January 6, 2006

A Global South View Rebutted

Tobias S Haller BSG

Dr Roland Chia’s article posted on the “Global South” website represents a good summary of the arguments asserted against the church’s recognition or legitimizing of same-sex relationships.(1) That being said, the article suffers from the usual faults of such reassertions. I will highlight two.

The Argument from Scripture

The use of Scripture is unsophisticated and sub-critical, without achieving the wisdom of the pre-critical Rabbinic or Patristic readings. For example, the relevance of the “Sodom” story to male homosexuality (apart from assault) has surely been widely debunked — even among reasserters.

More problematical is the casual mixing of the two creation accounts in a way that fails to acknowledge that in the second account there is no sexual congress until after the Fall. The procreative and unitive functions are therefore clearly separable: human society requires procreation for its propagation, but unity for its well-being; nor does the church forbid marriage to those incapable of fertility, nor does it terminate marriages at the onset of infertility. It is also clear that the command to multiply, which is also given to the wild creatures in Genesis 1, is supplemented and crowned by the command to loving society established in Genesis 2, which endures in the absence and beyond the cessation of any capacity to procreate; and which indeed also allows for the recognition of celibacy as a legitimate way of life, contrary to the explicit command of Genesis 1:28.

The use of faulty translations for key proof-texts is also telling. For instance, Jude 7 nowhere mentions “unnatural lusts” in the original; the text refers to going “after different flesh.” This is a Middle Eastern idiom for slander, analogous to our contemporary idioms “chew someone out,” “backbiting” and “dishing” — which is in keeping with the overall tenor of the Epistle. Moreover the reference to purported “sexual immorality” in the same verse uses a verb form that means “prostituted themselves” (ekporneusasai) — hardly a possible description of homosexual assault if that is what Sodom was about! — and most likely refers figuratively to idolatry and greed — in keeping with the use of this verb elsewhere in Scripture, and also far more in keeping with the rest of the Epistle, and indeed the other Scriptural references to Sodom.

More importantly, this condemnation of “going after different flesh (sarkos heteras)” — were it to be understood to refer to sexuality — would also go contrary to the whole idea of “complementarity” asserted by the good Doctor, in which he states that it is the purported “difference” between male and female that gives the proper license to sexual relationships!

The Flaw in the Premise:
Ontology recapitulates misogyny

This “complementarity” argument is also a weak point in the reasserter case. First, it does not meet the Scriptural standard: the Genesis 2 account is rather specific in stating that Adam’s joy in Eve is not because she is “different” from him, but rather because she is like him “at last”: bone of his bones and flesh of hisflesh (unlike the animals -- God’s first attempt to find a suitable companion (ezer k’ngdo; homoios auto, similis eius) -- who were made not from Adam but from the earth. Eve is “of one substance” with Adam. As Hincmar of Reims would later say, “Eva ipsa est Adam.

This notion that Eve is of the same substance with Adam is important as a theological point later on: the doctrine of the Incarnation insists that Jesus is of one substance with humanity solely through his mother, Mary: if woman was “missing” something that could only be supplied by a man (which is the ordinary dictionary definition of “complementary”) then the Christ could not be fully human — which is heresy.

The fallback argument that male and female are only complementary “functionally” fails to recognize the separation of the unitive and procreative functions in creation and in reality. Clearly male and female are complementary at the level of the gamete, in order to provide for sexual reproduction and procreation. But as we have already seen, sexual relationships between men and women are not restricted to those capable of procreation. With the removal of the procreative function from the picture we are left with an assertion that “something” complementary still remains. If this is only a purported anatomical complementarity of plugs and cavities there is nothing to distinguish human sexuality from most of the animals; and the argument of divine intent on this basis is unpersuasive and less than satisfying.

So this view still appears to rely on an underlying gender essentialism or ontology that is out of keeping with the orthodox understanding of the Creation and of the new Creation in the Incarnation. As I have noted elsewhere, this realization is leading some Orthodox theologians to reevaluate the tradition barring women from ordination; and I suggest it is also important in reevaluating the tradition on same-sex relationships, seeking a corrective to what I regard as a tragic cultural bondage (not to contemporary culture, but to the culture of a particular portion of the ancient Near East), towards a deeper and better understanding of God’s will that is comprehensible in relation to Scripture, Reason, and the best and deepest and most meaningful theological bases of Tradition.

Note 1. At least between men. He restricts his comments against lesbianism to his reading of Romans 1. Perhaps he recognizes the silence of the Hebrew Scriptures on such relationships, and as he is keen to stress a “whole Bible” argument, realizes the weakness of his case on that score. As noted in the critical literature, that Romans 1 refers to lesbianism is by no means sure; nor has that always been the reading of the text in the Tradition; Augustine, for example, thought it referred to women doing “unnatural” things with men. [^]


tonus peregrinus said...

Dear Tobias,

Dr Yap Kim Yao was a former Methodist Bishop and is presently pastoral advisor for the gay affirming Free Community Church. The article posted on the global South website is posted by Dr Roland Chia.

Anonymous said...


I'd love to get your comments

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Doppler Shifts,
Thanks for the correction; I misread the note that originally directed me to Dr Chia's article. I've made a correction to the article. Many thanks.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Salty V,

Thanks for pointing me to this fine reflection. The more I think about our present dilemma the more I am struck by the degree to which the major part of our difficulty lies in the culture(s) in which and through which the Scripture came to us. As to sex and sexuality, we are dealing with essentially a Bronze Age world view that literally didn't even know where babies came from. I say Bronze Age, as the view on matters sexual remained essentially unchanged through the Iron Age and indeed up to the eve of the Industrial Revolution. (The Royal Society was still receiving papers on the amazing minature horses and humans one could see nested in the spermatazoa recently made visible by the wonderful invention of the microscope. Erasmsus Darwin was still teaching that women provided nothing to the process of procreation than a nest for the nourishment of "the embryon" which derived solely from the male and not "by conjunction of male and female." (Zoonomia, 1794) No wonder we have the problems of gender essentialism, and an ontological misogyny!)

To develop a meaningful ethic (let alone theology) of sexuality, we must first be real about reality. Then we need to apply the truly ethical principles (love of neighbor, self-gift, mutuality, and so on) and determine if these are indeed applicable to same-sex as well as mixed-sex relationships. I think it is evident that they are.

I have yet to see an explanation of "complementarity" that doesn't lead either to heresy at one extreme (by parsing the human nature into two genera) or to triviality at the other (by the surmised "fit" of the sexual organs. Yet it appears that this is the lynchpin of the reasserter argument.

It is, I think, no wonder the tide is turning.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Dear Tobias,

I think this was a good theological analysis of this new post 1978 Paradigmatic fertility cult reading of Genesis 1-2 as mandatory heterosexuality.

I'll pinch it for my own blog, if I may?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Certainly Göran, please do "pinch" away! I'm amazed that so many self-styled "orthodox" are actually embracing a theology that isn't terribly far away from a pagan hieros gamos!

Anonymous said...

Interesting that you say this Tobias about the hieros gamos bit. As I was fretting in fitful and startful unsleep last night -- too much chocolate sauce and two infant children -- I began to come to the exact same conclusion. There's something just a bit idolotrous about the way one-man-one-woman marriage is held up. It is a "lady doth protest too much" kind of thing. I'm a married man. I believe every single word of the marriage rite in the Prayer Book, 1979. I do think this is the normative estate for holy sexual/family living. But I recognize there are other callings to other lives as well. Single life. Monastic life. Perhaps others as well. I think the beauty and intention of holy matrimony can be distorted or even subverted by the rising extremism of Matrimonialism proferred by some of the so-called orthodox. At the same, time, I also have long noted a too-much negative view of marriage by leftists so long frustrated and embittered by the far right's vice-grip hold on a claim to family value(s).

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks Augustus,
I did seek to post my response at the Global South site only to discover it was "members only" and decided I didn't want to join. Doubt I had any influence on the withdrawal of the article, though I suppose anything is possible.
All the best,