loving, faithful, life-long homosexual relationships they would have approved of them. There is no evidence for this. It seems that the ancient world did know of some such relationships, though there was great variety then as there is today.

Professor Sir Diarmaid MacCullouch thinks that “in this, as in much else, the Bible is simply wrong” but he recognises that the Bible teaches that same sex sexual activity is wrong:  “This is an issue of biblical authority. Despite much well-intentioned theological fancy footwork to the contrary it is difficult to see the Bible as expressing anything else but disapproval of homosexual activity…” (Reformation: Europe’s House Divided, p705)

An argument from creation

Men and women are biologically compatible and complimentary

Though some couples are infertile, heterosexual marriages are in principle potentially naturally “fruitful” (Gen 1:28) in a way that homosexual relationships aren’t

Some would argue that generally children are best brought up by their biological father and mother where possible

The official teaching of the Church of England / Anglicanism

The Higton Motion, General Synod, 11th November 1987
'That this Synod affirms that the biblical and traditional teaching on chastity and fidelity in personal relationships in a response to, and expression of, God's love for each one of us, and in particular affirms: 
  1. that sexual intercourse is an act of total commitment which belongs properly within a permanent married relationship;
  2. that fornication and adultery are sins against this ideal, and are to be met by a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion;
  3. that homosexual genital acts also fall short of this ideal, and are likewise to be met by a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion;
  4. that all Christians are called to be exemplary in all spheres of morality, including sexual morality; and that holiness of life is particularly required of Christian leaders.'
Issues in Human Sexuality, House of Bishops’ Statement
This endorsed the traditional Christian belief that the teaching of the Bible is that heterosexual marriage is the proper context for sexual activity between two people. It went on to declare that what it called 'homophile' orientation and activity could not be endorsed by the Church as:
'... a parallel and alternative form of human sexuality as complete within the terms of the created order as the heterosexual. The convergence of Scripture, Tradition and reasoned reflection on experience, even including the newly sympathetic and perceptive thinking of our own day, makes it impossible for the Church to come with integrity to any other conclusion. Heterosexuality and homosexuality are not equally congruous with the observed order of creation or with the insights of revelation as the Church engages with these in the light of her pastoral ministry.'
It also argued that the conscientious decision of those who enter into such relationships must be respected, and that the Church must 'not reject those who sincerely believe it is God's call to them'.
Nevertheless, because of the 'distinctive nature of their calling, status and consecration', the clergy 'cannot claim the liberty to enter into sexually active homophile relationships' (Some Issues in Human Sexuality: A guide to the debate – A discussion document from the House of Bishops on Issues in Human Sexuality Church House Publishing 2003 1.3.19-20).
Resolution 1.10 on Human Sexuality of the 1998 Lambeth Conference
This Conference:
  1. commends to the Church the subsection report on human sexuality [1];
  2. in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage;
  3. recognises that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God's transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships. We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ;
  4. while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex;
  5. cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions;
  6. requests the Primates and the ACC to establish a means of monitoring the work done on the subject of human sexuality in the Communion and to share statements and resources among us;
  7. notes the significance of the Kuala Lumpur Statement on Human Sexuality and the concerns expressed in resolutions IV.26, V.1, V.10, V.23 and V.35 on the authority of Scripture in matters of marriage and sexuality and asks the Primates and the ACC to include them in their monitoring process.
A pastoral response

No “homophobia” – all people should be treated with respect and compassion

We are all sinners, homosexual sex is not the only or greatest sin, it is not unforgiveable

All sin should be met with a call to repentance and the promise of grace

Clarity is needed – 1 Corinthians 14:8 – what does the church recommend?

People who experience same-sex attraction who are seeking to live godly celibate lives will be hurt and confused if the church appears to start to “bless” sexually active same sex relationships

Further resources:

The Church of England:

Resolution 1.10 on Human Sexuality of the 1998 Lambeth Conference -

Issues in Human Sexuality: A statement by the House of Bishops – GS Misc 382 (Church House Publishing, 1991) – Google for PDF

Some issues in human sexuality: a guide to the debate – a discussion document from the House of Bishops’ Group on Issues in Human Sexuality (London, Church House Publishing, 2003) – Google for PDF

“The Pilling Report” – Report of the House of Bishops Working Group on Human Sexuality (November 2013),-family-and-sexuality-issues/human-sexuality/pilling-report.aspx

* * *

* * *

Paul Brown, Homosexuality: Christian Truth and Love (Day One, 2007)

Mark Christopher, Same-sex marriage: is it really the same? (Leominster, Day One, 2009)

Andrew Goddard & Don Horrocks (ed.s), Biblical and pastoral responses to homosexuality (London, Evangelical Alliance, 2012)

Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation – A contemporary introduction to New Testament Ethics (Harper One) chapter 16 on homosexuality

Wesley Hill, Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2010)

David Peterson (ed.), Holiness & Sexuality: Homosexuality in a biblical context (Milton Keynes, Paternoster, 2004)

John Richardson, What God Has Made Clean… if we can eat prawns, why is gay sex wrong? – Biblical Application Series (The Good Book Company)

Alex Tylee, Walking with Gay Friends: A journey of informed compassion (Nottingham, IVP, 2007)

Thomas Schmidt, Straight and Narrow? Compassion and clarity in the homosexuality debate (Leicester, IVP, 1995)

Simon Vibert, Conduct which honours God: The Question of Homosexuality (Orthos Fellowship of Word and Spirit, 2003) -

No comments: