Stephen Noll–Archbishop Sentamu on Interpreting the Bible–Moral Equivalence and Moral Equivocation

The Bible’s teaching on sexuality is not a matter of “six scattered verses”; rather, it is a golden cord beginning in Genesis – God’s creation of male and female in His image, in His ordaining holy matrimony in two sexes-one flesh of husband and wife, in His hedging in sex from temptations to pagan idolatry and fornication, in Jesus’ reaffirming the original aim of exclusive faithfulness of husband and wife, in Paul’s warning against all forms of “fornication” and likening the relations of husband and wife to that of Christ and the Church, and in the Wedding Supper of the Lamb. Oh, and by the way, all this teaching is ably summarized in the Preface to the marriage service in the Book of Common Prayer.

But on the other hand, take the Very Rev’d Professor Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church Oxford. Two months ago he wrote: “Does the Bible… Really Give Us a Clear Definition of Marriage?” I am not going to attempt a point by point refutation of Percy’s arguments, as Martin Davie and Ian Paul have already done so. Professor Percy’s odd method of moral equivalence involves setting up straw men and shooting at them. On the one hand, there are the “fundamentalists” for whom Scripture was faxed down from heaven. For them

“the bible is the pure word of God – every letter and syllable is ‘God breathed.” So there is no room for questions; knowledge replaces faith. It is utterly authoritative: to question the bible is tantamount to questioning God. So the bible here is more like an instruction manual than a mystery to be unpacked. It teaches plainly, and woe to those who dissent.

On the other hand, there are the enlightened:

On the question of same-sex marriage, we may need reminding of one thing. God did not send us a fax. Instead, God chose to speak through Jesus – the body language of God – to remind us that God is ultimate love, and that those who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. Sex raises some interesting questions, for sure. But so far as God is concerned, love is always the answer.

So there you have it, the mediated word descending from the spires of Oxford: each marriage is unique, and love is always the answer. I recall another Oxford don who distinguished the different forms of love and wrote this about sex: “There is no getting away from it; the Christian rule is, ‘Either marriage with complete faithfulness to your partner, or abstinence’” (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves and Mere Christianity).

Now Archbishop Sentamu does not endorse Professor Percy’s conclusion about same-sex marriage nor his reading of the Bible, but he does suggest that since Percy is baptized and reads the Bible, his view is morally equivalent to the plain and historic understanding of the church.

Read it all.

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Posted in - Anglican: Analysis, Archbishop of York John Sentamu, Theology: Scripture

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