Sunday, 2 March 2014
Reactions to the House of Bishops statement - episode 7
Continuing from here…
Mike Higton has written two long articles discussing what’s going on in this debate about the House of Bishops’ Pastoral Guidance. They should both be read in full, but here are some excerpts to give you the flavour:
Disagreeing about Marriage
…look back again at the Church’s ‘Response to the Government Equalities Office Consultation’ – which I assume can be taken to represent the views of at least some of those responsible for the current Pastoral Guidance. The section on ‘The Church’s understanding of marriage’ is the heart of the report, and before it gets to the two brief paragraphs on civil and religious marriage and their possible divergence, it has thirteen paragraphs that make a rather different point. The centre-piece of this part of the Response is the other paragraph that is put in bold, paragraph 13:
We believe that redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships will entail a dilution in the meaning of marriage for everyone by excluding the fundamental complementarity of men and women from the social and legal definition of marriage.
My suggestion – which I can only make very sketchily here, but will fill out in a subsequent post – is that, for at least some of those who have rejected Linda’s criticism, this is the central issue, and its centrality is so obvious, so luminously blatant, that to pretend that other aspects of the Church’s definition of marriage might be as central – especially issues about which there has been all sorts of complex and detailed disagreement for as long as we’ve been a church – can only be deliberate obfuscation, akin to the claim that the whole structure of the Bishops’ argument should be called into doubt because there is a misplaced semicolon in a footnote somewhere.
In other words, I think I can see that, for someone who inhabits the views set out in that Response to the government consultation, the criticism that Linda and her colleagues made, and that I like them would like to see taken seriously, must look like such a stark case of missing the point that it can only be a deliberate missing of the point…
Disagreeing about Marriage – and Gender
… I assume that it is not unfair to think that something like this thinking is being expressed both in the House of Bishops’ promulgation of their Pastoral Guidance, and in its defenders’ reaction to the question posed by Linda Woodhead. And, as I suggested in my previous post, I think grasping this point helps to make sense of their reaction.
We are, such a person might think, dealing in this debate with a fundamental structure of creation, and of society – and of our law’s relation to that. We might all agree that questions about fidelity and mutuality go as deep as this question of gender complementarity, but nothing else comes close. In particular, questions about remarriage after divorce and questions about the precise circle of people you can’t marry are clearly not even in the same league as this question. We are dealing with a fundamental structure of creation, and therefore with the very possibility of flourishing in a society that has to live in harmony with creation. That’s clearly what was really being said when the bishops talked about there having been no fundamental divergence between civil and religious understandings of marriage until now – and all this fuss over secondary details is a mischievous smokescreen. It’s all about gender – and this criticism from the likes of Woodhead, her colleagues, and now Higton – well, it dramatically misses that point.
Have I got that right? Is that a fair representation of the source of the impatience with Linda’s question that I’ve been hearing? I realise I’m putting words into mouths here, but I hope I haven’t slipped into caricature?
Phil Groom has written Heaven is Weeping: An Open Letter to the House of Bishops @C_of_E @JustinWelby @JohnSentamu which is also very long, and worth a read.
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Sunday, 2 March 2014 at 8:18am GMT
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Church of England
I found Phil Groom's piece very concise, and wonderful (inSpired!).
"As so often happens in theological disputes, your Lordships, you are right in what you affirm, but wrong in what you deny. You affirm the sanctity of marriage, but deny it to gay people. You affirm God’s love for gay people but deny them full inclusion as God’s people. You open the door to the sacraments of baptism and communion, but close it to marriage: you weigh the sacraments and say, “Thus far and no further!” - Phil Groom -
Thank you, Phil for this articulate rendering of the real problem at the heart of the recent HoB statement give in response to the Pilling Report.
There does seem to be a real dichotomy between the professed 'acceptance' of faithful monogamous same-sex partnerships; while at the same time banning them in the Church.
Marriage has been given by God, not only for the purpose of procreation, but, in the words of the Prayer Book, for the mutual comfort and support of the couple. Is this not preferable to unmarried co-habitation - whether for straights or gays?
Mike Higton places his finger exactly on the most crucial issue here. At the heart of the issue of same-sex marriage there is (on both sides) a set of unacknowledged and perhaps unexamined assumptions about the nature of gender difference.
On the conservative side there is a bold dualism and gender essentialism that claims to take its authority from the Biblical text. On the liberal side, there is a sweeping response to half a century of sociological thinking about gender that has tended to undermine confident suppositions about the naturalness and universality of the binary gender paradigm and the identity of gender with morphological sex. In my view the influence of such deconstructive thinking about gender is responsible in large part for the fairly rapid acceptance of same-sex marriage in our society, while the need to cling to some concept of innate and essential gender difference is largely responsible for the resistance to same-sex marriage from conservative Christians.
In my view both sides have difficult questions to answer. Conservatives need not only to explain how their 'Biblical' vision of gender makes sense in a modern cultural and social environment, they also need - more damagingly - to defend themselves from the accusation that they are imposing their own gender paradigm on ancient texts that actually provide a very alien view of what sex and gender mean. The liberals need to show that they are bringing the Biblical text and the Christian tradition into engagement with modern developments in the social sciences, and not merely replacing the Gospel with third-wave feminism and queer theory. This is not just theological lotus-eating. We cannot have a rational and thoughtful theological discussion about marriage unless we first establish what we mean when we talk about gender, and how important (or unimportant) we suppose gender differences to be. As Higton so rightly says, there's some urgent thinking to be done. Please show your working!
Mike Higton says "it is all about Gender". We all have different views about the essential importance of gender to the definition of marriage. All other debate, such as "questions about remarriage after divorce and questions about the precise circle of people you can’t marry are clearly not even in the same league as this".
But surely we have been told again, and again, and again, that it is all about Scripture. Everything boils down to what is said in the texts. And in Leviticus 18. 18 we have blatant case of the Church taking a clear and unambiguous instruction about who you can't marry, and then first fighting the Government's view, and then agreeing to it, and then (one hundred years later) saying it is unimportant and secondary.
If the Church can change it's mind on Leviticus 18.18, why not on Leviticus 18.22? The Sister's wives debate is not an irrelevant past minor skirmish. It raises key questions about how the church treats scripture.
It shows how the church is quite willing to change its mind on one clause of scripture given enough time, and then forget that it has changed it's mind, and go on to claim that changing it's mind on a related clause of scripture is absolutely impossible
The interesting question was raised by someone in one of the previous episodes of this thread: who, outside the church, is convinced by the "change of definition" argument? It's a classic example of preaching to the choir: so long as no-one outside the conservative end of the CofE is in the discussion, talk about "fundamental change" convinces everyone, and the argument is won. Except, as witnessed by the debate and the voting over same sex marriage in both houses of parliament, it convinces almost no-one else.
Faithfulness, love and mutality form marriage, not a penis and a vagina, and society as a whole agrees. The irreconcilables are nowhere to be heard, only a few weeks from the first marriages; registrars are not resigning, the Catholic church has not decided to stop performing marriages in England as it threatened, there are no mass protests in the streets, heterosexuals are not divorcing in increased numbers as their marriages are devalued, "Wedding Unaffordable" magazine has not reduced its page count. Like millennialists the morning after the end of the world, their predictions have been shown for the nonsense everyone knew they were.
All that this debate does, over seven episodes even, is confirm in many people's minds the utter irrelevance of the Church of England and, by extension, Christians. That's unfair and wrong, but it seems foolish for the church to continue to fly the flag for something which has no traction outside a subset of their own audience.
Unless, of course, the sole objective is keeping GAFCON on-side. In which case, even the small concessions made so far are too much to tolerate. It's hard to see the CofE's strategy as anything other than doomed: in its current form it is completely out of step with the country and a large portion of its own members, and will end in disaster, while being insufficiently dogmatic and conservative for a smaller but more vociferous constituency, who want yet more "strong" statements which would further alienate the UK at large.
With the marriages not yet happening, the CofE looks weird, obsessed and nasty. After a summer of happy celebrations, each town or city's local newspaper covering the first few same-sex marriages as happy signs of modernity, and most people knowing of people who have taken part in such ceremonies, by the end of 2014 the CofE will look unhinged, desperately fighting against something which will by then be entirely unexceptional.
This is existential for the CofE, if but they could see it. In the past, since at least the second world war, the CofE has avoided making dogmatic statements that make it look nasty. Now, the teeth are bared, and bared over a topic which has no traction at all outside a small portion of its own members; even UKIP think people who rail against same-sex marriage are loons. The CofE is putting itself in a room with extremists, and you cannot spend time siding with extremists without looking extreme. An extreme CofE may play will with a handful of African conservatives, but it will leave it absolutely dead in England.
One might add to Fr Ron's comments that whereas in the 1662 book "mutual society, help and comfort" came third in the pecking order of purposes for marriage, since 1980 in England it has been the first reason. I have often drawn attention to this in marriage preparation sessions - purposes and expectations have changed over 450 years, since the first BCP. Even the liturgy admits it!
Phil Groom's outstanding letter has the qualities of Martin Luther King - and for the same reason - both come from men soaked in biblical streams of thought and speech.
Passion, compassion, eloquence, wisdom, love - inspired by the Bible, hungry for justice, speaking truly the language of Jesus Christ.
Thanks for including my letter in this roundup, Simon: much appreciated, though would that it had never been necessary!
It's vital that as a Church we get to grip with Mike Higton's point about gender: did not Jesus himself, when challenged on one of the complex issues around marriage under Jewish law, declare that in the world to come, no one would marry or be given in marriage? Marriage, then, according to Jesus, is a temporary estate, part of the present world order; but in Christ, we are all one and the gender differences that we tend to be so precious about are done away with.
If that's the world we're heading towards, then is not abolishing the gender-based definition of marriage part of what we pray for every day in the Lord's prayer, for God's kingdom to come and God's will to be done on earth as in heaven?
Lord have mercy and grant us the grace to see with your eyes!
"All about gender..."
How much do appeals to "natural order" mean in a world where female spiders devour their male mates after mating, and male anglerfish become absorbed into their female mates? There are species where the young devour each other, parents devour their young, and the young devour their parents. There are all kinds of species where couples of the same sex pair up. There are others where incest is commonplace. It seems to me that in nature, everything goes and whatever order there is has nothing to do with human morality.
As for survival and continuity of the species, human same sexuality has always been around for as long as there have been humans. And yet, we have 7 billion people walking around on the earth now.
“I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created parasitic wasps with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars.” -- Charles Darwin
Perhaps human relationships, and the families and societies that they sustain, are about something else.
A fine letter by Phil Groom, and Mike Higton makes an important point.
I wonder whether part of the current problem is that the Church of England leadership is not paying enough attention to the issue of accuracy. When 'Men and women in marriage' was published, Charlotte Methuen among others questioned its historical accuracy (http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/charlotte-methuen/marriage-one-man-and-one-woman), while I pointed out a number of inaccuracies of other kinds (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/19730). I am not sure whether any attention was paid to these or other factual concerns raised, let alone wider theological issues around the simplistic approach to marriage in that document. I suspect that, if the key points made by critics of 'Men and women in marriage' had been reflected on, the wording of the pastoral guidance might have been different.
There is a major problem in what seems to be the uncritical reliance by the bishops on the idea of the 'fundamental complementarity of men and women'. Work on sexual difference, gender, and sexual orientation has made clear that the binary gender paradigm is not an adequate representation of the pattern given by God in creation. We have moved on from thinking that God created the world in six days, and it is time to move on, similarly, from a literal-minded interpretation of what the Bible says about sex and gender.
I find all this almost infinitely depressing. The chances of 'reaching agreement' by 'thinking' are absolutely nil. The church hierarchy is behaving as if the horse hasn't already bolted. The only hope is agreement on difference of practice with those who want to be blessing/celebrating same-sex marriages, those who do not want to not being coerced. Seems like a very slim hope - just that it is more hopeful than any other hope - like reaching agreement either way or stifling dissent against the status quo. The hope is strengthened by the fact that 'facts on the ground' will progressively assert themselves. Personally, I ruined a dinner party last night because I did respond to our hosts (very nice very Evangelical couple) when they said that they had both written to the new bishop of Durham in protest at the excessive liberalism of the bishops' letter. An hour's fruitless batting to and fro ensued. At the end I just said 'I'm sticking with my gay friends' and walked into the night.
Wonderful letter from Phil. An important post from Mike. I agree with Mike's assessment about the underlying significance of gender in relation to the Church of England's stance on equal marriage. This is is why transgender and intersex people were effectively excluded from the remit of the Pilling Report (though the working group did meet some Christian trans folk) because their lives and experience would require a total review of current assumptions about gender. By the way, I think they tend to be society's default position on gender as well judging by the problems trans people have had even when legislation is intended to work in their favour. I've written about this in a forthcoming article in 'Modern Believing' (April 2014) entitled, 'Love is a many gendered thing: gender roles, relationships and trans people.'
The Church of England reminds me of Enid Blyton ..........
Thank you Phil Groom for your splendid letter.
Thank you for your solidarity. Small stands like yours count for a very great deal indeed. I hope that you will help redress the balance of the bishop of Durham's postbag by sending him a letter or an email. I think bishops do take note of these things, and if they are bombarded by the green ink brigade and others on this matter they can be fooled into thinking that that is where opinion lies in the Church of England.
By the way, I read it as you "walked into the light".
"they had both written to the new bishop of Durham in protest at the excessive liberalism of the bishops' letter"
That's the problem with trying to satisfy everyone: you end up satisfying no-one.
For a transsexual woman like myself, gender is not a 'theory' or a 'theological concept': it is the actual life I live, and the desire to serve, and love, and fully participate in community and in relationships like any other human being.
What is the biblical basis for accepting my cross-gender life and relationships? How about the primacy of *love* as prioritised both my Jesus and the apostle Paul?
The reality that gender is not analogous with physical sex... the reality that some people have a fluidity of gender... the reality that others are gender queer... or have some male and some female traits... or that some people don't even identify with any gender... or are androgynous...
Are we all then 'haram' and unacceptable for sex and marriage?
As I say, people can talk theory for as many years as they want. But meanwhile, this is simply my life... as a nurse... as a parent... as a partner... as an aspirant nun.
Quite simply, deal with it. Life gets lived. Sort your theology out in response to real lives being lived, and real people (including those outside the church) who don't really fit Bronze Age conventions of sexual demarcation, but who nevertheless are ordinary decent members of society whose gender is as valid as yours or anyone else.
I hope/fear that Mike Higton is right. Hope because he explains the vitriol that was poured on our heads in a way that makes it easier to understand that there is "that of God" in the pourers. Fear because if some people believe, in a gut way, that it is all about complementarity, they may have a severe reality check to face some time. Like many other analysts, Scot and I examined the complementarity arguments in "Legally Married". We find them circular and unpersuasive, as have US courts and the UK Parliament.
Ultimately, I really don't understand what "fundamental complementarity of men and women" is suppose to mean.
Does mean something biological, that is, (with apologies for being graphic) a penis and a vagina? Nothing else we think of connected with marriage -- faithfulness, mutuality, support, love -- has any importance without a penis and a vagina? What in Scripture supports a theology of the sine qua non of marriage is a penis and a vagina?
Does it mean something social, that is, complimentary social roles? The man goes out to work and the wife takes care of the home and children?
The phrase to me comes across as a cliche-ridden buzz-word, supposedly endowed with great meaning, which on closer examination doesn't really mean anything at all.
I think Mike Highton is correct in thinking that the "gender difference" lies at the heart of the Bishops' difficulties; but the notion that "only men and women can marry because only the sex difference makes marriage possible" represents no more than a neat piece of circular reasoning, unlikely to convince anyone who doesn't already accept it. As others have noted here, the argument stumbles when one gets into answering just what it is about the sex-difference creates this limitation. Procreation won't work, given contraception and the marriage of the elderly (the former accepted for several generations, the latter explicit since 1549); the idea of fixed and immutable sex-roles won't sell due to changes in the culture, most of which even the Bishops welcome; the notion that this has something to do with the 'divine image in humanity' leads to heresy and undoes the doctrine of the Incarnation articulated since Chalcedon. With so much against it and so little for it apart from a tautology, it appears largely indefensible. Perhaps this is why the actual Pastoral and Appendix leave it unmentioned.
The real issue in this discussion seems to be not the defintion of 'marriage,' but the definition of 'definition.' I do not think Linda and others were simply picking on a quibble in the Bishop's document, but a fundamental problem with it -- that deep down they see the permission of same-sex marriage as fundamentally wrong, but have swallowed incest and adultery whole, and like the adulteress of Proverbs 30:20, wiped the lips and said, I've done no wrong.
"Unless, of course, the sole objective is keeping GAFCON on-side. In which case, even the small concessions made so far are too much to tolerate. It's hard to see the CofE's strategy as anything other than doomed" - Interested Observer -
After all the conversation, I think that I.O.'s comment here is quite important. How much does the Church of England hierarchy kowtow to the expressed opinion of the Global South and the Gafcon Primates, whose understanding of the whole gender and sexuality debate is dependent on a sola-scriptura limited view?
As has already been said here, one-on-one marriage relationships are for this world only - with no continuation at the parousia. With Our Lord's emphasis on faithfulness in marriage, it would seem unlikely that Jesus would, in today's world, where promiscuity is rife, ban S/S marriage, where fidelity is a real possibility.
Just as the current tense situation in the Ukraine has removed our attention away from the horror of what is happening in Syria. So too, to a much lesser degree, the Bishops Pastoral Letter seems to have completely sidelined the issue of women in the episcopate. An enormous amount of interest and space is being devoted to discussing this now infamous letter (Episode Seven makes it all sound like a Soap Opera) but aren't there other pressing issues we ought to be discussing and commenting upon as well?
Martin, I can't for the life of me think of how the Church of England brings to mind that considerable children's author - Enid Blyton?
Thank you. I will write and try to get others to do so too. (Father David, would you like to join us?)
I entirely agree with everything you say.
"Martin, I can't for the life of me think of how the Church of England brings to mind that considerable children's author - Enid Blyton?" Father David
Sugary-sweet on the surface but nasty at its core?
My thanks to everyone who has commented (here or elsewhere) and/or shared my letter via twitter/fb - I am humbled and gratified in equal measure by the support shown.
For those who are interested in such things, the current stats are 70 tweets and over 500 fb shares, whilst yesterday alone my blog received over 2,000 visits (that's actual visits, not pageviews) compared to the much more sedate typical traffic of less than 20 visits per day.
It was a difficult piece to write with so many different thoughts going around and around in my head, but eventually they had to come out; and I'm glad they did: may the Lord take my words and use them to his glory and his people's blessing.
Mike Higton is correct, I think, to say that the problem in the recent spat is that Woodhead et al. were working on a quite different level than the Bishops - what they see as definitional, the Bishops see as details (don't get me started again on the rights and wrongs of that debate!). This is why ultimately the discussion could get no further, and why it looked to William Fittall etc. that Linda Woodhead was wilfully misunderstanding what had been said.
Mike is also absolutely right that what we lack is a really good, clear, worked-out theology of sex/gender. I think this is in large part because the whole topic has only quite recently (a matter of a few decades) been opened up. It has been quite easy for a pre-critical a view of male-female as being somehow complementary just take it as obvious: Gods created us male and female, and it was very good - therefore it "just is" part of how we are meant to be if we assume (as surely we all do here?) that God knew what he was up to. The onus is, I suggest, on those who want to move to a nuanced/fluid understanding of sexuality/gender (because, like it or not, in Church debates the onus is always on those who wish to shift things). There's lots of good work being done, but I'm not sure how much of it is really touching on deep theological questions.
To take one area which needs thorough and persuasive handling: Christianity sees the world as fallen - no longer quite how God intended it to be; so to persuade a lot of Christians it won't be enough just to say "modern science/sociology/anthropology etc shows us that gender understandings are fluid/varied around the world etc etc." as if that proves the point. Yes this is the world now. We should respond pastorally to the world as it is, and we should take all the findings of these studies into account, but "the world as it is" doesn't in itself prove anything theologically.
None of this will be quick to do, but it needs doing if we're ever to get agreement. It reminds me of Tom Wright telling General Synod a couple of years ago that the theological work on women bishops still hadn't actually been done. People spend too much time working at different levels of discourse.
but God did not create them as male and female. He also created them as intersex and some as transsexuals.
And while it is undoubtedly true that I have been created female, so has my wife. Our biological sex says nothing at all about our sexuality.
It is really not helpful to ignore science and just continue to circle around the same few verses in the bible.
We were given a brain. Shall we start using it?
"None of this will be quick to do, but it needs doing if we're ever to get agreement."
How much credibility do you think the CofE will have if come, say, 2020 it is still hemming and hawing on the topic of same-sex marriage? How many NGOs will put the CofE in the same box as Uganda and deem it beyond redemption?
Sexuality is absent from the tradition. It's been treated as an extra -- an unfortunate urge to be alleviated by marriage, a sin, a habit. This worked as long as homosexual people could be kept isolated, their difficulties seen as individual. The church is now being required to deal with an aspect of the actual world we live in -- a population of unashamed individuals relating to one another -- with a theology based on other assumptions.
As for "deep theological questions" -- what is theology? Meditation on, explication of, traditions whose origins are obscure. It's arm-chair reasoning over the centuries. It's based on nothing.
I often quote William Temple, writing in New York before he became Archbishop of Canterbury: "When people talk about conscientious objections to obeying the law, it is always quite impossible to distinguish between their prejudice and their conscience; there is no standard by which to determine."
"When people talk about conscientious objections to obeying the law, it is always quite impossible to distinguish between their prejudice and their conscience; there is no standard by which to determine."
But in our debate there is a standard. It's called reason. There is no single reason why homosexuality should be sinful. And so we know that it isn't, regardless of the possibility of interpreting 7 verses in the bible differently.
It is actually incredibly simple.
my point is that Genesis does not say "male and female and intersex and tanssexual created he them." So if you want to assert that God did in fact do so (from the beginning), you need to do some extra work. It's that extra work that is needed to persuade, for example, conservative evangelicals. And whilst in this postlapsarian world biological sex may say nothing about sexuality, it is not obviously the case that the two would have been unconnected in the prelapsarian world (please note the key word "obviously"). Whether the Church now should try to apply prelapsarian ideals (if indeed they are different to present reality) is another matter for theological discernment. And of course we can also think about what it means to look forward to the eschaton, when things may change again.
I don't think it is good enough (certainly not in terms of persuading less Thinking Anglicans) to say it's "not helpful to ignore science." The problem is that science describes the world now, as it is today - after the Fall. It is not therefore a totally reliable guide to God's original intention for humanity; nor can it tell us how we ought to deal, in the here and now, with the mess we're in in the here and now (science's "is" cannot tell us morality's "ought"). That doesn't mean science has no place at the table, but it needs both to inform and be informed by theology. For which we very much need to engage our brains.
I don't think credibility in the eyes of the world can be our only or main criterion for deciding such complicated matters. It's not irrelevant, but it certainly can't be a clinching argument for anyone concerned to be prophetic. And perhaps our credibility is better in the long run if we deal with serious topics in a serious, thoughtful way, rather than running after the world trying to be a member of its gang. I think what we need most is not to be at war with ourselves. If that means taking more time than many would like, so be it. There can be little doubt that change is coming. Better to work at taking people with us.
That's so true, Erika.
Lesbian sexuality is quite simply - beautiful.
It is expressive. It is harmless. It is full of intimate capacity for caring. It is tender. It is decent. It is good.
It is every bit as decent, lovely, devoted and expressive as having sex with a man.
That's the reality. It's a treasure. How some people live and love and serve and care for.
Like you say, "It is actually incredibly simple."
It seems like it's people who have sexual hang ups, who see sex as somehow and sometimes 'dirty', who want to regulate how other people feel and live... who have the problem.
What can possibly be wrong with two women loving each other, and doing possibly the most precious and beautiful thing in their lives?
I'm aghast that anyone has a problem with that, or that they think it's their business.
How on earth does marriage to your partner make you any less of a priest? How on earth does blessing something so precious become wrong?
There just isn't any reason why two people loving each other should not do so.
I am so happy for every single couple who have found intimacy, care and protection through each other.
May God protect them from ideologies that diminish or marginalise their love, or value it less than a heterosexual love.
A woman in love with another woman is a very beautiful thing. I know for sure. And besides, there's not enough love in the world. It's extraordinary when love itself gets stigmatised, when actually our whole world is crying out for love.
At that point religion's grown cold and hard and rigid. And fear has come in.
But when two people love each other, there is simple beauty, goodness, and so so precious giving to one another.
Erika, when you believe in biblical authority, "because the Bible says so" is all the reason you need.
The church's response to gay people heaves under the dead-weight of authority and tradition. Even Linda Woodhead has refused, when asked the other day on Twitter, to say whether or not she believes that gay sex is a sin. Outside the church, a simple and unequivocal "No" would have been delivered. Inside, equivocation rules.
Bernard, one solution to the dilemma of your reading of Genesis lies in the fact that in Hebrew the words are nouns, not adjectives. "A male and a female he created them." It is true that the Greek version transforms into adjectival form, and most English versions have perpetuated this inaccuracy. The Hebrew original underlies early Jewish arguments in favor of monogamy, including Jesus' teaching that "the two" become "one."
The issue of intersexuality does actually come up in the Rabbinic literature, and presents no difficulty with "the created order" as Jewish authors (knowing the Hebrew) never understood Genesis 1 to be referring to sex in categorical or exclusive terms.
I'm sorry, Bernard, but back in the real world intersex people exist, gay people live moral lives and only a very small percentage of Christians reads the bible as unintelligently as you suggest.
We cannot sacrifice the wellbeing of real people on the altar of a mindnumbingly stupid reading of Genesis as a factual history and biology text.
Beautifully put, Susannah, thank you again
I still think that we only hear from those who equate believing in biblical authority with being anti gay.
Those who believe that biblical authority means living a truly Christian life, loving everyone, not discriminating against anyone do not loudly engage in this conversation here.
That does not mean they don't exist.
I meet them in real life. Some join groups like Accepting Evangelicals, I meet them in Changing Attitude. Some are themselves gay and know exactly that the anti gay rhetoric is intellectual rubbish and not Christian.
I personally do not go along with the concept of biblical authority, but I do respect those who do and lead fruitful Christian lives.
"I don't think credibility in the eyes of the world can be our only or main criterion for deciding such complicated matters."
If you're running a private cult, that's true. But the CofE is an established church which has extensive exemptions from and special provisions in legislation, designated seats in our legislature, an assumption that archbishops will at least have their phone calls answered by politicians.
If it wants to be like those churches that meet in rented school halls, which are private members' clubs with no public presence at all, that's fine. But I suspect the Justin Welby will find life as the head of an obscure cult with no public credibility rather less exciting than his current job.
Susannah This is a quite beautiful piece - thank you for it.
My only query is your statement 'it is harmless'. And though I think I understand the perspective from which this is said (and needs saying) I am still reticent. It is simply too important to be 'harmless'. This gift is part of a vocation that comes at cost and with profound consequence and can only be embraced with vulnerable responsibility.
But thank you again.
'Inside, equivocation rules.'
No, it doesn't. There are plenty of heterosexual people within the church who are unequivocally prepared to say that gay sex is not a sin. They constitute at worst a very substantial minority. Even at worst, they will soon be a majority, and this majority will rapidly expand. We're winning here. 'Stand firm!' (as someone said).
I see 3 motivations at work in the condemnation of gay sex.
1. Homophobic societal conventions.
2. Homophobia that arises from personal insecurities about sexual identity.
3. The concept that holy texts are inerrant, and to be applied to all societies for all time, without the possibility that the cultural context may have made some of their assertions provisional.
Of course, these 3 motivations can converge and support each other.
For someone psychologically insecure in their manhood, for example, a biblical mandate offers succour and justification for integral homophobia.
That person, insecure in his own sexuality, may feel more secure by isolating an 'other' group on which he can project the fear and dread he really feels about himself.
Religious mandate provides him with authority.
That authority is tenuous, because it depends on one specific way of handling text.
The way the Bible should be handled, read, understood... is at the heart of this whole divergence of theological positions.
Events of scientific advance have (arguably by the will of God) challenged the automatic authority of the Bible's claims... over the origins of the species, or the Noahic flood... inviting the prospect that the scriptures are not literally inerrant, but the product of the societies, culture and knowledge in which they evolved.
That being the case, the same principle might be applied to other scriptures. That they are culturally specific to their times, not applicable forever.
None of this negates the call to follow Christ and to love. Nor does it negate *everything* in the bible. But it invites intelligent reading, the exercise of conscience, and openness to real lives and real people, where they actually are, and the possibility that societies evolve, new understanding happens, and that the Bible, far from being inerrant, may sometimes be culturally constrained, for example by Category 1 (above):
Heteronormative and Cisnormative assumption that there is only one sexual and gender default, and that lives that diverge from this dominant paradigm must be perverted, pathological and outlawed. Societal control, in the interests and defence of privilege (and notably, male privilege), is as old as the hills - and religious communities often adopt it, and reify it in religious texts.
Genesis . . . where, we are told, that God created "man in his own image; male and female created he them."
Fair enough, as far as this goes, but what we have here is an account of creation that is at least 2000 years old, a document that inevitably uses the cognitive resources available to its author.
But it is also limited by the fact that the cognitive framework it assumes is 2000 years old and has been superseded numerous times by other cognitive frameworks, leading to the frameworks we now use and on which our understanding of the world has come to rest.
The decision at work in statements that claim that the account Genesis gives us somehow transcends the limitations of a 2000 year-old conceptual framework is an arbitrary decision, a human decision, a decision not supported by the Biblical text, or by the ordinary experience of people who read the Bible on the pages of printed books or on computer screens.
We need to read the Bible using what human thought and experience has taught us, not try to turn it into a document that transcends time, an impossible task anyway for anything expressed in language, that protean, constantly changing tool of human expression and culture.
Mr Randall: science can now describe the world quite far back. When was the beginning you claim the Bible describes? when did things go wrong? When was this perfect world of binary sexual differentiation? The further back we go, the further from mammalian reproduction we find ourselves. The idea that the author of the book of Genesis revealed something of the pre-lapsarian world is quite honestly laughable. He (almost certainly) knew nothing of a Fall for starters.
Bernard: Prelapsarian vs Postlapsarian? So much fiddling while f@ggots (& dykes) burn. No---I utterly reject that the "onus" is on LGBTs to prove that we shouldn't be oppressed.
"Even Linda Woodhead has refused, when asked the other day on Twitter, to say whether or not she believes that gay sex is a sin."
In a Christian context, I don't think the appropriate topic is "gay sex"---and more than it is "het sex". If I may build upon Phil Grooms, I think that what the Church blesses is *intimacy*---in EVERY sense of the word---between two loving, covenanted spouses. That's my answer to the question. Intimacy between spouses is a BLESSING. If somebody is hung up on S-E-X, that's *their* problem!
I get a sense of déjà vu (or rather déjà lu or not even read) in this sort of discussion over whether tradition, even scriptural, ever justifies bigotry. Murdoch, my husband, posted a fuller quote from William Temple on Thinking Anglicans in March 2011.
. . . But in most moral questions the authority to
which we appeal is not that of the good and wise
individual, but that of the moral sense of our
civilization. We can very seldom give an adequate
reason for those points on which we have the strongest moral convictions. For example, in argument I suppose we should most of us find it very difficult to produce a case for monogamy as against polygamy anything like so strong as the feeling which we have in favour of the one against the other. That feeling is implanted in us by the experience of our civilisation, a civilisation which has, in fact, emerged from one into
the other, and these very strong instinctive feelings,which are common to great masses of people and for which usually any one individual in all that mass can only give a most inadequate reason, are something to which an enormous volume of human experience has contributed. Generation after generation has come to feel that certain relations of the sexes are, as a matter of fact, the only ones that can be maintained with real wholesomeness, and this belief becomes so
strong in the community that it is received with the air we breathe all through the formative years of our life, and the result is an intense onviction forwhich, as I say, we can hardly give any argument – an intense conviction that one sort of thing is right and the other wrong; and what most of us mean by our conscience is just this body of feeling concerning right and wrong which has been implanted in us as the result of the accumulated experience of civilization. From the point of view of the individual it is usually
more an emotion than a reasoned judgment; and it is much more of the nature of prejudice than of an
argumentative conclusion. When people talk about
conscientious objections to obeying the law, it is
always quite impossible to distinguish between their prejudice and their conscience; there is no standard by which to determine. . . .
William Temple, CHURCH AND NATION: The Bishop Paddock
Lectures for 1914-1915
Temple was dealing with the necessity of shortcuts in moral thinking for most people, while acknowledging the necessity of fuller critical thinking, is my gloss. The consensus of the church authorities could be mere bigotry or, even when it is not, would still have traces of prejudice.
Gary Paul Gilbert
This is the whole root of the problem with this devolution of Christianity.
At one time, it was the rage to try to show how miracles could have happened, to give them some real world credence.
Now, we've backslid to medieval superstition and idolatry, by saying, "Yeah, but experiential reality has to prove that the Bible is wrong."
This is what I'm reading in Bernard's comments. As Erika points out, intersex being *is* experiential reality. The moral neutrality of that being *is* experiential reality. However, we are being told that experiential reality must somehow disprove a mythology that holds, among other things, that the sky is a dome through which the Divine Light shines, and the earth is a sort of table floating on all "the waters" beneath it. We are forced to prove that reality trumps a translation (as Tobias points out) of a language that was the secondary recipient of a much older storytelling tradition. And all of this has to be done, additionally, in an environment which we are assured is corrupted by a mythological "Fall," and thus can't be trusted.
Reality is the illusion, and a mythology regarded as mythology even by (the larger portion of) the religious tradition that gave it to us is regarded as verified, unquestioned truth.
That is superstition and that is an insane position.
I don’t understand how the words in Genesis 1 being nouns not adjectives makes any difference. My Jewish Publication Society Tanakh translates “male and female” – which suggests they don’t see a significant difference. It’s the fact that this passage is used to support monogamy which means we can’t ignore it in thinking about how we should understand marriage.
Although I’d be interested in getting the reference to the Rabbinic literature on intersexuality, we’re needing to do Christian theology here, so it would be necessary to show that their reading is consonant with Christian Tradition.
I’m not for a moment suggesting that intersex people don’t exist, or that gay people don’t live moral lives – as far as I can tell they’re just exactly the same mix of moral and immoral behaviour as everyone. Nor am I suggesting that the Bible can or should be read as a factual history or biology text. But it is certainly a theological text, and if human sexuality and marriage are theological issues in any sense, then we need to use the Bible. If Jesus used Genesis in talking about marriage, then it seems right that we should too.
Please don’t think that I’m being personal. I am, if anything, playing devil’s advocate to try and elicit the kind of thinking that Anglicans need to do in order to find a way through the current mess on sexuality. I want to give the Bible its proper authority, but I know that it cannot be read except within the Tradition – it’s not a simple text. So the question is how do we develop a reading of the Bible which affirms same sex marriage, without simply discarding those passages we find difficult? In other words, how do we do it “within the Tradition,” rather than by a wholesale rejection of it? When we manage to do that within a friendly internet forum, we have a chance of persuading our conservative brothers and sisters in the rather less friendly real world.
you make a distinction between private cult and established Church – fair enough. But I think that only shows that credibility in the eyes of the world should be part of the thinking, rather than an “only or main criterion.”
By way of comparison, the prophets of ancient Israel were effectively part of the established religion, and yet the ones we hear from didn’t spend their time wondering about credibility. There is fierce criticism in the OT of prophets who only say what the people wanted to hear – but their voices aren’t preserved, because what they said wasn’t worth keeping.
your point is eloquently made. The Bible clearly does work within a particular framework, but I can’t accept that it has been “superseded numerous times,” certainly not for Christians. As you say, we “read the Bible using what human thought and experience has taught us,” so why reject the wisdom and the experience of God of past generations? Both those of Biblical times and those since who have discovered something transcendent in it. This doesn't mean we don't have to reapply that wisdom and experience in a way suitable for our own generation, but why re-invent the wheel?
Bernard, the only interpretation of the lapsarian theology you outline is that anyone who doesn't fit this supposed biblical norm is somehow faulty, and not just faulty in the way that we are all "fallen", but especially faulty in that their very being violates the way they "should" be if they are made in God's image.
This holds some water in matters of moral deliberation. But I couldn't imagine a more exclusive and insulting theology for a person reading this who is born intersex. Why don't we start rating people like we do potatoes? "Grade A" is presumably straight men and women, "Grade B" are presumably intersex and same-sex oriented people, "Grade C" -- I dunno, who's next in this absurd theological hierarchy?
I don’t know when the beginning was, or when things went wrong, or when there was a “perfect world of binary sexual differentiation.” But then I don’t take Genesis to be making a historical point – it is theological. The author certainly knew of a Fall in the theological sense that there is an observable discrepancy between the world we live in and the kind of world a perfectly loving God would be expected to create. As a Christian I can’t reject the idea of an originally good Creation. Nor can I simply reject the idea of the pre-Fall world we have in Genesis – it’s just too big a part of Christian Tradition. It may be “idea” rather than “history,” but it’s a theological idea, and it’s what we’ve got. If we take the Bible seriously, as coming in some way from God (even if only very indirectly), then we should start from the assumption that there’s something of value in this theological idea. So we have to work with it.
this is not about debating whether LGBTs should be oppressed. No one should be oppressed. What we’re discussing is how the Church should deal with the new issue of same sex marriage. This involves quite a big change, and with any change in the Church the onus is on those who advocate change to show how it is consistent with Tradition. Once the change has happened it’s hard to go back – which is why the structures make change hard. Of course there’s a cost to that, and it’s not fair on those individuals upon whom the cost falls. But that cuts both ways, there is a cost to someone both before and after a change (conservative Christians can feel oppressed by the promotion of same sex marriage (I’m not saying they’re right, mind you)), and life isn’t always fair. Something to do with that Fall thing I’ve been going on about.
On another note, I seriously wonder whether the quick pace of change in Western society is part of the cause of the undoubted oppression of LGBT people in parts of Africa. Those societies feel threatened, and so they entrench and fight back. Perhaps a more gentle change, with less advocacy and more live-and-let-live would have avoided the worst clashes. But perhaps any kind of change in society requires flash points. I don’t know.
jnwall, thank you, I think you've homed in on such relevant points and put it really well. As you say, the genesis account emerges from the cognitive (and cultural) frameworks of its day, but those cognitive frameworks have been replaced numerous times, with the advance of science, with the changes in societal knowledge, and the way societies evolve and change culturally.
This does not mean that the bible authors did not experience profound encounters with God, which they sought to express. Nor does it mean that the Bible should simply be set aside. But the Bible needs to be understood as emerging in a succession of cultural contexts and (as you put it well) cognitive frameworks.
The fundamentalist who literalises the bible is, in a sense, making rigid something (societal evolution and advance of knowledge) that isn't rigid at all. Such a person perpetuates textual prohibitions as if they are for all societies and for all times.
For this one, fixed, cognitive framework to hold true (and be enforced on people's lives today) the framework has to trump all the new cognitive frameworks. Adam must have no ancestors. Humanity must not have evolved over millions of years from other creatures. The flood must have swept away all animal life except a few creatures in a boat.
And men who have sex with men must be stoned, or, because Jesus actually personally demonstrated the fluidity of cognitive frameworks, not stoned after all.
We can suspend the God-given conscience that each of us has, and just impose a one-time-for-all-time cognitive framework... or we can look at the bible really prayerfully, and read it contextually, and find the deep truths of the original encounters, which still resonate in the original verses of Genesis, but operate far more powerfully as myths than as literal facts and events.
The original encounters in the bible may still resonate deeply with deep reality. The contexts in which they are written are just containers and packaging. Love mercy, do good, be still, know the holy and eternal God...
This is so much deeper than packaged rigid dogma or literalism.
Love is very deep and requires the opening of the heart, again and again, not the closing down and reduction of everything to automatic texts and ossified cultural frameworks.
Love trumps everything in the bible. The whole of the bible needs to be read in the context - the cognitive framework - of love. Love is the true content. The cultural 'norms' and prejudices and settings in which the bible is written... these are the wrappings but love is the eternal and love is the touchstone.
It is the greatest commandment, through which everything else is to be interpreted and understood. Love is the greatest, as it says in Romans. Love is the eternal expression of the living God, in all societies and in all times.
there is no one killer argument or one killer approach. Different people will be persuaded by different kinds of debate.
And I personally am not going to get involved in a "theological" debate that is based on the fanciful notion that Jesus used Genesis to say anything about same sex marriage.
Other people have done. If you haven't already done so, I can strongly recommend you read Tobias Haller's scholarly "Reasonable and Holy", described on Amazon:
"Reasonable and Holy addresses the conflict over homosexuality within the Anglican tradition, demonstrating that the church is able to provide for and support faithful and loving relationships between persons of the same sex, not as a departure from that tradition, but as a reasonable extension of it. It offers a carefully argued, but accessible means of engagement with Scripture, the Jewish and Christian traditions, and the use of reason in dealing with the experience and lives of fellow-Christians. Unlike most reflections on the topic of homosexuality, Reasonable and Holy examines same-sex relationships through the lens of the traditional teaching on the ends or goods of marriage: procreation, union, the upbuilding of society, the symbolic representation of Christ and the Church, and the now often unmentioned remedy for fornication. Throughout, it responds to objections based on reason, tradition and Scripture. Based on a series of popular blog posts, it includes a number of independent, but related resources in the form of side-bars and single-page expansions of particular themes, suitable for reproduction as handouts."
Please don't assume that because people haven't read the arguments yet they haven't been made.
David Runcorn - actually, I wasn't altogether happy with the assertion that lesbian love is "harmless" myself, afterwards, when I re-read it. So thank you for making the point.
Yes, I meant it a different way: that nobody else needs to feel lesbian love in some way 'harms' society, like some kind of moral contagion etc.
But your point is well made. I don't think any truly intimate and given love is entirely harmless. Givenness in relationship is sacrificial, it comes at a cost, it includes vulnerability and often can involve deep pain, or hurt, and the possibility of loss.
There is a price for love.
It comes as part of the deal.
People should understand that when they sign up for it.
So often, in the first rush of romance, this gets overlooked. And of course it gets glossed over in the facile portrayals that are often presented by the media.
Love, intimate love, is such a wonderful and beautiful thing. But it doesn't come cheap. Devotion, when fully explored, is like the Old Testament concept - a kind of immolation and sacrifice.
That is where love leads us.
And it's the very nature of God, I think. Which is why in our intimate relationships we may seek the sacramental. And why marriage should be open, as a sacramental offering from God and to God, to any couple, whatever their genders.
I'm not saying that reality (the world we experience) is an illusion. Far from it. But we cannot simply describe reality and then read off a moral system from it. Humans are constitutionally inclined to commit adultery - though most of us resist those inclinations, I hope. Does this "natural" inclination mean that adultery is morally acceptable? No, surely not. We might say that the theological idea of the Fall is a way of describing the gap between "is" and "ought": in a perfect world no one would want to do anything morally wrong.
Now one possible position would be that when we read of that perfect, prelapsarian world, we are reading of a world where "is" does equal "ought." And so that "is/ought" must be God's will, and we ought to model our lives now on that prior uncorrupted state of existence. This, I think, is the basic position of lots of conservatives about marriage and sexuality. That seems to me a coherent position to take, at least prima facie. I think much of the Tradition just takes it for granted.
Arguments against this might be that "is" did not equal "ought" before the Fall; or that God's will is better expressed in those parts of the Bible which deal with existence after the Fall; or that we are mistaken to think that our lives should be modelled on a rater theoretical past state. In short, work needs to be done to show why the prima facie case about marriage is wrong, and this needs to be done in terms which take the Bible and Christian Tradition just as seriously as the conservative position. This is the Thinking that needs doing.
I don't want to be flippant and these discussions are all very interesting. But I do think that the problem is that real people and real lives get lost in all this theorising, theology, biblical exegesis and what have you. And that's the real problem with the HoB statement and the so called 'pastoral letter'. It doesn't deal with, know how to deal with or have any regard for the real people it is discussing or the real lives people live. It's all words, words, words.
The tragedy is that words have power and that power corrupts.
God is neither male nor female, nor does he have sexual desires, nor indeed any biology, so it would be quite wrong to think that humans are any more or less in God's image on the basis of their sex or sexuality or biology. I hope I haven't given the impression that I think that (and apologize if I have).
My lapsarian theology tells me we are all equally faulty. We all sin, in all sorts of ways. We are all called to holiness, no matter how we were born, or the specific weaknesses we each have, whether those are products of genetics or upbringing or societal pressures or anything else. There is simply no hierarchy in this. I have my own weaknesses. I struggle to overcome them, and fail as often as not. But God still loves me.
The image of God in humanity resides in other things - the capacity for rational thought and for selfless love, to give two examples from Tradition. Perhaps the capacity for laughter. It is in these areas that we most look for holiness.
Loved that last post of yours, Bernard. Resonates deeply with me. Thank you.
finally, we've arrived the core of this, haven't we. For you, this has nothing to do with male and female and the marriage you ask us to justify. You've finally mentioned adultery (although you've missed out paedophilia and bestiality, you're slacking).
But I'm glad you came out with it. Because rather than us having to explain anything, it is you who has to justify on what grounds same sex relationships are as sinful as adultery etc.
What is it that makes them sinful?
What harm do they cause and to whom?
It's no good listing something negative and then vaguely speculating that because that exists other human loves and desires are probably negative too. That's a bit too tenuous to count as a proper argument.
If you want us to entertain the possibility that there is something wrong about intersex people and something immoral about non-straight sexuality, you'd better start by explaining what that might be.
Otherwise one might be tempted to assume that you were just dressing up prejudice in theological language.
'Humans are constitutionally inclined to commit adultery'
I don't know what that means, Bernard. If you had said it was an evolutionary imperative? How can that be 'morally unacceptable?' You cannot usefully construct a moral around an 'inclination.' We need to take much more notice of our evolutionary past (something the church has never even been any good at) before making such sweeping pronouncements.
'God is neither male nor female, nor does he have sexual desires.'
Again, I don't know how you know that, I would have thought God was male AND female, and was positively bursting with sexual desire. How else, would you explain the behaviour of humanity, supposedly made in his image?
I think you are too choosy about the images of God. And there is no 'perhaps' about the laughter. The bible is full of humour for those with a sense of it. Read Jonah!
Agree very much with Richard's post, that "real people and real lives get lost in all the theorising."
This isn't 'theory' for those of us who are living it. It's our lives.
What the bishops *really* need to do (and I urge any who might read here) is to apply the methods of institutional ethnography... to actually prioritise the drawing together of experiences and narratives of LGBT people themselves... this is something Tina Beardsley has called for in the past, to *listen* to the actual voices, and the actual lives, instead of projecting dogma at them.
And from there, to reflect on the actual effects of the institution, as reliably witnessed by people themselves in their real lives. And to take that interaction as a basis for critical thinking, and for critique of the institution. Hopefully a positive critique. Hopefully leading to changes.
But the priority is 'What is the reality of the actual lives being lived?' What are the joys? What are the sorrows? The hardships. The aliveness. The givenness and love.
No, this is not theoretical. This is our lives.
Please listen to how *we* find it, being Christians, Anglicans, people who seek full participation in community, the sharing of loves, of joys, of sorrows, of lives.
There was a kind of absence of transsexual voice and experience, for example, in Pilling - which Tina Beardsley rightly flagged up.
There is a huge absence of LGBT voice in most diocesan websites.
And before facilitated discussion is even under way, the dogma is pronounced. The rules and sanctions are asserted.
This methodology is so wrong.
Please, please listen.
@Bernard -- my impatience is not directed at you, but at the devil's advocate position you are admirably explicating. Nevertheless, the further we follow the logic the clearer it becomes that it's a dead end.
"it would be quite wrong to think that humans are any more or less in God's image on the basis of their sex or sexuality or biology" -- so how are these moral issues?
"we are all equally faulty" -- then why single out same-sex marriage or intersex people for such scriptural comparison?
"The image of God in humanity resides in other things - the capacity for rational thought and for selfless love" -- which can be found in people irrespective of sex, gender, sexuality, biology, physiognomy, etc... so, again -- if this is true, why are we even having the conversation? The wisdom of Phil Groom's letter is apparent.
Behind all the doctrinal abstractions are very real and very human needs; the need for love and companionship (loneliness is the ultimate poverty), and the need for freedom and dignity. Those are as necessary to human life as food, water, and air.
All of these things a loving God would not deny His children no matter their what their type, condition, or merit.
We are not animals and we are not angels, but neither are we devils.
No one "earns" their way into heaven. We are saved by Grace, not by pulling ourselves up into salvation by our bootstraps. We enter the Kingdom of Heaven because God wants us to be there, not because we are particularly good or holy. The Freedom of the Gospel is the whole burden of religion with its condemnations, and purity codes lifted from our shoulders by God himself, that God has won salvation for all of us.
The Truth we confess as Christians is not a legal code, but a Person. God's love for us is best revealed in the love we show for each other as lovers, friends, and neighbors no matter what our gender.
God is infinitely many things, including male and female (we are created in God's image), but God is not an exam proctor or a morals cop.
Jesus used Genesis to say something about marriage. I don't see how it's fanciful to include consideration of what he meant by that in thinking theologically about same sex marriage. It's only irrelevant if by same sex marriage and opposite sex marriage we are talking about two quite distinct institutions, and that Jesus therefore was saying something about the latter not the former. But if there is only one marriage then what Jesus says must be relevant, mustn't it? And if they are distinct institutions, then we hardly have a problem.
Thank you for the recommendation of "Reasonable and Holy." It certainly looks worth reading, and the reviews suggest it is a strong contribution to the debate of the kind I'm wanting to encourage. From what I can tell by what's available online, I think I shall disagree about the dispensibility of procreation from the Christian (or at least historic Anglican) understanding of marriage, but I'll certainly give it a go.
I think it important to note that notions about lapsarianism and the fall are not universally or identically held in all of Christendom. There is no indication in the biblical text that the world before the fall was "perfect" in a moral sense, merely that it was complete. There is no indication that the first humans were by nature incapable of sin -- on the contrary, it is in Eden that they do sin! Free will necessitates that inbuilt ability to choose wrongly, an inclination that is part of human nature. (I'll be preaching about all this tomorrow so it is fresh in mind!) Blaming everything on the fall, to my mind misses the point that the fall is not the source of the misuse of free will, but its result. Original Sin can be understood in ways other than Augustine's. The "inclination" to do wrong is part of human nature prior to the Fall, nor (as the Articles of Religion have it) is it done away with by Baptism.
Getting back to nouns and adjectives, however, I only raise this because it is thereby helpful to get away from categorical thinking, and look at the account as it actually reads. (Yes, I know the JPS perpetuates that translation. As I note, however, earlier sources, including the Gospel and the Damascus Document, take the point of the noun form as having significance. Both Genesis accounts are about a primal couple. Early Christian and Jewish writers took this text as the encomium for monogamy.) Pressing it as a text against same-sexuality is what I think will not quite work.
All sexuality is postlapsarian at this point. And the moral judgment as to what is good or bad should rest on recognizable moral values of fidelity, selfless love (as you note a spark of the divine image) and so on.
I agree with your general emphasis.
On the other hand, argument is one of the means we have to use to secure virtuous ends.
I also think it implied by your general emphasis that the arguments of LGBT people should not only carry more weight than they currently do but that they should always carry more weight proportionately than those of non-LGBT people.
Bernard, there are at least two ways of reading the concept of 'male and female He created them': that humans were created in two distinct categories, male and female, or that both male and female are made in God's image rather than say, females being defective males or less 'spiritual' beings. The latter would have needed saying in the ancient world and possibly still does.
I think the startling nature of Paul's suggestion that in Christ there is no longer male and female, and Gospel accounts of Jesus' refusal to conform to gender norms, posed such a challenge to the worldviews of the time that their implications were largely set aside, and the C of E bishops have not yet fully engaged with what these might mean.
"All sexuality is postlapsarian at this point"
How do we know this?
Don't like to agree with Interested Observer but I do think the clock is ticking for the C of E and this is one of the factors (only one but an important one) that is making it so tick. So even simply from a prudential point of view, it's important to fix it - not to get everybody to agree to the full agenda (that's impossible) but to fix it sufficiently that gay people who want same-sex church blessings and marriage can access them. And another important aspect to this is that when it is so fixed it will free up an awful lot of time to achieve other things - like, for example, getting more people to church, which I take to be an aim which most of us here can agree on.
"I think the startling nature of Paul's suggestion that in Christ there is no longer male and female, and Gospel accounts of Jesus' refusal to conform to gender norms, posed such a challenge to the worldviews of the time that their implications were largely set aside, and the C of E bishops have not yet fully engaged with what these might mean."
Amen. Thank you Savi.
God created us, male and female, in God's own image.
I suppose I have (consciously) considered gender as much as most people here, and I have intimate experience of living as a man, and intimate experience of living as a woman.
In the process of transition, I have also felt aware of the accompaniment of God, and in what way my own identity informs me about this God in whose image I am made.
My deep impression is that God contains, feels and expresses everything it is to be a man. And God contains, feels and expresses everything it is to be a woman. But, beyond all that, there is so much more that transcends gender altogether. The unfathomable personhood of God is so deep, that you reach a point where 'male' or 'female' cannot contain or express the whole of who God is.
I've very much found this in my own transition journey. You might suppose, that going through gender transition, gender is central to what matters in the life of someone like me. But I haven't found that. I've found that the deepest parts of who I am, remain the same, transcend gender, and are better expressed as 'personhood'.
Beyond even that, in the contemplative state, I'm not even sure that 'personhood' is an applicable term.
Yes, we are made, male and female, in the image of God. But what is more important in our relationships and love for another person, is our 'personhood'. And that should be the (deeper)level at which we commit to each other, and seek sacrament and marriage.
I don't love my partner primarily as a procreative sex object. I love my partner for who she is as a person. And to that extent, like God in whose image she is made, gender is transcended.
Gender isn't ignored. It is real. Real enough to transition for. Gender is lovely, expressive, a psychological state of mind. But beyond even gender is personhood, beyond personhood is the great sharing in the awareness and consciousness of God which we may know (sometimes) in contemplation or ecstasy.
On the subject of ecstasy, please don't tell me God doesn't have desires! Don't make me laugh! God can come in ways that fulfil the idea of sexual climax, and yet transcend it totally. Indeed, God is a jealous lover. And astonishingly, we may be all lovely to God, and objects of desire, devotion, care and love.
Erika, I think Tobias meant by "postlapsarian" that everything is affected by the Fall, all sexuality, all church doctrine, etc. Nothing is perfect.
I would take "always already postlapsarian" as meaning there was no Fall. A moment of purity never existed. But we are fallen becuse there is no perfection. Evolution/natural selection has replaced the Fall as a working notion. The problem is the myth the church uses has died.
Everything becomes allegorical, meaning that instead of truth there are other ways speaking.
I really don't see the point in getting a dying institution to update its medieval views because the time for that seems to have come to an end, when a same-sex couple can live as equal to a sex-discordant couple in the secular world. The world of religion has often been one of bigotry and prejudice anyway.
An established religion probably can only go so far. The coronation ceremony of the next monarch will probably say something about the future of the C of E, if it has one. A ceremony which is more secular and multicultural will probably show how much is left of Anglicanism.
Gary Paul Gilbert
Another thing I hope all here can agree on: it's wonderful that Susanna has such a terrific sex life. Personally, I'm green with envy.
Thank you yet again, Susannah
Erika, Gary is correct on both counts, though let me finesse it a tad.
If one wishes to follow the "story": sex (= gender) exists prior to the "fall" but sexuality emerges as a result of it. Adam does not "know" Eve until after their exile, and Eve does not experience "longing" (t'shukah) for Adam apart from the 'curse' pronounced in the coda to the account of the fall. Augustine came up with all sorts of imagined notions of how sex would have worked without desire, but I think he remains a soloist in these imaginings. He also believed the first couple to be "naturally" immortal, but that clearly doesn't jibe with the actual text, which connects their immortality with the tree of life. My point in all this is that if one is going to attempt to apply a myth, one needs to be very attentive to what the myth actually says. And it is also quite possible to over-allegorize and expand on details that are incidental, and quite miss the point of what the allegory really is about; which I take to begin in the solution to the problem set out at the beginning: "it is not good for the man to be alone" -- the answer to which is human likeness in another, bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh, one like him as a suitable helper -- and the rest, as to the snake and the tree, and the curse, I'll be preaching on that on Sunday....
However, as Gary also notes, part of what I was getting at is that the text does not really mention anything about a "Fall" -- this is an understanding projected back onto the text. It is one way of reading the story, but not the only way, by far. As I noted, the Eastern Orthodox tradition has never adopted the Augustinian view of things; which we in the West are largely beholden to due to its continued emphasis by Protestant, Reformed, and Roman alike. I prefer the nuance in the Anglican tradition, to which I alluded above, and which places the inclination to sin within the human heart from the beginning -- in agreement with the Rabbis who note the balance of inclination towards good or evil -- the 'yetzer tov' and 'yetzer ra' -- as present in Adam -- a more helpful human anthropology and one consistent with both the account in Genesis and actual human experience than any surmised perfection from which humankind "fell."
What I'm saying, Bernard, is that, in the face of real, measurable human suffering - and please don't use the old tropes of adultery, murder, incest, etc. as these are considered morally-reprehensible to the same degree as cultures that have no use for the Judeo-Christian narrative - all this "Thinking" is merely an excuse to ignore, and playing that the Bible has an equal standing with the real, measurable harm being done is not "Thinking" but "Dissembling."
Once again, I’m away for a few hours and there’s hoards to catch up with.
Erika, (Tues 1.38 pm)
I haven’t said that same sex relationships are as sinful as adultery. Leaving aside the fact that it’s actions that are sinful, my point is only that we cannot read from something being “natural” in this world to it being “right.” By contrast, the love of a parent shown towards a child is “natural,” and we would also say it is “right/good.” So some natural things are good, and some are not. But the mere fact of being natural doesn’t enable us to distinguish which is which. We need some other way of working out what to think about non-straight sexuality.
You ask on what grounds same sex relationships might be sinful. I’m sure you know why this is a position some people hold. It may be Biblical for some, or for some because any sexual act not geared towards procreation has the character of lust (Thomas Aquinas, for example). Answers are entirely possible to these positions: that the Biblical texts have in mind cultic prostitution, which is clearly harmful; or that sexual expressions of intimacy may be seen as good because of their bonding and self-giving character. These answers convince some, not others. The original grounds convince some not others. But that’s not really the discussion I thought we were having. The sinfulness or not of non-procreative sex is distinct from the question of same sex marriage (although there are obviously connections).
Incidentally, it’s probably not the case that Christians can or should only call sinful those things for which they can explicate the harm done. It is perfectly possible for God to declare something sinful, so that not doing it is a mark of respecting God’s authority in one’s life, and nothing else. The eating of pork for Jews might be an example of this. The act of circumcision might even be something which is harmful, but the avoidance of which was declared sinful. Alternatively God might command/forbid something because he sees a bigger picture that we don’t.
P.S. I’m not clear why a person’s being intersex is so caught up in this. Surely it is a physical state, with no more or less moral content in itself than being, for example, blonde?
I was aware as I wrote that “constitutionally inclined to commit adultery” was not a totally satisfactory expression. But my point was precisely that it seems to be an evolutionary imperative – and yet we still say it is wrong. I take the point of morality to be about overcoming our evolutionary past – managing to do better than our genes would suggest.
In saying that God is neither male nor female etc, I’m standing (quite happily I might say) in the mainstream of classical Christian orthodoxy. I take male and female and sexual desire to be aspect of biology, which God doesn’t have. The image of God resides in the non-biological therefore – which is why I have to give laughter a “perhaps,” since it might be a biological function. Please note that biological does not mean bad, here, just not the same substance as God.
Susannah Clark (Tues 1.47 pm),
thank you for putting the call to listen so very well.
If I may, I suspect that the methodology of pronouncing dogma and asserting rules (apart from being a holding position in many ways) is based on the idea that the model of discipleship the Church wants to uphold is prior to modern lived experience. This is because it’s based on the life and teaching of Jesus. I don’t think here’s anything wrong with that basic methodology. But the model of discipleship has always also been dependent on the Church’s reflection on the life of Jesus – and that reflection must include the lived experience of each age. If the methodology refuses to do that reflecting, then it becomes wrong. But even when the reflecting happens, it can only be afterwards, and as things develop. A time lag is inevitable. That has always involved pain for individuals. I don’t feel that invalidates the basic methodology – but it is urgent to use the methodology well.
‘"it would be quite wrong to think that humans are any more or less in God's image on the basis of their sex or sexuality or biology" -- so how are these moral issues?’
Sex and sexuality and biology are not themselves moral issues. What we do with our biology (by which I mean the totality of our physical actions, not merely sexual ones) does enter into moral issues. And we’re having the conversation because the proper use of sexuality is an area of discipleship which has been an area of particular controversy of late. There are many other areas of discipleship that could be covered (anyone for the abuse of power in Ukraine, and church involvement in that?), but this is the topic most exercising Thinking Anglicans at the moment. No one is being singled out.
Tobias (Tues 3.00 pm),
You are absolutely correct that there are various different views of the fall in Christian Tradition – we certainly don’t need to agree with Augustine (I don’t, for one). Clearly the first humans did sin – they weren’t morally perfect. But, for example, I think it would be perfectly coherent to argue that their situation was what God intended, and that the very first departure from God’s intention for humanity was their disobedience by an act of free will. The male-female pair is prior to that.
In any case, I can’t think of any part of the Tradition which would deny the general point that the world we experience today is not the world that God intended it to be. And that’s the key point I’m drawing from the “myth”: is can’t now be taken as ought. Whether it ever could be is a slightly different part of the discussion.
I’m still not getting the point about nouns and adjectives, I’m afraid, but I for one was never pressing it as a ”text against same-sexuality.” That, again, is a slightly different part of the discussion. I was only referring it to the nature of marriage.
As you say, all sexuality (indeed every human action) is postlapsarian, and so our judgement must rest on recognizable moral values. But it must also, for Christians at least, rest on God’s self-revelation in the Word. Otherwise, Christians will never be out of step with the world, and can never therefore be prophetic. That, surely, would be a bad thing.
intersex is caught up in it because, like same sex sexuality, it is something people are born with and that, as you rightly point out, is morally neutral in itself.
What counts is what lives people lead, and it is hard to see why gay people leading the same lives as straights should be sinful for them.
You advance procreation and the avoidance of lust as an argument for the sinfulness of same sex relationships.
But not all married couples have, can have or want children, most continue to have sex after they finished having children.
That argument therefore holds no water in practice.
Nor anywhere else, because the church neither requires consummation nor children for a marriage to be valid.
So apart from that fallacy - what other arguments are there against same sex relationships?
What makes them so sinful that people must be forced to suffer in order to protect them and society from the effects of that sin?
can’t the Creation being “male and female” mean both in two distinct categories, and also each fully in God’s image? Holding them as distinct but equal is quite a challenge – a challenge the Church has often failed even to attempt. Note that Paul elsewhere is quite clear that the distinction is not absolutely abolished in Christ (e.g. 1 Corinthians 11).
I feel I have to give the Bible a serious place if I’m to call myself a Christian. And that’s at least in part because the Bible offers such a strong critique of the harm done by humans to humans (condemnation of the rich exploiting the poor, for example). Some of the moral standards the Bible calls us to are not as obvious as others. Does that mean we are simply free to reject them? But if we do that, by what standard do we keep any of them? And then where is our critique of the world? I suppose this is a slippery slope argument, of a kind. So if we, in the end, declare ourselves free of an apparent prima facie Biblical moral injunction, we must do the work to show why that is, and why that does not bring the whole thing falling down around our ears. That’s what I’m asking for – not that the Bible is inerrant in its “plain sense” (for I know there is no such thing).
Susannah (Tues 5.20pm),
My big theological worry is that in all these discussions we lose sight of personhood. "What does it mean to be a human person?" has to be a central question, since the Son became incarnate as a person. Whatever our particular circumstances, we are loved and saved as persons. It is at the level of person that Jesus is of one substance with our humanity. We are all called to live out our personhood as disciples of Christ.
That we have to live our personhood in the particular bodies and bodily and social circumstances we are given, is at a secondary level of what being human means, I suggest, though obviously not one that we can (or should seek to) avoid. If we make sex, gender, sexuality or anything else more important than personhood, that seems to me to be a form of idolatry, and also to risk breaking up the Incarnation of Christ. “What is not assumed is not healed,” works only if it means at the level of personhood.
I object to the use of the term "fall" in this discussion. And "prelapsarian" and "postlapsarian."
Look, people. The Fall is a nice theological construct. But let's face it. There never was a state of completeness. There was simply a state of unknowing--of, at best, animal consciousness.
And that state was not perfect--unless you think that the natural world, with all its carnivorous savagery and pain, is (or could be) perfect.
Then, metaphorically speaking, we ate of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. And we became thinking beings, capable of rationality--and more importantly, capable of truth and falsehood. And of valuing the one and disapproving of the other.
There was no lapse. There has been a long rise.
Adam and Eve are not a moral model. They are, of course, a procreative model. They have to be that, by definition.
In that case we can simply point out that the world is not encased in a dome and that stars are not simply light coming through the Holy Colander.
Now, if you are saying that I should break my head trying to convince people who believe nothing can be believed since "the Fall," then I have no intention of doing that. They and I can walk apart.
I, too, take the Scripture very seriously, which is why I refuse to be bound *by* mere words on paper. Perhaps it's because I spent so much of my childhood in a very Jewish neighborhood in Florida, where I constantly heard the meaning of Scripture, both Torah and Prophets, argued and learned of the halakha as a real-world application of an idealized law. Whatever the case, no - I don't accept that I have to rationalize why I can clearly see sense, logic and applicability in some Scripture, and a need to realize a mythologized cosmology in others. The fact that it was compiled, as well as written and/or glossed by men with definite *political* motivations is more than enough for me. In the end, I think it comes down to those who worship Scripture and those who worship the Living God it points to. I don't say this as put-down, but as an acknowledgement of one of humanity's greatest flaws: the need to put "case closed" on the entire universe, thus owning it.
I think that Paul's statement that: "In Christ, there is neither male nor female" was prescient - way ahead, even, of Paul's own understanding at the time. Nevertheless, his words remain in the scriptures, and are in need of further, deeper, speculation than the dogged promoters of a purely binary model of sexuality are prepared to accept or acknowledge.
After all, the ultimate state of our humanity is to be 'like the angels', with no differentiation in gender or sexuality, rendering our earthly biological nature a matter of impermanence, and of no eternal significance.
"God is Spirit, and we must worship God in Spirit and in truth"
being intersex is something people are born with, in a purely physical sense - that's abundantly clear. Sexuality is, as far as I can tell from the research, far less clear: at least for some people their sexuality is fluid, so that they may report a particular sexual orientation at some points in life and not others (this cuts both ways: mostly X can report periods of Y). It is not clear what causes shifts across the spectrum of sexuality. Yet for many (most?) people it would appear that their sexuality is fixed, at least within very narrow confines. This is part of what causes difficulty for the Church - how does this work out morally? For it is sexual actions rather sexuality that have moral value/consequences (hence being intersex is not difficult, but what a person of any physical sexual constitution does might be).
We might very well want to say that acting only within the sexuality we were born in cannot be morally wrong. Fine, that's a perfectly coherent position. But certain sexual actions appear to be condemned in the Bible. Well, we might argue these condemnations are of cultic prostitution etc, and what is being condemned is the promiscuity, and changing between sexualities in the process. Good. But what do we say, in a context where we expect monogamy, to those people who have fluid sexualities? That I think, is not straightforward. I suspect that at least part of the Church's struggle to deal with these issues is a sense that all non-straight sexualities are temporary - or at least potentially so. That sense may be utterly wrong, but the Church is always going to veer towards cut-and-dried, black and white moral positions - at least in official teaching, even if pastoral exceptions are made more quietly. And note it's not just Churches that like clear positions - I think we all find them easier to get our heads around, and most politics is based on this premise. So how do we deal with this?
I hope you understand that I'm working through possible lines of thought here, not advocating them.
much as you dislike the notion of the Fall, it is too big a part of the Tradition simply to dismiss it out of hand. And without it, even taken as a myth, how do you account for the world made by a perfect loving God being so messed up?
it doesn't take the Bible seriously to say that the cosmological stories work at the same level as the moral precepts, and that rejecting one entails rejecting the other. I think we are actually broadly in agreement about how the authority of scripture works. The problem I'm pointing to is that it can be very hard to explain which precepts are eternal, and which are for the hardness of our hearts.
we shall be like the angels in that we shall not marry. That says nothing of whether we shall be male or female. Children do not marry, and yet they are male and female. Not only is the application of this passage you suggest (I know it's not just you) logically flawed, it denies the reality of the Resurrection. If it was not the same Christ who died who was raised, then our faith is in vain. No thanks.
the church very rarely veers towards black and white teachings. Its definition of marriage has changed frequently over time to take new social contexts into account.
And I would expect the church not to retreat into a binary Genesis theology (while dismissing how Tobias interprets those texts out of hand) when it makes its discernment but to take into account modern science and psychology and the lives of real people.
We simply cannot circle around the same 7 bible verses forever as if they alone informed how people live and should live.
And I would still like to know just what it is about homosexuality that the church believes is so sinful that a whole group of people has to be forced to live diminished lives for no apparent benefit to anyone.
Bernard (at 2:38 pm) writes, "So if we, in the end, declare ourselves free of an apparent prima facie Biblical moral injunction, we must do the work to show why that is, and why that does not bring the whole thing falling down around our ears. That’s what I’m asking for – not that the Bible is inerrant in its “plain sense” (for I know there is no such thing)."
This is in part what I've attempted in Reasonable and Holy, to which Erika (who receives no royalties for her recommendation!) referred. My concern is to examine the texts from within the tradition, but informed by modern science and psychology, and a knowledge of the cultural and religious contexts in which the Scripture came to be recorded. I am also seeking to outline what exactly are the moral values behind the texts, so as to deliver them from the kind of "arbitrary" commandment you've referred to ('X is wrong because God says so,' without any other rational explanation.) So I hope you find it useful, even if you do not agree with the arguments or line of thought I laid out.
As to the nouns and adjectives, I suggest you take a look at David Instone-Brewer's essay on Monogamy in the OT.
The Rabbis, Jesus and the early church did not read Gen 1:27 as having to do with heterosexuality (in a limiting sense), but as a support for the limitation of marriage to a couple for life; the point being that at the beginning God created a couple (not a large group of people) to be the parents of the whole human race. (It would be a very odd creation story that did not account for the beginnings of humanity!)
I am not suggesting we need be bound by that interpretation, but it is the interpretation of the early church. Pressing the Creation account to imply that only heterosexual couples are allowed rather misses the point, and cannot have been in the minds of those who composed the text, or interpreted it (until very recent times.)
I would say the Church does prefer black-and-white, when available: divorce is wrong; euthanasia is wrong; breaking vows is wrong; fast before receiving Communion. These things are easy to teach, easy for the average church-goer to understand. When teaching does change, it would tend to go from one black-and-white pretty rapidly to another (i.e. within a decade or two). At any given time there is little flexibility about official teaching, and the Church won't like changing too much at a time. The impression of clarity and stability are valued. Note, again, I'm talking about the official level, rather than undercurrents, which also always exist.
Partly because of the desire for stability, the Church may well be slow to take up the findings of modern science etc. This is especially so when the science is not fully clear. Nor does science have a perfect track record - it is as subject to ideology as anything else. We may be thankful that the Church did not systematically endorse the eugenics of the early twentieth century, for example (although sadly the influence was felt). Freudian psychoanalysis doesn't generally come off well.
As to why the Church thinks there might be benefit in regulating people's sexuality, one could give as examples: teaching against pre-marital sex as intended to avoid unwanted pregnancies and lone parenting; teaching against divorce as intended to avoid broken homes, with all the damage that does, especially to children. A concern for upholding family life seems to me quite proper, as a social good (and of course the Church is all about community). There are those, particularly probably within certain strands of Christianity, who argue that same sex marriage dilutes or weakens the ability of the Church to give strong teaching about the family. Thus the harm done would be at a societal level, but then affecting real lives in broken homes etc. I don't think there's any real evidence for this position, but nor is the evidence against sufficiently robust yet fatally to undermine it. It makes enough intuitive sense to some that it can be put alongside Biblical prohibitions as seeming to make a strong case - and its conveniently black-and-white.
Again, I'm describing, not advocating. But I don't think we can simply dismiss such views in some kind of a priori way, if we're truly to be seen as Thinking.
"Jeremy, much as you dislike the notion of the Fall, it is too big a part of the Tradition simply to dismiss it out of hand."
Why? Tradition has no weight by itself, it must have merit. To claim otherwise is the authority fallacy.
The fall makes no sense in an evolutionary framework, and I dismiss it out of hand. See how easy that was!
"Sexuality is, as far as I can tell from the research, far less clear..."
I think you need to go back to the research Bernard. Almost all research points to sexual orientation being fixed at/just after birth. People's behaviour is more fluid than their orientation, but the two are not the same.
A good starting point/ summary of the state of current scientific research might be "Born Gay: The Psychobiology of Sex Orientation" by Wilson Glenn.
Since personhood has now been mentioned, I think it's worth suggesting that there are few who wouldn't count human dignity and rights as being at least part of what personhood means. To my mind human dignity means moral autonomy and physical self-determination (within the constraints of harm to others). I think this is a liberal view but also a Gospel one.
More's my dismay, then, that notwithstanding the genuine theological disagreements being aired here, our Bishops don't have the moral integrity to allow the personal consciences of their gay clergy to govern their marriages and ministries under the law of the land. The greater guilt, I'm afraid, lies with the Bishops. They must find the courage to disagree without beginning witch-hunts.
Bernard hits some important nerve points, I think:
"We need some other way of working out what to think about non-straight sexuality."
I think this is worth highlighting, for what it really means is "Straight people need ... " For heterosexual Christians, the existence of same-gender families is a theological conundrum which must be solved on theological terms if they are to be "upheld." For the families themselves, they are a reality whose good fruits speak for themselves, and to which any serious theology will have to find a way to reconcile itself if it is not to consign itself to angels-on-a-pin musings.
"But certain sexual actions appear to be condemned in the Bible."
Very well, let them be condemned, and condemned across the board. The problem is that there are some advocating for the condemnation of _all_ sexual actions, for a certain category of people, regardless of whether the Church in fact considers such actions to be sinful. This is why those who say things like "Homosexuality is sinful" are speaking unintelligibly, rather than just incorrectly as a matter of fact: there is no such thing as a uniquely "homosexual" act for us to speak of as having any moral value, whether sinful or virtuous.
"There are those, particularly probably within certain strands of Christianity, who argue that same sex marriage dilutes or weakens the ability of the Church to give strong teaching about the family ... But I don't think we can simply dismiss such views in some kind of a priori way, if we're truly to be seen as Thinking."
We can absolutely dismiss them in an a priory way: being "Thinking" doesn't mean we have to entertain any and all unthinking, reflexive reaction. It is simply logically impossible - a priori - for the damage caused by broken homes to be used as an argument for creating more broken homes, as opponents of same-sex families wish to do. Likewise, it is impossible to use the purported ideal benefit of a mother and a father to argue that children who for whatever reason cannot have such a family should instead get nothing. Every argument against making provision for same-sex unions is indirectly a much more forceful argument against the alternative. This is the danger in speaking of marriage as a kind of platonic form which must be protected from the threat of actual marriages: you end up with the absurdity of groups with names like "National Organization for [sic] Marriage" and the singular mandate of securing the mass annulment of marriages!
we seem to have a spent much of this thread talking about the conversation you think we need to have.
Why are we not having it instead of talking about having it?
There are books out there to answer all the questions you have been posing. I've given you links to several of them.
How about you read some of them and then we can have a conversation about the answers they give? Whether you agree with them or not, on what grounds you don't agree with them etc.
What is stopping those who forever tell us that we must have this conversation from actually having it?
I’m not sure how soon I can get to reading Holy and Reasonable, but I shall certainly do so.
Thank you for the link to that article. It makes a very good case for the primary concern of Jesus being monogamy as opposed to polygamy, but the suggested link to Noah’s two-by-two surely implies mating pairs. This might not be specified only because it is so obvious – Genesis 1 doesn’t tell us that the trees had green leaves!
I’m also always a bit suspicious about claims that we know the “cultural and religious contexts” of scripture. We simply don’t have enough information in most cases to be at all sure. So, for example, the Mishnah is no guide to interpretation of the Gospels, because it’s 130 years or so later, and probably written with knowledge of them. In another thread on TA someone has claimed that Joseph’s “coat with sleeves [was] the dress of a high born virgin girl.” Based on what, exactly? We don’t even know what the Hebrew word describing the coat means. Psalm 45.14 perhaps? Different words, different context, different time period.It’s the danger that this kind of nonsense gets perpetuated that worries me about comparative studies.
the merit of Tradition is that it is the collective wisdom and God-experience of two thousand years of Christians; Christians with whom we are in Communion as the Body of Christ. If you want you can dismiss it and re-invent the wheel every time you sit down to think about God, but that might start to look like dismissing your membership of the Body.
it's quite had to know what people's sexual orientation is, if it's not expressed in their behaviour. Some interesting research is collected at
There's enough to suggest that sexuality is far less fixed than being intersex. The Moch & Eibach article is pretty clear.
I think there are many Christians (I'd admit to being one) who find the language of human rights and moral autonomy difficult. It doesn't sit well with "thy will be done." It certainly needs a strong Gospel critique at times. Personal conscience is a proper guide, but the Church has a teaching role in producing a well-informed conscience in its members.
when I say “We need” I think I do mean “we,” not just straight people. The struggle which the Church has in affirming same-sex relationships is surely a struggle which impacts same sex couples. The tensions affect everybody, and what hurts one member affects every member.
I don’t think I totally understand what you say about sexual actions. Isn’t a sexual act between two people of the same sex a homosexual sexual act? Clearly there are certain sexual acts which are available to both hetero- and homosexual couples (both oral and anal sex, for example), and those which can be done alone. The Church has a long tradition of condemning any sexual act which is non-procreative in intent – Thomas Aquinas calls them “sins against nature.” The Church probably in its official teaching still wants to insist that all “right” sexual acts are of the procreative kind. Perhaps there needs to be a much more open discussion about the non-procreative sexual acts that heterosexual couples typically get up to. I can’t think when a bishop last (ever?) discussed this, let alone said that oral sex is perfectly OK. But I don’t think clarity about what we’re actually talking about gets us all the way to same sex marriage. Probably only to civil partnerships.
And no-one (I hope) is suggesting creating more broken homes. There’s no suggestion that “non-standard” families would become outlawed. It would be a case of trying to prevent future broken homes and future parentless children as much as possible, by putting in place measures to promote stable family life – assuming one thinks that opposing same sex marriage would have that effect. I take it this would be part of a wider package of promoting families, and strengthening actual marriages. No system is ever perfect, but that’s the kind of thing which could be a goal. The question for such an “idealist” to answer is whether short-term pain is worth trading for a long-term benefit. We have the same kind of calculus with cutting benefits now for the long-term goal of reducing welfare dependency. But perhaps I’ve misunderstood what you’re getting at here.
much as I might like to, I don't have the time or resources to read all the books which have been produced on both sides of his topic. So I'm hoping to talk about it with people who have read some of them, who can say "so-and-so makes an interesting point about this, which is X, and the reasons for thinking this are A,B, and C."
I've tried to suggest counter-arguments to the idea that same sex marriage is obviously right and good (which seems the default position of most on Thinking Anglicans), and to understand the thinking behind those counter-arguments. Where I've misunderstood the thinking, or you think that there are other factors too, please say so. Where the counter-argument can be knocked down or even met half way in Biblical or theological terms, please show me how, even (especially?) if you're using someone else's material to do so.
May be sometimes I'll say "I'm not convinced," and you'll need to say "well, you need to read the more detailed treatment of this in the book," but please at least start the job of trying to convince me. That way I at least have something to take into discussions with my more conservative brothers and sisters.
my problem is not just with you - I would not be half as exasperated and would not sound half as impatient if it was only a dialogue with one person.
It's a very real problem. People start out by not reading anything much and insisting that we keep going back to the baseline and spend all our times answering the same basic point all over again.
Clearly, you have an interest in this or you would not be on Thinking Anglicans. Usually, when we have an interest in something we read about it and become better acquainted with the topic, and then we talk to those who maybe have a different view.
It's partly a question of time. This conversation has gone on for decades and it has to shift. We cannot forever go back to the same baseline. It is time for those who want to continue to deny that our relationships are moral and those who do not believe that we can be married, and especially those who actually want to engage constructively to do their own work in advance.
THEN we can have a fruitful conversation.
The people who wrote these books wrote them to inform you. They wrote them so, having read them, you do not have to go back to baseline but can debate at a higher and more constructive level.
I really wish you did.
@Bernard: tradition had a lot to say about slaveholding. Was that "collective wisdom and God-experience of two thousand years of Christians"?
As for being uneasy with moral autonomy and human rights (which doesn't, incidentally, imply anything about atomisation, and in no way, as highly educated liberal societies attest, precludes teaching)... I fear this speaks volumes. How could slavery have been explained to be immoral, after all, without conceptions of autonomy and rights? They are core elements of human morality, and dismissed at Christians' peril.
Thank you, Bernard. I take your point about handling resources such as the Mishnah with care, but I think it is right to make use of the insights it can bring, specifically to the Judaisms of the time from which much of it is purportedly handed down (though recorded after the fact). This is part of the importance of Tradition to which you give significant weight in the Christian context, so it is fair to give the same due respect to Judaism.
When it comes to the Qumran texts, we are dealing with material contemporaneous with the emergence of Christianity, some of it earlier, so it is helpful to see some of what was in the air in a far-from-monolithic Judaism. These materials explain much of the tension that existed between various schools, and where the teachings of Jesus and Paul (who declares himself a pupil of Gamaliel the Great) line up with rabbinic thinking. (If you'd like a ref on the subject, I commend Harvey Falk's _Jesus the Pharisee_; it grounds much of Jesus' conflict on fine points of the law -- sabbath and diet -- within the ongoing Judaisms of which Jesus was part.)
In short, if we are going to refer to a Tradition of teaching, in particular on Jewish tradition, we need to look to such resources as are available, even if they date from centuries after the facts; just as we do to the writings of the Patristic Era for light on specifically Christian understandings.
These too must be handled with care, in particular when they diverge in understanding. (For example, Chrysostom reads Paul in Romans 1 as referring to lesbianism, Clement of Alexandria and Augustine of Hippo take him as referring to women allowing their husbands to engage in "nonprocreative" sex). To this day scholars are divided on Paul's meaning, though I tend to favor the nonprocreative reading as making better sense of the whole passage, illumined as it is by Wisdom 13-15 and Stoic thinking; and go into some detail about this in my book.)
It's been pointed out to me in a real life context that some of what I've posted might well have been found offensive by some. If so I apologize unreservedly. The person who told me this happens to know that I tend to pedantry, and therefore understood what I'm trying to do better than others might. I am genuinely wanting to have a real discussion, and to get as much clarity on points of detail as possible. I'm not trying to score points, or grind an axe. To me, playing devil's advocate here is about improving the overall quality of the thinking going on.
I'm aware that how people feel can sometimes get lost in all the the thinking. That matters. But solid reasoning is important in moving things forward. That's what I'm trying to achieve, in some small way.
“To me, playing devil's advocate here is about improving the overall quality of the thinking going on.”
Then please do some reading and help us to improve the overall quality of the conversation.
You could search the TA archives to find out that we have been having the conversations you are trying to have with us here for years.
The offense is not in what you said but in the fact that after years of conversation that is still all that is being said. And in the fact that you automatically assume that there is no quality of thinking going on here unless you prompt us to do it – with the same old same old tired questions.
We are so so tired of explaining over and over again how Genesis could be read etc. and with every single conversation starting with the premise that we are the selfish immoral ones who have to put some effort into explaining to the discerning distracters just why they should take our arguments seriously.
You have been extremely lucky that Tobias has been reading this thread and commented – also for the umpteenth time, possibly quite frustrated too, but somehow still with extraordinary patience.
But you do not have to rely on authors being present to explain their theology to you. That’s why they’ve written books about it.
And they, and we, would love nothing more than for people to read those books and then come back and have a genuinely intelligent conversation with us.
An earlier note may have gone over the word limit, so I'll be a bit more concise.
Bernard, I take your caution on the Mishnah, but given the high regard for Tradition in rabbinic Judaism, it may well represent at least a good bit of the context in which the Church found its origins. The controversies about diet and the Sabbath are well reflected there, including attitudes from the time of and before Christ.
I regard the Qumran and OT Pseudepigrapha as equally helpful, and more likely contextual.
If we are going to appeal to the writings of Christian Fathers from some centuries after the period, for light on Christian teaching, it is surely fair to do the same with Jewish authors for light on the Judaisms of Jesus' time. (I commend Harvey Falk's _Jesus the Pharisee_ as a good example of this kind of study.)
All later interpretation has to be weighed. For instance, Romans 1 concerning women and "the natural use" was read differently by Chrysostom (lesbianism) and Clement Alex and Augustine Hippo (non-procreative sex with men). There is no monolithic "tradition" just different readings.
And much of what people imagine to be "Tradition" is really a development since the 19th century.
ED: your earlier note got caught in the spam trap, now published.
I'm afraid I'm feeling thoroughly frustrated by your refusal to engage with me. You give the impression that you think if everybody read Tobias' book the whole problem would go away because everyone would agree with him. Excellent as it no doubt is (and based on what he says here, I've genuinely no doubt that it is) one book cannot carry that weight. You've mentioned no other, nor linked/shown how to find other pages in Thinking Anglicans or other web resources that you think are particularly good for this particular debate.
Where have I said that being homosexual is sinful? Where have I condemned homosexual acts as sinful? Haven't I shown that I know the arguments for seeing those seven verses as being very specific in context, and not really applicable to modern understandings? I can be just as frustrated by misuse of Galatians 3.28 or Mark 12.25//, but I don't stop discussing with people.
You yourself have asked why the Church might want to oppose same sex marriage, and, without endorsing them, I've responded with suggestions about why (discordance with apparent Biblical teaching, which is distinct from forbidden sexual acts; general resistance to change; a feeling that something is lost in the teaching of marriage and family life). You haven't met those suggestions even part way.
You've claimed science enables us to know better, and I've noted that it's not that simple, because of the Traditional theology of the world being fallen (and I've explained that this theology is meaningful, certainly to me, even without a notion of an historical Fall event), and because science has its own ideologies. All I seem to be getting from anyone is a wholesale denial of Tradition's value, which doesn't persuade me (for reasons I've given), and is hardly likely to persuade the House of Bishops of the Church of England.
I feel I'm banging my head against a brick wall just as surely as if I was trying to engage with a conservative Evangelical on this topic. I understand this is highly personal to you, but here we are on a website which is all about discussion. Do you understand why I feel the standard of the discussion is mostly not very high? I for one want to move the discussion forward - what chance do facilitated discussions have if people won't engage?
thank you. I worry about the Mishnah most when it is closest to questions Christians are interested in - I take it that he Rabbis were just as capable of inventing tradition as anybody else, especially where polemical uses are possible. This isn't to say I reject it out of hand. The Qumran materials and OT pseudepigrahpa are well worth using, but at least the former are self-consciously not mainstream, and it's very unclear how much of any of this might have been known to Jesus. Again huge doses of caution needed.
I entirely agree that we must treat the Church Fathers with extreme care as well. They tell us not what Jesus/Paul meant, but what the Church has thought they meant. Tradition is rarely monolithic, but as Biblical interpretation belongs to the Church, we have to tread very carefully if we are to tread outside the established variety of interpretations.
Granted Christians are also able to invent tradition, could you say which particular ones are 19th century developments? Perhaps you mean verbal inerrancy of scripture, but for myself, I wouldn't dream of calling that Tradition.
Checked the spam and found one post, now published.
Well, Bernard, there's no "engaging" with the people you're talking about.
This is the big problem of a liberal worldview - everybody has to be in one big family. We don't. Walking apart from one another is nothing to be ashamed of, when walking together is causing more evil than good. I know, I know - the whole body parable used in 1 Corinthians. The head cannot say to the feet . . . and on, and on.
But . . .
You don't walk on your head, nor think with your feet. You don't look with the ear, and hear with the eye. So, the parts of the body don't have to all be one thing. This refusal to separate is out of fear, and is a way of saying that we don't need this part or that part.
There is nothing to do to "engage" the people you're talking about. Maybe we're not meant to. It's God's decision, not ours, and each has to decide for him/herself what they're willing to believe. In that respect, yes, the world is fallen. Sometimes, you have to enforce, rather than persuade. Sometimes, people can't share the same house.
"Sometimes, people can't share the same house."
- Mark Brunson -
And, after all; is that not why the Church of England decided it was time to allow for Divorce of Married Persons who simply are too destructive of one another to reside in amity?
And now, even the R.C. Church is considering giving divorced Catholics the Eucharist.