A conservative case against ‘conversion therapy’

I was on holiday when the Church of England General Synod met, and so I followed events with even less interest than I, as a Scottish Baptist, usually do. On my occasional scans of my social media feeds, however, I saw a certain amount of interest in a motion proposing that the Synod condemn ‘conversion therapy’, the practice of seeking to change the orientation of lesbian or gay people to make them straight. I was far enough away to have nothing interesting to say about the motion or the debate, but noticing it made me think once again what a deeply strange practice ‘conversion therapy’ in fact is. For the sake of the following argument, let us agree—briefly—to assume the best possible conditions: that there is no doubt that a traditional Christian account of...

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Sex, death and marriage

In case anyone is interested, this is the paper I gave at an ETS panel on theological methodology for discussing marriage; many of the arguments have or will appear in print elsewhere, but I’m not going to publish this, so it may as well be here.   And I say to you, that whoever puts away his wife  – except on account of porneia – and marries another woman commits adultery. [His] disciples said to him, ‘If that is the way it is for a man with his wife, it is not a good idea to get married!’ Mt. 19:9-10 (my tr.) This retort from the disciples fascinates me, as does its neglect in recent commentary and ethical reflection. Let me pose my question straightforwardly: can any of us here imagine Christian leaders in our own context responding to a...

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‘Sodomy’, celebrating the Eucharist, and other disgusting acts

One evening few weeks ago I tried out the perspective I have been developing over the past couple of years on a Christian ethics of sexuality on a lay audience for the first time (previously, I’ve aired it before academics and/or ministers); the general response was pleasingly positive, but, inevitably, there were folk who were not prepared to travel with me. One stood up to ask a question. ‘Dr Holmes [always a bad sign], what we are talking about here is sodomy. Do you not find sodomy disgusting when you think, when you really think, about what people are doing?’ Now, it was news to me that we were talking about sodomy: I’d talked a lot about marriage, a bit about fallenness, quite a bit about love, and a lot about asceticism, nothing...

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Two new books on sexuality

I try to keep up with books addressing human sexuality from a theological/Christian perspective. The general flow of publications reminds me of an exchange from an old BBC Radio 4 drama: ‘He made pork pies the way Wagner wrote semiquavers.’ ‘You mean they were good?’ ‘Not often. But there were an awful lot of them…’ A minority of the books published simply repeat already well-rehearsed arguments and so contribute nothing to the debate; most of the rest could not be described anything like so positively. This is true on every side of the debate: much heat, little light, and less understanding tend to characterise contributions, which are nonetheless routinely praised to the skies around social media by the partisans of...

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Theology, ethics, and church growth: or, how to prove anything with statistics

It is an important part of the role of the academic, particularly the academic who chooses to comment in non-specialist arenas, to be very clear about precisely what is, and what is not, shown by a given piece of evidence. I picked up on a minor Twitter storm yesterday concerning claims and counter-claims about the linkage of church decline with a progressive/accepting stance on issues of sexuality.

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