June 28, 2013


On the PBS News Hour last night there was a short discussion between Eric Schneiderman (pro marriage equality) and Vicky Hartzler, a republican member of congress (anti). The anti speaker kept bringing up the issue of "what's best for the children is a marriage with a mom and pop."

As I noted in my response to the USCCB statement, nothing about marriage equality will limit or affect married couples continuing to bear and raise their own biological children. There is, to put it in legal terms, no "standing" to this objection whatsoever. As a "principle" (debatable as it is on its own merits, since not all mixed-sex couples actually have children, or are all who do good parents, whether they "ought" to be or not!*) it is entirely irrelevant to the discussion. I can't put it any better than the old saying, "A man without a woman is like a fish without a bicycle."

Is there a fear that same-sex couples will do more adopting than they already do? Surely this is only because of the strait couples who for one reason or another cannot or will not raise their own biological offspring.

Besides, as I've noted before, the principle of a child being raised by someone other than his biological parents has venerable biblical attestation, in the person of Jesus Christ himself. 

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

*The whole gap in conservative thinking between "is" and "ought to be" is at the root of much of the divide. Like it or not, same-sex marriage is a reality, and no amount of scare quotes is going to alter that.

UPDATE: It struck me that with their recent round of pronouncements, the Roman hierarchy and "pro-family" conservatives are sending a message of inferiority to all childless couples, and very likely winning them to the side of marriage equality; since by their consequentialist ethic these marriages are little better than mine...

June 26, 2013

The Sorrowful

Well, as the old saying goes, you can't please everybody. The Roman Conference of Bishops has issued a rather petty but also profoundly revealing whine concerning today's Supreme Court rulings. The truly sad thing about this statement is how theologically shallow it is; and one would think the shallows would be the easiest place not to miss the boat — yet they manage so to do.

This comes from the incessant hammering on a thesis as if it were "a truth" when it is nothing of the sort. It is an assertion, and one that fails the simplest tests of reason.

The thesis that "marriage is the only institution that brings together a man and a woman for life, providing any child who comes from their union with the secure foundation of a mother and a father" appears to take no cognizance of the reality that this is only a function of marriage, and not one which all marriages carry out. Marriages that do result in the birth and nurture of a child by its biological parents are in no way diminished by those marriages that do not, mixed-sex or same-sex.

More importantly, this short statement, for all its quoting of Jesus on marriage, misses the test of faith, and seems to take no recognition of what God may have intended to convey through the birth of that very Jesus, who did not, according to the doctrine, enjoy being raised by his biological father and mother. His mother narrowly missed being put away or put to death on good legal grounds. Perhaps, had they been around, these prelates would so have advised.

I am reminded of a passage from the Protoevangelium of James: Joseph beholds Mary (on the way to Bethlehem) alternately weeping and laughing, and asks why. She explains, "It is because I behold two peoples with mine eyes, the one weeping and lamenting and the other rejoicing and exulting..."

I think the Blessed Mother of God is shaking her head in dismay at this Conference of unwed prelates, whose views on marriage derive entirely from theory; who have by choice refused to participate in the very institution they say they hold in such high esteem. I think she would repeat the old saying I cited above, "Well, you can't please everybody."

Whatever else, this sad batch of waterless clouds will not rain on my parade.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

And Resolution

In my last post I mentioned the anticipation and angst as the Supreme Court seemed to be taking its own sweet time in announcing decisions on Prop8 and DOMA. Well, Windsor and Perry, meet Brown, Loving, and Lawrence. This is a historic day, and will be long remembered.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 21, 2013

Dred Anticipation

The Supreme Court of the United States is due to issue its decisions in two important cases that will have major impact on the lives of gay and lesbian persons, whichever way the decisions go. The cases involve the Proposition 8 referendum in California that restored marriage inequality in that state, and the Defense of Marriage Act by which the Federal government chose not to recognize same-sex marriages for national purposes.

The constitutional issues involved in each case are different, linked by two common threads: who will suffer or benefit on the basis of the decisions — gay or lesbian couples who are married or wish so to be — and the constitutional concern for states’ rights. There has been considerable reading of tea leaves by legal scholars with far more experience than I possess, as an interested amateur. The Justices were hard to read during the presentations of the cases, and their comments and questions have been sifted for signs of which way the wind might blow.

Nonetheless, I will offer my assessment in advance of the release of the decisions — almost certain to appear next week, either on Monday or Thursday. I do not think the Justices will pick up the rights issue as a fundamental matter, or at least not in a majority decision. Whether one is an originalist or a strict constructionist or a revisionist, it is likely a step too far. However, when it comes to states’ rights, I think the Court has a logical and consistent hook on which to hang a pair of decisions that defer on Prop8 to the State of California (including its courts and legislature as well as its plebs) and strikes down DOMA as a rejection of the up-until-recently standard recognition that marriage law is settled by the states, and a marriage recognized in a state should also be recognized for Federal purposes. (I do not understand that the Full Faith and Credit Clause was part of this case, so this may not mean that all states will have to recognize marriages made in other states where they are made under that state’s law. I welcome correction if I have misunderstood.)

On the other hand, the Court could hold, likely by a small majority, that these cases have come too soon. How history will judge this Court remains to be seen. Will this be another Dred Scott, or a Brown or Loving? History is the only truly neutral judge, and there is no escape from its verdicts.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 19, 2013

Why Same-Sex Marriage?

Columnist Andrew Brown notes that +Rowan Williams has opined “I am not wholly clear to what problem same-sex marriage is the answer.”

Well, I've written a book on the subject* that approaches “the problem” from that standpoint, and I personally gave a copy of it to +Rowan at his visit to the General Convention of The Episcopal Church.

My approach was to examine the “causes” for marriage laid out in the Book of Common Prayer — with due notice of the fact that the liturgy, since 1549, has directed the omission of the prayer for procreation when the woman is past child-bearing; which omission neither negates nor nullifies the marriage.

Since procreation (at least as far as child-bearing goes) is so clearly a provisional element of marriage, it remains to examine the other causes: as a remedy against promiscuity, and for the help, comfort and support engendered by mutual society.

I believe that same-sex marriage is fully capable of accomplishing these ends. Nor do I understand why that is so hard for some to understand.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

*for more on Reasonable and Holy, check the sidebar...

UPDATE: an additional thought as posted on Facebook:
I sometimes hope that Rowan makes statements like that in order to provoke discussion. I don't want to think he is clueless. But he seems to be fixed in a rhetorical strategy that isn't sufficiently engaged with the debate as it actually is taking place -- just as he was fixed in an ecclesiastical stasis while Archbishop because of a prevailing notion that "unity" was the most important aspect of his work, rather than discernment. Continuing to ask questions that already have answers, instead of engaging with those answers, is not productive.
And I would add, Socrates knew how to move the discussion along... 

June 17, 2013

Lords Help Us

Listening to the House of Lords debate on the Marriage Bill is not the way I'd hoped to spend my morning. It is instructive to see the extent to which some who have hit bottom keep digging. It is also a bit sad to note than many of the most senior Lords who oppose the Bill will likely not live long enough to be embarrassed by their comments, as society and culture continue to move towards equality. I'm reminded of reading the debates on racial equality from sixty years ago.

Strangest of all are those who, under the guise of an interest in equality, point out that the Bill still makes distinctions between same- and mixed-sex couples on the matters of adultery and annulment for the cause of no consummation.

However, neither of these represent inequalities in marriages, but differences in the means by which particular marriages may be terminated or annulled. This is no more "unequal" than the fact that any given marriage may be ended on the basis of adultery only if adultery has taken place. The fact that English law has not recognized same-sex sexual activity as "adultery" (and has no intention to do so) has no relevance to couples whose marriages remain faithful.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Thought for 06.17.12

How wonderful to be reminded once again at Morning Prayer today that her husband thought himself of more value to Hannah  “than ten sons.” Biblical evidence that marriage is not just about progeny.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 15, 2013

Weeping Ang[e]l(ican)s

In the recent General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church questions were raised* concerning the Anglican Covenant and the Primatial Moratoria. Remember them? They were the [mostly] Gentlemen’s [not quite] Agreements by the Primates, meeting in Dar-es-Salaam back in January 2007. They didn’t quite agree but all signed off that they had discussed that (1) nobody would ordain an openly  partnered gay or lesbian bishop, (2) approve the blessing of same-sex unions, or (3) cross the borders of a jurisdiction and meddle in its internal affairs. On all three, and on all sides, the phrase “the breach than the observance” springs to mind. Hence I, and I suppose many others, had considered these moratoria moribund, if not dead and buried. They seem, however, to be a bit more like the protesting plague victim who moans, “I'm not dead yet” while being carried to the cart.

Or even worse, I fear that the Anglican Covenant and the moratoria from which it was birthed are a bit like the Weeping Angels in Dr Who — blink or take your eyes off of them for a moment, and they are upon you.

This is the first mention of the alleged moratoria I've heard in some time.... I thought they were dead, but apparently we blinked.

Hence, I suggest keeping the lights on — and brightly. And, as the Dr said, “Don’t blink!”

*You can read about what Primus David Chillingworth said here.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 14, 2013

Mystic on the Water

O God, Origin, Sustainer, and End of all your creatures: Grant that your Church, taught by your servant Evelyn Underhill, guarded evermore by your power, and guided by your Spirit into the light of truth, may continually offer to you all glory and thanksgiving and attain with your saints to the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have promised by our Savior Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Evelyn Underhill's biography reveals an unlikely candidate for mysticism — at least as our prejudices would construct that vocation. We image the mystics (some of us do it with icons!) as desert ascetics, cloth-draped monastics, anchorites, hermits. Surely that is part of the tradition. But it is that very temptation to categorize that Evelyn sought to upset by her teaching along the lines of the children's hymn for All Saints’ Day. From her perspective, a deeply personal one, she knew you could meet them in shops or at tea — or in Florentine museums, or on her father’s yacht. So here is a mystic not in sackcloth, but with a string of pearls. God bless her witness that the grace of God inbreaks for all who seek that mystic sweet communion, wherever, whenever, as the Ground of All Being is always present and ready to embrace the Beloved.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 9, 2013

Syrian Singer

Pour out on us, O Lord, that same Spirit by which your deacon Ephrem rejoiced to proclaim in sacred song the mysteries of faith; and so gladden our hearts that we, like him, may be devoted to you alone; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Ephrem was a deacon and a poet. It is said that he never smiled, but perhaps a smile would be too weak to capture the cosmic joy he celebrated. One of my favorite hymns in the Hymnal 1982 is based on the work of Ephrem. I always find myself choked up on the last verse, with its powerful avalanche of paradoxes.

From God Christ's deity came forth,
His manhood from humanity;
his priesthood from Melchizedek,
his royalty from David's tree:
praised be his Oneness.

He joined with guests at wedding feast,
Yet in the wilderness did fast;
he taught within the temple's gates;
his people saw him die at last:
praised be his teaching.

The dissolute he did not scorn,
Nor turn from those who were in sin;
he for the righteous did rejoice
but bade the fallen to come in:
praised be his mercy.

He did not disregard the sick;
To simple ones his word was given;
and he descended to the earth
and, his work done, went up to heaven:
praised be his coming.

Who then, my Lord, compares to you?
The Watcher slept, the Great was small,
the Pure baptized, the Life who died,
the King abased to honor all:
praised be your glory.

Hymn 443, translated by John Howard Rhys, Adapted and altered by F Bland Tucker

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 4, 2013

Changed Perspective

The House of Lords, after a long and tedious debate, and a long call for Division in a spectacularly inefficient manner, has soundly defeated the Dear motion to scuttle the Marriage Bill, and then voted handily to move it along to committee.

As I listened to the debate, I imagined how an earlier one might have sounded.

My Lords, the geocentric model for the universe has served us well for centuries. Not only is it hallowed by Tradition and the evidence of Holy Writ, it has the unsurpassed virtue of being obvious to the feeblest of minds, as plain as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. To introduce, without adequate review or any real evidence apart from the theorizing of a very few foreign natural philosophers, a whole new definition of the very structure of the universe is a step too far. Anyone can see that everything by nature falls down, towards the center of the earth, a firm foundation beneath our feet; this novel notion to the contrary introduces all sorts of instability and doubt about the nature of how things work. The geocentric model is the foundation of our whole civilization; it is what holds us together. If it is challenged or redefined we may find ourselves floating off in any number of unhelpful and dangerous directions. What other institutions will be redefined next? The monarchy? The foundations of our foundations are at risk. I earnestly entreat you not to support this misguided and ill-conceived effort to wrest our Mother Earth from her place of honor at the center of our cosmos, and indeed, our hearts.

Marriage, like the cosmos, is what it is. Our understanding of it may change — some who have been denied access to participation in it may be and have been admitted to its rights and responsibilities; its form and definition may be altered, as it has been altered time and again. We will not go floating off into space on that account. Changing our perspective does not change the underlying reality of the world, or of human life. New opportunities teach new duties. And all will be well.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 3, 2013

Not What They Expected

When the Conclave elected Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli to the Chair of Peter in 1958, many thought the elderly cardinal would be a benign placeholder for a few years, allowing the Roman Church to catch its breath after the long pontificate of Pius XII, the end of the hot war and the tensions of the cold.

Such was not to be the case, and John XXIII, practically off the bat, called for the first major Council in years, which led to a startling number of reforms whose impact is felt to this day, fifty years after his death.

Let us pray. Lord of all truth and peace, you raised up your bishop John to be servant of the servants of God and gave him wisdom to call for the work of renewing your Church: Grant that, following his example, we may reach out to other Christians to clasp them with the love of your Son, and labor throughout the nations of the world to kindle a desire for justice and peace; through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The icon in watercolor pencil is an attempt to capture his generosity of spirit, with the suggestion he is about to break into a smile and give a little wave of benediction. We need more church leaders like "Good Pope John."

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Cantuar Opines, World Moves On

The Archbishop of Canterbury has addressed his fellow Lords in opposition to the Marriage Bill now before them. He critiques the Bill for creating inequalities in marriage between same- and mixed-sex couples. Yes, you heard that right, inequalities. Of course, the faults in the legislation along this line — and faults they are — result from the unwillingness on the part of some to take the time to visit the questions of what "consummation" and "adultery" mean for same-sex couples. This is where the "inequalities" arise; and they could have been dealt with, in the same way laws have addressed many other "definitions" by ambiguous phrasing, or leaving matters to one side — leaving it to the courts to come up with the precise implications post facto. As it remains, we are dealing with differences without distinction, unless one holds to the radical and tautological position that same-sex couples cannot engage in "sex" — hence no consummation or adultery — because "sex" requires a mixed-sex couple.

Still, that is no reason to oppose this Bill — it isn't even "reason" at all — at least on the grounds that it is "redefining" anything.

I am not surprised, but disappointed that the Archbishop felt it necessary to speak on an issue on which the Church need have no position, as the civil marriages will not have any effect within the Church of England. There is a long history of discord between Canon and Civil Law in England in the marriage arena — from 1857 to 2002 divorced persons with living ex-spouses could be married under civil law but not in church; for the larger part of that time any church members who availed themselves of the civil provision (even the "innocent spouse") might find themselves excommunicated, and even now the clergy can refuse to marry couples in this situation. So there is absolutely nothing new in the legal provision for marriages — not just weddings! — of which the Church of England might disapprove, or choose not to recognize.

The truly sad thing is that in staking out a rear-guard position on a failing and irrational notion, the Archbishop does neither himself nor the church any good at all, and may in fact be causing further harm to the Church of England, the nation, and its people.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG