A Review of ‘Pastoral Principles for living well together’

What are the Pastoral Principles? 

Following on from the House of Bishops’ pastoral guidance on welcoming transgender people we now also have a set of ‘Pastoral Principles for living well together.’

These ‘Pastoral Principles’ have been produced by the Pastoral Advisory Group, which is a group chaired by the Bishop of Newcastle that was established by the House of Bishops in 2017 to ‘advise dioceses on pastoral issues concerning human sexuality so that we can make explicit our commitment to show the love of Christ to all people, regardless of sexual or gender identity.’ [1]

As GS Misc 1200, ‘The Living in Love and Faith Project and the Pastoral Advisory Group,’[2] presented to the February 2019 session of General Synod explains, while the episcopal members of the Pastoral Advisory Group have been giving advice on pastoral issues referred to them by other bishops, the main work of the Group as a whole has been the production of the Pastoral Principles document. This document was agreed by the House of Bishops at its meeting in December 2018 and has been commended by the House for use in the dioceses and parishes of the Church of England.

GS MISC 1200 goes on to say that the purpose of the document is to:

‘… set out some principles of pastoral practice for how the people of God in the Church of England can live well together within the parameters of its current position on marriage and the different deeply held convictions that individuals and churches hold on these matters.’[3]

It further adds:

‘The Church has been found wanting in its welcome and treatment of LGBTI+ people and much can be done to address this. The Pastoral Principles are about encouraging churches to offer a welcome that is Christ-centred, that sees difference as a gift rather than a problem, and that builds trust and models generosity. The Bishops hope that these principles will go some way toward inspiring individuals and congregations to examine and enhance the quality of their welcome for all who are seeking a spiritual home in which they can flourish.’[4]

The starting point for the Pastoral Principles Document[5] is the claim that the quality of relationships within the Church of England ‘is hindered by six pervading evils’ which it identifies as prejudice, silence, ignorance, fear, hypocrisy and the misuse of power. The readers of the document are

‘…invited to consider whether these are at work in your church community and how your church might…

Acknowledge prejudice

Speak into silence

Address ignorance

Cast out fear

Admit hypocrisy

Pay attention to power.’

The document then declares:

‘Acting on these evils – which are applicable to all people – could be transformative for your church community and for the church as a whole. Together our church communities are called to LOVE:

Listen attentively and openly

Open your heart and mind without judgmentalism

Value everyone’s vulnerability and perspective

Express concern and empathy.’

The main body of the document consists of six sections, each of which gives a brief explanation of why we need to acknowledge prejudice, speak into silence, address ignorance, cast out fear, admit hypocrisy and pay attention to power, and then provides ‘something to ponder’ and ‘some questions to explore together.’

What is good about the document?

The basic point made by the document is one that everyone should be able to agree upon. Prejudice, silence, ignorance, fear, hypocrisy and the misuse of power are indeed evils which exist in the Church today and which need to be addressed and overcome.

Furthermore much of what the document says about addressing these evils is true and helpful. For example, it is true that ‘Central to our faith is the belief that each of us is unique; we rejoice that we are fearfully and wonderfully made by God,’ it is true that the sacraments ‘are a means of God’s grace in living lives of holiness in obedience to God’s call’ and it is helpful to be reminded to avoid ‘the cheap grace that denies the costliness of Christ’s call to his disciples to take up their cross and follow him.’

What is problematic about the document?

However, there is also much that is problematic about the document.

First, the reason why the document is necessary is said to be because ‘The Church has been found wanting in its welcome and treatment of LGBTI+ people.’ What we are not told, however, is who has found the Church wanting and on what basis. Nor are we told why we should believe that what the people who have declared the Church to be wanting say is actually true. What we have is thus a claim about why the document is needed that is neither unpacked nor substantiated.

Secondly, the document fails to define its terms. We are never told precisely what is meant by the key terms prejudice, silence, ignorance, fear, hypocrisy or misuse of power. In addition, there are lots of other terms that are used, but which are never properly explained. For example, the document stresses the importance of ‘authentic relationships’ and ‘deep listening’ but doesn’t explain what these terms mean. The document says that we need to repudiate ‘pastoral practice that is coercive or abusive’ but gives no guidance as to how we can identify forms of pastoral practice that come under these categories. The document suggests that we should ‘encourage vulnerability in our relationships,’ but it does not say what this might mean in practice.

Thirdly, and linked to the previous point, the document never gives any specific lived examples to illustrate what it says. For example it talks about ‘situations where people who might wish to be open about their sexual orientation feel forced to dissemble,’ but does not give any specific examples of situations in which people have felt forced to dissemble. For another example, it talks about the need for ‘a quality and depth of relationships that means that difference is respected and all feel they belong,’ but it again does not given any specific examples to illustrate what this means.

This lack of lived examples matters because it gives the whole document a very abstract tone that will make it difficult for many Christians in the parishes to engage with it.

Fourthly, the document declares that the source of authority for those in the Church of England consists of ‘the Bible and the Church of England’s foundational documents.’ This account of authority ignores the difference in authority between the Bible and these foundational documents, fails to explain which these foundational documents are, and ignores the place also given by the Church of England to the teaching of the Fathers of the Church and to other authorities such as Lambeth Conference resolutions, General Synod motions, Canons, Measures, and guidance given by the House of Bishops.

Fifthly, what the document says about fear lacks honesty and balance. The document states:

‘There is fear about ‘breaking ranks’ and speaking out. There is fear that if one’s personal circumstances are known then friendships may be affected or the validity of one’s ministry may be called into question. There is fear among the clergy of how they may be held to account as they attempt to care. There is fear that a bishop’s known views will colour her or his engagement with their people. These kinds of fear must be addressed because it can corrupt our life together and imprison individuals.’

What is said here is dishonest because what is really being said is that it is a bad thing that clergy are afraid to disclose that they are in a same-sex sexual relationship and are afraid to offer prayers of blessing to same-sex couples, and that bishops are afraid to declare their support for a change in the Church’s teaching and practice on LGBTI+ issues. This is what is meant and so this is what should have been said.

There is also a lack of balance because there is no acknowledgement of the fear experienced by clergy and laity who hold to the Church’s traditional teaching on human sexuality and human identity and who are afraid that they will be attacked as ‘homophobic’ or ‘transphobic’ in consequence and that they will receive no support from the Church when this happens. This is a particularly significant issue for lay people who may well be subject to discipline or even dismissal from their employment unless they are willing to go along with the secular pro LGBT+ agenda.

If fear is a bad thing then this fear needs to be addressed as well.

Sixthly, the document declares that the existence of ‘tensions and difficulties both within and across our church communities’ arising from differences in theology should be seen ‘as a sign of strength rather than weakness in that it reflects our understanding that God’s church is a diverse church, welcoming the diversity of the people that God calls.’ The problem here is that the document seems to give a blanket endorsement to theological tensions and difficulties in the Church of England. What it does not address is why tensions and difficulties arising from a group or groups within the Church rejecting orthodox, biblical, Christian teaching should be regarded in a positive light.

It is certainly the case that the Church needs to be diverse because it is meant to include within itself people from both sexes, all races and all social groups united together through saving faith in Jesus Christ (see Galatians 3:28). However, it does not follow that the Church should therefore have within it a diversity of belief and contain teaching that is contrary to what God has revealed. The one does not follow from the other and the New Testament endorses the one but not the other.

Seventhly, the document insists that good pastoral care of LGBTI+ people must involve giving people ‘space, permission and opportunities to speak if they want to.’ The unanswered question here is what should happen if what they want to say goes against orthodox biblical teaching. Should they still be given space, permission and opportunity to speak even if the result is that the Church gives a platform for falsehood rather than truth, and even if there is a danger of the faithful being confused or misled?

Eighthly, and most significantly, the document puts forward an unduly limited understanding of what it means for the Church to be a community in which people ‘live well together.’ The position taken by the document seems to be that the Church will be a community in which people live well together provided that it deals with the evils of prejudice, silence, ignorance, fear, hypocrisy and the misuse of power and instead practices love in the way that it defines that term. However, the fact that such a view of the matter is too limited can be seen if we engage in a simple thought experiment.

Imagine a church in which there were a group of people who were habitually drunk. Imagine also that the people concerned were completely open and vocal about their drunkenness and received nothing but understanding and affirmation from all the other members of that church, including those in positions of power. In terms of the Pastoral Advisory Group document this would be a church in which people were living well together because none of the six evils they identify would be an issue and the members of the community would be practising love.

The question is, however, whether that church would be living well before God if it simply accepted the presence of habitual drunkenness among its members. The New Testament is clear that drunkenness is something that is incompatible with faithful Christian discipleship (see Romans 13:13, Galatians 5:21, Ephesians 5:18, 1 Peter 4:3). It therefore follows that by tolerating habitual drunkenness the members of that church would be failing to live up to the Church’s basic calling to teach all people everywhere to live as faithful followers of Christ (Matthew 28:19).

Furthermore the members of that church would also be failing to show love. This is because, contrary to what is said on the Pastoral Advisory Group document, love is not just about listening attentively and openly, opening your heart and mind without judgmentalism, valuing everyone’s vulnerability and perspective and expressing concern and empathy.

In the Christian tradition to love someone or something is to discern its nature, delight in its existence, and act towards it in accordance with its existence. To love human beings thus means to discern who they are, delight in who they are, and respond to them accordingly. Because all human beings are made by God to know, love, and serve him, we show love to them when we behave towards them in ways that help them to achieve this purpose. In the hypothetical case sketched out above, loving the habitual drunkards would thus mean challenging them about their behavior and supporting them in seeking to change it. Only thus would they be helped to serve God as they were created to do.

What this thought experiment shows is that living well together as a church involves more than the Pastoral Advisory Group suggests. It also involves challenging forms of behavior that are incompatible with faithful Christian discipleship and supporting the people involved in seeking to change the way they live.

In relation to LGBTI+ people this mean that a church that wants to live well needs to be willing to not only welcome those with same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria, but also, if necessary, to challenge people about engaging in same-sex sexual activity and gender transition and to support them in abstaining from this kind of sexual activity and living according to their God given sex. Only if it does this will it be a church that truly shows love since only if it does this will it help people to serve God by living in the way he made  them to live.

Conclusion.

What all this means is that the Pastoral Principles are deeply flawed as a resource for churches seeking to be welcoming and supportive communities for all people, including those who identify as LGBTI+. Those churches who are conscious that they need help in this area would do better to turn to the Church Audit material available from the Living Out group. [6]

M B Davie 14.3.19

[1] GS Misc 1158, Next Steps on Human Sexuality, at https://www.churchofengland.org/sites/default/files/2017- 11/gs-misc-1158-next-steps-on-human-sexuality.pdf.

[2] GS Misc 1200, The Living in Love and Faith Project and the Pastoral Advisory Group, at  https://www.churchofengland.org/sites/default/files/2019-01/GS%20Misc%201200.pdf.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] The Pastoral Principles Document is available from the Church of England in hard copy, but is also available online at https://www.churchofengland.org/sites/default/files/2019-02/PAG-PP-website.pdf.

[6] Living Out Church Audit at https://www.livingout.org/resources/the-living-out-church-audit .

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Why marriage and procreation belong together (Part 2)

Dr Meg Warner has now responded to my critique of her article ‘Elephants, Penguins, Procreation and Japanese Knotweed’[1] published on this blog on 20 February with a further article of her own entitled ‘Elephants, Penguins, Procreation and Japanese Knotweed (Part 2).’[2] This blog post is a response to this further article.

In her second article Dr Warner puts forward three objections to my argument in response to her original piece.

Why we need to read the Bible as whole.

First she objects to my statement that the problem with her reading of Genesis 1 and 2:

‘… is that it ignores the basic rule of biblical interpretation that you need to read biblical books as whole entities. Genesis 1 and 2 are part of a much bigger continuous narrative that extends all the way to Genesis 50 and so they have to be read together, and read in the light of this bigger narrative.’

Her response is to say that reading biblical books as whole entities is a rule, but not the only rule to be observed in biblical interpretation, and that care needs to be taken to identify and to honour the multiple voices in the text, and to avoid doing violence to them by adopting a ‘flat’ interpretation that assumes concordance between all elements.’

I entirely agree with her that when reading a biblical text one has to do justice to all the elements it contains and not suppress any of them. However, I would argue that a successful reading of a biblical text is one that not only does justice to all the individual elements of the biblical text, but also does justice to the way in which those elements have been brought together in a particular biblical book and to the way in which they have been brought together to form the biblical canon as a whole.

This is because any successful reading of a text is one that honours the intent of its author and in the case of the Bible this means honouring the intent of the authors or editors of the biblical books and also honouring the intent of God who through the inspiration of the Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21) is the ultimate author not only of the individual books that are in the Bible, but of the Bible as whole.

My problem with what Dr Warner said in her original article is that she isolates Genesis 1 and 2 from each other, from the rest of Genesis, and from the rest of the biblical canon, and thus fails to offer a successful reading of them.

Why procreation in biblical marriages is something we should emulate.

Secondly, she objects to my claim that the Bible shows that procreation is an intrinsic part of marriage on the grounds that I have not given sufficient attention to the difference between behaviour which the biblical writers want us to emulate and that which simply reflects the ‘ordinary practice of the time’ and which we are not called to emulate.

I agree with her that there is an important distinction between what is recorded in the Bible and what we are called to emulate as Christians today. For example St. Peter’s denial of Jesus is recorded in the Bible, but we are not called to emulate it, any more than we are called to emulate King David’s adultery with Bathsheba.

Where I would disagree with her is that I think there are good grounds for saying that having children within marriage is a form of behaviour that we are called to emulate. These grounds are (a) God’s command to his human creatures to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ (Genesis 1:28) and (b) the account of the marriage of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2-5,which show us that God created marriage to be the context in which this command is to be fulfilled.

Why Adam and Eve were married.

This brings us to her third and most important objection to my argument, which is that she holds that so far from Adam and Eve being a paradigm for marriage there is no evidence that they were married at all. In her words:

‘… far from presenting Adam and Eve as a paradigmatic married couple, Genesis does not even present them as married. There is no record of their marriage in Genesis, any more than Genesis tells us that living creatures and birds married before fulfilling God’s mandate to them to ‘Be fruitful and multiply’

For most Christians this would seem a very odd claim to make. This is because the Christian tradition from earliest times has always seen God’s bringing Eve to Adam and his joyful acceptance of her (Genesis 2:22-23) as the first marriage. John Calvin comments on Genesis 2:22, for example:

‘Moses now relates that marriage was divinely instituted, which is especially useful to be known; for since Adam did not take a wife to himself at his own will, but received her as offered and appropriated to him by God, the sanctity of marriage hence more clearly appears, because we recognise God as its author.’[3]

This reading of Genesis 2:22-23 is seen as supported by the fact that from that point onwards in Genesis Adam and Eve are referred to as husband and wife.

Thus we see the following references to Adam and Eve as husband and wife following on after Genesis 2:22-23:

‘And the man and his wife were naked, and were not ashamed’ (Genesis 2:25).

‘So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate’ (Genesis 3:6).

‘And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden’ (Genesis 3:8)

‘To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.’ And to Adam he said ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life’ (Genesis 3:16-17).

‘The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and clothed them’ (Genesis 3:20-21).

‘Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord’’ (Genesis 4:1).

‘And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another child instead of Abel, for Cain slew him’ (Genesis 4:25)

I have quoted the RSV here, but other English translations similarly use the terms husband and wife in these verses and translations in other languages use equivalent terms. Thus the German Luther Bible translates Genesis 2:25 as ‘Und sie waren beide nackt, der Mensch und das Weib, und schamten sich nicht’[4] (‘Mensch’ and ‘Weib’ being ‘man’ and ‘wife’).

In the face of this ancient and continuing tradition of seeing Adam and Eve as a married couple Genesis 2-4 why does Dr Warner declare that these chapters do not depict Adam and Eve as married? The answer she gives is that the Hebrew words translated into English as husband or wife, ish and ishshah, ‘mean both woman/wife and man/husband, and therefore do not point necessarily to a marital relationship.’

What Dr Warner says in this quotation is completely correct. The words for husband and wife in biblical Hebrew are also the words for man and woman. This means that in all the verse in Genesis 2-4 which I have quoted above it would be linguistically possible to substitute ‘man’ for ‘husband’ and ‘woman’ for ‘wife.’

What this means is that the decision to use the terms husband and wife or their equivalent in translations of the Bible is a decision to interpret the biblical text in a particular way. However, this does not give any advantage to Dr Warner’s position since she too has made a decision about how to interpret the text (albeit a different decision from the one that is normally made).

What we are faced with, then, are two different decisions about how to interpret Genesis 2-4, both of which are linguistically possible. So how do we decide which decision is to be preferred?

I believe that the traditional decision is better for two reasons.

First, when two translations are linguistically possible one has to let the context decide. In terms of Genesis 2-4 this means one has to decide whether the type of relationship described in this chapter is a marital one (in which case the traditional interpretation would be better) or a more casual or temporary type of relationship (in which Dr Warner’s preferred option of referring to Adam as Eve’s ‘man’ or Eve as Adam’s ‘woman’ would be better).

In my view there can be no doubt what kind of relationship these chapters describe. They describe a monogamous, exclusive, permanent, sexual relationship between a man and woman that is oriented to the procreation of children. This is what the Jewish, and subsequently the Christian tradition, have meant when they have talked about a relationship as being a marriage and that is why they have used marital language to translate ish and ishshah. This marital language correctly expresses the kind of relationship between Adam and Eve which Genesis 2-4 describes.

To put the same thing another way, even if the words man and woman were used in the place of husband and wife in these chapters it would still remain the case that the relationship described is what the Jewish and Christian traditions would describe as marriage. This being the case, not using the term husband and wife to translate ish and ishshah would simply involve failing to make the nature of the relationship between Adam and Eve clear. It would thus be a poor act of interpretation.

Secondly, and for a Christian decisively, in Matthew 19:3-12, and Mark 10:2-12 Jesus clearly refers to the relationship between Adam and Eve described in Genesis as a marital one. The point made by Jesus in both these parallel passages is that the model for marriage is that established by God at creation as described in Genesis 1 and 2 and it is for this reason that existing Jewish discussion of divorce and re-marriage is too lenient. It follow that Jesus must have viewed Adam and Eve as being married since otherwise his argument makes no sense.

Since Jesus is God incarnate what he says in these passages has to be regarded as decisive. God, is as I have said, the ultimate author of Scripture and so what we have in these two gospel passages is the author of Scripture telling us what the meaning of Scripture is. The only way that Dr Warner’s argument can be sustained in the face of these gospel passages is to say that Jesus failed to understand Genesis properly. These means saying that God himself did not understand the Scriptures of which he was the author and this something that no Christian can ever rightly say.

It follows, once again, that what is described in Genesis 2-4 is a marriage and so translating ish and ishah as husband and wife is the right interpretative move to make.

Why Genesis 2:24 is about marriage.

Not only does Dr Warner hold that Adam and Eve themselves were not married, but she also holds that Genesis 2:24 does not refer to marriage either. In her words this verse ‘does not allude to marriage at all, but rather to the strong pull between men and women that is the consequence of God’s actions in creation.’

There are three problems with this argument.

First of all since, as we have seen, it is right to view Adam and Eve as in a marital relationship it follows that the Christian tradition has been right to see Genesis 2:22-23 in terms of God Bringing Adam and Eve together in the first marriage.

This being the case, Genesis 2:24, ‘Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh,’ is describing how marriage shall continue. What it is saying is that because Adam and Eve have been joined together in matrimony by God therefore subsequent generations of God’s human creatures shall also be joined together in matrimony. A good parallel is Exodus 20:8-11 where we read that because God rested from his work of creation on the seventh day therefore he ‘blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it’ as the day on which God’s people too should rest. A linguistically similar series of passages in which God’s action forms the basis for the subsequent action of his people can be found in Exodus 13:15, Leviticus 17:11, 12, Numbers 18:24 and Deuteronomy 5:15, 15:11, 15.

Secondly, what is described in Genesis 2:24 is not just men and women having a ‘strong pull’ towards one another. What is described instead is the establishment of a new relationship between a man and woman which is marital in form in that, like the marriage between Adam and Eve which it echoes, it is an exclusive, monogamous, permanent, sexually intimate union between a man and a woman.[5]

Thirdly, Jesus quotes Genesis 2:24 in Matthew 19:5 and Mark 10:7 to establish that marriage is a permanent union which humans should not break. It follows that he saw this verse as describing marriage and, as noted above, what he says about the matter has to be regarded as decisive since he is God himself describing the meaning of the words of which he is the ultimate author. As before, if Dr Warner is right then God is wrong and this something that we can never rightly say.

Conclusion.

What all this means is that we should say that the relationship between Adam and Eve was a marital relationship. Furthermore according to Scripture it is the paradigmatic marriage which forms the basis for all subsequent married relationships.

As noted earlier, Genesis 2-5 show us that Adam and Eve fulfilled God’s command to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ through their marriage thus establishing that procreation is an integral part of the purpose for which marriage was created.

It follows that my original argument in Glorify God in your body that same-sex relationships cannot be regarded as marriages both because they are between two people of the same sex, and because as such they are inherently non procreative, still stands.

M B Davie 6.3.19

[1] Meg Warner ‘Elephants, Penguins, Procreation and Japanese Knotweed’ athttps://viamedia.news/2019/02/08/elephants-penguins-procreation-japanese-knotweed/.

[2] Meg Warner ‘Elephants, Penguins, Procreation and Japanese Knotweed (Part 2)’https://viamedia.news/2019/03/04/elephants-penguins-procreation-japanese-knotweed-part-2/.

[3] John Calvin, Genesis (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1984). P.134.

[4] German Luther Bible at http://www.ntslibrary.com/Bible%20-%20German%20Luther%20Translation.pdf

[5] For detailed justification of this point see Richard Davidson, Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2007), pp.42-48 and the literature he cites.