February 6, 2009

Some thoughts on unity and division

Over at Jan Nunley's blog, there is a lively discussion between her good self and Matt Kennedy. It is the usual case of dueling Scriptures, but it seems to be going on in a good spirit, without recrimination. As I was cited briefly, in light of my forthcoming book on the subject (now in page proofs) I felt the need to make a comment, regarding matters raised, in particular regarding Leviticus 18 and Romans 1. The book addresses these things in exhaustive (and I hope not exhausting) detail. But in the world of the bite-size blog, I did want to approach my larger concern about how our current disagreements are affecting the church.

The Leviticus passage explicitly only applies to men, and at that only to Jewish men or those living in the Holy Land. That is what the text says. Broader application is reading into the text; which, of course, many have done. But then we move from sola scriptura to the authority of the church. I recognize the authority of the church in this regard, but, as an Anglican, also admit that the church can and has erred, even in matters of faith and morals.

Romans 1 is not about life-long committed same-sex relationships. It may or may not refer to female same-sexuality; some of the early church fathers thought not; a few and more later ones did. (Again this gets into the church as interpreter, rather than the text itself.) The text alone, taken as a rhetorical whole, is about the perils of idolatry: what happens to idolaters as a result of their idolatry. At that, the same-sexuality it describes is not that of commitment, but of lust, disorder, and orgy. The "context" does not apply to Christian couples.

I realize Matt disagrees with my interpretation of Scripture. But that is my freedom as a Christian, a member of the church, and I am far from being alone in my interpretation. Speaking personally, I take this to be a part of what Paul was addressing in Romans 14:14. I do not, by this, mean to be placing a stumbling block in anyone's way, and if my freedom is leading anyone to transgression in judging their brothers and sisters, I regret that. I can only counsel they consider that the creation of factions and divisions over disagreements as to what is right or not lies at the heart of Paul's concern for the well-being of the church; and the way forward, according to the Gospel, is to take an attitude of forbearance, and restraint of judgment of others, while leading a life of holiness in one's own understanding, without giving -- or taking -- offense, so far as that within us lies.

If I am mistaken in my understanding of Scripture, along with those who take Scripture as I do, I trust that God forgives me. I place my ultimate reliance not in my own understanding or performance, but upon the assurance that God forgives those who err, even when, perhaps especially when, they do not know their error. And I think that goes for others, too.

In the meantime, the question seems to me to be, What leads to peace and the spread of that gospel? -- the gospel that is not about works of righteousness through the Law, or careful observation of its strictures (which cannot save) but rather upon the mercy of God and the love shown to those who also bear Christ's name, and to those who do not yet know him. Are we presenting a face to the pagan world that would make them at all desirous of coming to know Christ?

So that, for me, points to the whole question of division and disagreement in the church. And that brings me back to the current mess in the Anglican Communion, and the quest towards greater unity through the establishment of a Covenant that will bind the churches closer together than affectionate means seem to have made possible. Christopher, ever insightful, has commented at his blog about the perils of placing any unifying authority in the place of Christ, who is the only legitimate head of the church. Not the Pope, not the Archbishop of Canterbury, not even the English Monarch. Seeking unity in some edifice other than God-in-Christ and Christ-in-us is precisely the error of Babel. It is the creation of a self-sufficient unity that has no real foundation. And the movement of Anglicanism away from its pilgrimage orientation (as C S Lewis said, as friends facing a common object of adoration outside of ourselves) towards preoccupation and infatuation with our own unified edifice, is an ecclesiastical error of the worst sort.

It strikes me that these two things go together: it is all about power over others, to make them conform to ones own understanding, rather than living under the grace that tolerates the misapprehension that befalls us all. The libido dominandi, in ecclesiastical form, will not bring us to Christ. The Law cannot save. We are called rather to accept that the kingdom of God is among us, realized in our love for each other in Christ, not in the structures and strictures we may connive to foster greater unity. There can be no greater unity than that which binds up the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit -- the ground of all being, the creator not only of this world, nor even of all worlds, nor even only of the universe, but of every possible universe that is or might be. If we are to be one as Christ and the Father are one, we must simply open our hands to recieve that unity, which is and always will be, not of our own doing, but a gift from God.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

105 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh yes say this again:

it is all about power over others, to make them conform to ones own understanding, rather than living under the grace that tolerates the misapprehension that befalls us all.

That power means never admitting that one's own interpretation may be wrong. Now, I find that the liberals are willing to admit they may be wrong, as you wrote If I am mistaken in my understanding of Scripture, along with those who take Scripture as I do, I trust that God forgives me. I place my ultimate reliance not in my own understanding or performance, but upon the assurance that God forgives those who err,, but the conservatives are quite convinced they are not.

IT

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks, IT. That is, I think, at the root of the difference bewteen "liberals" and "conservatives." I've been thinking on it for a while, and have the germ of an essay -- or at least a blog post -- in mind. Part of it comes from the desire on the "C" side to "do the right thing." There is a paradoxical works-righteousness in some self-styled evangelicals. "L" evangelicals seem much more able to accept the grace of God.

It's part of a "C" desire to "be correct" to "be sure" --- they want a kind of certainty, and so find the liberal fuzziness unsettling. This may, in the end, be more about personality than theology -- but it takes theological forms when factions develop within and among the churches.

Anonymous said...

I have long argued that a fundamental ;-) difference in conservative and liberal world-views, whether religious or political, is a desire for certainty and clear boundaries.

The conservatives tend to be happiest with an either-or, black-white set of rules. It provides structure, "them vs us"/

On the other hand liberals are able to achieve a modus vivendi with ambiguity, and all the shades of gray. This inevitably leads to more fluid boundaries.

The former must needs become assured of his right(eous)ness. The latter can only beconfident of doing his best in an uncertain world.

IT

The Postulant said...

I don't know, Father. You may be projecting your own virtues onto others. In my experience there is as much certainty on the liberal side as there is on the conservative side, and as little capacity for entering sympathetically into the thinking of the other side.

In any event, I take it that I'm a very bad liberal, since I like clear boundaries and loathe fuzziness, as well as a very bad conservative, since, well, you know.

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks for the corrective, Dear Postulant. I am aware of course (more than I'd like to be) of the phenomenon of liberal facism -- overweening certainty and demands for conformity are hardly the domain of the other side.

But I wonder how "liberal" some who take a "revisionist" line really are, sometimes. Hence, revisionist / reactionary may be better terms to define the "issues" than the personalities, which I'm tagging as liberal / conservative. Thus there can be, I think, very gracious and open evangelicals (I've known several) who are "conservative" on the issue but "liberal" in their openness to others. And, as you note, there are certainly aggressive and intolerant crusaders on the "left" as well.

Speaking of which, I'm getting very weary of pinning this whole debate on baptism. Obviously only baptized persons can be ordained, and at least one of the couple have to be baptized if you're going to have a "Christian" marriage (I'd say both of them, but what do I know...). But I don't really buy what seems to be an underlying assumption that if a person is baptized it is somehow an assault on human dignity (or baptismal dignity) to talk in terms of sin. Of course, I always recommend people focus on their own sins rather than others -- but I would love to see us set the whole baptism issue to the side in the present discussion. The real question, it seems to me, is is "it" sin or not? Hence the book...

Thoughts?

The Postulant said...

Naturally I think you're right about what the fundamental question is. I'm not sure if I'm familiar with the way in which people pin the debate on baptism, but from what you say, it sounds like a gross distortion (even an outright inversion) of the salutary emphasis on baptism and the Baptismal Covenant that is one of the glories of our Prayer Book. If we're really serious about baptism as full Christian initiation, the question of who gets to be ordained surely loses some of its urgency. I am unutterably grateful to be a deacon and priest in the Church, but my fundamental identity remains that of a baptized person. And of course we don't think of baptism as sufficient qualification for ordination; why, there are even canons to that effect. It seems to me that openly living in a state of unrepentant sin ought to be a disqualifying condition. So whether "it" is sin certainly does seem to be relevant, and invoking the dignity of baptism to forestall that consideration has to be some ecclesiastical form of ignoratio elenchi. Similar things can be said about marriage.

I too have the odd idea that it takes two baptized persons to make a Christian marriage, which is not to say that it takes two baptized persons to make a good marriage. More relevantly to the current discussion, it hardly seems to me that "are they both baptized?" is the only relevant question in assessing the health (or advisability) of any particular Christian marriage.

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks, Father Postulant. The language about baptism / inclusion / inclusivity pops up quite often in Integrity thinking. Also in the recent release from the Chicago Consultation, which just popped into my in basket a moment ago. I am a member of the Consultation and we have a meeting next week, so I will gird my loins to bring this up. I may have little impact, but I hope at least to gain a hearing.

It's not that inclusion and baptismal dignity are not good things. It's just that, as you observe, that isn't the issue for most of those who oppose "It." Their issue is that "we" are approving of "sin." Saying it is disrespectful of human or baptismal dignity to accuse others of sin only goes so far (even if it has the Gospel behind it!)

And of course, you are quite right about good vs. bad marriages. I know of any number of non-believers who have very good marriages, and there is sad evidence of the numbers of Christians who don't.

Erika Baker said...

To bring this conversation down to a more "common" level:
"In my experience there is as much certainty on the liberal side as there is on the conservative side, and as little capacity for entering sympathetically into the thinking of the other side."

I have every certainty in the book. I can enter into the conservative experience but I am 100% sure they are wrong. If I ever had to discover that I was wrong it would overturn everything about me and my life and thinking. But that will be then.... That WOULD be then... because I'm actually convinced that it won't be...

And yet - for now, I can accept that the conservatives genuinely believe what they do. I can accept that it is not fuelled by a conscious phobia or hatred of what I stand for - indeed, that it is quite removed from the reality of me and rooted in their own experience of life. I therefore do not take it personally.

Because of that I can live and worship side by side, just like I can live and worship side by side with someone who is a fervent supporter of a different political party.

My main question would still be why people shouldn't be able to accept the absolute integrity of the other and live side by side with disagreement.

Tobias Haller said...

Erika, thanks for this. You are on to something important, I think. I have to admit I am as certain of my reading of Scripture as the most died in the wool "conservative." Yet the fact that others don't share my view don't trouble me. There are probably a number of reasons for this, and I'd float a few here:

1) Honest fear that the one who is wrong is personally doomed and is doing much harm to others. This is where we hear cries of "false prophet" from the "C" side. I think "L"s generally don't take that view -- I hope that my position is closer to the truly "evangelical" one that God's grace is sufficient, in spite of any errors. Otherwise I can make no sense of "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." The "C" language of "getting it right" is driven by this belief, I think.

2) In my theatre experiences I found the most insufferable prime donne were the ones who were actually insecure about themselves. The intolerance was a protection against giving in to that doubt.

Either or both of these may be at work, and the latter on both sides of the aisle. People can't live with disagreement when they think it's a matter of life and death, and when the disagreement threatens to reveal their own lack of truly settled faith.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Tobias, what puzzles me is much of this fight is not over "sin" per se, but interpretation of isolated passages of Scripture.

I always think of the inside joke between me and my priest over Leviticus 21:10:

“The priest who is exalted above his fellows on whose head the anointing oil as been consecrated to wear the vestments, shall not dishevel his hair, or tear his vestments.”

When I acolyte, first thing my priest does after the recessional is throw off his chasuble and hand it to me, then musses and "un-musses" his hair. Leviticus 21:10 is a running joke with us, and I feign fear and josh about the lightning bolt that is sure to zap him and possibly me as an innocent bystander!

Yet if we treat this passage in the same manner as some do the passages that have led to this rift, by that definition I should be making phone calls to the Bishop.

The conversation, in my mind, needs to shift from finger-pointing about sin to talking about the uniformity in which we intepret Scripture.

Society evolves. A hundred and fifty years ago some were using Scripture to justify slavery. We would consider that line of reasoning unacceptible and out of date now. A hundred and fifty years from now, we will have debates over other passages as society changes. For all the animosity passed back and forth, I have this overall sense that we are arguing about a blip in the radar screen of the evolution of Christian thought.

MarkBrunson said...

The Postulant, I think, provides us with insight into the underlying issue.
I generally refer to myself as liberal only as a marker, a placeholder in a continuum of thought. Like The Postulant, I like definition. Indeed, I've had to come to grips, as I've said on my own blog, with the fact that a part of me is Totalitarian - make the Reasserters conform or . . . go away, and all under the guise of The Greater Good.

No one, I think, can be a true liberal in the sense of seeing all viewpoints. Only God is capable of that. We are limited beings, like it or not, all metaphysics and mystic revelation aside, and need our limits. I don't see the Reasserters as having an equally valid and understandable viewpoint. If I did I'd simply conform to that to avoid dissension. However, I do see them as having a valid viewpoint for them.

So, the underlying issue - I think - is perception of limits. The liberal viewpoint is one of limits being a human construct beyond which, a necessity of being "dwellers in time and space" while God's limitless mercy covers and points out error along the way and helps us to grow beyond former limitations. The conservative/Reasserter viewpoint is that these limits are iron walls imposed by God and there regardless of any concept of evolution and independent of a "co-creator" view of existence - a "ring pass not" beyond which to penetrate is to presume godhood, which transgression must be quashed for the good of all involved.

JCF said...

Saying it is disrespectful of human or baptismal dignity to accuse others of sin only goes so far (even if it has the Gospel behind it!)

Who does this?

I think it "disrespectful of human or baptismal dignity" only when someone accuses me of sin on the basis of my person, not on the basis of evidence that I am, indeed, a sinner (as indeed I am---Lord have mercy!)

Moreover, I think it "disrespectful of human or baptismal dignity" to (w/ few exceptions {*}) imagine they know someone's identity---as an individual Christian comes to know their own identity as God-given---better than that individual knows himself or herself.

Ergo, if you say you understand yourself to have been created gay by God, it's "disrespectful of human or baptismal dignity" for me say "No, God made you straight---you just have sinful or disordered attractions."

[{*} Those few exceptions would be in the case of ACTUAL mental illness: "God made me King David, Ruler of the Jews"---to quote a common "Jerusalem Syndrome" delusion that Israeli mental health professionals have to deal with! ;-/]

***

Going back to Jan's dialogue w/ M Kennedy: it really comes down to two things, I think.

1) The differing Bible interpretations, as Jan said (and the failure of Matt & Co to even acknowledge they that ARE interpreting Scripture!)

2) Their FEAR-based religion, wherein they're unable to "Let Go and Let God", as you do, Tobias. For them, to self-admit "Of Course, I Could Be Wrong" ALWAYS leads to Hellfire.

Yours Truly, au contraire, COULD be wrong . . . and am on an all-too-regular basis!

Of course, where my wrongness is actual sin (malevolence), God please correct me!

But regardless: God won't love me any less. With Jesus as my Savior, then even in my error, God will STILL save me (such is God's glorious will for this poor sinner!).

"Even IF I am wrong---so what?" The previous is not a faith-claim I could see Matt Kennedy making (though I hope I am wrong 'bout that one!)

Fred Schwartz said...

Tobias,
I am not sure what I am but I do know this much. When one attempts to interpret scripture, which we all do from time to time, I believe that we need to see the end result for what it is. If that end result hurts someone in any way I take it back to the two great commandments. Does it hurt my relationship with God? Does it hurt my relationship with my neighbor? If the answer to these questions in anyway approach yes then I believe I have not wrestled with the subject long enough.
Furthermore, I have no issue with a person seeking the truth, whatever label one puts on them. If God is truly unknowable, at least in the human sense, it seems to me to be sinful to stop seeking the truth. And more so when we stop seeking AND start espousing the truth. It is from this thinking that comes, for me, the greater responsibility for clergy. Because the clergy is expected to know and speak the truth and yet, they must still be seekers of the truth -- a very difficult balancing act as we have seen recently.

MHO. Thank you.

Good Shepherd Weekly said...

JCF, I think the classic position is that due to the fall, we all have and are born/conceived with disordered affections...the question is whether the impulse toward homosexual behavior qualifies as one of them.

The heterosexual impulse, we would argue, is not disordered in its essence as it was clearly a part of the original created order. It is, however, just as certainly twisted by, for example, the inborn inclination toward heterosexual promiscuity and various other perversions. So, yes, God created me heterosexual but I also, as a fallen human male, have inborn impulses that draw me toward behaviors that are sinful (as do all heterosexual males). I cannot, by virtue of the fact that I was born with these impulses assume that they are "Created" or God given. I must test them in light of scriptural proscriptions, prescriptions and principles. And when I do so I learn which inborn impulses I must resist and which I am free to express.

The inborn homosexual impulse, I would argue, is a simply another inborn sexual twist, similar to heterosexual promiscuity, resulting from the fall...as I believe Paul asserts in Rom 1.

PS...why on earth would I "not care" if I were wrong?? If I could be persuaded by scripture and evident reason, I would certainly recant...

Tobias+, I do appreciate your willingness to admit that part of the passion in orthodox circles with regard to this issue is that we believe false teaching can have eternal consequences both for the teacher and the people who follow him.

I am certainly a sola fide, sola gratia kind of guy. But I think scripture suggests that certain behaviors, and Paul includes unrepentant porneia and homosexual behavior among them, characterize those who will not inherit the kingdom of God.

So while "works" do not justify, works certainly make the fact of justification manifest...by their fruits you shall know them.

If, in fact, homosexual behavior is as I have described it above, then the Episcopal Church has adopted and blessed behaviors that characterize the unregenerate and seeks to draw others into such behaviors by declaring, without foundation, God's favorable view of them.

I think then that the church as a whole and the teachers in particular find themselves in Matthew 18:5-6 territory, leading 1. unregenerate people further from the light and into hard-heartedness and 2. regenerate people into unrepentant rebellion...neither is right nor safe.

But I think Tobias+ is right that these considerations explain the much of the intensity of these debates.

Matt Kennedy

IT said...


If, in fact, homosexual behavior is as I have described it above, then the Episcopal Church has adopted and blessed behaviors that characterize the unregenerate and seeks to draw others into such behaviors by declaring, without foundation, God's favorable view of them.


And, if in fact it is NOT as you have described it, and (as considered by modern medical and psychiatric and scientific standards) if homosexuality is simply a normal human variant like red hair or left-handedness, and just like heterosexuality challenges the individual to express it with integrity and honor-- what then?

You fail to address the possibility that you may well be wrong, in which case you are doing incalculable damage to other people.

Oh, yes and let's recall for how many years left-handedness was viewed as sinful....how lefties were forced to change hands....how Biblical admonitions were interpreted to support this view....and how it still is reviled in some cultures.....Hmmmm, no similarity there, eh?

IT

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks for the additional comments.

Kirkepiscatoid, it is about scriptural interpretation, as we can see from Matt Kennedy's comment just prior to this. Clearly he believes his interpretation is correct, and he has the weight of tradition behind him. However, I think he is mistaken, and I think I have the weight of reason behind me, as well as at least part of the tradition, especially in the time since the Reformation. I take this all up at length in the forthcoming book, so I'll keep the comment brief here.

Mark, yes, we all have those times of certainty -- both sides of the aisle, as I say. And it seems trivial though no the less true that people believe what they believe. Where I think we get into trouble is when we try to tell others what they believe, and when they say, "That's not what I mean" essentially reply, "Yes it is!" I think we see this in things like unfounded accusations of hatred leveled against the "C" side (not that there aren't a few I think it fair to call "haters" out there); and from the other side when we see peoples' religious views reduced to sound bites or misrepresented, for example, the way in which Kendall Harmon has portrayed what he calls the "Shellfish Argument." He misrepresents it as "because Leviticus also contains the shellfish prohibition and we don't observe it we can throw out anything in Leviticus." That, of course, is very easy to deflate -- but it isn't the actual argument, which is, "There are many laws in Leviticus we do not observe, and in the effort to understand where the commandment against a male homosexual act falls in terms of the rest of these laws, we are called to examine to what extent it is like, or unlike, laws which we no longer follow, on the basis not merely of the text or even an explicit later setting-aside of some of those laws on the authority of Jesus or the Apostolic Church, but on the cultural and psychological realities that form the basis of our having set aside some of the other laws." Obviously these are two very different things.

So yes, we do create false boundaries where we should perhaps be building bridges.

JCF, I think many on the "C" side would say it is about behavior, not orientation or essence. Matt, in his comment, does betray a "harder" view in the sense that the homosexual character is in itself a distortion -- a point probably disrespectful of the actual "human nature" of gay or lesbian persons. It appears to me that one's sexuality is "inborn" to the same extent in all people; and in all people a mix of nature and nurture, and to that extent "God-given." But the fact is that we do not always act as we should. Matt, and the RCC, would say that there is something basically "wrong" with gay and lesbian persons even if they remain celibate; but that the "wrongness" is no more wrong than the impulse to infidelity on the part of a heterosexual (the example Matt gives). I believe this position not only to be mistaken, but to be essentially disrespectful, and morally dangerous.

Fred, you are following Jesus' advice to the letter! As St Augustine wrote:

If it seems to you that you have understood the divine scriptures, or any part of them, in such a way that by this understanding you do not build up this twin love of God and neighbor, then you have not understood them... If on the other hand you have made judgments about them that are helpful for building up this love, but for all that have not said what the author you have been reading actually meant in that place, then your mistake is not pernicious, and you certainly cannot be accused of lying. (On Christian Doctrine 1.36.40).

It is under this general rubric that I think it possible to read those texts which are condemnatory of male homosexual acts narrowly, to apply to rape, prostitution, and idolatry. Again, the text itself is rather clear in its limitations, and to apply them more broadly, though it has been the tradition to do so, appears not to be in keeping with the principle enunciated by Augustine. It is a difficult balancing act, but I think Jesus also provides other correctives, such as avoiding the judgment of others, as a good guideline. One can, and should, be as strict with oneself as one likes -- even to the point of self-mutilation -- but not judge others.

Matt, Thanks for your comments. I addressed you comments on "impulse" above. I think Augustine puts all sexual impulses in the same boat, actually, even within marriage, as far as Original Sin goes. You may disagree with him, but as the Articles say (interpreting Paul, no less), "concupiscence hath of itself the nature of sin." Augustine believed we were created to have sex without desire. Yeah, I know... but that's what the man said.

As to porneia and homosexual behavior in Paul; well, in prep for my book, I did a great deal of research on the former -- checking out every reference to porneia and zenut in the biblical, intertestamental, pseudepigraphic and apocryphal, Qumran, Mishnaic, Talmudic, Josephus and Philo, and there is no evidence for applying any of the porn- roots to male homosexual behavior except in reference to actual prostitution. You see, I take the time to actually look up the references in footnotes from folks like R. Gagnon, and the asserted citations in lexicons. It makes for very interesting reading. Particularly without foundation is the common assertion that "porneia" includes all of the sexual offenses in Lev 18. Actually, the rabbis and Qumran tradition, and some of the pseudepigraphic material (the only ones who make this reference) limit "porneia" to the incest prohibitions of uncovered "nakedness." (It may, remotely, be that Jesus is referring to this in his use of the word, esp. when he talks of the "logou porneia" if this is a hellenized form of "eruth davar" (word or thing of nakedness). But there is no indication of any linkage with the prohibition of a male homosexual act; and an explicit rejection (in the rabbinic tradition) of extending "porneia" to describe the other offenses.

Finally, the "homosexual behavior" Paul describes is also limited to cultic orgies, prostitution, or (perhaps) institutionalized pederasty.

Such "interpretations" are not only in keeping with the actual cultural traditions of those times, the explicit text of the Scripture -- but they also make moral sense, and appear to be in keeping with the dominical touchstones. Far from being "without foundation" they are build on the only foundation that matters: Christ himself.

What if, Matt, it is you who are mistaken and the one who is leading people astray -- or keeping them from Christ -- because of your broader reading of the text, when a narrow reading -- equally faithful to the text -- expands the spectrum of grace? Equal weight and measures, Matt, equal weights and measures.

If, on the other hand, the Episcopal Church is wrong, it is wrong in keeping with the principle Augustine articulated. People will have been brought into the church, even if their behaviors turn out to have been mistakenly wrong. But it seems to me that the consistent message of the gospel is that God accepts us because we turn to him, not because we "get it right" in terms of our behavior. If we are wrong, we are wrong in good faith, and that appears to me to be the point.

Again, all blessings to all in your various ministries and missions. I will be light blogging the next few days...

Tobias Haller said...

IT,
I was writing at the same time as you, and so missed your post. Thanks for the thoughts.
T

Good Shepherd Weekly said...

Hi Tobias+,

Just to be clear...are you arguing that first-second century rabbis would not consider male to male sexual intercourse "porneia"?

If that is your position, and I'll follow your example and do some checking on those references as well, is it also your position that first century rabbis in general and Jesus and or the apostles in particular would have welcomed intercourse between two male monogamous lovers?

Second, on the question of "disrespect"...I found this a rather odd assertion. I am grateful that you noted my equal application of the principle above (ie the impulse toward heterosexual promiscuity is as disordered as the impulse toward same sex sexual behavior) but I am baffled by your declaration that the principle is morally dangerous and disrespectful?

I think (hope) we can agree that human beings are fallen and that this fallenness has ramifications with regard to the disposition of our will and mind. It is difficult to concieve of a scenario wherein this fallenness does not touch our sexual impulses. If you can agree to that then it only makes sense, for both of us, to assume that the particular twists of our sexual natures can be best discerned by appeal to scripture and...well there we are. Scripture, I think, is quite clear with regard to the issues at hand and so I have little choice but to agree even though it also means that my own sexual nature as a heterosexual man is implicated.

There is no disrespect involved.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Seeking unity in some edifice other than God-in-Christ and Christ-in-us is precisely the error of Babel. It is the creation of a self-sufficient unity that has no real foundation.

Tobias, therein lies my objection to the Anglican covenant from the very beginning. We have the Covenant given by Our Lord Jesus Christ. Is that Covenant somehow insufficient? Is it possible that mere mortals will come up with a covenant that will improve on the Gospel Covenant?

Enough time, effort, and money has already been spent (wasted, IMHO) on this wrong-headed scheme. Stop the madness. I know that this is merely my fantasy, because, at this point, it is probably impossible for the leadership of the Episcopal Church to make any such statement. The madness will play out to what end I can't say, but I see no good coming from it.

Yes, the emperor's clothes are splendid, indeed.

Tobias Haller said...

Yes, Matt. I'm saying that the rabbis do not use the term "porneia" (actually the Hebrew equivalent, zenut) to refer to male-male intercourse. No one I could find made use of this concept, except, as I say, in reference to a male prostitute, usually in connection with a condemnation of female prostitutes as well. I don't actually think I recall that in the rabbinic literature, though. If you find a citation I would like to see it. I looked all over, and as I say, I couldn't find it. (Don't be fooled, by the way, about refs to the Pseudepigrapha referring to the "porneia of Sodom." It's more likely just plain harlotry. One text Gagnon cites (but stops half a verse short) is Test Benj 9.1, which goes on to talk about their "promiscuous deeds with women"! I've got a whole long section about the common misunderstandings about Sodom, too.

So I found no rabbinic references to porneia in conncection with male-male sex. I did, however, find an explicit rejection of the use of the term for female-female sex. It is explicitly NOT porneia. (Still not approved of, but it doesn't make a woman into a harlot, or count as adultery.)

The rabbis have a technical term for one form of male-male sexuality: mishkav zakur. It is forbidden (to Jews) under that terminology. You may not be aware, but the Jewish legal thinking tends not to divide into large categories, but rather particular fine divisions. That's one of the reasons against a broad reading for "porneia" (zenut) -- for which the rabbis have a fairly narrow and neat (though somewhat circular) definition. It's also why they don't apply the term to _all_ of Lev 18, but only to the parts about "nakedness." That section has a unique status in Jewish Law.

I think it is a leap to go from "porneia doesn't include male-male sexuality" to "Jesus and the apostles would have approved of it." I think Jesus would have treated it probably as he treated the "woman of the city" (an actual practiioner of porneia, apparently!) "who loved much."

Paul, I think it only fair to say, would be a harder case and take a dimmer view -- as he even did of marriage after all! But in the culture of that time, equal and mutual same-sex relationships were far from common -- and contrary to what some would have you believe, were looked down on in Greek and Roman circles too. I devote a chapter in my book to WWJD, where I explore this at greater length.

The "disrespect" is in your statement that the impulse towards same-sex sexual behavior is disordered, though no more than the impulse to heterosexual sin. It is disrespectful to call others sinful, even if you are correct, and that is by no means certain. It is also morally dangerous to do so. That doesn't mean that there aren't times when we are called to do such things, always I hope with the awareness of the danger of false judgment. I think Jesus was more than eloquent in the Gospel concerning those who set themselves up as moral arbiters -- of others. As I say, one can, and should, be as hard on oneself, and the inner twists of ones own fallenness (which one perhaps knows best), as one likes. It is when this faculty is turned towards others that it becomes dangerous. That's all I meant. I in no way mean to imply you intend to be disrespectful; but imagine yourself as a guest in someone's home, someone whose housekeeping is not up to your standard. Do you not think it might be disrespectful to announce that fact? And since, as I agree, that we are all fallen and sinners, or poor housekeepers of our own abodes, then the comment directed against others, rather than excusing the comment, strikes me as making it all the more out of place.

Anne Kennedy said...

Hi Tobias+,

I am still somewhat surprised by the "disrespectful" comment. I suppose I was under the impression that we were debating whether or not homosexual behavior and the impulse itself is disordered in the same way we might discuss whether or not adultery or theft or usury is sinful...without necessarily naming individual sinners?? Are you suggesting that such discussions of what constitutes sin and what does not are out of bounds?

If you are, on the other hand, suggesting that it is disrespectful because you yourself identify with the impulse and action, well, I did not intend to convey any disrespect to you at all...I sincerely believed we were discussing the question in a general sense.

I think when the topic of sin comes up we are all indicted in some way...but that does not mean that the topic ought not to be taken up.

In any case, this is your blog and I will be more than happy to cease and desist with apologies for having offended if you wish.

Tobias Haller said...

Mat, I don't mean to cut off discussion by any means. As I say, sometimes the Gospel (as we believe it) calls us to have to say harsh things, disrespectful things. I'm merely suggesting we do so with an awareness of our own capacity for error. I was actually thinking about Bonhoeffer -- a pacifist -- coming to terms with doing something he believed both needed doing but which was itself morally wrong: assassinating Hitler. I'm saying it is a complex issue, this discussion of sin; indeed, it may itself be sinful! That doesn't mean it is out of bounds, merely that it partakes of the nature of sin -- as Augustine thought of sex even within marriage!

So what I mean is that it may necessarily be disrespectful -- not to cut off discussion but to be aware that some less secure in their beliefs than you or I might be might well take offense at such a discussion. (This arose from the comment that talking about intrinsic disorders is to some extent insulting -- even if it is true. "Abstract" is all well and good, but as someone once said, "the children are listening." When people, "in the abstract" talk about other people's condition as "objectively disordered" they may be doing harm of which they are not aware, and need to be conscious of that harm even as they feel compelled to speak.)

At the same time, I think it is good to follow C S Lewis suggestion of only talking about the sins of others when one is guilty of them oneself. That seems to be a good Gospel principle. As I don't believe the "homosexual impulse" is in itself any more sinful than the "heterosexual impulse" -- so long as it is confined within a committed relationship, I prefer to think about the form such commitment might take, and how departures from that commitment (hetero or homo) form the basis of any truly helpful discussion of the issue. You, on the other hand, are convinced that the homosexual impulse -- even when not acted upon -- is disordered or sinful in itself, and is incapable of being acted upon in any way that is moral. That is not a position that appears to leave open much possibility for discussion, other than at the level of "does Scripture support that position." Frankly, I don't think it does, as I said that I think Scripture is clear only in its condemnation of male same-sexuality (in a limited range) in relation to idolatry, rape, and prostitution. I think that can be clearly demonstrated, without recourse to extra-scriptural resources, from the text itself; extra-scriptural sources only make the case plainer.

Where we differ is in your belief that Scripture is to be understood to convey a universal, total, and unequivocal condemnation of any and all same-sex behavior (and impulse) for both men and women, regardless of any level of commitment. My argument is that your position does not stand up to a very close and careful examination of the text. I am not sure the blog is the best place to discuss this; and as I say, I've laid it out much more thoroughly in the book due out next month. In it, I attempt to respond to the major allegations of people like Robert Gagnon. I've actually not read Countryman -- though I've read the responses by Gagnon and others. (I find it more helpful to look at my opponents' case than to seek additional information from my own "side," as i am wary of too much of a tendency to rely on points of view that beg the question. I actually agree that the issue is not about "purity" as Countryman appears to describe it, and follow Milgrom's much more careful and systematic review of Leviticus. I commend his work, as he is considered the premiere scholar on Leviticus, and brings to it a depth of understanding rarely found in Christian writers.)

So I welcome you to continue to comment or make observations and join the discussion. But as I do not expect to bring you around to my way of thinking, I would be very surprised if you were to advance an argument I've not already encountered in Gagnon or John Paul II, etc. I don't find their arguments at all persuasive, and I have some reason to be concerned about finding the truth, in the ordering of my own life.

Tobias Haller said...

Sorry about the single "t" in your name. My keyboard seems not to want to type a double t unless I pause and press extra hard, and in haste I end up with some odd misspellings. It's not doing it with any other letter...

Anonymous said...

Ok Tobias+, I understand and think I agree with your point regarding "respect". I do hope you see that in my view any discussion of sexuality...implicates me or, I suppose, is not simply "disrespectful" in a necessary way to those who experience a impulse or desire for people of the same sex but toward humanity in general

I think the fall generally twisted our sexual natures. Your twist may be of a different sort than mine, but I am very far gone from God's original intention and order and so when I speak of disordered sexual desires I am speaking of myself too.

I agree that a blog thread is not the best forum for a detailed debate. Needless to say I think your reading of the texts in question is unnecessarily restrictive, and untenable on their face ...and, unless I am misreading you, you seem to agree that Jesus and the apostles would not have approved of two men or two women engaging in sexual relationships...I have read Countryman and Wink and others and I've found that they (Countryman in particular) are fairly acrobatic in their efforts to get around the plain meaning of the text but I will certainly follow up on your criticism of Gagnon and Hays and check the references myself.

I would ask whether you recognize the possibility that the dual nature of scripture--divine in origin and divinely superintended and yet written by human beings in specific historical and cultural settings--might undercut the argument from culture...in other words, the suggestion that Paul's words with regard to homosexual behavior in his day is limited to specifically those expressions of homosexuality of which he was aware. Could it be, in other words, that since his writings originated with a God who sees our time and all time at once that perhaps, the cultural setting, while important, is not wholly determinative.

It is, for example, doubtful that Moses was aware of the ins and outs of insider trading when he recorded the command against theft...and yet we regularly apply that command to it and to other modern activities of which the human authors of scripture had no knowledge.

Matt Kennedy

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks, Matt. I'm about to sign off for the evening, but want to thank you for this last note, which does help a great deal.

You raise an important question with the dual nature of scripture, and it lies at the heart of the concluding chapters of the book. There are obviously things in Scripture -- upon which the text itself is quite insistent -- that we no longer heed. Sometimes, I think, to be brutally honest, this comes from "giving in" to the culture rather than from any careful consideration of the moral issues involved. (I would suggest that how we treat divorce is a good example.) Usury is another, and I explore that at some length in my reflections. I think the biblical authors did have a clear grasp on what is moral or not in such circumstances.

But it also appears to me that in some matters the human authors of Scripture were more limited by their own cultural blinders. How do we distinguish what is truly timeless and eternal from what may be local and cultural? I do think that Paul's proscriptions on homosexuality represent what he was familiar with, and what the Law addressed. I think the language he uses reflects that culture -- explicitly so in Romans 1, where he is, after all, clearly addressing an entire cultural milieu, not just sexuality. For him, the wild orgies of the pagan cults (my guess is he perhaps saw the odd Grecian vase!) were just one part of the whole corrupted world that came about when people rejected the true God (discernible through Nature) and turned to lifeless idols instead. He is very clearly echoing the language of Wisdom, in its critique of idolatry, in some places verbatim. (Far more telling that Gagnon's surmised "interextual echoes" of Genesis!). He is also clearly offended by prostitution -- male and female, as well he should be. But given that specificity -- and I do think his language is rather specific -- does this apply to circumstances that are entirely different in terms of their setting, actors, intentions, and qualities?

To take your example, I'd suggest it is no great stretch to go from "thou shalt not steal [or] bear false witness" to a prohibition of insider trading. But it seems to me that the inability to see the difference between a pagan orgy or a prostitute, and a committed Christian couple living in a life-long relationship that is not merely sexual is a kind of moral blindness. One has no trouble seeing the difference between a female prostitute and a married woman, for instance. Or between an assassin and a surgeon, to use Richard Norris' example. Morality rarely lies simply in "acts" -- and to use another example someone noted recently, if you were to see a heterosexual couple engaged in intercourse, you would have no way of knowing if this was an "immoral" relationship until you knew who they were and what the context of their relationship was -- it could be as bad as adultery, prostitution, or incest; or as innocent as the first night of marriage. The context is, in fact, what makes the act sinful or not.

But I'm wandering from your question, which is really about Scripture. The other important question is the extent to which Scripture itself attests to development of morals. To take divorce as an example, where Jesus develops a teaching that overturns a legal Torah principle on the basis of another Torah principle -- in good rabbinic Midrash fashion; or take adultery: the Hebrew Law is very different from the Christian in this regard, though Judaism was itself developing new thinking. Under Jewish law a man could visit prostitutes and take a second wife. He only committed adultery against another man. The law was totally asymetrical. Jesus restores the symmetry by making men just as guilty as women. And are we to believe that the evolution of moral thinking stopped with the last chapter of Revelation? Not that new moral thinking, in keeping with the principles Jesus established, is a new revelation, mind! Why else did Jesus give the church the authority to wrestle with such questions and come to new understandings of what to bind and what to loose? Jesus knew that new situations would arise that would require new understandings. And this is the very wrestling in the midst of which we find ourselves.

JCF said...

Matt, in your view---

If you are faithful, loving, and self-sacrificing towards your wife, you're practicing righteousness in your marriage...

...whereas if our friend IT is faithful, loving and self-sacrificing towards her wife, she is (in YOUR view) "twisted" (as IF she were promiscuous) in hers.

How, then, are you being respectful?

It's NOT about behavior! (We ALL sin in our behaviors, even in the most loving, most faithful, most self-sacrificial relationships). It's about how one is ordered IN relationship: opposite- or same-sex. Why MUST you keep devolving this discussion back to behavior???

Can you not understand that even if (God forbid!) IT and her Beloved Partner were BOTH rendered quadriplegics, incapable of genital contact or any kind of sexual stimulation, they would STILL be loving spouses?

{Bangs head on desk}

PseudoPiskie said...

It has nothing to do with the people involved and everything to do with the perceived "law". Didn't Jesus have something to say about people and the law?

Anonymous said...

Wow. Finally, after all these useless years, we (might be) getting somewhere. This thread is the reason I read this blog.

IT said...

I also find it telling that Matt refuses to engage my comment. Of course, I'm no theologian--but it would be useful for Matt to acknowledge that this is not theoretical, and there are real people with real lives paying the price for his arguments. What if he is wrong?

Belinda said...

Just a short comment, as Tobias and I have been round and round on this subject and will likely never agree.

Erika: You are 100% sure that conservatives are wrong? I thought to myself, "That is one of the most arrogant things I can imagine anyone saying." Then I noticed you are from the UK and it all made sense :)

It appears you are not able to enter into the other side's psyche well enough to understand that none of us can be 100% sure of our absolute convictions in any honest way. I think I could make an intellectual argument that completely contradicts Tobias' interpretation with just as much integrity, but as I said, I have been down that road many times and I am sure he doesn't want to read my interpretations once again either.

I am pleased you can muster the tolerance to worship side by side with conservatives, but I hope you will consider that conservatives can do the same, and I don't think that makes a great statement about any of us.

I have the utmost respect for Tobias, and would love to worship with him despite the fact that we disagree on many things. When you can worship with conservatives out of mutual respect, instead of some phony notion of tolerance, -- which incidentally requires accepting that neither side has a monopoly on the truth -- you will have come a long way, in my humble opinion.

robroy said...

"Romans 1 is not about life-long committed same-sex relationships...The text alone, taken as a rhetorical whole, is about the perils of idolatry: what happens to idolaters as a result of their idolatry."

This is absolutely correct. St. Paul states that really bad things happen when we abandon God. Homosexual acts are merely one in a list of bad things that St. Paul lists: envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice, etc. A first century Jew such as Paul did not need to specifically condemn homosexual acts. ("Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.) That was a given.

If one indecent act is wrong, do I make it right by repeating it over a lifetime? A brother and sister who have incestuous sex is wrong, but the German couple who deceive authorities and marry and parent four children in a "loving, committed relationship", that's OK?

Good Shepherd Weekly said...

Hi Tobias+,

I understand that your assertion is that Paul only "knew" of a certain form of homosexual behavior and that attempts to widen his proscriptions beyond Paul's knowledge are therefore unfounded...but I would suggest that:

1. there is no way to verify what exactly Paul knew about homosexual behavior and a plausible case can be made that the concept of inborn sexual urges toward people of the same sex was "out there" and that monogamous relationships were present. We simply cannot say with any confidence exactly what he knew and/or did not know

2. the text itself, Romans 1 especially and I would argue along with Hays 1 Cor 6:9, does not specify the contexts that you and others have suggested. Romans 1 does not speak specifically of Cybil or any other god or goddess...but more generally of the fall of humankind from the worship of the Creator to the idolization of creation and in that context, the resulting turn from the "other" sexually to a mirror image of the "self" (the Creator to Creation fall is paralleled in the fall from an impulse

3. If we agree on the dual nature of scripture, and it seems we do, then in fact we are not arguing from specific proscriptions to general ones as you have suggested, but from an unspecified general proscription (that you and others seek to specify) to a particular act...same sex "marriage" etc...

In any case, I do not pretend that we will resolve this issue here and now, but I am thankful for you and for the opportunity to discuss this topic in a non-hostile way.

IT, I was not ignoring your comment I just did not think the "left hand" comment applicable to the argument. I do not deny or reject the possibility of an inborn impulse toward any sexual behavior...including heterosexual promiscuity. As I have said above, we are all fallen and though the imago dei remains, it is marred and every faculty of our nature is twisted in some way.

There is, I believe, a divinely given channel or route for sexual behavior, marriage between a man and a woman but because we are all fallen we all have inborn impulses that pull us away from from that route. There is not a man or a woman on the planet who has not experienced this drive to transgress. The question is: what do we do with it?

In my view and in my personal experience, it is something that can only be brought under control through the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit and where we fall there is love, mercy, repentance and forgiveness. I don't think heterosexual men, married or not, ever completely overcome lust any more than someone who feels sexually drawn toward members of the same sex.

But the presence of our old natures seeking to enslave us and pull us away from obedience to our new Master should not deter us from our task of being conformed and transformed by God's grace to the image of our Lord. We will not and ought not to seek personal fulfillment or sexual fulfillment in this life. We seek Christ and sometimes, many times, that means foregoing those things that might bring temporal happiness.

Matt

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks for the additional comments. I don't have too much response time today as I am about to go out for some pastoral calls.

Belinda, I think your point has a good bit of fudge to it. You seem rather sure of your position, as does Erika. Being able to worship together, whether out of tolerance or ability to affirm, is, after all, important. But you should know that there are some in the church who would refuse to worship with someone they regard as "unrepentant sinners" or "those who lead astray." This is one of the reasons we have dissidents and schismatics in TEC.

Robroy. Oh, dear. Who's talking about incest besides you? That isn't the topic. The question is: does Romans 1 refer to all same-sex relationships, or those of idolaters? The text says the latter; though many want to broaden it to the former. As to your question, take a more precise example: a man who remarries after divorce is living in an adulterous relationship (according to Jesus). Should he continue in that relationship?

Matt, briefly:

1. If there is no way to verify what Paul was talking about, that still leaves us with the option of taking the narrow rather than the broad view. This is where the application of equal weights and measures comes in.

2. O.K., if you want to make an argument, make it. But just saying, "it does not point to contexts" doesn't mean it doesn't. Yes, Paul does not name Cybele by name -- or any other pagan deity. But he is clearly talking not just about false gods but "idols" -- physical representations of pagan deities. Again, read Wisdom -- it's all laid out in detail and no Jewish hearer of Romans would hear him in any other context.

As to idolization of creation -- that seems to me to be the very thing the "reasserters" do when they wax eloquent about the "natural" form of sexuality! Also note that the language of Romans 1 is not about "fall" but "exchange." IN fact, he is talking in that chapter about specific sins, not a general fall or tendency to sin. It is only when he drops his "bomb" in Chapter 2 -- turning on his listeners, and then extending through the rest of the letter, that he begins to develop the notion of the human condition being somehow "entangled" with sin, so that the only escape is grace. One cannot ignore the rhetorical function of Romans 1: as a deliberate summary of Wisdom's condemnation of idolatry, turned on its head to condemn pious Jews.

As to merrors, etc. All people are "other" to each other.

3. Not sure I'm following this. I don't think Romans is about "specific prohibitions" -- it is descriptive, not a law code. If you mean, as you say later to IT, that same sex marriage contravenes a "divinely given channel for sexual behavior" -- well, I understand that is your premise. But using your premise in response to the argument is the classical definition of begging the question. Can you, in short, prove that there is, as you believe, a single divinely given channel for sexual behavior? Pointing to Genesis 1-2 will not be sufficient, as I don't think the creation stories offer definitive evidence that heterosexuality is the "single divinely given channel for sexual behavior." It seems to me that what works for proscriptions also works for prescriptions: because something is approved by God does not necessarily mean that there may not be other things approved by God, but which Scripture does not record -- which is where the cultural limitations of the authors come in.

I realize we will not agree on this latter point; but it does, I think, form the nub of the difference. I would side with Hooker on the Sufficiency of Scripture, as opposed to its "completeness" (that which is not in Scripture cannot be approved -- a position against which Hooker argued.)

There are, of course, many things of which Scripture disapproved, which yet became fixtures of society. To take a less controversial one, Monarchy. At the same time, no where can you find a Scriptural mandate for Democracy -- yet few I think would say it is wrong. The ideal for government laid out in Scripture is Theocracy -- and I think few would want to live under such a form of government -- especially if the cult in office was not ones own!

Thanks again for the willingness to engage in this conversation. We may not get any closer to resolution, but perhaps to understanding.

Erika Baker said...

Belinda

You don’t know me. So I don’t quite understand how you can accuse me of arrogance. I don’t want to be so quick in judging you.

About the points you make:

The charge of arrogance only arises because this is such a hot button issue. There are so many things different Christians are certain about that we never discuss, and where we simply acknowledge that someone else has a different view. My pet example is the death penalty, which I oppose with just the same moral certainty, although I know that many Christians support it.

Going even further, there are many issues all Christians where have the same level of moral certainty. I would expect that both you and I have 100% moral certainty about slavery being wrong, sex abuse being wrong etc. About family values being good, about justice being good.

Same sex love is really just one of those topics. I would be delighted if it became one like slavery where there can be no doubt in anyone’s mind, but I would settle if it could become one like the death penalty, where we simply acknowledge that we don’t share the same view, where we probably would not want to become closest friends, but which neither of us sees as a litmus test for our faith and our joint membership in the body of Christ.

I am married to another woman, and you can be very sure that I would not have married her if I believed in the slightest that anything at all about our love and our commitment is wrong in God’s eyes. If that sounds arrogant to you, so be it. For me, I needed this sense of being 100% right with God, who is the centre of everything my life is about, before I could even contemplate such a life.
If God proves me wrong at the end of my life, so be it. We will all be proved wrong about many things.
But while I’m living on this earth, there is absolutely nothing and no-one who can even dent my certainty that this love was the greatest and most precious gift God ever blessed me with.

Of course I recognise the difficulty some conservatives have to worship side by side with me. It’s not a foregone conclusion, as you well know. Some are prepared to leave the church and to establish a completely different, in their minds purer church, just to avoid being in the same organisation as I am, never mind in the same building or, God forbid, kneeling side by side with me.
And so I do genuinely have the greatest respect for those who can build bridges across difference.

I have said it before, I’ll say it again. My personal hero is a fairly literalist evangelical in my parish, who has in public discussions often been on the opposite side from me. I know he detests everything I stand for, he believes I am an unrepentant sinner and he cannot even see the possibility of some integrity to my position.
And yet, he worships with me, he shakes my hand during the peace, we are members of the same prayer group, he welcomes me to prayer breakfast in his house, and when my daughter was seriously ill for a prolonged time, he sought me out regularly to ask how she is.

That is what I’m talking about.

Phil said...

Tobias,

If I could go at this from a different angle, I think your statements on Scripture sound like nothing so much as an excuse for why you should be able to separate yourself so completely from the teaching of the Church with impunity:

“I realize Matt disagrees with my interpretation of Scripture. But that is my freedom as a Christian, a member of the church, and I am far from being alone in my interpretation. … the way forward, according to the Gospel, is to take an attitude of forbearance, and restraint of judgment of others, while leading a life of holiness in one's own understanding, without giving -- or taking -- offense, so far as that within us lies.

“If I am mistaken in my understanding of Scripture, along with those who take Scripture as I do, I trust that God forgives me. I place my ultimate reliance not in my own understanding or performance, but upon the assurance that God forgives those who err, even when, perhaps especially when, they do not know their error.”

So, how big of an injustice was it when those of Arian, or Gnostic, or Montanist, or Donatist belief were read out of the Church? They had a different interpretation of Scripture, to be sure, but those living 1,500 years closer to Christ than you or I didn’t seem to think that was their “freedom as Christians.”

Christians, of all people, should be careful of adopting a Pontius Pilate, “What is Truth?” pose.

And, there are other sound-good lines that don’t comport with reality:

“…the gospel that is not about works of righteousness through the Law, or careful observation of its strictures (which cannot save)…” Is that, “Law,” as in Torah, or, “Law” as in any moral direction you don’t like? When Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you,” do we take that as – ignore it? Do the opposite? Because that certainly qualifies as a work of righteousness, which you don’t think can save.

Also:

“Are we presenting a face to the pagan world that would make them at all desirous of coming to know Christ?” But, apparently, there’s no need to ape the culture in order to have pagans know Christ. We can see that from the first-century experience of the Church alone, which was not bringing a message of “I’m OK-you’re OK” to the Roman Empire. It seemed to work out for the best.

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks, Erika, for your heartfelt testimony.

Phil, it seems to me you are raising a series of red herrings here. Matt and I are talking about a fairly narrow issue in moral theology, one on which there is significant difference of opinion in the church. It is not, as some would like to see it, a settled matter. But that is what we are discussing, not Arianism, Montanism, Donatism, etc. That's red herring #1.

I'm using Law in the same sense as Paul -- the Law through which there is no salvation. I'm clearly not talking about Christ's commandment to love; upon which, in fact, my entire moral theology is based. That's red herring #2.

Finally, your last comment -- you have (as far as I can understand what you are saying) misunderstood what I'm talking about. I have nothing against the church calling people to transformed lives and making demands on them. What I meant in what you quoted is that when the church presents itself as primarily consisting of warring factions, it will not be a very attractive thing to non-believers.

Sometimes "sound-good lines" sound good because they are true, and comport with reality very much indeed.

Belinda said...

Dear Erika,

Perhaps you think that your testimony proves in some convoluted way that claiming to know with 100% certainty that conservatives are wrong lends credence to your argument. In fact, I noticed that you slightly changed what you said to say that you are 100% sure that you are right with God, which is not exactly the same thing. Incidentally, I suggested that the original statement you made was incredibly arrogant, not that you are an arrogant person.

Truthfully, and without holding back, I believe that your "marrying" (understand, we do not do that for two women in this country) another woman is unbiblical, and therefore a sin. However, I recognize that we all sin, and I do not view your sin as any more egregious than my own. Therefore, personally, I would have no problem worshiping with you or praying with you.

Am I then 100% wrong with God? It would seem that you are suggesting I am. As I said, no one has a monopoly on absolute truth, save Jesus. Am I a "typical" conservative? Tobias can certainly attest to the fact that I am a conservative, and he will argue against almost everything I write, but do I fit your stereotypical characterization of a 100% wrong conservative?

Oh, by the way, I too am against the death penalty, regardless of the fact that I was brutally assaulted, and nearly killed, when a man broke into my apartment. But one cannot simply pick a hot topic such as the death penalty and claim to be 100% correct.

I wrote more than I intended, but I hope you get the gist of what I am saying.

Tobias Haller said...

Belinda,
Your note is an example of the kind of arrogance I find most offensive. It is not for you to call other people sinners, or to name their sin. At least not here. You are a guest in my "home" and while you are free to express such concepts elsewhere, if you are to do so here you will have to do so in a less insulting manner.

You are also incorrect concerning marriage in the US. Think Massachusetts. You are 100% wrong on that, as I think you are on the main question. Do not confuse my willingness to discuss the question with you with agreement.

I almost didn't allow this comment to appear, and will not post similar comments in the future. Bu putting "marrying" in quotes you demean and insult your brothers and sisters.

Erika Baker said...

Belinda

I also meant what I wrote in my first email. I believe to be 100% right in my certainty that my marriage is biblical, which means that I naturally believe that conservatives are 100% wrong on this.

It doesn't mean I dislike you, or hate you for your views. It simply means I believe you're wrong.
Just as I believe that supporters of capital punishment are 100% wrong.

If that's arrogant, then any moral certainty is arrogant.

Are you wrong with God? How could I say, I don't know you, only God knows your heart. I cannot even know the deepest motivations of my nearest and dearest, how can I know yours?

But for the record - I don't believe that God is interested in what we think. He is interested in how we live. And it is therefore absolutely possible for 2 people of completely different views to be right with God.
And in any case, I did not say that God agrees with 100% of what I'm doing with my life, THAT would be arrogant.
But, yes, I am saying that my love is the biggest God given gift, and that with respect to my marriage, I am 100% right with God.

IT said...

Thank you Tobias for responding to that comment because I found it very rude and demeaning also.

I am married to another woman and for now at least, that marriage remains legal in CA. However, even if the court goes against us, I will remain married in my heart. I am as married to her as any loving straight people (and more married than quite a few--think Britney Spears).

My thoughts on my own marriage here and here..

IT

nlnh said...

Phil, the Gnostics and Montanists are still around, and quite a few of them very ostentatiously style themselves "Orthodox Anglicans."

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks for the additional notes, especially to Erika and IT for you patience. I wrote my comment at 5 am as I was preparing for my flight, but I stand by it.
I'm now in Chicago and blogging will be limited for the next few days.
Peace to all.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Tobias love, have a safe trip.

robroy said...

So I take it that your position is that St. Paul was saying that idolaters should not commit homosexual acts (nor envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice, etc.), but it these activities are OK for non-idolaters?

My point about talking about incest (or polygamy or adultery) is that many of the same arguments used to justify homosexuality can be used with simple word transposition to justify incest, polygamy, or adultery. Thus, using reductio ad absurdum, these arguments should be rejected, e.g., homosexuality is found in nature, therefore it is "natural", therefore we should bless it. Well, so is polygamy (and also eating one's young for that matter). But I am sure that we will hear the absurd "natural" argument many more times.

But to your question of divorce, Jesus certainly condemned divorce and remarriage (except, perhaps, in the case of infidelity). He attributes the allowance of it under the law because our "hearts are hardened." Well, our hearts are still hardened. But I would definitely favor no remarriage in clergy (under any circumstances). That a bishop of the TEC has been divorced twice and married thrice is a scandal no less than Gene Robinson. (I can her the cries of violating our baptismal covenant if we don't allow remarried clergy.) If we had held the line there, the denomination wouldn't have fallen to its present state.

Phil said...

Tobias, I disagree. This is a settled matter. The fact that a fringe (and I’m sorry, that’s what it is within the Christian world) refuses to accept the teaching of the Church and insists on stirring the pot ad infinitum doesn’t make the issue legitimate. If it does, then the zeitgeist of the Episcopal Church means most of the other heresies down through the ages remain unsettled, as well, which is clearly silly. The truth is, the Church, as a body, is, and always has been, univocal on the issue before us. It is, rather, pure Western liberalism, not any self-understanding of the Church, that proposes that, until every view is validated and accommodated, there is still an injustice to be settled.

And so, it is not a red herring. You proposed a sort of anti-truth – that we should validate everybody’s view of the truth, because the grace of Jesus washes it all away – sort of a, “kill ‘em all, let God sort ‘em out” approach to divine revelation. That’s interesting, but it’s not very Christian (which is not at all the same thing as accusing you of not being Christian, I hope you understand). It’s just the plain language of what you wrote.

As to #2, I’m sure you know that the same St. Paul that propagated that view of the Law also had no problem exhorting his followers to hold themselves to specific moral standards. There is something more to the issue than a facile view that “the Law does not save.” Neither Christ, nor the Apostles, nor the Fathers carried that to your conclusion, a conclusion that I’m having a hard time separating from another Pauline catchphrase: “the god of the belly.”

I apologize for misreading you on your red herring #3.

Belinda said...

There was nothing rude or demeaning about what I said. Marriage between two men or two women is not legal in the vast majority of the United States, would you agree?

Tobias: I am sorry that you find my beliefs to be arrogant...In my mind I try to be very humble. While you applauded Erika's lengthy testimony you chose to ignore my brief testimony regarding the death penalty and its nearness to my heart...This is telling. You KNOW that I respect you despite our disagreements (and I know you disagree with me; I have never confused your comments to me with agreement). If we cannot identify others' sin how can we expect to remain humble? I rely on my brothers and sisters to help keep me right with God. If we are not to identify other Christians' sin what were the books of I and II Corinthians based on?

Erika: You are certainly free to believe your marriage is biblical, and to believe that you are 100% right, just as I am free to believe with 100% confidence that God condemned homosexuality. But this most certainly does not mean that either of us is correct. Only God knows for certain what the truth is, and truth is absolute not relative. But I maintain that even if I am correct (something none of you will acknowledge) it doesn't make you a more egregious sinner than I. "We all sin and fall short of the glory of God."

If I was offensive to anyone I do apologize and ask for forgiveness. It is not my intention to be arrogant.

Belinda said...

Regarding I and II Corinthians, I should have cited I Corinthians and Paul's concern with immorality in the church. I am not equating homosexuality with immorality, but rather citing that as an example of a Christian naming the sins of other Christians. Of course, Paul was an Apostle, and appointed to teach others, but the example stands, in my opinion.

Tobias Haller said...

As I said, I'm at a conference and access to the internet is limited.

Robroy, the point of a red herring lies in the fallacy that "the same arguments" could be applied to incest, etc. I don't think that is true. Same for polygamy. Adding cannibalism to your list hardly advances your cause. If you've read my writing, you know I reject that agrument from nature... so you are not reducing any argument I've made.

OK Phil, you think its settled. Then I see no reason for you to continue to comment here, right? As for the rest of your comments, I do not recognize anything that I've said in your summary. "Kill em all"??? Who said we should validate everyone's view? Not me. I think you are wrong, and I don't want to validate your view.

By the way, the moral standards of the Scripture are fidelity and love, not gender. When you get that, you may understand what I'm saying. Until then, read and inwardly digest.

Belinda, your half-hearted apology is accepted. But it isn't really an apology, is it? You still think God gives you the right to stand in judgment on others sins. That you are in company of Saint Paul -- who in the Corinthian correspondence failed to live up to the truth of the Gospel -- may be some excuse. But for those who truly grasp Jesus' teaching on the subject, the proper response is to bemoan only one's own sins.

The thing that continually amazes me is the extent to which some seem to think that acknowledging their own sins gives them carte blanche to condemn others. That, I think, is exactly the opposite of what Jesus teaches.

I think this conversation has run its course, unless there is something truly new to say.

Belinda said...

Tobias,

I agree the conversation has run its course, but I don't appreciate the way you have characterized me; it is unfair.

You do not want others to recognize sin in fellow Christians, but you felt comfortable labeling my apology as "half hearted". In fact, I meant it sincerely, as I love my brothers and sisters whether homosexual or straight. I said initially that I depend on my brothers and sisters in Christ to point out my sin when they see it...That is part of what the body is to do, in my view, just as Paul did with the Corinthians (which was my point, not to equate myself with Paul).

In that context I will take your slight as evidence that I need to be more humble, but being humble does not mean backing off what I believe.

It disappoints me deeply that the amount of amicable discourse we have had over a long period of time seems eclipsed by one thread.

Geoff said...

If we cannot identify others' sin how can we expect to remain humble?

Pardon me?

robroy said...

I am glad that you haven't made the argument that "it's found in nature, so let's bless it in humans." Many of your colleagues have.

The plain reading of Romans 1 is if a people turn away from God and to idolatry, they do bad things such as homosexual acts, murder, envy, strife, etc.

No one has said Paul wrote this to be a primary condemnation of homosexual acts. He did not, rather he was condemning idolatry as you have said. But to say that sin can be absolved by repeating over a lifetime is silly. If Paul had really thought that committed homosexual relations are fine, might this have been a good point to clarify this so as to not avoid confusion throughout the ages? He could have said:

"Men committed indecent acts with other men, who were not in committed relationships(!), and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion."

You also try to dismiss this as saying that Paul believed that idolatry leads to orgiastic lust which is the problem not the homosexual acts per se. Why then would Paul even mention the homosexual acts? Certainly he could have condemned participants in both heterosexual or homosexual orgies by simply not mentioning the homosexual acts.

You ask, "Are we presenting a face to the pagan world that would make them at all desirous of coming to know Christ?"

That is precisely the point of the Global South Christians. Churches are burned in the Global South because of the words of teachers who say what the itching ears of the wordly members of the northern churches want to hear. I would also add that the message of "Come to my church as you are and we will bless you and your activities" doesn't get anyone out of bed on Sunday mornings in the north, either.

Tobias Haller said...

Belinda, the reason I called your apology half-hearted is based on the fact that you tried to defend your action. It's the old "I'm sorry if you are offended, but I didn't mean to offend you." (Shades of TEC and the Communion!) A real apology stops at the first part, or better yet, simply says, "I'm sorry I offended you." It takes responsibility for the offense, instead of pushing it off onto the one offended. You called Erika's marriage into question and said it was a sin. I have no problem with discussing the issue in general, even calling it sin -- but when you address the comment to an individual I think you have crossed the line allowed by Christ. It is beyond your -- and my -- pay grade.

In the present instance, I am sorry you feel slighted, and that wasn't my intent, but I make no apology to you; I spoke as charitably as is warranted in the face of someone calling out another Christian in this space -- which I intend as a forum for amicable dialogue, not accusation. Perhaps I would have done better not to post your original comment.

Robroy, you are now wrestling with what I actually said, rather than the arguments of some of my colleagues -- arguments I have in fact rejected.

However, you do not still seem to grasp what I'm saying about Romans 1. My argument is basically twofold: Paul is not addressing faithful same-sex relationships, but the perils of idolatry. He sees, as Jews of his time did (see Wisdom 14-16) idolatry as the source of a disordered world. The kind of "homosexuality" he is describing is that of that world -- with (in Romans) some echoes of Leviticus (which also ties male same-sexuality to the pagan cults.) Thus, Romans does not really address the issue of faithful relationships between persons of the same sex, withing a Christian context. You may say he is offering an absolute prohibition that rules such things out a priori --but that is not what he says, and the passage remains descriptive, rather than proscriptive.

Secondly, one cannot ignore the rhetorical function of this chapter, which is setting the stage for chapter 2's condemnation of Jews for their failures as well. The point of Romans is about the need of all people, Jew and Gentile, for salvation through Christ. There is no salvation through simply following the Laws of Nature or of the Torah. Salvation comes through Christ.

So that is my argument (or rather, a small part of it) -- not that Paul would approve of contemporary committed same-sex relationships between Christians today -- we actually don't know what he would say -- but that this is a "known unknown": we don't know what Paul would say today, to a different world and context.

The issue for us as Christians is, "Can this be encompassed within Jesus' teaching and summary of the Law, and the Golden Rule. I think it can; as I think it can be included in the larger Pauline world view expressed in his other writings. I lay this out in my forthcoming book in great detail, and I commend that to you. The blogosphere is not the best place for extended argument. Nor are these issues easily addressed in sound bytes.

You are correct that the issue of the face we present to the larger world is a two-edged sword, and I have had personal conversations with bishops and archbishops from the Global South on their concerns, such as Archbishop Deng Bul. His concern is largely with Muslims, for whom same-sexual activity is also an issue. Of course, the divinity of Christ is an even bigger issue -- and no one suggests that Christians should soft-pedal that in order to win Muslims! (He is also concerned about losing Episcopalians in Sudan to more fundamentalist Christian churches, but that is another issue.)

I am speaking, however, not to the Sudanese context, but to the realities of The Episocpal Church and the "Global North" -- where the issue is not primarily Muslim-Christian relations, but how the church looks to a largely secular culture. (Though I can say that I was surprised to find a local Imam welcomed my being open about sexuality, and actually wept tears of joy when I described the work along those lines that I've been doing and thanked me effusively. I was entirely surprised by his response.

So, as I say, the issue is complex and various in different places -- one of the reasons I am cautious about trying to have a single world-wide position on the subject, and welcoming the traditional Anglican toleration of diversity. Even Archbishop Den Bul, while clearly opposing the position of TEC, is willing to remain in relationship with us. That is what communion means, as far as I'm concerned.

Still at the conference... with limited access. Hope this helps advance the discussion,

Anonymous said...

May I just say....

....divorce? I don't see anyone having fights and accusing divorcés as sinners. Indeed, most Christian churches forgive the divorced, and welcome them in, remarried or no. How many leaders of the conservative movement are divorced? Often under not terribly honorable circumstances.

And what about usury? Don't hear much about that either. let's not even discuss shellfish, or widows marrying their brothers-in law.

And that pesky "care for the least of these"? Not nearly so involving as worrying about the sex life of a minority of people. And let's just ignore completely the "judge not" thing.

The fact is that it's pick and choose, which strictures to believe and which not. And to me, an outsider and non-Christian, it's very clear what the rules are:

Keep the ones that apply to other people and discard the ones that apply to, or might inconvenience, oneself.


Works every time.

IT

Kevin M said...

In response to Belind's comments about identifying the sins of others, I can agree to a point. If you see that a friend is doing something destructive, you do have a duty as a friend to confront that person out of love. Jesus even says that if you see a brother or sister sinning, speak to them about it; however, he it's to be done, at least initially, in private.

In this case, though, several problems exist. For one thing, I'm assuming that the level of relationship here is what exists in the postings to this blog and not a close friendship. Secondly, is the supposed "destructiveness" an objective reality backed up by evidence, or is it simply one's interpretation of limited information? Finally, pointing out someone's supposed sin on here is like putting it up on a billboard for everyone to see, not quite what Jesus was endorsing. In that case, is it really a charitable attempt to help a sister in Christ, or is it a form of gossip writ large, even if the facts of the situation are common knowledge (if not the interpretation of them as sinful)? Putting a footnote at the bottom of the billboard saying that one sins too doesn't make it any more correct or loving.

(I hope I'm not too off-base with this.)

Belinda said...

I am an evangelical Christian. As such, I believe evangelical Christian scholars and literature to be correct (after thinking about it extensively and discussing the issue endlessly with liberals) that homosexuality is a sin. The point I have tried to make several times, but which always gets lost, is that I don't care if it is a sin. Lots of actions are sins, and I do not shun the individual committing the sin because of it (e.g., DIVORCE, adultery, lying, stealing, arrogance, etc.). I am saying to my evangelical brothers and sisters, "Yes, I agree homosexuality is a sin, but do not treat a homosexual any differently than one would treat any sinner, which is to say anybody."

I think that the rebukes for what I said to Erika have been fair, except for the fact that you fail to ascertain my intent. I am sorry for calling out a fellow Christian.

-Belinda

Tobias Haller said...

Thank you, Belinda. Actually we've conversed enough over the last few years, both in this forum and in personal email, so I do understand "where you're coming from." That is, I understand your position and intent. That wasn't the issue here. This is why used the language of behavior, not intent (or theological position) in suggesting you "crossed the line."

So thanks again for your willingness to stick with this and continue the conversation.

Erika Baker said...

Tobias
I don't know whether you didn't get my last comment or chose not to publish it?
I thanked you for your support and then addressed Belinda saying that I wanted to reassure her I had not felt insulted.

I do find it bemusing that people who don't know me believe they can judge whether my life is sinful or not.
That, of course, is largely due to the fact that the discussion keeps revolving around sex.
I so wish we could get over that and look at the whole relationships involved.

Every time I speak about love, conservatives come back and answer about sex. I don't know about them, but I expect that like for most people, sex takes up a very small part of their lives, and is only a miniscule part of what makes their primary relationships.
This obsession with sex is very unhealthy and it also reduces gay people to mere sexual beings, which I am beginning to find offensive because it's so limiting. I suppose without that narrow focus, the charge of sinful lives would be so much harder to sustain, so there’s a great incentive not to look at the complexity of the people involved.

I do try to redress the balance, and to illuminate an often theoretical discussion about an abstract issue, to make it all more real and relevant, by often talking about my personal experience. So I can’t really complain when people reply, and sometimes appear to come across as judgmental because, suddenly the topic is personal. I understand that people who are used to proclaim other’s sins in general in abstract theological terms, but not to talking to individuals, are often genuinely not aware that they might come across as self-righteous and hurtful.
I won’t take offence and I’ll keep talking, because ultimately, it’s real touching points with real people that will change hearts and minds.

Belinda said...

I think I left something out. I apologized in general for calling a fellow Christian out, but I did not apologize to Erika.

Erika,

I am sorry I called you out, and that I called you arrogant. I tend to be rather excitable at times, which is unfortunate, because I wouldn't be on this blog if I didn't have respect for Tobias and the individuals who post here. So, again, I am sorry and I hope that you will forgive me.

Thanks,
Belinda

Christopher (P.) said...

In response to Phil, this is not a settled matter. Discernment of God's will is a continuous task, and, in our church, and among our fellowship of Churches in the Anglican Communion, that discernment happen in many places, among many orders of Christians (clergy/laity), at different levels (parish/diocese/province) and with differing results, depending on what the Spirit is saying. In my mind, this process of discerning God's will is quite different from affirming or denying statements of doctrine as laid out in the Creeds, as (for example) that God is creator, or that Jesus became incarnate for us, or that the Spirit is the giver of life. The "core doctrine" of the Creed talks about the nature of God--while moral issues pertain to our response to God, something clean different. So the fact that the tradition is pretty strong on decrying one way of living one's life is something to note, but not something to be bound by.

So the issue is not settled, just by the fact that it is not settled! As discerning God's will is rarely a settled thing--the Spirit listeth where it willeth. And this seems to be something other than an obstinate opposition to Truth based on caving in to cultural pressure, which is how I see Phil characterizing much of the Episcopal Church today. (And if I mischaracterize his statement, I apologize and ask him to restate it.)

JCF said...

I believe evangelical Christian scholars and literature to be correct (after thinking about it extensively and discussing the issue endlessly with liberals) that homosexuality is a sin.

Come now, Belinda, that's NOT what most "[conservative] evangelical Christian scholars and literature" teach.

Rather, it's "homosexual practice" (or "behavior", or for the tastelessly slangy, "homosex") which is the sin (so-called).

*****

If Paul had really thought that committed homosexual relations are fine, might this have been a good point to clarify this so as to not avoid confusion throughout the ages? He could have said:

"Men committed indecent acts with other men, who were not in committed relationships(!), and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion."


Ah yes, the "If Only": what we liberals frequently get charged w/ believing.

Robroy, how can you ignore that opposite-sex marriage in Paul's time (Christian, Jewish or Pagan) FAILS the 21st century "committed relationship" standard? That women were CHATTEL in marriage then?

How do you possibly suppose Paul ought to have gotten same-sex marriage right, when he couldn't do the same for opposite-sex marriage?!

For any NUMBER of reasons, to live in the 1st century would be Hell-on-Earth for us 21st century people (even for the most conservative, MOST "Bible-believing"!). Why should we conform our intimate relationships to 1st century standards?

It's not that I don't value Paul's witness. I do: "Christ, and him crucified." That's enough.

Erika Baker said...

Belinda, thank you.

But I shouldn't have been so quick to react. My own mouth (and typing fingers) runs away with me more often than I would like and the blogsphere is littered with my apologies.

Actually, I very much respect people like you. You have thought about what you believe, you believe it firmly, but you do not ostracise people because of what you perceive to be their sins.

Without becoming clones, this is the highest level of living peacefully side by side we can achieve, and I just wish the whole church could do it.

MarkBrunson said...

I don't have any problem saying that, no, I don't believe Paul understood homosexuality, saw it in a narrow and ignorant light, and was not some sort of religiously-powered X Man well ahead of the social curve in insight and brilliance.

The whole conversation from the standpoint that Paul somehow understood a concept we're still wrestling with now is preposterous.

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks again for the additional comments. I think this has been a fruitful discussion in a number of ways.

I particularly resonate with Mark's observation. Given that there are many people around today who still believe demonstrably false things about gay and lesbian persons, who deny there is such a thing as "sexual orientation" that is relatively fixed, or that the "average" male homosexual has a life expectancy of 40, and on and on; we expect too much of Saint Paul to think he had a wide range of experience or knowledge, or transcended his culture. He clearly reflects the mores and values of his time, with elements in Judaism and Stoicism, and a world-view very much formed by his environment -- and with which he was in essential sympathy in many regards. The one issue he seemed to be "on" about was circumcision; and clearly he was at odds with some in the early church...

So, again, thanks. I'm about to return to NY and a relatively normal schedule. Peace to all.

Geoff said...

...a plausible case can be made that the concept of inborn sexual urges toward people of the same sex was "out there" and that monogamous relationships were present

Now that's one I haven't heard before, given that the concept of sexual orientation dates all the way back to the nineteenth century.

As such, I believe evangelical Christian scholars and literature to be correct

Well, given the grave departures of "Evangelical" Christianity from historic orthodoxy on matters such as sacramental theology, I should find your subscription to an Evangelical theology of sex almost a minor worry!

Erika Baker said...

Belinda

Re-reading your comments I stumble across "I am an evangelical Christian. As such, I believe evangelical Christian scholars and literature to be correct (after thinking about it extensively and discussing the issue endlessly with liberals) that homosexuality is a sin."

It is wrong to believe that all evangelical scholarship is automatically anti-gay. There is no law that says evangelicals cannot be pro-gay and remain evangelical. In fact, the whole thrust of Tobias' theology is that homosexuality is not incompatible with Scripture, but that just as an aside.


The Evangelical Fellowship for Lesbian and Gay Christians has a whole series of book recommendations for evangelicals who are not persuaded by liberal arguments.

http://www.eflgc.org.uk/tentitles.asp

http://www.eflgc.org.uk/publications.asp

If you haven't already closed your mind to the conversation and would like to explore how evangelicals approach this subject, the site is worth a look.

Belinda said...

Thank you, Erika. I like to think, at least, that my mind is not closed on any conversation. I err, but I try to let people correct me when I do. I will check the site out.

Geoff,

Your sideways insult to Evangelical Christianity (which I don't believe deserves quotations) was not very substantive. It is actually referred to as Reform Theology in most circles, and may not be in keeping with High Church doctrine, but, well, hence the word "reform".

JCF,

I believe you nitpick. Of course it is the behavior that is considered sinful. Simply being a homosexual is not considered a sin, but rather engaging in homosexual sex is the sin. Just as being an alcoholic is not a sin, but drinking alcoholically is. I use this example because I am a recovering alcoholic. I do not believe I am sinning regarding alcohol as long as "recovering" continues to modify "alcoholic".

Perhaps I was too flippant with what I was saying. I shall be more deliberate in the future.

Erika Baker said...

Belinda
"Of course it is the behavior that is considered sinful."

There isn't an "of course" about it. Jeffery John was rejected as a Bishop in the CoE although he was celibate.

A youth worker in Hereford was refused a job by the Bishop although the interview panel had approved him, because the Bishop did not believe his assurance that he would remain celibate.

I know pepole SAY that they hate the sin but love the sinner, yet it is very clear that for many many this is merely paying lip services.

And it's not just in the Anglican Communion where this happens. Roman Catholics are to undergo psychological assessment to ensure that no homosexual slips through to the priesthood.

Compared to the "don't ask don't tell" culture of the past, the net is actually tightening.

Geoff said...

Belinda:

Who decided what and when to "Reform"? Why is the bodily presence of Christ in the Eucharist expendable, but not discrimination against homosexuals?

I'm sorry if you don't find that a "substantive" critique, but then, I don't find your dismissal of the teaching of the primitive church as "High Church" very constructive either.

David |Dah • veed| said...

I got my order in early. Father T. I pre-ordered your new book from Church Publishing. It seems to have a wide range of pricing. US$18 from CP was fine with me. I did see it listing as high as US$35 on one US site and £16 in the UK. It was listed Used on one US site for around US$13!

I suspect that this will be very slow reading for me since I am ESL. It took forever the first time I attempted John Boswell's book.

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks, Dahveed! You may well be the first! That's a whild price range but $35 does sound like a huge markup. And as for used copies -- I think at this point they'd have to be very gently used, since they aren't even printed... ;-)

Hope you enjoy it and that the reading isn't too slow. I know I can write long sentences, but if you can follow my blogging you will very likely to follow my printed writing, too. If anything, working on the print version gave me the opportunity to edit and simplify -- which I don't usually do on the blog.

And now, back to the proofing...

Erika Baker said...

I've ordered it too!
From Amazon at £11.20, which works out at $16.
Shame you can't order signed copies...

JCF said...

You may call it "nit-picking", Belinda, in point of fact, MANY on the ConEv (and/or Popoid-Wannabe) side use the shorthand "homosexual" (person/orientation, not behavior), and really don't distinguish between them.

The thing about this confusion is: if I say "I am a homosexual", ConEvs/Popoids will then AUTOMATICALLY begin making assumptions about my behavior (usually, the more lurid, the better!). In my case, virtually NONE of those assumptions will be true (beyond who makes my heart go pitter-pat), but that doesn't stop the assumptions from being shot at me.

[Whereas, if someone says "I'm an alcoholic", I make no assumptions about their past/current behavior---I try to never make assumptions about ANYONE'S future behavior!]

****

Thanks for the tip, Daveed! (Perhaps you'll find your familiarity w/ this blog a big help in reading the book?) Will order mine, soon...

Grandmère Mimi said...

Dahveed, I've found that Tobias' writings are quite accessible compared to many others whom I have read.

Tobias, I did not know that it was possible to pre-order the book. I'll get right on that.

Anonymous said...

I'm very tired of the comparison with alcoholism or other pathologies.

Like it or not, modern scientific thought considers homosexuality a normal human variation, not an illness. Rather like being left-handed--a permanent minority trait.

That the evangelical conservatives prefer to believe otherwise is of a piece with their denial of evolution and other scientific advances. I'm surprised they don't support exorcism in lieu of medical care.

meantime, the examples given by JCF and others are prime examples of "hating the sinner". Indeed, if I lived a sexually celibate life with my beloved wife, the conservatives would still consider us both in a state of sin. Their opprobrium is not, and never has been, limited to our sexual expression. It is our very existence they abhor.

I'll take the evangelical wing more seriously when they threaten schism over divorce. Since they don't, it's pretty clear that this is all derived from the Ick Factor.

IT

Phil said...

Christopher (P.), at the risk of finding out just how rhetorically Tobias meant, “I see no reason for you to continue to comment here,” I don’t recognize the sheer level of moral relativism you exhibit in historic Christianity. At some trivial level, sure, our discernment of God’s will yields “differing results.” But, at the fundamental level of, for example, having the Spirit say marriage is the union of one man and one woman in Romania, but it’s something entirely different in America, well, that’s a bridge too far.

A fundamental component of the Gospel, even if some reject it today, has always been that there is one Truth, revealed to us by and through God incarnate, Jesus Christ. “Truth” – not “truths,” mine and yours. It’s a mistake to label the Creed “core doctrine,” and implicitly call everything else up for grabs. The Creed, as you say, is a statement about who God is and what He does, articulated in the way it is because some would falsely teach otherwise. But, as we’re told, “even the demons believe.” One can intellectually assent to the Creed and have no lived faith. The question is, what do we do about it, and the Church has taught many answers to that question, too – answers that could be described as moral teachings. These teachings are not necessarily, as you seem to want to say, more disposable than the symbol of Faith.

You have not mischaracterized my position: I do claim that the Episcopal Church takes its lead from the culture. Frankly, I don’t even see how that’s disputable. If we were having this conversation in 1709, instead of 2009 – with, for example, “Will and Grace” well into syndication and “Ellen” probably worth no more than a blank stare from the current generation – you might have a point. In the event, though, you moved when the culture moved.

Grandmère Mimi said...

One can intellectually assent to the Creed and have no lived faith.

Ain't that the truth?

These teachings are not necessarily, as you seem to want to say, more disposable than the symbol of Faith.

Phil, we seem to have disposed of slavery.

In the event, though, you moved when the culture moved.

And, of course, Jesus never did such a thing, nor did any of the Biblical characters, nor did any of the leaders and saints in the whole history of the Christian church before now.

Phil, really. What nonsense. If you choose to answer, please answer in Greek or Aramaic.

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks for the additional comments. Exciting to think that the book is "selling" even as it is in proofs! I'm about 1/3 through the proofing, and will be back to work anon.

IT, quite right about the weariness over the alcoholism comparison, which is not only mistaken but begs the question (assuming a same-sex orientation to be a "problem" or an illness). I'd rather see same-sex orientation as more like perfect pitch or a talent for dance.

Phil, there is a real and historic distinction between moral theology and dogmatic theology. While the latter forms the "core" of the faith, the former varies widely from time to time, place to place, and church to church. There happen to be some matters of morals on which most churches agree: none I know of defends murder (although some make provisos for killing people through doctrines of "just war"; or some will allow for the possibility of abortion while others will class it amongst the most serious of crimes). This is not moral relativism: it is a recognition of the fact that different churches at different times have different moral codes. That is simply a fact.

So yes, we can claim the One Truth about God and the nature of God -- and on that you will find me entirely Orthodox. But there simply is no single unchanging set of moral doctrines to which all of the churches in all times and places agree. Even on the question of marriage there has been very wide disagreement in the Christian tradition -- on all sorts of issues surrounding it. For example, the early church forbade second marriages to widowers; though it eventually came to tolerate them. The early church forbade marriage of a Christian with a non-Christian -- yet this is now widely tolerated.

And, of course, there are many other moral issues on which the church has changed its position over time. And yes, this happens sometimes as a result of changes in the culture, gradually having an impact on the church -- to its shame. To take one example, the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa was finally persuaded to give up their teaching that apartheid was not only moral, but God's will; they had defended it on theological grounds. They changed finally in part because of social pressure, joined with the actions of the world-wide Reformed federation. Yet there was a time when apartheid or segregation, and even slavery, were all defended -- by various churches, including our own -- as perfectly moral responses to the differences between the races. And they were wrong.

So your essential premise -- that morality must be the same everywhere -- does not meet the standard of evidence or proof. It is not true. If all you are saying is that you think it should be the same everywhere, well, that's an opinion, not a fact.

And now, back to proofing of another sort...

Belinda said...

IT,

Against my better judgment I will briefly respond to you.

The most important point that has to be made is that you are showing a prejudice against conservatives that you despise when it is pointed at you. In point of fact, conservatives -- and this one especially -- do NOT think that living a celibate life as a homosexual leaves you in a state of sin, nor do we abhor you or anyone else. I believe the Lord said that the most important thing we could do was to love one another...That all the commandments are summed up in this. I, and the other conservatives I am familiar with, do try to practice what the Lord instructed us to do.

Additionally, conservatives embrace science. Intelligent Design was developed by conservatives, and I learned in my theology courses (taught by an evil conservative) of the theory presented by other theologians by the name of Evolutionary Creationism.

Your attempts to demonize us and present us as primitive fools demonstrates your biases. We should all look in the mirror before pointing out specks in other people's eyes.

Tobias Haller said...

I really don't want to debate the matter here, but Intelligent Design is not science. It reaches an untestable conclusion. If someone wants to believe it to be true, that's fine by me. But it is not science. Check out the PBS program on the Dover trial, which reached that conclusion decisively, and outlawed teaching Intelligent Design as if it were science.

IT was addressing the comparison of alcoholism with same-sex orientation, an analogy which does not stand up to close examination, unless you accept the premise that same-sex attraction is a disorder. This begs the question.

And, Belinda, why do you take personally something that is true of many self-styled evangelicals? You may not be in the group IT describes, but there are many who are. I've met a few; and yes, there are some who would say that even a celibate gay or lesbian is still touched by sin in their disordered affections, even if they never act on them. Why do you take that personally? And with such bitterness? And who is doing any "demonizing" in accurately describing a belief system that many hold? No one said these so-called evangelicals are "demons" -- just that they hold a number of non-scientific views concerning the world. And in fact many of them do -- even if you do not personally.

So don't take it personally, or at least no more personally than I take it when you comment here about my sinful state.

IT said...

What Tobias said: INTELLIGENT DESIGN IS NOT SCIENCE. It is pseudo-science-religion tarted up to pretend it has validity. It has been roundly dismissed by all credible scientists and the courts as religion.

Can you find a handful of scientists who believe in it? Sure. Sometimes "PhD" really DOES mean "Piled High and Deep" . But the vast majority understand that ID is not science.

See, for example, the STEVE Project.

BTW is perfectly possible to believe in "real" evolution and believe in God. Evolution is not anti-God; religion and science are not competitive disciplines. They are about very different things. The point is that Darwinian evolution need not invoke a God to "work". You are perfectly free to believe that a God gave things a push here and there. But it isn't necessary for the theory.

FInally, I didn't say anything about YOU Belinda. It's not all about you. I referred generally to conservatives. My experience in my years in the blogshere having this discussion with conservatives colors my statement.

And I am not a Christian. A s a married lesbian atheist (and a scientist to boot) I am regularly victimized by Christian conservatives in the public sphere. PropH8, anyone? I stand by my experience.

Belinda said...

Tobias,

I take it personally because it is not part of my world, and I live in the world of conservative evangelicals. Therefore, generalizing in such an extreme way is offensive on many levels.

With regard to science, I am going to take it personally again, as I have masters degrees in mathematics and economics, so I tend to try and view the world from a scientific point of view.

Now, calling alcoholism a "disorder" demonstrates another lack of understanding. Alcoholism is accepted as a heritable condition. My alcoholism is in my genes, and it requires a great deal of restraint to remain sober, so I really don't see where the comparison is faulty.

As for your view of science, since you don't want to debate it here, I will just say I disagree.

By the way, I have never commented on you being in a "sinful state", except to say that we all live in a sinful state.

I will try not to take things so personally, but perhaps the people who post here could refrain from making sweeping generalizations regarding conservative evangelicals.

Christopher (P.) said...

Phil-- Thanks for your comments. But I don't wish to leave the impression that I think that the results of moral discernment are somehow disposable or up for grabs. I don't! To engage in moral discernment is to stand in the very presence of God and seek to know God's will. "'Tis a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." I wanted to make the point that it's not a problem to me if different people/parishes/churches reach different conclusions, as Christians, as long as they stand within the bounds of Jesus' commandments to us: the Summary of the Law and the New Commandment.

Nor is it a problem to me if I wish to try to persuade others with whom I am in community, of the moral rightness of any view I've come to, should it be a matter of common concern to us.

In any case, I do believe that moral judgments are a serious thing, just not the same sort of serious thing as the Creeds.

Erika Baker said...

Belinda
"The most important point that has to be made is that you are showing a prejudice against conservatives that you despise when it is pointed at you."

Could I please ask you to show the same sensitivity to others here that you expect from us?

Unless you have lived as an openly partnered or married gay person, or have accompanied a close friend on that journey, you cannot possibly imagine the hatred, prejudice and casual dismissal of us as sinners that is part of our every day life.
And it all comes from conservatives.

That is not to say that all conservatives hate and ridicule, but it does explain why we get very prickly and defensive as soon as a conservative somewhere talks knowingly and confidently of our sin.

The other point is that, we do not accept your definition of sin and the distinctions you have made for yourself. Whether you call our existence sinful, or “only” the way we live our lives, actually makes no difference at all. These are your categories of judgement, they are not ours. You are setting yourself up as judge of us, whom you clearly do not know. We have to accept it. But don’t expect us to like it or to respond with a kind of Stockholm Syndrome understanding of where you’re coming from.

As a recovering alcoholic you might understand a little about it, because there is almost as much prejudice about alcoholics as there is about homosexuals. I know, I've lived in a family of alcoholics. And the real people were often barely discernible underneath the barrage of contempt and easy judgement heaped upon them by outsiders who "know" all about them.

In the case of alcoholism, true science has begun to win out and people are no longer seen as sinful sloths and moral imbeciles. In the case of homosexuality, science is only just beginning to penetrate people’s thinking, so the ridiculous prejudice displayed by conservatives will last a bit longer. The principle is the same: Judgement without understanding and without compassion. And those at the receiving end of it do get prickly.

Tobias Haller said...

Belinda,

Just a few quick points:

1) Intelligent design is not science because by its own definition it states that there is no natural explanation for irreducible complexity; it had to be "designed" and therefore calls upon a "designer." If there is no natural explanation, it must be the result of something outside of nature. It doesn't have to be God, but whatever it is, it is a "first cause" or "prime mover." Which in classical theology is the definition of God.

To be fair, science often comes up with "placeholder" powers or forces for which all it has is a name (dark matter, dark energy, the cosmological constant) -- but it asserts that these things are part of the natural universe, not outside it, and only await discovery. The "intelligent designer" must be outside of nature; for if It were a part of nature, how did It come to be by natural causes? This is precisely a theological question, not science.

2) IT's statement about conservatives is true of many of them, even if there are exceptions, and you consider yourself to be one. You can choose to accept that fact, or continue to feel personally included.

3) DSM-IV lists a wide range of alcohol-related disorders. "Alcoholism" is a shorthand popular term that covers much of the spectrum. There may be genetic factors leading to a disposition to alcohol abuse, but there is no clear genetic causality.

4) Concerning your statements about others' sin: On Feb 10 you made this statement, prefaced with "Truthfully" so by your claim you were telling what you thought was the truth:

"Truthfully, and without holding back, I believe that your "marrying" (understand, we do not do that for two women in this country) another woman is unbiblical, and therefore a sin."

Since I too have been married to my spouse for over 28 years, I take this personally -- though as I said, I am capable of hearing such judgments from conservatives without lashing out in return. This is what I was referring to in my last comment.

Your final comment once again reveals the asymmetry in your mindest, common to many conservatives: you feel free to make sweeping judgments and generalizations about others, yet are extremely defensive the moment someone aims a critique even in what you see as your general direction. This is part of the problem conservatives have with "equal weights and measures" -- and it appears to me to be a problem you share, Belinda. You are very quick to take offense, but also very quick to toss out your judgments.

Remember, you will, as will we all when we stand before the final tribunal, be judged by exactly the standard we apply to others. None of us has control over what others say about us; but we do have the power to mark our own words and restrain ourselves.

TheraP said...

I read this thread down to the end. Started on Monday evening. Finished on Tuesday morning. I apologize in advance if anyone is offended either by my words here or my words in a link I will provide later. (the link is to a blog from a political site, but a blog on this topic: unity and division as it relates to homosexuality)

The early part of this thread has some comments by Matt and others, where the word "twisted" was used over and over. Along with the sense of "the Fall." The second half of the thread seemed more like people accusing each other back and forth. Forgive me, but that was my impression.

"Twisted." I honestly went to bed thinking about that. I wondered if Matt wakes up every morning thinking: "I'm twisted. Gays are twisted." I tried an experiment. I woke up this morning with the Jesus prayer in my mind. With the thought: "Lord open my lips." I wasn't sure how I'd wake up, but I was pretty sure I never wake up thinking "I am twisted." (or the like)

"Twisted." This does not sound like a word which recognizes Redemption. Redemption happened. Once and for all. God knows no "time" as we do. So, in my view Redemption happened forwards and backwards and in every direction. It happened to all of creation. Not just humans. Dark matter. Etc. We can all experience "conversion" and deeper and deeper conversions, but Redemption is a fact - regardless of how converted we may or may not be.

I am fascinated by the poster's book and arguments. And while I was already convinced that God loves and blesses each one of us and holds us close to his heart, I am pleased to find that there is no evidence that scripture casts out persons made in God's image. Thank you God! I always knew it!

If I am straying from the thread with these comments or those to come, I apologize sincerely.

I have been thinking of this topic a great deal. Because of people like IT, whom I love as an internet friend. I have been thinking of it not only in its spiritual context but in terms of our nation and the ideals we hold out to all citizens. Not long after the election, I wrote a blog for a political site on this topic: Dignity, Hospitality, Community. I addressed it from a spiritual perspective, and please keep in mind it was written for people who range from atheists and agnostics to those who profess religions of every type (and who are not used to expecting anything spiritual on the site). But I wanted to find a way to ground "community" in terms of hospitality - the welcoming of everyone's dignity = ultimately our sacredness as persons.

I am not a theologian. I am a psychologist. And a christian. RC, but very estranged from my roots (particularly the pope!). And I believe the "church" is one, whether we can see that or not.

Ok. Redemption has occurred. And Jesus went around healing everyone. Everyone! Physical ailments. What were viewed as possessions. Psychological ailments. All were healed. None were told, you are "twisted" and healing is not available. None were blamed as "twisted" in their very beings. None were told: Go and refrain from being you. (If they were told that, please let me know. Cuz I missed it!)

I think we all can read scripture and experience the presence and the teaching of God. But within each of us, we can know that presence as well. And that presence leads us and guides us. If you are reading this and you are homosexual and you believe you are twisted and cannot live a normal life, then I feel very, very sad for you. And I wonder how God, within your soul, could want you to feel twisted or to live a stunted life. No matter what you "are" and what you believe, I'm not going to quarrel with that - but I urge you to read my blog and consider the importance of practicing "hospitality" - not just on Sunday.

http://tpmcafe.talkingpointsmemo.com/talk/blogs/therap/2008/11/dignity-hospitality-community.php

Again, my apologies if anyone feels offended by what I've written here or in the blog. And sorry if I strayed from the topic of the thread.

Peace be with you.

Tobias Haller said...

Thank you, TheraP for some wise words. There is, in the Western Augustinian tradition, a somewhat pessimistic theology of Original Sin -- and it plays a large part in some forms of Evangelical thinking. Matt, for example, finds it a crucial doctrine. I've pointed out that the whole of Eastern Orthodoxy takes very little notice of it, and is an altogether much more optimistic way of seeing the world through the lens of what I'd call "realized salvation." This is what I think you are emphasizing here.

To be fair, I know a few Evangelicals who also take that view -- who rejoice in the Amazing Grace of God, and do not see the world in terms of or fear of the final judgment -- as our "case" has already been settled and we have been acquitted.

Thanks again.

TheraP said...

"Realized salvation." I've never heard the term. But yes!!! Like Taillard de Chardin. The Cistercians seem to have a similar spirituality: "Just let God love you." And "Be the you God loves."

"Perfect love casts out fear." So we are not "supposed" to be afraid.

Amen!

I'm glad I found your site!

Peace be with you.

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks again, TheraP. T de Chardin is one of the reasons I'm a Christian! Reading him, along with C S Lewis, brought about my adult re-conversion to Christianity.

Peace to all, as I note this is now the longest comment thread ever to appear on this blog.

Erika Baker said...

"To be fair, I know a few Evangelicals who also take that view -- who rejoice in the Amazing Grace of God, and do not see the world in terms of or fear of the final judgment -- as our "case" has already been settled and we have been acquitted."

So do I, among them one of my closest friends.
Thank you for making this point, Tobias.

TheraP, I have very much enjoyed reading your comments.

Belinda said...

Tobias,

I am not going to respond to most of what you said simply because I am tired of being endlessly beat upon. I have gone to great lengths to be accepting of the sexuality of those here who are of a different persuasion than myself. I have tried in every post save the one post you quoted, which I apologized for, to be a "good" Christian. Not conservative or liberal; just a sister in Christ.

Before you you make your own judgments about alcoholism please remember that homosexuality was once in the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of the APA. I believe studies of identical twins have been very promising regarding the heredity of alcoholism. I KNEW someone would bring up the fact that alcoholism is in the DSM IV...predictable.

Have a blessed day.

Kevin M said...

Re: homosexuality and alcoholism

Yes, homosexuality used to be in the DSM but has not been since 1973.

Yes, there seems to be a genetic component to both homosexuality and alcoholism, but there's still a big difference. If one has the gene(s) for alcoholism but never drinks alcohol, she or she will not become an alcoholic. However, even if a person remains a virgin for his or her entire life, he or she will still have a sexual/emotional/spiritual orientation to certain persons, whether of the same or opposite gender (or both).

(cont.)

Kevin M said...

(cont. from last post)

Finally, another huge difference lies in what each leads to. I think it's pretty clear that alcoholism is indeed a disease and objectively leads to physical, emotional, and spiritual damage not only for the alcoholic but also for his or her family and friends. For gays and lesbians, on the other hand, can one really point to negative consequences that inherently follow from having an orientation for someone of the same gender? I'd argue that in itself the orientation has no such consequences but is in itself neutral in that regard. If one does not discern a call to celibacy but chooses to live in a committed relationship with someone of the same gender, I still don't see any negative consequences leading directly from that state of life.

What negative consequences I have seen (and I've seen plenty) occur more from shame and rejection by conservative religion, societies, and families (as well as one's own choices). In fact I've seen much more suffering as the result of people trying to deny this fundamental part of themselves and either trying to pass as heterosexual or attempting to live a life without intimate companionship. If one has discerned a call to celibacy, wonderful. If one is able to navigate successfully the often treacherous waters of marriage (or its equivalent) and find fulfillment, that's wonderful too.

Therefore, when one examines it more closely, the comparison of homosexuality and alcoholism really falls flat on its face.

David |Dah • veed| said...

This man, this bishop of the Church of God, is who assisted me in remaining and becoming a stronger Christian. I was priveledged to sit at his feet and learn at a summer class at Vancouver School of Theology many years ago when I lived in Seattle in grad school.

This is from his teachings and one of my affirmations of life. An affirmation that assures me daily that I am a gay man, a Christian and fully loved and accepted by God!

God, who is the source of Life calls us to live fully;
God, who is the source of Love, calls us to love wastefully;
and God, who is the Ground of all Being calls us to be all that we can be.

The Rt. Rev. John Shelby Spong

JCF said...

I am tired of being endlessly beat upon

Beat upon?!

Belinda, watch this video, so that we might come to a common understanding of what "beat upon" consists of.

Re this,

In point of fact, conservatives -- and this one especially -- do NOT think that living a celibate life as a homosexual leaves you in a state of sin, nor do we abhor you or anyone else

I suggest you tell that to Father-NOT-Bishop Jeffrey John? (Let him tell you about all the abhorence directed at him, for the "sin" of being a celibate homosexual)

Finally, no one ever died of "driving while gay" . . . and, contrary to what you may have heard, no one ever died of "acute gay poisoning", either!

****

It’s a mistake to label the Creed “core doctrine,” and implicitly call everything else up for grabs.

I agree, Phil.

It's everything else besides the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral (1. Scripture, OT&NT, 2. Creeds, Nicene and Apostles', 3. Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Eucharist, 4. Historic Episcopate, locally-adapted) which IS up for grabs! :-D

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks for the additional comments.

Belinda, it's too bad you feel you're being "beat up" but if being criticized or disagreed with is being "beat up" then I think perhaps you need to furnish your home with a few more mirrors. That's not intended as an unkind cut, but as spiritual direction.

Kevin M., yes, that's what I was getting at in the fallacy of the alcoholism / homosexuality analogy. It begs the question. The real analogy is homosexuality / heterosexuality -- with all the same faults and foibles, and joys and gifts.

Dahvbeed, thanks for the quote from Jack Spong. While I don't agree with all of his writing, he is often on to something so fundamentally right that I can set the difficulties to one side. (Actually, I feel the same way about C S Lewis). Spong's tripartite formula is True.

JCF, I think the L. Quadrilateral describes the Nicene Creed as the "sufficient statement of the Christian Faith." I think that is what is meant by "core doctrine." That is, if a doctrine isn't in the creed, it may still be a doctrine, but it isn't a core element of the faith. That is precisely why questions of eucharistic theology, for example, are secondary doctrines -- about which there is significant difference of opinion throughout Christianity. When we get to moral or pastoral theology, there is even more distinction and difference. Phil's view is at odds with the L.Q., and with the whole Anglican understanding of sufficiency -- both in Scripture and the Creed. The church's teaching is neither final nor complete: it is sufficient.

Thanks again,
Tobias

Belinda said...

If y'all cannot see me as a sister in Christ and a friend, then I don't know what else to say.

Erika Baker said...

Tobias
I agree with you and Kevin that alcoholism and homosexuality are a very poor analogy.

What is true, however, is that alcoholics do not choose to be highly succeptible to becoming alcoholics and that they find it extremely difficult to battle alcohol.
It is also true that until recently, they have been reviled in society as morally weak and somehow "lesser" people who deserve all that's coming to them.

For that reason, alcoholics of all people should have a bit more understanding of homosexuals and not blithely talk of "behaviour" that is chosen and can be changed.

But maybe I'm expecting a little too much empathy.

Tobias Haller said...

Belinda, I have no trouble seeing you as a sister in Christ or a friend. But that doesn't mean I agree with what you say or believe -- and if you can't accept my disagreement (on the same terms you seem to expect I should accept yours) then that's a shame. This blog's purpose is discussion -- and that will sometimes lead to disagreement.

Erika, I think it is true that sometimes being wounded makes one more sensitive to other people's wounds; but sadly that is not always the case. The Wounded Healer can be a powerful voice of sympathy -- but she must come to terms with her own woundedness, and speak from that place of humility -- and that is very hard to do sometimes. Sometimes the formerly marginalized are the greatest advocates for change -- but sometimes the formerly marginalized only seek to find someone else to put on the margins. (We see this in waves of immigration a great deal here in the US) A sad fact of human nature.

Grandmère Mimi said...

The Wounded Healer can be a powerful voice of sympathy -- but she must come to terms with her own woundedness, and speak from that place of humility -- and that is very hard to do sometimes.

Yes. I'm reminded of the order in the Kingdom of God as Jesus describes it. Truly, as Christians, we are to be engaged in a race to the lowest place, the position of being a servant to all. That is not easy.

Erika Baker said...

Belinda
I think this is a difficult conversation, especially because everything on a blog is so public. Some conversations are better had in private, because it's easier to tease out real differences and real agreement. I don't think blogs foster a lot of respect for the other person. As Tobias pointed out, by nature, there are "discusion fora", and therefore appear to be confrontational.

But you said much that I think is worth following up and deepening. I would be delighted if you wanted to continue this conversation off-line. Please ask Tobias for my email address if you agree. I'm certain we can help each other to understand each other's point of view better.
I don't ever want us to agree - that would mean one of us trying to change the other beyond recognition. But I would be happy if a conversation could result in you feeling less hurt, and in me understanding your particular sticking points more clearly.

God bless you.

fatherjones.com said...

I'm sorry to have missed this conversation. Thanks to Matt Kennedy and Tobias Haller, especially, for their words.

Belinda said...

Thank you, Erika. I greatly appreciate your understanding. Perhaps I get my feelings hurt too easily, but I think that is because I want to understand your point of view, and I want my point of view to be respected, as I think God would have us respect one another in Christ.

I love the Lord with everything in me, and I know that you all do as well, so it seems that we shouldn't be harsh with one another. When I was called out for my harshness I apologized immediately...I am not perfect and I do not expect anyone else to be either.

I would love to talk to you off line. Tobias knows my email address, I think. It is the Yahoo address that we have used in conversations we have had privately, Tobias. If you no longer have it I will send you an email.

Thanks,
Belinda

Lynn said...

Tobias and all,

I have started several comments on this thread, but walked away from posting for several reasons. Perhaps I was hoping for a comment from someone who has suffered from alcohol dependence and is wired for same-gender sexual preference. I can speak to alcohol dependence, but I an quite happily heterosexual. Both speak to what I am as a child of God, but that's about it. There is no such thing as a "typical" alcoholic. Drinking patterns vary during dependence, not everyone experiences the same physical problems, and avoiding alcohol is absolutely NOT always a daily burden for many people. Please know that I say this with a firm commitment to abstinence from alcohol, I don't play around with my life and health in this matter.

Physical dependence on alcohol ends very quickly, and abrupt withdrawal can kill a certain percentage of the population. When you are free of the poison and your body re-regulates, there is a gigantic element of psychological withdrawal; and finally, one learns how to disassociate difficult emotions with drinking most of the time. I say "most" because even those of us who are very comfortable without alcohol sometimes get hit with cravings that are quite frightening and uncomfortable. How often and hard those cravings hit, and how you combat them, is completely different for every individual. Certainly what helps me might not be of much use to Belinda or anyone else.

AS a sober person, my sexuality in all its forms is completely unrelated to related to alcohol. In the early stages of "recovery," an individual's sexual attitudes and desires for sex are very different. If someone becomes addicted to sex after breaking the bonds of alcohol dependency, I suspect the underlying cause requires a hard look and patient, professional assistance. And if you want to take the matter to a truly ridiculous level, I'm pretty sure that recovery from alcohol dependence won't change your sexual preference. I certainly have seen no sign of it, anyway, in myself or others.

I implore everyone who is seen as "different" or "disordered" about anything: do not believe everything you read about alcoholism, or base your opinions on your experience with specific individuals. I've read some pretty crazy studies on alcohol disorders and their treatment, and seen some good ones ignored when they contradict society's preconceived notions.

Belinda, I'm going to try to express an opinion without making you feel under attack. If wrangling with people about the moral implications of homosexuality causes you such distress, please walk away from it for a while. When you express strong opinions, you will often get them in return. If you attack someone's marriage or choice of life partner, expect people to come out fighting regardless of sexual orientation. These are just things you must accept, and then only you can decide if you are channeling your energy and emotions in a healthy way. My experience - which is obviously not yours - tells me if you are still battling alcohol on a daily basis, you have a larger battle to fight right now. But honestly, I hope that you will change your mind about the inherent sinfulness of monogamous and committed same-gender expressions of love, including the sexual variety.
----
Now, to shift gears - Tobias, I am looking forward to reading your book. I have pre-ordered a couple copies - who knows, we may get you on the NY Times bestseller list!

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks, Lynn, for the very wise advice. There are two reasons I reject the alcoholism::homosexuality argument. First, as you note, "alcoholic" is a very imprecise term -- I suppose it's imprecision is the only likeness with "homosexual"! Second, it reflects a disease model for homosexuality, assuming from the get-go that there is something "wrong" or "disordered" or a "condition" -- whatever you want to call it, it is negative.

In fact, the only proper analogy for homosexuality is heterosexuality -- there is exactly the same range of relationships from life-long and committed to mercenary and transitory and abusive.

Thanks again for sharing this wisdom. Also for ordering the book! I just put the page proofs into the overnight mail for the typesetter to incorporate correx and a very few last minute tweaks. (Who could resist!) Will keep all posted on the progress.

Tobias

Erika Baker said...

Belinda
I emailed you yesterday morning, did you get my mail?