November 8, 2013

Creating Problems

The most recent reflections from GAFCON assert that same-sexuality is a rebellion against or a departure from “the created order.” This position of course of necessity must take as an underlying premise that sexual orientation is not real, but is rather a collection of behaviors or inclinations. This enters into muddy metaphysical waters (“Is the mind real or is it only the behavior of the brain?” And if the latter, “What makes the brain behave that way?”). It also must of itself require that heterosexual orientation is equally mere behavior, not being — so we are back where we started with having to decide that some behaviors are good and others bad. Morality, after all, is about behavior, not being.

There are grave problems with the thesis that gay and lesbian relationships — even those evincing moral values such as fidelity — are rebellions against creation, and they go to the source of the notion. Those who hold this position admit that it is upon the first chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans that they base this claim. However, when one turns to Romans 1, one does not find Paul critiquing those who rebel against creation, but those who exalt the creature. Created things, Paul affirms (1:20), are a means by which God’s divinity has been revealed, but the foolish mortals who fall under Paul’s condemnation have stopped short, mistaking the message for the messenger. They have made idols in the form of created things (1:23) and have begun to worship these stand-ins rather than the Creator (1:25). And it is for this reason, because of this, that God has given them over to futility and degradation: their punishments reflecting the futility of the worship of idols and the degradation of the Creator replaced with the creature.

Now, there is no question that Paul’s portrayal of this futile degradation includes the frenzied passions of male same-sex orgies. (It is not clear that female same-sexuality is mentioned in this passage. I’ve addressed this at length in Reasonable and Holy.) However, the catalogue of vices concluding this passage (1:29-30) makes it abundantly clear that Paul’s concern with idolaters has little or nothing to do with the same-sex relationships of faithful Christians.

No, if there is an error of interpretation concerning this passage, it must lie with those who employ it as a generalized repudiation of any and all same-sex relationships, when only particular relationships, of a kind that would be culpable even among mixed-sex groups, are mentioned; and those as a sign of punishment.

More serious, however, is the error of those who insist on exalting mixed-sex marriage, or “male and female” beyond their traditional and scriptural roles as symbols, to some kind of reification of divinity. This falls exactly into the same category of mistake with which Paul charges the idolaters: they have mistaken the symbol for the thing symbolized, exalting the creature to the Creator’s place. Such efforts to equate a married couple with the Persons of the Trinity, to insist that the divine image is only realized in the union of male and female, and all such other questionable novelties, are produced in the effort to ward off any positive exploration of the moral values of relationships regardless of sex — it is telling that such notions only began to emerge when questions of the morality of same-sex relationships (and non-procreative sex) began to be raised in the last century, and some anxious defenders of the status quo launched a rear-guard effort to find some “theology” to bolster the traditional opposition.

These theological novelties have to be examined on their own merits, just as the novelty of recognizing same-sex relationships, and blessing them, or even bringing them under the heading of marriage, must be examined. My research has shown that the efforts to theologize the sexes as the divine image, in addition to being a radical departure from the tradition that sees the divine image in each human being, does not appear to add anything to the theological store-house, and renders crucial articles of the faith (such as the Incarnation) inexplicable (if male and female together “present” the divine, Jesus was deficient). Efforts to bring the Trinity into the picture stumble even more egregiously into modalism or functionalism. When a thesis raised in defense of an aspect of pastoral theology runs up against well-established principles of dogmatic theology, it is time to set it aside.

No, if one is to decide whether same-sex relationships are good or not, one must apply the recognizable moral categories, not biological realities. It is, after all, the mind and the heart wherein the moral lies. Morality is about behavior, not being; about virtue, not anatomy.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


JCF said...

^This. A BILLION times this!

For every anti-gay Christian---AND for every anti-Christian (Gospel) LGBT person---I wish (and pray) they could UNDERSTAND this.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, JCF.

June Butler said...

Your post reminds me of my encounter with a candidate for bishop of the Diocese of Louisiana who wrote in his biography of "...appropriate pastoral care for persons who experience themselves as gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgender...." At the walkabout I had a chance to ask the candidate a question, and I read his words back to to him and said, "This seems an odd way to phrase the statement. It implies that the persons may not really BE gay. Why not say 'persons who ARE gay, lesbian...'?"

The man shook his head and said, "The science is not clear."

I asked, "Well then, is it that I only experience myself as heterosexual, rather than that I AM heterosexual?" I heard laughter in the room, and the candidate did not answer my question. I did not press further for an answer, because I thought I'd made my point.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Mimi. People like that candidate are about at the level of those who think that foreign languages aren't really quite real, and that if you only speak slowly and add the odd vowel at the end of an English word, those furriners will understand you perfectly. These kinds of views stem from the same utter lack of ability to understand others as different from themselves, really different at as deep a level as their own being, not just "acting" different.