April 22, 2005

Some Issues with Some Issues...

Some Issues in Human Sexuality: A guide to the debate. London: Church House Publishing, 2003.

A review with comments by Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

A bit over a year ago, I was asked by my Bishop to take a look at the publication from the Church of England, Some Issues in Human Sexuality, and to offer some detailed comments on it. I would like to share my observations in this forum. I wish I could be enthusiastic concerning this publication, as it is clear that a good bit of work went into it; but I’m afraid that on the whole it is extremely disappointing. I say this not simply because the document reaches a status quo conclusion, but because in large part it appears that that is what it was designed to do: it is a particularly good example of “begging the question” — the conclusions are assumed as premises. Over and over when objections to a traditional view are raised, they are first to some extent misrepresented, and then “refuted” largely not by argument but by an appeal to the very consensus they challenge. The so-called consensus or mainstream thus becomes unassailable, and always has the last word.

Another major problem is the tendency to cast the net very broadly to find anything against a more liberal view of homosexuality, while presenting a very selective, and not very representative or well-represented response from the “revisionist” position. (I note in passing I’m also troubled by the use of certain code words such as this; “lifestyle” is another.) This is typical in the work of Robert Gagnon, who takes a maximalist view by reading an anti-homosexual meaning into texts few before him ever read in that way, and heaping criticism (sometimes fallacious and often irrelevant and ad hominem) on the various straw men he sets up, as well as the scholars whose work he misrepresents (or at least misunderstands) and impugns.

On a related note, one of the major flaws of this book is simply poor scholarship: it has the appearance of scholarship (footnotes, bibliography, citations, etc.) but the footnotes and citations often do not refer to the subject at hand.

I’m also troubled by the “soft” anecdotal “Voices from the debate” — these subjective elements add little to the discussion, and Bishop Forster, an ardent supporter of ex-gay ministries, sees to it that this aspect of the debate receives a disproportional representation, along with all of the demonizing language of “the strategy of the enemy.” In addition, although I understand the rationale for lumping bisexuality and transsexualism into the debate concerning secular issues and civil rights, I find that the attempt to deal with these issues in the present volume clouds the theological debate, as the issues are rather different.

My Notes on Some Issues in Human Sexuality

1.1.5 the last sentence articulates the mythology of the universal consensus on sexual morality through Christian history.

1.1.10f the use of “lifestyle” in this argument is insulting and beside the point

1.1.16 wrongly suggests that the industrial revolution is a major cause in the “breakdown of traditional forms of socially imposed morality.” Adultery was both common and condemned long before the industrial revolution.

1.1.23 this whole section about autonomy fails to address the Christian notion of love as the gift of one person to another.

1.2.7 states that the Protestant reformers argued for “equal importance of marriage and celibacy as forms of Christian discipleship.” The English reformers at least were not as enthusiastic about either as their catholic predecessors; they were suspicious of celibacy, and tolerated marriage as “an estate allowed.” The idealization of marriage is a relatively recent phenomenon and derives from largely secular sources (“marriage as the basis of society” etc.)

1.2.9 here we get the first reference to the problematical notion of complementarity. The definition of complementary as “differences between men and women ... intended for the mutual good of each” is not particularly truthful, nor does it relate to the dictionary definition of complementary as the lack of one made up by the other.

1.2.17 Aquinas’ argument is only hard to follow because it is a circular argument; it also partakes of an “ends justifies the means” ethic

1.2.21 again misrepresents the Protestant view of marriage and celibacy; Karl Barth harshly criticized celibacy in Church Dogmatics III, particularly celibacy in community, which he saw as a rejection of the “opposite” this is a misreading of Ephesians 5.32; the great mystery is the relationship between Christ and the church, as Paul says (“but I speak of Christ and the church”).

1.2.25 this is the first of several misrepresentations of Boswell’s thesis. Boswell’s conclusion was not about the intent of the rites so much as how they were used. That variant sexual relationships have been tolerated (if not affirmed) at various times in Church history is obvious. That the rites Boswell describes were used for same-sex blessings is evident in that this is one of the main reasons given for their suppression. Note also an example of faulty scholarship is SIHS: the footnote refers to a book published 12 years before Boswell’s work was published. While a number of scholars have disagreed with Boswell’s conclusions, SIHS fails to recognize is that that’s what scholarship is all about: scholars often disagree about any number of things but that doesn’t necessarily settle the question; on many of these issues the jury of history is still out. The search for consensus is at fault here. In cultural history (as in science of all sorts) the mainstream or consensus often awaits correction by the new discovery and understanding.

1.2.26 it is typical of a Roman Catholic document to say that tradition has always declared something which was only stated explicitly in the 1990s, i.e., that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.”

1.2.34 the forward thinking American BCP of 1785/89 also challenged the reasoning behind the so-called ends of marriage by removing reference to them from the rite

1.3.6 Gagnon has not advanced beyond the point of seeing the sexual organs as some kind of proper fit; in reality they aren’t particularly “well-fitting” as any woman whose husband knows nothing of sexual relations beyond “insert tab a into slot b” will attest; moreover, there is a whole field of science dedicated to the evolution of the form of the sexual organs, which in many species are intended to make fertilization difficult, not to promote it

1.3.8 it is interesting to see that the British in 1954 were aware that national servicemen “living in a predominantly male service community” might need some protection from each other.

1.4.11 needs to ask why “the official teaching about homosexuality in both the Church of England and the Anglican Communion in general has remained more conservative than it has on other subjects connected with sexual morality.” Might that not be prejudice rather than adherence to some pure truth?

1.5.2 how true for instance that “on some issues, for example, the need for faithfulness within and abstinence outside of marriage, its (the Anglican Communion) beliefs have not changed” except to the extent the provision for divorce and remarriage constitutes what many of those who opposed it considered a formal blessing of adultery.

2.1.4 it should be noted that authority as such is not in the Scripture but in the interpretation and explication and application of the Scripture.

2.2.15 what Hart fails to recognize is that even those who think they are doing type 1 interpretation are really doing type 2, because meaning does not reside in text.

2.5.12 citing Article VII on rites and ceremonies, I simply note that ordination and marriage are exactly that

2.5.16 it is not at all evident that the requirements of the council in Acts concerning food strangled or blood or meals associated with idolatry “relate to specific cultural and historical circumstances that have no direct parallels in this country today.” Scripture assigns these conclusions to the Holy Spirit, not societal or cultural pressure.

2.6.5 “the final point we need to note is that we cannot simply reduce the Bible’s ethical instruction to the command to love” suggests that Jesus didn’t know what he was talking about when he did exactly that.

2.7.4 Barton’s suggestion that “rather than biblical interpretation preceding and shaping Christian ethics and practice, it is the ethics and practice of the Christian community that needs to (and in reality does) precede and shape its biblical interpretation.” This seems a truism; we know the community came before the Scripture was written, and subsequently interprets what it wrote; only a certain class of biblical fundamentalists imagine the Scripture is the source rather than the product.

2.7.6 notice in this translation of 2 Timothy 3.16-17, the whole clause is in apposition to what precedes. “Every Scripture inspired by God is suitable for instruction....”

2.7.9 how to determine what reading is true to text? Whether The Merchant of Venice is a comedy or tragedy depends on whether you are Shylock or Portia.

3.1.2 “the biblical text nowhere identifies the image of God with some inherent human capacity to be or to do certain things.” On the contrary, the Johannine tradition locates this precisely in the capacity to love. (e.g. 1 John 4:16)

3.1.3 Genesis 1 analogizes the creation with the construction of a Middle Eastern Temple, in which the image of the deity is placed in the sanctuary in the center of the Temple. Thus God creates humanity in his image as the finishing note in his work, just as the builder of a Middle Eastern Temple would create the image of the god to place in the sanctuary.

3.4.7 John Stott disregarded the plain sense of Gal 3.28 because the plain sense of it would require of him something that he would find too difficult, that is, to overlook sexual differences within the church, including in its ministry and in its rites.

3.4.8 notice the disappearance of the idea of each person being made in the image of God from the previous section.

3.4.9 again this begs the question by saying that the Genesis accounts established something permanent about human sexual relationships rather than about their beginnings; this transforms a Creation account into a settled "thus and always so" (c. Titus 1:14-15; 1 Timothy 1:4)

3.4.17 the 2 quite distinct Genesis accounts (which are incompatible from a narrative standpoint) have been blurred together; that Jesus did this as a midrash to make a point about the indissolubility of the marriage bond is no reason to do it on a narrative level

3.4.23 the import in Genesis 2 is not that Eve is female but that she is human — it is her “likeness” to Adam, not her difference from him that is important

3.4.27 one could just as easily add same-sex covenant to marriage, community, etc., as a means of dealing with the fact that it is not good to be alone

3.4.35 circular reasoning: of course Anselm couldn’t have been homosexual because Anselm couldn’t have been homosexual as he understood homosexuality; so therefore all of the language he uses, that to any other person would mean homosexuality, couldn’t possibly mean what it appears to mean when Anselm uses it

3.4.50 this section is very poor; it stresses complementarity when Genesis 2 is about similarity

3.4.53 repeats the old heresy (yes, from a Christological standpoint) that “from now on neither is complete without the other. The man needs the woman for his wholeness, and the woman needs the man for hers.” This ignores the fact that Jesus Christ is perfect man complete in himself. Each human being is created in God’s image, and each person is complete and full in him or herself: the Chalcedonian definition declares that Jesus derives his human nature entirely from Mary, and she could not bestow what she didn’t possess, which is a full and complete human nature in all its perfection.

3.4.65 another circular argument

3.4.72 the married state is not exalted, even in the here and now, in the NT

3.4.74 it is specious to generalize that the first three chapters of Genesis provided some kind of “basic conceptual framework within which to understand and assess all that follows in the Old Testament” largely because the first three chapters of Genesis date from a later period than much of the rest of the Old Testament and can hardly be held to be constitutive. Otherwise those who composed the older sections of the Scripture wouldn’t have understood what they were saying! (This is a kind of pre-critical thinking here; surely the SIHS authors know the Scripture wasn’t written in the order in which we now have it bound in a single volume.)

3.4.75 the exclusiveness of the union between Adam and Eve is a result of the fact that there wasn’t anybody else. There is no suggestion whatsoever in the Old Testament that polygamy is sinful, though it may fall short of an ideal. It is explicitly provided for in the Law of Moses. (Dt 21:15f)

3.4.76 this does not answer Vasey’s critique. Jesus’ teaching is not pro-monogamy but anti-divorce; he is most likely responding to the rebbinic tradition that mandated the divorce of infertile wives (after ten years) in fulfilling the commandment to “be fruitful and multiply”

3.4.77 the New Testament does not affirm monogamous marriage; it allows it. The references in Timothy and Titus to one wife refer to being married only once; it is a proscription of remarriage in widowhood

3.4.78 if marriage is relevant within the context of “the new community created in by Christ” then where are all the married couples? There is no case in which marriage is seen as preferred rather than as allowed.

3.4.79 what Genesis 2 teaches about marriage is that it is permanent, not that it is the only human relationship

3.4.80f all of this could apply to same-sex couples as well

3.4.83 back to the circular argument

3.4.89f this pattern of argument is repeated: a good point versus opposition based on specious arguments

3.4.91 rejects “other forms of family life” as “at variance to God’s plans for human life” — why then did God choose to become incarnate in such an irregular variety of family life --- a woman pregnant (not by her husband) prior to marriage, and foster-fatherhood?

3.4.92 “the traditional pattern of family life is the best environment for the raising of children because it provides them with the greatest degree of security and stability.” Not only is this not borne out by studies but it overlooks the rich Christian metaphor of adoption --- starting with Joseph. The biological family is sometimes not the best place to raise a child. This is another example of the tendency towards misplaced and ill-informed idealism that afflicts this whole study.

3.4.93 now we are on to the well-being of society as a whole; this is plain and simple utilitarianism

3.4.96 here we have Karl Barth’s heresy in full, “real man, genuine fellow humanity, man and woman as they truly are.” Overlooking that Jesus Christ is true and perfect man. A man and woman do not become more complete as creatures through sexual union.

3.4.98 fails to meet the standards of Gal 3.28 — all that stems from race, status, or sex is of no import in Christ.

3.4.100 celibacy is not an option; it is presented by Christ as eschatological sign of the Kingdom

3.4.103 we get some real confusion here about the difference between singleness and celibacy. In this paragraph we seem to see a difference between the provisionality of singleness and the permanence of celibacy. But then celibacy is seen as something where marriage is “often” permanently renounced. Temporary celibacy is singleness.

3.4.108 now singleness is being talked about as a vocation. This language of call returns in 3.4.10, 3.5.5

3.5.4 assumes the mainstream interpretation must be right, ipso facto

3.5.8 obviously it would be much easier if gay and lesbian people didn’t exist since they are so hard to “fit into this picture.” Maybe the picture is wrong, or the viewers of it?

3.6.11 overlooks the fact that the same-sex relationship that is faithful without the external needs of a family or society might in fact be morally exemplary and superior to the “ends”- based marriage that stays together because of the external concerns such as the children, the house, the business, etc.

3.6.36 I don’t understand why Coakley is brought in at this point; the argument seems irrelevant.
Chapter four, voices: at the end of citation two this poor young man seems not to be able to distinguish his own “stubborn intellectual integrity” from the “willful interpretations” of the people who might have led him to some kind of healing or reconciliation. Who, in short, is willful here?

4.2.3 the traditional Jewish understanding of the visit to Sodom has nothing to do with homosexuality; this is clear from the Talmud
4.2.7 this time the consensus or the mainstream does appear to be on the liberal side. However...

4.2.8 it is now convenient to undercut this consensus with specious arguments. The unambiguous verb for sex is not yada but shakav.

4.2.9 the sin of Sodom was antecedent to the visit of the angels — so the sin for which the city suffered was not homosexual rape

4.2.11 here we have Gagnon at his worst; the Ezekiel passage simply because it uses the word abomination must be referring to homosexuality, even though Ezekiel never uses the word abomination in this sense elsewhere. As to Jude and 2 Peter texts — they refer to slander and malice, not sex. “Going after someone’s flesh” is a metaphor for slander, not lust. (For example, in Daniel 3:8 and 6:24/25 the idiom is simply accepted as such by the translators, and the colorful image of the Chaldeans “chewing on the Jews’ parts” becomes simply, “they denounced them” and those “who chewed on Daniel’s parts” becomes “who accused him.”) The slander of “the glorious ones” — whether angels or the rightful leaders of the congregation, is the focus of Jude’s rhetoric.

4.2.14 in an astonishing misuse of evidence, even though they state that “the texts we have just looked at say nothing directly about this topic” they immediately refer them to “sexual relationships that fall outside the limits the God has laid down”!

4.2.16 this whole section completely misreads Leviticus and its context

4.2.21 only raises one of Milgrom’s three objections; the others are more significant

4.2.23 totally misrepresents the use and significance of the word abomination; the citations from Proverbs are irrelevant — this is wisdom literature not legal code, from an entirely different era, and figuratively expands the concept of abomination; it is only in Proverbs that the phrase “toevah adonai” is used; and all other uses here are metaphorical as in “righteousness is abominable to the sinner”

4.2.24 completely overlooks Milgrom’s very serious observation that lesbianism is not covered by this commandment; while the commands on bestiality do cover both men and women. The complete absence of a Levitical proscription on lesbian sex should indicate that this is a social/cultic matter, not a divine command, unless one wishes to take this literally and believe that God only forbids male homosexual acts (between Jews in Israel, as Milgrom notes)

4.2.25 fails to observe the difference between ritual and cult

4.2.27 it is not that “Commandments regarding human sexuality are intended to prevent the violation of the boundaries between natural and unnatural laid down by God in creation.” It is because they were practiced by the Egyptians and the Canaanites. That’s what the text says. If we take the text literally, then, there is nothing unnatural about lesbianism.

4.2.30 Deuteronomy 25.5, raises the whole issue of the levirate law. I take it there is not desire to affirm this part of God's ordinances. (Note to England: this is an issue of some relevance to Henry VIII.)

4.2.33 whatever else it is this is clearly a cultic regulation

4.2.28 Gagnon is wrong again: the rejection is not of homosexuality or of prostitution but of cult; the verses are about men and women, hetero- and homosexual, and the only common factor, which is the reason for the condemnation, is the cult. Milgrom notes (Lev 17-22; p 1789) that Temple prostitution is a bad translation for this phenomenon

4.2.39 it’s not homosexual prostitution that is condemned, but cult prostitution by either sex

4.2.40 appears to reach a conclusion when it hasn’t understood the evidence

4.2.41 what does Deuteronomy 25.5 say about God’s intention for human sexuality?

4.2.45 is begging the question ever valid?

4.2.49 the Old Testament is severe because it is protective of the cult; the cult preserves the cult-ural division of Israel from its neighbors

4.3.2 the whole section on Romans 1 confuses punishment and crime

4.3.6 the very important observation of the rhetorical relationship between chapters 1 and 2 is never taken up again until page 264 in section 8.4.17; this rhetorical device is crucial to the proper understanding of Romans as a whole

4.3.12 other recent scholarship supports the view that the "unnatural" female sexual activity referred to irregular heterosexual intercourse. This was Augustine’s view. (De nup. 2.20)

4.3.14 Barrett rightly notes that the sexual practices are a consequence of idolatry

4.3.17 when Paul talks about shameless acts in Rom 1.27 if he was thinking of Leviticus 18 and 20 as Dunn suggests, he would not have been thinking about the abomination; the shameless acts (aschemosunen) described in Leviticus are heterosexual. Aschemosunen means “making naked” — the “uncovering of the nakedness of your mother, sister, etc.”

4.3.21 Gagnon again — para phusin may simply mean “alternative use”; and all of this talk about the glove-like fit and the lack of mutual pleasure is simply ignorance. Not all penile-vaginal sex is mutually pleasurable, and there are numerous forms of sexual behavior practicable by homosexual and heterosexual people alike that are!

4.3.23 the section ends without noting the significance of Romans 2 for the impact of the rhetorical argument

4.3.28 would St. Paul have appealed to the law?

4.3.29 Hays cites Scroggs but then misuses his argument

4.3.33 note that Genesis 1 and 2 might well be qualified as Jewish myths. Neither will stands as a literal historical account --- and they cannot stand together as literal because they are contradictory in detail, narrative and sequence.

4.3.37 Orthodox rabbis precisely narrowed the meaning of the critical proscription to anal intercourse

4.3.39 male homosexual acts would not constitute adultery under Jewish law. A man can only violate someone else’s marriage.

4.3.41 implies that somehow only the same-sex regulations of the old covenant are still binding on God’s people under the new covenant, without explaining why

4.3.52 the refutations are extremely weak and offer no real evidence

4.3.60 it is not a “logical conclusion” but a reductio ad absurdum

4.3.61 Gagnon once more makes a false summary: “No first century Jew could have spoken of porneai (plural) without having in mind the list of forbidden sexual offenses in Leviticus 18 and 20.” In Mark 7.21 all of the sins are in the plural, it is the NRSV that renders them as singular. No Jew would read Leviticus 18-20 into porneai: even the root of the word is rare in the Torah (in the LXX), and in Leviticus it only refers to actual prostitution. The LXX only has one use of the plural form of which Gagnon makes so much, in 2Kgs 9.22 — the “harlotries” of Jezebel -- which are metaphorical.

4.3.63 utterly fails to understand celibacy not as a mere option but as an overturning of the first commandment to “be fruitful and multiply.” In this Jesus “undoes” Genesis’ first mandate to humans, because he is inaugurating a new creation for the new humanity.

4.3.64 Gagnon again: there is no “uniform opposition within the Judaism of [Jesus’] day” — homosexuality is hardly mentioned in rabbinic Judaism. And remember there is nothing whatsoever in the Torah against lesbianism. Rabbinic Judaism does not treat a married woman caught in a lesbian relationship as an adulteress. She is punished for disobedience, but not executed.

4.3.71 the lifestyle again; what about the prostitute it Luke 7

4.3.77 the Acts Council is not about accepting certain people, it is about not restricting certain actions.

4.3.78 begs the question

4.3.79 but we don’t observe the blood prohibition which is one of the four specifically binding rules on the alien: Leviticus 17.10; see also 24.16: Lex talionis is binding on all.

4.3.81 tries to have it both ways; it is hard to read the Jewish attitude towards homosexuality into the apostolic ban since it isn’t part of the apostolic ban.

4.3.82 the blood prohibition is not one of the Jewish food laws; it is in a different class altogether; it is Noachide in origin and thus not “Jewish” and held (in Rabbinic Judaism, derived from Genesis) as biding on all human beings. And if the food laws aren’t important (as in binding on the alien) then why did the authors bring them up at 4.3.70?

4.4.3 since “this general agreement has ceased to exist,” where is the so-called consensus

4.4.5 offensive use of the phrase “takes seriously” as if other views don’t

4.4.10 apparently to “take seriously” means to take the traditional view

4.4.21 because it is convenient to argue that the idea that “there was no awareness in the ancient world of the idea of homosexuality as an innate or congenital orientation,” the authors attack this straw-man. But what could all of the “change” language that they take such pains to develop in sections 4.3.16 to 22 possibly mean — Paul’s language of change. Change from what? If Paul did not believe that people were naturally heterosexual, why would he have all of that language of how people had changed their natures.

4.4.23 “While we should certainly take people’s sense of themselves with the ‘utmost seriousness’ it would mark a radical break with the Anglican theological tradition if it were to be accepted that this should be given priority over the witness of holy Scripture when making moral decisions.” God forbid we should actually believe people's accounts of their own experience! This contradicts the part of Lambeth Resolution 1.10 that called for listening to the experience of gay and lesbian people. If the evidence of personal experience is to be dismissed beforehand as irrelevant, or even more insultingly listened to and then ignored, then why bother? Indeed, some have expressly rejected this portion of the resolution.

This is not just about some alleged new leg to the “three-legged stool” called “experience.” The issue here is the nature of revelation: the initiative is entirely from God’s side, but the perception/reception is entirely on our side, thorough and with human experience. The Holy Scripture itself is the result of human response to God’s revelation. Whether the burning bush, the resurrection appearances, or Paul on the road to Damascus, the experience of the individual in the face of God’s revelation is the primary evidence whose authority we either trust or dismiss: they become the entry points for God’s action in the world.

The church is badly in need of an Emmaus experience to have its heart warmed and eyes opened. Otherwise the church falls into the trap it did when the Apostles refused to believe thewomen who had personal experience of the risen Christ: “But it seemed to them to be an idle tale.” (Luke 24:11) How many resurrection appearances does it take before a “consensus” is reached that Christ is truly risen?

4.4.24 listening to people, it appears, is simply an “attempt to relativize the witness of Scripture” — again notice that people who disagree with the premises of this paper are assumed not to take Scripture seriously. But why do we listen to the witness of the people who wrote the Scripture in the first place?

4.4.26 while they seem strained to “admit that there is an element of truth in his argument” actually it is evident; the Scripture emerges from a sexist and heterosexist milieu and worldview; it is not above and beyond human culture. It is no more troubling to think that those who recorded the Scriptures lacked a full and complete understanding of human sexual dynamics than to admit that they had a less than perfect understanding of human reproduction or the solar system.

4.4.27 “the biblical vision for the relationship between men and women is fundamentally patriarchal in nature; patriarchy is as much about fertility as it is about power” — the question is not hierarchy but procreation. They really want to have it both ways, missing the fact that you can’t say marriage is for procreation and then say that it isn’t about patriarchy, which in the world of that time only knew that as a way of determining parenthood.

4.4.40 is needlessly obtuse. Although Christ comes to us mediated through the Scripture he also comes to us in the sacraments and the teaching of the church. This section veers dangerously close to sola scriptura

4.4.43 more begging the question: “I think homosexuality is a sin and God came to deliver us from sin and that includes homosexuality.” That is not a conservative approach to the debate; that is a tautology.

4.4.48 “once we accept that gay and lesbian people are the objects of God’s creative activity this means there is no fixed order of creation in the light of which we are called to live.” Unless gay and lesbian people are indeed part of that fixed order, but those who wrote Genesis were not aware of this reality. What if God’s fixed order has nothing to do with the sex of people? How “fixed” is it if in Christ there is “no more male and female”?

4.4.49 we are in the world here of “any change in the moral teaching” equals “no fixed morals.” This slope isn’t just slippery, it is vertical. This seems to be innocent of awareness of much of the change in moral teaching over the last century. To change something does not necessitate changing everything.

4.4.51 confuses Alison’s reading of the text with the text itself. It is ultimately only God and not any part of creation that is natural in every sense of the word.

4.4.52 once again we hear how important Jesus’ teaching about men and women being meant to be “joined to each other as one flesh for life.” One wonders why this paper isn’t about divorce rather than about homosexuality.

4.4.53 by placing our concept of what is “natural” in the place of God we commit idolatry — that is Alison’s point

4.4.57 I would say that the existence of controversy is exactly why we cannot always have unequivocal teachings about the subject. The fact is, “that some people have either misread them, or simply do not wish to accept what they are saying.” However, I believe it is the conservatives who have misread and do not wish to accept the true reading which is even now emerging as greater understanding is brought to the texts.

4.4.60 while “the jury is still out on the causes of homosexuality” — whatever the causes, homosexuality is natural, for it exists widely in nature. As someone once said, if you can do it, it is natural. We don’t know what “causes” heterosexuality either.

4.4.66 why in these discussions do they always talk about “other human problems, such as drunkenness and violence” — this begs the question by assuming that homosexuality is a problem. Why not talk about other human gifts, like musical talent or the ability to be charitable?

4.4.70 “taken to its logical conclusion it would mean that the Bible would cease to have a normative function in our ethics and merely be used to affirm what we already believe on other grounds.” Ironically, the authors here have named the very process by which they are working, and by which the church has always worked. The church always ignores the things it no longer finds convenient. The Bible does not, in the life of the church, have normative function: rather, the church uses selective portions of the Scripture to validate what it wishes to enforce in each era. This is how earlier generations were able to justify slavery and condemn divorce.

5.2.18 “the right to pursue personal happiness in this way has come to be widely regarded as integral part of people’s human rights” — maybe it makes sense then, given the Declaration of Independence, which substituted “pursuit of happiness” for Locke’s “property,” that Americans should take the lead.

5.2.22 “as we noted in Chapter Three, Christians have held that the traditional pattern of family life is that which is most conducive to the flourishing society as a whole.” Putting aside the question as to whether the traditional pattern of any life is in fact the most beneficial to society, Jesus and Paul both supported celibacy as opposed to the traditional family. Where your heart is, there is your treasure! If it is the family you idealize, that is where you will worship. This is simply a statement of a kind of revisionist secular humanism. The authors see themselves justified “in rejecting patterns of sexual relationship that they see as undermining family life.” A good look at divorce would be in order -- but faithful same-sex couples can only help to build up society by their fidelity.

5.3.38 now they’re defining complementarity as “equality in difference” — this definition, which differs from the one at 1.2.9, is no more reasonable than the one outlined there.

5.4.6 we got this far and there’s been no mention of David and Jonathan.

5.4.7 finally Boswell’s claim is articulated correctly, that the “brother-making ritual” had functioned as a same-sex union.

5.4.8 this misrepresents Boswell’s claim that the rite functioned — for some — as a means to sanctify their relationship — whether erotic or not.

5.4.24 not proven; the passage about women in Romans 1 may refer to anal intercourse, or to a woman in the “dominant” position.

5.5.10 I’d rather take the minimalist view and look only at particulars rather than generalities. There are ultimately only persons. This is the difference between spirit and law. The spirit looks to individuals as such, the law sees only classes of behavior — not the persons made in Christ’s image in whom there is “no more male and female” i.e., no more of that “Genesis stuff.” Christ does not simply restore paradise, he makes a new creation. See below on 5.6.2

5.5.18 human care is indeed the litmus test for holiness. And it is always specific: it is no coincidence that a casa, while a home, is also a case — an actual occasion

5.6.2 Paul explicitly uses “no more male and female” in Galatians 3:28 as a direct rebuttal to Genesis 1:27; his is speaking of a realized eschatology. If the church is not to be the sign of the eschaton — which is end both in terms of goal and accomplishment --- what use is it? It is then just a benediction of secular society. (Is the establishment role of the Church of England showing here?) I’m sure the authors of True Union in the Body would not like to think that the nuptial imagery in Revelation describes bestiality — the marriage of the Lamb with the New Jerusalem could hardly be described as “one man, one woman marriage.”
The available evidence supports Freud’s claim; in reality most people are capable of bisexuality and culturally geared towards heterosexuality. The British Public School system, as C.S. Lewis described it in his autobiography, is a good example.

If we don’t insist on some component of friendship in marriage, then what about marriage after menopause? If we only see marriage as the means for the fulfillment of external ends (children, a good society, etc.) rather than as the locus for the self-giving love exemplified in Christ and the Church, in which the beloved is the end and not the means to some other end, then we have an ethically defective and essentially mercenary view of human relationships.

The authors see “the danger that a focus on friendship as a controlling metaphor for God will lead to a sidelining of other biblical images that stress the sovereignty and authority of God over human beings” — in response I note that it was God’s idea to become our friend, as spelled out in John 15:15. Some people would rather have the stern disciplinarian rather than the loving Father.

6.4.3 again disvalues personal experience, as if reality should have no impact upon our understanding. When reason trumps Scripture, reason wins. Always. And so it should.

6.4.8 the slippery slope argument appears once again; if we allow for bisexuality it “means moving to a position in which all forms of sexual activity are to be accepted if they meet the needs and desires of the people concerned.” That is not what is being said. We see here again the ongoing struggle between idealism (which soon becomes idolatry) and realism — the latter is based on the Incarnation, the former on too much reliance upon a “doctrine of creation” which overlooks the significance of the new creation in Christ
Chapter eight, “Voices” page 252: the quote that ends at the top of the page is from an ex-gay who notes that not all gays are able to “be healed” — “in the end healing is a mystery, and we must trust in the righteousness of God’s way for each individual.” — unless of course God means the person to be gay. Could it be that God intends some people to be gay?

In the next to the last quote we have the unfortunate language about the “strategy of the enemy.”

8.2.7 betrays the logical slip between bisexuality, and bisexual sexual activity.
The final point, about sexually active relationships among the clergy being rejected: another circular argument

8.3.5 Vibert says, “Paul is calling for a greater exemplification of the one standard amongst those who were going to lead the flock, not a lower standard for the laos.” But doesn’t it amount to the same thing: if one is higher then aren’t the others automatically lower, whether you’ve lowered them or raised the other? It is all relative.

8.3.6 again it is assumed that those take a liberal view are “ignoring biblical principles” — what it all really depends on which biblical principles you are talking about

8.4.17 “there is a need to avoid the hypocrisy of singling out homosexuality as a particular bar to participation in the life of the church while conveniently overlooking forms of sin to which others in the church may be subject.” This is however exactly what has happened regarding ordination.

8.4.19 Atkinson can only state that the first word a homosexual person “seems to hear from the Christian Church is one of moral rebuke.” Seems?

8.4.24 the Catch-22 reappears: a more liberal approach conflicts with the majority of Christian opinion. Perhaps the majority opinion is mistaken.

8.4.25 “the line on sexual morality taken in Issues in Human Sexuality still reflects the consensus of typical scholarship and the prevailing mind of the Church of England, and it would be both wrong and impossible for the church to move officially to a more liberal position as long as this remains the case.” But to what extent — as in this document — is the mere existence of a tradition used as a means of perpetuating the tradition.

8.4.27 Genesis 1-2 does not mention the civil phenomenon called marriage.

8.4.31 note that the question in the ordinal of the Book of Common Prayer calls upon the ordinand to frame his or her life according to the doctrine of Christ, not the doctrine of Saint Paul

8.4.39 to allow faithful homosexual relationships on the basis of Paul in 1 Corinthians 7.9 would be in line with what Paul may have meant, since civil marriage is the only marriage that existed in his time; in verse 7.10, 28, 34, 36 and 39 gameo can apply to the wife as well

8.4.43 indeed, if the church has weakened on divorce given the greater explicitness of Scripture and tradition, homosexuality should be easier, not harder

8.4.44 unfortunately we are back to the Catch-22; paragraph b completely misses the fact that only male homosexual acts are referred to as an abomination; and not “before God” by the way; and in the last line in this paragraph Sibley engages in mind reading about what St. Paul’s original intent may or may not have been

8.4.45 “the Bible and the Christian tradition allow for the possibility of divorce and even remarriage, whereas they give no such support to same-sex relationships.” How easily the camel enters the gateway of an open mind! No citations, no argument, just an assertion of a notion contrary to the tradition until about fifty years ago.

8.4.47 now it’s only “perhaps the majority” who regard Jesus’s teachings on divorce as clear

8.4.72 this paragraph is a consequence of confusing mandatory abstinence with charismatic celibacy

8.4.74.a confuses revelation with one’s own understanding

8.5.4 homophobia is not just about violence, but about a psycho-social attitude, much like racism

9.3.2 fails to notice that because opinion “remains divided” on the subject of homosexuality it can scarcely be “a position” — one cannot claim to have the consensus one lacks, unless the consensus is that we don’t agree.

9.3.4 refers to “those who accept the authority of Lambeth” — a very important point, since Lambeth from its very foundation rejected taking the position of authority

9.6.3 this whole section is simply an embarrassment, and seriously misrepresents postmodernism

9.6.8 Postmodernism is not self-refuting; there is a difference between a logical conclusion and a reductio ad absurdum. In the third paragraph the authors have confused the distinction between context and substance — not surprising since they are in fact essentialists. The point of postmodernism, that “timeless truths” are not necessary, is incarnational: truth exists in every time suitable to the time and to the occasion. A close reading of the church’s record, and how many “timeless truths” have later been shown to be in error, is in order. Galileo would remind us that it is all about worldview.

9.6.59 there is significant debate as to whether “ex-gays” were ever really gay, and to what extent those who were gay are really “cured.” Some conservatives even deny that there is a "gay identity" and that is it only a lifestyle choice. Mere choice should be easier to change, and the fact that it isn't easy to change seems to point to the fact that this is not a mere matter of behavior.

9.6.62 “those who take a more conservative approach would note, however, that there is also a danger of confusing the spirit of God with the prevailing attitudes of contemporary culture.” The point is that God has given us a way to tell the difference — the fruits of the spirit. And what of those who confuse the spirit of God with the prevailing attitudes of past cultures?

April 13, 2005

Connecticut Yankees in Ecclesiastical Court — Or Not!

It seems to me we need greater precision on exactly what “communion” is before we can legitimately talk about people “abandoning” it. Canon IV.10 offers only the barest help: one abandons communion “by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship of this Church, or by a formal admission into any religious body not in communion with this Church,” and then adds unhelpfully “or in any other way...” which opens a Pandora’s box of litigious possibilities.

It seems at present that the criterion for determining abandonment of communion is a bit like Potter Stewart’s famous definition of pornography, “I’ll know it when I see it.” When the penalty for abandonment is as serious as deposition, should there not be a clearer definition, at least, somewhere enshrined in the law? The new Title IV, with its pages of definitions, doesn’t touch on either communion or abandon. Also undefined is renunciation. We know (or think we know) what it means when a priest “renounces the ministry” — but just what does it mean to renounce the Doctrine, Disciple or Worship of this Church? Is renunciation the same as denunciation? How harsh does a critique have to be before renunciation is involved? Or does the renunciation only become a formal renunciation when it declares itself explicitly as such — rather like papal infallibility?

At present the confusion is exacerbated by people tossing around terms like “broken” or “impaired” communion, and declaring themselves in one state or the other. Is the Anglican Church of Rwanda a “religious body not in communion with this Church”? Legally speaking? This also affects letters dimissory, doesn’t it? And what is “formal admission” — what about an Episcopal cleric who is also a member of the Ethical Culture Society — or the Society of Friends? (I think there was a bishop from the Antipodes who was also a registered Quaker, but my memory may be faulty on that.) Some years prior to my ordination I was a dues-paying member of the Roman Catholic National Assembly of Religious Brothers: would that constitute “formal admission” or “a religious body”?

In the meantime, I will continue to pray for all in the current dispute in Connecticut, and hope that perhaps some greater clarity in terms of the nature of the charge can be worked into Title IV. I am glad to see that the proposed revision puts this charge on an equal footing with all of the other things clergy are supposed to “refrain from” — meaning a uniform mechanism for response to the charge, and a capacity for trial and appeal. Short of clarity or due process (which is IMHO very much lacking in this present Canon), I would suggest the excision of this troublesome category altogether.

April 8, 2005

More on Sense and Consensus

The “hotter” the issue the harder it is for to capture the sense or consensus (if there is one) or even the range of opinions in a group accurately, whether by a poll or a vote of the whole body. In the Brotherhood of Saint Gregory we use a “consensus tool” in which, instead of straight up and down votes on certain matters, everyone votes on a scale of 0-10 (0=completely and utterly opposed, 10=completely and utterly in favor, and 5 as the midpoint means no opinion either way), and the results are both averaged and graphed and action taken (or not) in response.

This produces some interesting results. For instance, on subject X you might have a majority who are moderately in favor but a minority strongly opposed. For instance, four people score the issue as a 6 (mildly in favor) and three score it at a 2, rather strongly against it. If this were an “up and down” vote it would be approved, but the average is actually at 3.86, a No position. Should the “majority” who are only moderately in favor bow to the stronger feelings of the minority who are strongly opposed? (Usually in cases like this we decide to wait until we have a greater consensus!). If something like this could be worked out for the church as a whole, I think we might in fact get a reasonable sense as to the range and relative strength of opinion on any number of matters, with the caveat that just because people feel a certain way (even strongly) doesn’t make them right!

Polling and Polity

There has been some discussion of late on the House of Bishops/Deputies list concerning two related “political” matters:

  • the meeting of the upcoming session of Executive Council conducting its discussions concerning future participation in the Anglican Consultative Council in closed session, and
  • the possibility of conducting some kind of a “poll” of the whole Episcopal Church to determine what everyone thinks about the issues before us
  • On the first point, according to the rules of order, although it is possible for the Executive Council to enter a closed session, no decision (other than procedural) can properly be taken during such a session. This is fairly standard in the laws of deliberative assemblies, although we are seeing unfold before us even now one of the principle exceptions: the election of a pope by the College of Cardinals.

    On the second point, it seems to me that the historic documents (the XXXIX Articles) and the reflections of people like Richard Hooker and Bishop White outline the delicate balancing act that Anglicans try to maintain in their polity. Features of this include:

  • recognition that the laity have a voice in decisions, usually through select lay leaders, while at the same time
  • clergy receive, as part of their ordination, a “place in the councils of the church” and bishops are given special charge to preserve unity even in the case of disagreements
  • Together these two factors incline towards a “theology of leadership” as opposed to a “town-meeting-style” absolute democracy, or even, strictly speaking, representative government. The leaders are chosen not simply because they represent or mirror the opinions, desires, or beliefs of the larger body of the faithful (whether determined in a poll or a plebiscite), but because of their wisdom, skill, prudence, charity, clarity and so on.

    It is a delicate balance, and the third and crucial counterweight that keeps it relatively steady is the capacity to admit to error and make corrections. Even with prudent leadership and inclusion of lay, clerical and episcopal voices, the church sometimes still errs. And the same would be true if the church operated as a strict universal democracy in which all members had an equal vote, or one in which a single monarchial figure was invested with titular infallibility — no political structure is immune from the possibility or error; and the tyranny of the mob is virtually indistinguishable from the tyranny of an elite or a sole dictator.

    The greatest concern for Anglicanism at this point is not openness about the sexuality of bishops, but the move to diminish the role of the laity and “inferior” clergy in the councils perceived as instruments of unity, three out of four of which consist solely of bishops (a significant number of them not elected in a process involving the laity and clergy), and two out of four consisting solely of Primates.

    The only international Anglican body that is structured in a traditional “Anglican” way (at least as Hooker and White describe it), therefore, is the Anglican Consultative Council. This is why the continued participation of the “dissenting” participants is crucial to any wholesome future for the Anglican Communion. Were the ACC to disbar the participation of the duly elected representatives from the Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada — and who knows who else in coming years — any legitimacy will have been forfeited to the domination of the majority view.

    April 4, 2005

    The Grim Reapers

    The fields are ripe for reaping, and the laborers are few. Sadly, the few laborers seem to be spending too much time arguing about what areas should or shouldn't be reaped and by whom, what kind of reaping technology would be most effective, and the qualifications and disqualifications for being a reaper. Happy the servant who is found at work when the master returns, and woe to the servant whose preoccuption with the other servants’ suitability obstructs their work.

    April 1, 2005

    The Real Absence

    The Primates of the Anglican Communion have requested the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada to consider withholding their representation at the next meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council. The ACC is the only one of the four “instruments of unity” that is legitimately constituted, in that it was constitutionally ratified by a majority of the individual member churches of the Communion as a consultative body. This request will be taken up for consideration by the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, which is canonically responsible for electing the three U.S. representatives to the ACC.

    I think this request is unethical and immoral in addition to being, technically, illegitimate. Such a request, even were it to come from the ACC itself, absent due process, would be the same. I find it appalling that people who profess themselves Christians could countenance such behavior, especially when they would hardly consider doing so themselves if the shoe were translated footwise.

    For instance, Ft. Worth and Pittsburgh and a few other dioceses are in a dissenting minority on some of the issues before us. These dioceses have actually taken steps that appear to neutral eyes to be unconstitutional (rejecting the legitimate governance of the church of which they purportedly form a part, as they choose, and qualifying their accession to the authority of the Episcopal Church). Would it be acceptable to these dioceses to be told that they should voluntarily refrain from sending Deputies or their Bishops to the next General Convention? (They've already withheld their money.) Would they find that honorable or reasonable, to say nothing of prudent?

    I think, pace Stephen Sykes’ essay on the subject, that it is immoral and unethical for the US and Canadian churches to absent themselves from a Council in which their voices are crucial. I think that trading peace for communion (difficult as it may be) is immoral. I do not, in this case or in any other I can think of, accept the doctrine of pluriform truth. (I do think there are some things the truth of which is incompletely known, but that is about epistemology, not reality).

    It is neither humble nor prudent nor decent nor honorable to submit to tyrrany in an effort to preserve a specious unity that is in fact destroying the very institution it purports to preserve.