Saturday, 4 June 2005

Mr Hooker and the Windsor Report

Mike Russell, the Rector of All Souls Episcopal Church, San Diego, California, recently wrote the following short essay to explain why section B4 of the Windsor Report does not reflect the classic Anglican position on the authority of Scripture, which is to say the position of Richard Hooker.

Reproduced with Mike’s permission

For his credentials on Hooker see here
Another essay in the same vein is here

The classic Anglican position, found in Hooker’s “Laws” is that scripture is the primary source of revelation for “all things necessary for salvation” not all things simply. The WR and the Neo-Puritans are attempting to make it necessary for all things simply. Books II and III of the Laws are quite clear on the boundaries set on Scripture’s “prima” authority having already rejected it as having “sola” authority.

So while Scripture is perfect for the purpose for which it was created, it is for Mr. Hooker and those that follow clearly a mixture of documents as well, many of which are bound by time and place. For example, in the Articles of Religion we see the Church setting to the side not only the Apocrypha, but the judicial and ceremonial laws of Hebrew Scripture. What is most interesting in that is that the specific parts of Leviticus we see bandied about quite often are part of the judicial law and not the moral law which is confined to the Ten Commandments.

So classic Anglicanism has at its core a hermeneutic for prioritizing the contents of Scripture and their respective authority. To treat it in any flat literal sense as a repository of eternal commands is not and never has been Anglican. That the WR is hazy on this, wanting to affirm the authority of scripture, but also warning of the dangers and ambiguities related to interpretation, leaves it listing disastrously to the fundamentalist Neo-Puritan side.

But wait, there’s more! Mr. Hooker in Book III investigates the mutability of laws and concludes that even direct commands spoken by Jesus might under different times and circumstances be mutable. How else might we have allowed divorce and remarriage except with such an Anglican hermeneutic.

And more. Most people belabor the Reason, Tradition, Scripture “three legged stool”, but that is a secondary level of discussion in Mr. Hooker who accords revelatory status to the Law of Reason, The Law of Nature and Divine Law of which Scripture is a sub category. These are three of the four categories of God’s Second Eternal Law (the fourth being Celestial Laws regarding Angels). For things NOT “necessary for salvation” we can be instructed as well by the structures of Reason and the Book of Nature and perhaps by the ongoing revelation we might have from the Holy Spirit. To ignore what these sources of revelation can teach us is to gag God.

Finally, Mr. Hooker also understood that which is a continuing topic of discussion even among contemporary legal philosophers: reflexivity among laws. In essence sometimes laws stemming from different legal arenas clash and we have to decide which to use as operative. Hooker saw this in potential clashes for people between King, Church, and Positive Laws. But it is also embedded in his understanding of the hermeneutic that develops for each conscience with respect to the interaction of the components of God’s Second Eternal Law. Nothing is ever quite so simple as having a code book that will tell us everything to do.

So, for me, when we talk about the authority of Scripture it must be framed as Mr. Hooker framed it, respecting the hermeneutic foundation that shaped our Anglican heritage. To surrender to the language of the WR (and of the groups using this same language for the last decade as though it were Anglican) is simply to set ourselves up to buy the pig in the poke.

What we need to do is resolve whether or not we are going to be true to our Anglican heritage with respect to scripture or slip into the crass fundamentalism that has proven so divisive and destructive in every setting where it has come to power.

And finally, finally, it is worth re-reading the Preface of the Laws just to appreciate how sophisticated an understanding Mr Hooker had of how conflict is fomented. For me, at any rate, its description of the sleazy tactics of the Calvinists is every bit as apropos to those of the Neo-Puritans. It is worth remembering that Mr. Hooker himself was accused by Travers and others of heresy and apostasy well before he wrote the laws. So classic Anglicanism was and continues to be defined and described by people that Puritans and Neo-Puritans alike consider heretical and apostate. Not a bad heritage to possess.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 4 June 2005 at 6:38pm BST
You can make a Permalink to this if you like
Categorised as: Opinion
Comments

Thank you for this article. It is quite helpful. I hope and pray that the Communion can remain faithful to its Anglican heritage of Biblical scholarship and not be derailed by zealous literalists.

Posted by: dmitri on Saturday, 4 June 2005 at 10:27pm BST

I find it interesting that Fr. Russell is, like myself, a cradle Episcopalian. I resonate, therefore, w/ his claim that the neo-Calvinists/neo-Puritans---having lost the same ol' arguments 400 years before---are trying an end-run to steal OUR ***ANGLICAN*** Tradition from us.

Gimme that Old Time Religion! ;-D

Posted by: J. C. Fisher on Sunday, 5 June 2005 at 4:58am BST

One Anglican theologian does not a tradition make (how about the prayer book and the articles for starters?). Why should the fact that Richard Hooker thought something make it binding on Anglicans today? That would be literalistic fundamentalism every bit as much as the so-called Neo-Purtianism Mr Russell and others so abhor - just with a different source.

More to the point, this reading of Hooker makes the rather absurd assumption that behaviour and morality are irrelevant to the salvation which Scripture contains all things necessary for according to Hooker and the Prayer Book etc. Quite the opposite is affirmed by Scripture itself in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (regardless of how you translate the specific wrongs to which this refers).

The commentators are just showing off their ignorance - as if on the one hand authentic Anglicanism is about biblical scholarship (by which presumably dmitri means cutting out the bits of the Bible he doesn't like) or on the other hand authentic Anglicanism is liberal. In fact, both are very very recent developments in historical terms. It might be what you knew from the cradle - but it's not what Anglicanism has been from its cradle.

Posted by: Sean Doherty on Sunday, 5 June 2005 at 7:13pm BST

There's a fascinating counterpoint discussion ongoing at TitusOneNine:

http://titusonenine.classicalanglican.net/wp-trackback.php/7029

The background: Someone had posted Matt Miller's 6 June 2005 New York Times column "Is Persuasion Dead?" Miller, who is concerned strictly with the political arena, laments that "marshaling a case to persuade those who start from a different position is a lost art. Honoring what’s right in the other side’s argument seems a superfluous thing that can only cause trouble, like an appendix. Politicos huddle with like-minded souls in opinion cocoons that seem impervious to facts."

The commenters so far have been heaping scorn on Miller; some go so far as to deny any role whatever to deliberation in political discourse. This would raise not only Hooker's hackles, but Burke's and Cicero's too.

Posted by: Charlotte on Sunday, 5 June 2005 at 8:19pm BST

The lunancy of the Neo-Puritans; that is, those who are hell-bent on purifying the cult regardless of the deception they use or carnage they produce, never ceases to amaze me. Hooker IS the theological basis of Anglicanism. The Bob Duncans of the world aren't going to be happy until they've destoyed classic Anglicanism and made it into some Baptist-like cult with only people like themselves in the club. The majority of Episcopalians in the USA are quite content with classic Anglicanism as given to us by Hooker, thank you very much. If Duncan and his Rebellion want to leave, then leave (and leave the keys to the church and your pensions behind). But please leave the rest of us alone.

Posted by: Peter on Sunday, 5 June 2005 at 11:04pm BST

Peter wrote:
"If Duncan and his Rebellion want to leave, then leave (and leave the keys to the church and your pensions behind). But please leave the rest of us alone."
Well, yes - that's ultimately the issue behind all this sound & fury, regardless of oh-so pious remarks to the contrary. But of course, they don't *want* to leave without the property and the pension, and will consequently stay and remain disagreeable and obstructionist.
If they *could* leave in possession of things which don't belong to them, I assume they would. The desire to do so, I'm guessing, to be even stronger that the desire to remain and proselytise to us apostate "revisionists."

Posted by: Simeon on Monday, 6 June 2005 at 1:38am BST

Interesting and provacative analysis. Would be more credible without some significant errors:
1. First I've heard that Jewish moral law is limited to the Ten Commandments.
2. The 39 Articles of Religion did not set aside Jewish ceremonial law; that was done by the apostles after revelation, as reported in Acts. The 39 Articles merely continued that 1500+ year distinction. Big difference.
Curiosity: is there some subtle significance to the author's repeated reference to "Mr." Hooker?

Posted by: Bill Matz on Monday, 6 June 2005 at 2:56am BST

Sean is 100% on the mark. In fact, Hooker was deeply opposed to single individuals, with the exception of apostles, being held out as the authority on any theological question.
There is also a clear effort here to avoid Hooker's ties to the natural law tradition and his admiration for St. Thomas Aquinas. By leaving this out, Father Mike doesn't have to explain how Hooker's "flexibility" on certain difficult parts of the moral teaching of Scripture does not exactly coincide with the modernist/progressivist idea of comprehensiveness. Hooker believed in the authority of tradition, and he was clear on what constituted that tradition. In the context of his respect for Aquinas and appropriation of much of his moral philosophy, we can only conclude that Hooker did not operate with a post-Enlightenment definition of reason, but instead held the idea of reason that the medieval and reformation church did. Reason was not seen as an independent faculty of the individual mind, but as the grasp of truth based on a correct understanding of Divine Law gained through wisdom and spiritual understanding. While Father Mike makes a vague reference to this, he simply leaves it hanging out there like the last line of a verse in a Bob Dylan lyric.
Father Mike's analysis is so laconic that it is hard not to believe that there is a definite agenda here. What is so discouraging is that it appears that a couple of the progressivist/anti-traditionalists who have responded here seem to be able to read the tendentious nature of the gaps and take the opportunity to join the demonstration and pile-on the scorn to whoever they believe are the key neo-Puritan lightning rods of the moment. And they have the audacity do so in the name of their tradition. This all feels way too much like something I would see on MoveOn.org or FreeRepublic.org.

Posted by: joe from oc on Monday, 6 June 2005 at 5:59am BST

Peter said: "Hooker IS the theological basis of Anglicanism."
No, the self-disclosure of God in Jesus Christ as borne witness to in Scripture is the basis of Anglicanism, as it must be for any theology which wishes to be Christian in any meaningful sense.

Posted by: Sean Doherty on Monday, 6 June 2005 at 9:22am BST

The very thought of Bob Duncan and his Rebellion hanging around and continuing to make life hell for the rest of us sickens me. Duncan is never going to be PB of ECUSA. Rowan Williams is never going to give his Rebellion parity with ECUSA. He and his grenade throwers are going to get trounced--again--at General Convention in 2006. The majority of Episcopalians in ECUSA fall under the umbrella of classic Anglicanism as given to us by Hooker. They smell a phoney when they see one, and they know a blundering sort of power-grab when they see one. Anglicanism is not this unholy alliance between Bob Duncan and his new-found-friends in Africa. Of course, when Bob doesn't deliver in 2006, his own Rebellion will turn on him. Again--I repeat--the majority of Episcopalians in ECUSA want this nonsense to end. Classic Anglicanism suits us just fine.

Posted by: Peter on Monday, 6 June 2005 at 1:29pm BST

From Article VII:
"Although the Law given from God by Moses as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral."

The more Protestant leaning Anglicans in 1571 may have been like their descendants who wrote the Westminster Confession etc. and believed that the moral law is summarily comprehended in the Ten Commandments (proof-texting with Matthew 19:17-19. The more Catholic-leaning Anglicans would have agreed with the idea of summary comprehension if they followed Question 100 of Aquinas' Summa Theologica. But both sides probably would have disagreed about the exact content of the moral law, thus the Seventh Article contains the mutually inoffensive principle that all Christian men are bound by "the Commandments which are called Moral" (which are certainly the Ten Commandments and nothing else).

Posted by: Caelius Spinator on Monday, 6 June 2005 at 2:19pm BST

Peter wrote:
"Again--I repeat--the majority of Episcopalians in ECUSA want this nonsense to end."

And I should have made it clearer in my last comment that I'm also commenting on the "current unpleasantness" as it pertains to the ECUSA. While everything I've read or personally experienced (living in a "Network" diocese) leads me to the conclusion that the "conservatives" of the AAC/"Network" have a theology that boils down to a thinly veiled Neo-Puritan fundamentalism, they are ultimately motivated by a desire to walk away from the ECUSA *with* property & financial resources which don't belong to them.

Here in the U.S., if they could have left by now with these ill-gotten gains, they would have...

Posted by: Simeon on Monday, 6 June 2005 at 2:37pm BST

Simeon--you're so right. Bob Duncan and his Rebellion remind me of people at my college who use to protest against something out in front of the Administrative Building until 5:00 rolled around and it was time to go to the dining hall for dinner. I'm all for a little revolution now and then; and, I would have more respect for Duncan and his Rebellion if they would do what the Puritans had the integrity to do in Hooker's time: leave unconditionally.

You know, if General Convention 2003 had gone the Rebellion's way, don't doubt for a moment that Duncan wouldn't be hitting us over the head now with abiding by General Convention. It's hard to respect a crowd whose bottom line is imploding the church because they can't get their way at General Convention and resort to theological terrorism.

Classic Anglicanism has served the church well. The good news is that it will continue to serve us well. Duncan's followers will turn on the Little Napoleon eventually and fortunately he will be nothting more than an asterik somewhere in someone's history of the church during this period. Hang in there, mainstream Anglicans! Hooker, Maurice, and Temple are the foundation of Anglicanism--not idolatry of the Bible and not cheap circus antics like Duncan.

Posted by: Peter on Monday, 6 June 2005 at 3:27pm BST

You say: "Mr. Hooker ... accords revelatory status to the Law of Reason, The Law of Nature and Divine Law of which Scripture is a sub category. These are three of the four categories of God’s Second Eternal Law."

Evidently, Reason and Natural Law are therefore supposed to condition or qualify (or revise?) the "flat" teachings of Scripture (e.g., condemnations and prohibitions of sex outside of monogamous heterosexual marriage). But Reason and Natural Law just don't have that much to offer here--partly because the Scripture interpretation problems aren't that tricky. Although one can profit well from studying the teaching of Genesis 1 and 2 on the subject of human sexuality, this Scripture doesn't offer insights that are remarkable or counter-intuitive. Everyone knows what sex is for and how the human genders were engineered. Genesis just tells us the obvious--He made them male and female and said multiply. The explicit and unmistakable prohibitions and condemnation of homosexuality that follow in the Scriptures are in accord with this obvious generality; and what is needed is not help in interpreting them, but help in avoiding or undoing them.

Therefore, in the current controversy, if Reason or Natural Law are to offer much nuance, it will presumably have to be in correction of this flat and obvious teaching that is immediately known to every child who knows about the Birds and the Bees. But they don't add much:

As for Natural Law? I thought Natural Law is supposed to be something we can deduce from Nature, from the way that things self-evidently are. But the easiest Natural Law argument to make about sex is that sex is for a man and a woman to make babies and raise a family. Only the most elaborate and controversial arguments can purport to make Natural Law favor acts that have always been characterized as "against Nature". The conventional characterizations could be wrong, of course, but the long-standing universality of those perceptions of Natural Law would prove pretty impressively that, whatever can be posited to favor homosexuality, it is NOT "Natural Law". People long thought it self-evident that homosexuality is wrong; if in fact they thought incorrectly and homosexuality is right, then this will have to be proved by something other than supposed self-evident-ness, which for so many millennia has done homosexuality such poor service.

As for Reason? What is needed in order to justify an abandonment of the simple, flat view is not Reason but the Passions (whether homosexual desire, or else sympathy for those with same-sex desires). Genuinely rational arguments--examining health, hygiene, reproduction, and the like--would seem to coincide with the flat, literal Scriptural interpretations; or, if there are also persuasive rational counter-arguments, the resulting equipoise makes Reason unhelpful. This is why arguments in favor of homosexuality tend to wander from the rational and to feature prominently a telling of people's "stories". I.e., our view should be conditioned by what makes people feel happy--i.e., Passion?--not by what can be logically argued.

Is anyone suggesting that Hooker, by consulting Reason and Natural Law, had a revised, enlightened view that approved of homosexual acts? I didn't think so.

Posted by: DGus on Monday, 6 June 2005 at 7:04pm BST

I know the law varies hugely from place to place.
But it always mystifies me when people speak of congregations running off with property, somehow taking it away from its rightful owner.

One could argue that it all belongs to God I know.

But, apart from the legal argument which may or may not be an ass, morally who has more ownership claim on a property?
The faithful folk who have sacrificially skimped and saved and funded it in the first place and then paid to maintain it over the years, sometimes many hundreds of years?
Or some abstract organisation 'over there', otherwise known as the Diocese or the Denomination?

Posted by: Neil on Monday, 6 June 2005 at 7:21pm BST

"Hang in there, mainstream Anglicans! Hooker, Maurice, and Temple are the foundation of Anglicanism--not idolatry of the Bible and not cheap circus antics like Duncan."

We're hang'n just FINE south-of-the-border(s) but thanks for thinking of US...may God bless ANGLICANS everywhere with MORE brotherly/sisterly love, acceptance,inclusivity and SANITY!

Posted by: Leonardo Ricardo on Monday, 6 June 2005 at 10:05pm BST

I am entertained by the use of the term Rebellion. It reminds me of the Emperor in Star Wars telling Luke Skywalker he will "crush your insignificant rebellion", except this time it's the General Convention instead of the Death Star which seems to be accorded ultimate power.

More to the point, I fail to see how it is rebellious to adhere to the historic teaching of the church. Personally I support the ordination of women but I don't think that those who oppose it are rebellious. Far from it. They are seeking to be faithful to what they believe is the authentic teaching of true Christianity.

I am also staggered by the ignorance people seem to have about Richard Hooker. He really was not a via media in the twenty first century liberal sense folks. You should try reading some of what he actually wrote before you make him the ultimate criterion of authentic Anglicanism. I have enormous respect for him but unless you also believe in the establishment of the Anglican church, the execution of Separatists (well maybe some of you would support that given your prejudiced bigotry against Bob Duncan) and the ultimate authority of the monarch in ecclesial governance I suggest you revise your ignorant adulation for him as the founder of Anglicanism.

Furthermore comments above seem to forget the authority Hooker accorded Scripture in all matters of moral conduct. His subtle and nuanced doctrine of the things indifferent is not a blanket approbation of the authority of the church to make its mind up as it likes on most issues but rather for the freedom of the church on those matters where Scripture is descriptive rather than prescriptive. So episcopacy is not necessary but merely one legitimate form of church government. On the other hand, certain moral standards of behaviour are non-negotiable. It is only when Scripture is silent that the church has licence to make up its own mind.

Further, Hooker was not a voice for the church moving with the times but rather the arch-proponent of the ecclesiastical status quo.

Go read what the poor man says before you claim him for your team.

Posted by: Sean Doherty on Monday, 6 June 2005 at 10:06pm BST

P.S. Please could someone explain to me why the church building are the property of the diocese and not the parish. (This is not a polemical question, I am genuinely unsure of the reasoning behind this.)

Posted by: Sean Doherty on Monday, 6 June 2005 at 11:10pm BST

Because we're Episcopalians, not Congregationalists? (not to be glib---and I speak only from a U.S. context, of course)

When I read this essay a couple of days ago, I thought: will the opposition say 1) "Who gives a fig about Hooker?" or 2) "You don't know Hooker, like I know Hooker!"

Interesting to see we have some of each [However, re: the latter---it's just strange to me, that I've never heard Hooker cited previously, *in favor of* a more authoritarian view of Scripture (and literal/systematically-prejudicial readings thereof) in determining the Mind of the Church]

This is a good debate, though. May conversation continue!

Posted by: J. C. Fisher on Tuesday, 7 June 2005 at 8:22am BST

DGus,
An observation regarding natural law being that which we can deduce from nature....it has long been known, and usually suppressed, that homosexuality it found throughout nature in all species. It is also known that while there are 2 sexes, based on the size of gametes, there are often more than one gender in each sex. Usually the different genders have a different size or markings but not always. It would be helpful in Humanity if those of homosexual gender had something other than their internal awareness to distinguish them. Lavender Skin maybe.

Scripture is precious for the message of God's eternal love seeking us out, but we demean it if we try to make it respond to questions it wasn't designed to answer.

Posted by: Bob Webster on Tuesday, 7 June 2005 at 6:19pm BST

Neil asks, "But, apart from the legal argument which may or may not be an ass, morally who has more ownership claim on a property?
The faithful folk who have sacrificially skimped and saved and funded it in the first place and then paid to maintain it over the years, sometimes many hundreds of years?
Or some abstract organisation 'over there', otherwise known as the Diocese or the Denomination? "

You speak as though the faithful folks who gave for 100s of years are the same folks who are now trying to leave the church. The people who gave their money and time over the years didn't give it primarily to support whatever party happens to have a voting majority at a given time in the future; they gave it to support the ministry of the Episcopal church through a particular parish. The question of whether they would have agreed with this or that action of the church is beside the point (just as it would be beside the point if I were to leave an inheritance to a child who suddenly did something I would have disagreed with if I were alive to have an opinion on the matter.)

Posted by: Mark on Tuesday, 7 June 2005 at 7:03pm BST

I am intrigued by the suggestion that homosexuality is a gender. Does that mean that God made four genders? Or did he make a fifth and sixth (male and female bisexuality) or did he make an infinite number, reflecting the graduated spectrum of sexual desires? And how are we to square this with the biblical witness (which is not just about a few minor proof texts about sexual practices but about the way it seems to teach God made male and female rather than several other genders)?

Somehow the idea that he made two genders and that sexual desire is intrinsically disordered because of human falleness seems to make more sense all of a sudden.

And even if the essentialist argument is correct, it still proves nothing about the morality of any given sexual activity, since it is not at all clear that natural desire leads to a right to physical expression.

Posted by: Sean Doherty on Tuesday, 7 June 2005 at 10:50pm BST

Even if I accepted Mark's point, I still wonder how a Diocese or a denomination can have * more * of a "right" to the property than the local people? And that is the implication of those who keep accusing congregations of stealing the property or hijacking it or the like from the allegedly rightful owner, the Diocese or the Denomination.

If the funds were given to preserve the proclamation of the gospel in a particular place last year or last century, there is something quite immoral about an outside entity who holds to a different gospel trying to distort the use to which the legacy is put whether one year later or a hundred years later.

Posted by: Neil on Tuesday, 7 June 2005 at 11:52pm BST

Neil says, "If the funds were given to preserve the proclamation of the gospel in a particular place last year or last century, there is something quite immoral about an outside entity who holds to a different gospel trying to distort the use to which the legacy is put whether one year later or a hundred years later."

Ah, well, of course the problem lies in the phrase "a different gospel" -- you and I might disagree about that. And, since we're talking about hundreds of years of parish support here, many of the people who founded and supported some of these parishes are doubtless rolling in their graves already over the scandal of the Episcopal church being in favor of abolition of the slaves.

I'm not denying that many of the historic benefactors would be disturbed by the state of the church -- though I have to say my grandmother, who came from one of these grand old episcopal-benefactoring families, would have been more disturbed by the fact that people don't dress up for church anymore than about Gene Robinson. But, as long as you're polling the dead, don't forget to ask them how they feel about their parish becoming part of the church of Uganda.

Posted by: Mark on Wednesday, 8 June 2005 at 12:50am BST

Of course we could argue from now until the Second Coming about "right & wrong" WRT who "should" own the property. But that's really beside the point.

The point is that it's a purely legal issue, and the Diocese as trustee for the ECUSA wins.

I'm also dumbstruck that, apparently, there are clergy and vestry who have somehow come to those positions w/o any knowledge of ECUSA canon law. Did the future clergy sleep through those classes at seminary or what ? ;)

I actually see this issue as ultimate proof that there's more than a tad bit of hypocrisy in the "orthodox" movement. If they *really* thought TEC was an apostate church, they'd have done the "right" thing and left w/o second thought to property.

Come on folks, you knew what you were getting into when you signed up and (if clergy) pledged your ordination vows. Leave or stay, but be honest with us and yourselves.

Posted by: Simeon on Wednesday, 8 June 2005 at 2:21am BST

Dear Bob Webster: Hello. Nice to meet you.

You say, "It is also known that while there are 2 sexes, ... there are often more than one gender in each sex." Your passive voice obscures who does this supposed knowing. I don't know this. Genesis says that God made them male and female. So we have revealed truth on the point.

Or maybe this is an instance in which you say that I'm "try[ing] to make [Scripture] respond to questions it wasn't designed to answer"? I don't think so. The complementarity of the (two) human sexes is THE point of the quaint story in Genesis 2. (Adam names all the animals; none is found a suitable mate; God makes Eve; "this now bone of my bone", etc.) It's as plain as one of Kipling's "Just So Stories". I think we just read it and it tells the story and makes the point.

(I wonder what question you'd say Leviticus 18:22 WAS designed to answer.)

In my opinion you are quite right that "Scripture is precious for the message of God's eternal love seeking us out", but how do I really know if it was designed to answer THAT question? Maybe you and I are just reading our own father-need or lover-need or security-need into the text. Maybe we're making selected Scriptures respond to questions about God that they weren't really designed to answer. After all, there's also a lot in there about God being jealous, and wrathful, and "angry at the wicked every day"; so maybe we're hijacking our selective love-oriented texts to make a point that's not really there.

Don't think so? Me neither. The Bible means what it says, and you can rely on it: God DOES seek us out with an everlasting love, and He does insist that we be sexually pure. And it doesn't demean the Scripture to take it at face value. I'd say, instead, that it demeans the Scripture to insist that it doesn't mean what it says.

Posted by: DGus on Wednesday, 8 June 2005 at 4:16am BST

Thank you for the reminder Simeon that what holds the church together is canon law. I had naively thought it might be something like the 39 articles and ultimately the Bible.

I'm sure those who are ordained went to college to learn all about Canon Law. Again, naively I thought (hoped) college was about being trained to pastor and teach God's Word.

And thanks too for the reminder that the letter of the law is what matters, not the spirit of it, or the morality of it.

Your post reminds me that the orthodox have no need to leave - because the apostates have already left.

Posted by: Neil on Wednesday, 8 June 2005 at 3:25pm BST

Tut-tut, Neil. These have been the rules concerning property in the Church of England and her Daughter Churches (to use that very old-fashioned expression) for a very long time now. They have been the rules of the Roman Catholic Church for an even longer time. You can say that the rules don't seem right to you, so they can't really be the rules. There is a word for that: immaturity. You can also say that the rules aren't giving you what you want, so you are going to ignore them and do what you want anyway. There is a word for that, too: cheating. I don't think you mean to endorse either.

Posted by: Charlotte on Wednesday, 8 June 2005 at 5:15pm BST

"These have been the rules concerning property in the Church of England..."

My first post in this thread acknowledged that the law varies hugely from place to place. It is not actually so that the Diocese owns parish property in the Church of England, not at all. Neither morally nor legally.

"You can say that the rules don't seem right to you, so they can't really be the rules. There is a word for that: immaturity."

So Jesus was immature when he said the Pharasees laws were immoral?

"You can also say that the rules aren't giving you what you want, so you are going to ignore them and do what you want anyway. There is a word for that, too: cheating."

We've certainly come a long way if we're saying a church law - a * church * law - is unjust or immoral but challenging it is cheating!

Posted by: Neil on Wednesday, 8 June 2005 at 9:57pm BST

Neil, your arguments are in need of repair. Here are some suggestions:

I wrote:
"You can say that the rules don't seem right to you, so they can't really be the rules. There is a word for that: immaturity."

You replied:
"So Jesus was immature when he said the Pharasees laws were immoral?"

Neil, here you are trying to make an argument from analogy. To make this argument successfully, you need to show that the canon laws governing property and the Pharisees' regulations governing (let us say) tithes or labor on the Sabbath are similar in crucial and relevant respects, and that the similarities outweigh the differences between them. Absent that, it is a false analogy and and irrelevant argument.

You also wrote:
"We've certainly come a long way if we're saying a church law - a * church * law - is unjust or immoral but challenging it is cheating!"

We aren't all saying that the property canons are unjust or immoral, although you yourself do believe they are. It is not clear to me why you believe they are immoral, apart from the fact that they seem immoral to you.

But let's assume you are right about the canon laws governing property. Well, there are procedures for changing canon laws. Certainly it is not cheating to attempt to change a law, if the attempt is made within the legal framework that permits such laws to be challenged and changed.

Alternatively, in grave cases, civil disobedience could be used as a form of protest, but the rules of civil disobedience require protesters to accept the legal penalties for their disobedience of the law.

So it isn't at all clear to me what you meant by your last remark. I am assuming, again, that you don't believe each of us, individually, is bound to obey only those laws, rules, and regulations s/he believes are good ones. That is this most extreme (and least sustainable) variant of moral relativism, and I don't think you want to be an extreme moral relativist.

Posted by: Charlotte on Wednesday, 8 June 2005 at 11:50pm BST

Before we start deconstructing every word and every letter of what * I * wrote....

My question and point was quite simple originally.
It hasn't been answered by anyone yet.

What is the moral justification for property being attributed to a Diocese or a denomination, rather than to a congregation who has paid for it - whether a couple of hundred years ago or, equally so, ten years ago? Is it precisely the same people - who knows but does that matter? It is the * purpose * for which the property was acquired/built etc that must be morally significant surely?

The closest we've got to explaining it is that we're episcopalian not congregational - not sure I follow that cos I'm not sure it's a justification just a statement of label.

If no-one can really defend their own sense of outrage at wicked property-grabbing conservatives wanting to keep the property they have paid for and maintained over the years, I really think we should stop using that sort of language....

Posted by: Neil on Thursday, 9 June 2005 at 9:41am BST

Neil, there is an answer to your question, although whether this will meet your expectations for moral justification I don't know.

The reason that Canons of The Episcopal Church specify that the local congregation holds property in trust for the diocese begins with ecclesiology. The ecclesiology of the Church as maintained in the Anglican Communion (I believe I can say that with some confidence) is that the basic unit of the whole Church is the Diocese. The local congregation is the local expression of the Diocese on behalf of the Church; as opposed to seeing the Diocese, and the Church beyond it, as the association of independent congregations. Thus, indeed it is the Church that owns the property, even while it is maintained by the local congregation. This is parallelled in leadership in the church in that the central ordained order in the Church is the Bishop as successor to the Apostles. The traditional duties of Priests and Deacons are those that have been delegated to them over the centuries by the Episcopate. (I'm speaking specifically of the ordained here, and not trying to deny that the laity are the first order of ministry.) Notably, baptism and eucharist are ministries of the bishop, delegated over the centuries to the priests. And as notably, confirmation has not been so delegated in the Anglican tradition, as it may be in Lutheran and some Orthodox churches.

Moreover, it is quite rare for a congregation to begin and grow without support from the Diocese. Most in the early years are dependent on funds from the whole Diocese; so that all congregations arguably have a stake in each individual congregation. The first priest in any place came from somewhere else, encouraged and supported by a bishop, whether a diocesan bishop or a missionary bishop. That bishop was supported faithfully and financially by support from the wider church - in the American setting, either by a diocese or directly by the General Convention. So, any congregation (with one or two very special exceptions) is linked to all congregations in the Church through the diocese. We received the faith handed down through others, others who in the beginning were not of our congregation.

This continues in many instances as individual parish programs are supported by the larger church. For example, buildings are often built with the support of diocesan building funds and loan funds, or with the diocese as guarantor of the loan. Outreach ministries may be supported by national programs (for example, in the American context, Jubilee Ministry funds or United Thank Offering funds). College ministries are often joint projects of an individual parish and a diocesan program. There may be many ways in which the interconnectedness of an individual church with the whole diocese may be visible.

Posted by: Marshall on Thursday, 9 June 2005 at 11:08pm BST

Thanks Marshall. I followed most of that and can certainly see some pragmatic logic there, depending on how the majority of churches were founded in particular places - it is not of course by any means the case that "the Diocese" had a major role in every province.

However
"The ecclesiology of the Church as maintained in the Anglican Communion (I believe I can say that with some confidence) is that the basic unit of the whole Church is the Diocese....."

Well the Anglican Communion is surely all founded on the 39 Articles of Religion?
In which case:
Article 19:
"The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same"
That seems to be squarely at odds with the idea that "the church" is "the Diocese"?

I have heard it argued pretty convincingly that the Head Office of the Anglican Church is the parish according to that article - and that Diocese or denominational offices are simply support functions there to enable and facilitate the advance of the gospel through local parishes.

Also personally I am not sure we want to go down the Apostolic Succession line for Bishops, do we?

Posted by: Neil on Friday, 10 June 2005 at 12:24am BST

Neil, let me make a disclaimer: as a priest in the American church, I am expected to be aware of the Articles of Religion, but they are not in any institutional sense binding. Adherence to them is not stated in the ordination rite, nor required in Canon. They are included in the current Book of Common Prayer (1979)in the section "Historical Documents," and are important in that limited sense.

With that in mind, I have two thoughts from your comment. The first is that Article XIX is addressing a question different from that to which you apply it. The historical context is important. In the Reformation there were those, mostly in the Reformed tradition, who believed that the True Church (the Body of Christ from God's perspective) was made up only of those predestined by God for salvation, and so "invisible." The "visible" church, gathered into congregations, was not the "true" church, because it included both the saved and the damned. Article XIX is in contradiction to that, stating that the Body of Christ is defined by God's ongoing presence, visible in the sacraments.

Moreover, Article XIX speaks of the "Church of Christ," which surely in context means the entire Body of Christ. This is hardly a discussion of institutional structure. Certainly, those who composed the Articles maintained their diocesan structures and bounds. In the Preface to the First Book of Common Prayer, in the next to last paragraph, it is specified that where there are arguments about the practice of worship: "...the parties that so doubt, or diversely take any thing, shall always resort to the Bishop of the Diocese, who by his discretion shall take order for the quieting and appeasing of the same; so that the same order be not contrary to any thing contained in this book." So, it is the Bishop (not the local congregation) who has authority to determine proper application of the Book of Common Prayer, which is approved by the national synod of the church (and not the local congregation).

There are those Christian communities that believe there is no Church beyond the local congregation. One expression of that is to require rebaptism for anyone joining the individual congregation, even though that person come from another congregation in the same tradition.

As for the question of Apostolic Succession: that would be an interesting question for longer discussion. I will say I could have also used the designation "the Historic Episcopate," as accepted in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral (Lambeth Conference of 1888) as essential for Christian Unity.

Posted by: Marshall on Friday, 10 June 2005 at 7:06pm BST

Surely the Articles are simply reflecting what the Bible says: they certainly defer to the Bible (not the Bishop) if there is anything unclear.

"Article XIX is in contradiction to that" (the reformation view of visible and invisible church)

Surely not!

Article 19 is surely talking about a congregation (being the visible church, not the Diocese or the denomination) and defining the prerequisites for that congregation to exist: Word and Sacrament.
Its explicit reference to the visible church is not denying the existence of the wider invisible body of all true believers now and in the past and the future - it must be assuming that existence.

I'm really disappointed to hear you only have to be aware of the Articles. I think you will find that to the rest of the Communion they are foundational.

Since they recognise congregation as the visible church, it seems unwise to me to attach so much more significance instead to a mere modern expression of church known as the Diocese which neither our foundational documents mention - and nor do their ultimate authority (the Scriptures).

Posted by: Neil on Friday, 10 June 2005 at 8:17pm BST

Neil, you're assuming that the writers of the Thirty-Nine Articles meant by "congregation" what you mean by "congregation," and this is not a safe assumption. Keep in mind that the Thirty-Nine Articles were agreed and passed by Parliament in 1563, as part of the Elizabethan Settlement. They were, moreover, a revision of the Forty-Two Articles, Thomas Cranmer's work, which were adopted in the last year of King Edward VI's reign, 1553. I think before you take your argument very much further, you should familiarize yourself with this history. You would be much less inclined to say that "the Articles are simply reflecting what the Bible says."

You might also understand better the force of Marshall's very learned replies to your question. It is not historically possible to believe that Elizabeth I and her bishops held a congregationalist view of church government at the time the Thirty-Nine Articles were adopted. Thus they could not have meant by "congregation" what you think they did, and Article 19 cannot mean what you think it means.

You may be right about the word "diocese": in fact it is not originally a religious term. It was used to signify a territorial division of the Roman empire. The word was adopted by the Christian church to signify a territory under the jurisdiction of a particular bishop.

These comments might return us to our original topic of discussion, Richard Hooker, who defended Anglican church government against the Puritans of his time, who (also) could not find warrant for it in the Bible. Diarmaid MacCulloch summarizes Hooker as follows: "In such matters that did not affect salvation, Hooker's criteria for making decisions became as much the weight of collective past experience and the exercise of God-given reason as the commands of Scripture itself" (_The Reformation_ 490).

_The Reformation_ is a very readable history and might be a good starting point.

Posted by: Charlotte on Saturday, 11 June 2005 at 2:27am BST

Charlotte wrote: "_The Reformation_ is a very readable history and might be a good starting point"

So here we have it: ECUSA loyalists pretending intellectual and legal superiority.. while taking as much as possible away from "conservatives" who won't accept decisions of GC2003 and the House of Bishops --- that are rejected by the majority of Anglicans worldwide, and made despite the appeals of the leaders of the Anglican Communion that they say they want to continue to be a part of.


Here's a story to gladden Charlotte's and Marshall's hearts:

St. Nicholas' Episcopal Church had the highest attendance of any Episcopal church in the diocese in West Texas. Recently, the Episcopal Bishop of Northwest Texas, Wallis Ohl, told the vast majority of the St. Nicholas’ congregation to leave their church property by June 1. They have complied.

“Bishop Ohl’s instruction that we leave our church home hurts deeply, but it’s clear God is calling us to stand up for Biblical values and share Christ’s love in new ways,” [a leader] said. “We are standing with the majority of Christians throughout the world and throughout time.”

St. Nicholas’ leaders told Ohl in March that most of their congregation could no longer tolerate the non-Biblical actions of the Episcopal Church of the United States (ECUSA). For example, ECUSA elected Gene Robinson, a self-declared homosexual living openly in relationship with a male partner, as Bishop of New Hampshire, in 2003. At the same convention, ECUSA also approved the blessing of same sex unions and refused to reaffirm adherence to traditional Christian teachings.

ECUSA has refused to back down, despite pleas from its own leaders and other American Christians, as well as bishops of the international Anglican Communion, of which ECUSA is the American counterpart.

THE CONGREGATION BUILT AND PAID FOR THEIR BUILDING ONLY FOUR YEARS AGO.

Posted by: Dave on Saturday, 11 June 2005 at 2:38pm BST

Charlotte: Hello! You quote someone saying, "Hooker's criteria for making decisions became as much [1] the weight of collective past experience and [2] the exercise of God-given reason as [3] the commands of Scripture itself". Fair enough. Pardon me for essentialy repeating myself (see above), but what light do "collective past experience" and "God-given reason" actually shed on the current controversy? Do they help, where "the commands of Scripture" are rather plain (at least, when read "flatly and literally")? Can they trump the Scripture?

Posted by: DGus on Saturday, 11 June 2005 at 7:47pm BST

Neil said:
"I'm really disappointed to hear you only have to be aware of the Articles. I think you will find that to the rest of the Communion they are foundational."

Resolution #43 of Lambeth 1968 "suggests to the Churches of the Anglican Communion that assent to the Thirty-Nine Artcles be no longer required of ordinands." It goes on to state that the Artcles should only be considered in the full range or their historical content.

Posted by: David on Saturday, 11 June 2005 at 10:25pm BST

Dave, I think there is nothing wrong with knowing something about the history and doctrine of one's own church. It is a historical fact, and quite an important one, that Anglican churches are not, and never have been, organized along congregationalist lines. They are episcopal churches. That is a fact relevant to a good bit of the "current controversy," including the events in West Texas you mention.

DGus, the person I quoted is Diarmaid MacCulloch, who is probably one of the two or three best-respected contemporary historians of the English Church and Reformation. I quoted him merely as a way to get a short and authoritative summary of Hooker's views into my post. (P.S. to Dave: My favorite MacCulloch book is probably his biography of Edward VI, _The Boy King_.)

DGus, it would seem from your post that you reject Hooker's approach, at least as it might be applied to the "current controversy." Fair enough: the Puritans of his day rejected his views also, as applied to their (then-)current controversies.

However, Hooker and his views are central to the Anglican tradition. I could go further and say: central to the formation of the Anglican tradition. We are what we are, as Anglicans, in large part because of Hooker. So I want to ask: Why do you think your approach should be preferred to Hooker's, in the "current controversy"? What strengths does yours have that Hooker's does not?

Posted by: Charlotte on Saturday, 11 June 2005 at 11:53pm BST

Charlotte sez: "DGus, it would seem from your post that you reject Hooker's approach, at least as it might be applied to the "current controversy." Fair enough: the Puritans of his day rejected his views also, as applied to their (then-)current controversies. However, Hooker and his views are central to the Anglican tradition...."

No no no. I am asking: Assuming Hooker's approach (as characterized by MacCulloch) is the correct one, what difference DOES Hooker's approach make? It's fine to say, "The Scriptures that may seem to say X need to be informed by Collective Experience and Reason, and then may be seen to say Y instead", but then one has to show that Collective Experience and Reason (or Natural Law, or whatever) really do inform or correct the flat, literal teaching of Scripture (in a Hooker-ian way). I'm asking whether that really can happen with respect to the current controversies. What do Collective Experience, Reason, or Natural Law (as Hooker meant them) say about homosexuality?

What did Hooker himself ever say about homosexuality?

Posted by: DGus on Sunday, 12 June 2005 at 12:49am BST

Charlotte
You seem intent on defining Anglican by (one not very balanced, interpretational angle on) Hooker. That is most definitely not what Anglican means or what most other Anglicans do.
At the same time, you seem intent upon playing down what most Anglicans do define themselves by: the foundational articles which in themselves attribute their authority to the Scriptures, NOT Hooker I'm afraid.

"...a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered..."
is irrefutably and undeniably a congregation!

That's not to deny the existence of the wider episcope (- in fact rather than question whether the 39 articles equate 'church' to congregation as we know it (no evidence offered that they mean anything else) it'd be much more apt to question whether in NT/early church terms the episcope looked very much like today's Bishops!

Either way, the case is not made that Anglicanism is not congregational - and the case is certainly not made that Hooker or anyone else encourages us to be anti-congregational.

Posted by: Neil on Sunday, 12 June 2005 at 9:42am BST

Hi Charlotte

I have no intention of being distracted into spending huge effort finessing my intellectual arguements when what you are really supporting is the ejection of good Christians from ECUSA. There are plenty of other folk here who can do that better than me, and have done. Plus lots of other documents and discussions avaiilable to anyone who wishes to research the various issues.

But even if we could persuade you that we are right and that ECUSA has erred from the Faith, which I doubt since we are starting from very different assumptions, I expect that you would still find it almost possible to stop acting as if those good Christians were "trying to steal our church and property".

Posted by: Dave on Sunday, 12 June 2005 at 3:50pm BST

DGus, thank you for the clarification of your own position, and for returning the discussion to Hooker. There are other posters to this blog who have addressed your questions, so I will add only this:

There is a difference -- subtle, but I think ultimately quite significant -- between your formulation of Hooker's views and MacCulloch's. In your formulation, Hooker is concerned with ways of determining the meanings of doubtful Scriptural passages. MacCulloch's suggests that Hooker is addressing people who have to decide how Scriptural passages should be applied to a given concrete situation.

I think MacCulloch's way of understanding Hooker is closer to Hooker's own. This is so in part because I'm aware that the Christian Humanist tradition of the Renaissance (in which Hooker was trained) attached great importance to what was called "practical wisdom" in ethics.

Among other things, practical wisdom involved knowing how and when to apply a maxim -- a rule, whether Biblical or not, for action -- to a given concrete situation. From the Christian Humanist point of view, it was less important to understand what the maxim's words meant than to know when, where, and how far to apply it. They were aware that a rule for action correctly applied in one situation could backfire disastrously if applied to another.

In terms of your own argument then: I would say that we all could know what the words of a given Biblical passage meant, without knowing how or when to apply the maxim it contains to our own present-day situations.

To resolve our dilemmas, Hooker recommends we consider "the weight of collective past experience," and use our "God-given reason" -- not in order to determine the meaning of Scriptural passages, but to acquire enough practical wisdom to determine the application of Scripture to the concrete situation at hand.

I advance this interpretation of Hooker under correction, knowing that it differs slightly from Fr. Russell's and knowing that I do not have Fr. Russell's credentials in Hooker scholarship.

Posted by: Charlotte on Sunday, 12 June 2005 at 10:35pm BST

Charlotte: OK, Hooker teaches not only that we use Experience and Reason to inform interpretation of Scripture but (you say) to determine its "application". I can't help thinking this really means using Experience and Reason to correct or supersede or overrule Scripture, but I really just want to understand your position. Let's take as a given that Experience and Reason inform (govern?) the "application" (or non-application) of Scriptural truth. My question--and forgive me for pushing--is: What do Reason and Experience tell us when the subject is homosexuality?

Posted by: DGus on Monday, 13 June 2005 at 4:49am BST

Bob Webster: Hello again. I find my mind returning frequently to your comments about "Natural Law" informing our judgments about the licitness of human homosexuality. You said, "An observation regarding natural law being that which we can deduce from nature....it has long been known ... that homosexuality [is] found throughout nature in all species." Assuming this is true, I'm trying to figure out its significance. It seems you're saying (although maybe I misunderstand) that if a behavior occurs in "nature" (i.e., among animal wildlife) then this supports a "Natural Law" argument that the behavior is licit among humans. Is that the point? If so, then what would we conclude if we determined that other supposedly sinful behaviors were common among animals?--

It's my understanding that incest (both parent-child and sibling-sibling) is common in many species; that having multiple mates in one mating season is common in many species, and that life-time monogamy is practiced by very few animals (e.g., elephants?); that some males eat their young if allowed near them; etc.

Would proof of these animal behaviors support "Natural Law" arguments in favor of such behaviors by humans?

You can probably tell I think the answer is no. In fact, the Apostle Peter condemned false teachers (who, among other things, counsel others to "follow the corrupt desire of the [fallen] sinful nature") precisely because they "are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish." (2 Peter 2:10-12.) That is, the Apostle seems to have assumed that we CRITICIZE human behavior by likening it to the behavior of "brute beasts".

What am I missing?

Posted by: DGus on Monday, 13 June 2005 at 4:03pm BST

My thanks to everyone who has taken time to reply so thoughtfully and energetically to the posting here of a note I wrote for the House of Bishops and Deputies e-mail discussion list. Since they appreciate brevity, I acknowledge that the article may not satisfy those who would like me to be more nuanced and complete. Such is the cost of having to be brief.
To those who don't think I've read enough of Mr. Hooker, I suggest you look on my website at the sample pages from my "Essence Outline" of the "Laws". In it I distill each section, as numbered by Mr. Keble, to its core idea(s). Now I am sure I have not done it perfectly, but I have done it completely. Professor William Haugaard, one of the writer/editors of the Folger edition calls my book a "workable and trustworthy means of entry into the mind of the most significant theologian of the sixteenth century English Reformation."
Would Mr. Hooker have taken a "progressive" view on homosexuality? We can't know, but he surely would have brought his considerable intellect to bear on searching out the foundations of the issue to discern what "kind" of thing 21st century homosexuality might be, as opposed to sixteenth century or thirteenth century BCE.
Mr. Hooker's most frequent complaint about the Puritans was that they regularly misapplied Scripture by failing to understand what "kind" of thing they were talking about, what its "end" was and what were the appropriate laws or means for reaching that end. I would suggest that the Neo-Puritans constantly make the same error in misusing Scripture.
Moreover, he regularly noted that they made convenient "collections" out of scripture to prove their points when other "collections" were also possible. Our Neo-Puritans do the same, attempting to enforce some parts of scripture while ignoring others of equal weight. One quick example can be found by extracting all the sins requiring the death penalty as their consequence. Male homosexuality is listed as we all know, but so are violations of the first seven commandments. Despite those who would make homosexuality a more serious abomination, it does not make it into the Moral Code. When was the last time we put to death, or even villified with the same vituperation as some do of homosexuals, those who disrespect their parents? One cannot lift up Scripture as a sole or primary authority and then ignore parts one doesn't like.
I do think Mr. Hooker would have found the scientific information of the day instructive. That homosexual behavior has been found among some 450 two-gendered species might have given him pause to consider what it meant. Why? Because all those species are involuntary agents driven by their hard wiring. If homsexual behavior occurs among them it is a not a voluntary behavior and therefore not a moral choice. But even if we think the scientific evidence inconclusive Mr. Hooker did believe that in an ambiguous setting the most generous interpretation ought to be honored.
Two final notes. Mr. Hooker's Learned Discourse on Justification is powerful reading and got him called heretic and apostate by the Puritans because he allowed as how Roman Catholics who acknowledged Jesus as Lord and Savior have met the test of the essentials of the faith and would likely receive God's mercy. This infuriated the opposition who condemned Roman Catholics to hell. Mr. Hooker acknowledges he might be wrong, but that he would rather err on the side of God's mercy.
He also gives much weight to the law of equity, which requires that general principles always be examined in their applications to particular circumstances to discern whether or not equity requires the suspension of the general. I would suggest that in the present moment the law of equity applies admirably to Christ confessing gay and lesbian people who want to live in committed relationships.
And if I am wrong, I will, like Mr. Hooker, rest tonight trusting in God's mercy.

Posted by: Michael Russell on Tuesday, 14 June 2005 at 3:42pm BST

DGus asks: "What do Reason and Experience tell us when the subject is homosexuality?"

Answer: Plenty! (That was a rhetorical question, DGus, wasn't it?)

But to give you a more serious answer: Here you have the reason the Windsor Report and the 1998 Lambeth documents commit all of us in the Churches to "listening to the experience of homosexual persons." No individual demonstrations of logic or hermeneutics applied to the sacred texts, no matter how cleverly done, can substitute for this process of listening to one another's experiences.

Posted by: Charlotte on Tuesday, 14 June 2005 at 6:10pm BST

I hope it's not impolite to say that, in my opinion, this reflects very sloppy reasoning. You say that authentic Anglican analysis, per Hooker, requires that we condition the application of Scriptural commands by appeals to "Collective Experience" and "Reason"; but then when push comes to shove, all you invoke to set aside the Scriptural commands is "the experience of homosexual persons"--i.e., the subjective feelings of persons inclined to live counter to those commands.

Homosexually oriented persons experience in their own context what we ALL experience one way or another--i.e., "the good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do" (Romans 7:19). What they want (in this respect) contradicts what they ought. It's a terrible struggle. I have enormous sympathy and empathy for them, and solidarity with them in this very human dilemma. When they want me to listen for the purpose of helping and healing and praying and grieving, I'm there. But if they want "listening" for the purpose of enlisting acquiesence to their attempt to carve pity-based exceptions out of the moral structure that gives us life and coherence and union with God and His will, then charity and truth forbid me to give them what they hope for.

We don't call it "mortification" for nothing. But it beats Hell all to pieces.

I'll have to learn more about Hooker, but something tells me that he did NOT actually say that Scriptural commands might not apply in the case of people who really, strongly, genuinely, congenitally, and authentically feel that they want to disobey them, that they ought to disobey them, and that they must disobey them. In fact I'm pretty sure it was NOT Hooker but Debbie Boone who sang, "It can't be wrong / if it feels so right" (in that non-Anglican standard, "You Light Up My Life"); but I really think that the actual principle in play is nothing more than that.

Isn't it time for all the revisionists to come clean, as Michael Hopkins finally has?-- He says he was once asked, "'Do you have the agenda of overturning centuries of Christian teaching about homosexuality, what the Bible says about homosexuals?' ... I said something wonderfully nuanced. I should have simply said, 'Absolutely.' The Bible and the Church have both been wrong."

http://www.oasiscalifornia.org/evensong_sermon.html

This homosexualist agenda is not in continuity with traditional Anglicanism (per Hooker or anybody else), or with any other form of Christian tradition. It is a radical DIS-continuity, a revolution.

Posted by: DGus on Tuesday, 14 June 2005 at 8:57pm BST

dgus ; I'm absolutely clear that both the Bible and the Church have been wrong, and that Christianity does require revision - liberal Christianity has always started from the premise that revision is needed.

I think what people in this thread are talking about is one's approach, which has led many of us to these conclusions. A conservative, fundamentalist approach will not have that possibility. Which is its problem - it has no flexibility, no ability to respond and be self-critical.

Posted by: Merseymike on Wednesday, 15 June 2005 at 11:49am BST

The type of approach to Scripture that comes from Michael Russell's and Charlotte's readings of Hooker just seems like good exegetical practice to me. It's important to look at what the text meant in its original setting and what needs it may be speaking to in the contemporary church. I don't think this is just true of the handful of texts that apply to the same-sex unions debate, either!

It is the text from Romans that seems to me to be the most significant one. The Corinthians and Timothy passages contain troublesome vocabulary (in one case, I think a hapax) about whose meaning there is legitimate doubt and the Leviticus text is also a problem, both because of its meaning and because of the more general problem of the continuing applicability of the OT law. But the text from Romans 1 seems so clear and self-evident. Unfortunately, I don't think we can rely on it as a "proof". The reason lies in what Paul is doing in the opening of this epistle. His general thrust, as I understand it, is that both Gentiles and Jews need the salvation that comes from Christ. The Gentiles are convicted by their failure to learn from the lessons of nature and creation (natural law), the Jews by their failure to obey the law of Moses (revealed law). Both have sinned and neither can claim a defence by ignorance. Paul's main example is that Gentile sexual behaviour has not just ignored but inverted 'nature' and so dishonoured nature's creator. The problem is, we know a heck of a lot more about 'nature' than Paul did and in light of that knowledge his example looks ill-chosen.

I don't think we should rest a condemnation of life-long, monogamous unions between Christians of the same sex on a handful of ambiguous passages and a text whose reasoning is based on impaired knowledge of 'nature'.

Paul himself wrote (in 2 Timothy) that all Scripture was inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. The most important indication of what he meant by that may be found, it seems to me, in the simple, literal meaning of the words he used: the word we translate as inspired by God means, literally, in-spirited by God, that God has breathed his Spirit into the Bible.

If this means anything at all and is not just some flowerly or rhetorical flourish, it must mean that God has made the Bible an instrument of grace, a way through which, like the sacraments, he reveals himself to humankind. But in the process the scriptures remain what they started off as, the product of fallible human beings at a particular point in their history and (more importantly) in their understanding of God. Just as the bread and wine of the Eucharist remain bread and wine while becoming the body and blood of Christ, so the scriptures become inspired books capable of revealing God's self to God's people without ceasing to be the work of human authors.

So I find nothing offensive to the concept of inspiration in the idea that Paul or another Biblical author can have been wrong about something. In the case of the passage from Rom 1, it seems clear to me that Paul's general argument, that the Gentiles had failed to recognise and serve the creator of nature even though they had that nature around them, is strong enough to stand without that particular example. So I think the main force of Rom 1 is preserved.

And I think that another implication of the 2 Timothy passage is that the Scripture, like the Sabbath, is made for man and not man for the Scripture. We have to take pastoral needs and pastoral experience into account in our application of the Bible to our life as a worshipping community, and it seems to me that the on-going guidance of the Holy Spirit is important, not to say essential, in our doing so properly.

So it seems to me that the Windsor Report is dead-on when it calls for more listening, because I think more listening is going to make for better readings of the Bible and better church decisions. Certainly my own experiences have informed my reading of the Bible, inevitably.

Posted by: Dr Abigail Ann Young on Wednesday, 15 June 2005 at 2:14pm BST

Dear Bob Webster: Your June 10 post on the "Inclusive Church" thread seems to fit in here. Broadly, my subsequent posts here have (I think) responded to what you said there.

Those interested in this discussion should read Bob's post over there. --David

Posted by: DGus on Wednesday, 15 June 2005 at 2:47pm BST

Dr. Young: You oppose "a condemnation of life-long, monogamous unions between Christians of the same sex". May I ask a few questions?--

1. In order to be acceptable, must same sex unions be "life-long", or may they be shorter term? If short-term is OK, what characteristics distinguish the permissible short-term union from the impermissible?

2. In order to be acceptable, must same sex unions be "monogamous", or may they admit dalliances, three-somes, or whatever? If these other extra-monogamous sexual acts by members of same-sex couples may be OK, what distinguishes the OK ones from the wrong ones?

3. What are the permissible grounds (if any) justifying a "divorce" of a same-sex couple in a life-long monogamous union?

4. Your statement refers to a union of "Christians of the same sex". Does that mean you would disapprove of a Christian uniting with a non-Christian of the same sex?

5. Can we sensibly import Jesus' condemnation of "lust" (Matthew 5:28) into the homosexual life-style? That is, is the homosexual partner morally bound to focus his sexual imagination on this one partner? Or, rather, is pornography OK for homosexuals, since it's part of their culture?

6. Can we be confident that your exegetical and logical methods employing "Scripure, Collective Experience, Reason, and Natural Law" to vindicate homosexuality can't validly apply to permit other traditionally prohibited sexual behaviors--such as consensual adult incest, plural marriage, "open marriage", bondage and sado-masochism, even bestiality--or are all of these potentially fair game?

These are not at all rhetorical questions, but I want to confess that I am alert to (maybe even crouching ready to pounce at, alas, so lacking am I in charity) any sign that your answers require an uncritical application of the "flat and literal" Scriptural commands but with homosexuality simply erased out of them. Of course, that wouldn't make any sense.

You don't seem like the sort of person who would scoff and dismiss the questions without answering. But just in case, please let me urge that those who argue for a dismissal of one of the traditional rules must be able to demonstrate that they do offer a coherent ethic in place of (or in correction of) the old one--or must confess that there are no rules any more.

Those who teach the licitness of homosexual unions thereby take on the pastoral duty of instructing people about how to live in the Brave New World they have made. I would genuinely appreciate hearing (in the particulars I have raised) what that instruction would be.

I.e., I'm listening. --David

Posted by: DGus on Wednesday, 15 June 2005 at 3:40pm BST

David,

I will try to answer your questions, though I must tell you, in all honesty, that I find it hard to take your protestation that they are non-rhetorical seriously. I think you mean them to be an argument against my position. You give me the impression that I am supposed to react by saying, "Gosh I never thought of that! Guess I must be wrong. How silly of me."

I should also say that I am an historian of exegesis, and I was writing on this issue from that perspective -- I'm not a canonist, and that seems to be the perspective your questions need! The first few questions are ones canon lawyers will need to work out when and if the church decides that same-sex blessings can be offered on theological grounds.

So I want to make some general comments first, one about your questions and one about my own thinking on this issue.

You seem to be posing slippery-slope arguments that appear to be based on the reasoning that homosexual activity is evil and lustful and any argumentation that seems to support or allow it will be used, or can be used, to support any and all forms of sexual activity that are evil and lustful. I want to make clear that I disagree entirely with that underlying reasoning.

My own thinking about this issue has been largely formed by two factors, first, my own experience and second, an Episcopal Church document in the mid-seventies, a discussion paper that I remember attending a parish study series about when I was a grad student in Michigan at the time. What I distilled, so to speak, from those two factors was a paradigm of love and relationship which Christian marriage was intended to model and which could be held up as a standard to which same-sex couples should conform their relationships as well. The main principle, as I recall (and it was 30 years ago!), was that a Christian couple in marriage should model the sacrificial love that Jesus showed for us and for the church, and that should be the standard applied to same-sex relationships, that is, that the question to be asked in determining whether the church could bless them was whether they modelled this same love.

Now, your questions:

1. In order to be acceptable, must same sex unions be "life-long", or may they be shorter term? If short-term is OK, what characteristics distinguish the permissible short-term union from the impermissible?

It seems to me that Christian marriage should be used as an analogy here -- if the church is going to consider blessing a same-sex union, I think the partners should have the same intention as the prospective spouses in a marriage of a life-long committment.

2. In order to be acceptable, must same sex unions be "monogamous", or may they admit dalliances, three-somes, or whatever? If these other extra-monogamous sexual acts by members of same-sex couples may be OK, what distinguishes the OK ones from the wrong ones?

In my opinion if the church is going to consider blessing same-sex unions, the intention of the couple should be to live in a faithful, monogamous relationship.

3. What are the permissible grounds (if any) justifying a "divorce" of a same-sex couple in a life-long monogamous union?

Here again, I think we could look to Christian marriage as providing an analogy. If there are grounds for divorce and the remarriage of diviorced persons, I don't see why they could not be applied, mutatis mutandis, to same-sex couples.

4. Your statement refers to a union of "Christians of the same sex". Does that mean you would disapprove of a Christian uniting with a non-Christian of the same sex?

It's true that I have normally envisaged this situation from the p.o.v. of a Christian couple, since it seemed more likely that a Christian couple would be seeking the church's blessing. Here again, I see no reason not to use the marriage canons as a guideline if the church decided to bless same-sex unions. I _think_ it says both parties should be baptised but only one need be an Anglican and I don't see why the same rule couldn't apply to those seeking a blessing for a same-sex union.

5. Can we sensibly import Jesus' condemnation of "lust" (Matthew 5:28) into the homosexual life-style? That is, is the homosexual partner morally bound to focus his sexual imagination on this one partner? Or, rather, is pornography OK for homosexuals, since it's part of their culture?

Pornography is not "part of the culture" of anyone I know that's seeking a same-sex blessing. I am not sure what you think "their culture" is, but the couples I know in my parish are pretty much the same whether they are of the same sex or of opposite sexes, and looking for the same things in their relationships with one another and with God.


6. Can we be confident that your exegetical and logical methods employing "Scripure, Collective Experience, Reason, and Natural Law" to vindicate homosexuality can't validly apply to permit other traditionally prohibited sexual behaviors--such as consensual adult incest, plural marriage, "open marriage", bondage and sado-masochism, even bestiality--or are all of these potentially fair game?

I personally don't see how such activity could be reconciled with the model of sacrificial love in a relationship that reflects Jesus' love for the church. The purpose of exegesis is not to 'vindicate' a particular activity but to illuminate the meaning of the scriptural text, after all.

Abigail

Posted by: Dr Abigail Ann Young on Wednesday, 15 June 2005 at 6:12pm BST

Dr. Young: Thank you so much for your answers to my questions. I'd like to ponder them a while. In the meantime, I've been thinking about an obvious and important difference in our approaches to this issue--viz., our different attitudes toward and uses of the Bible. I'd like to comment on that.

You say, "[T]he scriptures remain ... the product of fallible human beings at a particular point in their history and (more importantly) in their understanding of God.... [T]he scriptures become inspired books capable of revealing God's self to God's people without ceasing to be the work of human authors.... Paul or another Biblical author can have been wrong about something.... [W]e know a heck of a lot more about 'nature' than Paul did and in light of that knowledge his example [of homosexuality, in Romans 1] looks ill-chosen."

That is, the immediate text or message of the Bible is not definitive to you, nor even necessarily reliable; rather, you say God communicates through the Bible in a broad or general fashion by main ideas that we may have to distinguish from its immediate message. You explicate your own view of the Bible by reference to Paul's view of the inspiration of Scripture (about which I'll say more below), but there is a Teacher whose view of the Bible I think we must consider first:

Jesus Himself is the one who said, "The Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35); who said to the Father, "Thy Word is truth"; and who said, "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." (Matthew 5:18. See also Luke 16:17.) Take a look also at Matthew 22:31-32, 43-45, for an instance where He parses the Biblical text very finely. Recall, too, that Jesus scandalized his disciples with his rigorous, Biblically-derived notions of sexual ethics (Matt. 19:1-12): Divorce, He taught, was only allowed (not approved) by way of divine concession, but God's actual will was no divorce--based on His demanding reading (can we say, His "literalistic" reading?) of Genesis 1:27 and 2:24.

The Lord Jesus treated the text of the Scripture as if it is the Word of God, to be received as such in its explicit details. The Christian idea that God is the Author of the words of the Bible therefore originated with Him. The more loosey-goosey view--that the Bible is the Word of God only in its generalities, or that it may become the Word of God as we react to it--is alien to Jesus' own conception.

The Apostles follow Jesus' conception, of course. Peter says that, in the writing of Scripture, "Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." Addressing Paul's related teaching in 2 Timothy 3:16, you say, "[T]he word we translate as inspired by God means, literally, in-spirited by God, that God has breathed his Spirit into the Bible." Not exactly. THEOPNEUSTOS means literally "God-breathed", actually more EXpired than INspired, strictly speaking. Paul teaches thereby that God "breathed" the Scriptures--not that He breathed His Spirit INTO the Scriptures. The latter view (yours) conceives of the Spirit having been put into the book (or into the words) and thereafter being able to influence us when we read the book. That's not a bad conception, but it's a different point from the one Paul actually makes here. Paul depicts the Scriptures as God's words, breathed out by Him.

This view admittedly does not relieve us of the sometimes difficult question of just how directly one can apply to the Church the provisions in the Law of Moses. (Shellfish? Tattoos? Sabbath work? Sodomy?) But in the case of sexual ethics, that question is made easier (or even moot) by other Biblical teaching that precedes, follows, and transcends the Jewish law: God's will about human sexuality is revealed "in the beginning" (in Genesis 1 and 2). Jesus and Paul both quote this teaching as authoritative. (Matthew 19:5; Ephesians 5:31.) At the Jerusalem Council, the Apostles instructed the Gentile converts that they are NOT subject to the Law of Moses, but that they MUST still "abstain from ... fornication" (Greek porneia). (Acts 15:29, 29.) Paul's teaching in Romans 1 and elsewhere makes it clear that the Apostles prohibited homosexual acts.

Respectfully, I think that only the most aggressive and unapologetic pick-and-choose approach to the Bible can read out of it the proposition that sex outside of the marriage of a male and a female is contrary to God's will. --David

Posted by: DGus on Wednesday, 15 June 2005 at 10:51pm BST

I'm glad I read to the bottom of this (lengthy) thread, or I might have missed this:

"Or, rather, is pornography OK for homosexuals, since it's part of their culture?"

This, DGus, is a blatant *smear*, libelous on God's LGBT children. I reprove you in Christian charity, and expect an apology forthwith.

Posted by: J. C. Fisher on Thursday, 16 June 2005 at 7:54am BST

Dear J.C.:

I truly am sorry that I hurt your feelings. I am genuinely pleased that there are pornography-eschewing homosexuals, and I sincerely wouldn't want to add to their burden by seeming to attribute to them a generality that did not apply to them. Although I think their overall ethic is gravely disordered, I do sincerely applaud this very wholesome aspect of it. May their tribe increase, and I would appreciate their forbearance for my broad-brushing.

(I can't tell whether you are an "LGBT" Christian, or whether it was on behalf of others than yourself that you invited an apology. If I therefore get my yous or my theys wrong here, please excuse me.)

In attempted mitigation of my offense (and, admittedly, in the self-defense to which I perhaps too quickly tend), let me offer these clarifications:

1. I wasn't speaking of a Christian (sub-) culture of homosexuals, so if Christians felt singled out, that wasn't my intention,

2. I didn't even mean to affirmatively assert that pornography is a part of the homosexual culture (though I see it would seem that way) but instead to ask whether this is an argument we should expect to hear eventually in the ongoing dialogue.

3. It is, in fact, not my invention but an argument that I have read from homosexuals (as I recall it, from non-Christian homosexuals) who were deliberately resisting the domestication of their sexuality into some pallid parody of bourgeois Ozzie and Harriet life. I do not assume that all homosexuals (nor Christian homosexuals) would necessarily make the same argument, but I am listening.

4. You must know that, from a traditional perspective, you are straining at a gnat (pornography) and swallowing a camel (sodomy). I say this not at all to discourage anyone's resistance of pornographic lust but to help you understand why some will not think to be careful to vindicate this distinction.

Sorry for another "lengthy" thread, but may I say a little more? I am pleased that you are so zealous against pornography as to perceive it as a sin and to treat the allegation of it as a libel. That is your view, right? I ask, because when I put forward this anti-pornography view, I am often met with the suggestion that this is prudery, that fantasy is a legitimate element of sexuality, that my view reflects abhorrence of sex or beauty or whatever. But we're agreed pornography is a sin. Right? I think I know how I would articulate the reasons for this; how would you articulate them?

I would like to know more about this Christian homosexual category that is being defended here--who affirm only life-long, monogamous unions constituted by fidelity; who try to remain celibate unless and until they find such unions and who remain faithful when they do; who eschew pornography, promiscuity, divorce. If you could recommend a website or a blog that reflects this mindset, I would be interested.

I'd like to ask about one other aspect of your post. You refer to "LGBT" Christians, and I'd like to ask about the "B", i.e., bisexual. What is that? Of course I understand it's a category of people who are said to be attracted to both sexes, but it's perplexing in our current discussion:

+ Are they monogamous? In what sense, then, are they BI-sexual? Wouldn't "monogamous bisexual" be an oxymoron?

+ Are bisexuals people who, because they are attracted to both sexes, are able to choose which one they will have sex with? (It's obviously very controversial to suggest that people have a choice about their sexuality.)

+ Some people resist the overt teaching of Romans 1 that homosexuality per se is wrong, and instead extract from it a broader principle that it would be a sin to violate ONE'S OWN personal nature, by acts that are contrary to one's own nature. (I.e., for someone born a heterosexual, homosexual acts would be unnatural and therefore sinful; but for someone born a homosexual, heterosexual acts would be unnatural and therefore sinful.) Where does the "bi-sexual" fit into this grid?

Thanks again for your forbearance. --David

Posted by: DGus on Thursday, 16 June 2005 at 1:49pm BST

DGus wrote: "Wouldn't "monogamous bisexual" be an oxymoron?"

No. There are plenty of monogamous bisexuals and the suggestion that bisexuals must be promiscuous is either ignorant or offensive.

DGus wrote: "Are bisexuals people who, because they are attracted to both sexes, are able to choose which one they will have sex with?"

I assume you are talking about bisexuals who have sex only in the context of loving relationships - which would be the Christian ideal. Bisexuals can no more choose who they fall in love with than anyone else. Monogamous Christian bisexuals are sexually faithful and fulfilled with the partner they love, and do not choose the sex of that partner.

I am assuming that your questions are genuine and that you are not a troll. I hope that is right. Indeed, you might be bisexual yourself, since you have fallen in love with a woman after experiencing same sex attraction. Have you considered that possibility? If you are bisexual, do not assume that all those who experience same sex attraction are also bisexual and might also find themselves falling in love with a person of the opposite sex.

Posted by: Jak on Thursday, 16 June 2005 at 4:41pm BST

Dear Jak: Hello. Thank you for hoping and even assuming that I am not a "troll". I'm not sure what that is, but it doesn't sound good.

In answer to your question, no, I haven't really considered the possibility that I might be bisexual. Until now. Hmmmm. I'm not aware of ever having had same-sex attractions, so either I'm NOT a bisexual or homosexual, or else I have deeply sublimated it and am engaged in some elaborate coping with subterranean self-loathing. On the surface, however, I'm reasonably happy and only mildly neurotic.

The offense you take (or flirt with taking) at my question may arise from very different perspectives on "sexual identity". You posit a category to which I suppose I object--i.e., a "bisexual" who hasn't actually engaged in sex with both sexes; he just feels some inclination to do it or some openness to the idea. You thus categorize someone by what he wants (or might want), even if he doesn't do it. By that way of thinking, I would have to confess myself an adulterer and a murderer since, truth be told, I recognize desires in myself from time to time that might tend in those directions. However, by God's grace (and, probably, lack of effective opportunities) I haven't acually committed these acts. I therefore do NOT call myself an adulterer or a murderer, and I don't think anyone else should call me that either.

Likewise, someone who feels an inclination to sexual acts that would be sinful but who hasn't acted on those feelings shouldn't be labeled as if he had. Such a label would violate justice, charity, AND truth. Since I believe homosexual acts to be sinful, I am loathe to label someone that way. On reflection, I'm even reluctant to label someone with such a label even if he DOES engage in the behavior:

Our sins, however deeply they reach into our natures (and they do reach VERY deeply), are in fact alien to our true selves. My pettiness, my lack of love, my materialism, my lust do NOT define who I am. They are excrescences. By virtue of Jesus' saving work, they will someday be removed. The process of that removal--sanctification--is now underway. If someone convicted of serial murder were to say to me, "I'm a murderer; that's just who I am", I would not agree with him. It's the Devil who wants to make that label permanently adhesive; I'm committed to denying it.

Since you consider homosexual acts to be licit, you don't see that principle properly applied in this context, of course, and you may very much dislike my way of thinking and talking about it. But that dislike arises from the simple fact that I believe homosexual acts to be sinful. Unless you mean to characterize that belief as impermissible, you have to allow me to decline to label people by reference to these orientations.

--David

P.S. I also probably disagree with your idea that no one "choose[s] who they fall in love with". I'm thinking now NOT of choosing homo- vs. heterosexuality, but of involving the will in a decision to "fall in love" or not. And we might disagree about the very idea of "falling in love". But maybe that's best left to another day.

Posted by: DGus on Thursday, 16 June 2005 at 7:18pm BST

David, Your comments are interesting, although I do think that you are unfairly dismissive of my views (as you have understoood them) when you say that "the immediate text or message of the Bible is not definitive to you, nor even necessarily reliable; rather, you say God communicates through the Bible in a broad or general fashion by main ideas that we may have to distinguish from its immediate message". That is not in fact what I said (or at least, not what I meant); your excerption of my remarks may have been less clear than the fuller version.

In any case, I am, obviously, not wedded to a modern literalist reading of the Bible. But that is not the same thing as saying that I think that "the immediate text or message of the Bible is not definitive ... nor even necessarily reliable". I think the Bible is not simple nor easy to understand and that what may appear to a modern reader to be its immediate text or message is not always in fact what the text meant in its original context to its original audience. Further I think that what the text meant in its original context to its original audience is not always in fact what its application to the life of the modern church should be. I think we need to bring to bear considerable resources of linguistics, history, and archaeology (among others) to discover both what the original meaning was and what the modern application should be.

In working this out in practice, for instance, in the Bible Study I have been leading for the last nearly 20 years, or on those rare occasions that I as a layman get to preach, I take comfort from certain Biblical texts: 2 Tim 3.16, as I mentioned in my last posting (and I don't understand by the by why you think that the theopneustos must imply breathing out rather than breathing into), Lk 24.25-7; Hebrews 13.8. I think all of them work against modern literalism, which I think is in danger of making an idol out of scripture.

I think we are beginning to get sorely off the topic here, which I take to be Hooker and the classical Anglican "take" on the authority of Scripture. I brought up my views on exegesis, which are largely formed by historical study of a much earlier period, because I think the type of exegesis they represent is in the same tradition. I don't think you and I are ever going to agree about that!

AAY

Posted by: Dr Abigail Ann Young on Thursday, 16 June 2005 at 7:51pm BST

Dr. Young,

Thanks for your further comments on Biblical exegesis. I think I've already said more than my share on that subject, and I'll give you the last word.

And thank you again for answering my 6 questions, even if we have veered a bit from Hooker. Have I completely exhausted your patience? or can I address your answers? I assure you that the questions were not rhetorical; I really did want the answers. Of course, you are absolutely right that I think the very questions make a point of sorts, and that the answers are likely to be difficult and problematic for someone advancing your position. And I do indeed think that your answers, which I appreciate, are nonetheless very problematic.

Sensibly anticipating my reactions, you stated, "You seem to be posing slippery-slope arguments that appear to be based on the reasoning that homosexual activity is evil and lustful and any argumentation that seems to support or allow it will be used, or can be used, to support any and all forms of sexual activity that are evil and lustful. I want to make clear that I disagree entirely with that underlying reasoning." I hear you, but I see no indication that your arguments are NOT immediately useful to perversions that you and I both find odious.

I naturally join you in affirming the principle that "a Christian couple in marriage should model the sacrificial love that Jesus showed for us and for the church", but I propose that your arguments about sexuality fatally undermine any serious underpinnings of this position, making the position thereafter valid only for people who happen, for whatever reasons, to share your (mere) sentiments. A well-catechized traditional Christian who is asked to defend this principle by something other than sentiment will almost inevitably turn first to Ephesians 5:21-33. But haven't revisionists undone any possible reliance on such proof-texting?-- The literal meaning of the text may be unhelpful or even incorrect; this particular text comes from Paul the homophobe and anti-misogynist; and Paul's argument here explicitly relies on the same outmoded, Genesis-based anthropology that prior posts in this thread have set aside.

Moreover--and more important--the ideal of sex as confined to monogamous marriage (or even the lesser ideal of sex as simply best expressed in monogamous marriage) is susceptible to a much more radical critique. Aren't there professing Christians, maybe even some on this site, who would reason--

+ that the Bible presumes an economy consisting entirely of subsistence agriculture, in which connection to land is essential to survival but ownership thereof is possible only for males, and in which the survival of a woman therefore requires an enduring alliance with a male?

+ that the Bible presumes that a woman is unable to bear and rear children alone and therefore requires (male) support especially during child-bearing and -rearing years?

+ that the Bible presumes that paternity is unprovable, so that a woman's having multiple sex partners involves confusion and risk of fatherlessness for her children?

+ that the Bible presumes that contraception is impossible, so that sex always means babies?

+ And that we, on the other hand, live in a post-Biblical world in which contraception makes sex primarily recreational (and procreational only if people want it that way), paternity can always be confirmed with DNA tests, and women can often support themselves and their children in a variety of arrangements?

Before too long, you can reason your way to the conclusion that the supposed principles underlying the Biblical norm of sex within monogamous life-long marriage don't apply any more. Think about it long enough, and even the suggestion that "love" is a prerequisite to licit sex seems rather antiquated. Why shouldn't people just make each other feel good? Why should sexual pleasure be confined to those who are called to committed partnership, and refused to those who are disposed to single-ness?

With respect, your reasoning gives no answer to this critique. Instead, your answer to my first five questions (about rules for people in same-sex unions) is a simple invocation of the analogy of current marriage rules. I consider this naive (unless you're simply being disingenuous?). By what reasoning would we tell a homosexual couple that they must be monogamous. Because that's what married folk do? Because that's what the Bible says? How quaint.

When I asked about the implications of your position for troublesome issues like consensual adult incest, plural marriage, "open marriage", bondage and sado-masochism, and bestiality, your answer was extremely unsatisfying to me--and I can't help thinking it must have been to you, too. I don't mean just that I disagreed with it; rather, it had virtually no content. You said: "I personally don't see how such activity could be reconciled with the model of sacrificial love in a relationship that reflects Jesus' love for the church." What you or I can "personally see" is no answer at all. The two obvious responses are:

1. "Who are you to say that our relationship/activity doesn't reflect Jesus' love for the Church? Our consanguineous passion [or fill in other perversion here] is a reflection of our authentically felt love; the Spirit put this love in us; we didn't choose who we fell in love with; we feel close to God when we [insert activity here];" etc. Or,

2. "Who are you to say that sex has to reflect Jesus' love for the Church? That's some monkish neurosis that has to make sex spooky and sacred before it can be enjoyed. Well, forget that. Nature issued us the equipment, and instinct tells us how to employ it to maximum effect." Etc.

Maybe you satisfy yourself by dismissing this as a "slippery slope argument". If so, you must never have known (for example) an adult incestuous couple. It's heart-breaking. It's happening today. These other perversions, likewise, are not futuristic possible problems but real and growing problems right now. The Christian Church must be able to teach health and wholeness to such people. They must be taught the truth about their own created natures, so that they can live coherently and in accordance with God's will. --David

P.S. I love your name. It's beautiful.

Posted by: DGus on Thursday, 16 June 2005 at 10:39pm BST

DGus wrote: "You posit a category to which I suppose I object--i.e., a "bisexual" who hasn't actually engaged in sex with both sexes"

On this analysis you would object to the category of "celibate homosexual".

DGus wrote: "I also probably disagree with your idea that no one 'choose[s] who they fall in love with'. I'm thinking now NOT of choosing homo- vs. heterosexuality, but of involving the will in a decision to 'fall in love' or not. And we might disagree about the very idea of 'falling in love'."

Have you ever fallen in love? It is an overwhelming and involuntary experience, I can assure you. It is wonderful but it is also delirious and like a form of madness because it completely bypasses the ordinary intellect and will. Love, true, love, has been described in these terms by many who have experienced it (such as John Donne, who was a clergyman as well as a poet). The gospel is a gospel of love, not just of kindness or affection. Indeed, there are clear parallels between the religious ecstasy associated with some of the saints and the experience of secular lovers. The Song of Solomon is a poem of secular love read as an allegory of religious love.

I have no doubt that true love is part of the Christian experience. I do not believe that such love is a matter of choice or will.

Posted by: jak on Friday, 17 June 2005 at 10:43am BST

According to the marriage service it is an act of will to love - till death etc....

How many married men and women suddenly find their love for their work colleague so overwhelming that it causes them to leave their marriages for their new love - which they just can't help, it is involuntary?

That is certainly very popular view in our age. The world may call it "true". But it is NOT Christian.

Posted by: Neil on Friday, 17 June 2005 at 12:01pm BST

Jak sez: "On this analysis you would object to the category of 'celibate homosexual'."

I guess I might, in some respects. [Warning: If a discussion that assumes homosexual acts are sinful discourages you, please stop reading.] On the one hand, I have to admit that, even by my lights, it's sometimes useful for someone to identify himself by a disordered orientation. For example, "Alcoholics Anonymous" thinks it's important for a recovering alcoholic always to think of himself as an alcoholic, so that he will be aware of his weakness and avoid danger. There must also be other senses in which such labels could be useful.

Likewise, if a "celibate homosexual" means someone who has a same-sex attraction, but who believes that same-sex relations are contrary to God's will, and so is resisting that attraction, then of course he is to be warmly commended for following his conscience and should be encouraged to be chaste. If the label is helpful to him in that it reminds him to avoid near occasions of sin, then the label has a good function. But one could hope for the day when he has habituated himself to chaste behavior, and when the label becomes something of an historical artifact. He no longer self-identifies according to this urge, but has mostly moved on. Maybe same-sex attraction will be a life-long issue for him, but it's not The Thing that his life is about. God does not see him as a homosexual, any more than He sees me as a liar; rather, God sees us both as works-in-progress toward eventual, predestined conformity with the image of His Son. (Romans 8:29.)

On the other hand, someone who takes on a sin-related identity as a statement of "Who I Am" is despairing. Here I mean "despair" in the strictest, deadliest, damning sense of the word. Probably no one self-identifies as an "Adulterer", but there are people who think of themselves as a "Ladies' Man", and who have shaped their sense of self around their ability to attract and seduce a series of women. This identity is damnable, in that it traps the person in a self-destroying pattern of behavior that is actually opposed to his true self. He should mature into, say, a generous and wise husband, but instead he's categorized himself into immature folly. The label "gay" could be similarly despairing, if it causes someone to self-identify according to sinful urges that he expects to govern his behavior.

Because I am talking rather clinically about sin issues in other peoples' lives, I feel a rather urgent need to confess myself as a sinner--mendacious, petty, hypocritical--and to say that I am grateful that the Church criticizes my sins and calls me away from them, rather than disohonestly assuring me that I have no problem. If there are sins in my life that have been given pretty, deceptive labels--sins by which I obliviously self-identify in despairing ways--then may God have mercy, and may the Church never tell me that that's just who I am. --David

Posted by: DGus on Friday, 17 June 2005 at 3:16pm BST
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