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Living in Love and Faith: Honest disagreement

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Posted by Kirsten Birkett, 18 Nov 2020

Kirsty Birkett shares some observations about how the Living in Love and Faith book recognises genuine disagreements.

I would like to commend the authors of the Living in Love and Faith book (I have not looked at the other resources yet) for their insight and honesty. This is a book that provides a clear description of what the Bible says about marriage and sexual relationships. It contains some very good writing about relationships and how we live. There is a lot of content here, but presented in a way (and this includes format, as well as clear writing) so as to help the reader absorb it. It does not dodge the issues. This is also not a book that tries to paper over differences, but clearly explains where disagreements lie and why people might hold these differences.

There are differences in vision of ourselves:

Some, for instance, see talk of the ‘God-given ordering of creation’ as another way of saying that God made human beings for love, and that we become who we were meant to be by the right ordering of our love. For others, it is a way of saying that we need to follow all the instructions of the one who made us and our world, and not just those that focus on love, if we are to flourish, live well, and become the creatures that God intends us to be (p. 214).

There is disagreement over Bible passages, including over what Jesus taught.

Some lesbian and gay people understand the church’s teaching on these matters [no sex outside marriage between a man and a woman] as an expression of what following Jesus demands…others do not (p. 241).

There are disagreements over the authority of the Bible. 

Each may think that one or more of the others is in serious error: that they have mistaken what the Bible is, misunderstood what it says about itself, and failed to recognise in it God’s true purpose (p. 299).

There is disagreement over whether there can be a clear Anglican answer.

We (and that includes the authors of this book) have differing view on whether there is such a thing as a clear Anglican approach to these questions (p. 368).

There is disagreement about what the gospel is and what best promotes it.

The most serious difficulties arise when some people hear God calling them to make changes within their church in order to be faithful to the gospel, but those changes cannot be recognized by other Christians as consonant with what God has said in Christ and Scripture. Those other Christians might even view the proposed changes as implying a different gospel
(p. 350).

There is disagreement about what love is. The authors rightly point out that it is not loving to let people continue in sin, but there is no agreement as to which side is being sinful, which side is holding back mission, what the content of love actually is.

The authors also point out that ‘the kinds of differences that we have been exploring have proven – over decades of intense debate – resistant to being overcome by argument’  (p. 302). This in part because:

…the convictions that underlie these approaches go deeper than argument. The different speakers are likely to inhabit different patterns of imagination about what the Bible is, and to have different emotional reactions to it…They are likely to have somewhat different visions of how exactly the reading of the Bible informs Christian life (p. 302).

It is a shame there is not more engagement with the biblical texts (no commentaries are referenced or considered); it is not enough to point out that people who disagree think they are all appealing to Scripture, without some evaluation of how plausible those appeals are. However, the authors are clear that their purpose is not to provide any answers, but simply make clear what the differences are. This they have certainly done.

The book still holds out hope for a solution, if we just have more listening with more appreciation of what each side is saying. The authors start out in faith that this will be possible. I must admit, however, that this might indeed need a miracle (the book begins with the illustration of Jesus feeding the 5000). It is hard to see how any end to debate will happen without a direct ruling from the House of Bishops that is going to make many people very unhappy.

As the book points out, however, Bishops are to be ready ‘with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God’s word’ (p. 319). These resources of Living in Love and Faith, we are told, are how the Bishops are preparing to do this: ‘the main role of bishops has been to oversee [these resources], inviting others to help create them, shaping an educational endeavour through which the whole church – bishops included – learns together’ (p. 320). There are no illusions here about the difficulty of the Bishops’ task. Let us hope they carry it out in a way that genuinely reflects the will of God and the authority of Scripture. They certainly need our prayer.

Dr Kirsten Birkett is the Theological Consultant to Church Society.

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