August 18, 2009

Musings after Repose

Well, I’m back from Convocation, none the worse for the restful time, but facing all of the usual residua to which that meeting gives rise: photos, videos, minutes, reports, updates, usw.

Meanwhile, over at the Old HoBD Corral, I’ve been having a discussion on the Prevailing Issue, and why it (discussion) is so difficult. I’ve observed that many among the “Reasserter” side of things seem content to reassert what they believe to be the True Answer to the problem; and rarely seem willing to discuss the issue in anything approaching a rational argument, moving from agreed upon premises to conclusions in logical steps. As the name implies, they usually articulate a reassertion of the premise/conclusion in circular form. And that is a logical fallacy. (It may be true, but it is illogical).

If this leaves us at an impasse, it is because the reasserters are unwilling to “do the theology,” as they often accuse the progressive / reappraiser side of doing. In fact, what I’m suggesting is we all need to do some reappraising together. When folks simply forbid reappraisal, we end up with a situation such as that in the Roman Catholic Church, which in regard to the ordination of women has confessed that the theological rationale of previous years was insufficient, and recognized that the more recent theological arguments were tending towards dodgy ground; and so finally ruled, “End of discussion.”)

In our situation, I think it is more helpful to engage the issue, as indeed I have gone to pains to do in Reasonable and Holy: to look at the various tele* or goods of marriage, as variously defined in the tradition, to see if a same-sex couple is capable of achieving those ends or enjoying those goods. It is, it appears to me after my study, possible to answer that question in the affirmative.

It is also helpful to look at the larger question, “What is the telos of the human being?” — about which there is considerable consensus in the Christian tradition, from both sides of the Catholic/Protestant divide: to know, love, serve and glorify God and to enjoy him for ever. And we have been taught that we achieve or thwart that end in connection to how we treat other human beings, likewise made in the image of God. This is why the theology of the imago Dei, and the recent distortions in that theology (in an unwise attempt to frame a theological defense of traditional marriage) are so important.

Now, this is not to place all of the blame on one side. Much of the argument on both sides has consisted in people talking past each other, mouthing their conclusions and waving their catch-phrases as if they were self-evident truths. This is why I try to engage people in going back to the first principles upon which we actually agree and then working forward in stepwise fashion, to see where we might end up. This necessitates a willingness to adopt up front the Anglican doctrine of humility: that we have no doubt erred, and may well err again.

For some on both sides, as well, the topic is ended, the book closed, there is no further reason for discussion. In the face of that reality, there can be any amount of dust shaken from plenty of heels, a parting of the ways — or a willingness to agree to disagree. Many in the Anglican Communion seem willing to adopt that kind of “watchful waiting” approach; it seems to be the hope of the Archbishop of Canterbury (more on this later) and the sense of “moratoria” (instead of “prohibitions”). Still, even in holding out this possibility for change Canterbury and the communion moderates are offending both those who want to see the church adopt an amended view on The Subject, and those who see such an adoption, or even its entertainment, as departure from the faith once given.

One of my interlocutors at HoBD suggested I was unwilling to adopt “first principles” myself, but I suggested that what he was offering as premises looked like conclusions to me. I rejoined that to find common ground we must get behind those conclusions to find something more basic. He offered one such principle, upon which I can agree as a basis for discussion, a classical concept well in keeping with the style of first principles: “The scriptures are ‘God’s word written’ and therefore normative for matters of salvation and Christian life.”

Although this statement itself requires a good bit of unpacking (and I look to Richard Hooker for the classical version of that task) it is something I can and do fully accept and affirm. In similar language it forms part of the Lambeth unpacking of Chicago’s Quadrilateral.

Where he and I part company is not on this fundamental premise, but on the conclusions we draw from it. So examining the arguments by which we reach these conclusions, the logical steps and inferences (and the related and sometimes unstated premises upon which they rely), would be a helpful form of engagement. Of primary importance is getting those other unstated premises out on the table. Sometimes these unstated premises are seen to be self-evident, but my experience is that they form another part of the obstacle to clear thinking.

One of the things we clearly disagree about is not whether the Scripture is a “normative” (I prefer the old language of “sufficient”) guide to salvation and moral living, but whether Scripture actually addresses The Issue upon which we disagree: is same-sex marriage possible, and if so, is it moral?

These are not easy questions, and any argument from Scripture or Reason or Tradition is going to be complex, as there is no explicit prohibition (or approbation) of same-sex marriage in Scripture; Reason alone is unlikely to provide a clear answer acceptable to those who think Scripture is clear; and Tradition, while generally tending one way, is also mixed. This is why a glib conclusion, either way, while tempting, will not settle the argument.

I am content to continue the discussion. As a starter, I want to comment briefly on one of the unspoken corollary premises of the reasserter position: that Genesis offers us a “one size fits all” divine pattern for all human sexual relations.

I address this assertion at some length in R&H, as well as the discontinuities of this premise with significant aspects of the tradition, but I want to raise an additional question here, concerning taking Genesis as a template at all, that is, questioning the very premise. Why is Genesis seen as a template for all sexual relations but not for any or all other human activities? Why, for example, do we allow other forms of industry than agriculture? (Given that was Cain’s metier and industry was the invention of the offspring of Lamech’s polygamous unions.) Why do we allow women to use anaesthesia in childbirth? (Roundly opposed on biblical grounds in the Victorian era, until Victoria herself made use of it.) Why aren’t we all vegetarians? (Yes, I know God changed the rules in Genesis 9, but if we were so keen on living in accord with God’s original intent, vegetarianism is the most biblical answer.) More importantly, Why, if the subjection of women to their husbands is a result of the fall, has it taken the church so long to recognize women as restored to their antelapsarian state as equal collaborators?

These seem to be to be questions worthy of reflection in opposition to the view that the patterns laid out in Genesis are necessarily the only options available to the children of Adam and Eve, the children of God and siblings of Christ.

However, if there is no willingness to engage these questions, if we are simply at a standoff — none of us able to convince the other of the truth of our position, or even to discuss the matter with some degree of mutual care and willingness to perhaps change our minds — then our challenge is to see if we are able to live together in harmonious disagreement, and wait for time itself slowly to winnow truth. I am certainly willing to do so, as I think there are far more important matters facing us, about which we do have significant agreement, and our efforts and resources would be well spent in their pursuit. Such as the mission of the church to restore people to unity with each other and God in Christ.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

* A helpful correction from Bill Carroll


June Butler said...

Why is Genesis seen as a template for all sexual relations but not for any or all other human activities?

An excellent question, indeed. That's getting to the heart of the matter. I hope that someone comes along here and answers that question.

I look at LGTB couples and see those who by any reasonable description would seem to live holy lives, showing Christ-like behavior and exemplifying the Golden Rule in action. And I say to myself, "What can be wrong with this picture?"

Ah, but certain folks see something quite wrong with the picture, and you know, and I know what that is. S-E-X. Therefore, it seems to me that the answer to the question that you pose is quite important. Of course, I can't help you out, Tobias, because I don't see Genesis as the template for sexual behavior, but I hope someone will.

Bill Moorhead said...

Thank you, Tobias, for very thoughtful "musings." I think you raise important questions that we need to engage. By coincidence, just before checking your blog I was over at The Lead, where they have posted the link to an NPR conversation (in connection with the ELCA convention in Minneapolis) between Susan Russell and Kendall Harmon -- a very civil, even cordial conversation -- in which were raised some of the questions that you address very helpfully.

4 May 1535+ said...

Hi, Tobias+

I read your column just now with Bp. Lawrence's recent remarks in the back of my mind--particularly his comments that the questions raised by some OT prohibitions (not mixing fibers, for instance) were solved long ago, by Augustine and the Reformers.

I think that the (or an) unspoken premise of your interlocutor(s) is that all the resolvable difficulties of scripture have already been resolved, and the modern church has no authority to revisit those questions. This premise seems to me to be pretty common in conversation with those who want to read the Bible "literally": there is no need for a theory of J,E,P,D, because patristic / rabbinical / reformation authorities have already dealt with the questions of two names for God, different numbers of animals in the ark, etc. Similarly, the fact that Augustine could write a harmony of the four evangelists means there is no reason to have a Synoptic Theory. There's no question of the modern theory being a better explanation than the old ones--the old ones make new ones unnecessary, and, indeed, wrong.

Fran said...

"Such as the mission of the church to restore people to unity with each other and God in Christ."

That says it all, doesn't it? Yet...

I am reading your book now and am getting a lot out of it. Thank you Tobias.

Rick+ said...

     I agree with your statement that we have "far more important matters facing us, about which we do have significant agreement". I worry that all this energy takes away from our mission to the world.

     Specifically focusing on the GLBT community, while energy is spent arguing over whether such relationships should exist, we miss addressing what holiness in such relationships would look like.

Erika Baker said...

How do you protect yourself against the charge of being patronising?
You know I agree with every word you say, but I have a fundamental problem in this discussion – I am convinced that you have gone back to first principles, and that these have led you to a valid conclusion. I am not genuinely open to any other conclusion because I believe it to be intellectually impossible as well as invalidating my whole personal experience of my faith and my life.

Do you genuinely believe that a joint attempt at re-appraising, at starting at first principles, can result in anything other than people coming to the same conclusion as you? And if it did, would you genuinely change your whole life, even to the point of severing your own closest relationship?

If I am deeply honest, I am looking for ways of making people see what I absolutely believe to be the truth, and I am, deep down, not prepared to accept any other answer. I can agree to walk side by side in disagreement, but I will not ever change my mind.

And even regarding living side by side, I am actually not willing to do that while I have the official status of some lesser Christian.
By all means, see me as a sinner, but don’t treat me different to anyone committing a heterosexual sin like divorce.

I hear what you say, I like your arguments, but I don’t quite understand what they mean in practice.

Bill Carroll said...

Just a quibble, Tobias, about a fine post. You're in good company, here, by the way, since Paul Tillich makes the same mistake. But the Greek plural of to telos is ta tele (eta on the end). It's a third declension neuter noun and not a second declension masculine.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for all the helpful comments. GM, I do think the Golden Rule aspect is helpful -- as Augustine said, any interpretation of Scripture by any other means is inherently faulty.

Bill M., thanks -- I've not yet listened to the conversation. I've had my own cordial conversations with Kendall, and I know it is possible.

4 May, Lawrence's comment does seem terribly dated, in every sense. He (and Kendall) don't seem to grasp that the issue isn't "these matters of fibers, shellfish, etc., are trivial, but how -- given that Scripture doesn't say they are trivial -- do we determine the bases on which they were determined no longer binding on Christians, and looking to see if we can apply the same principles to same-sex marriage. Jesus himself showed Peter, by means of an analogy with unclean food, that no human being should be seen as unclean. I think that's a good start.

Thanks, Fran. Let me know what you think as you continue.

Rick, that is just so. As I said to the ABC, what might the church accomplish if we were simply to be honest and get about God's work.

I've been studying this issue for better than a quarter of a century, and I've yet to see a cogent argument from the traditional side that doesn't simply and ultimately beg the question. What would I do if I did see such an argument. I would be convinced by it and act accordingly. I've done such a switch in the past myself. I was an early vehement opponent of the ordination of women. There are letters from me to The Living Church back in the 70s condemning the practice. But then I actually looked at the arguments -- and it wasn't the "justice" argument that won me over, but the doctrinal argument. The more I examined the arguments against WO the more I found gaping holes and logical fallacies. And the same has been true with the discussions on same-sexuality.

I suppose it might be possible to put the paste back in the tube, and if it happened I would be forced to act accordingly. But I have tested all the extant arguments and found them wanting, so it would have to be a new one to convince me I was mistaken. And I very much doubt a new argument will be forthcoming.

In the meantime, the best way forward is telling the truth as each of us sees it. I find I am best able to maintain a good personal relationship with people with whom I disagree is not to try to accommodate my views to theirs, but to honestly acknowledge the points of difference -- not necessarily to convince, but to testify. This is at the heart of the "Listening Process" with which I am involved.

Finally, thanks Bill for the correction: my primary Biblical language was Hebrew... will note the correction.

Erika Baker said...

Thanks, Tobias.
I think the main difference is that I would never be willing to put the paste back into the tube, however convincing a theological argument there might suddenly come up. So in many respects I'm not a terribly good participant in the listening process, because although I'm willing to genuinely hear what the others are saying, I am very rigid in how far I'm willing to accommodate them in practical terms.

Where actual discrimination is at stake, a mere testifying seems not to go far enough. Holding the tension and living side by side requires the practical equality of both sides, regardless of what they think of each other’s views and lives.
I suppose it depends on whether testifying is a means to an end and not the end in itself.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Erika. I wonder though what level of conviction you speak of here. I mean, if I really believed I had made a mistake, I would want to correct it. It's not just about an argument being convincing, but convicting. I don't think I've seen even coherent, let alone convincing or convicting, from the traditionalist side yet. They may say the same about me, I realize.

And I agree about what constitutes a fair "interim" position. The status quo ante suggested in the moratoria is not right, since it essentially says -- effectively -- that LGBT folks must take a step back in places they've moved forward. The fair, and laissez faire, solution I have long proposed is that a diocese that doesn't want g/l clergy need not ordain or license them, and the same goes for SSM. Let this develop naturally and locally before being accepted globally -- which is the way change comes to the church naturally and historically. But don't impose an arbitrary return to the status quo ante in those places where forward movement has happened. I know my colleagues in the Listening Process really want the moratoria, and if they are voluntary and practical they are no big hardship in most places. But the other side of the equation -- the abuse and homophobia -- while receiving a tongue-lashing, needs more aggressive and deliberate criticism.
I think testimony is both a means and an end. One has no control over whether ones testimony will be heard and honored, but one must still be able to make it. It is then for those with ears to hear, to hear.

Erika Baker said...

“I mean, if I really believed I had made a mistake, I would want to correct it.”

I wouldn’t.
Because correcting it would result in other, at least as grave mistakes being made. It would result in a divorce, in casting out a beloved partner, in hurting our children and grandchildren. I would have to assess the relative consequences of acting or not acting on my newfound conviction, and I would have to throw myself at God’s mercy in any case. And life being shades of grey rather than black and white, I certainly would not correct this particular mistake. I would merely wish I had recognised it as a mistake before I made it.

To everything else you say – yes!

Closed said...

Part of this actually relates back to soteriology and how it is we see God's grace working among us. Jumping to prescription before description shortchanges our justificatory soteriology, that is, that we find ourselves children of God by grace. How will that look. Instead, heterosexual monogamy is placed in the place of encounter with God from the get go. The result is a serious idolatry or rejection of the gospel (because no gospel at all) by non-heterosexuals.

Genesis reflects the Creator/creature relationship not just in the past (as folks seem to take it) but existentially, that is, for us. Reading these folks, I get the sense God wound up creation and let it run rather than creation is founded and continuous. For us, the Creator/creature relationship is not a past reality. It is who we find ourselves to be before God in Christ--beloved creatures, wayward children. We are created in and by Christ, God's own Word, just as we are redeemed by Christ, God's own Word. This Christ identifies with us by becoming our very flesh and in himself inaugurating the Divine Sociality on the level of creatures. This is the Pattern made available to us for our own response. The Pattern to us for our own ethical reflection is Jesus Christ of whom Scripture speaks and to whom Scritpure points as God's definitive self-communication and -bestowal.

Devin Rose said...


Tradition, while generally tending one way, is also mixed.

What do you include in your understanding of "Tradition"?

When folks simply forbid reappraisal, we end up with a situation such as that in the Roman Catholic Church, which in regard to the ordination of women...finally ruled, “End of discussion.”)

As a Catholic, I think that this description is overly simplistic.

At some point and with some issues, the Catholic Church has said "this issue is no longer open for discussion", and that is a good thing.

Oneness Pentecostals would certainly challenge the Catholic Church to "reappraise" its dogmatic teaching on the Trinity, but the Church will not do so, for the matter has been settled dogmatically.

Most of Protestantism (including Anglicanism) would ask the Catholic Church to reappraise her teachings against contraception and sterilization, and the Church has considered these issues as recently as last century and continues to do so, but the clearly established teaching of the Magisterium is that they are immoral acts; to change them would require something enormous (not a public opinion poll).

Anglicans "reappraised" contraception and women's ordination and divorce and remarriage and now same-sex relationships; is there any moral or faith teaching that Anglicans would considered "settled" and not being open to being revisited (and subsequently reversed)?

Nathan J.A. Humphrey said...

Hi Tobias,

I think you've hit the nail on the head with the Genesis principle, what I've called the "doctrine of gender complementarity," which isn't just an ethical principle in conservatives' minds, but a cosmological principle. (And, in Mormonism, a teleological principle!) I wrote a brief post on this about a year ago.

Has your mind ever been changed in a conservative direction? The WO example you give isn't really a good one, since it's from conservative to liberal. In my own experience, I've gotten much more conservative in my views on Jesus' prohibition of divorce, for instance. I think TEC is far too "soft" on divorce. While I think one needs to have pastoral compassion, when asked whether remarriage after a divorce is tantamount to adultery or not, I can't rationalize away what Jesus says on the subject. This is a sticky subject because my own father (a minister, no less) remarried after divorcing my mother. I don't have a practical issue with his being remarried; I want him to be happy and not bound by an unredeemed past. But I also don't think it accords with Jesus' teaching on the subject. Like a good Catholic, not until my mother died on July 1st did I consider my parents' marriage to have ended. At the same time, I didn't cut my father out of my life because he was divorced and remarried--that was his decision, not mine. He and Jesus can have a conversation about that. All I know is what Jesus says in the Gospels, which forms the foundation of my view of the subject.

Unknown said...

I wonder how often it is that someone is actually brought around to an opposing view point through reasoned argument. That's not to say it doesn't play an important role at times, but is it really the key means by which one is brought to conversion, so to speak? For example, while I'm sure some people have changed their minds on GLBT matters primarily because of arguments from science, Scripture, theology, etc., in most cases it comes about through getting to know GLBT persons, seeing them in ordinary life, experiencing them engaged in ministry that challenges prior assumptions and changes minds and hearts. The reasoned arguments often seem to be cited after the fact to justify a change that began earlier on at an often unconscious (or semi-conscious) level. Reason is a vital part of the human psyche and soul, but it's more like the tip of an often non-rational (not to be confused with irrational) iceberg.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the additional comments.

Erika, this is all so hypothetical it's hard for me to be sure what I'd do; suffice it to say it would have to take some hefty convincing, not only that what I was doing was wrong, but that it was harmful to those I love; and out of love, would then have to stop the harmful action. But as you say, there are shades of gray, and it is hard to give a black/white answer when that is the case.

Christopher, you touch on a very important point here --- that tendency to read things back into Genesis that simply aren't there, and then to set it up as an idol. We are much safer using Genesis as Jesus and Paul did --- and honoring the text as it stands.

Devin, I would include in tradition the conciliar decisions of the early church and the teaching of the eminent theologians down through the centuries, as well as the rich store of the churches liturgies. As to the end of the discussion of the topic of the ordination of women in the Roman Catholic Church, I do not think it is simplistic. In this case I think the Roman Catholic Church has said the topic is no longer open for discussion not because of a conviction of its inherent rightness ( as I note, they have already acknowledged that the arguments they used at Trent were indefensible, and the theological quagmire into which more recent argument had brought them was embarrassing; and so have adopted the position that they "do not feel competent to make such a change" and have forbidden further discussion.) That is, I think, an accurate description of the situation.

This is not to say that there may not be issues upon which the church can rule definitively and which need not he open to constant reappraisal. I have never suggested otherwise --- though I perceive it is a part of your general anti-Protestantism to think that that is what Protestants think. Even using the word Protestant is controversial in this case --- not only because Anglicans consider themselves to be at least as Catholic as they are Protestant, but because Protestant is a catchall that includes many irreconcilably different churches. And I have nothing to say about them. I will speak about Anglicanism because that's what I'm part of. Anglicans have a very strong set of core doctrines which are unlikely in the extreme to be reappraised: the Trinity, the Incarnation, etc., are part of the faith and need not be open to re-examination although they are always available for further explication.

Issues of pastoral theology, however, are open to such reappraisal and re-examination; and if you will study the history of the Roman Catholic Church at greater depth you will find that a number of such issues have been reappraised over time. A review of the changes in the theology of marriage is a perfect, and relevant example. I commend Brundage's Law, Sex and Christian Society in Medieval Europe, for a review on the many different adaptations and debates on the nature and constitution of marriage.

Nathan, I came to the church from agnosticism, so I would say on matters of profound faith I moved from a more liberal to a more conservative position.

Kevin,I think the primary purpose of discussion is not to convert but simply to be honest: to offer testimony --- and it is certainly not my task to convert the opposition, though I hope I may sway the jury! in the case of the present issue, I certainly think that most of the opposition is not in fact rational but emotional: this is one of the reasons conservatives tend to falter when asked to present a logical and consistent exposition of their argument, one that doesn't bump into the problems either of logical fallacy, or at the extreme, heresy.

Unknown said...

Just for clarification, when I used the word "conversion," it was not in the sense of something imposed on someone else, such as the "You must convert or suffer the fires of hell" nonsense. Rather, I meant it in the sense of one's own turning around to an opposite position.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Kevin, that's how I understood you. I only used the example of my own coming to faith from agnosticism with Nathan simply because I see it as an instance of changing ones mind -- and that such a change is possible. I realize in that case it's the other kind of "conversion" too, but I understood you were talking more about a change of mind or especially change of heart -- which is more important.

As a footnote to what you said, I think the old saying is true: You can't rationally argue someone out of a position they got into irrationally. Or words to that effect... ;-)

Rick+ said...

     In thinking about whether discussion/debate/logical argument can change my viewpoint, I'd have to say it can. It is, however, not usually done by people who are not in relationship with me, no matter how strident or sure they are. It is those who are close whose opinions and reasonings most affect and change me.

     This makes it all the more important that we break bread together, pray together, and worship together in the midst of our differences. It is in such relationship we find ourselves able to be changed by one another.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Rick, I couldn't agree more. This is why the Listening Process, for all its failings, is so important. It is also why, I think, some of the most conservative people don't want to engage in such conversation and fellowship -- at some level they know they risk being changed in the encounter, and choose instead to remain secure in unassailability. That is tragic, but all we can do is continue to offer the invitation and keep the door open and a light on the sill.

LKT said...

Yours was the second piece of theology I read yesterday that included the phrase "agree to disagree." The first was from William Porcher DuBose in the introduction to his "The Gospel in the Gospels."

He wrote "So let us agree to disagree, if conscientiously we must, in all our manifold differences; and, bringing all our differences together, let us see if they are not wiser than we, and if they cannot and will not of themselves find agreement in a unity that is higher and vaster than we."

I just thought you might like that.

MarkBrunson said...

One of the huge problems I have with these alleged traditionalists is that they use the argument "God doesn't change, so God doesn't change His mind," and then apply that to the Bible.

Well, if that's the case, they should be killing us, stoning us to death, not just censuring us. Laurie Cabot should be the most endangered species in America. In point of fact, these "Christians" should be murdering left, right and center.

If God's mind is presented accurately in Scripture.

Even if you argue, "Well, we were told not to kill people like that in the New Testament," then you've just shown that, as far as Scripture is concerned, God does change His mind.

If God's mind is presented accurately in Scripture.

Brother David said...

Mark, I do not think that God ever changes God's mind.

But some of us are not as good at mind reading as we think that we are!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Laura. It is a joy to be in the company of one of the great American theologians.

Mark, that traditionalist argument comes from proof-texting -- taking one quote about God not changing his mind out of context. In the sense that God's purpose is always Love, God doesn't change. But the Scripture offers many explicit examples of God changing the law -- which is what progressives assert is possible, and which is what the traditionalists usually are responding to with their proof-text. God does change the his own law, many times. I devote a section of my book to this very subject. Otherwise, as I note, we'd all still be required to be vegetarians.

Brother David said...

Kevin, I recently remarked in a discussion elsewhere that whereas most Anglicans claim to sit on a 3-legged stool, that I am an Anglican who sits on a 4-legged stool. I started my theological education in a United Methodist seminary and subscribe to the Wesleyan Quadrilateral; scripture, tradition, reason and experience.

in most cases it comes about through getting to know GLBT persons, seeing them in ordinary life, experiencing them engaged in ministry that challenges prior assumptions and changes minds and hearts.
That intrinsic experience that speaks internally against all the scripture, tradition and reason of a lifetime is very powerfully persuasive. Many of us lean to the idea that it is the quiet whisperings of Holy Spirit.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Dahveed. I think it is important to note that by "Reason" Hooker would have included what Wesley called "experience" -- the meaning of the word "reason" had shifted by Wesley's time, as a result of the Enlightenment. Hooker's "reason" is a broader category of humanist rationality, which includes the capacity to integrate one's experience rightly into a manner of living.

Brother David said...

OT -

Father Tobias, I have been engaged in a conversation at Changing Attitude UK regarding a book review and a ministry of Andrew Marin. The book is Love is an Orientation, his ministry the marin Foundation. After reading Andrew Goddard's review of the book I was suspect of all the hoopla because I detect a hidden agenda and said so.

Andrew Marin himself waded into the discussion. I asked him, "Do you accept the monogamous, faithful, same gender relationships of gay, lesbian and bisexual folks, as well as the sexual identities and monogamous, faithful, relationships of transgender folks, as holy and equally acceptable before God as mixed gender marriages?"

His answer in part, "...I believe you're asking the wrong question (close-ended vs. open-ended and Jesus' responses to each)."

May I have some feedback feedback?

Nathan J.A. Humphrey said...

I have problems with the phrase "agree to disagree" because it is limited in its efficacy. Two white men in the 1960s South could "agree to disagree" about Jim Crow, but doing so only smoothed over their own relationship and did nothing to address concretely not simply the "issue" but the conditions under which non-whites lived. I can "agree to disagree" with my wife over abortion, but this won't do if my wife wants to have an abortion and I don't want her to--or vice-versa. Such "agreement" is really tantamount to conflict avoidance, isn't it?

Nathan J.A. Humphrey said...

I really appreciated as well what Christopher wrote about approaching Genesis as descriptive of God's relationship to us in the here-and-now. I often think that, second only to engaging in a relationship with a real live human being on the other side of the divide, the most threatening thing to entrenched traditionalists isn't a well-reasoned argument on the "hot-button" issue, but an articulate testimony that is clearly grounded in the Great Tradition--that is, which is unmistakeably the Gospel truth in terms a conservative can hear and embrace. It is oh so disconcerting to encounter someone whom one has labelled a "liberal" and hear that person talk about Jesus in a way that speaks to your heart. When that happens, traditionlists either get very suspicious that the "liberal" is just playing postmodern language games, or is forced to recognize that such a person is, indeed, a brother or sister in Christ.

It is a most uncomfortable feeling to see Jesus where we don't want to see him.

(And of course, the same is true of entrenched liberals who don't want to see Jesus at work in conservatives...)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I'm reluctant to hazard an answer as I've not read Marin's book and only skimmed Goddard's review. I am fully confident that Jesus would approve (in fact, does approve) such faithful relationships, based on my reading of his moral teaching. Jesus never appeals to "taboo" and external purity, but is always directing his moral teaching to the heart of virtues of love, fidelity, and internal purity of motive and action, "loving the neighbor as oneself." I"m afraid I don't really understand Marin's answer about the "wrong question" except that he appears to be urging a restraint from judgment (and perhaps action) either in the direction of condemnation or approbation.

Which brings me to Nathan's astute observation. The difference, in the present case, is that we should not expect to turn to the status quo ante, and we are no longer in the equivalent of the pre-Civil Rights South. Change is happening, and will go on happening, and it is about whether the change is right or not that we will continue to disagree. I am not arguing for inaction or stasis, but for and agreement not to let such developments separate us. It is only "conflict-avoidance" in the sense that we decide it is not a matter for conflict, even if it is a matter for disagreement. To use your powerful analogy, the wife might well have the abortion in spite of her husband's disagreement, but they wouldn't divorce over it. That, to me, is a true agreement to disagree. That is not the same things as "agreeing not to act if one party doesn't like something" -- which is essentially allowing one side to "win" -- which is the real language of conflict-avoidance, since once one side "wins" the conflict is over as far as they are concerned. There are certainly elements of this in the present debates over sexuality -- and we are trying to move past them.

On your other note, I agree that seeing each other as faithful Christians is important. It is, I think, a supreme irony that it is the "conservatives" who adopt a post-modern hermeneutic in response to a "progressive's" affirmation that she says the creed without crossing her fingers, "Ah, but you don't mean the same thing I do when you say those words!" We live in strange times...

Nathan J.A. Humphrey said...

Dah*veed, I think Tobias is right that Andrew Marin's M.O. is to avoid judgement calls in his work. The most interesting thing I got from the Goddard review is Marin's perception that LGBT/Q folk are hungry for affirmation, but respect the integrity and love inherent in validation. The difference between affirmation and validation is that the former affirms that what you are doing is A-OK, while the latter affirms that you believe it's A-OK and that your belief is in good faith. Validation may also go so far as to say that I don't know whether it's A-OK or not, but I will trust that your experience is not entirely fallacious and will look for God at work in you, rather than seeking to prove that God is not at work in you; and this is coupled with the humble hope that you will return the validation of where I am coming from--that is, you will recognize that even if I can't fully affirm you, it is not out of any desire to judge you or find you wanting, simply out of an open engagement that seeks God's best for both of us in honest dialogue.

I think a lot of conservatives are afraid even to validate because to do so appears to them to be the wedge-end of affirmation, the beginning of the slippery slope (and indeed, for many of us who start in the conservative camp and move more to the moderate or progressive side slowly, it is!).

Personally speaking, I think the fear of even validating LGBT/Q experience is wrapped up in homophobia. But pointing this out to a conservative is hardly ever constructive. I am hoping that Marin's book shakes up the conservative evangelical community so that, even if it doesn't end up affirming the so-called "Gay Agenda," it will begin to work through its ingrained homophobia.

Murdoch Matthew said...

Doubleday used to publish a bible with the contents in order of their writing (as far as scholarship had determined at the time). So the New Testament starts with Paul.

I wonder if Genesis would carry so much weight if it appeared in the canon somewhere around Daniel . . .


IT said...

Dahveed, I agree with you on the CA blog.

Paul said...

Agreeing to disagree may be a cop out or a technique of conflict avoidance. Or it may be a recognition that there are other things more important to worry about.

I was in Mississippi during Katrina, and our rector (along with a lot of other people) spent a lot of time on the coast looking after those who bore the brunt of the storm. They worked alongside Southern Baptists, Methodists, and anyone else who was willing to show up. One of his comments coming back was that not one of the people he was helping asked him how he stood on the affair of +Gene Robinson.

That Mississippi parish was not consumed with talk about this issue. And, perhaps, we were avoiding conflict. I do that every day when I avoid discussions of politics and religion. Just the same, it did me a great deal of good to work alongside conservative southerners who thought differently about these issues than I did. I will never again see conservatives as "the enemy" no matter how much I may disagree with them. TEC could do with a bit of that attitude.

Paul (A.) said...

Courtesy of the Mad One, I commend The Modern Churchpeople's Union article Communion, Covenant and our Anglican Future, which (other than presenting what seems to me to be a good ecclesiological analysis of the movers of the Anglican Communion) subtly refers to you by indirection as supplying the theological analysis that Bishop Wright and Archbishop Williams are evidently ignorant of.

And it's a shame that this had to be written. But glorious that it was.

MarkBrunson said...

That's my point, Tobias.

The very basis they have for using "proof-texting" is a house of cards! If you are going to say that God is accurately represented in Scripture - fully represented, they would argue - then God is wildly fickle and changes his mind constantly, not to mention being a bloody tyrant. The theological "proof" that comes from the Bible amounts to the Bible is true because this is in it and it must be true because it's in the Bible!

I wouldn't say that God doesn't change his mind, because the whole concept of a mind that can be changed is an entirely limited one; rather, I would say that God's Will is ineffable.

Erika Baker said...

I am neither interested in affirmation nor validation. What others think of me or my motives or my faith is of no concern to be whatsoever, unless they are my friend and members of my family.
What I am interested in is that people stop believing they have the right to discriminate against me because they do not accept that I alone am responsible for my own life before God.

If Andrew Marrin can talk to people in a way that helps them to stop seeing me as a 2 dimensional cardboard cut-out but instead acknowledges that I am just like them, with the same rights and responsibilities regardless of what they think of me, then it is worth supporting him.

Real listening to each other can only begin after we've overcome the cardboard cut-out phase.

Nathan J.A. Humphrey said...

Hi Erika,

I couldn't agree with you more that we need to get beyond the cardboard cut-out phase. And I think you're probably more self-differentiated, from what I've seen of your comments, than the average bean.

Whether people believe they have the right to discriminate against you or not, they don't, and our civil laws should reflect and enforce your civil rights.

Where affirmation becomes an issue is in the debate over whether the Church can and should offer its blessing to people who choose to live out their Christian discipleship within the context of an exclusive lifelong same-sex commitment, just as the Church has done for me and my wife in choosing to live out our discipleship in the context of an exclusive lifelong commitment to each other in Christian marriage.

Andrew Marin, it seems to me, is ducking that issue of affirmation, and offering as much as he can instead, which is validation. In teaching others to validate as well, he is helping all of us to move beyond that cardboard cut-out phase, but he is not addressing the issue of whether the Church should formally affirm Christian discipleship within same-sex relationships.

Framed this way, are you interested in the affirmation of the Church?



Brother David said...

Erika, (and I knew that you would follow me here!) sometimes I fear that you miss the forest, for all the trees. I think that your description of what you wish from folks is validation. Maybe just hard for you to recognize for Nathan's wordiness.

I have thought about our conversation at CA a lot. Perhaps too much because I was thinking about it when I drifted off to sleep last night, and it came immediately to mind upon awaking this morning. I think that you were not grasping my intention at CA. You were speaking past me and not catching my points, as if your nose was too close to the display. Back off a bit and try to fathom my point all at once. Maybe it is because you work as a translator. Being bilingual, I know that you know that you cannot translate word for word because it does not work. You have to translate concepts, and you would translate a technical manual differently than poetry or prose.

Andrew Marin's work with Evangelicals is calling Evangelicals to repentance because he rightly believes that they have not followed the love imperative inherent in Christ's teachings in the way that they have dealt with GLBTQ folks currently and in the past. But really, that is a conversation amongst Evangelicals. He does not need our participation, GLBTQ participation, to have that discussion with his comrades in faith.

But unless I truly misread the review of his book, he is involving GLBTQ folks in his project. And that sends up a flare. Especially when I read his statement about everyone having until their last breath to get it right and especially if he is attracting unwitting, vulnerable GLBTQ people to his kinder & gentler Evangelical approach to dealing with our communities. So my question regarding the sacredness of our sexuality and our relationships was a litmus test of his personal theology.

As far as I am concerned he failed the test, which is why he could not answer me in a straightforward manner and why he high-tailed it out of the conversation as quickly as he had joined. The question may be the wrong type of question as he engages his Evangelical friends in his project, but it is very much the correct question for GLBTQ folks to ask before getting involved ourselves.

As far as our communities are concerned, he is a wolf disguised as a sheep. His ultimate theological position is basically the same as his comrades. Our sexuality and our relationships are not sacred, they are not acceptable, and he is hopeful that for all his touchy feely, kinder & gentler approach some GLBTQ folks will be influenced enough to see the error of their way and embrace heterosexuality, as God intended everyone to be.

There be monsters here!

Erika Baker said...

If you call that affirmation or validation, then yes, I am interested in the church offering it.
I personally don't call it that, I simply call it allowing one part of the church to offer something another does not have to offer.

When I hear of priests blessing warships, I do not wish to affirm or validate that blessing, but I accept their right to bestow it.

I think I am one step removed in terms of the level of approval I am looking for.

I think I hear what you are saying and I think I understand it. I merely happen not to agree with it, at least from my own personal point of view.

The reason for that is that for me, accepting lgbt people is the hoped for (but not necessarily important) goal of any conversation with evangelicals, not a condition for it.
And I also know that people are changed by the conversations they have, and that this change is hardly ever the kind of thing they had been envisaging at the outset.

And here is an evangelical who says "I don't see things like you (yet), but I don't see them like most of my rather judgemental and aggressive friends either. And I would like to get people to the stage where they treat you the same way they treat anybody else, regardless of what they think of you."
And to that, I want to say: I have experienced this kind of conversation, and as often as not it has resulted in a genuine conversion.
It is a conversation worth entering into.

Nathan J.A. Humphrey said...

Hi David (Dah*veed):

From what I can tell (as a former fundamentalist myself), I think Andrew's primary agenda with regard to the LGBT/Q community is to win over as many people as possible to a commitment to Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior--an agenda I share in its basic evangelical outlines but radically different in the moralistic implications that fundamentalists and other conservative evangelicals assume is the logical outworking of being "saved."

I think you're right that in the back of his mind, he believes that eventually, any gay person who accepted Christ would, if truly open to the Holy Spirit's activity in his or her life, repent of same-sex activity and/or desire and wish to embrace the heterosexual identity that God wills for all human beings. But he is different from his compatriots in that he does not present this as necessary in order to be saved and to start living a Christian life--which is why his compatriots view him with suspicion.

I think he has a radical trust that God will bring people around to where they should be, and the evangelical's confidence (hubris?) that he knows exactly where that is (in the land of happy straight people, of course).

So I agree with Erika that such people are worth engaging in, because it doesn't matter whether they're right or wrong about the moral implications of their agenda, if at the top of that agenda is a heart for winning souls for Christ. I myself used to hold Andrew's position, and would still were it not for the willingness of others to engage me with love and to hold me accountable to the imperatives of the Gospel that transcend any agenda I might have.

While others believe that winning souls for Christ is part and parcel with winning boys for girls and vice-versa, Andrew is avoiding that way of approaching things because he rightly sees that it is impeding the presentation of the Gospel, just as much as the Judaizers impeded it when they taught that circumcision was a prerequisite for admission to the Christian community. In this sense, Andrew has a very Pauline mission, with the exception that he's still avowedly (by analogy) a semi-Judaizer--i.e., convert now, cut later...convert now, go str8 later.

I'm cheering him on in his efforts to reach all people for Christ, as well in his calling his compatriots to account for their homophobia. I share your concern that the other part of his agenda may lead new converts to communities that will not respect or continue to validate people where they are, but I can't control that and I have to trust that God will take care of God's own.

He's hardly a wolf in sheep's clothing. I would argue that at worst he's a sheep dog in sheep's clothing...


P.S. Wordy? Me?! (In this case you're the pot, I'm the kettle.)

Brother David said...

Hey, ask anyone here, I rarely post more than two paragraphs!

IT said...

I've engaged Andrew Marin at his blog and he recently popped up on a related post at Friends of Jake. I have several links on that post to other sites addressing his book, so I urge anyone interested to take a look.

I think the issue of his audience matters, but it also matters as he talks to that audience what he thinks of those he talks about. And, I agree with Dahveed he doesn't honor our relationships, because he thinks we're a sin. He equates (in a whole chapter ) gay identity with sexual behavior. He sees "GLBT" and "christians" as non-intersecting groups.

But still: he's making HIS side recognize us as people whom they have to work with, even live with. And I'll give him credit for that effort.

Erika has more patience, perhaps, because living in a small community, she's seen it make a difference. My experience of "that side" is being flipped off on street corners and cursed during the Prop8 campaign.

But: is it good or bad that Andrew Marin and Michael Spencer are trying to de-mythologize the GLBT for the evangelicals?

I think it has to be good.

Sorry to hijack your thread, tobias!

Anonymous said...

Sorry that I'm late to the conversation.

"that Genesis offers us a “one size fits all” divine pattern for all human sexual relations."

I would say that, for first principles, that Genesis offers us a "one size fits all" description of marriage. I say this for two reasons:

1) It describes marriage prior to the Fall

2) It is referred to directly by the Savior in Mk 10:1-10 and its parallels.

Throw in the biblical condemnations of adultery and fornication and it's easy to derive a blanket condemnation of non-marital sexuality.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Fr Michael,

The situation described in Genesis would not meet the definition of marriage as commonly understood since at least the middle ages, as requiring both consent and coitus. Consent may have come prior to the fall, but the Scripture is explicit that coitus came afterwards.

Obviously adultery was on Jesus' mind in his excursus on divorce. But he did not follow through on the rabbinic teaching that marriage was a requirement.

Fornication, in the scriptural documents, does not mean "sex outside of marriage" but "sex with a woman with whom one could not enter a licit marriage."

Finally, people married and were given in marriage, as Jesus says, in the days of Noah -- long before Genesis was written. And I hope you are not among those who insist that Genesis 1-2 describes literal history.

Erika Baker said...

I think you're right, because I live where I do I have personal experience of the differentiation there is among "their side". There are those who will use religious convictions to deny us civil rights, which is about as appalling as it gets. And those who wear their hatred very openly on their sleeves.
Unlike you, I have only ever read about them in the papers and sometimes met them on the blogs. But they've had no lasting effect on my life.

The ones I see on Andrew's blog are genuinely struggling, either with a new awareness, or with the different religious imperatives that seem to conflict here: while they are meant to believe we're sinful, they nevertheless feel they ought to "love" us and that that means something very important.

And so I engage with them. Sometimes incredolous at the level of ignorance about us and our lives, but usually much more deeply touched by the growing awareness of just how real and deep their struggles are.

And so I stay there... often with great reluctance... often wondering just how they could have missed the last 30 years of conversation in society and in the church ... but willing to make myself vulnerable, to contribute my own story, to make the conversation "real" and not about an amorphous "them".
I don't know how long I'll have the strength to do it for, but while I can, I will continue to engage.