May 14, 2014

Getting Real

The leadership in the Church of England is in the difficult position of wanting to oppose homophobia while retaining a doctrine that gives homophobia its underpinning. They ran into a similar bind when, in an effort to scuttle last year’s changes in civil marriage, they tried to pretend (contrary to the facts) that they had been supporters of the alternative of civil partnerships. Until the church can free itself both from mendacity and illusion, it will make little progress.

The real problem, of course, is that few in the church are willing to admit that “traditional” marriage does not qualify as one of those things that meets the test of Vincent’s canon (“always believed, everywhere, by all”). Yet it acts is if that were the case, talking about a biblical “definition” where one in fact finds myriad “descriptions” and a long and controverted history of reflection as to what constitutes marriage, and a longer series of equally contesting regulations concerning who can marry whom.

Had they approached the latest proposal (adopted by the state) as simply one more variation in an ongoing symphony, perfectly at harmony with much of the foregoing (though clearly dissonant with much of it as well) there might have been some productive dialogue and thoughtful engagement. But the pretense of a monolithic and unchanging “institution” from the time of creation even to this day is risible to anyone familiar with the Bible or the human history which that Bible in part records, to say nothing of the pilgrimage of the institution of marriage under the church’s care.

Marriage is not a proper subject of dogmatic theology, but at most of moral or pastoral theology. There is no core doctrine concerning marriage, and it is doubtful that the subject warrants a doctrine at all, and at least some of the efforts to construct a theological defense of marriage do more harm to theology than help to marriage. The church did very well without much doctrinal reflection on marriage for centuries. The creeds and classical Anglican catechisms are silent on it. The Articles of Religion refer to it as an estate allowed, and available to clergy as they see fit. There is no settled doctrine of marriage, only changing rules, laws, rites and ceremonies — all of these, as the Articles also remind us, subject to amendment by the church.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

13 comments:

Brother David said...

Although I find much in the new CoE gude to anti-bullying to be commended, it falls into this issue where it insists that aside from wanting to protect GLBT kids from bullying, the document insists that CoE schools still teach that the only proper marriage is of a man and a woman and that a marriage between to men or two women is lacking and it does not come up to that par.

grobit625 said...

It's not hard. What church preaches violence and bullying against anyone? Even the Catholics have treating everyone with dignity in their doctrine. You can treat people with respect and still have traditional beliefs about sexuality, marriage, and the family. What needs to stop,however, is the belief that somehow by having those traditional views means you "hate" LGBTs.

Deacon Charlie Perrin said...

Tobias, your argument makes perfect sense; and that is its fatal flaw.

The C of E has nothing to do with making sense and in many ways is more of a political animal than a faith community. It is too much invested in the status quo (look at all the stupidity displayed in its attempts to ordain women to the Episcopate).

Both tem and Rome would be better if they favored compassion over dogma.

Tobias Haller said...

Indeed so Brother David.

grobit625, you seem to have missed the point. There are some churches that do preach hate; there are others who are more polite, but whose teaching offers support to hateful actions. For instance, using terms like "objective evil" when referring to same-sex marriage is incendiary. It may not express hatred, but it feeds it. But that wasn't really the point of the post, which is about the indefensibility of the "traditional view" as being the only proper view, and trying to make it dogmatic.

Thanks Deacon Charlie.

grobit625 said...

I don't know of one mainstream church that preaches hate. I don't count Westboro and those other cults as examples. As to whether or not it's indefensible, it is up to the individual to make that decision, and hopefully after proper research and not just basing it off of "feelings". Individuals that harm others either physically or mentally are the problem, not the teaching. There are many that believe in traditional values that have never harmed anyone. But what is being pushed here in TEC and elsewhere is that to have a traditional view means "being a hater". That's a fact. For once I would like someone to denounce that theory. I don't believe it's indefensible but people have a right to their beliefs.

Tobias Haller said...

grobit625, we may be writing at cross purposes here, but let me give it another go.

It seems to me it all depends on what you mean by "hate." You appear to define this purely as a "feeling" rather than as a belief.

My contention is that some beliefs can (even if not strongly felt, or identified by the believer to be "hateful" in an emotional sense) can constitute "hate" in a moral sense and what is worse, encourage actual violence or harm against others.

Take, for example, a man who believes, on the basis of his experience, that Africans are inherently inferior to Caucasians. He is not particularly emotional about this; perhaps it is just the way he was brought up. But he believes it none the less. And say he is a teacher or religious leader who expresses this view in a calm and orderly way, without meaning to insult anyone or provoke violence: it's just the truth as he sees it.

My contention is that not only is this man a racist by definition, but his racism can encourage others to truly violent acts even if he would deny he ever intended it to do so.

Yes people have a right to their beliefs; but when they express those beliefs they also have responsibility for the impact they have on others.

Bigotry, by the way, means holding to an opinion that cannot be proven. The "traditional view" is an example of just that -- and it is held by most of those who hold it because that's what they were taught, not because its truth has been demonstrated by logical process. That doesn't make them "hateful" or "haters" -- nor did I use that word, as for me it isn't the issue.

rick allen said...

Seems to me that the notion that Christian marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman is one of the very few assertions that could survive the application of Vincent’s canon. In what historical Christian communities has marriage not been regarded as a relationship of opposite sexes? I'm certainly an outsider, but isn't that the consistent assertion of the long series of Anglican prayer books, beginning in 1549, up to and including the Episcopal Church's current Book of Common Prayer?

I'm also a little dubious about this idea that moral theology has no dogmatic import. Would you consider the Christian moral prohibition against murder more "up for grabs" than, say, the doctrine of the two wills of Christ? Most Christians, I would have imagined, would consider the moral imperatives of the gospel as important, if not more important, than belief the Church's established dogmas.

Tobias Haller said...

Posting a comment from Br David that I inadvertently deleted

I think that you are putting words in TEC's mouth. I know of no official TEC documents or public statements that label anyone as a hater. Don't confuse the opinion of individual private citizens who are perhaps members of TEC as the Church itself.

But there are definitely official positions of churches that oppose anything positive for GLBT folks. Why would a church confuse it's religious belief of marriage with civil marriage and oppose marriage equality for same gender folks? Why would churches officially oppose GLBT teens bringing a same gender date to their school prom? Why oppose legislation regarding legislation for job security for GLBT folks?

I could go on.

There is more than just folks holding their traditional beliefs regarding human sexuality in their churches, they are publicly sabotaging the rights to life, liberty and happiness of millions of GLBT people!

Tobias Haller said...

Rick, the point is that there is much more to the history of marriage than "one man and one woman" -- and of course even that is only derived from scripture by inference. I could go through a long catalogue of some of the "doctrinal" differences, including what constitutes marriage itself (consent or coitus) or the role of disparity of cult, whether marriage with a heathen is permissible, whether marriage of widows is permitted and to what extent, and on and on. These were not just trivial matters (though most would think so today),

On your second point, I'm not saying one thing is more important than the other. But they are different. The prohibition on murder is not a quesstion of dogma, but of moral theology. It is the effort to confect a theology of marriage that is specious. That's not to dismiss the moral side but to place it where it belongs.

MarkBrunson said...

Such mental and verbal gymnastics to show how hate isn't really hate and how it's always been this way when it clearly hasn't.

Such dishonesty shows why we can never be in a communion with such people. Let the dead bury the dead and move on. You aren't Jesus, you can't resurrect them.

Tobias Haller said...

Mark, I think it is more fear than hate, but the emotions are closely allied. But my point is that it is not rational, but emotional. The pseudo-rational rests on an overly begged question.

As to moving on, well, I think we move on whether we want to or not. I know that change is possible, and I am heartened by the fact that few who are on my side on this issue change to the other side, while the contrary seems to happen more and more. We are seeing this happen in both the civil and church realm, and those opposed are becoming either reconciled to their defeat or battening down the hatches. But the rotten foundations of their thesis are giving way beneath them, and the newer generation is seeing through the shallow pond of their excuses.

rick allen said...

"Bigotry, by the way, means holding to an opinion that cannot be proven."

This seems to paint with rather a broad brush. For the life of me, I can't come up with any opinion whatsoever--whether personal, political, social, or religious--which can be proven. Am I really a bigot if I believe, but can't prove, that my kids love me, or that Obama would make a better president than Romney, or that the Father is of one substance with the Son?

I can prove that there is no single highest prime number, but actual proof normally takes something out of the realm of opinion.

Tobias Haller said...

Rick, I did not mean that to be an exhaustive definition of what it means to be a bigot; but that is where it starts. Obviously many articles of faith cannot be proven. But when one's faith unprovable beliefs become the basis for denigrating the beliefs of others, a source of obstinacy or intolerance, bigotry blossoms. As it has and does in the present instance. (What I was attempting to address is the notion that bigotry must necessarily imply "hatred.")

But of course, I assume you know that.