BBC viewers will recognise Diarmaid MacCulloch’s name even if, like me, they have trouble spelling it.

The Oxford University Professor of Church History has a new three-part series on BBC2 on Friday nights called Sex and the Church.

In the latest issue of Radio Times (18-24 April 2015, p. 7), he opines on the Church and sexuality. His editorial, ‘Body and soul’ urges clerics to catch up with the rest of the world in this regard.

He states that Jesus had ‘surprisingly few words’ about sex. True. But, then, Jesus did not say much about many specifics of Christian life. Sex is not the only matter on which He remained somewhat silent.

MacCulloch, a Church of England deacon, has been openly gay since the mid-1970s. The son of an Anglican clergyman, he says:

“I was brought up in the presence of the Bible, and I remember with affection what it was like to hold a dogmatic position on the statements of Christian belief. I would now describe myself as a candid friend of Christianity.”[4]

However, why is he so mystified that our most senior clergy continue with cautious statements about sexuality? The New Testament letters, particularly those of St Paul, warn against certain sexual practices — heterosexual and homosexual — equating them with lying, theft and murder. Even if we excuse them, God condemns them all.

Of Scripture, MacCulloch told The Spectator in April 2013:

‘The essence of the authority of God is its thereness,’ he says. ‘It’s a bit like our relationship with our parents. There is nothing you can do about it. You can’t declare someone else to be your dad. That seems to me to be a statement about religion. I have a relationship with the Bible because it’s just there. I may not like what it says, I may not approve of it or obey it, but it’s there and I’ve got to cope with it.’

Oh, okay, then (not).

He closes his Radio Times piece with this:

Cheer up, bishops: in the wise words of Mae West, those who are easily shocked, should be shocked more often.

Wow. He might be upset about the quandary that the Anglican hierarchy are in regarding conducting same-sex unions in church, however, the Church is meant to be in the world, not of it.

The programme concerns ancient scandals:

Having looked last week at how the influential writings of St Augustine set in stone the idea that all sex, even within marriage, was sinful, he turns his attention this week to the revolution that turned that idea on its head for the first time in almost a thousand years: the Reformation.

First MacCulloch tracks back to the 11th century to examine how the Church deliberately set about increasing its power in society by taking control of the formerly civil institution of marriage, while at the same time increasing the pressure on its own clergy to embrace celibacy. A ban on clerical marriage resulted in appalling medieval hypocrisy – thousands of church-run brothels, and a sharp rise in incidents of clerical child abuse (“a pattern of behaviour repeated in recent years”) – which much of the Reformation’s religious revolution was in direct reaction to. The manner in which sexuality subsequently became one of the prime battlegrounds between Catholicism and Protestantism provides rich material for MacCulloch.

What is the purpose of MacCulloch’s telling us that there have been scandals in the Church from time immemorial? Most of us know this. The same licentiousness has taken place in every other social, religious and secular setting throughout history. This includes other world belief systems.

Even if we didn’t know about these ecclesiastical transgressions, true Christians realise that humanity lives in a fallen world. Furthermore, Satan will do whatever he can to destroy godliness. It’s what he does.

May we pray for the grace to improve and enhance Christ’s holy Bride and bring comfort to His followers. May the licentiousness, scandals and worldliness stop.

Temptation is always with us. Most Church historians could have explained this easily whilst revealing historical events.

What sort of ‘friend of Christianity’ is Diarmaid MacCulloch, anyway?

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