March 27, 2007

They Will Never Learn

Those Bishops who voted for Lambeth Resolution 1998.1.10 presumably committed themselves (in section c) "to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and ... to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ." Nearly a decade later, during which the "listening process" was supposed to have been going on, reports from the various provinces of the Anglican Communion are now available on-line at the portion of the Anglican Communion website devoted to this purpose. Few will be surprised by the statements from the various provinces. However, I cannot allow to pass unnoticed the particularly brazen approach taken by the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion). Their response to the listening process reads more like a manifesto or position paper than an account of any listening. Of particular note are the following two paragraphs, which fairly well indicate the degree to which the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) is willing to listen to the experience of gay and lesbian persons.

The Primate of all Nigeria has said “Our argument is that, if homosexuals see themselves as deviants who have gone astray, the Christian spirit would plead for patience and prayers to make room for their repentance. When scripture says something is wrong and some people say that it is right, such people make God a liar. We argue that it is a blatant lie against Almighty God that homosexuality is their God-given urge and inclination. For us, it is better seen as an acquired aberration.”

. . . . . . .

In Nigeria the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act 2006 is passing through the legislature. The House of Bishops has supported it because we understand that it is designed to strengthen traditional marriage and family life and to prevent wholesale importation of currently damaging Western values. It bans same sex unions, all homosexual acts and the formation of any gay groups. The Standing Committee of the Church of Nigeria has twice commended the act in their Message to the Nation.

The Church of Nigeria has nothing to learn, it seems, from gay and lesbian persons. They appear to have nothing to learn from human rights commissions, either, and stand by their doubled efforts to criminalize even advocacy for rights of speech and assembly, let alone gay marriage. They have "the Truth" in hand, in a sure and certain knowledge, it seems.

It also seems that Paul was right when he spoke of the tendency of knowledge to puff up. One cannot receive anything new if one's mind is full to the brim of what one believes unassailably to be true. Why listen when you know? Without some hesitant admission that they might be mistaken, without a sliver of humility to allow them to hear another voice, they will never learn.

—Tobias Haller BSG


Anonymous said...

`Without some hesitant admission that they might be mistaken, without a sliver of humility to allow them to hear another voice, they will never learn.'

Very true. Has requirements both ways, of course. One has to be aware of, maybe guided to, material before you can listen to it or read it, which is part of the reason why I'm not jumping on the whole "tell them to stuff off" schismatic bandwagon.

Anonymous said...

"to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ."

Your post spoke about listening, but when I read that line I was also struck: When an Archbishop supports a bill that will lead to persecution of homosexuals, how is that showing love?

It would seem that the American church isn't the only one that hasn't hung on every line that has ever come out of Lambeth. Hm.

W said...

well, it appears that a good portion of the Church of Nigeria must repent. you're right, Nigeria's is the most arrogant of all the statements, and it explicitly ignores human rights, even condeming them as a Western notion, subordinate to the demands of a homophobic culture. clearly, then, the Episcopal Church is not the only Church that is accomodating to the culture.

R said...

A tragically graceless and most uncharitable statement from the Church of Nigeria.

Without recourse to truly listen, even if only to understand, mutuality in relationship is lost. We end up with only one path left to follow: the paths of power over others -- the paths of oppression.

Now it's started to infect the Primates and hamstrung the Archbishop of Canterbury. The "invasion" on our soil has already begun.

Our House of Bishops, "damn Yanks" that they are, have called correctly.

John B. Chilton said...

From the concluding paragraph: "A statement of the House of Bishops makes it clear that The Church of Nigeria is committed to the pastoral care of homosexual people. It says: “While recognising the sinfulness, from the biblical perspective, of homosexuality, we must continue to keep open the door of restoration for homosexuals through repentance on the one hand, and sensitive pastoral care, on the other.” "

Thus, the Church of Nigeria comes in for praise from Rowan Williams: "“No-one reading this report can be complacent about such a situation, and the Church is challenged to show that it is truly a safe place for people to be honest and where they may be confident that they will have their human dignity respected, whatever serious disagreements about ethics may remain. It is good to know that the pastoral care of homosexual people is affirmed clearly by so many provinces.”" (

Anonymous said...

I could agree with you that there is no "hesitant admission that they might be mistaken, without a sliver of humility to allow them to hear another voice" but I think a person could make the same claim about any position with which they disagreed. Conservatively minded episcopalians could make the same statements about their liberal counterparts, for instance. Yes, I know you'd probably disagree but honestly. Conservatives are written off as a bunch of hateful, fear-mongering, sexual repressed homophobes. Can you blame them if they don't feel listened to?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Anonymous (with an appeal for a "handle" in case more than one "anonymous" wishes to comment),

I think three things need to be said. Not all conservative-minded folk are written off as intolerant homophobes. I have had any number of good conversations with people whose views I heartily disagree with, and often find that both of us come away the better for it.

Second, it has to be acknowledged that some conservative-minded folk are homophobes, or at least choose to phrase their rhetoric in extremely pejorative and sometimes inflammatory ways. This probably tars the rational with a broad brush.

Finally, since the "conservative" side of this debate lays claim to a long tradition and wide recognition, it can scarcely be argued that they have not had ample opportunity to state their case. The fact that that "case" is now being critiqued, and is showing signs of being less than airtight, has no doubt caused some dismay for some in those circles -- but to claim that their case has not been "heard" or "listened to" is, I think, pressing on the boundaries of logic. On the contrary, it seems to me that what is resented is the "challenge to the accepted teaching" and the need to explain the bases of what had before gone unchallenged.

Chris Jones said...


As a traditionalist who has often disagreed, sharply and perhaps disagreeably, with Fr Haller, I must now step in to agree with him on this point. While it does seem that some progressives are too quick to make the charge of homophobia, that does not mean that the charge is never true. Some conservatives are homophobic; and those of us who would like to think we are not homophobic ought to think long and hard about whether our own attitudes are truly based on Christian orthodoxy alone.

The Episcopal Church's slide into heterodoxy did not begin in 2003 with the election of Gene Robinson; but broad and deep resistance to that heterodox tendency on the part of evangelical, conservative Anglicans was not much in evidence before then. There was protest on the part of the "orthodox" before then, but it was a sporadic, fringe phenomonon, not a mass movement. It took the spectre of homosexuality to galvanize Anglican conservatives.

Homosexual behavior is indeed contrary to Scripture and Tradition, but it is a matter of little theological importance compared to the denial on the part of some bishops and many clergy of core doctrines such as the Trinity and the Incarnation. But the toleration of such soul-destroying heresies was not enough to stir the great masses of self-styled "orthodox" to action. If a committment to historic orthodoxy were really the driving force for Anglican conservatives, it should not have taken the ordination of a homosexual bishop to get those conservatives to man the barricades.

Since, in the event, that was precisely what it took to move the "orthodox" to action, I can only conclude that an emotional antipathy to homosexuality and homosexuals was at least part of the equation.

We "orthodox" would do well to remember that Christian orthodoxy and social conservatism are not the same thing.

June Butler said...

What listening process? It has not and is not happening in the Diocese of Louisiana. There is a great silence in my parish and in the diocese about the events in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

Is it because no one is paying attention? Or is it because no one wants to talk about it?

I wrote Bishop Jenkins a letter asking him several questions before the Camp Allen meeting, but I have not heard back. Here is my bishop's brief statement on the meeting:

Having returned to Louisiana from the meeting of the House of Bishops, and in light of the statements issued by the majority of the House, I would like to share with you the following brief statement in anticipation of a more expansive reflection to the people Louisiana at a later date:

As Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana I reaffirm my commitment to constituent membership in the Anglican Communion, and to working positively and cooperatively in communion with other members of the Episcopal Church and sister Churches within the global Anglican community.

Is there a difference between "commitment" and "working positively and cooperatively"? I try to parse the words and tickle out the meaning from what seem to be carefully chosen words, but I come up short. I hope that his "more expansive reflection" clarifies his position.

Father Doug said...

While our parish assures all baptized people every Sunday that they are welcome to Holy Communion if they have repented their sins and are in love and charity with all people (thus fulfilling the Lambeth requirement of assuring homosexual persons that they are loved by God) and while I and, so far as I can tell, all other members of our parish are ready and willing to listen to the experience of homosexual persons, and while some who report that their experience tells them that there is no sin in it--and such persons are still welcome to receive Communion, etc.--I do not and will not hold "dialogues" or sessions on whether or not homosexual behavior is approved by God. I am the Rector and I have been ordained to teach the Word of God, not a private word, and the teaching in our parish is that homosexual acts are objectively sinful and displeasing to God. That, of course, is not to say that homosexual persons cannot be in many ways very pleasing to God. They are, like all sinners, loved by God.

We are compliant with Lambeth, but the clear, ethical teaching of the Bible is not up for debate in our parish. Consequently, as in Grandmere Mimi's parish, we don't talk about it much.

June Butler said...

Father Doug, I see that we agree in certain of our choices in favorite books and movies, but not in this:

...that homosexual acts are objectively sinful and displeasing to God.

And what if I were in your parish (I hear you saying, "God forbid!") and I wanted to open the teaching up for discussion?

As a matter of information, I am a 72-year-old, married grandmother, so I have no ax of my own to grind regarding this issue.

episcopalifem said...

Me too, Mimi.

Married, with two kids.

The biblical teaching on this is in error.

Just like it was in error about slavery.

Chris Jones said...

Dear Eileen,

The biblical teaching on this is in error. Just like it was in error about slavery.

If "the bibical teaching is in error," then there must be some (higher) standard that you are using to judge the teaching of the Bible -- some way that you can know that it is wrong.

What is that higher standard?

episcopalifem said...

Chris -

Do you get direct messages from God?

So, how do you know that the biblical teaching is really what God finds offensive, and not a particular group of humans at a particular point in time? So many of man's prejudices have hidden themselves behind God's will, it's shameful.

I don't recognize the bible as an inerrant source of God's teachings. To try to interpret the scriptures outside of the cultural context in which it was written is morally irresponsible, IMO.

The bible was written by men, and, as far as I can see, man has messed up just about everything that God has turned over to us.

I have plenty of faith in God, not so much in man/men.

I also believe the Holy Spirit is alive and well, and that the Christian faith is a growing, living tradition - one where humans inch along toward being all that God hopes we will be.

God made the world and its inhabitants, and declared it good.

In my mind, no person is harmed by love. In the scope of things going wrong in the world, where people ARE being harmed, (murder and mayhem, biggotry, some of it perpetrated in God's good name), I don't think whom someone loves is a big issue for God. And if it is, it's not a God I want anything to do with.

Whom we hate, I think he might care about alot.

May God's blessing descend upon us both.

Anonymous said...

Sheesh. You Anglicans are crazy. Don't you know that all non-procreative sex is equally condemnable by an orthodox position? Your conservatives have forgotten what true orthodoxy means, or they wouldn't be so quick to pick up stones. I wonder what percentage of them are using contraception, and if they are aware of the scriptural prohbitions that could be assigned to that.

Whatever you think of Rome, she is truly equal rights with regard to all non-procreative sexuality being equally dismissed as unchaste, and following that section of the catechism, there is a strong admonishment that homosexuals are not to be discriminated against. Perhaps this is why so many homosexuals still feel more comfortable in the Roman Catholic tradition than in the Episcopal Church.

My question for us liberals is this:

What about the teaching of the young? Queer theory radicals would challenge the 'heteronormative' state of affairs all together. I tend to think that since heterosexuals are 90% of the population, that heteronormative ought to be retained as 'normal' in the population dynamics sense of the word, as is right-handedness. I'm all for increasing tolerance, but the recent debates in Lexington Massachusetts bring the issue to the foreground.

What do you think of this statement:

"When same-sex marriage is legalized and there is tolerance, gay activists will prosyletize our pre-pubescent children with gender confusing books; with romance stories between princes."

No body actually said that quote, it's just the general idea I see being bandied about by the conservative reaction in Massachusetts.

"You liberals though that it was an issue of tolerance, that it was about live and let live. Now see what they are doing to our children and they are running roughshod over parents to indoctrinate them in the name of diversity training!"

I post this because I am sincerely interested in what the liberal religious blogosphere has to say about it. Thanks!


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you Winnipeg for the note. A few quick comments:

"Orthodoxy" does not condemn all "non-procreative" sex. For example, the "natural" or "rhythm" method is approved even in the RCC. Moreover, the RCC does not forbid marriage to couples incapable of bearing children, due either to age or infertility. (It does forbid marriage to those incapable of sexual intercourse.) The arguments against contraception do not rely on Scripture, but on a natural law argument. I'll be reflecting on this more in a later post, post-Easter.

There is a difference between "normal" and "normative" which you appear to recognize. I'm not so sure about the percentages, however. In a culture in which same-sex relationships are fully acceptable their incidence is rather higher than 10%. See Greenberg and all the material on social construction: much depends on how you define (or how the culture defines) the terms. Witness the "down-low" or the tendency of cultures and subcultures to insist that not all men who have sexual relationships with other men aren't really "homosexual."

But I realize that isn't your main point. As far as I'm concerned, as I said above and in other commentary, same-sexuality and mixed-sexuality are morally neutral. The thing that makes a sexual act "moral" or not lies in the quality of the relationship between the persons, not their gender: issues of consent (what distinguishes marriage from rape!), intention, fidelity, self-giving, etc. So I would be very happy to have this "taught" because I believe it to be true.

I think a parallel case arises in matters like evolution teaching: science should be taught because it is true, not as a means to shape society as we would like it to be. The fact that marriage as a social construct falls somewhere between the extremes does raise some difficulty -- but a factual review of hard data that show same-sex couples to be, for example, good parents, and so on, and to be no threat to society, is an important social indicator.

The "proselytizing" argument needs to be addressed, however. Children are not "converted" to homosexuality -- though they may discover their sexuality sooner through exposure to role models. Those role models should be positive, which will lead to a positive social impact. If the only "model" a young person has for their own sexuality is one of promiscuity, they will think that is what they are supposed to adopt. As long as conservatives continue to advance this mythology (that all gays are promiscuous, etc.) they are helping to create a part of the problem for their own gay and lesbian children. Diversity training won't "make someone gay" but it may help them grow in a human and gracious way and learn to be loving of others, rather than manipulative and selfish.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tobias,

Thanks for the response. I'll mull that over. I realize that the Onas (spelling?) scriptural reference of disgarding seed is a weak one and that RCC orthodoxy is based on natural law; and further that there are much more direct scriptural prohibitions with regard to homosexuality from Paul. But remember that we in the RCC have our own conservative wackos who would roll back the clock to a time when twilight marriages were not recognized, when infertile marriages were not full marriages, where it was a sin to avoid fertile cycles, et cetera. Those with such views are a small minority and for the most part they are probably in the Society of St. Pious X schismatic circles anyway.

I like seeing Anglicans leading the way with regard to these issues and I only contrast this vision of orthodoxy for the singular reason that I believe one either accepts or rejects the Unitive good of sexuality in the absence of the outright Procreative potential. Once you embrace and understand that unitive good, I believe, it is intrinsically wrong to demand lifelong celibacy from homosexual persons, to deny them that unitive embrace, or to fail them as a church in helping them to realize a positive, monogamous, mature relationship, and offering them a safe, supportive environment. Since half of the RCC (at least) is using contraceptives, we are a bit less likely to be, in our view, hypocritical to others engaged in 'intentionally' non-procreative sex.

From that perspectives I have less respect for Anglican conservatives than for RCC ones, because the RCC ones think that all non-procreative sex is equally wrong, for all persons. They don't have happy unitive sex with their spouse one day and walk out the next to picket a gay person for the same thing. It seems to me that liberal Anglicans would do well to consistently remind their conservative brothers that our orthodox wing would love to have them back in the fold, all they need to do is put their condoms and pills back in their medicine cabinet and accept the authority of our Pope. I wonder what percentage of conservative anglicans are anti-RCC? Somehow one suspects that bigotry has the same aroma wherever it is directed.

But I still think that recognizing the reality of heteronormative would go a long way towards easing fear, which is of course the ultimate obstacle. We can stop imagining left handedness to be evil without sending everyone to left-handedness training seminars or trying to end the 'dextronormative' environment, regardless of the precise statistical level.

Gay friends tell me that they always knew they were gay. That may be, but I remember a pre-pubescent time when I did not 'like girls'. I wonder if it would be confusing to be encouraged to question my orientation before I even had one. And isn't sexual confusion painful enough? Perhaps our diversity training could be more sensitive to these concerns and worries.

Massachusetts is, after all, likely to be leading the way as a test case for greater tolerance and gay marriage, as is the Anglican Communion!

All the Best,


Anonymous said...

(Continued) Also - St. Paul seems could be read to be condemning those who reject the 'natural' for the 'unnatural'. Could that be read as rejecting hetronormativity which is an entirely different thing than advocating bigotry? In other words, we can accept a sizeable minority and reject bigotry without also rejecting the heteronormative.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Winnipeg,
I will be reflecting more on the procreative vs. unitive issue in a later post, after Easter is come and I have a bit more time. This is, in fact, the crucial issue.

In the meantime, my only reason for not wanting to use "normative" (as opposed to "normal" -- and even about that there are, as I suggest, some statistical unknowns) is that it implies a certain desired or desirable state of affairs. It does represent the OT and Rabbinic teaching: God's first commandment was to be fruitful and multiply, and this was so important that if a man died before he had fulfilled this responsibility his brother was to impregnate his widow, and if a woman was found to be infertile she was to be divorced. (Obviously the RC teaching neglects that part of the tradition!) Procreation is "normative" in this sense.

But for Jesus and Paul this is no longer true: marriage may be "normal" but it is not "normative" -- celibacy is. This preferential option can be explained on a number of grounds (the belief in an impending end of all things, for example) but there is no way around the clearly normative teaching that all should be continent if they are capable of it. (1 Cor 7:7)

Moreover, we are also faced with the dilemma of "natural = good" --- a concept that is not borne out. There are many things that are unnatural, or abnormal (statistically speaking) but which are judged as good. Take perfect pitch, for example. It may well be that same-sex orientation is formed in utero; perhaps only to be discovered at a later time. But it is really irrelevant if it is "natural" since there are "natural" things that are not good. I find this whole subset of arguments to be unhelpful in that there seems to be no easy equation of goodness and normalness.

Finally, much as I would like the larger society to be less "fearful" I don't think the way to liberate those who are afflicted with fear is to tell them it is all right to hold on to a false belief. I think it is Truth that sets us free, and that may mean setting aside prejudices and misinformation (of which there is an abundance in this present area of concern) and engage with reality. This is a painful process, but ultimately it will be the most productive.

All the best, as I now head off to Maundy Thursday worship...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the thoughtful replies and happy Easter to you. I look forward to your pending post!

All the Best,


Anonymous said...

Hi Tobias,

With new-found boldness as a dissenter I decided to draft an alternative Article 6 of the RCC catechism. Not that it really matters to the great wide world, but hey, it's helpful to me to articulate what I think. I am still stuck on whether insistence on the heteronormative is really critical to a healthy equilibrium. You're right that it's not just fear that needs to be addressed but truth. And isn't it true that the majority of people, regardless of the precise percent, are heterosexual?

In any event, I debated an Anglican priest friend this weekend on the matter and got a little bit more of an inkling on the Anglican outlook, which appears to be to simply throw out the offending scripture as biased to the ancient mentality. My discussin partner also invoked the interpretation of the scripture that seems to be anti-family and anti marriage as a defense of reinterpretation.

That makes sense, I am still mulling over the baby-out-with the bathwater rejection of that scripture via Paul, and an illustration of the impossibility of the full law from Jesus.

But I am still attracted also to the Roman approach. I think the Roman take is usually to formulate natural law as what the ancients were trying to 'get at' and then view ethics through the lense of that law. To me, that's where some respect for the heteronormative comes in when rejecting some of St. Paul's more bigoted utterances, which could easily be mistranslations anyway.

So anyway, as i flirt with Anglicanism and dissenterness I decided to re-write the offending bits of the catechism with the help of the internet and microsoft word. Why it only took me a few minutes... Where will it end? WikiCatechism? WikiEthics? Surely the world will come grinding to an immoral halt!

As an aside, it had been a while since I had read article 6, and in the meantime I had studied a bit of Marcus Aurelius's meditations. Article 6 reads like quite a bit of it could have been written by Marcus himself. Scary how Stoic the RCC is in its nature, also scary how in some ways Rome hasn't changed that much in the last 2000 years...

All the Best,


+JN1034 said...

What a gloriously wonderful blog! Yours is a resource that refreshes and renews us.

Seems that the Nigerians have slurped the same tea as some of the Orthodox: The brew of heresy and cacodoxy.

Thank you for allowing us to peek out from under our cassocks and take notes from you as we work toward a welcoming and compassionate Eastern presence in the world.