January 30, 2008

Why We Talk

Fellow blogger The Country Parson sent me a thoughtful note on the series of articles I've been writing on the sexuality debate. I'm posting it here as well as in the comment section, along with a response, because I think it is helpful to explain why I am pursuing this discussion, and why I am doing so in this way.


Thanks for your thoughtful response. I regularly read your postings and appreciate the sagacity with which they are offered. I suspect, but do not know, that my position, like many of my colleagues, is quite different because I care for a congregation that could have split and didn't. It meant entering into conversation with the "other side" with lots of questions, few answers and plenty of patience to hear people out. Some, of course, did leave, a few in white hot temper. But most stayed, and I bet that most priests in most places have faced pretty much the same in their own ways. So keep it us. Your arguments are worthy and sound. They can be a part of the cutting edge of a new direction, but they cannot do the heavy lifting required to bring the greater church along after them. That requires another kind of effort.

Your brother in Christ,

I want to thank CP for his thoughts on this. I by no means want to suggest that I would cut off dialogue with any even of the most conservative among us.

At the last General Convention I had an extended, semi-public, late-night, and to a large extent alcohol-fueled, discussion with a leading English Evangelical. He came on very strong, and so did I. Yet there was no animus or animosity in the conversation, but rather conviction on both sides, and I did not let him off the hook or allow him to give in to easy slogans or rest unchallenged in his "orthodoxy." In fact, I met him on his own Evangelical ground, and towards the end of the evening he was in tears of gratitude for my not having simply given up on him but pressing the conversation. He said he had never encountered an American Episcopalian willing to actually debate or even discuss the issue at the level of seriousness it required. I heard the next day from another English Evangelical who was present at this discussion (mostly silent and on the sidelines but observing keenly) that this had been a profoundly important experience for his colleague.

It is with the same kind of seriousness — and a soupçon of humor here and there, in, I hope, the best Anglican tradition! — that I am attempting to lay out the argument here, in part by taking the Scripture with the seriousness it deserves, and the very close reading it requires. That Matt Kennedy is taking my efforts seriously and responding in kind (though perhaps with less humor; but that's another matter!) is, I take it, a good sign. There are even points on which we agree, it seems. And both Matt and I will receive nods of approval from those who agree with us on the points on which we disagree, and who are already more or less convinced of the rightness of their point of view. Others, less convinced, may be swayed one way or the other, in part because the conversation is serious and raises issues that have too often been passed by in more general discussions.

I do understand the parochial situation --- and it is not all that different from my own. I do not focus on these issues in my preaching and pastoral work, but neither do I make them a secret. My congregation has more basic concerns about life and morality — and I think rightly so; for like CS Lewis (through whose writings I came to my adult reconversion to Christianity) I do not feel that the sexuality is the most important locus of morality. Following Lewis, and as I said to the Anglican Evangelical, taking a position of judgment against sisters and brothers represents perhaps a far greater sin in the eyes of God than the sins against which one rails. The presumption of judgment, of taking the role of judge rather than as fellow defendant, is a poison which is racking the body of the church --- as it has from the days of Christ himself and the apostles. The object of this judgment, in our day, is homosexuality, rather than in former times questions of circumcision, food offered to idols, gentile status, vernacular liturgy, episcopal authority, Trinitarian doctrine, the common cup, and any of the many points upon which members of Christ's Church have attempted to distinguish themselves from other members of the same body. In this series of articles I am trying to raise awareness of the ambiguities and uncertainties that could render strict judgment on this issue less secure — to hold open the door of humility and charity that might allow some who seem very certain of the sins of others to understand that they might be mistaken.

Tobias Haller BSG


Erika Baker said...

Fr Tobias
You say you are planning “to hold open the door of humility and charity that might allow some who seem very certain of the sins of others to understand that they might be mistaken.”

I don’t know how to ask this question without appearing rude, when I genuinely don’t mean it critically. But how much humility can there be when the aim is to allow others to see their mistakes, presumably fairly sure that you yourself are not mistaken?

I struggle with this for myself and would genuinely like to understand better how I can hold and defend my own views, knowing they will not change, while hoping for change in others.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Erika, you have hit precisely on the dilemma. How does one call others to account for calling others to account?

A great deal of it has to do with the approach one takes. For example, in the current instance I am not suggesting that those who disagree with me should be disciplined or otherwise removed from their positions in the church. I want us all to be able to stay together as a body; no one will be excluded except those who choose to exclude themselves.

Another side of this is to take the approach of doing to others as you would be done by. I hope that people would point out my errors when I make them — as I often do! So I do not feel compelled to refrain from doing the same; in fact I feel a certain responsibility to do so. I am interested in seeking the truth, not in staking out "my" position --- which may be mistaken! this is why I want to engage in the discussion: not merely to present my position, but to have it corrected if I am mistaken.

Together, these two principles represent the difference between discernment and judgment. Discernment observes a situation and comments on it critically; judgment imposes a sentence. It is from the latter we are urged to refrain.

Not to be too Hegelian about it, but better understanding emerges when people try to be clear about their own positions; again with some humility in knowing they may be mistaken even as they feel secure in their beliefs.

Hope this helps explain whence I come... and perhaps where I am going!

Anonymous said...


I think that what you are doing is precisely what is needed: very direct, clearly substantiated, irenic statements of your position, and a extensive rational justification of them. One must state one's position with great clarity without damning those who may reasonably (or conscientiously) disagree.

It is only such clear statements that can save the dialogue from descending into hyperbolic, over-emotional, inaccurate blanket judgments against one's opponents in the debate.

Thank you gratefully for the time and effort!

Anonymous said...

"I do not feel that the sexuality is the most important locus of morality."

I didn't think that anyone did.

Still, just because something is not "the most important locus of morality" doesn't mean it doesn't matter. Theft is hardly the most important locus of morality either. But if the bishop is caught embezzling, he will undoubtedly be removed, even if he protests that, after all, the early Christians had everything in common.

--rick allen

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...


I don't know where you've been lately, but I beg to differ on some people seeming to think the sexuality issue is the deal-breaker for the Anglican Communion. In spite of their efforts to broaden the range of complaint to include charges of heresy and apostasy, the one thing that keeps coming up is same-sex relationships; in large part because this is seen as an assault upon the very foundation of Scripture.

This appears unbalanced to me, as surely sexuality of any sort forms a very small part of the Scripture, and the passages involving same-sexuality are ambiguous to say the least, and hardly central to any theological point whatever. Do a Google search if you don't believe me. I think you will find any number of people out there who appear to think that sexuality is just about the most important issue on the table.

Erika Baker said...

why is it that in these discussions same sex love is always compared - purely theoretically, of course! - to something clearly immoral, such as theft, adultery etc.?

Can we not at least compare it to something where genuinely different views are possible?

We are, after all, trying to ascertain whether same sex love is moral or immoral. Automatically linking it to something clearly immoral implies that there cannot be a real debate and that those who believe it is acceptable are merely trying to justify a sin.

Hardly a good starting point for a genuine conversation.

Christopher said...

Fr. Haller,

I think it might be useful if you would offer a discussion on the distinction of doctrine and discipline. To my understanding, doctrine has to do with matters eternal, the Creeds being sufficient in this regard. Discipline is application of things eternal, the actual living out of salvation in the particulars of life.

How do you understand these terms, how might Episcopalians? It seems the two become conflated (rather than related) in too many discussions about sexuality, and the irony is that those who claim themselves orthodox start making unorthodox moves like projecting gender into God's essence in the process.

Erika Baker said...

Fr Tobias
Thank you
"again with some humility in knowing they may be mistaken even as they feel secure in their beliefs."

You're clearly a better and stronger person than I am! I do "know" that I'm right and have shockingly little humility about it. I know I could never renounce my love and revise my position.

If you can genuinely envisage doing that for yourself you are more Christian than I will ever be.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Erika. That is a very sound point.

Christopher, I heartily agree about the extent to which "zeal for thy house has consumed" some of those eager to find "orthodox" reasons against same-sexuality; and that they have actually wandered away from the faith once delivered in doing so. (The same goes for opposition to the ordination of women; the issues are not unrelated, of course, as they involve seeing accident as essence, or function as destiny, in both cases).

I can offer this brief citation from Hooker as a pointer to how Scripture should be used, and usually isn't:

Wherefore to end with a general rule concerning all the laws which God hath tied men unto: those laws divine that belong, whether naturally or supernaturally, either to men as men, or to men as they live in politic society, or to men as they are of that politic society which is the Church, without any further respect had unto any such variable accident as the state of men and of societies of men and of the Church itself in this world is subject unto; all laws that so belong unto men, they belong for ever, yea although they be Positive Laws, unless being positive God himself which made them alter them. The reason is, because the subject or matter of laws in general is thus far forth constant: which matter is that for the ordering whereof laws were instituted, and being instituted are not changeable without cause, neither can they have cause of change, when that which gave them their first institution remaineth for ever one and the same. On the other side, laws that were made for men or societies or churches, in regard of their being such as they do not always continue, but may perhaps be clean otherwise a while after, and so may require to be otherwise ordered than before; the laws of God himself which are of this nature, no man endued with common sense will ever deny to be of a different constitution from the former, in respect of the one’s constancy and the mutability of the other. And this doth seem to have been the very cause why St John doth so peculiarly term the doctrine that teacheth salvation by Jesus Christ, Evangelium aeternum “an eternal Gospel;” because there can be no reason wherefore the publishing thereof should be taken away, and any other instead of it proclaimed, as long as the world doth continue: whereas the whole law of rites and ceremonies, although delivered with so great solemnity, is notwithstanding clean abrogated, inasmuch as it had but temporary cause of God’s ordaining it.

Now, this gets us into that whole mess of "rites and ceremonies" and which is which. But I would like to suggest that one might view (as Jesus clearly did in his advocacy for celibacy in the face of the Jewish tradition requiring or at the very least expecting marriage) that the rules for these matters might also have "temporary" standing as we come better to understand human psychology and physiology, and consider the needs of the world and those things which work to its upbuilding, such as fidelity and charity, rather than looking to, and being limited by, anatomy and gender.

Many human cultures have been able to understand this aspect of human nature, and incorporate it into their social matrix; indeed sometimes while even espousing a theoretical antipathy to it -- witness the British Public School system, in the midst of whose petty cruelties, as C S Lewis noted in his autobiography, same-sex affection may have been the one redeeming vice.

I am not alone (I know you share this view) in calling for a disciplined approach to same-sex relationships, modeled on the same standards of fidelity, mutuality, and permanence that mixed-sex couples are called to. This involves no change in doctrine; only an expansion of the discipline to include some who until now have been disallowed an explicitly approved venue for a life expressing this form of commitment.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks again, Erika. I take this all very seriously (in spite of the occasional humor!) and I do so with the knowledge that I might be mistaken. This is why I take those on the opposite side seriously.

But I also checked their assertions. When they make claims I either know to be false, or which when I check their citations I find to be false, or at least open to another interpretation, it does not encourage me to take their other statements at face value.

For example, I spent much of the afternoon today tracking down references to porneia or znuth in the literature of rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity, to see if there was any truth to the claim (advanced by Gagnon and others) that when Jesus referred to porneia he must have intended to include homosexuality.) This claim is usually based on saying that in this period porneia explicitly referred to the commandments in Leviticus 18 and 20.

I have found no use of porneia in connection with homosexuality apart from the possible scenario in Josephus Wars 4:558ff. I have found a connection with Leviticus only in the Targum Neofiti and Targum PseudoJonathan, and there only in connection with one particular form of incest (a man having both a mother and her daughter). [I'm still reviewing the Qumran material, but the passages I've reviewed so far all tend the same way.]

In short, far from necessarily implying that Jesus meant to include homosexuality when he referred to porneia, it appears clear he was using the word (as were the Apostles in Acts) to refer to harlotry or idolatry -- the overwhelmingly more common uses of the word.

So, as I say, I am ready to be shown to be mistaken --- but it is going to have to be a fairly convincing argument. I've been studying this issue for years, and the more I study it the more I find the evidence tends in my direction rather than against it. Of course, I could be wrong...

Anonymous said...

"I beg to differ on some people seeming to think the sexuality issue is the deal-breaker for the Anglican Communion."

Whether something is a "deal-breaker" is hardly the same thing as asserting that something is "the most important focus of morality."

Again, with my hypothetical larcenous bishop, if some portion of the church actually began to think it OK to have cat burglars for chief shepherds, there is some good possibility that others might want to disassociate themselves from their more loose-fingered brethren.

It's not whether an issue is the "most important," but whether it is non-trivial.

You may recall some great controversy some years ago about world Presbyterian bodies breaking communion with the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa over the issue of apartheid. I think we'd agree that they were justified in doing so, not because there's something in the Nicene Creed about it, but because it's still an important enough moral issue to justify such a breach.

--rick allen

Anonymous said...

"why is it that in these discussions same sex love is always compared - purely theoretically, of course! - to something clearly immoral, such as theft, adultery etc.?"

Because the argument here is that, even if one believes same-sex love wrong or sinful, it should not have a certain consequence, such as schism.

Those kind of propositions can be tested by substituting some sort of behavior that we agree is immoral, to see if we agree on the consequence. It's just a common form of moral reasoning.

--rick allen

Erika Baker said...

Fr Tobias
that is a very interesting answer, thank you. I respect you enormously for going to such lengths to understand the bible's view on sexual morality better, and it is hugely valuable research.

The question then is, would you genuinely change your mind about same sex love if it could be shown that Jesus had indeed condemned it, and that his condemnation included the kind of relationships we are living today?

For me, it would merely move the debate to another platform.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Privately, to Country Parson -- no problem; I am also not always the best at the keyboard.

Rick, I do indeed recall the to-do about the Dutch Reformed Church of SA, which risked disfellowship for its "theological defense" of apartheid. I even wrote about it. The issue was theological, not simply moral. As the General Secretary of of WARC noted in 1998, the Reformed position on apartheid involved something "so important and existential that it pertains to the very core and integrity of our faith."

The problem with your "analogy" to theft is that it begs the question. This "common form of moral reasoning" is flawed from the outset. Obviously if there is something we all agree is immoral we all agree it is immoral. Taking a real issue and then amending it into a hypothetical ("if some people wanted to defend theft") is illogical in the extreme. Erika rightly points out the "straw man" in this argument.

At present the morality of same-sexuality is the topic of discussion, and some people think it wrong, and others right. If you want a proper analogy you need to consider something that some people consider immoral and others moral, or at least neutral. Obviously anything which some think is sinful (that others don't) will be a source of tension; whether it is a tension strong enough to warrant schism is the question.

So rather than trying to argue by a faulty analogy (that can only be truly analogous by hypothetical amendment) look at the real history of doctrinal development and those issues on which the churches have actually changed their position over the years. For example, to take something off the top of my head, compare and contrast the role of military personnel in the life of the church from the time of the apostolic canons to the present. As you know, in the early church membership in the military was a bar to baptism. Or, if you prefer, take lending money at interest, the licitness of remarriage after divorce, or any of the other conflicted issues that have created tension and in some cases division in the church.

Erika, this is another hypothetical, but if it could be proven that the present Gospel texts indicate Jesus did condemn same-sex relationships I would have to reconsider the matter with all seriousness. But I'd rather stick with the actual evidence, i.e., that Jesus did not address the issue explicitly. All of the present negative arguments are by implication, that is, "surely Jesus would have been opposed..." etc. Or they try to recast his teaching about divorce into one about sex; or to include same-sex relationships under "porneia." What I find of most concern is the tendency to seek to stretch biblical teaching to condemn faithful same-sex relationships while at the same time minimizing the condemnations against divorce and remarriage. This strikes me as a form of unequal weights and measures. And that, according to the prophetic tradition, is immoral.

Erika Baker said...

Fr Tobias
thank you for your reply to Rick. The one problem I can see with it is that all the analogies you provide are for topics where the church has indeed changed its mind.

For people who oppose same sex relationships this often sounds like "you've changed your mind before so you have to do it now". The analogies appear to them to be as loaded as the comparisons with something immoral do to me.

Are there any issues that used to be as controversial, but where the church decided that, yes, they were after all immoral?
It would be helpful if we could introduce that kind of balance into the debate.

Other current issues that might qualify to illustrate the dilemma, although strangely without the same ferrocious impact on the Christian psyche, is genetic engineering, stem cell research, cloning, euthanasia, abortion, even the death penalty, etc.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Erika,

I take your point; though the example of marriage after divorce is still an issue on which the Christian church as a whole is not of a common mind; and even Episcopal clergy who are so moved are permitted to refuse to marry a divorced couple if they so choose. And matters such as the common cup, which I mentioned earlier, did lead to actual division in the church, even though they are not hot issues now.

But the examples you give would also serve -- abortion, for example, is a good one. I can't recall anyone suggesting that the church or the communion should split over this issue, which is arguably of greater moral weight than sexuality. Yet clearly there are strong divisions of opinion about it both within and among the churches.

For an example of the type you seek, something that was under discussion but which the church later deemed immoral, I think slavery is a good example. This touches the Episcopal Church deeply, because TEC chose, quite deliberately, not to take an official stand on the matter in the years leading up to the Civil War; while many Episcopalians were abolitionists, the Presiding Bishop of the time (Bishop of Vermont John Henry Hopkins) wrote a strong biblical defense of the institution of slavery. By deciding not to take an official position both sides were able to coexist. It was only much later that the issue was settled, and the immorality of one person having ownership of another was deemed established. (Interestingly, TEC did not divide over slavery, by virtue of not taking a position on it, in spite of some very strong feelings on both sides. The split at the Civil War was a result of the Confederate States believing themselves to have created a new nation, and thus needing a new "national church." The rest of TEC never acknowledged this division, and continued to call the roll of the absent bishops; and welcomed them back when the war ended.)

Any of these analogies would serve as better examples than the tendentious one offered by Mr. Allen. Still, I don't really see what is to be gained from analogies apart from seeing how the church works its way through things. It is simply obvious to me that there are some moral questions which cause division and some which don't; so it makes most sense to deal with the actual issue before us, and in particular for those who wish to make it a "break-up" point to demonstrate exactly why a break-up is warranted, in this case quite apart from any other issue that has, or hasn't caused a breakup.

If nothing else, I hope I have shown in this series of essays that the accusation that "progressives don't take the Scripture seriously" is not a valid reason in this case. I think I am taking the Scripture very seriously indeed.

Thanks again for your always helpful and challenging comments.

Christopher said...

Fr. Haller, what you say is true of The Episcopal Church and slavery; however, let's not also forget that that ambiguity forever cast this Church in a negative light in the eyes of many African American folk and frankly really required their own Churches, even to this day. That kind of ambiguity can have costs in terms of the Gospel as actually applied to real life. And the finally coming to recognize owning another person as a human being as immoral largely played out without Episcopal input on the whole in terms of Christian leadership which tended to draw more from Unitarians, Congregationalists, Methodists, and Presbyterians. No we didn't split over slavery, but I'm not necessarily sure that's something to be proud of either. What it does, however, highlight is that "biblical" anything in terms of ethics/morality on its own is not necessarily laudable and can in fact lead to all sorts of horrible treatment of human beings in the Name of Jesus Christ. In that sense, I am extremely thankful I live in a society in which our government is separable from our religious institutions given that sometimes it has been secular reasoning and thought on ethical matters that has been ahead of leadership in the Church.

Anonymous said...

“Taking a real issue and then amending it into a hypothetical ("if some people wanted to defend theft") is illogical in the extreme. Erika rightly points out the "straw man" in this argument.”

I will take the blame for not being clear enough on this, but you wholly misunderstand the form of argument.

Let me give an example outside of the usual “hot button” topics. Suppose someone thinks that Corpus Christi processions are a safety hazard and wants to ban them. I argue that the ban ought not to be put in place because the law should not put any burden on genuinely-held religious activity.

Is that a good argument? An opponent could say, “By that argument, the law couldn’t ban child sacrifice by genuine adherents of Moloch.” A silly argument? Not really. An attempt to liken Corpus Christi processions to child sacrifice? Not if you’re paying attention. It is a challenge to the general principle that the law should not ban genuinely-held religious principles. And it’s a good one. It shows that in at least one instance, and presumably in others, the law should ban genuinely-held religious activity, and we agree that it should.

The objection does not, of course, prove that Corpus Christi processions should be banned. But it does tell me that my overall principle isn’t too good, and that I need to better formulate it. (Though I fear in today’s climate the reaction would be, “How dare you liken my procession to child murder!”)

Examples of these kind of bad principles abound. “You shouldn’t criminalize abortion, because it will still take place.” Would we apply this principle to any other crime? Does criminalizing anything ever keep it from still taking place?

In this case, it was suggested that the willingness to split over homosexuality proved that some people must think that a principle of core importance. I replied that the statement implicitly relied on an assumed principle that churches should not split over matters that are not of core importance, and I proposed two counter-examples, theft and apartheid, that I suggested should and have split churches. That’s all.

--rick allen

Erika Baker said...

Fr Tobias
thank you again.

It seems, then, that there are no examples of a moral dilemma that was eventually solved by affirming the status quo. All appear to have resulted in change sooner or later.

No wonder the conservatives are finding this current conversation challenging.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...


I by no means wanted to suggest I thought the failure to take a stand on slavery, and thereby avoid a split, was a virtue! In fact, I think it was a scandal, and it led precisely to the situation you describe -- a situation to a small extent mollified by the stand a number of leading Episcopalians took in the Civil Rights movement.


I think I'm finally seeing what you are getting at, but I wonder at its utility. We both agree there are matters over which churches split; perhaps we agree that there are matters over which they "should" split. My point is that, historically speaking, many of the matters over which churches have split in the past, in retrospect, seem less important, and turn out not really to have been crucial factors. The fact that the RCC has adopted many of the features of the Reformed churches (common cup, vernacular language, versus populum celebration) which were hotly defended and opposed in the 16th century is an indication of what I am speaking of.

I am simply challenging the need for an analogy (that casts the situation into a tendentious light). Obviously there are matters that should divide a church -- the issue at present is, Is same-sexuality one of them? Your analogy, to my mind, did not answer that question but rather addressed a question that I don't think many people are asking, and certainly not me.

To take your example, the argument that Corpus Christi processions should be protected because they are "religious" will not stand up to the Moloch argument. Agreed. The proper defense is to challenge the accusations of the procession being a safety hazard. Obviously child sacrifice is a hazard!

You have misread my assumptions: while I do think churches should not split over nonessentials, they will, precisely because they don't see them as nonessential at the time of the split. (I mean, has there ever been a split over something everyone agreed was unimportant? I think, by definition, not.) In most cases it will take both sides time to realize the matter of the split was nonessential; by then the damage will have been done.

Sadly, I concur. I think the main problem is that conservatives, by definition, don't like change. The fact is, many, if not most, things change; thus there will always be challenge.

Anonymous said...

Tobias said, "The fact is, many, if not most, things change; thus there will always be challenge."

If you enquire of any zoologist or biologist the means by which one can determine if some particular thing is alive or not, one of the criteria is to see if it changes autonomically (i.e., by itself - not by influences outside itself) -- that is an essential ingredient to life. If something does NOT change, it cannot be alive.

I know that is analogical, but it is also truly logical.

Anonymous said...

I'm late to this thread but in response to Erika's question:

Yes, there is a clear example from English history about a moral dilemma that was resolved in favor of the status quo ante:

Divorce. The status quo ante teaching of the Catholic Church was that no power on Earth had the authority to dissolve a valid marriage between baptized persons. King Henry VIII rejected this teaching and as a consequence the Anglican Church was born. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church maintains the biblical and apostolic teaching.

Another example would be bigamy: its prohibition was questioned in the Reformation but its rejection reaffirmed by the Catholic Church.

While we're at it, the blanket prohibition against fornication has been questioned by some Christian theologians but rejected by most Christian churches.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Fr Michael,

I think rather what we see with divorce is the fact of division, not restoration of the status quo. Some affirmed and maintained the status quo ante on divorce (Rome) while the Anglicans and Reformers allowed it. The "resolution" was by means of division, not affirmation.

On bigamy I think you may be nearer the mark, for although the subject was raised briefly both in England and Germany, neither of the churches in question actually affirmed it in practice. Sadly, the split had already happened in those cases. (The English suggested bigamy to solve Henry's problems; and if I recall correctly there was some thought of heading that way even in Rome, as a radical solution, on the grounds that monarchs, like Solomon, had a historic and biblical license to polygamy, that would preserve the pope from having to back down on his having given a dispensation for incest, but not approve a divorce. Sadly, politics got in the way as Catherine's family would hardly have stood for any such accommodation!)

Anonymous said...

This thread seems to have turned into "a search for moral analogies".

Having done so---and because I wanted to bring this similarly-thoughtful discussion to your attention anyway, Tobias---may I suggest usury, as developed here? [Between the blogger, Clark West, and the one-and-only Ephraim Radner. Hat-tip, to the even MORE distinguished Louie Crew! :-)]

While big, theological/ethical debates are always beyond THIS "bear-of-little-brain", I benefit from them nonetheless! ;-)

Christopher said...

Fr. Haller,

I didn't think that was your intent, but this bit has been trotted out one too many times by Episcopalians. The problem is I have heard one too many Episcopalians proud of our not having split, to which I have responded, we were blind, and didn't come to see for a century? Our blindness has left our own catholicity forever in question, and forces us to turn to the AME, CME, and such to see our own lack. Our arrogance on the episcopate, sadly, rather than recognizing our own best Reformers' thinking in refusing to unchurch others, by recognizing the church wherever the word is rightly preached and Sacraments administered, has left us lacking.

My African American friends at seminary were horrified when I left the Roman Catholic tradition to become Episcopalian because our church is perceived as having tolerated the abuses of slavery and being the church of the masters. With all of its own problems, they saw the Roman Catholic tradition as more conducive to people of non-English culture and non-white skin. That's a serious problem, and one I don't think we've completely overcome. I would say that that same problem looms over Anglicanism as a whole in relation to lgbt persons at this time in history and we make that error again at the peril of the Gospel. It is not clear to me that we have good news for non-heterosexuals. And if not the consequences theologically are serious and frankly damning of Christianity.

The question before us at heart for me is is the Gospel for all or for heterosexuals only? If the latter, then we are the sorriest of people, as St. Paul put it because that means our faith is not universal in scope, and thus not saving.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

An interesting article. I am, as you know, of the mind that the usury argument is a good one. That is, there is a strong scriptural case against it, yet the church has come to terms with it -- not just out of practicality, but through an honest appraisal of the matter. I have suggested, and will continue to explore, the fact that the scriptural case against same-sex relationships (particularly among women) is far weaker in terms of clarity that the one against usury; yet it seems to be a sticking point for many. I do not, as some, claim that there is no scripture to be taken as against gays -- but I am, in this series, examining the assertions that these passages necessitate such a stern rebuke in our own time, when we have learned a good bit more about human psychology; and also about the relative weight given to various passages of Scripture -- the theme of this current section of my reflections.

Christopher, Amen. I have been appalled any number of times to hear people say -- with apparent pride -- that "the Episcopal Church didn't split during the Civil War"; not just because it lacks historical nuance, but because of the impression it leaves that slavery was justifiable (on one side), and tolerable on the other. The history is still very much with us, or only recently amended. I can recall the ruckus from not too very long ago when it became a matter of debate whether to take down the Confederate Flag in the student center at Sewanee.

Let us not make the same kind of mistake over another portion of humanity --- and begin by admitting we may have been mistaken in the first place, to take as the will of God some of the cultural failings of God's people.

Anonymous said...

erika asks, saying that she "would genuinely like to understand better how i can hold and defend my own views, knowing they will not change, will hoping for change in others."

there is no way. but I believe Socrates is right here. you should want your own views to change when they are wrong.

to have a false belief corrected is to receive a great blessing. to wish to maintain a view--or worse, to commit oneself to maintaining it--even if it should prove false, is disastrous for one's own well being.

to truly hold and defend a view, in the last analysis, is to know that it will change if it needs to. otherwise you are holding it for reasons other than its truth (perhaps it one is emotionally interested in it), and if you hold it for reasons other than its truth, you are not able to defend it.

Anonymous said...

Fr Tobias:

Thank you for your response. I believe my response answered Erika's question and more importantly, what seemed to lay under it-- that in matters of morals, a new moral question or quandary always leads to change in the defined Christian doctrine or practice. This idea is in fact not true for all Christian denominations. I don't know enough about the Anglicans, perhaps she might be right if her statement was intended to be limited to Anglicanism.


Anonymous said...

"I am simply challenging the need for an analogy (that casts the situation into a tendentious light)."

I suppose it would simply be beating a dead horse for me to repeat that I have not proposed analogizing homosexuality to anything, but have simply engaged briefly in an entirely different exercise, the testing a a general proposition by a discreet case.

It can, I think, be applied with equal force to some of the other proposed principles coming to the fore in this very discussion: "The church's teaching on X can be changed, because, after all, it has changed its teaching on usury." Or the more general, "Everything changes, therefore, this, too, must change."

--rick allen

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

And the problem, Rick, with all casuistry, is "Does the case presented actually map to the situation under discussion." Several have pointed out to you that your proposal does not adequately map to the problem.

The "general proposition" is that "given that some things change, can this particular thing (the policy on same-sexuality) change." By offering a different "thing" (theft) as the subject of the question, you are not analogizing, but rather presenting a situation in which a different conclusion might well be reached. This appears to be a species of the "slippery slope" -- which we've discussed before. It is true that a real slippery slope argument can be made, when there is some probable reality that a change on one policy might lead to a change on another policy, clearly linked by a relation in theme or substance. And you present analogical form can also be useful -- no one denies that. The problem is that in the particular case you offer, the substitute term you suggest (theft) is not considered, on this side of the divide, to represent an adequate map. Onc could, of course, note that in choosing "usury" as the map, it begs the question on the other side. But here I think is the crucial thing to be understood about the whole issue of comparing apples with apples or oranges.

For this reminds me a bit of the response to the so-called "shellfish argument." This argument is falsely cast by the conservative wing as "since the law on diet changed anything can change." That is, of course, a straw man, and is not the substance of the argument. The true argument is: "the law on diet has changed, and we are now seeking to examine if the law on same-sexuality is closer, in its bases, to the dietary laws or to laws concerning matters that we can agree represent moral principles." So, the real question is about the nature of the dietary (or usury) laws -- and is same-sexuality more like those things or more like theft or murder.

Erika Baker said...

Fr Michael
thank you for your comments.
I was a little surprised to see fornication in the list of things where the church has not changed its position. Certainly, the Anglican church has de facto changed its ways of dealing with a couple living together before marriage. Marriages of cohabitants are common, many of my priest friends have cohabiting children who may or may not eventually marry, without this causing any kind of anguish.

I think most would draw the line at uncommitted relationships, but committed, stable and faithful relationships entered into with the hope that they might be permanent, don't appear to be a cause of concern for anyone.

Erika Baker said...

Thomas Bushnell,
I agree that I should want to change my views when they are wrong, and most of my life has been spent trying to discern what God wants from me and to change my life accordingly.

But for the purpose of this particular debate, I am as close to 100% certain that God approves of my life and my love, indeed that he has led me carefully and painfully to the place I am finding myself in.

Although there is a very very remote possibility that I might, at some point in the future, begin to discern that I may have misunderstood, I must be honest and admit that my positive view of same gender love is based on my own personal experience of God and on the work of many learned theologians who provide the theological underpinning for how I read the bible in this matter.

To all intent and purposes I would be hypocritical to say that I am willing to change my mind. Although theoretically true, the probability is so small as to make the statement meaningless for now.
Hence my question.

Anonymous said...

"The true argument is: "the law on diet has changed, and we are now seeking to examine if the law on same-sexuality is closer, in its bases, to the dietary laws or to laws concerning matters that we can agree represent moral principles." So, the real question is about the nature of the dietary (or usury) laws -- and is same-sexuality more like those things or more like theft or murder."

If you must make an argument from analogy, you must, I suppose.

The answer of course is that sodomia isn't much like either eating shrimp or murder. The argument from analogy is pretty much a stretch either way.

One might suggest that it is most analogous to the other sexual offenses with which it is sometimes associated, but that approach so offends it's not worth making. Analogy is dicey.

--rick allen

Christopher said...

Fr. Haller,

And that suggests we must be descriptive, look at fruits. But as I wrote in the last portion of my reflection on Ash Wednesday, we are treated regularly to negative theoreticals on the fruits of same-sex relationships and at the same time the Church refuses to look at the negative impact of real, flesh and blood fruits produced by our heterosexism. It reads as docetic and Manichaean at a fundamental level.

Erika Baker said...

I agree, it is dicey to compare same sex love (sodomia is a bit of a loaded word in the context of this debate)to "other" sexual offences. That's not because the analogy offends but because you are again comparing something whose moral status we're trying to ascertain with something where the sinful moral status is already agreed on by everyone.

It's simply a category error.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Rick, I realize this must be difficult for you to engage; but you are the one who raised this question, in suggesting a comparison with a bishop who might be removed from office on account of theft, or how the church might react if a church moved not to remove such a bishop.

The larger issue, to what extent does the prohibition on male same-sexuality (since that is the only "prohibition" in the law) relate to other prohibitions, dietary, sexual, and criminal, is precisely what I am examining. It is not a question of analogy, but of the examination of a law code. I have been exploring these various laws in terms of their provenance, sentence imposed, and relationship with each other, and will continue to do so in the next section of the main discussion. As an attorney (IIRC you are one, though perhaps I am misremembering?), I would hope you would appreciate the difference between a mere analogy and a discussion of the legal basis of laws of various types.

Anonymous said...

Dear Erika:

Fornication is rejected by the Christian churches representing the great majority of the world's Christians (and American Christians as well): Catholics, Orthodox, Evangelical, Pentecostal, and fundamentalist. This is true even after the onset of the Sexual Revolution. I'm guessing even some of the mainline Protestant church might have fornication on the books still as sinful behavior.


Erika Baker said...

Fr Michael
Maybe we need to talk about what "rejecting something" means.

I accept that the doctrines of all Christian churches reject "fornication". It is nevertheless a fact that many, and I would say most Anglican churches in the UK, the only ones I can truly judge, have no actual, practical and pastoral problems with couples engaging in sexual activity in stable, equal, faithful and loving partnerships. The negative connotations of the word fornication no longer exist for most Anglicans, the only genuine question left is whether the sexual activity in question is
abusive or not.

Now, if churches "rejected" homosexuality in the same way we would not be in the current situation and I could live with the official rejection much more easily than with the poisonous hatred that is driving us apart over the issue of "rejecting" same gender love.

Anonymous said...

Erika, if your experience is truly representative of the UK at large, then clearly the Church of England's take on fornication is quite different than the majority of the world's Christians.

These differences are caused not "poisonous hate" but by detestation of sin as the majority of the world's Christians (and possibly most worldwide Anglicans) see it. The re-labeling of sinful activity as holy is one that would definitely bring me to the battlements were it to occur in my church, the Roman Catholic Church.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I fear this discussion has wandered rather far afield from the original topic. I by no means wish to shut off discussion, but it also appears that we are approaching the status of opposing picket lines rather than dialogue.

The question of the sinfulness of "fornication" is a vexed one because the term is rather imprecise. In the Scripture, the word it usually translates is one that actually means prostitution. Sadly, most moderns take it to mean "sex before marriage" which is not what the authors meant by it.

As far as "sex before marriage" goes from a Scriptural standpoint, it is scarcely mentioned, and is not against the law, nor is there a suggestion that it is immoral, so long as the couple eventually get married. (Even in the extreme case of the rape of an unbetrothed virgin! -- Dt 22:28ff).

I don't know about Roman Catholic clergy, but given the statistics on sexual experience among American teens, I think most of the couples who come forward for marriage have already had some sexual experience, not necessarily with each other. I assume, depending on the priest, there will be some degree or other of finger-wagging if the subject comes up; but that in general the forthcoming marriage is seen as the chief preventative to such goings-on -- as the old language said, "a remedy for fornication."

However, I imagine that as with birth control, whatever the teaching of the hierarchy may be on its "sinfulness," it is essentially disregarded by many if not most of the "faithful." I'm not by any means suggesting that is a good thing; but as with the sexual abuse scandal that has so racked the Roman Catholic Church, there is a fine line between innocent ignorance and hypocritical deception.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure we're tht far from the topic at hand. What is the Church to do when the practice of the laity veers significantly from the teaching of the Church? Many today feel that "honesty" compels Church teaching then conform to practice, and that to continue with the traditional teaching is hypocrasy.

For myself, I think the Church should continue to take the approach that Jesus took, to hold out for us a high, seemingly impossible standard of conduct, coupled with and endless willingness to forgive when we fall short. So much is said about how Catholic sexual standards are "unrealistic" that we tend to ignore the fact that other ethical demands--to return good for evil, to love others as ourselves, to not let the sun go down on our anger--are not exactly easy nor widely adhered to either.

I know that part of what you have been doing in your series is arguing with those who adhere to the principle of sola scriptura, and as a Catholic I of course feel that tradition has a normative value that traditional Protestants deny.

Fornication, as defined by tradition, is quite common these days. I suspect it always has been and always will be. The idea that the Catholic clergy spend their days ferreteing out their parishoners' sex lives is, in my experience, a fantasy whose origins I cannot fathom. That they continue to hold out for us high standards of holiness, and a conception of love as one of self-denial for the other rather than satisfaction of desire is something I am grateful for, as well as the notion that the Christian ethic is not supposed to make me feel OK about myself, but to impel and encourage me seek the higher way propounded by Jesus and those who follow in his footsteps.

Happy Ash Wednesday, and welcome to Lent!

-rick allen

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Rick, we are not entirely in disagreement on the general principle of moral standards being something at which all of us fail. Where we differ seems to lie in two matters, general and particular. In general, you make a distinction between the laity and the Church; whereas I, as a good Anglican, consider that the laity are as much "the Church" as the hierarchy; that is, the magisterium is diffused throughout the whole people of God, even if the presbyters have a specific leadership role in its preservation.

In particular, in addressing the issue of same-sexuality, I think we are dealing with a fairly narrow moral question: is same-sexuality capable of the same moral status as mixed-sexuality. The Scripture, as I have already shown, is to a great extent ambiguous and culturally conditioned (hence the lack of clear prohibition on female same-sexuality); the tradition is also mixed -- much of the current teaching derives from a revival of the natural law tradition in the scholastic era. So it appears to me the "topic" is on the table, and is capable of being examined as such, without retreating into either a kind of bibliolatry or overly high regard of what is, in fact, a rather mixed tradition.

Erika Baker said...

In this whole thread I'm getting the feeling that you are genuinely not appreciating what we're talking about.

This is not a case of rowdy laiety and the odd priest couple deciding to go against true church teachings and pretend that their obvious sinning is holy.
Do you truly believe that this is what we're trying to do?

Can you really not see that for some of us the moral issue is not as clear cut as it is for you, or even that we believe morality to lie with a new understanding of sexuality?
Can you agree that this is a valid point for investigation, or do you really think we're all just trying to please ourselves?

I would honestly like to understand what you believe the basis of our conversation and exploration to be.

Anonymous said...


"Can you really not see that for some of us the moral issue is not as clear cut as it is for you, or even that we believe morality to lie with a new understanding of sexuality?"

Of course I can see that. That's what Toby's been trying to make an argument for. And I've just been trying to take a critical look at his arguments.

In the past Christians and Jews and most others, so far as I can judge, pretty much agreed that if one man had sex with another, that was a sin. Toby argues it's not, never has been, and that we ought to let these guys get married--not there's anything inherently wrong with sex outside marriage.

So he is obviously exploring questions like what makes something a sin, how do we determine right or wrong, what's the nature of marriage? And I am making a few personal responses as to whether I find his arguments, characterizations, analogies, exegetical standards or moral principles valid. I assume that he's interested in that if he's putting it all out in an internet discussion format.

"Can you agree that this is a valid point for investigation, or do you really think we're all just trying to please ourselves?"

Of course it's a valid point for investigation. I can't think of much that isn't. Are we just trying to please ourselves? I don't know anybody's personal feelings about anything. But I do suspect that we all have some greater inclination to relax moral standards than make them more stringent.

--rick allen

bls said...

But that's exactly what's at issue: what "moral standards" consist of!

TEC asks exactly the same thing of gay partners as it does of married heterosexuals: "fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God." This is on the books, officially, in Resolution 2003-C051 of General Convention 2003.

What we are asking, really, is what is essential in Christian marriage; what profit is there in marriage if the gender pairup is correct, but the above attributes and/or actions are absent? IOW, doesn't it seem a bit absurd to concentrate on genitals rather than what comes out of a man's or woman's heart?

The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance - and there is no law against them. Why concentrate instead on externals?