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GREAT BADDOW: Controversial rector resigns over 'theological differences'

By This is Essex  |  Posted: September 03, 2009

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A VILLAGE rector at the centre of a row over his controversial opinions on homosexuality has resigned.

Alan Comfort, 44, cited "theological differences" with his congregation as the reason for leaving his post at St Mary's Church, Great Baddow.

The former professional footballer angered members of his congregation with comments on same-sex relationships in July.

Spokesman for the Diocese of Chelmsford, Ralph Meloy, said: "It was apparent from early on that there were unexpected theological differences between the congregation and Mr Comfort.

"So he is taking this action believing it to be to the mutual benefit of all concerned."

Rev Comfort, who also acts as team chaplain for Leyton Orient Football Club, announced his intention to step down on Sunday.

The message was passed onto his congregation by associate minister, the Rev Sandy Southee.

Rev Comfort was unavailable for comment, despite numerous attempts to contact him.

The comments which angered sections of the congregation and the wider community in Great Baddow were made during services at the church, and later in an interview with the Essex Chronicle.

He stated that while he believed people have the right to choose how to live their lives, he himself also had the right to express his own views on those people.

Church-goers claimed the rector was dividing the congregation with anti-gay preaching.

But Mr Comfort, who took over at St Mary's in Great Baddow in March, insisted he was simply preaching the views of the Bible, although he admitted the Church of England's official stance was not clear.

He said, earlier this year, that although modern-day culture had moved and become more open to same-sex relationships, it didn't mean 'the church has to move too'.

He added at the time: "If you are a committed follower of Jesus and want to continue doing what the Bible says, then I believe that means sexual relationships are only appropriate within a married situation between a man and a woman."

Following his outspoken remarks, 'God loves gays too' stickers were plastered on a fence at the church.

Readers flooded the Chronicle letters page and website with messages both supporting and condemning Rev Comfort's stance.

Steven Evans, of the Essex Protestant Council, wrote: "What a sad reflection that a Christian minister can provoke anger simply for telling his congregation what the Bible teaches."

John, from Chelmsford, wrote: "I am convenor of the Essex group of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement and also of the Evangelical Fellowship for Lesbian and Gay Christians.

"My experience is not only that God loves gay and lesbian people but that He uses them in His service equally as much as non-gay people."

Despite calling at his home in Church Road, Great Baddow, making telephone calls and sending emails, no response was received from Rev Comfort.

Mr Meloy said: "St Mary's Church remains committed to serving the people of Great Baddow and the clergy and ministry team there will continue to focus on sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in Great Baddow as the process now begins to appoint his successor as team rector."

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    D D, Gt Baddow  |  October 03 2009, 9:40PM

    They anti gay evangelical preaching in RSA may well have convinced some yobs to do corrective rape and murder of a young lesbian footballer. Perhaps we need to be very careful in condemnation-helpful post A of Essex Thanks

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    Alan, Shenfield  |  September 14 2009, 4:10PM

    Thank you for that A. Very enlightening.

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    A, Essex  |  September 14 2009, 4:04PM

    Hi Alan B & Jo G, How I hate the Chapters and Verses in the Bible. They weren't there in the original. John Locke (Famous English Philosopher) said about dividing the Bible "into chapters and verses, as we have done whereby they are so chopped and minced, as they are now printed, stand so broken and divided, that not only the common people take the verse for distinct aphorisms, but men of more advanced knowledge in reading them, lose very much of the strength and force of the coherence, and the light that depends on it" Later he complains "we pick out a text here and there, to make it serve our turn, whereas if we take it altogether and consider what went before and what came after, we should find it meant no such thing" This is, I am afraid, very much what has happened, by taking just Romans Ch 1 v 27-32, as Jo, G does. Don't worry about it many preachers seem to do this :-) and come up with lost of funny ideas !!! In verse 18 Paul starts his logical argument which leads on to verse 27 and onwards You may not agree with his argument but it goes like this: 1. Since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities¿his eternal power and divine nature¿have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. Some people became Idolaters 2. verse 22 they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. It is in the context of idolatory that homosexuality occurs as do the other wrongs which Paul mentions through to verse 32. (religious sexual orgies???) - Now if people in this country bow down to wood and stone then ...... Paul states that these deserve death - just as he says in chapter 3 v23 "The wages of sin is death" It is spiritual death not physical death. Far from being an incitement to kill anybody - read on into chapter 2 3. You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. COMMENT: Paul is saying that despite the fact they deserve death no-one is in a position to condemn these idolaters since you do some of the things yourself. Paul pursues this argument showing that neither Idolaters/Jews/Gentiles are innocent and comes to the conclusion that "all have sinned and come short of God's glory". To paraphrase 'no-one is perfect' - which I assume that we can all agree with ;-) Having reached this conclusion, he proposes that the answer is trust in Jesus - by following his teaching and values, behaving as he did, because of his death and resurrection, and although failure is inevitable then God is merciful if we keep rethinking what we are doing and turning away from evil ( i.e. repent) Whether you believe what Paul says is of course optional, but I have outlined the argument.Taking part of it out of context will not do :-) ,

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    Alan B, Brentwood  |  September 14 2009, 12:47PM

    Often seems to be the case on this site, A. I now type out anything longer than a paragraph in notepad first.

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    A, Essex  |  September 14 2009, 11:59AM

    My latest comments seem to have gone inot limbo :-(

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    Alan B, Brentwood  |  September 11 2009, 1:44PM

    On an almost unrelated topic, I notice we currently have two stories, within 3 or 4 articles of each other, on the first page of 'Latest News', both concerning disgraced clergymen. In fact, both have been arrested for sex crimes. I can't help thinking that the sexual restrictions put on church leaders by their various traditions might in some way produce a higher proportion of deviants than in the general populous. Ordinarily, I would have made such speculation on one of the relevant comment threads. Comments seem to have been disabled on both, though. I wonder: would you care to explain this decision, Gazette/Chronicle? Is there some sort of legal problem with allowing people to comment on these topics? At the moment it just seems like you're protecting two despicable men from criticism.

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    Alan B, Brentwood  |  September 11 2009, 11:52AM

    Hi A, Thanks for your comments. You make some interesting points. I am aware of the difference between the New and Old Testaments. Borrowing from the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh), but repackaged, the Old Testament is undeniably a Christian artifact. How much of it still applies is the subject of lively debate within Christianity. You refer to "Expounding of the Law", the part of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in which he interprets Mosaic Law as laid down in the OT. It is true that Jesus offers some more liberal interpretations of the rules, but in Matthew 5:18 he seems, fairly unequivocally, to state that Mosaic Law may not ever be modified. It is easy to see how confusion arises. Thanks for your comments, Jo G. Yes, indeed; condemnation of homosexuals is not confined to the OT. Paul's diatribe (Rom 1:27-32), which you quote, is not only an obvious indictment of their way of life, but an exhortation to kill them. (It is worth noting that, while 1:27 quite clearly refers to gay people, the phrase "without natural affection" in 1:31 is widely understood by many Christians to mean "homosexual" and is the translation of "astorgos", the Greek word to which A refers in his post.) A, while you raise some good discussion points, I do not feel that they in any way invalidate my core argument. The moral teachings of the Bible, while not wholly bad, are, at best, incompatible with modern Western ethics. One can claim to derive their morality from the Bible only if one 'buys the whole package' and follows it to the letter. Once you start choosing which bits to agree and disagree with, your morality is informed by something else; modern secular values. The Church (most denominations, at least) has been frantically back-pedaling over various issues for the last hundred years or so. As the Western moral zeitgeist has become more liberal, the Church has had to become more tolerant in order to avoid alienating its followers. Obviously, there are still various sticking-points; homosexuality being one such bone of contention. There are many good moral teachings from the Bible that still stand today. These are inspired by an in-built sense of right and wrong, that most social animals have naturally evolved, rather than the word of God. Many of these ideas had been codified long before Abrahamic religion arrived on the scene. The internal inconsistencies and scattered instances of complete moral bankruptcy in the Bible suggest that its divinity and usefulness as a moral guide ought, at least, to be questioned.

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    Jo G, Romford  |  September 10 2009, 11:03PM

    A, Looks like it's you who's not up to speed, there are plenty of contradictory and hyppocritical things in the new as well as old testament, and God hates Gays in the New Testament too: 1:27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. 1:28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; 1:29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, 1:30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 1:31 Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: 1:32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. (Romans) I'm pretty sure that that one was specifically aimed at Gay people too, not too much lost in translation there eh?

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    A, UK  |  September 10 2009, 2:12PM

    Hi Alan B, Unfortunately you do not seem 'up to speed' with the bible :-) . The very name Bible comes from the same word as Library - in fact the Bible is 66 books, 39 in the old testament (Specifically Jewish writers) and 27 in the new testament ( Specifically Christian writers). The books are of all types History, Laws, Poetry, letters, stories, discussions etc. As far as the Old Testament is concerned the interpretation of it followed by Christians is the interpretation that Jesus gave by his teaching and by what he did. Several times Jesus said "you have heard it said in old times ( i.e. the old testament) but I tell you........." This was ultimately the reason for him being crucifed - because he did not agree with the interpretation of the old testament by the religious hierarchy of his time, who tried to make the people follow all the rules and regulations of the Old Testament to the letter. When asked Jesus said the whole of the old testament could be summed up by "Loving God with all your heart and your fellow human being as yourself". FYI The word translated as homosexual in the new Testament and condemned by St Paul is a only used in Greek Literature in the New Testament - if at all elsewhere. So the meaning is obscure since there were plenty of words for Gay in the Greek language - (they were really into it in a big way!!!). There is therefore scholarly debate going on as to what the word as used by St Paul actually means. It is a pity that many of the new "religious authorities" and individual churches have constructed rules - just like those in Jesus time. What goes round comes round as they say.

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    Alan B, Brentwood  |  September 10 2009, 12:22PM

    Touché, Alan. ;-) The point I guess I'm trying to make is that attempting to use the Bible as one's moral compass is absurd. Either you subscribe to biblical literalism and end up like the Westboro Baptist Church (google these guys if you've not heard of them), or you pick and choose the bits that you like. If, like most moderate Christians, you choose the second option, you are deciding your own morality, and don't need the book in the first place. Those people who criticise homosexuality on biblical grounds leave themselves open to accusations of hypocrisy whenever they eat shellfish (Lev 11:10-12) or fail to have unruly or disobediant sons stoned to death (Deu 21:18-21). After all, it is commanded in Deu 4:2 that nothing may be added or taken away from God's word (the Bible). I don't think there is a single person who has ever lived according to all the ridiculous, brutal and contradictory rules the Bible lays down - it would be impossible. Can you still be a Christian if you think you know which rules to follow better than God? People choose to speak out against homosexuality based on *personal* distaste, not divine mandate. It is cowardly to attack the gay lifestyle from a Biblical standpoint, as no one lives according to every rule it contains.

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