Comments: Connecticut update

"a member of the American Anglican Council, a group of orthodox Episcopal parishes"

Aaaaaaargh! Hey Great Gray Lady, that's SELF-DESCRIBED "orthodox"!

Posted by J. C. Fisher at Monday, 25 April 2005 at 5:12am BST

Bishop Smith would have nothing to worry about if he had remained orthodox! But his support of Gene Robinson and same gender blessings and the gay agenda - all of which are against the teachings of Jesus - may well lead to a replacement church. But Bishop Smith should be willing to own the blame if it happens.

Posted by The Very Rev'd Michael J. Shank at Monday, 25 April 2005 at 4:01pm BST

Oh no! not the dreaded Gay Agenda! Quickly, shield the childrens' eyes!

http://www.markfiore.com/animation/agenda.html

Posted by Simeon at Monday, 25 April 2005 at 7:33pm BST

Re: the Gay Agenda

I wonder if the proponents of this term would have labelled the civil rights movement as the black agenda?

There are clearly quite a large number of people within ECUSA supporting this so-called "gay agenda". I seriously doubt they are all gay.

Is this term used to attempt to limit perception of the degree of support for providing all people with access to the sacraments?

RL

Posted by Robert Leduc at Monday, 25 April 2005 at 9:49pm BST

Robert wrote:
"I wonder if the proponents of this term would have labelled the civil rights movement as the black agenda?"

I'm old enough to remember the civil rights struggles of the 60's and yes, that's pretty much what happened. First it was people of different racial/ethnic groups, then women, and now it's GLBT people. Just cultural-conservatives singing different verses of the same tune...

"Is this term used to attempt to limit perception of the degree of support for providing all people with access to the sacraments?"

Amongst other things, I'm sure it is. Wouldn't want "those" people in church, acting like they're just as good as the rest of us - would we ?

Posted by Simeon at Tuesday, 26 April 2005 at 12:48am BST

The American Anglican Council is composed of orthodox bishops, other clergy, and laity........not dioceses, parishes and missions. The Anglican Communion Network is composed of orthodox dioceses and affiliated parishes and missions. They work hand-in-hand. Bishop Smith should've paid more attention to his homework! And by the way......Fr Chapman's memo was repudiated by the AAC, I believe. I'm a member.

Posted by Ken at Tuesday, 26 April 2005 at 5:58am BST

I do wish someone would explain to me what the "gay agenda" is supposed to be! I suppose that by supporting "Claiming the Blessing" I am part of it -- I wish however that both sides could be less strident on the subject.

I am amazed that how one interprets a handful of passages that have traditionally been taken to refer to same-sex activity has become the shibboleth by which one is judged as a Christian beleiver. I interpret these passages in such a way that to me it is possible for God to be doing a new thing in the lives of men and women who want to live faithfully with one another in same-sex relationships. I know that others disagree.

But how can that be more important than the Creed, than one's baptismal covenant, than one's point of view on the Great Commission? Surely this is a point of scriptural interpretation on which Christians can disagree in good faith?

I used to belong to the Episcopal Church and it is painful to see it fracture like this; as far as I can tell from what is now a position outside ECUSA, what is really going on has as much to do with attitudes toward the ordination of women and liturgical reform as it does with Bp Robinson and the blessing of same-sex unions...

AAY

Posted by Dr Abigail Ann Young at Tuesday, 26 April 2005 at 10:18pm BST

Simeon wrote "First it was people of different racial/ethnic groups, then women, and now it's GLBT people. Just cultural-conservatives singing different verses of the same tune..."

Hi Simeon. I don't think it is reasonable to equate racial equality, or women's equality, with the sexuality debate. There are large differences:

- Sex and race are defined physically; LGBT sexualities are defined by desire.

- The NT states that all races and both sexes are equal in Christ; but it condemns same-sex sexuality as sinful.

- Men and women of all races can fully express the created order of human beings; but same-sex sexuality can't. It doesn't involve both halves of the human race, it is not generational, and it is only somewhat societal as it does not create family.

However, you may be surprised to hear that I'm extremely happy to have "those" people in my church... provided they're acting like they're just as *sinful* as the rest of us are. I'm glad to be a member of a church where we admit we are *all* sinners, and accept everyone else on the same basis. I'd hate to be in a church where everyone had to insist that they were "as good as the rest of us" !

"There is only One who is good."

Posted by Dave at Tuesday, 26 April 2005 at 11:25pm BST

Quoting David "Sex and race are defined physically".

Actually race is a social construct. We see this when we try to apply our U.S. notions of race in international clinical trials, which is an aspect of my work. Try asking someone from Spain if they are "Hispanic" or "Latino". Or for real fireworks, ask a U.S. citizen born in Africa if they are black. Our U.S. definitions of race do not make sense outside of our country.

In one of our studies, the "other" box for race was checked by two participants. In those cases we ask for a self-description from the participant. One was "black Italian". The other was "human".

So race, while partly based on some physical characteristics, in fact is largely socially defined in that identifying as belonging to a given race also depends on cultural factors. The Eugenics movement in the early 20th Century tried in vain to come up with a physical definition of "blackness".

I think attempting to define sexual orientation, from a religious perspective, as either a product of nature or nurture misses the point. It is an intrinsic part of the creation of the person by the Creator either way. A responsible theology of sexuality will have to deal with the fact that there are people who are created this way and for whom same-sex attractions are part of their true created nature.

One possible interpretation is to view scriptural prohibitions as applying to those who would act against their nature. A more conservative approach is to interpret them more universally, but then supply some other theological rationale for those who presumably are to live celebate lives without a choice in the matter. This would rub against other theological points - for instance, St. Augustine's dictum from the Confessions that anyone who acts against their true nature, even if they are doing a good thing, is not doing good.

Interpreting these scriptures intelligently, even from a conservative viewpoint, is not the easy task it appears to some.


Posted by Robert Leduc at Wednesday, 27 April 2005 at 6:12pm BST

Hi Robert. Actually I've heard people argue that sex (or at least gender) is a social construct too. But I think that says more about the perceptions of the person who is arguing it than it does about the physical differences between men and women.

Simeon's original comment was drawing parallels between the gay rights campaign and the "civil rights struggles of the 60's" - "... people of different racial/ethnic groups,....". As I remember it, this was primarily about segregation due to "colour" (ie physical racial origin), although even then there were some people identifying across racial groups.

Things have changed nowadays of course.

However, I would argue that the gay rights campaign actually owes most to the 60's "sexual liberation" movement, and the claimed freedom from oppresive morality and superstition. This promised "progress" towards a more fulfilled life for all; and was criticised by "fuddy duddys" as moral and social decay.

Judging by the outcome, after 50 years of "progress" in the UK, I think the fuddy duddys were proved right, though I'm not rejoicing over it ! - Hugely increased relationship breakdown, fatherless families, overstresses single mothers, sexual and violent crimes booming, mental illness, depression and suicide all up too ! There is so much increased personal suffering, and even deaths !!! (Not to mention, hundreds of thousands of people infected with serious sexually transmitted disease every year, and the emergence of "new" STDs like HIV and HPV)

Thing have gotten worse, not better. I think there is more wisdom to traditional christian morality than to the liberal "do what you want to" (which is what you are arguing for).

Posted by Dave at Thursday, 28 April 2005 at 10:56pm BST

Increased promiscuity in modern society, for our purposes, is a red herring. I am quite prepared to agree that promiscuity, which by nature does not respect one's partner and treats others merely as means, is unethical. That goes for straights as well as gays and lesbians. So no, I am not arguing for "do what you want to do".

Sexual orientation, however, is a question of intrinsic identity - it is a matter of inner nature, not of the will. The confusion of the issue of promiscuity with sexual orientation is part of the problem here.

There are plenty of gay or lesbian couples living in committed life-long monogamous relationships. These relationships are entirely in harmony with their nature as created by the Creator. My position is that the church should recognize these faithful relationships by blessing them. Actually, I'd call it marriage.

This is about interpreting the Bible taking into account scientific information that was not previously known. Kind of like Galileo.

The gay and lesbian liberation movement is like the civil rights struggle based on race in the sense that it is a struggle to have the majority culture recognize that their classification of other sexual orientations (cf. races) as inherently disordered or inferior is unsubstantiated. As with the civil rights movement, this will have social, political and theological implications.

As far as HIV goes, why is the incidence comparitively so low in the so-called morally lax developed nations and so high in the morally pure developing nations, particularly in Africa? Gays are now underrepresented among those infected, even relative to their number in the population at large. That's how bad things have gotten in the developing world. And HPV is a leading cause of cervical cancer - I don't think gays are responsible for that!

The wisdom in the traditional Christian morality, it seems to me, is based on mutual respect for persons and not using others merely as means for sexual encounters.

The message you're ascribing to the sexual revolution today comes from advertisers. Try to stop them from using sex to sell product, and they'll look at you like you're nuts. When the sexual revolution proclaimed equality between the sexes, the advertisers responded with "You've come a long way baby!" It seems to me that the problem with today's Western culture is that it is about "ME" and "MY NEEDS" - and the commercialization thereof. I need this sofa, this car, and this trophy wife - or rather partner, so I can upgrade later when it's time to remodel.

But I don't see this as having anything to do with sexual orientation.

Posted by Robert Leduc at Friday, 29 April 2005 at 5:51pm BST

P.S. I'm not sure why you bring up the definition of sex and gender, or what kinds of inferences about perceptions you're trying to draw from it.

For the record, no one argues that sex is a social construct. But gender, by definition is. To see the difference, contemplate the different definitions of "female" and "feminine".

Posted by Robert Leduc at Friday, 29 April 2005 at 8:20pm BST

Hi Robert, I agree with you on most of what you wrote. My point, however, is that the ideal should be about "what you do" as well as how "you do it". So life-long commitments between a man and two women are not acceptable, not because of the quality of the relationships (they may well in some cases be better than that between one man and one woman) it is because it is against the created and revealed order for human beings (physical, family, societal, generational).

Just because you can defined a group of people ("polyamory"/"polygamists") who want to do this, doesn't in my view justify saying they can do what they want. Even though you could probably show that many of them have a strong sexual orientated towards that behaviour, and may have always "felt that way". (And that other people do too, but are "repressing" themselves).

I think that the reason modern relavitism has failed to deliver a better world is that it is based on wrong assumptions. Trying to build morality out from the individual means you have to ignores the fact that we are all "fallen" in different ways. In some ways I'm surprised that people are persisting with it this long. It seems to be based primarily on humanist existentialism - which was found to be flawed years ago (no-one could build a consistent morality from it, or live consistently by it - which would be demanded of a sucessful humanist philosophy).

Posted by Dave at Friday, 29 April 2005 at 8:50pm BST

Hi Dave,

I'm all with you on relativism, but I don't think that's what I'm doing. I'm not merely saying that gays or lesbians "want to do this" - I'm saying that sexual orientation is not a question of the will. We do not choose this - there is no "wanting" to be gay any more than there is "wanting" to be intrinsically heterosexual.

Nor is this humanistic, but rather interpreting Scripture in light of new scientific information (cf. Galileo). I'm saying that homosexual orientation is created by the Creator, and since the Creator further posits that it is not good for us to live alone, it follows via natural law that there should be same-sex relationships. This is in keeping the created nature of these individuals, which, thanks to the Incarnation, we affirm to be good. It isn't about sanctioning this desire or that desire, but rather affirming that we should all live as God has created us to do. All good Anglican doctrine once the true created nature of same-sex orientation is recognized.

From this point of view, I have to contend with the plain proscriptions against same sex acts in the Scripture, much as those against slavery had to deal with apparent scriptural justifications of owning slaves. My interpretation is that these passages on same-sex acts apply to those who are naturally ordered to be heterosexual, and that the ancient world, while familiar with same sex acts (including in some reprehensible contexts such as pagan worship or acts of power against prisoners of war), knows nothing of the concept of orientation. Indeed, it is apparent that the vast majority of same-sex acts that the ancients would have been aware of would have been engaged in by heterosexuals.

However, conservatives are not free from needing to deal more deeply with these issues in the face of the new scientific evidence either. As I wrote above, to be intellectually honest in a conservative approach (i.e. interpreting Biblical proscriptions against same sex acts to apply to those who are intrinsically ordered toward them) requires a further theological rationale. Why would a good God put such global prescriptions on these acts while inflicting this identity of same-sex orientation on certain individuals condemning them to a life of celebacy? We know the same good God realizes that it is not good for us to live alone, nor is it good to act against our created nature. It would be dishonest, let alone unfulfilling, to mate with someone for whom you could not possibly feel this attraction.

I'm not saying there aren't such theological rationales, but these need to be presented and critiqued. We cannot be intellectually honest and read the Bible like an instruction manual for the operation of lawnmowers, as I'm sure you'd agree. Simply pointing to Tradition or Scripture as if that's that and the debate is settled either ignores new information on the natural world from science or lacks integrity because it refuses to engage in the discussion.

I don't see a similar natural law argument to favor polygamy. One would have to make the case that some are intrinsically created to require (and not just desire) multiple partners. I am not aware of any well constructed scientific or theological support for such an assertion.

However, as you probably are aware, there is a cultural issue with polygamy in the church in Africa. I understand there has been a pastoral solution to this problem to accommodate local culture. I wonder why there can't be a similar solution regarding cultural recognition of the existence of sexual orientation in the developed world.

Regrettably, this is exactly the kind of discussion that many primates, in particular from Africa, refuse to even hold, in spite Lambeth resolutions affirming such discussion as necessary and desirable. And now we have a network that seeks at every turn to undermine any attempt at reconciliation or discussion.

In the end, what is the purpose of Scripture? To paraphrase Augustine, it is to learn to love our God with all our heart and all our mind and all our soul and to love our neighbor as ourself. If we end up beating each other to a bloody pulp over interpretations of scripture, haven't we lost the plot? And, as Augustine says, does this not make a liar of God?

Posted by Robert Leduc at Friday, 29 April 2005 at 11:07pm BST

Robert wrote: "In the end, what is the purpose of Scripture? To paraphrase Augustine, it is to learn to love our God with all our heart and all our mind and all our soul and to love our neighbor as ourself."

Hi Robert, well your choosing that paraphrase is a good example of what I mean about existentialist humanism. You are focussing on the human aspects of Scripture, a conservative would focus more on the divine, eg "Scripture is the revealed word of God given in the words of people in history".

Taking some of the other points you made:

I agree that we have to deal with SOME different cultural problems than African christians. Though sexual immorality is probably more rife in Africa, judging by the HIV figures. African christian leaders have to deal with the reality of polygamous marriage, just like Western ones have to deal with the reality of open (and soon legal) homosexual partnerships. Compassion is called for in all cases, though a polygamous marriage, which probably in Africa involves children, is a bigger "pastoral issue". If someone in a same-sex relationship wants to obey Scripture and Tradition they can end the partnership - personally difficult but few societal and generational issues.

You are using "Sexual Orientation" to mean sexually attracted to people of one or the other sex. I am saying that these are not the only "sexual orientations"; it is much more complex than that. It is a false dichotomy - bisexual and transexual orientations highlight this... how can a bisexual be allowed to fulfill their "God given" orientation and also remain faithful lifelong to one partner ? And there are other groups of people out there claiming that their sexual desires are an "orientation" - trisexuals being the recent one that (almost) got the public's attention.

Claiming that one's desires are "God given" because they are the only ones you remember having (whether nature or nurture) is to ignore the huge issue of fallen humanity (fallen from God's revealed ideals).

On the slavery, race or women issues there are many Biblical revelation that support equality. On sexual behaviour there is consist revelation that we are supposed to restrict ourselves to very limited circumstances. If you try to argue that scripture can be reinterpreted to allow one partner, but only of the type you are attracted to, what about people down the centuries with primarily homosexual attractions who have chosen to love and to marry someone of the other sex ? You are in danger of saying that the sin is not being true to yourself (humanist again!) rather than not being true to God.

Posted by Dave at Saturday, 30 April 2005 at 9:38am BST

Hi Dave,

This is the first time I've heard St. Augustine called an existential humanist. I'm surely not quoting him out of context; he goes on for several pages on this topic in the Confessions. And I seriously doubt he would agree with your assessment that he was not contemplating the divine.

There are a number of homosexual couples who have adopted babies who have grown up with them. So there are families involved in this question as well as in the question of polygamy in Africa.

Sexual orientation defines the universe of those who one could mate with. As such, it exists independent of whether any "desire" is currently present or not - a person with a same-sex orientation suddenly stranded alone on a desert island still has that orientation even without anyone present to instill a desire. I agree that sexual orienation cannot neatly be divided into a binary classification, but in fact occurs over a range. Nevertheless, there still exist those who have an exclusive same-sex orientation.

The term bisexual refers to someone for whom the universe of possible attraction includes men and women, not that relationships with both are necessary. So this is not a contradiction - if they are bisexual then a same sex relationship is in harmony with their created nature.

I agree that a lot of damage has probably been done over the centuries by cultural norms that led to marriages between a man and a women in which one of the people had an exclusive same-sex orientation. For that matter, a lot of damage has been done in other cases where people get married for the wrong reasons.

I am not saying that sin is "not being true to yourself" which is a broad statement that could easily be shown to be ridiculous in other contexts. But I am saying that God has created individuals for whom companionship that we normally think of as marriage is only possible with someone of the same sex. Furthermore, that God says that companionship for man is good. The universe of those given the gift of celibacy does not include all of these individuals. Since this is the intentional creation of God, and since creation is good, I would affirm it. You couldn't say the same thing, for example, about pride or gluttony - these are no one's true nature, even though in our fallen state we have a prediliction to fall into them.

Acknowledging the fallen state of humanity is different than saying that God has created humans who are specifically designed to sin. I deny the latter. However, it seems to me that if one acknowledges the recent findings of science and one states that all homosexuals must be celibate is to acknowledge and possibly affirm the latter. To deny the science is no better solution.

So I am still looking from the conservative point of view for a rational engagement with the wider implications of this forced celibacy. Not finding it, I have to conclude the source of the contradiction is the conservative interpretation of sexuality.

Your statement that the Bible is monolithic on issues of sexuality while being affirming at some times and prohibitory sometimes on other issues, while being a matter of possible debate, is in any case a false dichotomy. If Scripture is true then we can't ignore these so-called affirmations of the institution of slavery (slaves obey your masters) or prohibitions on women (who should cover their hair, etc.). Instead, we interpret them to mean something more coherent with the rest of scripture. But resolving apparent contradictions in Scripture is not the only way of addressing an incorrect interpretation of Scripture, or the only reason to consider changing an interpretation of Scripture.

Secondly, tradition can change for the better since prior to the 19th Century it was traditional understanding to take these statements all at face value. As those traditional understandings changed, so too will the traditional understanding of sexuality, because our knowledge of the created universe has grown, and we must reconcile our interpretation of Scripture with this knowledge.

Posted by Robert Leduc at Tuesday, 3 May 2005 at 8:31pm BST

Robert

I doubt that you are still reading this thread (I only just reread it to give someone a link as they are going over this ground again at the moment). However, just in case, I would like to point out that whereas homo-sexual bahaviour is always treated as a sin whenever it is mentioned in both the OT and the NT, slavery and women are not always treated the same.

So, for instance, St Paul advises Christian slaves to get their freedom if possible, asks a Christian brother for the freedom of a Christian slave, and says that slaves and free men are all equal in Christ. It is easy to get from this to realising that he is not approving of slavery, but rather dealing with it as a fact of life in those times. (If you are a rich westerner, and you were in the equivalent social position 2000 years ago, you would probably have had slaves!).
This cannot be said for homo-sexual behaviour.

Posted by Dave at Sunday, 15 May 2005 at 6:06pm BST

Dave,

That's a nice explanation about how to deal with slavery in the Bible. This method doesn't work, however, with proscriptions against loaning money at interest or any of the many other Biblical proscriptions that are not considered mandatory today, yet have no similar affirming texts. Nor were the contradictions between Biblical chronology of the universe or geocentricity and the scientific evidence resolved by appeals to other regions of Scripture.

So the lack of affirming texts is not really relevant - other changes in interpretation, clearly needed, were made on the basis of examining of the scientific evidence without any Scriptural cross-reference. After all, the Bible can't be untrue and apparent contradictions with observable nature need to be addressed.

Just so, we have new scientific evidence that undercuts the assertion that same-sex relationships are "unnatural", which is the Scriptural justification of the prohibitions on such relations. Quite the opposite - they are perfectly natural and of the created order for a certain subgroup of the population, while they are not consistent with the nature of others. Thus, these passages require reconsideration. In particular, it seems reasonable that they were addressed against the not infrequent public same-sex acts by those with heterosexual orientations involved in assertions of power, pagan religion or war, without any understanding of the concept of sexual orientation.

As before, I am still looking for a rational conservative response to the conflicts that arise from applying these Scriptural prohibitions concerning "unnatural behavior" to those for whom such acts are clearly not unnatural, but are part of creation. Among other questions, where is the goodness of a God who sees that it is not good for man to be alone, but creates beings for whom the only natural course out of this solitude is with someone of the same sex?

Otherwise, perhaps it is indeed time to face up to reality on this issue and acknowledge the equivalent of heliocentricity.

Posted by Robert Leduc at Tuesday, 17 May 2005 at 10:46pm BST
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