"We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice,
we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself." Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (1943-1945)

Letter to His Grace Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury

2 December 2016

Full text (PDF) here

Full Extended List of References for Dermot'O'Callghan Letter

2nd December 2016

The Most Revd and Rt Hon Justin Welby
Lambeth Palace
London
SE1 7J

Your Grace,

I am writing to express concern at the possibility that the Church of England may in some way move towards recognising committed same-sex sexual relationships as being in accord with God’s will.  I would urgently counsel against this on grounds of Theology and of Science.

Theology
Throughout the history of the Church I am not aware of a case where a sinful practice was re-categorised as a grace.  This would be a dramatic ‘first’. 

In order to justify such a radical re-classification, it would be necessary to set out a robust theological underpinning.  The necessary theological work has not been done.  It would have to be consistent with the Scriptures, which the best scholars agree is impossible.  Conservative scholars take this view, of course.  I had the privilege last year of introducing you to Dr Robert Gagnon at Lambeth Palace.  His position is well known.  Also Wolfhart Pannenberg wrote, ‘the biblical assessments of homosexual practice are unambiguous in their rejection’.  But scholars from the other side of the debate also agree:

Dan Via:  “Prof Gagnon and I are in substantial agreement that the biblical texts that deal specifically with homosexuality condemn it unconditionally”

Pim Pronk:  “wherever homosexual intercourse is mentioned in Scripture, it is condemned.”

Walter Wink:  “efforts to twist the text to mean what it clearly does not say are deplorable.  Simply put, the Bible is negative toward same-sex behavior, and there is no getting around it."

Bernadette Brooten (contra exploitation argument):  “Boswell … argued that … ‘The early Christian church does not appear to have opposed homosexual behavior per se.’ The sources on female homoeroticism that I present in this book run absolutely counter to [this view].”

William Schoedel (contra ‘the Bible is only against homosexual sex by heterosexuals’):  “We would expect Paul to make that form of the argument more explicit if he intended it … Paul’s wholesale attack on Greco-Roman culture makes better sense if, like Josephus and Philo, he lumps all forms of same-sex eros together as a mark of Gentile decadence.

Louis Crompton:  "According to [one] interpretation, Paul’s words were not directed at “bona fide” homosexuals in committed relationships. But such a reading, however well-intentioned, seems strained and unhistorical.

Luke Timothy Johnson (homosexual sex is not supported by Scripture – it depends on a different authority):  “The Bible nowhere speaks positively or even neutrally about same-sex love… we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience.

Johnson’s analysis is surely right, but his way of doing theology is not compatible with the Anglican way.

Science
But what about the scientific assessment of these matters?  Please be clear that the Royal College of Psychiatrists misled the Church of England on a number of vital points in 2007 (Listening Process) and 2012 (Pilling) and have not corrected these to the Church.  For example, the College:

  1. misreported a study on ‘ex-gays’, changing the word ‘majority’ to read ‘small minority’. 
     
  2. wrongly claimed that the causation of homosexuality was essentially biological.  I challenged this and they later acknowledged the importance of ‘postnatal environmental factors’ in shaping sexuality (but only after Parliament had passed the same-sex marriage legislation).  So ‘Born Gay’ cannot now be sustained.  This is of great significance.
     
  3. failed to acknowledge that homosexuality is fluid and often changes over a lifetime.  Now they belatedly accept this – again a most important fact.                 
     
  4. wrongly implied that the poorer mental health experiences of LGB people are caused by discrimination.  Pilling [205 – 208] rejected this assertion.
     
  5. were also rejected by Pilling [209 – 213] on a similar argument re the short term character of same-sex relationships.

It would be tragic if the Church of England were to redefine sinful practice as a grace, without warrant from Scripture or from science. 

And please hold firmly to two undeniable facts:

  1. the LGBT movement will not be satisfied with blessings on faithful same-sex relationships. Malcolm Macourt has written on behalf of LGCM: “I suppose that the society to which they [lesbian and gay people] aspire is one in which young people, as they grow up, will become aware of a wide variety of life patterns: monogamy - multiple partnerships; partnerships for life – partnerships for a period of mutual growth; same-sex partners – opposite-sex partners – both ...”  [Towards a theology of gay liberation, p25].  If the Church concedes the initial demand, it will be powerless to draw a line in the sand at any stage thereafter.
  2. LGBT activists have a sexual ethic that is fundamentally opposed to the Christian ethic and will destroy it.  Researchers McWhirter and Mattison (themselves a gay couple) found that “all [male gay] couples with a relationship lasting more than five years have incorporated some provision for outside sexual activity … To arrive at the acceptance of being gay and of extrarelational sex, each of these men has had to alter his own value systems.”  Adoption of gay practices in the Church will lead to adoption of altered value systems and destruction of Christian morality

You have rightly expressed concern about the widening gap between Western society and the Church.  Yet it is hardly wider than the gap faced by the early Christians who turned the world upside down.  This is not a ‘Northern Ireland’ situation, where reconciliation is needed, nor is it a justice issue.  It is a struggle between obedience and selfish desire (which applies to us all).

I pray that you may have God’s blessing and strength to stand against the immense pressures facing the Anglican Communion, and yourself in particular, at this time of moral confusion in the world

Yours sincerely

Dermot O'Callaghan

Director, Core Issues Trust

Extended List of References (PDF version)

Sources and extended quotations re
Open Letter
from Dermot O’Callaghan to the Archbishop of Canterbury
2 Dec 2016

Wolfhart Pannenberg: “The biblical assessments of homosexual practice are unambiguous in their rejection, and all its statements on this subject agree without exception…. Here lies the boundary of a Christian church that knows itself to be bound by the authority of Scripture. Those who urge the church to change the norm of its teaching on this matter must know that they are promoting schism. If a church were to let itself be pushed to the point where it ceased to treat homosexual activity as a departure from the biblical norm, and recognized homosexual unions as a personal partnership of love equivalent to marriage, such a church would stand no longer on biblical ground but against the unequivocal witness of Scripture. A church that took this step would cease to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. ” http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/1996/november11/6td035.html?start=1

Dan Via:  “The Pauline texts … do not support this limitation of male homosexuality to pederasty … I believe that Hays is correct in holding that arsenokoitēs refers to a man who engages in same-sex intercourse. The term is a compound of the words for “male” (arsēn) and “bed” (koitē) and thus could naturally be taken to mean a man who goes to bed with other men. True, the meaning of a compound word does not necessarily add up to the sum of its parts. But in this case I believe the evidence suggests that it does. In the Greek version of the two Leviticus passages that condemn male homosexuality (Lev 18:22; 20:13, a man is not to lie with a male as with a woman) each text contains both the words arsēn and koitē. First Cor 6:9-10 simply classifies homosexuality as a moral sin that finally keeps one out of the kingdom of God.”
“Professor Gagnon and I are in substantial agreement that the biblical texts that deal specifically with homosexual practice condemn it unconditionally.”
Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views, pp. 11, 13, 93-95.

Pim Pronk: “To sum up: wherever homosexual intercourse is mentioned in Scripture, it is condemned.  With reference to it, the New Testament adds no arguments to those of the Old.  Rejection is a foregone conclusion.”
Against Nature? Types of Moral Arguments Regarding Homosexuality, p. 279

Walter Wink: “…efforts to twist the text to mean what it clearly does not say are deplorable. Simply put, the Bible is negative toward same-sex behavior, and there is no getting around it …”
To Hell with Gays? Christian Century, 119:13, pp. 32-33

Bernadette Brooten: “Boswell … argued that … ‘The early Christian church does not appear to have opposed homosexual behavior per se.’ The sources on female homoeroticism that I present in this book run absolutely counter to [this conclusion].”
“If … the dehumanizing aspects of pederasty motivated Paul to condemn sexual relations between males, then why did he condemn relations between females in the same sentence? … Rom 1:27, like Lev 18:22 and 20:13, condemns all males in male-male relationships regardless of age, making it unlikely that lack of mutuality or concern for the passive boy were Paul’s central concerns … The ancient sources, which rarely speak of sexual relations between women and girls, undermine Robin Scroggs’s theory that Paul opposed homosexuality as pederasty.”
“Paul could have believed that tribades [the active female partners in a female homosexual bond], the ancient kinaidoi  [the passive male partners in a male homosexual bond], and other sexually unorthodox persons were born that way and yet still condemn them as unnatural and shameful … I believe that Paul used the word “exchanged” [Rom. 1:26]  to indicate that people knew the natural sexual order of the universe and left it behind … I see Paul as condemning all forms of homoeroticism as the unnatural acts of people who had turned away from God.”  
 Love between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism, pp. 11, 244, 253 n. 106, 257, 361 

Willam Schoedel:  “We would expect Paul to make that form of the argument more explicit if he intended it … Paul’s wholesale attack on Greco-Roman culture makes better sense if, like Josephus and Philo, he lumps all forms of same-sex eros together as a mark of Gentile decadence.”
Same-Sex Eros: Paul and the Greco-Roman Tradition, p.67

Louis Crompton: “According to [one] interpretation, Paul’s words were not directed at ‘bona fide’ homosexuals in committed relationships. But such a reading, however well-intentioned, seems strained and unhistorical. Nowhere does Paul or any other Jewish writer of this period imply the least acceptance of same-sex relations under any circumstance. The idea that homosexuals might be redeemed by mutual devotion would have been wholly foreign to Paul or any other Jew or early Christian.”
Homosexuality and Civilization, p. 114

Luke Timothy Johnson:The Bible nowhere speaks positively or even neutrally about same-sex love…The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says…I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us. By so doingwe explicitly reject as well the premises of the scriptural statements condemning homosexuality”
Homosexuality and the Church, Commonweal Magazine, June 15, 2007

David McWhirter and Andrew Mattison: “Our culture has defined faithfulness in couples always to include or be synonymous with sexual fidelity, so it is little wonder that relationships [of gay male couples] begin with that assumption… Each man grew up feeling that being sexually exclusive was an issue of morality.  In addition, they grew up believing that heterosexuality had intrinsic moral value while homosexuality was basically immoral.  To arrive at the acceptance of being gay and of extrarelational sex, each of these men has had to alter his own value systems.” The Male Couple: How Relationships Develop, pp 252, 253

See also discussions in The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics, RAJ  Gagnon,

Royal College of Psychiatrists submission to Church of England (2007 and 2012)
http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/pdf/RCPsych%20response%20to%20LGB%20CoE%20Listening%20Exercise%20(2012)%20and%20The%20Pilling%20Commission%20(2007).pdf

Royal College of Psychiatrists statement on Sexual Orientation (2014)
http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/pdf/ps02_2014.pdf

 

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