October 31, 2005

More on that idea

Picking up on a comment I made in the discussion on slavery with Todd Granger:
Obviously the parable of the origin of human sexuality (as the Jewish culture understood it) had greater impact on the course of the Jewish experience than did the story of Noah and his sons in terms of Canaanite slaver — at least for Jews. As you noted, this myth became a driving force for American slaveholders and racists.
I by no means speak as an expert on this subject, but my impression is that a greater “mandate” is attached to the commandment, “Be fruitful and multiply” from Genesis 1, than to the more plainly etiological story in Genesis 2. The commandment from the first chapter is regarded as “the first commandment” and is one of the reasons that celibacy is generally deprecated in the Rabbinic tradition. It is also one of the reasons advanced by the Rabbis for mandating the divorce of a sterile wife. (Mishnah Yebamoth 6.6) Neither of these teachings would find support in the Christian tradition, and represent a significant departure on Jesus’ part. In his teaching against divorce, Jesus appears to favor the importance of the permanence of the unitive function of the interpersonal relationship (Genesis 2) over the procreative function and law of Genesis 1.
Moreover, one of the striking features of the Genesis 2 story is that for the most part in the Jewish tradition, men did not in fact leave their parents’ household and join themselves to their new wife, but rather brought the wife into their household. (The operative Hebrew word for marriage, as still present in our marriage ceremony, is “lacach” = “take”). Some have suggested, given the overall apparent archaicism of the Genesis 2 narrative, that this represents a relic of an earlier age in which matrilocal marriage was the rule. In any case, I am not aware that this passage, unlike the earlier one, gave rise to much Rabbinic discussion. While Genesis 1 comes up a number of times in the Mishnah, Genesis 2-3 are passed over. This may reflect the fact that the passage in Genesis 1 is seen as a commandment, while the passage in Genesis 2 is seen as descriptive.
I suppose at the end I am forced to conclude that the material in Genesis 1-4 does not represent, as is commonly suggested, a strict mandate for “God’s plan for human sexuality” but rather an etiological reflection by a particular community upon its social origins and customs, assembled from various sources by various hands, not without certain tensions and contradictions, and more importantly, interpretations (some of them also at odds with one another) down through the ages.
If I can also take the opportunity to highlight another problem text, Romans 1: it is vitally important that this chapter of Paul’s letter be read in the context of Wisdom of Solomon 12-16, a Hellenistic Jewish reflection on the evils of idolatry and its consequences. One of the consequences of the Jewish linkage of male homosexuality with idolatry was a tendency for the Jewish community to blind itself to the presence of same-sex affection within its own community. As the Talmud says, “Israel is not suspected [of this kind of behavior]” while Gentiles universally are. This sort of cultural blindness is a well-known phenomenon even to this day; certain communities vociferously deny the existence of same-sex relationships within their population, and either render them invisible by calling them something else, or insisting, when they do become evident, that they are foreign intrusions, or an aspect of an “alien culture.” My point here is that Saint Paul carried this cultural bias as much as any of his fellow Jews; he no doubt saw any same-sex sexuality as a sign of corruption and degradation attendant upon an abandonment of God: because that was the only place he saw it.
—Tobias S Haller BSG

October 30, 2005

Slaves to an Idea?

An interesting discussion has been talking place over on Brad Drell's blog, concerning the place of slavery in Scripture and church history. I commend it to your attention. Here is my closing comment as of today:

A brief further comment: I certainly see your point about [the curse of Canaan in] Genesis 9 being an etiological myth, i.e., This is why the Canaanites are suitable as slaves. But the generation of such myths is, if I can express this in sociological terms, one way in which a culture justifies its behaviors -- essentially giving itself a kind of "historical mandate" whether as a command from God, or as in this case, an ancient curse from the (second) progenitor of all people.

But let me press the matter a tad further, bringing it to issues of more note (and division) than whether slavery is wrong or not. If Genesis 9 preserves an etiological myth, what about Genesis 2-3? Certainly that is a reading common among OT scholars: we are not reading literal history, but rather a parabolic (I prefer that word to mythic which some folks find upsetting) explanation for "Why things are the way they are." Why do men leave home and set up households with their wives? Why is childbirth such a difficult and painful phenomenon? Why do we die? Why do we experience shame? Why do we have to work so hard? and so on.

The problems we are facing at present in the Anglican Communion, I would humbly suggest, come in part from asking the wrong questions of these parables; or perhaps asking questions they were never intended to address; or accepting them as universal answers to all questions globally, rather than as particular reflections (within particular cultures) on a limited range of concerns as those cultures understood themselves and their world.

October 27, 2005

My brain... no surprises here

Your Brain's Pattern

Your brain is always looking for the connections in life.
You always amaze your friends by figuring out things first.
You're also good at connecting people - and often play match maker.
You see the world in fluid, flexible terms. Nothing is black or white.

October 25, 2005

Wisdom from Wales

Archbishop of Wales Barry Morgan has a number of very well thought-through things to say about Scripture and Sexuality. In particular, he offers a more nuanced look at Lambeth than is common in the midst of the heated discussions going on. I commend this long and thoughtful essay.

The Discontinuing Church

Fascinating article on a meeting of the various fragments of what calls itself "The Continuum." It is amazing to see how people can clothe pride in the mantle of abject humility, and endow chaos and obdurate contumacy with the corona of obedience and fidelity. I can only hope that this group takes the advice of Mr. Moyer:

Asked what can be done that has not been done before to unite orthodox Anglicans, Moyer said leaders of the various bodies should "seclude themselves in fasting and prayer until it is accomplished."


October 23, 2005

SPREAD-ing Division

Yet another organization has appeared on the scene: The Society for the Propagation of Reformed Evangelical Anglican Doctrine, or S.P.R.E.A.D., led by Bishop Rodgers of ... well, I can't keep straight in my mind what he's bishop of. Anyway, this document appears to call for the division of Anglicanism along familiar lines.

Personally, I've never gotten used to these lower-fat spreads. This one sounds too much like "I Can't Believe It's Not the Gospel!" It looks like the Gospel, and a little bit of it even sounds like the Gospel; but it leaves a sour aftertaste; and in spite of the assurances, I don't think it is really all that good for the heart.

October 21, 2005

An Immodest Proposal

After listening last week to the interview with the Nobel-prize-winning economist and game theorist, and his reflection on how game theory provides a way to maximize positive outcomes for all concerned in competetive situations, it occurs to me that a little game for the Anglican Communion might not be out of place. So instead of the "compromises" offered by most of the Conservative/Reasserter folks out there (i.e., "If you stop doing what we don't like we won't [a] throw you out or [b] leave...") let me offer this vision for an Anglican Covenant:

Each province shall govern itself in all matters pertaining only to itself. This includes the interpretation of the historic faith and order as expressed in the Book of Common Prayer of each province, by the superior synod of each province (in our case the General Convention; in Nigeria's case, their synod.) This way, some provinces might have same-sex unions, women priests, or gay bishops, but another province doesn't have to allow or accept them either in principle or as individuals. This draws upon the already existing Anglican notion of provincial diversity in matters of rites and ceremonies, and the provision for the local adapation of the historic episcopate as described in the Lambeth Quadrilateral.

No decision affecting all of the provinces shall be acceptable unless and until all provinces have approved such an action, through their particular superior synods. This would essentially give each province an absolute veto over any action that would force it to take a position with which it disagreed. (This is, more or less, how the Orthodox do things: recognition of Anglican orders was held up because of the veto by two of the autocephalous Orthodox churches, if I recall correctly.) Such actions and decisions would be, I take it, very few and far between, and on matters of such import the church would move very slowly; and more importantly, together.

Lambeth and the ACC would function as conferences and consultative bodies rather than as legislatures, meeting only to address such questions as mission and program. This might actually accomplish something and allow them to serve more as instruments of unity than as forums for division.

This would, IMHO, solve a lot of problems, except those of the people within the Episcopal Church who simply cannot abide the fact that they are in a minority, and are unwilling to abide by the decisions of our General Convention, or work to change them through proper legislative means.

Preamble to Change

I'm sure many will recall the conversations last year concerning the Preamble to the Constitution of the Episcopal Church. For those who don't, the Preamble states, in part, that the Episcopal Church is "a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, a Fellowship within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces and regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury..."

Some, such as the Anglican Network, hold that if the Episcopal Church were to cease to be part of the Anglican Communion, or no longer be in communion with the incumbent of the See of Canterbury, it would in fact somehow cease to be the Episcopal Church, and the Network, or perhaps some other pretender to the throne, would step in upon its recognition by Canterbury to become the "real" Episcopal Church. Such a mode of thought is laid out in the Network's bylaws, and in numerous comments by their leadership and supporters.

I have argued on the contrary that the Preamble (adopted in 1967, before which there was no Preamble) is descriptive and historical. It records that the Episcopal Church is one of the "regional Churches" that joined to constitute the Anglican Communion as it emerged in the 19th century. That is what the word "constituent" means: The Episcopal Church existed before there was an Anglican Communion, and was integral in its formation. Contrary to the assertions of the Network and others, there is no fiduciary language in the Preamble; the Episcopal Church does not exist for the benefit of the Anglican Communion, it does not "represent" it as if it were a subsidiary or franchise, and it is not dependent upon the Anglican Communion for its existence, since it existed before there was an Anglican Communion.

So what is odd at this point is the silence on the part of so many who were so outspoken last year about the Preamble and the role of Canterbury in determining Anglican identity, in the face of the Church of Nigeria's recent excision of reference to Canterbury from their Constitution. In place of Canterbury (as what the Anglican Consultative Council calls the "focus of unity" for the Anglican Communion) the Nigerians have adopted a confession focused on the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (complete, apparently, with its seriously deficient Eucharistic prayer), its Ordinal, and the 39 Articles of Religion, with Nigeria as the sole arbiter and interpreter of the same — at least as far as Nigeria is concerned. Nigeria is prepared to "walk apart" — if need be — from Canterbury.

I can well remember the hue and cry that arose from some of these same folks last year at the merest suggestion of disregarding, amending or deleting the Preamble to the Episcopal Church's Constitution.

Meanwhile, the erstwhile "South-to-South" encounter will take place next week, in a gathering of "like-minded" Anglicans from part of the South and some of the North, along with that same Archbishop of Canterbury whose mind, like it or not, may or may not be made up, or subject to change. And the gilded butterflies will talk of who's in and who's out, who loses and who wins, and the great ones will work out their packs and sects that ebb and flow by the moon.

Tune in next week for the BBC broadcast of Lear with +Rowan in the title role, and +Gomez and +Akinola as Goneril and Regan. I will be glad to play the Fool if asked.