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