February 25, 2010

Another (Re)View...

...of Reasonable and Holy

Anglican Christianity has long had a tradition of scholarly parsons. At the head of this line stands Hooker, of course, and it is Hooker who presides over Reasonable and Holy, the learned work of another learned parish priest. It is one thing to quote Hooker’s words, as Tobias Haller frequently does, and something more difficult, more admirable, and more worthwhile to emulate his approach and his temperament. Haller does that too.

Hooker’s was in the first instance controversial theology, aimed at answering and controverting a stated position, strongly held, on matters of practical import for the church as a whole. Likewise, Haller seeks to meet opponents on their own ground, assessing their arguments carefully and refuting them courteously, rather than simply dismissing them and insisting on his own alternative. The ground, in this case, is primarily biblical. However important the natural-law tradition has been or may still be in addressing the questions at issue, that is not where Anglicans who disapprove of same-sexual relations commonly take their stand. Accordingly, neither does Haller. On the one hand, he does not take the standard line of appealing to the moral virtue of justice, which would be a form of natural-law argument; on the other, he need not and does not deal with consequentialist arguments to the effect that any change in longstanding prohibitions with regard to same-sexuality will have evil effects. The arguments that are relevant here are arguments from authority, and the relevant authority is that of canonical texts.

Nevertheless, for Haller as for Hooker, it remains that not even scriptural texts are self-interpreting. They have to be understood, and understanding them calls for rationality. The relevant passages—all the usual ones—need to be examined reasonably, which is quite a different thing from submitting them to a priori judgment. In other words, there is exegetical homework to be done. It is true that Haller does not dive into the maelstrom of “higher,” historical-critical interpretation. He takes the Bible, deliberately, as it stands, and takes it as holy Scripture, in the way that the church has taken it and that Paul and Jesus took it. In that regard, as in others, Reasonable and Holy is quite a conservative book. Yet by no means does it follow that scholarly investigation is superfluous. Quite the contrary. Haller does not parade his erudition; he does exercise it. Where the nuances of Greek and Hebrew are relevant, he refers to them. He also brings into the conversation a good deal of rabbinic exegesis, with which his own has perhaps a certain affinity.

There are no sweeping judgments here. To use his own phrase, Haller does not offer a Grand Unified Theory of Sexuality, in which everything the Bible has to say finds a clear-cut, logical place. In fact much of his book is aimed, explicitly or otherwise, at those who have put forward such artificial, totalizing schemes as the answer to current disputes. That is not what he means by being reasonable. He means—to judge by what he does—drawing careful distinctions, gauging the merits of possibly relevant interpretations, and mounting a case that depends on the cumulative weight of all its components. “Judicious” might be the right word.

That being so, even if it were possible to summarize the argument, a summary would be out of place. The value of Reasonable and Holy lies not in its conclusions alone but chiefly in the way Haller reaches them. What should, however, be emphasized is the user-friendliness of his book, its learnedness notwithstanding. The sidebars and callouts will help readers keep their place. Headings are memorably phrased, and just occasionally over the top (“Don’t be so shellfish”). There are no footnotes and, more seriously, there is no index—not, that is, in the book itself. But an index of names and another of textual references can be consulted online. Now that the General Convention of the Episcopal Church has committed itself to “an open process for the consideration of theological and liturgical resources for the blessing of same gender relationships,” whoever is charged with compiling those resources will want to add this book to the list.

Boston College
Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts

From The Anglican Theological Review Winter 2010, Volume 92 Number 1, 225-226.

February 22, 2010

Oh to be in England

Took this snapshot yesterday after worship at St. Alban's Abbey. Anyone suggesting that the Church of England is dead wouldn't know it from here -- a lively Eucharist with a very full nave, a procession of I would guess close to 75 children returning to the Communion from their Sunday School, lovely music and a rock-solid sermon from Dean Jeffrey John. All in all the signs of life in Christ abundantly evident! Followed by a lovely lunch with Simon Sarmiento and Marilyn, and an uneventful trip back to London.

February 19, 2010

Faithful Readings

I would like to conclude my response to Ephraim Radner’s review of Reasonable and Holy with a few comments on his views of my biblical hermeneutic. Perhaps the strangest thing in this strange review is that Radner appears not to recognize what I am doing as entirely within the range of the classical Biblical interpretation. I suspect his assumption must be something like, “If your result disagrees with the doctrinal tradition, then your technique or method must diverge from the exegetical tradition.” I may be putting words into his mouth, but this is the only premise that can make sense of his further comments. Taken on its own, as a premise, it is clearly false, as many people using identical exegetical methods, at various stages in the history of engagement with Scripture, have come to very different conclusions as to its meaning and application.

However, the least accurate characterization Radner makes of my biblical approach is to call it “Liberal Protestantism.” Liberal, perhaps, but only in the sense that Richard Hooker was liberal in comparison with Walter Travers. Protestant, but only in the sense of the classical Anglicanism of the Elizabethan Settlement, or the Evangelicalism of Luther, and certainly not in the mid-19th to mid-20th century meaning of the word. If seeking a cohesive message from Scripture — such as my own that its sufficient purpose is salvation through grace by faith in Christ (an aim Radner seems to find less than fruitful, as he puts save in scare-quotes!) — then he is equally guilty of such an appeal, when he criticizes me for not developing a “larger scriptural vision” along the lines of John Paul II. If anything, Radner’s approach, and what he appears to be asking me to do, is more along the lines of the liberal protestant academy of the late 19th century.

To take one example, which I referred to in the earlier post: Radner accuses me (I think) of misrepresenting Rob Gagnon on the question of Jesus’ use of porneiai. Here is Radner:

...On the issue of whether Jesus actually says anything about homosexuality, [Haller] attacks Gagnon on his reading of porneiai in Mark 7:21ff. as possibly implying homosexual practice.

Haller provides some straightforward initial questions, ones that are worth noting, and then pursues his general theme of same-sex references in the Bible as being primarily aimed at cultic prostitution. One might think that Gagnon is a rather silly man on this basis. But the reader is never told that Gagnon himself doesn’t put much weight on the very argument Haller attacks (half a paragraph, on a verse he questions as “authentically” Jesus’ in any case), while Haller, on the other hand, deals with the question at length (four pages).

First of all, to the accuracy of Radner’s characterization of Gagnon. From his reference to my book, one would think this was Gagnon’s only statement on what Jesus thought about homosexuality. In fact, it is the only text Gagnon can attempt to twist so as to put an actual condemnation of homosexuality (in his mind) into Jesus’ mouth. Gagnon, after all, is capable of such astounding statements as, “Jesus, both in what he says, and what he fails to say, remains squarely on the side of those who reject homosexual practice.” (B&HP, 228, emphasis mine) So much for actual fidelity to the text! However, I was addressing Gagnon’s earlier statement:

...No first-century Jew could have spoken of porneiai (plural) without having in mind the list of forbidden sexual offenses in Leviticus 18 and 20 (incest, adultery, same-sex intercourse, bestiality). The statement underscores that sexual behavior does matter. If Jesus made this remark, he undoubtedly would have understood homosexual behavior to be included among the list of offenses. (ibid. 191-2)

Contrary to Radner’s assertion, Gagnon expresses no doubt whatsoever that porneiai “undoubtedly” includes “homosexual behavior.” In addition, Gagnon holds very lightly indeed any doubt he may have that this verse is an actual statement by Jesus (“If Jesus made this remark...”) — for Gagnon, Jesus damns if he does say it, and damns if he doesn’t. This is a bizarre combination of Jesus Seminar color-coding and pure eisegesis — hardly what I would call sound scholarship. And yet this passage from Gagnon is quoted widely as a definitive summary of Jesus’ position on the subject, including in the Church of England’s House of Bishops’ position paper, Some Issues in Human Sexuality. Do I think Gagnon a “rather silly man.” No, but perhaps a dangerous one, whose agenda is at all costs to spin either what the Scripture says or what it doesn’t into an overarching message of disapprobation.

+ + +

I, too, of course, do have a “larger Scriptural vision,” though it may be that Radner cannot grasp it because he doesn’t share it. He dismisses my hermeneutic based on the “Summary of the Law” as if it were not in fact “a consistent moral ‘principle’ (discerned somehow as divine)” by which we are to understand the Scripture. I think that is exactly what it is, and from the mouth of Jesus himself.

This view is not some modern concoction out of Liberal Protestantism, as Radner thinks, nor is it a means simply to dispose of difficult passages, but the means to place them in their proper perspective in the over-all plan of salvation. This principle of biblical interpretation is the basis of Jesus’ and Paul’s own engagement with Scripture — and it is the font that waters the best reflections of the early church. As Saint Augustine put it,

Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up the twofold love of God and neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought. If, on the other hand, a man draws a meaning from them that may be used for the building up of love, even though he does not happen upon the precise meaning which the author whom he reads intended to express in that place, his error is not pernicious, and he is wholly clear from the charge of deception. (On Christian Doctrine 1.36[40])

As Augustine later says, it is better to be accurate than not, and error should be corrected. But let the correction itself by clear and sound and specific — and not like the dense circularity of Gagnon, or the flippant dismissal of Radner.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 16, 2010

Maligning Scholarship

In his review of Reasonable and Holy, Ephraim Radner, apparently less than willing to engage with my conclusions, instead spends much of his energy on dismissing my scholarship. He notes the book is physically thin but finds it logically thin as well. As to the former, the book is only 192 pages, but the print is rather small, and it amounts to just under 82,000 words. In any case, arguments should not be weighed in pounds. Content is more important than form, after all.

As to the logic and the scholarship, I think a problem for Radner is that the book is not what he was expecting, and he appears not to have been able to free himself from those expectations. He appears to have wanted the book to be a consideration of what various scholars have said on the subject, carefully annotated with all of their opinions. In short, the kind of argument Hooker found pointless and tedious.

In fact, this book is a return to primary sources, and the logic is based on addressing the premises and conclusions of the “reasserters” — which in their case is often the same thing. While I make passing reference to a number of contemporary authors, my main interest is in Scripture itself, the writings of the early church and the reflections of the rabbis, and a look at the literature contemporary with them — including the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Pseudepigrapha — and all of this is properly cited. As to modern thinkers — few of their assertions on either side bear much mark of originality, and I do not think it my task to present the full arguments of those with whom I disagree, but rather to test their conclusions — I am aiming to provide answers to assertions, as Radner appears to recognize, even as he regards this approach as “lacking any scholarly context.”

Unfortunately, this assertion itself is short on detail — would that Radner had devoted more space to examples than to mere repetition of his theme. He gives only two explicit examples of my failings, in relation to my treatment of an assertion by Rob Gagnon, and my failure to cite Bruce Malina on the same subject. I want to address both of these specifics, as I think they provide a very good example both of the danger of citing contemporary authors, and the uneven quality of Radner’s own scholarship — which gives the impression of refutation when the texts cited do not support his assertion quite so forcibly as he suggests. I will take up the statement about Malina in this post, and address the matter concerning Gagnon at a later time.

+ + +

Radner says, “Haller references no other detailed discussions of the meaning of porneia, like Bruce Malina’s 1972 article, that would actually provide significant counter-evidence to Haller’s thesis.” Lest Radner accuse me of not providing the citation, I take him to be referring to Bruce Malina’s, “Does Porneia Mean Fornication?” in Novum Testamentum 1972, 10-17.

So, does this article actually “provide significant counter-evidence to Haller’s thesis.” Radner fails to state what my thesis is, so for the benefit of discussion, let me state it: That porneia (and zenut in Hebrew) and their related words do not, in the contemporary literature under examination, refer to same-sex relationships (apart from male prostitutes). So does Malina provide significant counter-evidence to my thesis?

First of all, it has to be noted that Malina’s own thesis, argument, and conclusion are not concerned with same-sexuality at all. His goal is to show that porneia in its biblical use is not intended to proscribe fornication in its modern sense as sex before marriage. As he poses the question, “Does the N.T. usage of the porneia word group in fact cover all the meanings generally given the word group by the lexica and commentaries, or do the meanings ascribed to the word group rather derive from later usage and later moral judgment deriving from a historically and culturally conditioned version of N.T. morality?”

Does this sound familiar? If you’ve read my book it should, as Malina’s goal is actually similar to mine: to limit the range of application of the porneia/zenut word group in its original frame, rather than the expanded reading of “just about anything one regards as sexual immorality.” (I wonder if Radner actually agrees with Malina, that sex before marriage is not forbidden by Scripture?)

In addition to the similarity in our aims, Malina investigates virtually the same ancient materials as I, by much the same means, and with much the same conclusions, with two exceptions. He does, it is true, as a matter of style offer a significant array of references to modern sources — but largely to reject their findings! When it comes to rabbinic texts (which Radner says I treat so poorly) Malina treats the passages citing R. Eliezer (15-17) exactly as I do, but (in my opinion) subverts his own argument. How?

Eliezer, as I point out (128) held that if a man had intercourse with a woman without the intent of marrying her he rendered her a harlot. But by failing to note the stress on lack of intentionality to marry her, Malina weakens his own argument: this is not about pre-marital sex, but what we would call “casual sex” or perhaps sexual exploitation. Malina’s aim is only to exclude “pre-betrothal, pre-marital, heterosexual intercourse of a non-cultic or non-commercial nature, i.e., what we call ‘fornication’ today” from the range of the word group. (17) With its focus on the intent not to marry, Eliezer’s ruling is actually consonant with Malina’s conclusion: that pre-marital sex is not porneia. (If the couple don't marry, the sex wasn't pre-marital, was it?)

Malina also cites Rashi’s reading of Eliezer to refer to sex between persons where legal marriage was forbidden. (16) This opens the question of the “forbidden relations” and Leviticus 18. In this context, Malina makes passing reference to male same-sexuality as included among forbidden relations, and then suggests that porneia — in addition to the figurative application to idolatry which I also elucidate — applies to any sexual immorality condemned in Torah, with specific reference to Leviticus 18. (13)

In this Malina and I actually are at odds. But does he “provide counter-evidence” to my argument? Although he makes this assertion about Leviticus two or three times in this short essay, he provides no reference from the primary sources to support it, and the secondary citations are of a very general nature. To the contrary, I have assembled primary citations against this conclusion. (126-132).

Most importantly the “forbidden relations” (arayot) include categories not found in Leviticus, as Malina notes(13). But not all of the arayot, in Leviticus or not, are referred to as porneia/zenut in the contemporary or later Jewish literature. (Leviticus 18 itself does not use the term at all.) As a matter of fact, as I note, porneia appears only to be applied on a very occasional basis in Jewish literature (e.g., Sirach 23:16-17) to the incest prohibitions of Leviticus 18, a section of Leviticus with its own internal unity based on the category of “likeness of flesh.” (see R&H 129) Moreover, two of the arayot appearing in Leviticus 18 (sex with a menstruant or a beast) are explicitly excluded from porneia/zenut in the Rabbinic tradition (bTerumah 29b, 30b). (ibid. 131)

So, on this point, far from providing counter-evidence to my thesis, Malina shows the same sort of over-broadening of the range of meaning of which he accuses the traditional lexica in regard to pre-marital sex.

I will also note that Malina is careful to point out that the Pseudepigrapha, such as Jubilees, only “perhaps” refer to homosexuality. (14) This is one of those “maybes” that Radner finds so troublesome, but which real scholars live by. In this case, my findings show that the Pseudepigrapha (Jubilees, Enoch, the Testaments), like our canonical Jude, link the story of Sodom with that of the Watchers (or Nephilim) from Genesis 6, and that the concern, as Jude 7 shows, is not homosexuality, but explicitly heterocarnality — “going after different (heteras) flesh. (167-168)

So, does this amount to refutation? Or even persuasive “counter-evidence?” And is this the best that Radner could find? You be the judge; or rather, the jury. I have no need to convince the prosecutor.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Theory or Praxis?

Bishop Whalon has written a thoughtful article about the sequence in which things have happened in the Episcopal Church concerning gay and lesbian persons, their relationships, and their role in ordained ministry — particularly in regard to the lack of clear statements from the General Convention, and the lack of a formal theological position certified by that body.

I would note at first that the General Convention is a legislative body, not a council of theologians. Nor do I think there is much "official theology" on the ground even when it comes to mixed-sex marriage: the 1928 BCP catechism, for example, is completely silent on the subject; the Articles of Religion only tell us that it is permitted to clergy and an estate allowed by Scripture. The 1979 Prayerbook doesn't say much more, and surely the defects (in the sense of what is wanting) in the Preface to the marriage liturgy (even as expanded from 1928 in our present BCP) should forestall anyone considering it a well-thought-out "theology," though it does, as I have reflected in Reasonable and Holy, provide the beginnings for such a theological reflection.

However, the real issue, to my mind, behind Bishop Whalon's article isn't so much about theology but about General Convention's proper role as a legislature: that the Episcopal Church, through General Convention, has not officially recognized the licitness of same-sex marriage, and by consenting to the election of a partnered (and legally married) gay bishop we have set the cart before the horse. I agree with my friend Bishop Whalon that this is a problem, and it continues to cloud the air with inconsistency.

In short, I would suggest that the theology has been done by the relevant theologians (obviously not to the liking of some others!) but that it is now time — or will be in 2012 — for General Convention to do its legislative duty in response, and give that theological work whatever "official" recognition is needed — by accepting its conclusions and providing formal recognition for the blessing of the stable, monogamous, lifelong relationships of same-sex couples on an equal footing with mixed-sex marriages.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 15, 2010

Thought for 02.15.10

The most important prooftext is the one that describes the strength of the whisky.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG, with fond reflection on the wisdom of A E Houseman:
Malt does more than Milton can to justify God's ways to Man.

February 14, 2010

Understanding God

SJF • Last Epiphany 2010 • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.+

Paul the Apostle, in that beautiful passage we heard today, acknowledges the incompleteness of our knowledge about God. “We know only in part,” he assures us, and even what we do know is like a reflection in a dusty mirror, a dim vision of the heart of reality that is too much for our eyes to take in.

The simple fact is that, as the old hymn said, the full truth of God’s love — for God is Love — “is broader than the measure of man’s mind” — beyond our full comprehension.

Have you ever tried to get a good look at the Empire State Building from 34th street? Well, if you have, you know you can’t see much. Standing at its base, you are too close to take it in — it is so overwhelming. Even from across the street you are still too close, and if you get further away other buildings will obstruct your view. The only place really to get an idea of how tall the Empire State Building is is to go blocks and blocks away, or even to Brooklyn or New Jersey — where you can then see it rising far above all of its neighbors.

Well, if this is true of a human construction, how much more of the creator of the world and all that is in it? We know from our reading of Scripture that Moses talked with God face to face — though even then we also know that God must have toned down his glory so that Moses would be able to converse with him. The one time Moses asked to see God in all his glory, just prior to the passage from Exodus that we read this morning, God told Moses he could not bear it and live, and so God made Moses stand in a cleft of the rock, with God’s own hand upon him until the fullness of God’s glory passed by, and only then did God take his hand away and let Moses see God’s back — the back of God’s glory — and that was enough to cause Moses’ face to shine with the reflection of that divine light. And ever after Moses had to wear a veil over his face, so that even this reflection of the back of God’s glory would not be too much for the people to bear.

And in our Gospel today, three of the apostles witness the revelation of God’s glory manifest in Jesus on the mountain-top; but even then the cloud of God’s presence mutes and filters and overshadows the dazzling scene — so that they might not be struck dead at the sight of God’s full glory revealed.

+ + +

So how can we come to any understanding of God? Well, first of all, as the doctor said, “Take two tablets and call me in the morning!” Moses comes down from his meeting with God, his face glowing from the encounter, but also bearing those two tablets of the covenant in his hand, God’s word, written by God’s own hand, ready to be delivered to the people. In this we may understand all of Scripture to be meant — all of the Word of God delivered to us in the Law and Prophets and Writings, in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, and their letters, and the visions old and new.

And yet, just as the people couldn’t bear to look at Moses’ face, so too people then as now find even the second-hand glory of God’s Word in Scripture hard to understand — it will come as no news to you that there are as many different interpretations of Scripture as there are believers. There is an old Jewish saying that if you don’t like how your rabbi interprets the Scripture, you can always find another rabbi; and that in a room with five rabbis you’ll find at least six different interpretations. The same is surely true of Christians as well.

In fact, Christians can’t even on the whole agree on what the Bible is, let alone what it means, as Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Orthodox, and Protestants disagree about which books of the Old Testament are to be included in the Bible — books accepted by Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox as a part of their Bible are considered Apocrypha (suitable for reading but not for doctrine) by Anglicans and Lutherans, and not even included at all by Protestants. That’s why you’ll find different editions of the Bible with different books in different places, and sometimes going by different names.

Beyond these differences in the content of Scripture, in what the Bible is, we come to the various interpretations of Scripture. And here too, there is wide difference of opinion both between churches and within them. Every church will have a different understanding, or many different understandings, different shades of interpretation.

+ + +

So, how do we know which we should follow? Ultimately that question is rhetorical, as surely people will follow the interpretation that makes sense to them, that seems to speak to them, or else, as in the saying I quoted before, they’ll go off to find another rabbi — or priest or minister or church.

But I think there is some guidance to be found in what Saint Paul says in that passage from First Corinthians, about the need for love as the standard by which we judge whether our understanding and interpretation is in accord with God’s will. For as Paul says, even if he could speak as eloquently as an angel, or in miraculous tongues, or with powerful prophecy, or with an understanding of all mysteries and all knowledge — if his understanding and speaking and teaching were not based on love, it would all be for nothing. If his teaching or preaching or his prophecy did not ring the note of love, it would be like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And what kind of teaching would that be?

+ + +

Saint Augustine of Hippo was one of the early great expounders of Scripture. He had been a young man-about-town, living the high life, but he experienced a conversion and became a Christian towards the end of the fourth century. (He credited his conversion to the prayers of his mother, Saint Monica, and you can see them conversing in our stained-glass window in the corner.)

Augustine had a fundamental rule when it came to interpreting Scripture, and it was based on Saint Paul’s advice, under the governance of the love commanded by God — the love of God and neighbor. Augustine wrote: “If it seems to you that you have understood the Scriptures, or any part of them, in such a way that by this understanding you do not build up the twin love of God and neighbor, then you have not understood them... If on the other hand you have made judgments about [Scripture] that are helpful for building up this love, but for all that have not said what the author you have been reading actually meant ..., then your mistake is not serious, and you certainly cannot be accused of lying.” (On Christian Doctrine 1.36.40.)

This was Augustine’s standard, and it was wisdom then as now. Does how you read the Scripture, understand the Scripture, and teach the Scripture build up — or to use the old word, does it edify? Is your understanding set upon the firm foundation of the love of God and neighbor? That is a sound foundation, and Augustine makes clear that even if your interpretation of the Scripture might depart from what Moses or Isaiah or Saint Paul himself may originally have intended, you will not go far wrong if that interpretation leads to a greater love of God and neighbor. Love is the key that unlocks the Scripture, and that is true all the time, not just on Valentine’s Day!

For ultimately, love is God’s message, what God has been trying to get across to us from the very beginning — from the very first time God wrote with God’s own hand anything down to instruct the people, on those two tablets of stone, which I hope you will notice in the first tablet, the first four commandments how we are to love God (honoring God alone, not having idols, respecting God’s name, and keeping the Sabbath) and in the final six telling us how we are to love our neighbors (by honoring our parents, not killing, cheating, stealing, lying, or coveting).

And if we needed any further instruction, after all of that, Jesus himself provides us with a summary of the law of the two tablets as the very instruction that Augustine would later take as his key to interpreting the Scripture: to love God with your whole self, and to love your neighbor as yourself. On these two, as he said, hang all the law and the prophets — that is, all the rest of Scripture.

As another old hymn puts it, “What more can he say than to you he hath said?” Do you want to understand the Scripture? Do you? Let me repeat to you what God himself says in today’s Gospel in reference to Jesus, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”+

On Consents: Conscience, Consequences and Canons

The consent process for the ordination and consecration of Mary Glasspool is well under way, and the score-keepers and handicappers are hard at work. As we all realize, consents to episcopal elections are not a trivial matter; but then, they never were, as a reading of the first decades of the church's history reveals. Even in those simpler times there were a number of priests elected who failed to garner the necessary consent to their episcopate.

No one would say we live in simpler times, and some of the complexity is due to conscience. In Glasspool's case, there will be people (bishops with jurisdiction and members of standing committees) whose conscience will insist she must be ordained; and there will equally be others who in conscience will cast a negative (or withhold a positive) vote on the grounds of her partnered status, or even on the grounds of her sex. (There are still those who believe that a woman not only should not, but cannot be a bishop, and their belief will inform their vote.)

Still others will be swayed by concern over consequences. The Archbishop of Canterbury himself has alluded to that reality; and certainly it is no great prognostication that consent, or failure of consent, will indeed have consequences of one sort or another.

Others yet will take the course of reading the text of what they are signing, which, at least as far as standing committees goes, attests that they "know of no impediment on account of which the Reverend A.B. ought not be ordained..." and consent on the basis of their agnosticism, or deny consent on the basis of knowing of some such impediment. (Obviously those who do not believe a woman can be a bishop would hold her sex to be such an impediment; though this is not the current teaching of the church, and thus not a canonical, but a conscientious impediment, as noted above. A canonical impediment, apart from matters of age, having filed the proper paperwork, and so on, would include having done something that would be cause for deposition if proven, under the disciplinary canons.)

Whatever happens, people are watching and keeping count. One hundred twenty days seems like a long time in our electronic age, but it may well run its full course in this case. My suspicion is that we may see some exercise of the "pocket veto" — some lukewarm bishops or standing committees simply not getting around to registering their vote, which will count as a "no" since an absolute majority is needed in both categories. So, if consent fails, they will be able to say, "We didn't vote against her," while if she is confirmed, will be able to say, "We didn't vote for her." It will be interesting to see, come early May, how many voices are silent at the deadline.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 13, 2010

On Populism

It is important to distinguish collective wisdom from the madness of crowds.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 12, 2010

Up a (Family) Tree

Ephraim Radner has published a typically wordy review of Reasonable and Holy in The Living Church. I have to say I am disappointed, not because the review is dismissive, but because I had hoped for more engagement with the issues and conclusions I present. Instead, Radner spends much of his time dealing with form rather than content. (It is a poor critic who blames another workman’s tools.) Plainly Radner does not like my conclusions, but he addresses only two or three of them in any detail. I will be making a longer response as time permits (I am in the midst of completing several major projects, and will be traveling on Anglican Communion business next week). However, I want here to examine just one of the assertions Radner makes. It is revelatory of the extent to which the heterosexualist mind-set, dazzled and misled by an eisegetical “larger scriptural vision” is prevented from engagement with alternative ideas, or, it seems, the actual text.

Radner states,

The central element of procreation in marriage, for instance, is bound up with the character of Israel’s calling in fallen (and the Fall has no place in Haller’s scheme) human history — genealogy — and ought not simply to be examined in terms of this or that individual person or couple (a rather modern obsession).

I will leave to one side the fact that I examine at some length the traditional imagery of both marriage and harlotry in the role of Israel in salvation history (pp. 53-56). Mindful as well of the apostolic injunction “not to occupy [myself] with ... endless genealogies that promote speculations rather than the divine training that is known by faith,” (1 Tim 1:4), I nonetheless feel it necessary to challenge Radner’s assertion here — or what I can make of it.

For while it is obviously true that procreation and genealogy are linked, the crucial observation from the New Testament, in the two places where genealogies figure, is that procreation — at least heterosexual procreation — is not at issue. Both Matthew (1:1-16) and Luke (3:23-38) reach their climax in an essential subversion of heterosexual procreation: Matthew sweeps aside all of his carefully constructed line of fatherhood to turn his attention to Mary, and then to describe the virginal conception. Luke, emerging from the revelation of Jesus Christ as Son of God at his baptism, presents a reverse genealogy that culminates in the affirmation that the first Adam was also Son of God. (As I note in Reasonable and Holy, the three most important persons in salvation history — Adam, Eve, and Jesus — are not the result of heterosexual sex; and, again contrary to Radner’s careless reading, I cite the traditional patristic and medieval reading of Mary’s role in the reversal of the Fall, as the “new Eve,” as a crucial factor in a sound understanding of the place of procreation in the work of God. See pp. 30-38) Taking all of this, as I do, in the context of John’s words about those who are born “from above” (John 3:3 )and not “of the will of man,” (John 1:13) I think I have expounded a sound biblical picture, consonant with the actual text — even if it must dissipate the Radnerian mirage, typified by his dismissive and anti-incarnational conclusion. Ultimately it is about individual persons — and this is no “modern obsession” but at the heart of the Christian faith.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 9, 2010

The Unequal Measures

The Archbishop of Canterbury has addressed the General Synod with an unusually measured tone and content. Finally he appears to recognize that some of his comments have caused more pain, and served less well, than he imagined or intended.

Still, I find the whole process of thought concerning how we are to get along as a Communion to remain more or less one-sided, though in this speech the Archbishop does his best to even the scales, and put some responsibility on the other side. However, on the whole, restraint is still in general posed as restraint from action rather than restraint from reaction. It become a form of, “Please don't do what the rest of us, or most of the rest of us, don't like; or even, in the long run, what a few of us cannot bear.”

I still find it odd, as in Bishop Graham Kings’ recent essay, that the interaction and relationship of "autonomy" and "interdependence" are not better understood, but instead set off against each other as opposed notions. The Anglican Covenant refers to "communion with autonomy and accountability." Interdependence does not mean submission, but relationship — which is the dwelling the Archbishop appears to be framing out, but is still tentative about moving into.

Interdependence in relationship with autonomy is a two way street: the pledge is for all of us to bear one another's burdens, not to control each others' lives. (See Covenant 3.2, which calls for mutual respect, not control.) So this means, perhaps that the Communion will need to put up with gay bishops in one province, and criminalization of homosexuality in the nation in which another province exists, accepting that in a large and complex world and church, with many cultures and traditions and laws, all things will not necessarily be the same in all places.

The one thing that can be common to all is the willingness to abide in relationship, and abide with these tensions rather than allowing them to divide us as we stand in judgment of one another instead of bearing with one another.

Let Love be the thumb on the scale, and restraint be restraint from judgment and wrath.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 4, 2010

Battle for Britain (well, England)

See here for a response to the Ashworth private member's motion referred to earlier, being distributed to the General Synod of the Church of England, concerning the "hounding" of "faithful" "Anglicans" by the leadership of The Episcopal Church. (Pardon the scare-quotes... I think I may have used my quota; though I found a hidden store overlooked by rightists who insist on writing about gay "marriage.")

I've also suggested the production of a postcard note saying something like this, to help the English put this in perspective:

Dear Synod Member,

Please consider the following for a moment:

1) What would be done in the Church of England if a bishop from the convocation of Canterbury were to announce one day that he no longer considered himself to be under the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury and had transferred his allegiance to the Archbishop of Tanzania, but intended to remain in his present location and exercise episcopal functions as a representative of his new archbishop?

2) What would be done in the Church of England in the case of a priest who announced that he no longer recognized his diocesan bishop as having any authority over him, but refused to relinquish his cure? And if he invited bishops from other dioceses or provinces to do parish visitations there?

3) What would be done in the Church of England if the clergy and parish council of a parish in, shall we say, Dibley, announced that it was no longer part of the Church of England, but considered itself now to be a congregation of the Church of the Province of the Sudan, altered all of their signage and other public information to reflect this change, purporting now to be part of "The Anglican Church in England" and invited bishops from the Sudan to function in the parish, refusing to have anything more to do with their C. of E. diocese or its leadership?

These are the kinds of things The Episcopal Church is having to deal with, as facts on the ground. Any depositions, inhibitions, or lawsuits are a result of and in response to precisely these sorts of actions. Consider carefully how you vote on the motion to come before you. You may soon be dealing with just such situations yourself.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG