May 26, 2010

Unrecognized Love

Jonathan loved David. That's what the Bible says. They were soul-mates. The Bible does not call them "friends." It cannot be explicitly determined from the text that their love had — or didn't have — an erotic expression. The Hebrew has been heavily redacted, and the Greek and Latin amended by the excision and addition of suggestive or obfuscatory text. So while there is no explicit evidence of erotic fire there are clear signs of concerted efforts to clear the room of smoke.

All of this is irrefutable and objectivity true. Still, one of the more tiresome responses from the reasserter wing, in response to a statement such as that above, is that it somehow represents an eroticized Western culture's failing to understand the nature of friendship.* On the contrary, it is this unfounded assertion that represents a heterosexist or (at worst) homophobic culture's inability to recognize loving and devoted same-sex relationships, understanding them only in objective and erotic terms.

Even in frankly eroticized and libertine "gay cultures" gay men know the difference between their friends and lovers. Many gay men have deep, devoted, lasting friendships with other men in whom they have no erotic interest whatsoever. It is the heterosexist culture that doesn't want to ask and certainly doesn't want to be told about lifelong, monogamous, same-sex couples, — and so tries to conceal or erase or trivialize them by calling them "just good friends," or "roommates," or "war buddies who are sharing an apartment," or "bachelor girls" doing the same for purely monetary reasons. The "love that dare not speak its name" is bound and gagged by a culture that doesn't know love because it refuses to see it, and is afraid to acknowledge it.

This has been going on for over three thousand years, and it is about time to stop.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

*An example, from the recent "traditionalist" paper written for the House of Bishops (page 11 in the draft version), in reference to any suggestion of a same-sex relationship between David and Jonathan.:

Here there is the obvious difficulty of arguing from an agenda rather than from explicit textual support. But it also exposes the weakness of modern western culture in not being able to foster or even understand deeply committed same-sex friendships that do not involve physical sexual expression.

Of course, this is precisely not a matter of an "agenda" (other than the heterosexist agenda to maximize Scriptural negativity towards same-sex relationships while minimizing anything positive); and the nature of the relationship as based on "love" rather than "friendship" is explicit in the text. If one were to change the names and recast the story with a man and woman, no one would argue it was about "very good friends." In fact, one need not engage in such speculation, since the same Hebrew verb for "love" of David is used in the same chapter (1 Samuel 18) in reference both to Saul's son Jonathan and his daughter Michal. David would later make it clear that the former was a more wonderful and greater love, in a text bowdlerized in the Vulgate.

Update 6/2/10: The thinking continues in part 2.

May 25, 2010

Thought for 05.25.10

Worship without mission is precious at best and scandalous at worst.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

And, btw, I disagree with those who cleverly turn the phrase around and harp on "mission without worship." We have it on good authority that a deed of kindness and love done to others, even in total ignorance that they are "Jesus in disguise" will not go without its recognition. Mission to the poor and outcast is worship, for in serving them we serve Jesus. And this from a liturgist!

May 19, 2010

The Just Judge and Us

The story of the woman taken in adultery is often cited when people are talking about the church’s responsibility to offer discernment, or even judgment, in spite of Jesus’ explicit command not to judge (Mt 7.1, Lk 6.37). It is true that this story is often misused from the liberal end of the spectrum, and people forget the final line, “Go, and do not be sinning any more.” Let us not, however, omit a crucial part of the story. After all the accusers slink away, “condemned in their own consciences” as some versions say, Jesus says to the woman, “Who has condemned you?” [i.e., Who made themselves judges over you?]. “No one,” she said. “Neither do I condemn you. Go and do not be sinning any more.”

Jesus — the only human being qualified to judge (because of Who He Is) — here refuses to judge, even in a case where guilt is clear. If he refuses to judge, how dare we presume to judge? The point of the story must be that no one who is a sinner (and all are sinners) can judge another, especially if the only sinless one, Jesus, refused to exercise that role. Jesus refuses to play the judgment game. (See also Jn 8:15-16, 12.47–49 [and 3.17–18]).

Not that he will always refuse it, nor that we will not partake in the judgment (both in the dock and on the bench). But the Judgment is reserved to the End, the Last Day. At that time, not now, Jesus and his Chosen Ones will judge the world. And his Chosen Ones include the people of Nineveh, and the Queen of the South, as well as the Apostles. (Mt 10.15, 12.41–42, 19.28; Jn 5.22-24,29, 12.48). For the time being, the world judges wrongly (Jn 16.8-11), and Jesus warns us neither to judge nor condemn on the basis of partial evidence — for until the Last Day when all is revealed, we have only partial evidence, having, as Paul says, imperfect knowledge. (Mt 7.1–5, 12.7; Luke 6.37, see also Rm 2.1–5, and Jn 7.24.)

I served jury duty over the last several weeks, and one of the instructions the judge gave at the beginning of the case was that we were to form no conclusions until we had heard all of the evidence, and then to deliberate on the basis of that evidence. (The case settled before we reached that point.)

How much better the church would be if instead of condemning and judging others we looked into our own hearts and confessed our faults (which are many) to one another, seeking the help and support of our companions in pilgrimage? And waited in patience for all to be revealed?

Here is my prayer for the church:

What kind of church we are to be? Shall it be the “O.K. Club” or “St Saviour’s Hospital”? The church of those who are at ease in Zion, or those who dwell in the exile of Babylon? Will it be the church of the Pharisee or the Publican? Of those who bind burdens, or those who liberate? The church of Caiaphas, secure in his skill, or of Cephas, who knew his failings? The church of Paul at his worst, or Paul at his best? Will it be the church of those who close the door on others, or of those who are trying to get in? Will it be the church of those for whom the Decalogue, the Summary of the Law, and the Golden Rule are not enough, or of those who know how hard it is to follow even these high standards? Will it be the church of those who are prepared to cast stones, and were condemned by their own consciences, or those whom they accuse, and whom Jesus refuses to condemn? Will it be the church of those who sit in judgment, or of those who love much, and minister to Jesus by washing his feet with their tears?

I pray our church will be a wing of St Saviour’s Hospital. There are no outpatients there, and everyone who arrives is a terminal case: they die to self, in order to rise to life everlasting. For the church is not a society of nice people who obey the rules. The church is the Body of Christ. There is no salvation in the Law. None. The Law did not and will not save us. Jesus did and will.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 16, 2010

Reasonable and Holy Doubt

Recently, Reasonable and Holy has been critiqued on three grounds:

  • First, that it is, as Ephraim Radner suggests, "a tissue of maybe," and hence not sufficient to make a case for change.
  • Second, that while it may effectively weaken the prevailing arguments against the licitness of life-long monogamous same-sex relationships, and indeed to some extent undermine the traditional limitation of marriage to mixed-sex couples, still, it does not provide an alternative positive theology for this innovation.
  • Finally, it is also suggested that the burden of proof lies on my side of the debate.
I see these grounds of complaint as related and I will try to address them in a single response. Part of this is because of the ethical understanding with which I come to the discussion. Not wishing to launch into a long essay on the various schools of ethics, let me just say that I would here espouse the ethical stand in the neighborhood of what are known as Probiliorism and Probabalism — as opposed to the more rigorous and inflexible Tutiorism. I am not alone in this, and in fact my position is the dominant model in contemporary ethics.

Tutiorism is a hard master, and requires that in any doubtful case, one must always follow the more secure or established rule unless the alternative can be shown to be so likely as to be virtually certain. In a legal context we might call that a standard of "clear and convincing" or perhaps even "beyond reasonable doubt." (Much depends on whether one is the plaintiff or the defense; bear with me!)

Probabalism and Probiliorism, respectively, require only that the alternative to following the standard rule be shown to be probable (or in the latter system, more probable) than the standard to allow for liberty. These would be something more like the legal standards of "showing reasonable doubt" or having the "preponderance of the evidence" on one's side.

I realize I'm mixing legal and ethical systems here, but I hope this helps make the distinctions clearer without bringing in too much subtle confusion. But I also do this in part because there is a forensic side to this discussion.

In short, from my perspective, some of my critics are calling for my side to provide clear and convincing evidence of innocence (or licitness) when all I believe we are required to introduce is reasonable doubt as to guilt (or illicitness). We are talking, after all, about the rightness of performing a certain action (or entering a certain estate), which the traditional side sees as a sin if not a crime. As I am on the defense side of the equation, and the burden of the "traditional" side is to show, beyond reasonable doubt, that the tradition is correct, I think I have done my job. Even Dr. Radner admits I present effective counter-arguments to much of the traditional case. In short, "maybe" is enough to cast reasonable doubt upon the air-tightness of the traditional case, and acquit those accused of improper action.

Now, when we get to the question of the church's blessing, a positive act on the church's part, the question of theology comes up. First, I must note once again that the church's teaching is that marriage exists prior to and apart from any "blessing" the church may offer. (The ministers of marriage are the couple.)

But when it comes to providing an alternative positive theology for same-sex marriage, I think my critics misunderstand me. I am not arguing for a separate theology of marriage different from the theology we already have for marriage — such as it is. (I add that proviso because any careful examination of the tradition reveals a number of variant theologies from the patristic era and up through the high middle ages and on through the Reformation. Anglicans tended in general to be closer to Luther's "a matter of the town hall" than to the Roman Catholic "sacrament," when they referred to marriage as "an estate allowed.")

However, I deliberately took the exhortation of the marriage rite in the Book of Common Prayer as my model in examining a theology for same-sex marriage. I believe I have convincingly demonstrated that procreation cannot be held to be an essential element in marriage precisely because, according to the church's teaching, marriage is not forbidden to those who cannot procreate. That would seem to me to be a simple bit of logic (i.e., something not required cannot be essential), and incontestable as it stands. I believe I have also shown that all of the other characteristic "goods" or "ends" of marriage can be shared and realized by a same-sex couple. So whatever "theology" you wish to apply to marriage — apart from one that requires the capacity to procreate as essential, in contravention of the church's tradition and law — can be applied to a same-sex as well as a mixed-sex couple.

I hope that goes a bit towards addressing these critics. And I really do wish some of them would read the book instead of relying on Dr. Radner's review.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

The Pluperfect Mindset

In response to the ordinations of two new bishops in Los Angeles yesterday, the usual suspects from the Anglican Right are atwitter with comments about further rifts or tears in the Anglican Communion, accusations that the Episcopal Church has now walked apart in some formal way from that Communion, and that it certainly can't in good conscience sign on to the Anglican Covenant (as they conceive it, in a kind of anticipatory prejudgment of exactly what the policies and objects of discipline might be down the road once the new body is actually, well, embodied.)

It is important to remember that any "rift" or "tear" or any such "transection" is at this point "a rift in the Anglican Communion" -- it is not a rift between the Anglican Communion and some entity not a part (or no longer a part, as Anglican Mainstream and others would have it) of the Anglican Communion. No one has "walked apart" from the rest of the Anglican Communion, except perhaps those portions of it, such as Nigeria and parts of GAFCON / FoCA, who have chosen actually to reject the See of Canterbury as a focal point for gathering the Anglican episcopate for consultation, or who have established separatist outposts within the confines of other Anglican jurisdictions, declaring they are out of communion with the larger body.

So much of this is based on the self-fulfilling false prophecy of those who attribute more authority to the Instruments of Communion than they have heretofore exercised, or than they have been granted by the actual member churches and provinces of the Communion. Thus, conferring and consulting bodies have been lacquered with a quick coat of putative authority, which cannot completely cover the underlying texture: these bodies are not yet in possession of the powers with which some would like to invest them.

The fact is, a number of member churches disagree on a number of issues. (What else is new?) What we can say with some historical perspective is that Lambeth has no doctrinal authority (yet!); the Primates may express an opinion; but dissenters both to the left and the right are under absolutely no obligation to follow or concur with the judgment either of the gathered bishops or the Primates. The Windsor Report contains recommendations that the provinces have yet to endorse or act upon in a definitive way — and that includes TEC as well as ACNA, both of whom have taken actions contrary to the wishes expressed in Windsor.

Those at present with their undergarments in a tangle display a very much "make it up as we go along" sort of ecclesiology, in which they act as if what they want is what already is. Unless and until some form of the Anglican Covenant is signed off on, the Anglican Communion remains a "fellowship of autonomous provinces and churches" without a central governing authority, and with, at present, some serious disagreements among its members.

Only those who agree to the proposed Covenant will be part of whatever new constellation emerges, and will presumably submit to whatever governance to which they have covenanted. But for the meantime they are living in the pluperfect, as the New Anglican Thing has not yet come to be. And much depends on who signs up. (I've said before, I'd welcome a little more structure to the Anglican Communion. Either that or clearly back to that "fellowship." It's this living in-between with made up rules and assertion and arrogation of authority not yet conferred that I find wearing, troubling and un-Christ-like.)

In the meantime, Diane and Mary are bishops in good standing in the Episcopal Church, and hence, in the Anglican Communion. They will be welcome where they are welcome, and rebuffed where they will be rebuffed: actions entirely within the competency of any diocesan bishop outside of Los Angeles.

Deal with it.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 15, 2010

Judgment Day

Regular readers will have noticed that I have not posted, nor even done much in the way of the comments section of this blog, for the last week or so. This is because I have been called for, and am now serving, jury duty in the Bronx Supreme Court. After a day in the jury pool, my name was drawn for a panel, and as the attorneys did their winnowing, a jury of six (this is a civil case) was chosen, and then out of the remaining few possible candidates two of us were accepted as alternates. On the second day of the actual trial, one of the jurors went home for lunch break and took a nap from which he did not awake until it was too late to return to the courthouse. Then, in a moment not unlike that recorded in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, the names of the two alternates, on bar-coded slips of paper, went into the spinning drum, and the lot fell on me. The case is expected to continue through most of the coming week. After which, I hope I will be able to resume blogging and commenting at a rate approaching the usual.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 7, 2010

Purity Unrealized

Puritan movements are doomed to fail because people are not pure. Such coteries inevitably turn in upon themselves: having fondly imagined they can set themselves up as a society of the perfect, at the first sign of weakness the mob will turn on the one perceived as guilty and drive the offender out. Ultimately such a gathering is the antithesis of the Gospel, for it is based on judgment rather than forgiveness. It is also the antithesis of history, for it lives in a fantasy of realized eschatology rather than in the hope of a cooperative pilgrimage.

Because they are based on a goal incapable of realization -- a pure society with unrealizable standards, or a perverse double standard that acknowledges but cannot tolerate human imperfection -- they never cease from irascible critique, a toxic attitude by which they close themselves off from the wider world and then turn in upon, and digest, themselves.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 1, 2010

Words Made Flesh

The website for the Continuing Indaba and Mutual Listening Process is now up on line. Some on the extremes of the church divide may well say, "What good is all this talk?" One side will say, "Delay is denial," while the other will say, "How can I converse with those with whom I disagree?"

Fortunately, there are others who know that it is in conversation with one another that we come to appreciate one another even if we continue to disagree with each other. Respect and forbearance are, after all, virtues in and of themselves — and even if we think our interlocutor may lack some other virtue, and she think the same of us, at least in continuing the conversation we are both incarnating a clear and definitive virtue between us.

More importantly, the overarching purpose for this continuing conversation is not conversion but mission: we are not out to produce Right Thinking in each other, but Right Action by and with each other — action right and righteous not simply on our own estimation but in fulfillment of the divine command to carry out the works of mercy; which we can do most effectively when we pool our resources in cooperative ventures. Thus are words made flesh, as at the first, while we were yet sinners, the Holy One deigned to come among us as our guest, and spoke with us, even in our ignorance, on the road of our pilgrimage.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG