More Like N.T. Wrong, Amirite?: How N.T. Wright’s Bigotry Causes Him To Contradict His Own Theology

More Like N.T. Wrong, Amirite?: How N.T. Wright’s Bigotry Causes Him To Contradict His Own Theology June 13, 2014
Image by Gareth Saunders, via Wikipedia Commons

In case you haven’t heard, N.T. Wright–author of theology books such as Surprised By Hope and Simply Christian, and former Bishop of Durham–recently did an interview in which he compared people who support marriage equality to Nazis and Soviet Communists.


And Soviet Communists.

While I’m not surprised that Wright is not on board with marriage equality (he’s brought up his opposition to LGB people in several other places), I was a little shocked to hear a man who is considered, according to Times, to be “one of the most formidable figures in Christian thought” stoop to arguments usually brought out by Fox News analysts and YouTube commenters. 

As T.F. Charlton put it on Twitter, “thoughtful people leave thought behind when it comes to their prejudices.

I was also a little surprised (just a little) with the way Wright utilized Scripture in order to support his bigoted views. In fact, as someone who has read several of Wright’s books and articles, he seemed to contradict many of the theological arguments that he is well-known for.

While his Surprised By Hope is not a perfect book, N.T. Wright’s take-down of the heaven/earth dichotomy found in this book was extremely influential in my own spiritual and theological development.

In this book, N.T. Wright makes the case that Christianity isn’t about flying away to heaven. It isn’t about our souls being taken up to be with God. It isn’t about leaving our bodies and denying the world around us…

Christianity is about the Kingdom of Heaven being ushered in on earth. Christianity is about making the phrase “on earth as it is in heaven” a reality right here, right now. It’s about the incarnation and the resurrection showing us that the realm of God is not a place entirely Other to the realm of humankind, but a place that touches and intersects with the realm of humankind, and one day these two realms will be reunited.

For me, Surprised By Hope served as a gateway drug into feminist, liberationist, and queer theologies that emphasize bodies and history and engagement with “the world.”

Yet, in Wright’s recent interview, he seems to reinforce the very binaries that Surprised By Hope attempted to “queer,” if you will. 

In his interview, Wright states (emphasis mine):

With Christian or Jewish presuppositions, or indeed Muslim, then if you believe in what it says in Genesis 1 about God making heaven and earth—and the binaries in Genesis are so important—that heaven and earth, and sea and dry land, and so on and so on, and you end up with male and female.

I would ask N.T. Wright to support the idea that heaven and earth, sea and dry land, and yes, male and female are truly binary to one another:

Can you stand with your feet in the muddy sand on the beach, waves crashing around your feet, tide slowly rising or falling, and honestly draw a clear line between sea and dry land?

Was not the entire point of Surprised By Hope that heaven and earth are not actually a dichotomy? Can you point out the exact place where the heavens begin? Was Christ, as incarnated in Jesus, human or divine? Do not the Psalms that Wright so fervently praises in his recent book, A Case for the Psalms, bring us to a place where the heavens and the earth are indistinguishable? Does not Wright himself argue in this book that God’s concept of space is not dichotomized like ours?

Unfortunately, N.T. Wright forgets all of this when it is convenient for him in making a case against gay, lesbian, and bisexual relationships. Suddenly, the heaven/earth binary that N.T. Wright has spent years challenging becomes something of essential Biblical importance, because Wright needs it to make his case that the female/male dichotomy also exists. 

Wright was also an important part of my journey as an advocate for egalitarianism and women’s ordination. His article, “Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis,” was one of the first pieces writing I came across that convinced me I could honor scripture and still (as a woman) follow God’s call toward ministry, if that call ever came.

With this in mind, I was disappointed to see him drag out verses that, for years and years, have been used to put women “in their place,” and use them to oppress gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. 

Wright states (emphasis mine):

The last scene in the Bible is the new heaven and the new earth, and the symbol for that is the marriage of Christ and his church. It’s not just one or two verses here and there which say this or that. It’s an entire narrative which works with this complementarity so that a male-plus-female marriage is a signpost or a signal about the goodness of the original creation and God’s intention for the eventual new heavens and new earth.

As someone who identifies both as a woman and as a gender queer and bisexual person, this hurt me on multiple levels. By comparing male/female to a binary land/sea and earth/heaven, Wright not only erases the queer part of me, but he applies negative connotations to the woman part of me, associating femaleness with earth (historically seen as base, lowly, non-transcendent, etc.) and sea (viewed in the Biblical narrative as representative of evil and chaos).

Instead of using the marriage-as-Christ-and-Church metaphor to communicate a message about the mutual love, care, intimacy, and friendship possible between humanity and the Divine, Wright uses it to promote a binary system and gender essentialism, which oppresses women and completely erases anyone who is gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and/or intersex. 

When I left fundamentalism, N.T. Wright introduced me to the beautiful vision of a world where binary systems are dismantled in favor of a celebration of relationship and diverse creation. His work inspired me to seek out other theology that dismantled the “heaven/earth” dichotomy–a search that eventually led me to the discovery of queer theology.*

Perhaps N.T. Wright needs to partake on a similar journey, fully embracing his own theology as a starting point. Perhaps he needs to read creation narratives by queer theologians like Alan Hooker, who refuse to see the “binaries” in Genesis as boundaries that limit the beauty and majesty of God’s creation (emphasis mine):

‘Beginning and end’ is a pairing that represents the whole scope of history and time. ‘Alpha and Omega’ stretches from the first letter of the alphabet to the last, representing the whole alphabet in one swoop by referring to its extremities. ‘From head to toe’, ‘from top to bottom’, and ‘from cradle to grave’ all denote a spectrum through the use of pairs considered to be extremities of that spectrum. Take for example Genesis 1.1: God creates the ‘heaven and earth’, i.e. everything. Or even the phrase ‘there was evening and there was morning’, signifying the passing of a whole day.

Now return to Genesis 1.27: ‘male and female [God] created them’. Male and female. I think you can all see what I’m probably getting at here. The ‘and’ is not a binary ‘and’. Male and female can disclose a spectrum of varied gender identities in the same way that ‘Alpha and Omega’ discloses the whole alphabet, or how ‘from head to toe’ means the length of the whole body.   

I hope N.T. Wright will one day take the theology he espouses in Surprised By Hope to it’s logical end: God’s creative work in our world is not hindered by supposed binaries.

The existence of people who do not neatly fit into the binary of male/female does not threaten the kingdom of God anymore than does the damp seashore after the tide has gone down, the reality of evolutionary processes that connect humankind to the rest of nature, or the fact that our bodies are temples–places where heaven and earth are one.

Diverse community–not stifling binaries–is an essential part of who The Trinity is. To be queer is to live “on earth as it is in heaven.” 


*If you are interested in learning more about queer theology and the dismantling of binary systems, check out Patrick Cheng’s book, Radical Love. I owe much of the thinking in this post to that book.

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  • I figured out to my disappointment a while back that N.T. Wright, though he supports women in ministry, is a complementarian when it comes to marriage. Like C. S. Lewis, here is a good and thoughtful man who can’t seem to see that his thinking in some areas is in line with oppression and not freedom in Christ. I hope one day Wright will let someone he trusts remove the specks from his eyes.

    • sarahoverthemoon

      Oh wow. I didn’t even know that. Where does he talk about being complementarian? May have to include that in a future post.

      • I can’t remember. It was in something of his I read somewhere– he thinks in marriage, husbands are supposed to be the leaders. Kind and humble leaders, but the leaders nevertheless. I’m sorry I can’t be more specific. I think it was somewhere on his N.T. Wright Page.

        • sarahoverthemoon

          No problem. I’m not actually surprised after all his talk in that recent interview about how marriage has to be men/women because men/women “complement” each other.

        • Sarah Morice Brubaker

          Might it have been in his address to Christians for Biblical Equality? I recall reading that… gosh, it was probably nine or ten years ago now. I was surprised by how critical he was.

    • Noah Berlatsky

      Lewis actually seems to have gotten past some of his bigotry in his last novel, Til We Have Faces, in which the protagonist is a cross-dressing warrior woman.

      It’s a beautiful book. I wish it were better known.

  • Thank you Sarah.

    It is very disappointing. He has been a great influence on us too.

    On this, as you have shown brilliantly above, he has been inconsistent. I guess a captive of his own constituency rather than being in keeping with his non binary models used in the past. I will personally look for ways to challenge this – although I don’t have a very significant voice.

    I feel very disappointed but am encouraged that this discussion does not need any single voice to make its case. The cause of freedom for all in Christ, regardless of gender, sexuality, race, or circumstances continues because it has an unstoppable resonant depth.

    This depth is built on the many ‘insignificant’ voices that will not go away and have become a ‘sacred inconvenience’ to those who are seemingly the loudest.

    Thank you for the work you are doing.

  • I was surprised he didn’t use the ‘Adam and Steve’ argument. He was almost there. Intellectual laziness.

    • sarahoverthemoon

      For real. He hit pretty much all the other anti-gay bingo squares…

  • Guest

    Just because you don’t agree with a small part of what he teaches, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. He is a fantastic theologian, and I understood what he was trying to say. I think you are reading into it what he never meant to imply. Must say, it seems that unless he agrees with YOUR theology, he is suddenly out the door! Can you not just take what you agree with, and not rubbish him for what you don’t? You will never find a theologian that you totally agree with 100% anyway.

    • sarahoverthemoon

      1) This is not a just “small” part of what he teaches for me. As queer person, this is an area that affects my life.

      2) Throw the baby out with the bath water? Did you even read my post?

      • Guest

        yes of course I read it. It just comes across that you are dissappointed that he doesn’t uphold your ideas. Your post suggests that up until this infringement you have agreed with most of what he has to say? If that is the case, then what I am saying is don’t rubbish him based on a small part of a whole lifetimes work.

        • Guest

          Also, maybe write and ask him if you feel that he is contradicting himself within his explanation of the binary systems. Better to go straight to the original person, than dis him from afar. Like you, I have been greatly encouraged by this man, and hate seeing him slandered. I can understand how it might be hurtful to hear what he says on this, but ask him to explain himself, then decide.

          • sarahoverthemoon

            Slandered? Really? Disagreement is slander now?

          • Guest

            Well you didn’t paint him in the best light calling him a bigot. I am all for disagreement, as its what stretches us, makes us consider….. I just get tired of the name calling when it doesn’t suit your point of view. I have been called Islamaphobic, homophobic, etc etc…. when I am none of the above. I would defend someones rights to be whatever they wanted. It’s called freedom. And i think we should be able to state our views without getting called names just cos we have a different one. Nowadays the art of debating seems to have been lost – and its just throwing things at the other person from the other side of the court.

          • sarahoverthemoon

            Nope. Never called him a bigot. I called his views “bigotry,” which, by definition, they are. Slander doesn’t mean anything you want it to mean.

          • sarahoverthemoon

            Though, accusing me of slander (which is a pretty serious charge) without having anything to back it up gets you blocked from commenting. Not interested in being baselessly accused of something like that today.

          • Jeremy Kee

            Assuming that bigotry can only come from a bigot, it would seem that you are rather guilty of the charge, yourself: a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance

            I say this because you seem rather intolerantly devoted to your own opinions, and seem to regard certain members of a group with intolerance.

            Lest we forget, and much as Wright said in his interview, words can be redefined, but that does not mean that they anything new. Slander doesn’t mean anything you want it to mean, perhaps, and neither does hypocrisy. You are a hypocrite.

          • It’s her own damn blog. She’s allowed to be “devoted to her own opinions” for crying out loud.

          • Jeremy Kee

            So true! And aren’t we all, including Dr. Wright?

          • Right but the difference is NT Wright isn’t mainsplained by dudes who insult his intelligence on his posts every time he shares an opinion.

          • sarahoverthemoon

            So I’m a heterophobe?

          • hmm…
            Wonder why you’d be called homphobic and Islamophobic? Maybe if you treat Muslims like you treat LGBTQ people…

          • gimpi1

            Tracy, just a suggestion, take it for what it’s worth, but if people are calling you homophobic or Islamaphobic, perhaps you might be, or might come across that way. Sometimes people outside ourselves see things we’re too close to to notice.

          • ron_goodman

            You’re not homophobic or Islamaphobic, but someone just called you those mean names by accident? For no reason? I’m not buying it.

  • DoubleDogDiogenes

    Too bad. Another one has caved in to the fundamentalist hate machine.

  • Livin

    You realize that by calling his theology bigoted you are calling him a bigot.
    All he is saying is opposites make a whole same as yin and yang.
    lets face it very few people are truly neither male nor female due to being born that way. Everyone else is male or female….period. Now sexual preference is different and has nothing to do with being a man or woman.

    Now NT is just saying his theology is that yin goes with the yang to make a circle. So what ?That is his theology and no one else has to follow it. Hey I know some remarried people that became protestant instead of Catholic. Let the market sort things out. No need to become a version of the thought police.

    • sarahoverthemoon

      “Everyone else is male or female….period.” lol. no.

      • “Thought police”

        I love that this commenter tells you what to do but calls you the Thought Police. lolz

    • Mx Alan Hooker

      “Everyone else is male or female….period.”

      I’m not. Your move.

    • Rhysem

      “Everyone else is male or female….period.” Honest question… did you fail biology? There are three recognized chromosomal genders: XX, XY, and XXY.

      • pduggie

        as he said “very few people are truly neither male nor female”

    • springaldjack

      If we were talking about the actual Chinese concept of yin and yang, we’d have to note that they each contain the other and transmute into the other, rather than being fixed. It still doesn’t actually describe the complexity of human gender well, but it includes fluidity and transformation, something a strict binary does not.

  • ahermit

    Nicely done. Wright has to perform some impressive feats of pretzel logic to try ad make this work. I don’t think he comes close to succeeding.

    As a someone who probably fits pretty neatly into the supposed binary system I am nonetheless always grateful for those who don’t. The world is a much more interesting and beautiful place because of them. It’s too bad Wright, like so many, just can’t seem to see that.

  • Great post! NT Wright has also influenced my theology quite a bit for the better, and hence I was pretty disappointed in this interview and its poor logic.

    Also, I was really disturbed by his comparison to the Nazis seeing as the Nazis did horrific things to LGB people. His comparison is henceforth not just illogical, but offensive, and I say this as a straight cisgender woman.

    And his arguments that we can’t change the meanings of words kind of contradicts the most linguistic theories: namely, that language and words and their meanings inevitably change over time. There’s nothing wrong with redefining a term based on current cultural context–especially when redefining a term like ‘marriage’ to include same-sex couples works towards justice.

  • I’m going to have to part ways with Wright on this one too. Even if these are binary categories, doesn’t Paul caution against making them the be all and end all in Galatians 3. Doesn’t he say “no ‘male and female'”? That said, I think there’s something to Alan’s suggestion that these are not binaries but end points on a much broader spectrum.

    And even if male-plus-female marriage is a signpost about the goodness of the original creation (and, being in such a marriage myself, I’d like to think it can be), does that mean it is the ONLY signpost?

    I like N.T. Wright on a lot of stuff (and how somebody can accuse you of throwing out the baby with the bathwater after you spent a good deal of your post talking about how his writings have influenced you… I just don’t know)…but I’m with you on this.

  • bdlaacmm

    So you bristle at N.T. Wright making analogies to Nazis and Communists (analogies, mind you, not actually calling people these things), yet without a qualm employ the genuine slander of “bigotry” when responding to his article? I’m sorry, but whenever I see people making the “intellectually lazy” charge of bigotry, I generally stop expecting anything substantive to follow.

    Sarah Moon gave us a nice account of her own feelings on the matter, but she failed to convincingly refute anything in the article that she took such offense to. But she muddied the waters from the get-go by using hyperbolic language of her own. To accuse N.T. Wright of bigotry is to either:

    a) lose all credibility, or
    b) rob the word “bigotry” of any useful meaning.

    • Mx Alan Hooker

      Calling a bigoted view “bigotry” isn’t slander. Grow up.

      • bdlaacmm

        It’s actually worse than slander. “Bigotry” is thrown out as a conversation-stopper. You don’t have to go through the hard work of refuting a view you disagree with, all you have to do is toss out the word “bigotry and presto, you’re done. Like I said, intellectually lazy.

        Look at your own posting: “Calling a bigoted view “bigotry”…” See? You don’t have to do any heavy lifting there. You’ve already dismissed anything N.T. Wright might have to say by labeling it “bigoted”. I’ve read all the comments to this conversation. I have yet to see anyone attempt in good faith to challenge what he said, other than to resort to name calling and appeals to hurt feelings.

        • Mx Alan Hooker

          Calling out anti-queer views is not slander, so “bigotry” was not thrown out as a conversation stopper, although I’ll tell you what was thrown out by NT Wright as a way to discredit: references to Nazism. This isn’t a new tactic by Wright; in a piece about the ordination of “active homosexuals”, Wright insinuated that those who disagreed with him were pagans. It’s this kind of rhetoric which is intended to stop the conversation before it begins, by tarnishing the people pointing out how his theology is anti-human.

          Sarah (and I in my own post about this) have not dismissed Wright without engaging. Sarah has read what Wright said and responded accordingly; that’s hardly “already dismissing”.

          And to be perfectly honest, Wright’s arguments are hardly anything new. He’s repeating the same old queerphobic tropes, invoking the apparent transcendent nature of language (which is patently unsustainable intellectually).

          • Jeremy Kee

            Have you considered the possibility that Wright may not be queerphobic, which would mean a fear of homosexuals, but rather may genuinely believe that which he writes, and that belief based upon his interpretation of scripture? If this is the case – belief based on interpretation – what makes his position any less valid than yours? It would seem that by means of merit, Wrights understanding of scripture might just be a little more well informed, and therefore his interpretation may be closer to the mark than yours.

          • Mx Alan Hooker

            If he genuinely believes what he writes, then it’s still queerphobic regardless of whether that belief comes from the Bible or not.

          • sarahoverthemoon

            “by means of merit, Wrights understanding of scripture might just be a little more well informed.” This is insulting to my intelligence.

          • Jeremy Kee

            It shouldn’t be. It is simply a matter of fact. He knows demonstrably more about theology than you or I, just as you or I know demonstrably more of the field of study than, say, the vast majority of high school students.

          • Mx Alan Hooker

            And I know more about the Hebrew Bible than he does if we’re going down that road by dint of the fact that this is my research area, and I can tell you that his interpretive framework is severely lacking in that area.

          • sarahoverthemoon

            Yup. This blog is not just my opinion. I referenced Alan, who is an expert on the Hebrew Bible, and Patrick Cheng who is a queer theologian who studied under James Cone. Pretty sure they’ve got as much right to claim “merit” as NT Wright.

          • Mx Alan Hooker

            By means of merit? What exactly do you mean? What makes his reading of scripture more well informed? You’re assuming a lot.

          • Jeremy Kee

            His credentials lend his opinions and interpretations a fair bit of credibility.

          • fredx2

            NT Wright interviewed in First Things:

            “N. T. Wright: Obviously huge issues there, and there’s no way we can lay them all out tonight. I do want to say a word about a word. When anybody—pressure groups, governments, civilizations—suddenly change the meaning of key words, you really should watch out.”

            Suddenly, anyone who has any reservations about gay marriage is a “bigot”. The term has been redefined, and we need to watch out, as he says.

          • Mx Alan Hooker

            Surprisingly, I did read it. Repeating what he wrote isn’t going to help since his argument is a poor one.

          • Yeah, just likes those peoples who had reservations about segregation were just “following what the Bible clearly said about mixing tribes” and certainly weren’t bigots.

            It’s not like people have ever taken kindly to the word.

        • sarahoverthemoon

          Conversation stopping is worse than slander?

          • fredx2

            Both are wrong. But do you just call discussion “slander” now?

          • RocksCryOut

            Yes. Shouting people down, shutting them up, denying them the right to speak by ending the conversation with a “nuclear option” — like Nazis and Soviet communists, yes– worse than slander.

          • sarahoverthemoon

            I don’t recall shouting at anyone, or denying anyone the right to speak. NT Wright could probably wake up tomorrow, call his publisher, and have a 3 part series book deal on this topic. Me writing a response to him on my tiny blog is hardly stopping him from speaking.

          • Sara

            I’m pretty sure our issues with the Nazis and Soviets are not that they went around telling people their opinions were bigoted.

            They didn’t shut people down by making a moral appeal against bigotry. They know…killed people.

            Also, can you see the irony in saying “Don’t call N.T. Wright a bigot for comparing LGBTQ people and their allies to Nazis. That’s what a Nazi would do”?

      • fredx2

        Calling people who disagree with you bigots backfires. it is intellectually lazy and is simply a word used in an attempt to stop all discussion.

        • Mx Alan Hooker

          Calling bigotry “bigotry” is not intellectually lazy if you have intellectually engaged with what was said. Unlike Wright, who decided to throw out Nazism and paganism without critical thought.

  • R Vogel

    I got to Surprised by Hope when it was on sale for $2.99 at Amazon. I got to page 70 where he wrote

    “History, I believe, brings us to the point where we are bound to say: there really was an empty tomb, and there really were sightings of Jesus…History then says: so how do you explain that?
    …And when Christian faith answers it, a sober, humble, questioning history (as opposed to an arrogant rationalism that has decided the issue in advance) may find itself saying, “That sounds good to me.”

    If that is the quality of his arguments, I decided I would pass on the rest. My final note at the end of that paragraph was “This guy is an ass” This doesn’t improve my opinion any. At least he got you through the desert, even if he can’t join you in the promised land…

    • sarahoverthemoon

      Yeah, that was a pretty shitty argument. I remember rolling my eyes at that one.

  • gimpi1

    “I would ask N.T. Wright to support the idea that heaven and earth, sea and dry land, and yes, male and female are truly binary to one another:”

    I take it Mr. Wright has never stood in tide-flats or on a mountaintop or hang-glided, or SCUBA dived and “walked” on the bottom of a lake. Binary indeed. All life is, in fact, not binary at all. Live exists on a continuum.

  • Yonah

    Thank you Sarah…I guess.

    Holy crap. This is how you just destroy a whole career’s credibility. I’ve seen the other clues to his anti-gay position…didn’t suspect it was this bad.

    So. Pull the lever. Drop N.T. like a hot rock. Move on. Next.

  • “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. … Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.”

    —The Apostle Paul, Romans 1:18, 24-27

    • Rhysem

      Except of course Romans 1 was Paul calling out hypocrisy within in the Church, which he fully condemns in Romans 2 when he reiterates the message of Matthew 7, but let’s not let context get in the way or anything.

      • Except of course in Romans 1 Paul was not calling out hypocrisy within the church, but was rather calling out “all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth,” as he plainly indicated in the very words that I quoted. He was not talking about the church, but the world.

        • Rhysem

          Except of course he quite clearly stated who he was speaking to in Romans 1:7: “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people”—that is, members of the church in the city of Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire. He then goes on to call out the hypocrisy of the Church in Rome in Romans 1:18-19: ” The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.”
          Kind of hard to argue Paul is talking about non-believers here as non-believers hadn’t been taught the Gospel, yet. He is quite clearly speaking of those who already knew God, but had suppressed the truth presented to them.

        • Rhysem

          And again in Romans 1:21 Paul reiterates to whom he is speaking: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened”–that is, non-Christian Romans of the 1st Century didn’t worship or “know” a monotheistic deity, ergo, he was fairly clearly referring to the Christian Church within Rome.

          And then in Romans 1:29-32 he gets to his point on hypocrisy: “They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them”–which of course has very real modern day parallels in all too many church congregations.

        • Rhysem

          Which brings us right into Romans 2:1: “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things”–again reiterating the speck in the eye parable from Matthew 7.

          And just in case future readers of Romans might try and misinterpret his meaning (Ahem), Paul doubles down on what and whom he is referring in Romans 2:3: “So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?”–again hard to read this as referring to anyone but the Christians in Rome.

        • Rhysem

          And lastly, just in case anyone wasn’t 100% sure exactly what Paul was talking about he reiterates his central complaint in Romans 2:21-24: “You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.””

        • Rhysem

          One last thought on Romans, because I found myself reading the whole thing again, which I thank you for! Paul’s words are always inspiring. I find myself rereading Romans 12:9-21, always a personal favorite I must admit: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”
          So in parting, in the words of Romans 12:14: bless you.

      • Rhysem, It is you who are ignoring the context.

  • You can try to argue all you want against binaries, but there is only malke and female and the biology makes them complementary. Your argument fails the test of reality. Yes, N.T.Wright is right.

    • Hominid

      The ‘binary’ accusation is a straw man. Complementariness is NOT binary at all.

      • sarahoverthemoon

        NT Wright clearly called male/female a binary in his interview. Therefore, not a strawman.

        • Hominid

          Non sequitur – I didn’t comment on what Wright said or didn’t say. Try to focus.

          • sarahoverthemoon

            Oh, hey, talking to me like that gets you blocked.

      • Because yuo claim it’s a strawman doesn’t make it so. If it’s a strawman then refute it. Anyone who understands the birds and the bees would understand the binary form of human sexuality. On its very surface it’s not a strawman.

    • Mx Alan Hooker

      Could you tell me how you define “male” and “female”?

      • Do I really have to explain it to you? Are you of age to understand the birds and ther bees? maybe I need permission from your parents for me to explain it. Yes, one either has a vagina or a penis. One is female and one is male, and the vagina and penis are complementary organs that create life.

        • sarahoverthemoon

          Good lord. That gets a block.

        • Mx Alan Hooker

          So, what about people with ambiguous genitalia, or people with no genitalia (see vaginal atresia)? Why do the genitals function as the markers of this apparent fixed binary when it’s not always clear.

    • Rhysem

      Except, human genetics has been proven to be ternary. There are three not two genetic gender combinations: XX, XY, and XXY. In principle, XXXY is also possible, but no living example has ever been identified.

      • Don’t give me anomolies that amount to .01% or less. Because errors occur in nature do not mean they are normal. There are infants born with two heads, but that doesn’t mean it’s an alternative human condition. Human sexuality is binary: male and female. Check between your legs.

        • sarahoverthemoon

          You don’t get to come into my comments section and dehumanize people. Bye.

        • Rhysem

          This is a theology blog… God does not make mistakes. There are no anomalies.

  • Jeremy Kee

    I would suggest a few ideas worth consideration: perhaps you misinterpreted Wright’s arguments in the books of his that you cite? Perhaps you, like so many others, read what you wanted to read into his views while disregarding other aspects? Disagreeing with a person’s beliefs because they hurt your feelings is, frankly, a very weak basis upon which to disagree. Most people, when they first encounter the Gospel message and hear this fellow Jesus says that they are sinners and therefore are not good people, will be a little put off. And, yes, it is this very affront that turns so many away from the faith – not because they do not believe, but because they have encountered a force greater than themselves and found it doesn’t justify or support their own beliefs.

    This article reads as just another, “he is wrong because I disagree with him” piece. What’s more, it is just another writer who is not willing to take into account the fact that Wright is, and rightfully so, a theological authority. He is not infallible, certainly, but he has demonstrated clearly that he has a far greater grasp on biblical teachings and theological concepts than someone who uses her blog to complain when her opinion is in the minority.

    Wright was not comparing LGBTQetc. supporters with Nazis of Communists. He was, rather, speaking to the way that certain groups throughout history have changed the meaning of words in order to support their own cause, and points out that this is happening in the marriage equality debate.

    • Amtep

      So why do you think that, of all the groups throughout history, he chose Nazis and Communists as his examples? What’s your theory on that?

    • “because they hurt your feelings”? Sexist much? You can’t confront the arguments she’s made so you go for the “you’re arguing with your feelings while Wright is speaking with authority.”

      I don’t see how you’re any better as an NT Wright fan than the neo-reformed thought that Wright has been pressed up against.

    • Thursday1

      [P]erhaps you misinterpreted Wright’s arguments in the books of his that you cite? Perhaps you, like so many others, read what you wanted to read into his views while disregarding other aspects?


    • Sara Lin Wilde

      You can pretty much boil down any argument to “he is wrong because I disagree with him” if you’re looking to be uncharitable, and ignore whether or not the arguer in question has made good supporting points or presented a persuasive case for disagreement. I can’t speak to what Wright’s theology is because I’m not informed on the topic, but I found that Sarah did a good job explaining why she felt Wright was expressing contradictory ideas.

      One thing I often notice in situations where oppressed groups are at play is the demand (usually from members of the more powerful group) that oppressed people must not show emotion or express hurt feelings when discussing the withholding of their rights, and must approach the situation from a “rational” point of view. This of course puts the oppressed group at a disadvantage because, while the debate is academic for those in power, it’s extremely personal and significant to the future of the person whose rights have come up for debate. So of course the oppressed person is emotional, and then that gets used as a pretext to dismiss the perspective of the oppressed person, because of course they’re “just too emotional about it” to have their ideas taken seriously. Incidentally, this is also a tactic I’ve observed in abusers.

      Y’know, just a couple of ideas worth consideration.

      • Alastair J Roberts

        The problem is that this is in many respects an academic argument, about an academic writer and his academic ideas. If someone’s personal investment in the debate makes it impossible for them to approach the debate rationally, then they have no business taking part in it, because rational discourse is what an academic discussion requires of us.

        This is a principle that we recognize in other contexts. If I were being tried for murder, I would be more personally invested than anyone else. I could protest that others were treating my case as if it were ‘just a legal argument’. However, a legal argument is exactly what is required in a court of law. I am probably not the best person to provide such a legal argument in my own trial because my emotions may get the better of me, and because I am not trained in the law. This is why we have representation. While I should be provided with representation for my position, by virtue of my personal investment and feelings involved and lack of acquaintance with the law, someone else should probably do this for me. Mutatis mutandis, the same thing applies here: if our personal investment means that we can’t keep to the expected norms of academic discourse, we shouldn’t be participating in the academic debate. Someone else should do it for us.

        I’ve argued here that Sarah’s case about N.T. Wright failing to be consistent with himself collapses when one actually carefully reads the book she references. She has not represented his position accurately and his opposition to same-sex marriage, explicit in the piece to which Sarah responds, is clearly implicit in his earlier book.

        • Sara Lin Wilde

          This is not a court of law, and gay rights are far from an academic debate. What you’re basically advocating is that the problem of whether or not to allow LGBTQ equality should be decided without the input of people who will actually be affected by the decision. Like I said, insisting that only people who can be dispassionate should be allowed at the table is a way for oppressors to make sure the people they oppress don’t get a voice in the discussion.

          • Alastair J Roberts

            This is a theological discussion, as the start of your earlier comment made clear. The key question raised in this post concerns what exactly Wright teaches on the subject of the ‘binaries’ in question and whether he is consistent with his own theology as articulated in Surprised by Hope when he opposes same-sex marriage.

            When the subject at hand is theological the primary qualifications to speak to it are theological in character. What qualifies a person to answer the question of what Wright teaches on the issues under discussion, or whether he is consistent with himself, is how deeply and closely acquainted they are with his writings. Frankly, as someone who has read practically everything Wright has written—including the big books and his unpublished PhD thesis—at least once and usually two or three times each (I’ve also interacted with him in conversation on a few occasions), I think that I am far more qualified to speak to this question than most. I’ve argued that Sarah’s treatment suggests that she hasn’t read Wright very carefully or closely and that the very book upon which she bases her case provides clear implicit opposition to same-sex marriage.

            I don’t see why an LGBT person’s sexual orientation or gender identity gives them any privileged perspective on this question at all. I think that similar points can be made when it comes to the question of the teaching of Scripture. The principle qualifications for addressing the teaching of Scripture on the subject of gender and sexuality have to do with theological acumen, knowledge, and expertise, commitment to and acquaintance with the dogmatic, theological, and exegetical tradition of the Church, the depth and extent of one’s acquaintance with the canonical Scriptures, one’s commitment to pursue the question on properly theological terms, etc. Everyone’s contribution has to be tested by such principles. Being LGBT doesn’t somehow give one immunity from one’s contribution being judged according to these criteria.

            If you can’t meet the theological criteria, you shouldn’t be a deciding voice in the theological discussion. Of course, this doesn’t mean that theologians shouldn’t bring forward LGBT voices as witnesses as they consider these issues. However, being LGBT doesn’t mean that you must be included in the theological discussion on special terms.

          • Sara Lin Wilde

            My point isn’t that being LGBTQ gives somebody a privileged perspective or that their contribution is immune from criticism, and I consider that a pretty disingenuous characterization of what I’ve been saying.

            Rather, my point is that having different experiences causes people to come at what they read from different perspectives, and we lose something from the discussion when we insist on one single “correct” canonical reading of any given theological text. And further, when we insist that the only correct way to come at any discussion is dispassionately, we marginalize the voices of people who can’t be dispassionate because THIS IS THEIR LIVES WE’RE DECIDING, while privileging the voices of people who are already privileged enough that the question of whether God thinks they’re evil doesn’t come up in theological discussions.

          • Alastair J Roberts

            There is nothing wrong with being passionate about something. If you can be passionate while avoiding falling into more instinctive reacting—rather than carefully reflecting and then responding—passion can be a good thing. If you can be passionate while keeping a level head, your reason, and your wits about you then your passion can be a benefit. If you can’t keep control over your passion, but it starts to control you, to cloud your ability to reason clearly, to recognize other perspectives, to hear opposing viewpoints out, or to be self-critical, you probably shouldn’t be having the debate. Some debates could definitely benefit from more heat, but not at the expense of light. My point is not that we should be dispassionate, but that people who can’t keep their passions under sufficient control shouldn’t be in the conversation.

            We should definitely listen to LGBT voices. They should be called forward as witnesses and theologians should hear them out. However, the ability to control one’s passions is essential for illuminating theological conversations. One will not be able to address theological questions clearly if you allow your mind to overheat. There are plenty of LGBT persons who fulfil these criteria and they have every right to be in the theological conversation as theologians, not just as witnesses. However, when personal investment in an issue makes it impossible for someone to keep a clear and level head, they should get someone else to speak for them. Virtually every form of public speech operates in terms of advocacy and representation, not in terms of the suitability of each person speaking for themselves.

            Public advocacy and representation is necessarily a position of privilege, and consequently great responsibility. Pretty much by the very nature of the case public political discourse, legal discourse, ecclesiastical discourse, and academic discourse are all limited to people with considerable social, intellectual, moral, educational, and economic privilege. In part, this is because we recognize that a commitment to excellence relative to the ends of the discourses in question typically requires the limitation of the discourses to an elite group of persons who can attain that excellence and who must responsibly exercise those skills on behalf of others.

            Also, when it comes to the interpretation of Scripture, our study should not be dominated by the suggestion that we are ‘deciding people’s lives’. Our task in the first instance is that of being attentive to the meaning of God’s word, which isn’t a task of ‘deciding’ anything, save for our posture of submission to God’s authority exercised through it. Our primary responsibility in interpretation is to the authority of God’s word in his Church. It is not our business to be ‘deciding’ lives in the way that you imply. Rather, our business is to attend to the verdict of God.

            Being reminded of the stakes in these discussions is indeed important. Just as jurors should remember that people’s lives and deep interests are at stake in their deliberations, so theologians should recognize the same thing. This alerts us to our deep responsibility and the scale of our moral culpability should we judge without being scrupulous in our consideration of the issues at hand.

            We should always be concerned to provide justice to the poor, marginalized, and underprivileged, as they are often denied justice. However, errors in judgment creep in as soon as we start to show partially to them (e.g. Exodus 23:3; Leviticus 19:15). When it comes to the interpretation of Scripture, we should be acutely aware of the fact that our interpretations may have a disproportionate impact upon certain less privileged social groups. We should remember the warnings of God against failing to provide justice to the ‘poor’, ignoring their concerns because they have few means to weigh justice in their favour. However, our responsibility to the ‘poor’ does not involve letting pity sway our judgment. Rather, our responsibility is carried out as we judge the issues at hand—in this case the proper interpretation of the sexual and marital ethics of Scripture—in a deeply conscientious and careful manner, not just rushing to judgment because we have nothing personally at stake (actually, many of us within these debates do have things at stake here).

          • Sara Lin Wilde

            Well, that’s where you lose me. Because a) I don’t believe that interpreting the Bible is a “posture of submission to God’s authority” – we decide which parts we want to follow and which we dismiss; b) I still think you’re missing my point, which is that people can’t help “letting their minds overheat” (as you put it, rather condescendingly I thought) when their relationships and personal ethics are being impugned. Straight people can very easily demand placid discussion because they’re not the ones being told their families are tools of the devil.

            If you haven’t been able to process that point by now, I’m forced to conclude you’re more interested in talking at me than actually understanding what I’m trying to say. I don’t like that sort of conversation and I’m done with it.

          • Alastair J Roberts

            No, I get your point. I just don’t think that it really changes that much. My point remains that, even though it is harder for some people to fulfil the criteria of appropriate theological/academic/legal/political discourse because of their emotional involvement in the issues, that doesn’t mean that the criteria can be dismissed. The fact that someone has a huge vested interest in the conclusions reached in a particular discourse doesn’t mean that they are qualified personally to participate. In fact, as we readily recognize in other contexts, often people’s personal investment and their inability to control their passions on the issues under debate is a good reason to deny them the right to represent themselves. Your life may be on the line in a court of law, but that doesn’t mean that you are qualified to defend yourself.

          • Sarah Morice Brubaker

            I just want to note that the vested interests run both ways. It sounds like you have a lot at stake, at least professionally and possibly personally, in defending Wright’s reputation. Which is fine. But coming to the conversation thinking, “This fellow was very cordial to me and I’m building an academic brand that relies upon the ongoing significance of his work” =/= impartiality. As you say, the task is to try and attend to Wright’s work — and the criticisms thereof — fairly.

          • Alastair J Roberts

            The thing that has interested me in all of this has been the fact that, amidst the motive-guessing, tone-policing, and other drives for discursive justice, the interaction with my argument against Sarah’s reading has been slim, to say the least (see here for a more detailed articulation of my argument against her understanding of Wright).

            I am an appreciative but critical reader of Wright: I don’t have much at stake in defending his reputation. He is more than able to defend himself and I have next to nothing professional at stake here (my academic work doesn’t really engage significantly with Wright at all). I do have somewhat more at stake in defending against careless readings of his work, from whatever quarter they arise, largely because Wright has been a theological interlocutor for me and for others and it is important to me that he is engaged with on his own terms, rather than as someone who underwrites my own or anyone else’s theological preconceptions and interests. I also have a vested interest in a theological conversation where people are represented accurately and charitably and where attentive dialogue takes priority over loud protest. My contention is that Sarah’s is a careless and inattentive reading of Wright.

            Impartiality is not the issue around which this discussion is focused. We all have things at stake, partialities, emotions, etc. I make no pretence to impartiality or pure objectivity here. The question is whether we can keep these things sufficiently in check to conform to the requirements of productive and illuminating academic discourse.

          • Sarah Morice Brubaker

            “We all have things at stake, partialities, emotions, etc.” Oh, yes, I completely agree with this! Earlier, though, it sounded as though you were saying that having a stake in the outcome of an argument means being especially prone to misunderstanding the argument by virtue of the stake one has in the outcome. Particularly the bit where you recommended having someone else “do it for you.” I understand that there you were also talking about training, because it arose in the context of your defendant/lawyer example. But here’s my sticking point: having access to training and credentials, and not being a member of a marginalized group, are related. That’s why “This is an academic conversation”-type rebuttals strike me as unfortunate, no matter the subject.

          • Alastair J Roberts

            Our stake in a conversation does make us vulnerable to being misguided by prejudice or self-interest. It is harder to engage in a conversation when you feel at risk of being hurt by the viewpoints expressed. It is harder to listen carefully and patiently to an argument or person by whom we feel threatened. It is harder to engage rationally on issues that are emotive for us. So, yes, in all of these ways some people will find conforming to the expectations of academic discourse to be particularly difficult.

            However, these expectations of academic discourse are important. The alternative is the indulging of weak self-serving arguments, the closing down of voices—sometimes even voices declaring the truth—on account of heightened sensitivities, a failure to listen carefully to other voices and arguments and to seek to understand and represent them accurately, and a movement towards heat and anger, rather than light and insight, These expectations make it hard for many to participate in academic discourse but we can’t dispense with them without dispensing with the integrity of the discourse itself.

            Any discourse that depends upon extensive knowledge, a wide skill-set, access to resources, deep acquaintance with primary and secondary sources, recognition by lead interlocutors, publication, access to exclusive institutions, etc. will necessarily be privileged. It will be difficult for the socially marginalized to enter it for a host of reasons and those that do will become privileged persons in many respects themselves, even if we describe their status in a more intersectional manner.

          • sarahoverthemoon

            Alright, I’m done with your insults to my intelligence that are almost longer than my actual blog post. Bye now.

          • Sara Lin Wilde

            Incidentally, I don’t really have anything to say about the Wright or his arguments; I don’t know his work well at all. My quarrel is with the attitude that the original poster took, arguing that being “put off” by an author’s prejudice, no matter how well you articulate or support your feelings, disqualifies your argument.

        • R Vogel

          If you want to criticize Sarah’s argument, that is fine.
          However when you say:

          The problem is that this is in many respects an academic argument, about an academic writer and his academic ideas.

          this is easily translatable into” …this is an old white guy tradition argument, about an old white guy, and his old white guy establishment’s ideas. You are an emotional [non-white/non-guy] (please circle one).”
          Sarah’s opinions about Wrights theology are valid. You disagree, which is also valid. You mansplaining that she doesn’t even understand the context of the discussion and dismissing her a an emotional woman is not valid. In fact it is offensive.

        • Sarah Morice Brubaker

          Alastair Roberts writes:

          “[I]f our personal investment means that we can’t keep to the expected norms
          of academic discourse, we shouldn’t be participating in the academic
          debate. Someone else should do it for us.”

          Except that in order for this to hold, one must assume that the expected norms of academic discourse are fair, or at least are morally neutral.

          Yet plenty of people have made the case that such norms — though they masquerade as just being about dispassionate, “reasoned” discourse — in fact both mask and perpetuate unjust power relationships. (See Lugones and Spelman, “Have I Got a Theory For You.”)

          In light of that, why do you assume that the norms of academic discourse shouldn’t be questioned? I ask because it seems like you’re saying that no one should criticize an academic theologian or Bible scholar unless the critic is a member of the same scholarly guild and has a terminal degree in their field. Given that a PhD in New Testament is inaccessible to all but the most privileged, your suggestion prompts some serious ethical concerns.

          Also, I’d just like to note that although NT Wright is a recognized expert in New Testament studies, he is not a scholar in Holocaust Studies or 20th century rhetoric, or anything else that would give him *academic* credibility (narrowly speaking) in how the Nazis used words and their reasons for doing so.

          • Alastair J Roberts

            The expectations of top quality academic discourse are demanding and cannot be met by the overwhelming majority of the population. Theology is no exception here. It is an elite discipline. It always has been and it always will be. Yes, there are privilege and power relations here, just as there are privilege and power relations in the fact that only a small minority can be doctors, philosophers, neuroscientists, politicians, etc.

            If we are looking for excellence in such an academic discipline, it will generally be restricted to people with the natural privilege of intellectual aptitude, with the privilege of supportive families, socio-economic privilege, educational privilege, and the various further privileges that expertise and academic authority and status can bring with them. Anyone who is an academic theologian, no matter how disadvantaged their background, enjoys considerable privilege in many respects. This is just the very nature of the case of virtually any field of human endeavour ordered towards excellence. If we want to do something really well, we usually have to prepare certain people to specialize in that area, thereby constituting them as an elite and limiting the participation of 99% of the population.

            You seem to misrepresent a number of my points here. First, I never claimed that academic discourse has to be ‘dispassionate’ (something of which I am suspicious). Controlling one’s passions and not allowing them to overheat one’s thinking is quite different from being dispassionate. Second, I never said or assumed that the norms of academic discourse shouldn’t be questioned. Having questioned them, however, I believe that there are good reasons for many of them. Third, I never denied the right of non-academics to challenge academics.

            If we want to engage in high quality academic discourse, a number of things are pre-requisites. We need to be careful and attentive readers and listeners. We need a robust acquaintance with the subjects and sources that we are discussing. We need to be able to make sound and logical arguments. We need to have the necessary linguistic, philosophical, textual, comprehension, hermeneutical, theological, historical, etc. skills for the task we’ve set ourselves. We need to have the self-control necessary to be patient, level-headed, alert, attentive, and perceptive, even when our passions might overcome our thinking process. More things could be listed.

            Many people with PhDs lack these pre-requisites and many without PhDs have them. Fulfilling these pre-requisites and attaining these skills isn’t easy and, if we are pursuing a high quality conversation, we will have to exclude most people from it. This doesn’t mean that their voices aren’t heard (academic conversations are in conversation with many non-academic conversations), just that they are not included as theologians. Law and politics are other examples where an elite group take part in a conversation that has, as an integral dimension, constant conversation with other parties outside of that elite and openness to their challenge.

            Moving to the specific conversation at hand, it is one thing for someone to protest that theologians should pay more attention to the lived experience of queer persons. It is something rather different for someone to protest that a theologian like N.T. Wright is being inconsistent with himself in his theology. One does not need to be a theologian to make the first claim. The second claim, however, is one that requires academic theological discourse to sustain it. If one is sufficiently acquainted with Wright’s work and has the necessary pre-requisites to engage in academic debate on this point, it is perfectly legitimate to make the claim, even if one has no formal training whatsoever, However, when someone makes such a claim, they should be expected to be prepared to defend it on academic terms and not be given special allowances because they have a lot vested in the issue and can’t have an appropriate academic debate. If they can’t do that, they should stick to the first sort of claims and call upon others to pursue the academic conversation in their stead, just as we get politicians and lawyers to advocate for us.

    • Sarah Morice Brubaker

      Jeremy Kee writes: “I would suggest a few ideas worth consideration: perhaps you misinterpreted Wright’s arguments in the books of his that you cite? Perhaps you, like so many others, read what you wanted to read into his views while disregarding other aspects? Disagreeing with a person’s beliefs because they hurt your feelings is, frankly, a very weak basis upon which to disagree….This article reads as just another, ‘he is wrong because I disagree with him’ piece.”

      Certainly reactive and ad hominem attacks are unhelpful. In that vein, would you kindly share your substantive, argument- and evidence-based rebuttals of Sarah Moon’s post? If you believe that she has misinterpreted Wright, please point us to where she has done so. By your own account, that would be loads more helpful than guessing at her “feelings” (which you can’t know), gesturing vaguely toward “so many others”, and advancing an argument from false authority. (Wright has recognized expertise in New Testament studies, yes, but not in Holocaust Studies or 20th century rhetoric, which is what he would need in order to speak authoritatively about how the Nazis used language.)

  • Neminem

    Damp sand is where the sea marries the shore. At no point, no matter how finely divided their mutual interpenetrations and investments, is there anything intermediate between the sea and the sand. There is sea. There is sand. And there is the true marriage of the two.

    To consider them anything else is simply to indulge in murky thinking, obscuring an actuality in favor of a mere desire for an appearance. There are creatures whose sexuality is — in fact — mutable and fluid. Crocodiles, certain fish, — but not mammals (or beetles, FWIW).

    What we have here is two different forms of error. The first is born of the mutability of desire — not of physical nature — a thing of the mind and heart, which is to say — a spiritual problem. The second is the failure to distinguish sexual behavior from sexual nature. Until we sort out those errors — nothing meaningful can be resolved on these issues. Persistence in such errors of thinking cannot lead to good results in any action founded upon them, no matter how good it may feel or seem at the moment to deny them.

    Those who want to silence all continued pointing out of such plain errors, are totalitarians in spirit, if not — yet — in fact.

  • Jonas

    I guess, for me, and Sarah follows me on Twitter knows my crap, but I think part of the problem is that comparisons hold a rhetorical and attitudinal force. And for me this comparison is false and rude and in poor taste on Wright’s part but I think we’re missing the problem. The problem isn’t what he said but what he said conveys. He’s basically using a rhetorical strategy which is low and crappy to convey something of his ideology. How he uses language is absurd. So, the commentors seem hellbent on what he meant versus how he meant it and how he said it. And Sarah successfully deals with other parts of his argument and so does Alan. So, everyone, he used hyperbole in poor taste, breathe.

  • Spengler47

    Whether Wright is right or wrong on same sex marriage, being opposed to it does not make him a bigot. there are other grounds for opposition besides bigotry.

    • Wow…the trolls are out in force on this post.

    • Donalbain


  • rcdcr

    You sound far too smart to subscribe to such utter foolishness.

  • I wonder what he would say about intersex individuals. They fall outside of the sex and gender binaries in virtue of their biology. Do they have nothing to show us about the nature of God and his kingdom? Or is their sex and gender broken? I bring this up only because Wright cannot critique them on moral grounds as he does LBGTQ folks.

    • Andrew Dowling

      People like Wright are slaves to their own theological conceptions. When reality intrudes on the nice boundaries built around those conceptions (often when talking about some vague discussion of God’s holiness . . which is usually code for “God’s wish to exclude others/justify our biases”), they often pretend it just doesn’t exist.

    • pduggie

      He’d probably quote Matthew 19:10-12 to them

      “His disciples said to Him, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But He said to them, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.”

      The assumption Jesus makes in that text is that some folks are not called to marriage by virtue of accidents of their birth.

      • But in that case, it is implied that the person can/does accept the calling. That is, they don’t feel compelled to seek a spouse. This is simply not true of all intersex individuals. Most experience sexual attraction and desire romantic relationships.

  • The_Repentant_Curmudgeon

    You might be right.

    But what if universities and colleges (esp. public universities) started restricting speech of Christian groups because they did not share their view of marriage?

    What if the government started banning Christians from employment for the same reasons?

    What if the U.S. government forced schools to employ “equity consultants” to police how words were used on the campus, and who had the authority to punish the school when they hear words that they judge as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.”

    What if the founders of the redefinition movement stated that their goal was to “[transform] the very nature of society” and to “[radically reorder’ society’s view of reality.” And what if they explicitly stated their goals as “[to] redefine the institution of marriage completely”; that is, “to demand the right to marry not as a way of adhering to society’s moral codes, but rather to debunk a myth and radically alter an archaic institution that as it now stands keeps us down.” What if that were true?

    What if all of this led to businesses being destroyed from photographers, to bakers, to television shows taken off the air because the host expressed a religious opinion outside the television program?

    What if every Silicon Valley corporation was on notice that should they someday promote any employees who once opposed marriage redefinition their entire corporation could be brought down?

    What if you even supported marriage redefinition but you expressed the opinion that it is best for every child to have a mother and a father, and the survival of your corporation and hundreds of jobs hung in the balance?

    What if a foster parent had all their children taken away by the government because they were Christian and admitted to teaching their faith to the children they cared for?

    What if the President of the United States could threaten aid to the poorest nations on earth because they did not support the President’s belief in marriage redefinition?

    What if, our nation’s highest court simply declared a bigot anyone who was not on board with redefinition?

    What if Harvard University declared as part of its mission statement that it must educate students on how they will go on to establish the meaning of words?

    Crazy as it all sounds, what if all these things actually happened? And what if someone looking at all this saw parallels to Germany and the Soviet Union where businesses and individuals were destroyed by their respective governments or by mobs acting on the same ideology? Would such a person be beyond the pale?

    • What if heterosexual Christians decided that bullying LGBTQ persons (including Christians) was important? What if hetero Christians used theology and the Word of the Lord to make life miserable for LGBTQ persons? What if they decided to twist the theology of love into one of fear and rejection? What if LGBTQ people were committing suicide and self-harm because they were being ostracized by the very communities they grew up in and thought they could trust?

      What if the conservative Christian view on LGBTQ people destroyed human beings? Is that not more important than your businesses? Or are corporations people too and more important than the oppressed?

  • Jerry Sather

    If you listen all the way through, Wright is laying a lot of the blame for redefinition on the church for not modeling and teaching what marriage should be. The redefinition of marriage has been going on for some time and LGBTQ “marriage” is only the latest battleground. I personally agree with Wright–the redefining of “marriage” will have profound consequences for both society and church. The church should have embraced early on an acceptance of civil unions as an alternative for our LGBTQ neighbors.

  • pduggie

    Since woman comes from man in the biblical binary, and the land emerges from the sea in the biblical binary, it’s not exactly correct to say that the woman is associated with the chaotic sea.

  • pduggie

    I don’t think the assertion that the Alpha is to man as Omega is to woman really works. Yes, alpha is an extremity to omega, with a bunch of stuff inbetween

    But the narrative of genesis presents woman being drawn out of man with nothing in-between. Likewise, waters above are separated from waters beneath by a raquia. And that picture is consistently drawn through into the book of revelation. So, nowadays, yes, we can’t touch the sky, and the soviet cosmonauts who went up and mocked the idea of heaven being ‘up’ had a point. but the biblical picture actually IS that of a clear dividing line between heaven and earth.

    Sure, a beach is a border zone, but a border zone between two huge normative zones that are binaries, and the bible constantly portrays God the creator as having determined that boundary and policing that boundary: this far and no further.

    God’s creative work IS making of binaries.

  • I think you have misunderstood Wright if you took ‘Surprised by Hope’ to imply the dismantling of the distinction between Heaven and Earth rather than their integration.

    Binaries have often been used harmfully, elevating one over the other in oppressive and damaging ways, including binaries of spiritual/physical, male/female, reason/emotion and so on.

    But it seems to me that the Trinity protects against oppressive dualisms not by abolishing binary distinctions but by bringing them together into a dynamic whole.

    Because of the Trinity, the dynamic between male and female has God himself as a third axis, which acts as a point of integration. In marriage husband and wife, in obedience to and imitation of the triune God love each other as equals and become one while remaining distinctly male and female, just as Father, Son and Spirit love each other in the unity of the trinity, both one and distinct.

    In short, I believe that the Biblical understanding of reality is not without binaries, as you seem to suggest Sarah, nor dualistic with opposing binaries, as you accuse Wright of being, but trinitarian, with binaries integrated together.

    • Alastair J Roberts

      Sadly, this isn’t just a matter of misunderstanding the implications of Wright’s argument, but a matter of not reading what he explicitly says. These are Wright’s own words from page 116 of the book in question, within a section titled ‘the marriage of heaven and earth’:

      Heaven and earth, it seems, are not after all poles apart, needing to be separated for ever when all the children of heaven have been rescued from this wicked earth. Nor are they simply different ways of looking at the same thing, as would be implied by some kinds of pantheism. No: they are different, radically different; but they are made for each other in the same way (Revelation is suggesting) as male and female. And, when they finally come together, that will be cause for rejoicing in the same way that a wedding is: a creational sign that God’s project is going forwards; that opposite poles within creation are made for union, not competition; that love and not hate have the last word in the universe; that fruitfulness and not sterility is God’s will for creation. [emphasis added]

      • Thanks Alistair – I thought that Wright said much to that effect but didn’t have the book to hand.

        How we understand these things has very deep implications for our theology and worldview. Some strands of feminist theology involves the outright rejection of binaries altogether, but I think that if you follow that through consistently you end up with a monistic or quasi-pantheistic outlook that’s at odds with orthodox Christian faith.

        I also think there is a lot of legitimate deconstruction to be done of oppositional binaries, and feminist theologies raise valid critiques – but we need to redeem the binaries not get rid of them.

        • Alastair J Roberts

          I’ve just unpacked the Wright quotation here. I suggest that, implicit within it is exceedingly robust opposition to same-sex marriage.

          • Win

            Isn’t heaven and earth a merism? And don’t Hindus say the bridegroom is heaven and the bride is earth? And haven’t we made progress in Christianity? Aren’t women allowed to crawl out of the muck? Let’s join a culture where the sun is feminine and the moon is masculine. Oh, hey, that’s German.

          • Alastair J Roberts

            It is technically a merism. However, heaven and earth aren’t just any two elements among many, but refer to the principal division and two dimensions within which all is created. Everything ‘below’ the firmament belongs to earth; everything ‘above’ the firmament belongs to heaven.

            Irrespective of what other religions and cultures might say, Christianity has its own symbolic logic and Christians ought to recognize it. From the very beginning, women are related to the earth in a particular way. The womb of the women and the earth are paralleled in the judgments in Genesis 3. Elsewhere we see them poetically aligned, as in Job 1:21 or Psalm 139:15. Mother Earth—adamah—is like a womb from which creatures were brought forth and that the sons of Adam return to. One day the land will ‘give birth’ to the dead in resurrection (Isaiah 26:19). Christ, the first to be resurrected, is the ‘firstborn’. The earth is the bearer of the blessing of fecundity, but was formerly a barren womb, until opened by Christ.

            None of this is designed to denigrate women by associating them with ‘the muck’. In many respects, Adam is more associated with ‘the muck’ than Eve is (Adam’s name relates him to the adamah). Adam was formed directly from the earth as one given the task of serving it. However, Eve was created from Adam’s side as his helper. Eve’s identity is symbolically parallel to that of the earth in key respects, but her origin is more elevated than Adam’s.

          • Win

            We also see women poetically aligned with the Spirit and the Word. The female dove, the Spirit claims Jesus as her son. And since the Spirit lost its feminine gender in Latin, the dove often rested on women who gave birth. It is ruach who gives life to earth and woman is ruach not adamah.

            In Is.26, the earth gives back the dead. This is the earth to which all Adam, male and female, return. I don’t know why you say only sons return to the earth.

            On another point, If woman is night and sea, she is annihilated. If she is earth, she is the place of the dead. If she is man’s helper she is not an Adam. If she is ruach then she is truly Eve.

          • Alastair J Roberts

            The woman/Bride is indeed aligned with the Spirit in various ways (although only masculine personal pronouns are used of the Spirit). This doesn’t mean that the woman isn’t also aligned with the earth in a clear sense. The earth and the woman are associated with each other as those with ‘wombs’ (something that a comparison of the judgments in Genesis 3, especially in Hebrew, should make clear).

            Throughout the Scripture, we see a particular association between women and the Spirit and between men and Christ. Like the Spirit, in Scripture and beyond women are particularly associated with giving life, filling, (re)birth, forging the bonds of kinship, bringing the future, wisdom, communion, glorifying, etc. The work of the man has different associations and is more closely connected with the work of the Son. This differences in symbolic alignments between the genders are one reason why the biblical pattern from Genesis 2 onwards is of exclusively male priesthood.

            The expression ‘sons of Adam’ was not intended to be exclusive to men, just a poetic expression stressing the solidarity of Adam.

            As for your final paragraph, I am not at all sure where you are getting any of that from. It strikes me as a very clumsy and wooden reading of symbolism (one that you seem to share with this post).

          • The metaphors of giving birth and nursing are often made regarding God Himself. God is spoken of as having a womb and breasts, and of going into labor and giving birth. But nowhere in the scriptures is there a metaphor in which God is pictured as having a penis, and there is no metaphor whatsoever that shows God or the heavens having sex with the earth– or any other male-procreative metaphor.

            The woman’s womb is not paralleled with the earth in Genesis 3. Rather, the man’s labor in working the earth is paralleled with the woman’s labor in bringing forth children. There is no word for “womb” in that passage at all, which would be necessary if “womb” were made parallel with “earth.”

            Finally, Eve is not Adam’s “helper.” She is his “help” — which is a word that means “strong rescuer” and is mostly used in the OT to speak of God as Israel’s “help.” The difference is that Eve is Adam’s “face to face” help, not his help from on high as God is. The word meaning “facing him” or “face to face” is necessary in the passage to make it clear she is his equal, not his superior. There is no hint in the word “help” of subordination.

          • Alastair J Roberts

            The metaphors of giving birth and nursing are not ‘often made regarding God Himself’. I would be interested to see how many references it takes to constitute ‘often’. Fancy listing several? Of the claims I have seen on this front, most are exegetically dubious, such as those in Job. While I have no objection to female metaphors applied to Christ, for instance (and have highlighted a number of these myself in the past), they really don’t ‘prove’ what many presume that they do. Besides, the Apostle Paul is quite happy to speak of himself as nursing, going into labour, and giving birth (Galatians 4:19; 1 Thessalonians 2:7).

            As for male-procreative metaphors, God identifies himself as ‘Father’ throughout the Scriptures. This is more than a mere metaphor. God doesn’t just say that he is ‘like’ a Father, but he identifies himself as Father. While he may use occasional maternal metaphors (although he far more often uses bird and rock metaphors), God never identifies himself as Mother.

            There is no word for womb in the passage, but this is besides the point (besides, the parallel is made with reference to the womb elsewhere). The conceptual parallel remains clear. The woman’s labour in bringing forth children is indeed paralleled with the man’s labour in bringing forth fruit from the earth. But look closer, because this parallel makes my point. From where does the woman bring forth children? From her own body/womb: she herself shall ‘bring forth’.

            Adam doesn’t bring forth from his own body, but from the earth, and from his wife (the multiple meanings of the term ‘seed’ can be played upon in this context). His wife will, in pain, also bring forth thorns and thistles—like wicked Cain—to him (thorns and thistles are elsewhere used as images of wicked persons).

            Our formation in our mothers’ womb is bound up with the formation of humanity from the earth (Psalm 139:15) and our return to the earth is seen as precisely that—a return (Job 1:21). The earth is a womb (cf. Genesis 1:24) and our mother’s womb is in some sense an extension of that womb.

            As for objecting to calling Eve Adam’s ‘helper’, you are making a distinction without any significant difference. God is spoken of both as Israel’s ‘help’ and ‘helper’ in several translations. The word doesn’t mean ‘strong rescuer’, although it may imply that sense in particular contexts. To apply this meaning to the term in Genesis 2 is a considerable overreading. What ‘help’ means is contextually dependent in Hebrew, much as in English. Where the related verb form is used in the OT, for instance, we see it being applied to a considerable range of relationships, from God’s help of Israel to the assistance provided by vassal kings to their master.

            What does it mean for the woman to be the man’s helper in Genesis 2? The answer to that should be discerned from a close reading of the text. A few things to note:

            1. The woman was created as a helper for the man, not the man as a helper for the woman, or even both formed simultaneously as helpers for each other. As Paul points out, there is some sort of priority to the man and the woman is in some manner defined relative to him in a way that he isn’t defined relative to her (1 Corinthians 11:8-9; 1 Timothy 2:13). This doesn’t mean that the woman is lower than the man, but it entails an important difference. The woman is formed by God, brought to the man, and named by the man, much as the man named the lesser helpers, the animals. The woman, however, is different: she is his equal, though not the same as him.

            2. Adam received his priestly commission ‘to guard and to serve’ the Garden and the command concerning the tree before the woman was created. The impression is that the woman is to help him in the task that he has been given. The task is committed to Adam and Eve is created to help Adam fulfil his task. Of course, Eve has a task of her own, which brings to completion what is started in Adam. However, Adam’s task comes first.

            3. The Fall is Adam’s because, unlike Eve, he has been given the commandment concerning the tree first-hand (notice the single form of the pronouns in 3:11 and 17). Eve receives it second-hand, from Adam, which is why she can be deceived by the serpent (if she had received it first-hand, she would have been a high-handed transgressor).

            4. The woman is created as a ‘counterpart’ helper to Adam, not as a lower form of life or as a sidekick. However, she is created as a distinct and different form of human, with a distinct form of vocation (which is why we have gendered judgments in Genesis 3).

            5. Beyond the priestly task of ‘guarding and serving’ (language associated with the task of the priesthood in the tabernacle—see Greg Beale and others for extensive treatments of the temple imagery in Genesis 2), Adam is given the priestly task of upholding (and teaching) the commandment and also the task of naming. As a figure, Adam particularly symbolizes God’s authority in the creation. The vocation of humanity focuses on two key poles in Genesis 1: dominion (‘have dominion’ and ‘subdue’ the earth) and generation (‘be fruitful and multiply’ and ‘fill the earth’). These two poles correspond to the two sets of three creation days. The first three days are days of subduing and dominion, where God subdues the formless creation and establishes the boundaries of the world (between Day and Night, Heaven and under the Heaven, Earth and Seas). These three days are also days of naming. The second three days are days of filling, where God addresses the emptiness of the creation, successively filling each of the realms he has created, causing the earth to bring forth new life from its womb. The same pattern of forming and filling, addressing formlessness and addressing emptiness, dominion and generation, continues in chapter 2, where the man is chiefly associated with the former, while the woman is chiefly associated with the latter.

            6. The woman is created to address a particular problem: the man’s aloneness. The man was created in part as an answer to the problem of the lack of any man to serve the earth (Genesis 2:5—like Eve in her relation to Adam’s task, Adam was created to serve the earth, not to be subservient to it). The creation of the man doesn’t adequately solve the problem, however. One man is hardly capable of serving the whole earth and performing all of the work of the priestly Garden-sanctuary. Exodus 18:17-18, where it was ‘not good’ that Moses had to judge Israel ‘alone’, is an illuminating parallel. Eve addressed Adam’s aloneness, first by assisting him in his particular task, but more importantly as she performed her particular task of giving rise to new life and communion, providing the possibility of humanity being fruitful, multiplying, and filling the earth. Unsurprisingly, it is in the bearing of children that her vocation is most focused (hence the particular character of the judgment upon the woman). Bearing children is a matter of huge importance in Scripture, not just about the private sentimental bonds of the household, as our society can often make it. Note that the great new works of God in such places as the books of Exodus, Ruth, Samuel, and Luke all begin with faithful and courageous women bringing forth children.

            Eve is Adam’s counterpart, not less than him. However, Adam has an important priority (conversely, Eve has an important finality). This priority, like the priority that the Father has in relation to the Son doesn’t mean superiority (or even entail subordination, in the sense that many complementarians speak of it). It means that there is an order to the flow of human life and, just as Father, Son, and Spirit are distinct persons in the unity of the Trinity and are each associated with distinct movements in the divine economy, so male and female are not interchangeable or immediately reversible, but are equal participants in the drama of creation, albeit with differing yet constantly interdependent and interlocking vocations. As distinct in their identities, male and female are equal, but not simply interchangeable, much as the persons of the Trinity.

            The point here is not hierarchy, but difference. Looked at from different perspectives, the work of all of the persons of the Trinity could be seen as ordered towards the Spirit … or towards the Son … or towards the Father. There isn’t a hierarchy moving in a single direction. However, nor is there pure symmetry. The centrality of the Son is a particular sort of centrality (the centrality of Word, formation, authority, image, etc.). The centrality of the Father is a different sort of centrality (the centrality of authorization, priority, origin, etc.). The centrality of the Spirit is yet another different sort of centrality (the centrality of the future, love, communion, glory, etc.). Just as each person of the Trinity operates in terms of the centrality of the others, without usurping it, so men and women are called to do in their own way. Once all of this has been understood, we will have a better handle upon what the Scriptures mean by referring to the woman as the man’s helper.

          • I will answer only your first point, because this is getting overlong and off-topic. Deut 32:18 is one verse that clearly shows God referring to Himself as giving birth. Isaiah 42:14 pictures God as a woman in labor. There are others, which are clearer in the Hebrew than in translation, that convey the idea of God’s “womb”. In the New Testament, 1 Peter 2:2 says “as newborn babies, seek the pure milk of the word.” Babies did not drink from bottles in Peter’s day, so the “milk of the word” is a metaphor referring to the breast milk of God. There are more, but even if there were only these 3, that would be 3 times more than the number of times God is shown metaphorically as having male parts (zero). As for God calling Himself “Father,” there are reasons why identifying Himself as “Mother” would have conveyed the wrong message to the original hearers in a world where women were powerless chattel. But it doesn’t mean God is masculine, because that would mean that males are more in the image of God than females.

            For the rest, there continue to be fundamental differences in the way we view the texts, and I’d rather just leave it at that.

          • Win

            Do you mean only English masculine pronouns are used for the Spirit? Does that have any significance? Of course, it shows the weakness of translation.

            Its all symbolic. Women have started missions and churches and have done everything in the church that a man does except offer the sacraments to a man, because men can’t accept female bodies as sanctified.

            We don’t need to live by these symbols because we are not these symbols. Women can initiate, teach and lead. Women are e qual imitators of Christ. Melania was called he anthropos tou theou, and Olympia, an aner in all but the shape of her body. Women are included in the command to andrizesthe. Women are expected to act in the same way as Christian men.

            On my last paragraph, night and sea are annihilated in Rev. 21. Why would a woman want to be symbolized by one of those? Earth is the place where the dead return. Woman is as fully Adam as Adam is.

            But if women are symbolized by the breath of life, that at least relates to Eve’s name. In my view all your symbolism is a way to put women n the lower place. We are everything ‘below.’

          • Alastair J Roberts

            No, Greek masculine pronouns, and not in translation.

            Who is saying that female bodies are not sanctified?

            Symbols matter. It matters whether God’s fatherly authority in his Church is symbolized by men or by women. Among other things, that God’s authority is represented as fatherly maintains the symbolic importance of the material hiatus between God and his creation.

            Where did I say that women are symbolized by night and sea? Besides, even if they were, that wouldn’t mean that they are annihilated. Gentiles are symbolized by the sea in Scripture and, last I checked, Gentiles are not annihilated (save perhaps in the sense of no longer being outsiders). Earth is also the place from which the dead are raised in the new birth of the resurrection.

            I don’t think that you have a clear idea of what this symbolism is about at all. It isn’t about assigning higher or lower places to the sexes, but about reading the scriptural text carefully and understanding it on its own terms.

          • Win

            Cite one Greek masculine pronoun with pneuma as its antecedent. Translations scatter “he” like smarties at Halloween.

            Symbolism is language not reality. It is fluid and open to manipulation. It doesn’t ever come pure and unadulterated from its original language source. We may never know if the hind or the doe pants after the waterbrook.

            “Among other things, that God’s authority is represented as fatherly maintains the symbolic importance of the material hiatus between God and his creation.”

            Just wondering why fertilization vs incubation is a material hiatus. We know about DNA. God knew about DNA. Fathers and mothers are equally parents, in reality.

          • Alastair J Roberts

            John 16:13.

            I suggest that you re-read mine and Wright’s comments. Neither of us said that the heaven-earth binary mapped onto the male-female binary. Rather, both of us said that the heaven-earth binary had similar characteristics to the male-female binary. That is a very different sort of claim than what you seem to be presuming that we said. Neither of us made the claim that ‘male’ is associated with heaven. Only I made the claim that there is a particular sort of association between the woman and the earth (while saying that the man also has a strong association with the earth of a different character).

            This symbolism is not something that ‘overrides’ reality. Rather, it draws attention to some of the deeper relational and symbolic structures of reality. Because of the form that procreation takes, men and women have different sorts of relational and symbolic significance. Men do not have a direct bodily connection to their offspring. Fathers stand over against their offspring to a degree that mothers cannot. Mothers have an immediate bodily connection with their offspring, as their offspring are formed in their womb and feed on their breasts. All bonds of flesh and bone are mediated by women, as all these human bonds are forged in their bodies.

            While the bond between mother and child is more natural, immediate, and physical, the bond between father and child is more mediated, covenantal, and legal. The father is bound to his children through his wife, through the covenant bonds of marriage and family, and through the law. ‘Mother’ and ‘father’ carry different relational and symbolic value and aren’t interchangeable. Those who fail to appreciate this are the ones overriding reality. Both reflect dimensions of the work of God. However, in something such as the symbolizing of God’s authority in relation to humanity, it is important to maintain its fatherly character. Creation is not begotten in God’s womb, but is made as an act. There are senses in which we are begotten by God, but these correspond to the father’s role in procreation, not the mother’s. When this authority is symbolized as female, God’s relationship to his creation is misrepresented. None of this means, of course, that women don’t have a unique symbolic significance of their own, in which they reflect God in a distinct manner.

            Anyway, thanks for the discussion. This is my last comment.

          • Win

            Then my last comment is that in John 16:13, ekeinos clearly refers to ho parakletos, which is in Greek a masculine word. Ekeinos is “that one” mentioned before, not “the spirit of truth” following. Read the passage in Greek to get the flow and syntactic pattern.

            The biblical Greek list is useful when someone is unsure of Greek usage.


            The spirit is always referred to in Greek with the neuter pronoun and in Aramaic and early Syriac “she.”

      • I agree that you are reading Wright correctly; however, I think Sarah Moon has grasped certain implications of Wright’s focus on the union of binaries which are hardly incorrect. The idea of binaries as exclusionary, either A or Not A, shows more the influence of Aristotelian categories on Western thought than it reflects the mindsets of either the ancient Hebrew or New Testament Greek writers. I’m not surprised that Wright thinks this way, but this Aristotelian way of thinking is certainly not the only way to approach the texts. Even if not consciously intended by Wright, the concept of binaries brought into union definitely implies a “both-and” kind of relationship in many instances, rather than the exlusionary either-or.

        God did divide the light from the darkness and call one “day” and the other “night,” — but His presence became manifest, walking in the Garden, in the “cool of the day”: i.e., twilight.

        • Alastair J Roberts

          Thank you for the response, Kristen. Some thoughts in reply:

          1. Sarah spoke of Wright’s rejection of heaven/earth and male/female ‘dichotomies’. I completely agree with her on this point. However, she presumed that this was equivalent to the rejection of heaven/earth and male/female ‘binaries’ (or dualities). She didn’t adequately distinguish between a dichotomy and a binary: they are rather different sorts of things. Wright rejects the first in the cases of heaven/earth and male/female, but upholds the second.

          2. Wright tackles the issues of dualisms/dualities in detail in The New Testament and the People of God (252-256). There he makes the point that people who challenge ‘dualism’ fail to distinguish between the many different types of dualism (he also suggests the term ‘dualities’) that exist, some of which have merit and others which don’t. The sorts of points that you are making about exclusionary binaries and binary oppositions are more typically made by post-structuralist thinkers. Wright, however, in his limited engagement with post-structuralist thought, distinguishes himself from it. He has no general polemic against binaries.

          3. The concept of binaries brought into union is definitely present in Wright. It is, in fact, Wright’s point. However, for such a union of binaries to exist, we need to recognize the binaries to begin with. We would also have to recognize the existence of a union between the two. I don’t think that Sarah is doing either. For Sarah, binary categories seem to be nullified from the outset, not fulfilled in union. Sarah’s sexual spectrum doesn’t seem to function as a union of male and female so much as its denial, a ‘neither-nor’ rather than an ‘either-or’ or a ‘both-and’. Arguing for things that are ‘neither one nor the other’ is not the same thing as arguing for a union of two in one.

          4. There is also the question of what union actually looks like. As I have already suggested, Sarah doesn’t really seem to teach ‘union’ as such. Rather, her emphasis seems to lie upon the blurring of all boundaries, with no real account of the union of binaries at all. Yet, just as the Christian tradition has given considerable attention to the binaries, so it has given considerable attention to the form of their unions. Male and female are united in the one flesh union of marriage. As male and female are, as it were, two halves of a single ‘reproductive system’, they find union sexually and also in their offspring, in whom they receive the blessing of fruitfulness and a fuller realization of the one flesh union that they share. They also find union in their broader interlocking vocations. For Sarah, however, no such male-female binary exists at the outset and she would probably blanch at the cisheterosexism of the form of the binary and union spoken of in Scripture.

          In her post, Sarah brings forward such things as the incarnation as an example of the negation of binaries. Here I am sure that it does take a ‘both-and’ form in her understanding. However, the union of God and man in Christ isn’t just a blurring or collapsing of difference. The Chalcedonian Definition is crucial here: ‘…acknowledged in Two Natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the difference of the Natures being in no way removed because of the Union, but rather the properties of each Nature being preserved, and (both) concurring into One Person and One Hypostasis; not as though He were parted or divided into Two Persons, but One and the Self-same Son and Only-begotten God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ.’

          Similar things could be said about the union envisaged between male and female and heaven and earth in Scripture. The binaries aren’t just dissolved or negated. The new creation is a ‘new heavens and a new earth’, not just a confused amalgam of the two, let alone some reality in which the duality of heaven and earth even in principle is negated a priori. The heavens and earth are brought into a fertile marriage, with no ‘dichotomizing’ of the two, but in which the binary still exists in some form.

          5. The sort of blurring of the boundary between day and night that you describe—much as the blurring of the boundary between land and sea on the seashore that Sarah describes—doesn’t do away with the binary. Most of the time we are dealing with things that are fairly obviously one or the other. Nor does a blurring of a boundary really establish a union. A union is much more than this.

          A ‘both-and’ relationship dramatically undersells the sort of union envisaged between male and female in Scripture. Marriage isn’t just an inclusive set or a blurring of male and female into a dipolar spectrum, denying any male-female dimorphism. The union between male and female in marriage is one in which male and female transcend themselves, becoming part of something greater. Male and female—the two halves of humanity—together become the symbol of humanity as a whole and the symbol of Christ and the Church. Male and female together form a sexual union as bodies are united to become a single mating pair, in which two bodies unite as part of a single system (which is something that no two persons of a single sex can do). The sexual union of marriage unites body and person as male and female achieve the natural end of their sexed bodies in a faithful and exclusive union of persons. Male and female also unite as they bear offspring in the image of their union and as a family and community naturally grows out of the private sexual bond between them. One of the reasons why Wright and others so firmly oppose same-sex marriage is precisely because it denigrates this union of immense significance and blessing by relating it to relationships that cannot achieve such union at all. A dramatic forgetfulness or ignorance of the mystery and nature of marriage has to occur for such an equation to be made.

          [6. As a completely tangential quibble, I would interpret Genesis 3:8 very differently. The text describes Adam and Eve hearing ‘the sound/voice/thunder of the Lord God walking up and down in the garden’ (the same form of the verb can be found in reference to God’s theophanic presence in Israel’s midst in Deuteronomy 23:14 and 2 Samuel 7:6) and refers to the ‘ru‘ach of the yom’. ‘Cool of the day’ is a rather unlikely translation of this expression (the ‘wind of the day’ could just as easily be a harsh warm wind in the middle of the day). Before Genesis 3:8, ru‘ach—‘wind’, ‘breath’, ‘Spirit’—has only previously been used in 1:2, where it refers to the Spirit of God. I think that it is more likely that we should read this as God being heard walking about in the garden ‘as the Spirit of the storm’ (yom also carries this meaning). The ru‘ach was probably not a cool and refreshing breeze, but a terrifying commotion caused by God’s storm-chariot of judgment moving about in the garden. Hearing the thunder of God in this mighty storm, Adam and Eve know that they faced a dreadful reckoning. All of this said, however, the point is just a nerdy aside, and of little to no consequence to the issues under discussion.]

          Thanks once again for the response.

          • I think the binary patterns you delineate here, Alastair, do indeed show in Scripture as designed by God to function in union as you say. The problem I’m having is the way the binary patterns are treated, not as principles or patterns, but as laws or rules. In other words, there is still very much a dichotomy and exclusion, going on here: unions between humans are either A or Not-A, that is, either between a male and female (good) or not between a male and female (bad). Similarly, people are either A or Not-A: they are male and female (good) or Not (bad). The very real, very human humans, then, who have an extra X chromosome, or who present as one sex but have the hormones of the other, become by definition “bad.” And yet God created them.

            I must disagree that the presence of an exception somehow denigrates or damages the pattern or principle. Nor does Sarah’s inclusion of exceptions somehow dissolve the binary. Just as the existence of the platypus is not bad just because it doesn’t fit the pattern of either a land creature or a water creature, the existence of humans and human relationships that don’t fit the male-female pattern do not destroy the pattern. The pattern is beautiful, but it is not law, and not fitting in is not disobedience.

          • Alastair J Roberts

            Thanks for the response, Kristen.

            Scripture presents male and female as the norm. It also recognizes the existence of exceptions. For instance, Jesus speaks of ‘eunuchs’ who were ‘born thus from their mother’s womb’ in Matthew 19:12, most likely referring to intersexed persons. Such persons are exceptions but not negations of the male-female binary (much as it is completely appropriate to say that human beings have the power of sight, despite the fact that some are born blind). They may typically be exceptions to the vocation of marriage, but, in accepting their state as a calling, they can devote themselves as celibate persons to the service of the kingdom of God, in which they are welcomed as equals (Matthew 19:10-12). The exceptions are not rejected, but they are recognized as exceptions. The exceptions do not constitute a competing norm of their own, nor do they negate the norm that exists.

            As for the status of the exceptions, this depends upon the exception under discussion. Many exceptions are clearly a result of the fact that we live in an imperfect world and are not seen as a direct product of God’s good creation. When a child is born blind, this is not a good thing. When a child is born with a medical condition that will lead to its early death, this is not a good thing. When a child is born with ambiguous genitalia, this is not a good thing. When a person has a natural inclination towards paedophilia and can’t escape it, no matter how desperately they long to do so, this is not a good thing. The persons themselves are good, of course, persons made in God’s image and loved by him. The traits that render them exceptions can become sites of vocation and blessing. This does not mean, however, that the traits themselves are good things in and of themselves.

            My points about the union between man and woman were not about ‘law’ so much as about reality as God created it. My point wasn’t that two men or two women are not permitted to form a marital union, but that they are constitutionally incapable of forming a marital union in the sense that a man and a woman can, and in the sense that Scripture speaks of it. It doesn’t matter how much they want to do so. Same-sex sexual relations are not a ‘union’ in the sense that relations between a man and a woman are, whether or not we think that they are ‘bad’.

            Where the disobedience comes in is when exceptions refuse to recognize themselves as such and seek to break down the norm, re-establishing it around themselves. So, for instance, returning to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19, the exceptional ‘eunuchs’ are recognized, affirmed, and blessed. However, marriage, which is designed around the male-female norm (verses 4-6), is something from which Jesus presents them as typically excluded, whether by natural condition, human action, or personal vocation. For one reason or another they typically cannot or will not achieve the union of marriage and so abstain from marriage and sexual relations. If they were to insist upon the equal right to marry, much as in the case of same-sex marriage, marriage itself would be compromised and degraded in its significance.

            Marriage is not just about a bond of commitment or love between two persons in nature and Scripture, but is a union that has a symbolic value, a theological significance, a social function, a biological capacity, and procreative consequences that transcend the man and woman within it, making us participants in something far greater than ourselves. For a same-sex relationship to claim the title of ‘marriage’ for itself is a violation of and attack upon this.

            Persons who by reason of the nature of their sexual desires feel psychologically incapable of personally functioning within the male-female ‘pattern’ of marriage are not forced by ‘law’ to do so. However, they are called—like the rest of us—to honour marriage (cf. Hebrews 13:4) and to avoid fornication, reserving sexual relations for the context of the marriage bed. Fornication—chiefly involving sexual relations outside of marriage—is a violation of the pattern, not just an exception to it.

            Consequently, in the case of persons who are not able for some reason to marry a person of the other sex, this will entail celibacy. This calling, whether chosen or unchosen, may be difficult, but God’s pattern is honoured by this form of exception (I suspect that we typically understate how difficult the calling of faithfulness in difficult marriages is, though—the deepest loneliness is often not found among the unmarried).

          • Yes, I know that’s the accepted doctrine. It’s just that I’m no longer convinced. I don’t think it’s as well supported by Scripture as I used to believe. And I don’t feel qualified, as a cisgender, heterosexual, happily married woman, to make such a determination on on an issue I’ve never had to deal with personally, which affects others profoundly and myself not at all.

          • Alastair J Roberts

            What about those of us who are celibate and unmarried Christians? Are we ‘qualified’ to address this issue?

            How far should we take this principle anyway? Are you unqualified to make a determination on the appropriateness of open marriage in the case of those who have ‘unmatched libidos’? How about adultery in the case of someone who feels deeply unhappy and lonely in their marriage and has a strong attachment with a third party? How about polyamory in the case of those who argue that they aren’t ‘oriented’ to monogamy? Or what should we say to the many people who struggle with paedophile desires? Or to the man who feels an intense sexual attraction to his sister? What about murder in revenge for someone murdering your parents?

            If we follow your approach, there will always be sufficient uniqueness to another person’s situation and subjectivity seemingly to disqualify us from speaking to it. Far better, I believe, to recognize that we do not speak on the qualification of our own experience, but rather stand for principles and norms that stand over and hold to account the experience and actions of all of us. In the case of sexual ethics, as Wright has elsewhere observed, ‘sexual restraint is mandatory for all, difficult for most, extremely challenging for some.’

            For Scripture’s role in this, beyond the texts that seem clearly to forbid same-sex relations, I would be interested to know where such relations may find clear and positive biblical sanction. Yet further, I would be interested to know on what exact biblical basis people believe that such relationships should be celebrated as divinely blessed in the same way as marriage between a man and a woman, which both reflects the male-female order of the original creation, unites the two halves of the human race, fulfils the natural telos of our sexed bodies, is the union that constitutes us as a human race and is the personal bond from which virtually every human being on the planet arose, maintains the unity of genetic, gestational, legal, and social parenthood, forges and upholds the bonds of blood, symbolizes Christ’s relationship with his Church, and bears God’s blessing of fruitfulness.

            Most of my points here and above don’t require exegesis of Scripture, but should be apparent to anyone who carefully and honestly looks at the phenomena. Only after we have significantly blinded ourselves to the reality of marriage can we even begin to entertain the notion that a relationship between two persons of the same sex, no matter how loving or committed, could be its equivalent.

          • There actually is a litmus test here, and it was once set forth by Augustine. “Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought.”

            You and I probably have different ideas of what constitutes love for a neighbor, but an interpretation that allows murder of that neighbor, or violation of a neighbor’s body, or cheating on a neighbor by a spouse, in my mind just isn’t in the same league with allowing a neighbor to enjoy the same sort of committed and loving union that I enjoy.

            Your last paragraph constitutes a silencing technique. The statement that all right-minded people will think as you do, and that anyone “honest” and not self-blinded will agree with you, is a way to shut down discussion. However, I am perfectly willing to end the conversation with an agreement to disagree.

  • This must be satire. I can’t see what else it could be. But it’s still incredibly offensive.

    • sarahoverthemoon

      Yeah, that was a disgusting comment.

  • Tim Wright

    The sooner the church splits on this issue the better. No one is Gay, or LGBT or whatever the next bizarre acronym is around the corner. They may feel this or that, but it is ONLY a feeling. If being white, I felt that I was really Pakistani, you would say, hey mate, that’s nice but you’re not Pakistani, your white. That’s how I see this entire sexual deception that people believe about their gender confusion and sexual orientation.



    • Brianna Gipp

      How does that make ANY sense? No one is gay? Really? So… they’re all lying about being attracted to their own gender?

      • sarahoverthemoon

        We are UNICORNS! *throws glitter*

      • Tim Wright

        I am not saying that they are not attracted to the same sex, what I am saying it is a feeling, how many things do you feel that are not the true. The choice does one follow their feelings or Jesus, in this situation they diverge. People are attracted to all sorts of people and things. Following those feelings will not contribute to a flourishing society. People having sex with the same sex is unbiblical and the consequences are severe, just like someone who continues with lying or stealing, they will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Eternity is a very high price to pay for an insignificant numbers of years living in deception.



        • Brianna Gipp

          So you think gay relationships are wrong… it still doesn’t make any sense to compare being gay to a white person thinking they’re Pakistani. WTF?

          Anyway, what exactly does it have to do with a “flourishing society”? That’s got a lot more to do with how we treat each other and how we raise our children to treat others than what gender our partners are, as far as I can tell.

          I don’t know about the Kingdom of God, but if LGBT people aren’t welcome there then it’s not somewhere I have any interest in going. 😉