August 31, 2007

1. Where the Division Lies

In the debates over sexuality, a number of arguments have been advanced on both sides. I sometimes feel that the debaters are talking past each other, and that they are coming from totally different conceptual worlds. The problem appears, then, to lie in the premises (or assumptions) that underlie the varying points of view. If we are to come to a resolution of our differences — and it is a big if — it will be important that we begin with certain agreed-upon principles — if we can — and work step-by-step through to that resolution. So what I would like to begin to do in this and succeeding posts to this blog is to begin to unpack and challenge what I perceive to be the underlying premises or assumptions of the traditional view, in an effort to get behind the “reassertions” to find out if there is an actual basis of agreement from which a different settlement might be reached — or if we really are thinking and working from two radically incompatible bases.

In these reflections I want to deal with all of the apparatus of Scripture, reason and tradition. I will in part be challenging the rational basis of a negative view of same-sex relationships because the traditionalist assertion often goes beyond a merely religious disapprobation — that is, many if not most of those who think homosexuality is wrong do not see it as wrong merely in a religious sense — the way, for example an Orthodox Jew might say that it is wrong to eat pork, but not hold a Gentile to that standard — but wrong in a moral or ethical or even legal sense, rightly subject not only to sectarian reproof, but secular regulation; in short, not only immoral but illegal. This is not to say that all who hold any number of things to be immoral wish them to be illegal: in a pluralistic society we recognize that morality is not always subject to legislation. However, in the present case, there are more than a few religious conservatives who are also willing to see (at the extreme) state sanctions against same-sex relationships, or (at a minimum) a denial of state approval in recognition of such relationships.

In order to make this case, it is clear that the voices of the tradition have gone beyond a simple religious basis for their opinion. The primary evidence for this lies in the arguments often advanced in light of an apparent awareness that a scriptural case alone does not bear sufficient weight to “settle” the matter — for if it did, no appeals to natural law or assertion of the complementarity of the anatomy of the sexes (to cite two common examples) would be necessary.

I would like then, to turn to the various arguments advanced, and examine the premises upon which the traditional case is most often made. It is important first of all to tease apart the general from the specific by asking what, specifically, is held to be “wrong” about same-sex relationships, and “right” about mixed-sex relationships.

As a starting point, most of those who oppose same-sex relationships oppose all such relationships, regardless of aspects of fidelity, mutuality, and so on — thus issues rightly and widely recognized as “moral” are held to be irrelevant. At the same time, the conservative view recognizes that these values do exist, and are necessary in a mixed-sex relationship; that is, as commonly put, sexual relationships are appropriate only within the context of a faithful, life-long, loving, mixed-sex marriage. So it appears that the argument from the conservative position is reducible to the irreducible fact of the sex of the couple — the sex difference must be present for a sexual relationship to be capable of being moral, so that even if a same-sex couple possesses all of the other moral values, the lack of sex-difference still renders the relationship immoral.

What this must mean, logically, is that there is some character or quality inherent in the sex-difference that is morally determinative in and of itself, viewed apart from any other aspect. There are two such qualities often advanced as premises:

  • that the purpose of sexuality is procreation, and only heterosexual sex is capable of it;
  • that heterosexual sex represents a joining of two distinct complementaries
In a subsequent post I will address the first assertion.

Tobias Haller BSG

Update: The discussion continues with Pro-Creation.

Further Update: This post and those that follow, expanded and supplemented with much additional material, now form part of Reasonable and Holy, published by Seabury Books and available now on order from Church Publishing Incorporated.


Anonymous said...

Posted for Rick Allen:

Rick Allen said:

"In order to make this case, it is clear that the voices of the tradition have gone beyond a simple religious basis for their opinion. The primary evidence for this lies in the arguments often advanced in light of an apparent awareness that a scriptural case alone does not bear sufficient weight to “settle” the matter — for if it did, no appeals to natural law or assertion of the complementarity of the anatomy of the sexes (to cite two common examples) would be necessary."

I think I would initially question this inference. The fact that we seek reasons for what might otherwise be merely "religious" prohibitions doesn't mean that we doubt the sufficiency of the "religious" prohibition. If we follow Anselm, and think it good that faith should seek understanding, then certainly we should reflect on such prohibitions and try to understand the reasons for them. That does not mean that their force of obligation depends on our finding satisfactory reasons.

To take a less controversial example, there are plain religious prohibitions against incest. And I can think of many good "non-religious" reasons for the prohibition, and, if someone were advocating allowing, say, a son to marry his mother, I think those reasons would be more likely to be persuasive in the public arena than appeals to Leviticus. My appeal to those "non-religious" reasons, though, would rest not so much on my doubts about the religious prohibition, but on its limited persuasiveness.

But I am interested in where you are going with this. Please press on.

I think there is one distinction you do need to keep in mind, though, that there are really two controversies about homosexuality going on right now, not one.

There is first the simple question about whether intercourse with someone of the same sex is immoral.

There is a separate question of whether persons of the same sex should be allowed to marry.

I say the two are different because one could, like the ancients, find nothing immoral about homoerotic relationships, but deny that such relationships supplies a basis for what we call marriage.

No problem with discussing both, but they are separate questions.

Tobias said...

Rick, as I note, it is the desire to press the issue beyond a mere church matter that leads those opposed to same-sexuality to seek out a rational rather than a purely religious basis for the position. As you say, appeals to Leviticus have less than persuasive power in the secular arena.

But I think it is also clear -- and this is the point I was getting at -- that appeals to Leviticus also have limited impact in the religious sphere; perhaps most especially when a leading conservative Jewish scholar on Leviticus (Jacob Milgrom, in the monumental Anchor Bible three-volume treatise on Leviticus) carefully and rightly points out that the sexual laws governing same-sexuality therein are far more limited in scope than commonly held.

Hence the need on the part of some not only to offer maximal interpretations to the biblical passages they feel address same-sexuality, but to go beyond these to natural law. It is plainly obvious (to me, anyway) that the bulk of Roman Catholic theological discussion on this subject is not predominantly biblical or exegetical, but follows a "natural law" line of argument. This is explictly important if one is to cast the net to include lesbianism, about which Leviticus is silent; and the few words in Romans alleged to be relevant are problematical at best. (Augustine, for example, did not think Paul was speaking of lesbianism, but of women allowing their husbands to engage in non-procreative sex with them; which has the virtue of making better sense of the passage; that is, since "their wives" have allowed the men to treat them in this way, the men then do it "in the same way" with each other.)

In any case, the incest analogy is perhaps less than helpful, since I agree with you that consanguineous incest is something against which rational argument can be made. Perhaps a better example would be to look at a question such as the prohibitions on incest by affinity, and the conflict introduced by the simultaneous biblical prohibition (Lev 18:6) and mandate (Deut 25:5) which caused so much trouble to Henry VIII! Is there a "rationality" to prohibiting a man marrying his brother's widow, or should his wife die, his wife's sister? At what point to we acknowledge that cultural influences are at play, and in some cases, dominant?

But this gets me off the main question, which I do promise to take up shortly.

The Gay Scientist said...

Thank you for starting these posts, Tobias. This is much needed.

In the posts to come, will you also critically examine a deontological or Divine Command approach, which says that same-sex practice is morally wrong simply because God prohibits it? If I understand this approach correctly, it claims that the morally determinative factor is not located in "some character or quality inherent in the sex-difference," but rather is located in the will of God (as revealed definitively in scripture).

I suppose one could dispense with this approach by simply saying that it begs the question. Nevertheless, it does carry weight for many Christians that I've encountered.

I appreciate your efforts and am looking forward to reading the posts to come.

Tobias said...

Dear GS,

Thanks for the note. I will probably not be taking up the deontological or divine mandate approach; for a couple of reasons. The first is the "how do you argue with something that isn't an argument" -- it really does beg the question. you are, of course, correct that it remains persuasive for some people.

Over at Stand Firm, for example, Matt Kennedy has a splendid example of circular reasoning (though he acknowledges it isn't an argument but a position statement). For him it basically boils down to the "fact" that same-sex couples cannot marry because marriage is only for mixed-sex couples; because marriage is only for procreation, companionship, and its symbolic value as a representation of Christ's relationship with the church.

A few people have pointed out what I will lay out in detail in the next section, that is, the disjunction between marriage and procreation. And some have also pointed out that companionship is also possible in same-sex relationships. And more importantly, I can note that there are many earthly phenomena (and Jesus assures us that marriage is an earthly phenomenon!) that are used in Scripture to represent the relationship between Christ and the Church -- Monarch and people, shepherd and sheep, master and servants, head and body, etc. (The latter two also appear in Ephesians along with the image of marriage.)

Perhaps most importantly, the prophetic literature uses polygamy as an image for the relationship of the one God with many worshipers, or many peoples; and no one would suggest, I think, that polygamy is therefore acceptable for Christians!

It is true, I find, that most conservatives are not responsive to this train of argument. They're also unresponsive to noting that there are many "divine commands" obedience to which is no longer required -- and that without their having been set aside by divine authority.

John Bassett said...

I think another important "division" here is that one between giving a reason and having a reason.

Conservatives advance a number of reasons against same-sex relationships, but I do not think that these arguments, even if their validity were accepted, could account for the intensity of this argument. Something about same-sex relationships seems to create a deeply visceral anger in many people. Same-sex relationships deeply offend some sense of "how things are supposed to be" for many people. They seem to transgress some deeply held boundaries about the roles of male and female. I do not think that the many references made to the Holiness Code in this debate are irrelevant. The belief that certain things must be separated and kept distinct is still deeply motivating for many people.

I cannot figure out a way to discuss this without engaging in ad hominem arguments. Maybe somebody else here has some ideas.

Anonymous said...

I am glad the Gay Scientist raised the issue of the deontological approach, because I think that is a major issue with a lot of conservatives. There are many for whom the Divine command alone is sufficient, but who resort to other arguments in their frustration because our side does not find the biblical command to be persuasive.

Thank you for starting this discussion. I am looking forward to future installments.

Paul Martin

R said...


I join with many in gratitude for your erudite treatment, yet again, of this subject and look forward to your development!

My concern (not so much a criticism) remains that the deeper and more prescient issues are not being addressed when we focus on the manifesting issue of sexuality however coolly and reasonably.

The questions of power (and I don't mean cynically) particularly in post-colonial provinces, of a painful and longstanding battle between the more evangelical and "catholic" branches of Anglicanism as well as clearly differing worldviews clashing in all major religious traditions today...well, these form a nexus of emotional positions that are not being adequately addressed by our leadership at any level of the Communion.

It seems to me the sexuality matter is a convenient hook upon which sides may hang an enormous body of unresolved conflict.

Again, I raise this as a concern, if only to lead to a worry that the talking past each other could well continue, even if we start to reach rapproachment on the questions over human sexuality.

Would love to see you address this more fully as you develop your argument...perhaps you already plan to or might justifiably disagree with my concern!

Anne Kennedy said...


Thank you for this article.

The reasoning is not circular although my articulation of it may have been. As you noted I was not making an argument but stating the position and showing why the reappraiser position does not gain much traction in reasserter circles.

The suggestion that a loving companionship between homosexual partners that is consistent with the uniative purpose of marriage can exist does not, of itself, provide a basis for marriage. Nor, by any means, does it provide warrant for the introduction of sexual activity into that relationship.

The reasserting position is that sex is specifically given for the purpose of furthering the ends of marriage: procreative, uniative, and reflective. One of those ends cannot be separated in such a way as to stand exclusive of the others and form a proper basis for the introduction of sex outside of the other three. All three are essential to marriage. And sex is specifically given as a function of them.

I do think deontological reasoning enters into the picture here. Reasserters call the relationships revealed in Genesis 1-2 Creation ordinances. They are especially important as they reflect God's original intent prior to the introduction of rebellion. The Garden is a model of human relationship free of sin. Thus when Christ holds up that model in Matthew 19, forbids sexual immorality in Matthew 15 (and I do not think a good argument has yet been made to show that either Jesus or Paul would have understood homosexual behavior as falling under any category but the sexually immoral one) and Paul specifically condemns homosexual behavior in Romans 1 etc...these texts are understood as a reaffirmation of the pre-lapsarian model.

There is then, the positive "command" regarding sexual relationships revealed in Genesis 1-2 and the negative condemnation of sexual relationships that deviate from that positive model throughout the rest of scripture.

Constructing a context for sex beyond the one modeled in Genesis, in other words, necessarily twists or distorts the model.

Matt (I cannot figure out how to get off of my wife's account...if I don't sign my name it is generally her. I know there has been some question about this in the past. It is not intentional, just a testimony to my incompetance with blogger)

Tobias said...

Thanks to all for the additional comments. Rather than say too much more here in the comments, I will address many of the concerns raised in the next "chapter" which I hope to be able to post some time after the Labor Day break. Briefly, though,

As to deontology, it seems to me that the challenge to the reasserter side is to explain how a divine command on this subject is irrevocable, while divine commands on other subjects are reasoned away. My sense is that reason can lead us away from this "divine command" just as much as it in fact has from a number of others -- and I'm not talking about the dietary laws which were set aside by divine authority (although one is forced to ask why God changed God's mind...) This is, to some extent, a part of my exercise here, including challenging whether this is indeed a "divine prohibition" or not. More later...

I'm not planning on taking up the political issue, as it is, to some extent, a separate concern, about which I can do little. That some former colonial churches are perhaps now engaging in a kind of payback may be true -- or that may simply be rhetoric. But for me it is not the issue, and argument along those lines seems to me to be "ad nationem" rather than addressing the presenting differences.

Matt (and yes, I know you are Matt, and find some of my friends insistence on calling you Anne to be a childish response) you have hit the nail on the head. I intend to show that not only are what you've conveniently labled the "procreative, uniative, and reflective" ends of marriage separable one from the other, but that both scripture, reason and tradition attest to that separation. Thus, they are collectively not "essential" to marriage seen as a good in itself, rather than as a means to an end. This is, I think, the heart of a Christian, rather than a utilitarian, ethic.

Anne Kennedy said...

Also, Tobias+,

you noted that conservatives seem unresponsive to the suggestion that not all divine commands are followed today.

In response, because this has been something of a frustration going in the other direction as well, there seems to be no recognition on the reappraising side that, indeed, many of the levitical commands have been fulfilled (not set aside)...and this has been made manifest by divine revelation (Acts 10, Mark 7 etc...) rather than by human decision.

So when in response to our reference to Leviticus 18 and the argument that the levitical prohibitions are "brought forward" by the Lord and his apostles in the NT, someone brings up shellfish, it seems such a non-sequiter that the conversation folds. There seems to be no recognition on the reappraising side of the threefold division of the levitical law: Moral, Civil, and Ceremonial...and no recognition of the long-standing (enshrined in the 39 articles in fact) undestanding that the civil and ceremonial laws have been fulfilled and that this fulfillment is specifically articulated in special revelation.

Agreed, there are commands that the church has set aside...the commands with regard to divorce to name one. But that fact does not answer the question: was this setting aside right? I think many on the reasserting side hear suggestions that we ought to permit ssbs because we permit divorce and remarraige as a sort of crass "two wrongs make a right" argument. The reasserting response would be: let's go back and undo our departure from the divine command...not: let's repeat the error.

Many, in fact, trace our current problems to those very questionable decisions with regard to divorce and birth control.


bls said...

Well, happily the argument above contradicts itself. In Genesis (in one of the two Creation stories), Eve is specifically created as a "helpmeet" for Adam; it says nothing about procreation at all. There's no sex in the Garden, either; that happens after the Fall, of course, indicating - following the logic here - that heterosexuality and reproduction are itself part of the fallen world and therefore is not a "model" for anything. They are themselves "twisted."

Furthermore, the Hebrew Bible is a mass of confusion on the topic of sexuality; polygamy is specifically provided for the in Law and almost every Patriarch has multiple wives (to whom they are sometimes closely related). Solomon had 200 wives and 700 concubines - or vice-versa, I can never remember. Adultery was a rule against a man having sexual relations with another man's wife - but sexual relations with a single woman was not problematic. Nor was prostitution.

And of course the Church happily and enthusiastically marries people long past reproductive age, so even disregarding the above, the argument fails. Reproduction is simply not a necessary element for marriage.

Tobias said...

Again, briefly, Matt:
The division of the Law as you describe it is a fairly modern invention. The Law itself does not speak of such categories. You will find large passages of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, for example, in which what we regard as laws of different sorts are all jumbled together -- and all of them are given as commandments of the Lord.

As I said above, I am not speaking of the dietary restrictions. The question before us is whether it is possible to tease apart these threads of laws and determine if the law concerning male homosexuality (there is no law concerning female homosexuality) is capable of being set aside, and on what grounds.

Anne Kennedy said...


you said:

"The division of the Law as you describe it is a fairly modern invention. The Law itself does not speak of such categories."

Isn't this a bit like saying, the bible doesn't use the word "trinity". No, but the concepts oneness and distinction in the relationship between Father Son and Holy Spirit are clearly there.

In the same way, the specific categories I named are not named in scripture, but the categories are certainly evident and evidently distinct.

The difference between what is called the "moral" law and the civil law is plain in a comparison, for example between leviticus 18:22 and leviticus 20:18. Leviticus 18:22 declares a certain act to be abominable and 20:18 describes how it is to be punished.

whether you call it the civil code or not, there is certainly a distinction between laws that describe a certain behavior as detestable and laws that describe what is to be done by the authorities who encounter such behavior.

The distinction between Civil law and other laws is made plane by their punative nature. It is interesting in this regard to note that while Jesus was clearly pleased to affirm the levitical injunction against "adultery" he was not so keen on enforcing the "Civil" punitive measure against it (and I think this distinction holds even if John 8 is not part of the autographa).

The setting aside of dietary restrictions is itself another categorization (as you note). In fact, the replacement theology of John...Christ as the new temple wherein all have been made clean, coupled with Christ's own declarations in Mark 7 and the revelation to Peter in Acts 10 seem to indicate that those laws dealing with ceremonial purity...including dietary laws...were fulfilled.

But with the fulfillment of ceremonial or temple laws and Christ's decision not to carry forward the punative or civil laws, that leaves some law untouched. Call it "moral" law or not, there is no question that Jesus was unbending in his call to obedience with regard to murder, adultery, feeding the poor, loving your neigbor...all moral aspects of the OT without calling for the levitical punitive action associated with disobedience to them.

Speculatively, we can say that the full weight of the punitive law was fulfilled (not set aside) on the cross and that this is why Jesus was not concerned to act punitively toward transgressors. He was going to bear the punishment in the place of his people and all people.

The text of leviticus itself, while certainly jumbled in places, certainly stands up well to the categories later interpreters place on them.

And and again these are found in the 39 articles, specifically article 7:

"Of the Old Testament
The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. Wherefore there are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet, notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral."


Bryan+ said...

I think that the Gay Scientist and Matt have both touched on some important issues that it is imperative for folks who take a different position to adequately respond to.

Many conservatives think that the "left" (and moderate supporters of ssbs, etc.) have simply begged the questions of the deontological or Divine Command approach.

Matt touched on the idea of creation ordinances. For many, the classical doctrine of the orders of creation is problematic because (they argue) it entails a static as opposed to a processive metaphysics, thus leading to the charge that one cannot simultaneously espouse the classical view and embrace evolutionary theory as a credible understanding of the world.

And so those who reject the classical view (such as Reformed theologian James M. Gustafson) argue that for the sake of intellectual consistency, acceptance of the classical doctrine of the orders of creation requires rejecting evolutionary theory as the underpinning of modern science and its applications in many areas we take for granted, such as medicine. This, they argue, is problematic for many reasons, one being that it arbitrarily divides the world into separate cognitive domains with a static metaphysic for theology and ethics and a processive one for science and medicine. They also argue that it separates theology and ethics from life as we actually live it, for unless we reject modernity wholesale and retreat to living in caves, we pragmatically endorse what we theoretically deny.

Having said all of that, I think it's important to honor the fact that the classical doctrine is deeply rooted in Christian tradition and its reading/application of scripture. It exercises an "effective history" (Gadamer) that needs to be taken seriously - even if, at the end of the day, one rejects it.

But if it is rejected, reasons must be given that show (a) why the classical view gets it wrong, and (b) how rejecting it and embracing an alternative is just as or more faithful to a Christian moral vision of creation and human sexuality that upholds the dogmatic core expressed in that "sufficient statement of the Christian faith" called the Nicene Creed (BCP, p. 877).

I'm really hoping, Tobias, that you can shed some light on all of this that helps advance debate beyond its current gridlock.

Stuart said...


You and Tobias+ are brilliant men.

I have just one question. When you say:

"The reasserting position is that sex is specifically given for the purpose of furthering the ends of marriage: procreative, uniative, and reflective. One of those ends cannot be separated in such a way as to stand exclusive of the others and form a proper basis for the introduction of sex outside of the other three. All three are essential to marriage. And sex is specifically given as a function of them."

Can a couple marry when one of the partners is infertile? If married, should a couple continue to have sex if one of the partners becomes infertile?

If yes, then why, since procreation is essential and inseparable in marriage?

Tobias said...

Matt, and Bryan, you are both raising some important issues, but they will have to form part of a separate discussion, as I want to focus here on the question of the purposes, functions, goods, or ends, of marriage, and whether they are essential and limited to mixed-sex couples, as Matt suggests, or can be adapted to permanent relationships between two members of the same sex.

The question of the distinctions between ritual, moral, and civil law are not unimportant; I find Matt's application of penalties as "civil" interesting if nonbiblical (that's not to say UNbiblical) -- that some things deemed immoral should also be illegal, as opposed to all things illegal generally being seen as immoral is probably widely recognized. This does provide a way for people today to continue to oppose same-sexuality or adultery without invoking the biblical sentences -- although such an attitude in Moses' time would have been unthinkable. But this leaves aside in part the matter of ritual law (and there are also in Scripture civil penalties for violation of the sabbath, improper offerings, and so forth). (I'm sure, as I say, Moses would not have recognized these categories -- the Biblical text demands obedience to all of them.) All that being said, the issue is whether what Leviticus describes as "to'evah" (abomination) is a matter of morality or ritual -- or both. Since the same word is applied to dietary regulations, it could -- solely on the basis of the biblical text -- be classed along with those regulations, and with such acts as sexual congress during menses, or the consumption of blood, which carry serious penalties in the "civil" or "criminal" code. Also remaining to be explained is the absence of reference to women with regard to same sex relationships; indicating that the concerns of Leviticus were in fact ritual (or cultural), rather than strictly speaking, moral.

The relative weight given to divine commands -- passages construed as such -- is also important, as Bryan notes. But again, that is not my immediate concern. I will touch on the Genesis passages to some extent, however, in the following reflections.

But as it is not my intent to argue these particular issues here at this time -- I want to focus on the main thesis articulated above -- I will ask that further comments relate more directly to the issue in the original post, lest we continue off thread.

rick allen said...

I am not quite sure how far off the track we are.

You had originally suggested that rationalistic explanations of religious moral prohibitions presupposed doubt in the sufficiency of the religious imperative. My first post (and thank you very much for moving it to the correct place!) tried to question that.

In giving an example of a religious prohibition of limited authority outside the Christian community I made reference to Leviticus, which seems to have led to a question of whether the understanding of some Levitical laws as applicable and some as abrogated is a principled one.

If off topic, it is certainly relevant to the foundations of the argument. I would say that the distinctions pre-date Jesus and go back to the prophets--in Amos most directly. If such notion is not itself found in the Torah I think we have to admit that as Christians we must read the Law in light of the entire Christian revelation, the scriptures, with some greater weight accorded the New Testament. (We Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox also put great weight on the Tradition of the Church, but that we will have to set aside as a position that is clearly not shared).

So I don't think we're too far afield. Of course we as religious people, believing that God has revealed to us the way to live, will believe and try to put into effect that revelation. But we will also try to understand it, look for reasons for it, and make the parallel efforts to understand how and why at least certain religous imperatives have been suspended, and how the abrogation of some doesn't imply that all are therefore abrogated. The great command to love one's neighbor as oneself is, after all, a law from Leviticus.

John B. Chilton said...

There's been plenty of study of what constitutes -- I'm going to use the word -- sin. Why not ask whether same sex relationships fit a definition or category of sin?

I would suggest that scripture is not seeking to give us a rule book to every contingency, but is seeking to guide us in living close to God. Whether they realize it or not, reasserters have swallowed modern rationalism and it's given their reading of scripture a distinctly modern literalist cast - if Paul said it, it's a sin.

Some of course grow close to God by following prohibitions that are beyond reason. But that does not make those prohibitions categories of sin.

Finally it is conceivable that heterosexual expression brings us closer to God, and that quite contrary its being sinful, homosexual expression does as well. As usual all the standard provisios apply -- noncoercive, longterm relationships, etc.

Ann said...

I do hope you're following Sam Candler and the presentation he will do at Kanuga in October -- from the article in the Kanuga newsletter, it sounds as though he's speaking of tolerance as a key issue, rather than homosexuality. Thanks for starting this discussion. I've been sort of focused on "bible reading" as the issue -- a pre vs. post enlightenment reading of scripture (my more conservative brethren are, of course, in the post-enlightenment gang (grin)). I have subbed to your blog, and await future entries with eagerness.

Suzer said...

Matt+ -- To overcome the blog posting issues, you can create a new Blogger account with a different e-mail than the one I am assuming you and Anne+ share. (I know it is not uncommon for couples to share one e-mail address.) It is probably defaulting to Anne's blog because of the e-mail address. I'm no expert, but I had a similar problem when I tried to create a separate blog for my cat (ha! sad, I know, but it's fun).

You can sign up for a free separate e-mail at places like and then create your own blog at fairly easily.

Hope it helps!

Anonymous said...

I see the blah blah boys, as a parish secretary once called we theolgical types, are at it again. But alas, as Tobias suggests, it seems in danger of going right down that old primrose path again, where we meet mutual incomprehension and intellectual muscle flexing.
has anyone here read the fairly new blog, resignatio ad infernum? I'm not sure what to make of it. Some of it seems pretty wacky to me, but the writer, who is an episcopal priest and a grad student in theology, sure makes some bold claims for gay marriage. And then he takes some serious hits from both sides of the aisle. What odd times we live in!
In any case, at least its a fresh perspective. FWIW

Lionel said...


I wish you good luck. There certainly is going to be pressure to turn a series of essays into a book.

I would like to raise what I think you will find is a relevant question, since you are asking why those on the right think certain acts improper.

In a conventional marriage, is it wrong to engage in acts often associated with homosexual relationships, such as anal and oral sex? That is, is it the act that is intrinsically wrong, or is the act wrong only when engaged in by the wrong actors?

Tobias said...

Thanks for the many comments. It was a busy day yesterday at church, and as today is Labor Day I am taking a brief holiday.

I do want to flag once more, for Rick and Cyrus and others perhaps, what I am attempting to address here, and why I am not addressing at this point the Leviticus issue. (I will take this up another time, but I want to focus on something else at the moment.)

There is a difference between these two assertions:

1) Same-sex sexuality is wrong because Leviticus says it is wrong. (The "divine command" approach)


2) Because marriage has certain purposes, functions, goods or ends, essential to marriage and inseparable from it and from each other; and because same-sex relationships are incapable of this, therefore same-sex relationships cannot be equivalent to marriage.

What I am attempting to address in this present series of posts is the second point. I am not, in short, here addressing the "morality of homosexuality" as such. As I have noted in the original post, if all homosexual relationships were demonstrably immoral, there would be no need to argue about equivalence to marriage, and yet many "reasserters" do exactly that -- and I am attempting to get to the bottom of "why" they might do that, as well as addressing the more basic question in and of itself.

The why strikes me as I say above, due to the desire to address the wider social issue (the secular question of same-sex marriage) and the reason that some reasserters oppose any kind of civil recognition in addition to their opposition to ecclesiastical recognition or approbation. There are actually some reasserters who while remaining opposed to church recognition of same sex relationships are willing to see civil unions or other such legal relationships. Fleming Rutledge and The Young Fogey have both articulated this kind of attitude, from different perspectives.

I hope this makes clearer what I am attempting to address in this immediate series of posts.

Happy Labor Day!

Craig Goodrich said...

"it is clear that the voices of the tradition have gone beyond a simple religious basis for their opinion. The primary evidence for this lies in the arguments often advanced in light of an apparent awareness that a scriptural case alone does not bear sufficient weight to “settle” the matter — for if it did, no appeals to natural law or assertion of the complementarity of the anatomy of the sexes (to cite two common examples) would be necessary."

I have a couple of problems with this, Tobias+.

First, adducing more than one argument does not necessarily imply any belief that none of the arguments by themselves are conclusive; it may merely strengthen the position. (Read almost any complex legal brief for examples.)

You are asserting here that if a proposition P is proven false by evidence A, and also by evidence B, and also by evidence C, then mentioning more than one of these somehow weakens the case for the others. I hope you'll defend this unusual view in future posts.

Second, appeals to natural law and complementarity are found in Scripture itself -- both Jesus and Paul, in well-known and exhaustively discussed passages.

It should also be noted that Greek (pagan) philosophers such as Plato also criticized homosexual relationships on precisely these grounds, in spite of the fact that homosexual relationships of all sorts -- promiscuous, pederastic, monogamous, and everything else -- were well-known and (mostly) socially accepted in the Greek/Roman pagan culture.

So you seem to have set yourself quite a task; I look forward to seeing how it develops.

Tobias said...

Craig, I'm not sure this adds much to the discussion. Over at Stand Firm, David Ould has called the argument about procreation a "straw man," as if it is something invented by "reappraisers." Actually, it is an argument advanced quite commonly by "reasserters" -- in fact, as part of his article on three ineffective arguments at SF, Matt raised the matter as his point three. (It might surprise him to find that I agree with him to a large extent on the first two points he raises in that article.) My reflection here is not intended as a direct response to his article, as I was working on it before his article appeared; though his comments here have helped focus my thinking. But his having raised the issue does provide an example how a reasserter might raise the question.

The issue, as I see it, is that the Scriptural case is in fact very weak for a blanket condemnation of all same-sex relationships; but this has been argued out rather extensively between people like Milgrom and Gagnon -- and who you care to agree with will depend on your own judgment as to the persuasiveness of the arguments. Again, I will take up some of this later, but I think for the most part that few will be persuaded by any new statement of the arguments already advanced.

I am dealing in large part with the desire to extend a theological prohibition beyond the church into the larger society. For instance, it seems to me that the biblical stand against murder is sufficient not to require additional reflection -- though, as with sexuality, if one is to extend the prohibition beyond the community of "believers" then one must come up with "rational" arguments not based on exclusively religious bases.

Obviously, to many people withing the faith, the biblical statement on murder is sufficient. So too for many of them their reading of the texts alleged to involve same-sex relationships is sufficient. But it is immediately apparent that these texts are not convincing to a large number of Christian (and Jewish) believers -- hence, I think, the broadened effort to bring additional evidence to bear both within the faith communities and in efforts to limit action in the secular realm.

As to the complementarity and natural law passages alleged to be in Scripture, I'll address that at a later time. In short, I think there is not so much there as many on the reasserter side see.

I'm aware that Plato, in some of his later work, took a more negative view of same-sex relationships than in his earlier work. My sense is that his concerns were as much political as moral, however, as these matters are related in the Republic and Laws. I think there is more than a little bit of Stoic thought running through St Paul's work; it is unlikely he was familiar with Plato, whose fashion had rather fallen by that time. In any case, bad arguments are bad whether made by a Christian or a pagan -- though I am not sure Paul is making the argument you claim he is making; or what its significance might be for us.)

Mark said...

I still think that being driven onto the defensive is the wrong approach -- whether anyone likes it or not, gays exist and have for quite some time. To that end, I really think that the Reasserters need to make their case objectively and without appeal to religious belief or rather questionable fringe "science," which they have not done successfully.

rick allen said...

"I am dealing in large part with the desire to extend a theological prohibition beyond the church into the larger society."

There is this, from the Second Vatican Council's Gaudium et Spes:

"Coming forth from the eternal Father's love, founded in time by Christ the Redeemer and made one in the Holy Spirit, the Church has a saving and an eschatological purpose which can be fully attained only in the future world. But she is already present in this world, and is composed of men, that is, of members of the earthly city who have a call to form the family of God's children during the present history of the human race, and to keep increasing it until the Lord returns. United on behalf of heavenly values and enriched by them, this family has been "constituted and structured as a society in this world" by Christ, and is equipped "by appropriate means for visible and social union." Thus the Church, at once "a visible association and a spiritual community," goes forward together with humanity and experiences the same earthly lot which the world does. She serves as a leaven and as a kind of soul for human society as it is to be renewed in Christ and transformed into God's family.

"That the earthly and the heavenly city penetrate each other is a fact accessible to faith alone; it remains a mystery of human history, which sin will keep in great disarray until the splendor of God's sons, is fully revealed. Pursuing the saving purpose which is proper to her, the Church does not only communicate divine life to men but in some way casts the reflected light of that life over the entire earth, most of all by its healing and elevating impact on the dignity of the person, by the way in which it strengthens the seams of human society and imbues the everyday activity of men with a deeper meaning and importance. Thus through her individual matters and her whole community, the Church believes she can contribute greatly toward making the family of man and its history more human."

I would be very surprised were there not similar sentiments expressed in Anglicanism.

Tobias said...

Such sentiments have from time to time been expressed within Anglicanism; obviously the Establishment of the Church in England is an example of the interrelation between "the two cities."

However, in general Anglicans preserve a kind of humility about how much their religious belief can be a force for good in the world; and as in the Establishment, there is a clear recognition that the relationship is mutual: that is, the church learns from the world at least as much as the world learns from the church.

It is no doubt true that the Church has been in many places and times, a force for good. But the historical record is far from showing the good to be unalloyed. In particular, there are notorious examples of ecclesiastical influence for evil. There are many who would say that the net influence of religion, including Christianity, on the world has been negative.

Much depends upon whether what the church is trying to do is right or not. Clearly the church's earlier support of such institutions as slavery are and should be an embarrassment. So too the church's complicity in other political acts. (Indeed, one of the reasons for the collapse of the church in much of Europe is related to the church's having worked hand in glove with unjust or repressive regimes.)

In the present issue, I think the church could actually be a force for good in society by taking the lead in the affirmation of same-sex unions, as I believe the past opposition to these is based on faulty reasoning and misapplication of Scripture.

Jon said...

Mark, it is probably a mistake to exclude religious belief as a reason for the church to take a particular position. It is clear that religious belief is insufficient to convince the broader society to take the church's position, but I don't see that the church must agree with the broader society.

Of course these concerns aren't to Fr. Tobias's point which seems to be in trying to address the question of why reasserters think the broader society should agree with the church.


Paul B said...


I understand your desire to keep this on track with a discussion on where are the prohibitions against gay relationships/marriage, but I have to ask a question about the positive assertion by God of what marriage IS.

In Genesis 2, Matthew 19, and Ephesians 5:22, we are given a model of marriage with the man leaving mother and father and clinging to his wife to become one. Genesis calls for them to be fruitful and multiply.

How does one get around this? Couldn't the lack of mentioning of same sex marriage be read as a prohibition in a sense?

rick allen said...

Tobias, I have to admit I'm a little confused about where you're going.

I was under the impression that your objection was to Christians advocating a religious position in the larger society. But after seeming to approve a "humility" about the ability of the church to teach the world anything, you say the church should be in the forefront in the fight for affirming same-sex unions. Seems to me that in this you pretty much agree with the conservative activists on the role of the church.

You also say that the issue here is not the question of the general morality of homosexuality, but the validity of arguments that male/female couples are not the same as male/male or female/female couples. Again, it seems to me rather obvious that all societies, Christian or not, have noted the distiction, that only male/female couples bring children into the world, and thus only they give rise to the issues of nurture, education, kinship, responsibility and inheritance that the law of marriage addresses.

(There is another area of law that addresses those issues when the parents die or are unfit, i.e. the law of adoption. Whatever its substantive provisions--such as the old Roman maxim that "adoption follows nature"--it is separate from marriage, so that, for instance, a brother and sister can be conceived as adopting when they would never be allowed to marry.)

If that is the issue, it seems little tied to Christianity, apart from Christianity's common recognition that only only heterosexual sex leads to babies.

Tobias said...

Briefly, as I'm in the middle of a couple of other projects -- including the next chapter of this discussion!

Paul B., and Rick: I will be addressing your concerns as part of that next chapter and the subsequent ones. Paul, I can note here that a positive approval of X does not automatically imply a negative assessment of Y, in particular if X and Y can be shown both to belong to a larger category, and have more in common than in contrast. (Part of our problem, I think, is our tendency to see heterosexuality and homosexuality as somehow opposed to each other, or mutually exclusive, rather than as expressions of one overriding reality. As I say, more to follow.

Rick, I was simply pointing out that history shows the interaction between church and state to be mixed. I am advising caution, that's all. If what the church is teaching is correct, then by all means it should have impact on the world. But if it is wrong... well, ask Galileo about that one.

As to connection of heterosexuality with procreation, that is the primary theme of the next section, and I will direct your concerns there.