The Bishop of Salisbury first to make public his support for gay marriage

Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, Bishop of Salisbury

Today’s Times carries an interview with the Bishop of Salisbury, by Ruth Gledhill in which bishop Nicholas says he has changed his mind and now supports gay marriage. This is a dramatic development at the end of what has already been a very dramatic week for LGB&T issues in the Church of England.

Ruth says this puts him at odds with the other 43 diocesan bishops. That’s not true. Just as there are 13 closeted gay bishops (and is it too much to hope tomorrow’s headline will be ‘Gay bishops come out’?) there are a number of bishops who keep their support for gay equality and gay marriage carefully in the closet. I hope the Bishop of Salisbury’s honesty will encourage others to come out and speak the truth.

Bishop Nicholas believes there is no distinction between heterosexual and homosexual unions, in total opposition to the Archbishop of York in his Telegraph interview last Saturday.

“All of us have friends, families, relatives, neighbours who are, or who know somebody, in same sex partnerships.

“I’m no longer convinced [that marriage can only be between heterosexual people]. I think same-sex couples that I know who have formed a partnership have in many respects a relationship which is similar to a marriage and which I now think of as a marriage. And of course now you can’t really say that a marriage is defined by the possibility of having children.”

Bishop Nicholas says that in the Church, marriage is defined by two people promising to love each other faithfully for life in the context of a sexual relationship, and that they might have children. But he believed that the Church was “moving towards” the recognition of gay relationships.

“Not all heterosexual marriages produce, or even have the potential for, children, so that can’t be the single defining criteria setting them apart from same-sex partnerships.”

The Bishop of Salisbury said he didn’t think it would help if he were to “sublimate” his own views to the views of the Church.

“Part of responsible leadership is having the vision, the sight, to see that’s where I want to go.”

The Times reminds readers that in his 1989 essay The Body’s Grace Dr Rowan Williams wrote in support of intimate same-sex relationships and still in private, holds to the same view.

Commenting on the Anglican Covenant, Bishop Nicholas says:

“Although its architects says it is not designed to exclude, I can’t but read it without concluding that it is intended to exclude groups and specifically the Episcopal Church and the Canadian Church and parts of the Church of England.”

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Comments

  1. Changing Attitude says

    Richard, it feels as if a dramatic corner has been turned, or to change analogy, indeed that the dam is breaking – it’s exciting! I’m anticipating tomorrow’s headline – Gay bishops comes out – if only!

    • R says

      The Bishop of Salisbury is a nightmare.
      The task of a BIshop is to ‘drive away strange and erroneous doctrine’ (the Ordinal).
      Yet he is actually introducing it.

      I predict a split in the Diocese before long.
      The orthodox will not continue to pay for such ‘leadership’.

      • says

        R, the Bishop of Salisbury and many others who comment here have far more courage and Christian integrity and truth than you. I have authorised your comments to show that people who are hostile to the bishop lack his great openness and courage in contrast to your inability to comment using your real name.

  2. says

    It seems that at long last, walls may be broken down. At long last people in leadership positions are saying what many have thought and fought for for many years.

    I just hope and pray that the church and the House of Bishops in particular is listening.

  3. Elizabeth says

    It takes courage to stand up and be counted, especially when so many shout loud opposition but surely the church should be one place where honesty is encouraged and respected ~ it is sad, tragic and shameful that it is not. Many lgbt people have been hiding in their pews for too long. We are NOT defined by our sexuality alone, indeed for many it is far less important than fighting against poverty and injustice worldwide.
    Remember, how much did Jesus say about homosexuality ?
    Christians who wish to have their relationships recognised by their church family should be able to do so ~ it is surely part of thir witness and testimony to God’s love and care for them.
    What harm do we do by keeping quiet about such an important matter ?
    Sadly my own vicar has just announced to the PCC that he wishes to be able to marry people who have been divorced, yet lasr week loudly said, within my hearing (on purpose maybe ??) that of course the Bible makes it clear that homosexuality is wrong ~ rubbish ~ he may think that but I don’t and clearly I am not alone ! I cannot beleive that a loving God would have allowed so many of us to be “wrongly wired” ~ as some would have us beleive.
    THANK YOU Bishop Nicholas for your honesty ~ may many more be willing to speak about the love that dare not speak its name.

    • Marion says

      Dear Elizabeth, you say that it is rubbish that the Bible says that homosexuality is wrong. I am afraid that I have to differ on this; to my mind it is very clear and unambiguous that a sexual relationship between same sex couples is a sin. I have no issue with having homosexuals in my church – or adulterers, or greedy bankers, or the proud, or drunks, or prostitutes, or gossip-mongerers or tax-dodgers; we are all sinners in one way or another, and the reason for the ‘disgraceful episode of the incanation’ (CSLewis – Screwtape Letters) was to bring forgiveness for all. What I do object to is asking God to bless an action which he has said is sinful. You talk of a loving God who wouldn’t allow people to be born with their wires crossed …. have you seen people with spina bifida, with cerebral palsy, with a whole host of other developmental and birth defects? Of course he allows it – adversity is a way of life for most people in all sorts of ways, and most particularly for christians. (Think of the many, many thousands who are persecuted for being a christian) But although he allows it, he gives us the strength to get through it, or to live with it, whatever it is. He doesn’t forsake us (Josh 1 vs. 9) and his strength is enough.

      • Changing Attitude says

        Marion, you may think the Bible is clear and unambiguous that a sexual relationship between same sex couples is a sin. I would like you to tell me which Biblical texts or passages you would quote in support of your assertion. I have never read such a statament in the Bible.

        You make a category mistake in your argument. A phsyical condition is in a different category from an emotional experience and from a person’s identity. You and I are exactly the same in our make up, as created by God, except that you are, I assume, attracted to the opposite sex in exactly the same way as I am attracted to the same sex, and always have been.

        My sexual identity is not in the same category as adulterers, greedy bankers, the proud, drunks, prostitutes, gossip-mongers or tax dodgers. My sexual, human identity is not sinful. I know that you will reply by saying that acting on my desires I step into a sinful state. So does every heterosexual who has enjoyed any kind of sexual activity prior to being married. I don’t hear a great campaign in the church in that much larger group of people who fall into that category. For that reason, I might suggest that everyone who uses your argument is being hypocritical, and is also guilty of sin.

        I do not suffer from a birth defect. Your statement that I do is deeply, deeply offensive. I am not living in adversity because I am gay, I am living in celebration of the fabulous life God has blessed me with as a gay man – alleluia! We are not, as Christians, created to live in adversity or called by God to live in adversity. I’d like you also to quote me the Biblical passages that say this is an intrinsic part of the human identity.

        We are called to live in love. We are created by God who is infinitely loving, infinitely tender, infinitely gracious and bestows infinite blessing. I think you and I must be reading different Gospels – except that I know we are not – we are just reading from a different experience of God.

        • Marion says

          Dear Elizabeth,
          Firstly let me say that I am re3ally sorry that you are deeply offended – I can assure you that I was not saying that you suffer from a birth defect, if was you who mentioned crossed wires which I assumed was your way of talking of developmental problems. I believe that no-one knows the cause of homosexual feelings; I have heard them variously put down to emotional problems during very early childhood, development problems within the womb, eing led astray by older men (or women, as the case may be) …. what I do know from my friends who are homosexual is that for many it causes immense grief, for which I can only try to comfort as best I may.
          I am equally pained that our Church, which is there for all sinners, has chosen to express its disapproval of one particular sin … in a way which is out of all proportion, and, to my mind anyway, merely serves to show a prejudice which is just as sinful. Christians are called to love everyone, just as Jesus did.
          You ask about the Biblical refeences – Lev. 18 vs. 22, and, in the NT Rom. 1 vs. 26 & 27.
          I do heartily agree with you about fornication and adultery – having sexual intercourse with anyone to howm you are not married is a sin. Not the worst, and not the only, and certainly not the unforgiveable sin. And yes, I do say that by acting out your desires you step into sin … which is what we all do, all the time. And our God, who is ever-loving, and faithful, and just and beautiful and wholly good, full of grace and infinitely merciful, forgives us all the time.
          I can only repeat that my problem is not with sin, or with sinners …. I know an awful lot about sin! but my problem is that anyone, let alone a Bishop, should say that it is ok, and to ask God to bless sin. Which I don’t believe he can – it would be an oxymoron to ask God – wholly pure and good, to bless something which he has said is sinful.
          Aslan is not a tame pussycat.

          • Marion says

            Dear Elizabeth,
            Firstly let me say that I am really sorry that you are deeply offended – I can assure you that I was not saying that you suffer from a birth defect, it was you who mentioned crossed wires which I assumed was your way of talking of developmental problems. I believe that no-one knows the cause of homosexual feelings; I have heard them variously put down to emotional problems during very early childhood, development problems within the womb, being led astray by older men (or women, as the case may be) …. what I do know from my friends who are homosexual is that for many it causes immense grief, for which I can only try to comfort as best I may.
            I am equally pained that our Church, which is there for all sinners, has chosen to express its disapproval of one particular sin … in a way which is out of all proportion, and, to my mind anyway, merely serves to show a prejudice which is just as sinful. Christians are called to love everyone, just as Jesus did.
            You ask about the Biblical refeences – Lev. 18 vs. 22, and, in the NT Rom. 1 vs. 26 & 27.
            I do heartily agree with you about fornication and adultery – having sexual intercourse with anyone to whom you are not married is a sin. Not the worst, and not the only, and certainly not the unforgiveable sin. And yes, I do say that by acting out your desires you step into sin … which is what we all do, all the time. And our God, who is ever-loving, and faithful, and just and beautiful and wholly good, full of grace and infinitely merciful, forgives us all the time.
            I can only repeat that my problem is not with sin, or with sinners …. I know an awful lot about sin! but my problem is that anyone, let alone a Bishop, should say that it is ok, and to ask God to bless sin. Which I don’t believe he can – it would be an oxymoron to ask God – wholly pure and good, to bless something which he has said is sinful.
            Aslan is not a tame pussycat.

          • Elizabeth says

            Marion ~ your thinking suggests that all those born with birth defects are sinful, like gays ~ and there fore cannot be blessed by God ~ I think you might read some of the many ways people have viewd these texts, and I don’t believe it is clear at all . . . and there are many other things that are sinful, and even warrant stoning to death, according to the Bible ~ do you stand equally firmly for these too ??

          • Hilary Johnson says

            For me the bible can never be an absolute moral arbiter. We receive it in translation and not all versions say the same thing.

            I’ve met very few younger people who know the origin of the expression ‘the sin that dare not speak its name’. The answer is simple: homosexuality is not named in the King James Version of the Bible, which was the most commonly read version in English until the mid 20th century. The noun sodomy is an 11th century interpretation and is not in the KJV.

            The word homosexuality was coined in the mid 19th century and is a hybrid from Greek homo and Latin sexual. To see it in print in modern bible translations is anachronistic. Sexuality has become so polarized in our culture. We cannot know with certainty how the sexual spectrum was understood in biblical times.

            Let me give another example to drive this point home. We all know what adultery means in our culture, but it must have been understood in a quite different framework in Old Testament times. After all, Abraham was given Hagar; Jacob was given Bilhah and Zilpah. King Solomon had 300 wives and 400 concubines.

            The bible can be used to argue both for and against almost anything, including slavery and even war in the name of the Prince of Peace. The bible says that we should give all that we have to the poor but I haven’t met many literalists who take that one to heart! We are all guilty of picking and choosing the biblical bits that suit our own purposes and prejudices.

            However we interpret scripture on the issue of same gender relationships, we must bear in mind that there is nothing about them in the Ten Commandments. There is a commandment ‘thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour’. If we are to love our neighbour as ourselves so that we do not bear false witness against him / her, we are therefore required to listen to each other’s stories with an open mind and heart.

            For those of us who are heterosexual and have known the joy and security of a long-term loving and committed relationship, why would we not want the same for our brothers and sisters whose orientation is not our own?

          • Paul Emmons says

            >having sexual intercourse with anyone to howm you are not married is a sin.

            So, how does a couple get married? In the film “The Blue Lagoon”, a boy and a girl were shipwrecked on a small island where they were the only human residents. In due course they had sex and bore a child of their own. Were they married? Or should they have abstained for the rest of their lives for lack of whatever– clergy, government official, magic ring– that you may be thinking of is required to make it acceptable? You can probably guess my answer to that question. If yours is different, please explain.

            The church does teach that the two partners marry each other. Notwithstanding that teaching, the unthinking conventional deference to priestcraft and governmental authority, even among folk who would probably describe themselves as Protestants, is quite astounding.

            Some elderly folk live as man and wife but refuse to tie the knot because that would mean one of them having to give up a badly needed pension. Does your regard for the formalities extend to an accusation that they are thus sinful?

            What about a heterosexual couple who are fully committed but who on principle refuse the privileges attached to making it official as long the same status and privileges are being denied by the powers-that-be to other couples just as loving and committed?
            They’re not sinners either, in my book. What about yours?

          • Darren Lashmar says

            I have read the comments on here very carefully
            I believe in a God of love, a God of Joy, a God that leads and teaches his children.
            I am an openly gay man and a committed Christian. I have nursed for people in the darkest time of their lives, as they are waiting to die, helping them as they approach the end of their lives to be at peace.
            I did consider ordination but I believe there are other vocations that can serve Gods people.
            I believe that God, and God only can condemn people, I believe in a God that gives his children many gifts, gifts that include the ability to love.
            If God gives us this gift, who has the right to condemn people for the person they choose to love.
            The old testament was changed many times by man to keep the children of God scared to express anything other than what they thought was wanted by their religious leaders (pope Pius I think stopped catholic priests from being married as an example)
            I read nothing coming from the words of Christ condemning same sex relationships, neither prostitution.
            If you are a true friends to your gay friends, help them to see that their anguish is misguided, be a true friend to them and help them to see that they are children of a God that loves all his children.
            Darren

        • Francis says

          “Marion, you may think the Bible is clear and unambiguous that a sexual relationship between same sex couples is a sin. I would like you to tell me which Biblical texts or passages you would quote in support of your assertion. I have never read such a statament in the Bible.”

          Romans 1 makes it quite clear that as a culture turns away from Christianity that this is accompanied by widespread homosexuality and changing moral norms regarding this issue. This is precisely what we have seen in Western culture as it has turned from the truth. The Bible consistently condemns homosexuality across the Old and New Testaments. There is not one verse which supports the practice.

          If you choose not to live your life according to how the Bible commands us to live, that is fine. You will suffer the consequences of living your life contrary to how the Creator intended and I won’t try to force my beliefs on you by law. However, please do not pretend that the way you live is in any way Christian.

          • Paul Emmons says

            Turned from the truth? Hmm.

            Today in Christendom, many gay people, perhaps most, are known as gay people. In the good old days you are pining for, this was not the case. They hid. They were encouraged, even forced, to hide who they were. Society didn’t want the truth. And that deceit perpetuated the oppression.

            So just how are we now turning from the truth? And how can it be that a correct doctrine requires lies for its survival?

            In much of the house of Islam, treatment of women is appalling. But in Christendom, a woman is free to get an education and to pursue any career that a man can. This, too, wasn’t always the case. This may be a debatable development regarding the priesthood, but does it otherwise constitute a turning away from Christianity? I don’t see how.

            What about the American South and elsewhere in the world where the cruelest slavery was not only routine only 150 years ago, but was defended by some Christians as the WILL OF GOD? Even after it was abolished, we have been dealing with the legacy of racial discrimination ever since, slowly overcoming it. In the Roman Empire, slavery was also routine (although whether it was as cruel as that practiced by sanctimonious Southern overlords is debatable). Hilaire Belloc argued at length that the gradual disappearance of slavery was a major moral achievement and fruition of the church over its history. In this respect, too, it looks as though the Kingdom of God is advancing, not retreating. I agree with Belloc. Maybe you don’t?

            If you don’t look at the big picture, you might start imagining that you would be happier living in Teheran.

      • Richard Ashby says

        ”’the Bible says that homosexuality is wrong?’. Really?. In that case the Bible is wrong here as on many other things.

        • Francis says

          That is fine. You are quite entitled to believe that homosexuality is acceptable. However, the Bible says otherwise and to claim that it endorses your essentially atheistic values is disingenuous.

          • Changing Attitude says

            Francis, I have no doubt that being gay is acceptable and that gay is the way God created me. The Bible has nothing to say about mature, faithful, loving same same relationships. Please quote any verse or passage which you think does refer to such relationships. I am a deeply faithful, prayerful Christian and your suggestion that people like me hold essentially atheistic values is plain wrong.

            Revd Colin Coward
            Director of Changing Attitude

    • R says

      It is not courage.
      It is false teaching. (see the letters of 2 Peter and Jude).

      This bishop is a ‘hidden reef’, to use one of their many phrases.

  4. says

    The Bishop of Salisbury states: ‘Not all heterosexual marriages produce, or even have the potential for, children, so that can’t be the single defining criteria setting them apart from same-sex partnerships.’

    This is a classic example of the converse accident fallacy: applying an exception (allowed for another reason, protecting privacy by not legislating over contraception or offspring) as a basis for varying the general rule.

    Other examples include: If we allow people with glaucoma to use medical marijuana, then everyone should be allowed to use marijuana.

    As Wikipedia states: ‘The two arguments imply there is no difference between the exception and the rule, and in fact fallacious slippery slope arguments often use the converse accident to the contrary as the basis for the argument’.

    In other words, the Bishop’s statement is as bad as the conservative slippery slope argument that a consequence of permitting gay marriage would be the introduction of church blessings for polygamists.

  5. sg says

    In any case, the official position of the Church of England is that it does not endorse homosexual relationships and that clergy in Civil Partnerships must be celibate, even though the same standards do not apply to the laity. Therefore, clergy who endorse homosexuality are, at the very least, guilty of disobedience to the teachings of the Church they claim to serve.

    • Paul Emmons says

      So your position will prevail only if you can shut down discussion by declaring the matter settled? Way to go!

      I say the Nicene Creed every Sunday and mean it. My bishop has been called a heretic and a renegade. But he, too, says the creed and considers it so important that if it is omitted at any Sunday celebration in the diocese, he demands an explanation in writing.

      It includes the words, “I believe One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” But I don’t take that to mean signing an intellectual blank check and turning one’s brain off. If I’m mistaken in this, I’ll have to get my hat and leave. So will almost everyone else.

      • Darren Lashmar says

        R
        Is that for Richard or Rebecca?
        Put your name out there and stop hiding from public notice.
        I’m happy to let people know my name and really don’t mind what people think of me.
        I’ve known the Bishop of Salisbury since he was my parish priest on the Isle of Dogs in the late eighties and early nineties, and I can say that he’s not a man that says something without thinking carefully about the impact that may have, not just on the person concerned, but for everyone that may hear what he’s had to say.
        By all means make comments, but at least let us know who we’re talking to

  6. Paul Emmons says

    Whether same-sex marriages are real is susceptible to some empirical investigation in this way:

    It turns out that when someone needs an organ transplant, the chances of success if one’s spouse is the donor greatly exceed those from a stranger, all else being equal.

    This recent finding is powerfully reminiscent of the biblical description of marriage: the two shall become one flesh.

    Now, if the same proves to be true with long-time same-sex partners effectively committed to each other as in marriage, it seems to me that the case would be clinched.

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