March 29, 2008

God’s Judgment on Heterosexuality

and the Church’s Caring Response

Saturday Satire

by Tobias Haller BSG

[This satirical piece made its first appearance on my Geocities website nearly 15 years ago. Since then it has appeared in a number of forms around the web, including translations into Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and what I think must be Hungarian. A shorter version also appeared in the "Marriage" issue of The Witness in December 1995. It has occasionally been plagiarized. I thought now might be an appropriate time formally to introduce it to the blogosphere. And so, here it is, along with its original short caveat:]

Caveat lector: The following is intended as a work of irony. The author is particularly anxious that readers not impute to him any of the opinions expressed therein. While he agrees with some premises and conclusions advanced, many are far from consistent with his attitude or opinions. The author does, however, feel that what follows is no more selective in its use of Scripture, casual in its logic, condescending in its attitude, erroneous in its conclusions--nor less guilty of asserting bare notions as if self-evident truths--than countless similar essays prepared by the committees, congregations, curiae, and theologians of the numerous scattered members of Christ's church.


The church is faced today with a pastoral problem of significant gravity. It has become more and more apparent that many heterosexuals have come to consider themselves to be faithful members of the church, while committing acts at variance with the church's solemn teaching. The problem is far from new; both the Scriptural witness, and the unbroken tradition of the church attest to the ongoing nature of this tragic discontinuity. The matter has only come to the renewed attention of the church in recent years due to the efforts by some heterosexuals who seek not only to defend but to justify their behavior.

Origins in Creation

The inability of heterosexuals to form lasting, stable relationships has long been noted. A survey of the biblical material provides a sad witness to this inability -- and one explanation for its source -- in God's judgment upon Adam and Eve. This judgment provides a climax to the creation account in Genesis (3.16) and may therefore be taken as substantive testimony to God's eternal plan for humanity. This passage explains the tragic inability of heterosexuals to work together as equals: the female is cursed by being placed under male rule, rather than coexisting as the full and equal partner that a healthy and life-giving relationship requires. This divinely mandated order or hierarchy -- which has institutionalized a veritable "civil war of the sexes" -- fosters the incapacity for mutuality that renders stable heterosexual relationships nearly impossible -- a fitting punishment for the failure to act in obedience to the God who welcomed his creatures into a relationship based on mutual trust and responsibility.

The rest of the biblical material portrays the unfortunate consequence of this constitutional incapacity. Even the patriarch Abraham, who in all other respects was a model of fidelity, was willing to deny his wife and turn her over as a potential concubine. (Gen. 12.13) The overwhelming majority of heterosexual relationships portrayed in Scripture are devoid of any appearance of human care, affection, mutuality, concern, or love. Few of the heterosexual relationships that do evince a degree of personal commitment are monogamous. For example, Elkanah shows real fondness for his barren wife Hannah, but not enough to refrain from having a second wife to bear him children. One is hard pressed to find even a handful of faithful, loving, lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual relationships in the whole of Scripture.

We must remember, however, that God's power is perfected in weakness. The people of Israel departed from the true path time and again, yet were capable of repentance and redemption. So too, God will be patient with erring heterosexuals who repent of their sinful behavior and return to God. The analogy between Israel's corporate misbehavior and the personal behavior of heterosexuals is firmly and dramatically linked in Scripture: heterosexual adultery and prostitution are types of idolatry on Israel's part throughout the prophetic and poetic literature, so much so that at times it is difficult to determine if the acts under condemnation are cultic or sexual in nature. The heterosexual activity (real or figurative) is almost always paired with a call to repentance, and an offer of divine forgiveness. A striking example of this in the New Testament is Jesus' forgiveness of the woman taken in adultery. The Lord forgives her, while making it clear he considers her behavior to be "sin." This is one of the few times the Gospel directly and specifically designates any behavior by the title of "sin." Indeed, of all specific individual acts identified in the Gospel as "sin," half are heterosexual in nature; the others relate to the denial and betrayal of Jesus himself. It is a sign of God's great mercy that the former sins are forgiven while the latter are retained: this fact should serve as a reminder of the gravity of heterosexual sin in God's eyes as well as God's patience with the sinner.

Disease and the other consequences of heterosexual acts

It is incumbent upon the church to avoid suggesting that the high frequency of infant mortality, death in childbirth (which until the introduction of antiseptic procedures was common worldwide), and sexually transmitted disease represent in some way God's specific punishment of individual heterosexuals for their sinful behavior. All human beings share in common mortality, fall prey to disease throughout their lives, and ultimately suffer death. Disease and death may therefore be seen as a tragic consequence of Original Sin rather than of the particular sins of any individual or group.

However, we would be negligent in our task were we to fail to note the biblical witness on this matter. The "knowledge" of good and evil that results from tasting the fruit of the forbidden tree is intimately linked with the shame in nakedness that leads to the effort to conceal the secondary sexual characteristics that distinguish heterosexuals. The taking of the fruit of knowledge leads almost immediately to Adam's first heterosexual experience after the Fall, in which he "knows" his wife. The Fall also results in God's double curse upon Eve: sexual longing for her husband coupled with submission to his domination, rendering a mature love based on equality virtually impossible.

In God's judgment upon Eve, travail in childbirth is singled out as a means to punish womankind for having led mankind astray (Gen. 3.16). It is true that this judgment is partially deferred in the Deuteropauline literature, where it is promised that a woman believer will be "brought safely through childbirth"; that is, a woman's faith will preserve her through this difficult trial, her faith serving as a balance to Eve's primal infidelity. (1 Tim. 2.12-15) Finally, though we refrain from making any direct connection at this point, it must also be acknowledged that at least one instance of child mortality is explicitly related to heterosexual sin: the death of the child born of the illicit heterosexual liaison between David and Uriah the Hittite's wife. (2 Sam 12.14)

Thus procreation, while necessary for the continuance of the human species, is forever tinged with shame, imbalance, and danger as a result of the actions of the first heterosexuals. Heterosexuality is shot through-and-through with mortality, and in the New Testament becomes a type for the world that is passing away. Jesus affirms, in Luke 20.34-35, that heterosexuality -- "marrying and giving in marriage" -- belong to this age, and that those who are worthy of a share in the life of the world to come do not become entangled in the snares of this sort of behavior. While the church has not gone so far as to take Jesus literally at his word on this point, a degree of caution is nonetheless prudent. Jesus' preference for and counsel to celibacy is both a choice and a sign of the Kingdom in which heterosexuality will cease to exist, and, in his words, those worthy of resurrection will be like angels, freed from the mortality for which heterosexual procreation was the remedy. (Luke 20.36)

Moreover, it would be irresponsible of the church not to warn heterosexuals of the dire medical consequences their behavior might cause. When medical conditions (childbed fever, sexually transmitted disease, ectopic pregnancy, cervical cancer, and so on) can clearly and directly be linked with a preventable form of behavior the church is obliged to provide at least warning and counsel to avoid such acts, if possible.

Relevance of biblical material

Many today would argue that the injunctions placed upon heterosexual contact in the Law of Moses are no longer relevant to a discussion of heterosexuality. We must point out, however, the general ritual opprobrium attached to heterosexual acts. All heterosexual acts render both parties unclean at any time, due to emission of semen (Lev 15.18), and abominable at other times, due to contact with menstrual blood. (Lev 15.24, 20.18) The continued fervent condemnation of the latter abomination in the prophetic literature (Ezek. 18.5-13; 22.10), and in church tradition down through the ages (e.g., the Didascalia, Jerome, Clement of Alexandria, John Chrysostom, and Thomas Aquinas) warrants our caution in discarding the Mosaic material as simply "cultural baggage."

Heterosexual Behavior vs. the Heterosexual Condition

Some argue that while heterosexual behavior is sinful, the heterosexual condition is not, and that heterosexuals are capable of leading normal, full, and happy lives within the moral framework determined by the church.

While this is to a large extent an accurate understanding, the church must also warn of the dangers of sin at the level of volition that precedes action. Both the Old and New Testaments warn of the insidious nature of such heterosexual sin. The Tenth Commandment (Exod 20.17) clearly places the mental act of coveting one's neighbor's wife in the same moral universe as outright adultery. Jesus repeats and emphasizes this connection in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5.28). Given this Scriptural witness it is difficult to see that heterosexual inclination is in any way less culpable than heterosexual action, unless involuntary and immediately rejected by an exercise of the will and moral judgment. Such an understanding must rule as sinful, therefore, all pornographic or semi-pornographic material so widely available in our society. (The latter includes much advertising that appears, at first, to be completely unrelated to heterosexuality, but uses a heterosexual subtext in order to market a product.)

The church may be informed, if not guided, by the findings of science on this issue. However, the scientific community is not yet in full agreement as to the etiology of heterosexuality, or the treatment of its more egregious manifestations. While it appears that heterosexual behavior is to a large extent genetically conditioned, and early environmental factors play a significant part in its development -- for neither of which an individual could be held responsible -- still the possibility to refuse to engage in heterosexual acts is always available to the adult person capable of exercising reasonable and free choice. Despite the intensity of the heterosexual inclination, the exercise of the will and moral judgment can assist all but the most clinically unstable heterosexual from committing acts judged to be immoral by the church. Because of this, there can be no question about the position the church must take when dealing with unrepentant, avowed, overt and open heterosexuals who not only commit such acts, but go so far as to brag about the number of their sexual liaisons (many of them made through contacts in such sordid institutions as "singles bars"). The danger to the young -- quite apart from the risk of becoming objects of predatory heterosexuals, and perhaps by this means being recruited to their ranks -- is multiplied by the bad example heterosexuals might present if their behavior were to be mistakenly considered worthy of emulation. For this reason, any toleration of heterosexuals or heterosexuality must be examined with great care and precise clarity, lest the wrong message be sent to our young people, who represent the future of the church and society.

The marriage of heterosexuals

Given the statistics on infidelity, divorce, abortion, rape, the abuse of spouses and the predatory assault upon children by heterosexuals, it would appear that few heterosexuals are capable of the fundamental, mutual self-giving required to support a lifelong, committed relationship. The biblical material on this matter is again unambiguous. When Jesus told the disciples that the only permissible exercise of heterosexual behavior was within the context of a lifelong, faithful, monogamous marriage, his disciples exclaimed that it was impossible. Jesus went on to assert that while not impossible, it was a supernatural gift only a few could be expected to accept. (Matt. 19.10-11)

The Pauline material does not forbid heterosexual marriage, but certainly does not encourage it. Paul's preferential option is for abstinence. Paul spent much of his ministry dealing with the weaknesses of heterosexuals in the early church, counseling them, if at all possible, to avoid entering marriages he knew few of them would be able to sustain, yet allowing it for those unable to control themselves. (1 Cor 7) At the same time, Paul warned against any heterosexual activity outside marriage. Clearly this creates a pastoral dilemma for the church, and an opportunity to exercise forgiveness for those incapable --through no fault other than the constitutional weakness that afflicts so many heterosexuals -- of achieving the highest standards of Christian behavior.

The ordination of heterosexuals

The question of the ordination of active heterosexuals is not a new one. While it appears that some apostles were married (Mark 1.30), Paul clearly regards the practice with unconcealed condescension. (1 Cor 9.5) The Deuteropauline material relents slightly, and allows bishops to be married "only once." (1 Tim. 3.2) The early church allowed married persons to be ordained, except those who had gone so far to marry twice, even after being widowed; and any ordained person who sought to marry was deposed. It was soon found that stricter regulation of heterosexual tendencies was required, and the catholic church, in its wisdom, determined within a few centuries of its institutional life that bishops (and in the West, all clergy) should permanently abstain from all heterosexual activity. Since the Reformation, some churches have decided once again to permit avowed, open and active heterosexuals to serve as ministers, often with disastrous consequences, as the natural tendency toward infidelity and instability evinced by so many heterosexuals emerges in socially and morally inappropriate ways.

The heterosexual agenda

Even considering the church's call to forgiveness and understanding, it would be highly inappropriate to support the so-called "heterosexual agenda" in the secular arena. The church was, to a certain extent, taken unawares when the greatest victory of the heterosexual special interest group was achieved: the liberalization of divorce laws in many parts of the world. Similarly, heterosexual lobbyists have been hard at work mounting efforts to decriminalize heterosexual acts still forbidden by statute in many states, to lower the age of consent for sexual activity between persons of the opposite sex, and to legalize prostitution and the distribution of pornography. Heterosexuals are also fervent in their efforts to retain the special rights that they have managed to secure, rights not afforded to other citizens.

The heterosexual lobby operates politically, but a more insidious influence may well be through the disproportionate heterosexual representation in the entertainment field and in the media. Heterosexuals hold tight control over almost every communications medium, and the proportion of content favorable to heterosexuality is overwhelming. Scarcely a television program or film is released to the public without at least one major heterosexual character, often the hero or heroine, and the effects of this culture-war are already becoming evident in moves towards greater toleration of heterosexual excesses. A sign of the influence of the heterosexual movement is the growing use of the term "straight" to describe heterosexuals. This novel meaning given to a perfectly ordinary word is an example of the attempt to "mainstream" the heterosexual lifestyle, and it is fundamentally misleading -- relationships as intricate, complicated and twisted as those of most heterosexuals would scarcely be called "straight" in the ordinary sense of the word.

The church and the heterosexual

The church is not only competent to forgive the moral error involved in heterosexual acts, it is also able to appeal to the state for mercy and some consideration of the broken condition of the heterosexual offender. The church should model its behavior on Christ, who while acknowledging the sinfulness of the woman taken in adultery, enjoined the crowd to remit the punishment justly due to her. However, it would be improper for the church to seek completely to prevent the exercise of secular law, which may serve--if not as a corrective--at least as a warning of the consequences of immorality.


After all is said and done, we continue to affirm that heterosexuals, despite the sinfulness of their behavior, are children of God, and worthy of our care and pastoral concern. They are more to be pitied than censured. With the pastoral care and counsel of the church, firm in its resolve that there will be no outcasts, they may grow to that "full stature of mature manhood in Christ" promised to all faithful believers.

Promulgated by the Sacred Congregation for the Defense of What I Say is True is True Because I Say It

Copyright © 1994 T. S. Haller BSG

March 17, 2008

A New Deacon

On Saturday the 15th, I was honored to serve as a sponsor for Mark Robin Collins' ordination to the diaconate at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. Mark has been doing his seminarian field placement (from The Seminary, ahem) at my parish, St James Fordham in The Bronx. (And doing a superb job of it, I might add.) I'm the short one on the left, in case my avatars aren't hint enough, Mark is marked with the diaconal diagonal, and to his left are two parish stalwarts, Monica Stewart and Pearline Bashford.

It was a great day, with a superb sermon by the Rev Charles Colwell, an old friend and colleague. There were six other ordinands, and they were all glowing with diaconal élan at the end of the liturgy — which was also splendid in that great and newly cleaned space. (And I was just reminded that I got to lead the singing of the Veni Creator Spiritus from the lectern 1/8 mile away from the rose window! What a venue for a Veni!)

The folks at Saint James will be sorry to lose Mark when he graduates and is no doubt called to productive service. God bless him!

Tobias Haller BSG

March 8, 2008

September Midday Mass

The tall old priest entered the half-lit sacristy,
fresh from his usual Tuesday morning studies.
The fair-haired acolyte with the bad complexion
was ready, vested, standing in the dimness
quietly. The old priest noticed he was sniffing
and his eyes were red. A failed romance,
he thought; but keeping his own rule on chit-chat
in the sacristy, vested silently.
The old familiar motions and the prayers
displaced whatever thoughts he might have had;
the only dialogue to break the stillness was
the rote exchange of formal preparation.

Then, in one motion as he slipped his hand
beneath the pale green veil, the other hand
upon the burse, he lifted vested vessels,
turned and followed in the sniffing server’s
wake. Eyes lowered to the holy burden
in his hand, he failed to notice that
the chapel for this midday feria —
on other days like this with one or two
at most — was full of worshippers; until
he raised his eyes, and saw the pews were filled —
but undeterred began the liturgy:
the lessons and the gospel from last Sunday,
his sermon brief, but pointed, on the texts.

It wasn’t till the acolyte began
the people’s prayers, and choked out words of planes
that brought a city’s towers down, and crashed
into the Pentagon, and plowed a field
in Pennsylvania, that the old priest knew
this was no ordinary Tuesday in
September —
not ordinary time at all,
that day he missed the towers’ fall.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
March 8, 2008

March 7, 2008

Friday Cat

Could you have found nowhere else to store these palms?

She lost her sister, twice

She lost her sister, first — a blood clot
smaller than her little-fingernail
lodged in an artery. Sudden, swift,
and some said merciful,
death kindly came and stopped for her,
as the Amherst spinster said.

But these were folk from warmer latitudes —
“The Islands” or “Back Home,” and she would see to it
her sister’s body rested with her kin.

And so began the tedious task
of paperwork and plans,
till loaded on a transport,
one more crate among the others,
not the only body there to find
its place with freezers, air conditioners
and TV sets, purchased with hard-earned
US dollars, headed “Home” by air.

A sudden squall, a storm — whatever —
the black box undiscovered, told no tales;
but — long and short — the transport ditched at sea;
the crew now numbered with the packaged dead —
and all the crates — appliances and her body —
plummeting to an unintended burial at sea.

And so she lost her sister, twice. The family
would still put flowers on the empty grave,
in memory — as memory was all
that still remained.

Tobias Haller BSG

March 7, 2008

March 5, 2008

Quote(s) of the Day 03.05.08

...At the time of the massacre, Archbishop Peter Akinola was the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria... When asked if those wearing name tags that read “Christian Association of Nigeria” had been sent to the Muslim part of Yelwa, the archbishop grinned. “No comment,” he said...
— Eliza Griswold in The Atlantic Monthly, (hat tip to Fr Jake) may smile, and smile, and be a villain.
— Wm. Shakespeare, Hamlet I.v

Feet of Clay

Bishop Sisk’s letter to the Diocese of New York, in the wake of Honor Moore’s book about her father, has generated a lot of comment in the diocese and the blogosphere. Some seem to think the primary concern was Bishop Moore’s sexuality, and I guess for the wider public interested in such things that will be the titillating revelation.

But Bishop Sisk’s primary concern was certainly not Paul’s sexuality, nor his infidelity, but much more importantly, his misconduct, described in the fifth paragraph of Bishop Sisk’s letter. The misconduct complaints were reported to the PB, and dealt with “quietly” but dealt with, over a decade before the present bishop took up his office. I know this because, although I did not know the nature of the charges, it was easy to see at the time that “something” had happened, for Bishop Moore was a member of my parish, and the scuttlebutt was that he was under some kind of discipline.

In retrospect (which is always 20/20) it would have been better for all if the matter had become public, and Bishop Moore openly sentenced, either to suspension or deposition. This would have been very painful, but it would have lanced the wound. We’ve learned a lot in the last twenty years. But people should realize how very much Paul Moore himself was responsible for imbuing a culture of evasion and concealment in the church. While he led the Diocese admirably, it could not help but reflect his own conflicted life over his long service. The mark such leaders leave upon the institutions they serve will not always be discernible but by succeeding generations.

As it is, though, Paul is dead and whatever sentence a higher tribunal will make, in the earthly arena only his memory suffers. Those who hated him in life will feel vindicated; those who admired him will feel to some extent embarrassed or pained, and some of them have directed their anger at Honor Moore or Bishop Sisk.

But Paul himself is not subject to pain inflicted post mortem. Honor Moore might be held up for criticism for telling tales she knows full well her father did not wish to have exposed. But the anger against Bishop Sisk — and the extent to which that anger distorts perceptions of what he actually wrote — seems to me to be entirely misplaced.

This is difficult for all of us. It is perhaps most difficult for those who have canonized Paul Moore in their memories. I knew and admired Paul Moore in several different contexts: as my Bishop, as Visitor to my community, and as a fellow parishioner. I also know how, in spite of his moving the issue forward, he nuanced his support of gay and lesbian people, and distanced himself with distinctions about “orientation” and “practice” when the House of Bishops came down on him. If you want to see a poignant exercise in Paul’s inability to face his own and others’ realities, and what he knew or didn’t know, read his address to the House of Bishops. He did not want to know of others that which he didn’t want known of himself. He helped us to move forward incrementally; but I wonder how much more he might have done so, had he chosen either the hard task of self-discipline, or the even harder task of self-knowledge and revelation.

For I am very weary of those who blame society for Paul’s double life in the closet, and even more those who blame the closet for his misconduct. He wasn’t “forced” — he made choices, choices which affected others than himself.

Hard as it may be for some to believe, there are celibate gay and lesbian people — some in the closet and some out. There are gay and lesbian people who marry persons of the opposite sex and who remain faithful to them — though this is a painful course I would not urge anyone to follow. There are gay and lesbian persons who remain faithful to their partners, again, some in the closet and some not.

Paul Moore was unable to follow through on his choice; he benefitted from the superficial protection it offered him. Had he been fully honest about himself, he would likely never have been a priest, certainly not a bishop — unless he chose the path of celibacy, or the virtual celibacy of the closet-with-benefits favored in his day in Anglo-Catholic circles, and still urged by some as a way to have avoided the present tensions in the Anglican Communion.

Paul Moore was a man admired by many, including myself. He is a reminder to us that not all great men are good and not all good men are great. Paul Moore did not just have feet of clay. He was, in fact, almost entirely clay -- as are we all. He was inbreathed by God, yet lived a fallible life. He is now dead. He will rise again. Christ died for Paul’s sins as he did for yours and mine, and at the judgment he will stand as we will, acquitted solely because the judge is also our only mediator and advocate.

Tobias Haller BSG

When 5'3" meets 6'5" — Tobias and Paul after a 1983 liturgy

March 1, 2008

Bread and Fuel

On NPR Weekend Edition this morning, a commentator told of his old school-teacher's maxim that a slice of pizza should cost the same as a subway token, and that until recently this has tracked rather well. Due to recent increases in the cost of flour, however, pizzerias (or is it pizzerie?) will now be forced to raise their per-slice cost to $3, while the Metrocard will still let you get away with a $2 subway ride.

This reminded me of a childhood awareness that a loaf of bread generally cost as much as a gallon of gas. I'm talking kinder and gentler times in the 50s when both cost about 29 cents. They have tracked rather well for the last half-century (at least for the premium blends like Pepperidge Farms, Arnold, and so on).

The interesting thing I learned from the news story this morning is that the reason for the recent increase in the cost of wheat flour is due to the decrease in acreage devoted to wheat, diverted now to corn being grown for -- perhaps you've guessed it -- ethanol!

So it seems in a spooky Borgian kind of "we are all connected" way that the cost of fuel and bread is somehow linked in an entangled state, and my childhood intuition reflected some deeper reality.

Oh... and "resistance is futile."

Tobias Haller BSG