Nicky Gumbel, evangelicals and homosexuality

I’ve just been looking at Nicky Gumbel, Searching Issues (revised edition, 2004), a short book written by one of the most currently influential Evangelical Anglicans. Gumbel is the founder of the Alpha course, widely used as an introduction to Christianity, and also prominent at Holy Trinity Brompton, one of the biggest Evangelical churches in the Church of England. The book is intended to answer the seven most common questions raised on the Alpha course and includes a chapter on homosexuality. Although the book’s brief and doesn’t go into theological depth on any of the issues covered, it strikes me as a good guide to the kind of Evangelical apologetics that goes on in sermons, discussion groups etc. (It has a lot of similarities to stuff that I was hearing/reading as an Evangelical Anglican student in the 1980s). So I wanted to use this as a way into looking how the current Evangelical wing of the Church of England treats homosexuality.

Gumbel starts from the principles that the only permissible sexual activity is within marriage and that the Bible condemns homosexual activity. He therefore argues that all homosexual activity is sinful, though he’s keen to stress that a homosexual orientation in itself isn’t sinful. In a discussion of the causes of homosexual orientation, he accepts that: ‘Whether the basis is biological or social, in most cases homosexually orientated people are the product of forces over which they have little or no control, certainly in the early stages.’ However ‘Even if there is a scientific basis, it does not mean that it is God’s will. Genetic conditioning produces good things, such as the wonderful diversity o human beings, but also bad things like congenital disease.’ He sees changes in orientation as unusual, but possible: otherwise, gay people are called to a life of celibacy.

Gumbel doesn’t come across as homophobic (although some of his comments can undoubtedly be seen as offensive). What I find more interesting, in many ways, is what isn’t in this chapter, particularly in comparison to an earlier chapter on ‘Sex before marriage’. Gumbel discusses harmful effects of promiscuity (psychological problems, AIDS etc) there; there’s no suggestion that a ‘gay lifestyle’ is itself harmful, formerly a common allegation. He also makes no use of ‘arguments by design’, the supposed un-naturalness of sexual acts that do not involves a penis and vagina. I suspect this comes from a realisation that ‘straight sex’ is no longer just about this. And in the sex before marriage chapter, Gumbel carefully avoids condemning non-procreative sex.

What has gone, therefore, in Gumbel’s approach is the non-Scriptural, ‘rational’ reasons for condemning homosexual acts. You can’t have gay sex because God disapproves, and there is no other reason. Even his one half-hearted attempt at a rational explanation (a passing comparison to congenital disease) falls down. For just one example, take coeliac disease, as a genetically influenced disorder that people would agree in seeing as a ‘bad thing’. If people with coeliac disease cannot tolerate gluten and therefore cannot eat bread, is it morally wrong for them to find a form of bread that they can eat? (Most people would think it just as hard to get through life without loving relationships as without bread).
Gumbel’s solution to the problem is also unrealistic: even though you can’t help what your feelings are, you mustn’t act on them, ever. Because he’s honest enough to admit that changes in orientation are rare, he can’t offer real hope for gays, just a lifetime of struggle. (It’s also a struggle that heterosexuals are no longer prepared to share: lifelong celibate heterosexuals are now extremely hard to find). There’s a noticeable contrast also to the end of his chapter on premarital sex, which ends with the story of how a Chinese woman who had been a heroin addict and a prostitute for sixty years is finally healed. ‘The former prostitute was able to walk down the aisle in white, cleansed and forgiven by Jesus Christ.’

All this raises serious problems for Gumbel’s aims as an evangelist. If he wants to persuade people to become Christian, how does he persuade people to accept a doctrine that a) has no rational basis and b) seems unjust to a particular group of people? Twenty years ago, it was probably easier to persuade people that this aspect of Christianity was relatively unimportant. In a modern world in which most people will know some gays or a gay couple, it is increasingly hard to see such irrational discrimination against them as tolerable.

If Evangelical Anglicans hold to this view of homosexuality, they risk becoming unable to convert an increasingly large number of British people. That makes me suspect that they will find one of two possible ways around the problem in the next generation or so. One is what might be called the evangelical jump-cut, skipping over the key texts. This is already effectively done on issues about the subordination of wives, and even more noticeably on remarriage. The New Testament condemns divorce and Jesus specifically calls remarriage as adultery. Evangelical preachers today speak out strongly against adultery, and condemn divorce, but implicitly most remarriage is filed under marriage and not adultery and quietly accepted. The alternative, that of telling remarried people that they can only be forgiven if they abandon their current marriage and either remain celibate or return to their original spouse, is rightly seen as unrealistic. In the same way, evangelicals might decide that they will condemn homosexual pre-marital/extra-marital acts, but once someone is in a civil partnership, they will implicitly be treated as if they were married and such relationships will not be condemned.

I suspect, however, that it will be hard to carry out such deliberate ignoring tactics, and that therefore Evangelical Anglicans are going to have to change their Biblical interpretation. This isn’t intrinsically impossible: after all, they have already done the same on the subject of slavery, and (for the most part) on the issue of women priests. The outlines of this re-interpretation are already visible. You start with the overall message of Jesus as being the equality of humanity: in Christ there is neither slave nor free, male or female etc. You accept that Leviticus doesn’t have to be followed on homosexuality anymore than on the rape of engaged women. You interpret the story of Sodom as punishing homosexual rape. You end by arguing that Paul’s letters were condemning homosexual prostitution and heterosexuals indulging in homosexual experimentation. Based on this and further scientific evidence of sexual orientation as innate, you conclude that permanent monogamous gay relationships are acceptable.

Such a re-interpretation isn’t going to be universally accepted, but it’s not intrinsically ridiculous. It’s the kind of argument that groups like Accepting Evangelicals are already coming up with. I don’t know whether Nicky Gumbel (or his successors in twenty years time) are going to be making that kind of answer to Alpha groups in twenty years’ time. But I think if they don’t, they’re going to find their evangelism becoming substantially harder.

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20 thoughts on “Nicky Gumbel, evangelicals and homosexuality

  1. I’ve always viewed Matthew 5:29 as a decent enough justification for ignoring the bits of scripture that would get in the way of someone being a good person. If your right eye causes you to stumble, then pluck it out, for it is better that one of your members should perish than for your whole body to end up in hell (paraphrasing, of course). I admit it’s a stretch to suggest that passages from a book are members of one’s body, but I suppose if you believe that Jesus was the Word (a la John), and that through Communion the flesh and blood of Jesus (the Word) become a part of us, then I think a case could be made. So if you see a passage in the Bible that makes you stumble, perhaps it woud be better to discard that passage altogether. What do you think?

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    • Speaking as a liberal Christian myself, I’m always a bit wary of deciding simply to ignore the bits of scripture I don’t agree with. It’s all too easy to find that you’ve ended up just creating a Jesus/religion in your own image, who mysteriously shares all your liberal views. (See, for example, the Jesus Seminar).

      I do, however, think it is legitimate to look at the historical context of a particular piece of Scripture and decide that particular social/scientific changes are so vast that it is no longer relevant. (This may end up with the same effect of discarding the verse, but it provides more of a check on when it is legitimate to do so). I don’t feel that it is any longer a Christian duty to ‘go forth and multiply’, for example, given current populations statistics.

      I would say that the key change on homosexuality is that St Paul (probably) did not have the concept of a homosexual orientation. (There’s an argument about whether such concepts are visible in some classical culture, such as Plato’s Symposium). If you see homosexual acts as something potentially equally tempting to all humans, it’s not unreasonable to ban them. If you accept that some people are exclusively gay from their earliest consciousness, possibly for prenatal reasons, it looks much more reasonable to abandon that moral view.

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      • I would encourage you and others who share your view of selecting the offending scriptures and creating a true conscience raising within the christian church on these interpretations. That is how the divorce issue was handled. Have at it. I encourage you, Magistra, with all love and prayers not go around scripture it is too valuable I agree, rather go through it, dear, and may the great love of our Lord and Holy Spirit be with you. Dive into the Word and illuminate it. That way the Word Himself will set us all free and we shall all be free indeed! This means concerned parents and relatives as well. In the name of Love continue to do this. Wonderful to hear these ideas. Simply wonderful. Write to Nicky. Get these ideas out of academia and into the church on the corner all over the world!!!!Love and prayers for your every success in this endever.

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  2. Ah yes, well I suppose you’re right. Wouldn’t want a religion with liberal values… wait. 😀

    Anyway I came up with that stumbling block bit some time ago to show that one can justify just about anything with the right piece of scripture (even to the point of getting rid of the wrong bits of scripture). I personally think the general overview of the religion (you know, the bits about loving each other, respecting each other, and giving of yourself to help others) are the bits we should go by.

    It’s when one starts discriminating against others on the basis of scripture that I find the whole thing distasteful.

    I think we have reason so that we can judge which rules to follow and which not: for example I see no reason why we might not sow two kinds of seed in one field nor wear poly-cotton blends (Leviticus 19:19), yet I still think we ought to love our friends as we love ourselves, and not seek revenge for any real or imagined slights (Leviticus 19:18). So call me crazy when I fail to see the difference between picking and choosing those scriptures and any others: as I said, we use our own judgement to decide which rules to follow, because to follow all the rules would be patently absurd.

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    • I think we may be disagreeing about processes more than outcomes here. You’re arguing that we should use reason to judge which individual rules to follow. My view is that you show look at the overall principles in the Bible and then think if specific rules are compatible with them. So I’d agree that mixed fibres are OK, but on the basis that Mosaic law is no longer seen as binding in the New Testament.

      My concern with the pick and choose approach, is how do you decide whose reason prevails? If you can decide that prohibitions on homosexualiy don’t apply, how can you coherently object to some other Christian deciding that obedience to secular authorities (or ‘do not bear false witness’) are bits they want to ignore? An awful lot of Christian violence, for example, has been justified by selective quoting from the Bible, ignoring the peaceful spirit of the New Testament. Similarly, I think the Evangelical campaign against the slave trade in the eighteenth century was effective precisely because it argued that slavery was against the principles of the Bible, rather than saying that individual verses allowing slave-owning were simply wrong and should be ignored.

      If you want the Bible to have some authority, you have to be prepared to wrestle with that authority, when it doesn’t say what you’d like it to say (just as rich Christians ought to be wrestling with the ‘eye of the needle’ image and its implications). If you just dismiss it when you don’t like it, why should anyone else take its authority seriously?

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      • This discussion of scriptural authority ties in with a book I am currently reading: Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament, by Peter Enns. Enns is opening my eyes to an understanding of ancient cultures and how a texts were interpreted by the audience of that day — and not always literally. As Enns explains (with examples), even New Testament writers sometimes quoted the O.T. out of context to make a point and this was not considered deceptive in the rabbinic tradition of that day. If the N.T. writers were God-inspired, then God must have approved. God can keep up with the times without our help or hindrance. By locking ourselves into a literal interpretation of words written 2 or 3 milennia ago, in languages most of us have not mastered, we miss what God may be saying to us today through those same authoritative writings. There is so much more in scripture to be taken seriously than literal words on a page. I find Enns to be thoughtful and his teaching enlightening.

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      • Enns’ book sounds very interesting – if I didn’t have a long list of books I *have* to read in the next year, I’d liked to have had a look at it. I think that ancient (and medieval) writers do sometimes use and cite Bible texts in a different way from us, just as they come to those texts with different initial assumptions. And the language point you make is also an important one. Unlike when translating a modern language, where one can ask a native speaker or consult a contemporary dictionary, sometimes when translating from an ancient language it is very difficult to be sure about exactly what some words/phrases mean (whether they’re Latin agricultural terms or Greek lists of sins). I still take the Bible seriously, just as I did when I was an Evangelical, but I take it seriously in a rather different way than I once did.

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    • Derek,

      Thanks for the link to your article. I found both of your pieces very good. It’s noticeable that you stressed the importance of the lives of Christians you know, which is an aspect that I should have mentioned, but forgot. I think this has been another big change in the last 20-30 years. As gay people have become more accepted by wider society, more people have come out and the wide variety of such people’s relationships has become more visible to straights like us. I know people in their sixties and seventies who have never (knowingly) known a gay person: if their impressions are gained largely from gay celebrities and campaigners, it’s not surprising their views of gay sexuality are limited.

      What gay marriages/civil partnerships are increasingly showing to us all is that gay relationships are not necessarily just about desire, but also about love, just like heterosexual relationships. To claim that gay relationships are just about sex, or to say that such relationships are only acceptable if non-physical, is hypocrisy on the part of us straights (particularly married straights, who know that sexual activity is an important part of our bond with our partners).

      I think your decision to start from celibacy in thinking about sex is a useful approach. Have you read Peter Brown’s The Body and Society: Men, Women and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity? That was the first book I read that really helped me ‘get’ celibacy as a positive ideal. The problem is how you can encourage people to consider that ideal in today’s world. Celibacy, if it is to mean anything positive, has to be freely chosen; yet the current Anglican tendency is to focus only on its imposition (willingly or not) on the unmarried. In some ways, therefore, the people who are best placed to rehabilitate sexual renunciation are, paradoxically, married people. It is those who have the religious freedom to choose sexual intercourse who are best placed to chose to abstain from it.

      Perhaps what we need is the concept (based on 1 Corinthians 7: 5 of ‘agreement for a season’) of a ‘sexual fast’, a period of time when by choice couples abstain, in order to devote themselves more to God’s service. Maybe even the encouragement of the return of the Tobias days (three days of prayer and abstinence after marriage); after all, when many couples will have already slept together before marrying, it’s one way to prepare oneself for a marital ‘sexual feast’. Whether it’s possible to swim against the tide of the age like that, I don’t know. But I can’t see that those of us who don’t have the ‘gift of continence’ simply calling on others to develop it is going to be terribly convincing otherwise.

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    • “(And my brother and daughter are gluten intolerant and if anyone wants to take up the morality of non-gluten bread…)”

      Sure I’ll look up the scriptural references and be right back…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

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  3. I find it very interesting that the test of true love is how the church views homosexuality. In my opinion as a believer, when I gave my life to Christ the only thing that mattered to me was if I was in God’s will or not. Not man’s will because that can be flawed. But what is God’s will is all that matters to me.

    Years ago I had many friends who were homosexual. I approved of and promoted the lifestyle and had no issues with it and was the first to point a finger to the churh as being holy hypocrites for not thinking the same.

    But something happened to me when I gave my life to Christ. I no longer looked for areas where the church was less than perfect because by it’s very nature of course it is imperfect. But God is perfect, and placing my faith and hope and trust in Him is enough for me. I think the pointing fingers at the church over their stand as for or against homosexuality is merely a trick of the enemy to keep us from finding the peace that passes all understanding that comes from God.

    Jesus died for homosexuals, for prostitutes for housewives, for criminals in short for us all!

    God loves us all and he doesn’t care what you’ve done. We can all come to him and lay our sins at his feet and he will take it from there, but make no mistake only he has the power to save us and in the end every kne will bow and every tongue will confess thta Jesus Christ is Lord.

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    • Bluecat – it may be tempting to think that questions about homosexuality are just a distraction from more important Christian truths. But right from the first century, Christians have been faced with the issue of how we live in this world until the end comes (either Christ’s return or our death). St Paul is already wrestling with this question in his letters. For some people, following Christ meant abandoning all ‘normal’ life, home, family and possessions, and not worrying about the future. But for most people, that wasn’t feasible. What Paul therefore wanted was for such people, who hadn’t abandoned the world but were still in it, to live godly lives in sober and respectable households (see e.g. 1 Thessalonians 4: 1-12).

      Paul’s discussions of such families and households can sometimes sound rather negative, a second-best for the not really committed. But there’s also hints of a more positive side of such households: that in that daily, domestic, rather humdrum commitment of a household to God, the people in it can show to the unbelievers around them how Christianity can transform and sanctify ordinary life.

      The question then is, what kind of household can be seen as holy? To Paul, such a household had to centre round a heterosexual married couple, but it could include slaves. If we’re prepared to say that Paul was wrong about a household with slaves ever being holy, then we have to consider whether he might also have been wrong about only a heterosexual couple being able to create a holy household. I’ve seen a gay Christian couple whose life together seemed to me be to a positive one, who created a caring partnership, which extended goodness out to others. I can’t see how a household like that, whose fruits are good, can be evil. And as someone who’s lived as part of a Christian couple and a family I know how support from others within my home has enabled me to live a more Christian life, has encouraged me in holiness. If I say that gay people should not live in such a committed relationship, I am denying them the social resources that I have found so valuable myself. It is because I feel that love and marriage are good and even holy things, that I want gay people too, to be able to share in them, and draw strength from them, so they too have the chance to form their own holy households to be beacons of light in this world.

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  4. Strange that these unpopular views that will drive everyone away seem not to be stopping the amazing growth that Holy Trinity, Brompton, Nicky’s church, has and is experiencing. Perhaps when the true gospel is proclaimed with GOd’s love people of all kinds, gay, straight, young, old etc are drawn to it and when filled with the power and love of GOd are able to make the life changes you say will put people off. Jesus put people off, He also draws in billions..He’s also the perfecter of our faith! In the end we’re to answer to Him and we shodl be very careful about thinking we know better.

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    • Jim,

      I want to start my reply with some basic statistics, taken from the British Social Attitudes survey (one of the most respected long-term studies of attitudes, available at http://www.britsocat.com/). In 1983, 54% of those surveyed said that sexual relations between two adults of the same sex were ‘always wrong’, and that rose to a peak in 1987, with 64% saying that. In 2007, the corresponding figure was 26%. Only a quarter of British people now believe that gay sex is always wrong. If you break this down by age, the contrast is even starker. In 2007, 16% of 18-24 year-olds believed that gay sex was always wrong, and only 13% of 25-34 year-olds. In contrast, 35% of 55-59 year-olds believed this, 45% of those aged 60-64, and 50% of those aged 65+. Unless there is some major social change, in 20 years time, people who believe that gay sex is always wrong are going to be an even smaller minority of the British population. Sexually active gay people have become a normal, accepted part of British society.

      This matters to churches who want to evangelise, because the starting point for most would-be converts to be drawn into church activities is that the church/Christians they meet are a) not extremist nutters and b) give a plausible account of how the world is. A lot of people are now instinctively turned off by homophobia, they don’t want to associate with people like that, anymore than they want to associate with racists. And evangelicals tend to veer close to homophobia a lot of the time.

      Even for those who aren’t repelled in that way, there’s the problem of plausibility. I was drawn to Evangelical Christianity when I was younger partly because it seemed to me to give a true account of sinfulness. It spoke against practices that I could see in myself and others were harmful: selfishness, greed, promiscuity, a failure to love my neighbour. But I wouldn’t have listened to a church or to Christians if they had claimed that say, dancing or watching TV or listening to pop music was intrinsically immoral, because that would have gone against my own experience of the world. It would have destroyed such people’s credibility with me if they’d expected me to ignore my own knowledge of what was or wasn’t harmful, without giving a good explanation for their view. In the same way, it is now damaging to evangelicals’ credibility when they can see only something wicked in loving gay relationships, and can’t give a good argument for their condemnation of them, other than ‘God says so’.

      This doesn’t make it impossible for evangelicals to convert people: there are still homophobes out there, and there are also people who will be prepared to ignore or not to worry about the bits of evangelical teaching they don’t like in favour of the many other positive features of HTB or other evangelical churches. But it does mean that there is a declining pool of people who can readily accept the whole evangelical package. HTB may well continue to grow, to do exceptionally well in a declining market segment, to put it in business terms. But evangelicals have always gradually changed with the times, in order to win more converts. Their views on gay relationships seem to me to be something that they are probably going to have to adapt, if they don’t want to become marginalised.

      Finally, to your points about ‘knowing better’ and ‘life changes’. I don’t claim I know better than God, but one of the things that God has given me is an analytical mind, and I can’t respect any version of Christianity that tells me to stop trying to think, just to shut up and accept what I’m told. That wasn’t what God made me to do. And as for life changes: let me be honest. I have made minor changes to my way of life, when I was an evangelical Christian, and now, when I’m a more liberal one. I’ve used some of my money and time and energy in ways I wouldn’t have done otherwise, I’ve avoided doing things that I would have liked to do. But I haven’t changed my life in the kind of drastic way that a lifelong commitment to celibacy would mean. Have you? Have you been prepared to give up all hope of a family life and sexual pleasure in that way, or made some other equally permanent, equally fundamental commitment to changing your whole future? Because if not, if you haven’t made that kind of life-altering commitment, I’m not terribly impressed by your expectation that gay people who become Christians should and can do that. It’s possible, but it’s very, very hard to make that kind of total break with all your dreams and wishes for love and relationships.

      My position on gay relationships is finally a reflection of my own experiences. I know I would struggle in a world where I was not in a loving marriage, that I would find it harder to resist the forces pulling me away from my faith. My tribute to the Christian power of marriage and the family is that I want others to experience its joys and sorrows as well, whether they’re gay or straight.

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      • Registrar it is now 6 years since you wrote that comment I am wondering if your views on this have changed or if you are still hold those views. Yes giving up on all your dreams of love and pleasure and relationship is probably the hardest thing that any person will face in life life but nevertheless Jesus did say to take up our cross and follow him yes the road is narrow. Deciding to interpret what you know in your heart God is saying it’s a dangerous thing it is extremely easy to fool oneself.

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  5. In all this there is one major problem. Paul’s letters are part of the inspired canon of scripture (inspired by God that is) so Paul did have an enlightened view by the Holy Spirit, and as an extremely intelligent person, he knew what he was writing. God has not left us any other interpretation about marriage (one man and one woman for life). We have slid into the gutter but then God’s word prophesies that too!!

    How awesome are His ways

    God bless.

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  6. I love every one of you and thank the good Lord above for all of us, He does also. When you boil down every scripture you all have brought up and the whole Bible you would see that He tells you, it’s all about the heart. It matters where your heart is with Him. YOUR heart, no one else’s. You and Him and that’s it. Love Him with all your heart and leave the rest up to Him. When you do this all of your questions here will be answered, I promise you. If it gets too difficult for you also remember one verse please, just one. John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that (WHO SO EVER) (WHO SO EVER) believes in Him shall not perish but have ever lasting life. What’s your name? cool, that means YOU.

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    • I think you’re right that God’s love for us is a very good place to start from. I’ve been much influenced by that principle and also that of Matthew 7:17, that a good tree bears good fruit. If a relationship bears good fruit, if you can see those involved showing love to each other and to the wider community, then it seems to me we ought to acknowledge that and respond positively to that.

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  7. Thanks for the interesting discussion. I think you make three false assumptions: I would like to comment only on the third, for brevity.

    (1) You assume that humans consist of two types, “gays” and “straights”.
    Hollywood supports this, the evidence doesn’t.

    (2) You assume that a life without sex is unhappy and unsuccessful.
    Again, this is Hollywood.

    (3) You assume that, to convert people, churches must fit in with their tastes.

    The exact opposite is true. Throughout history, the “appeasement” churches have declined, and the “fundamental” churches have grown. In our own time, the Anglican, United Canada, Unitarians, Universalists, and I suspect Quakers, are dwindling rapidly. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Pentecostals, the Reformed churches, are all doing well and growing, despite the popular anti-church fashion of thought. I predict the new (rather fundamental) Pope will see growth in the Catholic church also.

    Why? Well, when people join a golf club, they choose one that suits their tastes. But people join a church for a different reason!

    They join a church precisely because they are NOT happy with their life and their tastes. They sense that they are somehow failing, faulty. They look for real standards, real principles, not fashions. They want to know which way is up! And, having seen where wordly standards lead, they do not trust popular opinion.

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    • First of all, I don’t assume that there are simply gays and straights. I don’t often tend to discuss bisexual people (I say a small amount in the comments to this post), or those who would consider themselves asexual etc, because for the historical periods I mostly study, there’s very little evidence. I’m aware of studies such as those by Lisa Diamond suggesting that women’s sexual orientation may be more fluid than previously realised (though I don’t know if anyone’s produced similar evidence for male sexual orientation as fluid). However, the fact that sexual orientation is fluid doesn’t in itself prove that it can be deliberately changed by the individual. Both my natural hair colour and my eyesight have changed over the years, sometimes in ways I like, sometimes not. But no combination of willpower, training or prayer will give me black hair or 20/20 vision.

      Secondly, I don’t believe that a life without sex is unhappy or unsuccessful. I’ve known several people who have made a success of a life that included a permanent commitment to celibacy. What I believe is that *my* life would have been less successful and happy without my marriage and the sexual activity that forms part of it. And what I object to is lifelong celibacy being considered compulsory for people who are only attracted to their own sex. If gay people voluntarily choose lifelong celibacy that is fine by me, but imposed celibacy has a pretty poor record, both in medieval monasteries and among the modern day clergy. I don’t believe that many people have the gift for making something positive out of lifelong celibacy: if they did, why aren’t more heterosexual people embracing that way of life? Are you celibate, for example?

      As for your final point, I’ll try and say something more about church growth in a later post. (It’s slightly more complicated than you’re making it sound). The point isn’t that people go to church because they’re sinful and they know there’s something wrong with their life. That’s why I stay in the church as well: because I’m a sinner. The problem is that if I go to a church and am told that homosexual acts are wrong in all circumstances, that’s not a statement about my behaviour. I’ve never seriously been tempted to sleep with another woman. What I’m being told is that the gay couples that I know are bigger sinners than I am, even though I look at the love in their relationships and there is no non-religious reason for condemning them. I am told that relationships that are just as full as love as my own, just as faithful, sometimes more self-sacrificing than my own are wicked. Talk about motes and beams. As I said in a previous comment, if the churches give an account of people as sinners that doesn’t match up with evidence of actual harm they are doing, they lose the trust of both their congregations and potential converts.

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