Comments: TEC lists Principles for Same-sex Blessings

Perhaps their attention could be drawn to an excellent little book published last year by Cairn Publications and Jim Cotter. Price £10 "The Service of my Love-the celebration and blessing of Civil Partnerships" It is an excellent pastoral and liturgical handbook that is worth having a copy of. It was financed and sponsored by over 300 contributors.Some of whom were quite surprising. The author hopes that it will "help rather than hinder the process." ....and it certainly does that!

Posted by Robert Ellis at Wednesday, 12 January 2011 at 10:39am GMT

Right now in the Diocese of Virginia we are about to have our annual council or business meeting, and one of the resolutions has to do with this topic, urging our bishop to move forward on this. We've had a very thorough report put together by a committee appointed last year, and also a series of 'listening sessions' across the diocese.

The irony for us, of course, is this is not a response to the availability of civil unions or gay marriage in the state of Virginia, but as a pastoral response to the fact that such things are forbidden here, because of an amendment to the state's constitution several years ago. Gay civil marriage or unions will be authorized in this state - home of Loving v. Virginia - about when hell freezes over.

Posted by Cynthia Gilliatt at Wednesday, 12 January 2011 at 4:38pm GMT

There is another book under the authorship of (Fr.) Robert Calderwood called "Some Will Say Heresy", which includes a suggested liturigy. Or one could merely check out the following web-site
www.booksbycalderwood.com

Posted by Robert Calderwood at Wednesday, 12 January 2011 at 5:03pm GMT

""Some Will Say Heresy", which includes a suggested liturigy"

Goodness, that title is defensive! Why not just let the dead bury the dead?

Thanks for these PDFs: I look forward to checking them out!

Posted by JCF at Wednesday, 12 January 2011 at 8:38pm GMT

"At the same time, these rites must resonate as natural speech in contemporary ears. A sacral register must be achieved without the use of arcane or antiquated words or patterns of speech."

This would seem to make a Rite I ("traditional language") ceremony impossible, and I wonder why that has to be the case.

Posted by Bill Dilworth at Thursday, 13 January 2011 at 12:53am GMT

What very excellent statements of principle. I would have no argument with either statement, and I am sure they will be very useful in a number of contexts.

One comment. The term "God-in-Christ", occurring several times in these statements, is a new one on me. I understand what it means, but have not seen the phrase used in this way before. Is it a common piece of jargon in USA contexts?

Edward Prebble
Auckland, NZ

Posted by Edward Prebble at Thursday, 13 January 2011 at 2:20am GMT

Bravo to TEC for 'getting on with the task'. Hopefully this initiative might break the log-jam for other Provinces of the Communion. re Edward's remark about 'God-in-Christ; I personally have no problem with it. I guess it has something quite important to say about the scriptural reference to 'all the fullness of God - dwelling in Christ'
- God Incarnate!

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Thursday, 13 January 2011 at 9:41am GMT

As far as Genesis gives us the ultimate theological framework for marriage, and Jesus Himself went back to that framework when questioned about divorce[Matthew 19], we see that the basis for the marriage union was that God had created mankind 'male and female'[Gen 1] - 'for this reason' male and female 'became one in marriage' [Gen 2, Mt 19].
To bring civil partnerships/ same sex relationships under this umbrella is to give another definition to marriage outwith the biblical one.
Should that not be sufficient to give pause to any pseudo christian discussions aimed at accommodating the aberrational thinking of contemporary society?
Jesus' love for society was unbounded - He went to the cross for it! - but He would not accommodate the first century desire to redefine divorce according to its perceived wisdom. If we believe God's wisdom is ultimately best for our peers as well as for us, we will trust what He has revealed is for our blessing.
What does God require of His people but for them to walk humbly with Him, however foolish it appears to all around us [cf 1 Corinthians 1,2].

Posted by william at Thursday, 13 January 2011 at 11:56am GMT

2 Cor 5:19. "God was in Christ reoncoming the world to himself.". This is sacrificial language, not baptismal language. A generally good set of papers, but I wish they would not so strongly put all their eggs in the " baptismal covenant" basket. That I find a weak argument.

Posted by Allan King at Thursday, 13 January 2011 at 11:56am GMT

Jesus directs the comment to a situation concerning the break-up of the first-formed bond between any man and a woman - usually, in his period,the break-up was where a man abandoned a wife for another woman. We know the situation of these women was often pretty dire. He is not laying down rules about who may and may not form a marriage, but issuing rules about the permanence of the bonds we form in a union.

It is just a statement of fact that most people seeking a partner seek one of the opposite sex, and that God blesses such unions.

Posted by Rosemary Hannah at Thursday, 13 January 2011 at 2:21pm GMT

This tread seems to be taking a decidedly heterosexist turn - nothing for me in that.

The williams of this world can never just rejoice with those who rejoice -- can they ? I have never understood why heterosecuals can be so (relentlessly) mean.

I'm mean to just smile back or shrug then --- am I ?

Posted by Laurence Roberts at Thursday, 13 January 2011 at 2:50pm GMT

William, Jesus is using the rabbinic technique of taking two texts together to reach a new conclusion. His conclusion -- which is at odds with the Law of Moses and the prevalent rabbinic view, as he notes -- is that the union of marriage is not to be broken by human agency.

He does not teach, as the rabbis did, that all people must marry (on the contrary he commends celibacy). Nor does he teach that same-sex couples cannot marry (which the rabbis held as off limits to Jews, but about which Jesus said nothing).

It presses this text well beyond its limits to surmise it tells us anything about same-sex marriage.

Posted by Tobias Haller at Thursday, 13 January 2011 at 3:43pm GMT

William--

I am a bit confused--Jesus was indeed redefining the first-century notion of divorce, wasn't he? On the basis of a deeper principle!

Posted by Christopher (P.) at Thursday, 13 January 2011 at 5:16pm GMT

The union of male and female descibed in the Gospels is the only union Jewish culture could have known, or most other cultures throughout the ages. Thisis doesn't mean that all unions must be between the two sexes, even if they are normative. To use a simplistic argument, the Gospels don't forbid or even mention them. We often use scripture as if everything we know in 21st century western culture was known to First Century Jewish Christians or could have been anticipated. The Gospel may be eternal and universal, but was not written by people who had a time machine.

Posted by Adam Armstrong at Thursday, 13 January 2011 at 6:28pm GMT

Hi, Bill Dilworth! I understand your point but I have an alternative view on that.

Perhaps TEC is learning something with the conservative wave on RC Liturgies with the return of traditional language and the Latin Mass... Churches declines aren't only related with Social Justice, science understanding and modern issues, but generally related with Church methodology and language use.

A quick search on TEC Parishes websites suggests that Rite II is used on at least 80% of TEC Services, covering perhaps more than 90% of TEC worshippers, just because usually Rite I Services are 7 o'clock Sunday simple said services, generally designed for quite old worshippers, apart in few Anglo-Catholic Parishes that retain their traditional language heritage in all Services or in one or another more formal Cathedral or festive Services. There would certainly be several thousands of youth Episcopalians that have never attended a Rite I Service! Apart few progressive Anglo-Catholic Parishes that are traditional on Language and wish to retain their heritage on language, this won't be so problematic among the Church. I suspect that in 15-20 years time, Rite I will probably disappear in TEC Services.

As a humble progressive RC, I think that language moves with the time... And worship language should move with common language!... We aren't in the good old times of Thee, Thy, Thou!... People need to pray and worship what they understand!...

Have a good Evening!...

Posted by Pensamento Positivo at Thursday, 13 January 2011 at 10:12pm GMT

I believe that the Church should ask G-d to bless many and various human relationships, and I will gladly preside at, and participate in liturgies which call upon G-d to bestow such grace.

In other words, I am a convinced "progressive Christian Priest".

And yet I think that the proposed liturgical and theological principles of TEC (as expressed above) are very feeble, maybe even sophomoric.

For G-d's sake, are there no Anglican theologians of liturgy and of theology who could take us deeper?


Posted by Michael at Friday, 14 January 2011 at 12:05am GMT

Adam Armstrong:
'The Gospel may be eternal and universal, but was not written by people who had a time machine.'

We need to make inferences where the Bible doesn't explicitly address a particular type of behaviour. For instance, Peter Tatchell may happily advocate lowering the age of consent to 14 as a means of de-criminalising sex between consenting teens.

Inadvertently, the change in law would also excuse a monogamous sex act between a mature adult and a 14 year old (who, grooming aside, is considered by progressive legislation as capable of giving consent).

Well, Jesus was also curiously silent about paedophilia. So, should we interpret this silence as tacit consent, given that he could not possibly have envisaged this dilemma?

Where does the effort to rein in scripture's applicability end? Apparently, when it ceases to challenge us to change.

Should we also oppose the stance of the Anglican Church of Nigeria which has emphatically condemned polygamy as unscriptural? Or do we now jettison the New Testament standard of permanent monogamy based on the convenant between Christ and His church?

Posted by David Shepherd at Friday, 14 January 2011 at 12:17pm GMT

Pensamento Positivo - Your post certainly outlines what many people in the "progressive" wing of ECUSA think about the withering away of Rite I. The problem, I would submit, is that there's no sense in the BCP that Rite II is more valid than Rite I - indeed, it give specific permission to conform Rite II services to Rite I language. Maybe Rite I will be excised in future revisions, but I think it will be done to the detriment of ECUSA. Until that happens, however, I would expect the Powers That Be in the ECUSA not to act as if it were already firmly in the realm of the past.

Full disclosure: I'm a communicant of a very Rite I Anglo-Catholic parish.

Posted by Bill Dilworth at Friday, 14 January 2011 at 3:07pm GMT

David,
where is all this stuff about lowering the age of consent coming from? This is the second time you refer to it, but as far as I'm aware no-one in the church is proposing it and it is not the subject of this thread.
Shall we stick with the topic that's actually being discussed here?

Posted by Erika Baker at Friday, 14 January 2011 at 4:05pm GMT

David Shepherd, your comment raises precisely the question of culture -- as opposed to eternal biblical standards. In the biblical world (of both testaments) a young woman was considered marriageable from about the age of 12. (The tradition has long held that the BVM was about that age at the Annunciation.) That would not have been considered paedophilia in those times. But times have changed. In addition, there is no New Testament standard of monogamy in the text, except for clergy. (And the fact that it is specified for clergy seems to indicate an aspiration but not a law for all.) To what extent, then, are biblical practices as much influenced by the cultures of their times as our own?

Posted by Tobias Haller at Friday, 14 January 2011 at 4:16pm GMT

Erika,

I referred to a specific statement of one contributor who suggested that lack of first-century foresight would limit the applicability of scripture to 21st century issues. So, no I didn't simply address same-sex blessings

I maintain that we must approach matters consistently for all of these issues. For this purpose, I gave two alternative modern instances to highlight an inconsistent approach towards making scriptural inferences in situations where the Bible appears tacit.

So why can't I do that without incurring censure?

Posted by David Shepherd at Friday, 14 January 2011 at 4:43pm GMT

"So why can't I do that without incurring censure?"

The venerable tradition of "Looks Like a Duck/Smells Like a Duck/Quacks Like a Duck", David.

On a thread titled "TEC lists Principles for Same-sex Blessings", you posted (apropos of nothing) "Well, Jesus was also curiously silent about paedophilia."

Quack, quack.

Posted by JCF at Friday, 14 January 2011 at 7:13pm GMT

The big problem with heterosexual marriage is not the risk of it being subverted by gay or lesbian couples marrying too, but the reality that it is subverted by heterosexual infidelity, heterosexual selfishness, heterosexual divorce.

The threat to heterosexual marriage lies solely with heterosexuals.

Whether gay and lesbian couples also choose to celebrate the sacredness of their relationships, and their commitment and fidelity to one another, in marriage... or not... should be a matter of no significance to heterosexual couples. It won't harm them.

Heterosexual couples have more than their work cut out, just to sustain their own relationships, judging my divorce figures.

If, instead of trying to control other people's lives, we concentrated on getting our own lives and relationships right, then perhaps we'd grow to recognise the loveliness and dignity of marriage for all.

It is absolutely true that there is a prevalent slant towards heterosexual norms in the bible. But many many Christians are not literalists today, and recognise the need for critical reading of texts. Nor should it be assumed that biblical inerrancy goes unquestioned.

The bible is a profound communication of insights into God. It's amazing. But it is open to challenge (or just plain wrong) on claims it makes about the ancestors of humanity (or lack of them), about the worldwide flood, about death entering the world 85 million years after the dinosaurs died out, about God's apparent command to slaughter the Canaanite babies, and many Christians find it more authentic to read the scriptures in the social and cultural contexts within in which the authors were attempting to order society and make sense of God.

When Jesus accentuates the sanctity of human relationships and the commitment of marriage... then, as now, heterosexual couples were breaking covenants and this did little to affirm the sort of covenant love God wanted with us all.

But societies evolve, grace continues to work in the consciences of men and women, new models develop, communications multiply, diversity increases, and with it, principles of respect are explored and forged. Things are not static.

If the text is made static, then I suspect the creative love at work in God's dealings with its authors may be stifled.

Situations change. Geology, zoology, astronomy, psychology raise new creative lines of thought. This is good. And gay love no longer seems a sin. What's sad is heterosexual love gone wrong.

Posted by Susannah at Friday, 14 January 2011 at 9:43pm GMT

@David Shepherd. The issues to be considered are these.
1 - what situation is the text of Scripture intended to address? e.g. Paul's condemnation at the start of Romans addresses a social situation where almost everybody is married, regardless of their attitude to this, and therefore same sex sexual relationships are almost always adulterous. In addition they are almost always (because of social mores) between free people and salves, and where not, between adults and much younger teenagers, thus frequently exploitative.

2 - what are the consequences of whatever sexual relationship we are considering? Are the consequences likely to be things of which the broad thrust of scripture would approve? The result of sanctioning same sex marriage generally appears to be the kind of spiritual growth (in love and giving) which is generally approved in the bible. It also works against promiscuity, whereas lowering the age of consent in our period generally works towards promiscuity, and therefore we take it away form spiritual growth.

Furthermore I think we can take it that Jesus comment that if somebody 'offends' 'one of these little ones' there would have been better off drowned, is a pretty strong condemnation of all kinds of child abuse.

Posted by Rosemary Hannah at Friday, 14 January 2011 at 10:00pm GMT

Adam Armstrong wrote "The union of male and female descibed in the Gospels is the only union Jewish culture could have known, or most other cultures throughout the ages".

In my opinion this is simply wrong. Most cultures knew of some form of same-sex sexual activity and love. They would have had a different concept of it than we have today, just as they had a different view of marriage than we have today, but that is not to say it did not exist. To say so is a common misreading of Foucault.

There are many examples in the Hebrew scriptures of such activity, and as for the Gospels, it is quite possible to argue that the Centurion and his boy (pais not doulos) in Matthew were in a loving, paederastic relationship. The Warren cup http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/objects/D6XhBBXCTPy-tLxOUvy-FQ (found near Jerusalem, probably in use in Palestine 20 to 60 AD) shows a Roman culture which would have been known to Christ, who was raised within 5 km of the Roman city of Sepphoris.

Simon Dawson

Posted by Simon Dawson at Friday, 14 January 2011 at 10:07pm GMT

David,
Why are you incurring censure?
Because you’re doing exactly what I already dismissed as unacceptable earlier on in the thread. You are automatically assuming that same sex blessings are an evil, and to illustrate that you draw on the example of something else you find unacceptable.
You are sitting in the judgment seat, demanding that I explain that I’m not condoning adult grooming of youngsters for sexual abuse, and you are asking me to explain why accepting my marriage isn’t the thin end of the wedge in this respect.

In a slightly less offensive manner you are doing what people do who ask me to justify my same sex relationship while comparing it to bestiality and paedophilia.
I’m sorry, I will not have that conversation.
And I have absolutely no respect for people who insist on those terms of debate.

Let’s either have a respectful conversation or stop talking. I am not going to discuss my life with people who expect me to justify it while bracketing it with other things they interpret as negative and immoral.

If you can’t show me any more respect than that, are you surprised that I’m unhappy about the way you shift the conversation?

Instead of complaining to me, how about you engage with what Tobias said? He's a real expert on the bible and on same sex relationships. His answer to you was polite, thought provoking and to the point. What will you say to him? Or am I just the easier target?

And if you’re really genuinely interested and not just out to throw little barbs into the conversation, I suggest you read Tobias’ book Reasonable and Holy and then come back here with genuine questions.

Posted by Erika Baker at Friday, 14 January 2011 at 10:21pm GMT

David:

"I gave two alternative modern instances to highlight an inconsistent approach towards making scriptural inferences in situations where the Bible appears tacit.

So why can't I do that without incurring censure?"

Because in doing so, you equate same-sex relationships between consenting adults with pedophilia. You don't understand why that's problematic?

Posted by Pat O'Neill at Friday, 14 January 2011 at 10:37pm GMT

Hi Erika/Pat,

I was no more equating same-sex relationships with the first instance that I mentioned than I was equating monogamous same-sex relationships to the second example of polygamy in Africa.

I can understand if you draw the line when the reading of scripture descends into a reductive and selective use of the bible verses in order to dismiss your entire morality on the basis of your sexual orientation. I did not do that.

Tobias's response was a completely acceptable, rational and exemplary one and identified the underlying dilemma in each case. Rather than interpret my comment as a personal affront, he recognised that in each situation posed, we have to strike a consistent balance between scriptural inferences and a reasonable discernment of how the culture of that time might have influenced the writer.

His incisive question opens an interesting line of inquiry which I'm happy to explore: 'To what extent, then, are biblical practices as much influenced by the cultures of their times as our own?' Therein lies the basis of discovering a consistent approach towards each issue that I raised.

Posted by David Shepherd at Saturday, 15 January 2011 at 1:10am GMT

David Shepherd,

This is the failing of conservatives in their long-unchallenged and privileged position: you lack any capability for self-examination. You make presumptions based on your own biases and proceed from there - exactly the same accusation you level at those interpreting the Bible differently than you do.

Interpretation of religious text is not a static principle. It is not easy, nor is it "set." The Jewish tradition recognized this with the growing Talmud - questions of law as interpreted in a specific instance, adapted to differing circustances, and reapplied through that lens.

What is the basis for interpreting Scripture - it must be reasonable faith. In that, I don't mean accomodating, but that it must make sense. I cannot and will not subscribe to the concept of some trickster God who is silent and allows ongoing discovery to mislead us, a mad God who demands we do exactly what we cannot see as providing benefit, nor a God who is so weak that we have broken completely free of the moorings of His image which requires a static interpretation by some mysteriously-pre-destined human proxy in the ecclesial structure. That isn't faith, but laziness, and the very essence of what is worst and most animalistic in Man - a refusal to think, grow and adapt.

It made sense in the light of the times in which the text was written to prohibit same-sex intimacy, as it produced no children nor matched the desires of the majority population. Today, we recognize that marriage and sexual intimacy cover a wide range of benefits, beyond mere reproduction - companionship, shared sexual gratification and its concommitant psychological benefits, the stability of the binary household and its concommitant psychological benefits, and that mysterious component - love.

In short, even the traditionalist view of marriage is not Biblical, but radically different and done for entirely different reasons. To read desire or even love into a marriage of biblical record is to place a 20th century interpretation on the text, for instance. Perfect examples are Leah and Rachel, Michal and Bathsheba.

Posted by MarkBrunson at Saturday, 15 January 2011 at 7:05am GMT

David, I appreciate that your consideration of other interpretive cases didn't imply moral equivalence, but nevertheless you would do well to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest JCF's Duck Principle.

Posted by Geoff at Saturday, 15 January 2011 at 7:45am GMT

Umph - although I whole-heartedly support same sex marriage and I agree that the roles in marriage and the imperative to heterosexual marriage were different in Biblical times, I don't think you can use Rachel and Leah to show this. Very plainly in the story, Jacob falls in love with Rachel in a really quite modern way. As it is told, too, the King and the bathing beauty story of David and Bathsheba is worthy of, and more believable than, modern soap opera. The possible provenances of these stories,the date of their conception and final form and the reasons for their conception and transmission alter this not at all.

Posted by Rosemary Hannah at Saturday, 15 January 2011 at 2:13pm GMT

Thank you, David S. What you suggest is exactly what I have attempted to do in the book which Erika so kindly "plugged." My goal is to apply biblical, traditional, and reasonable "lenses" to address the question, "Where is the locus of morality in sexuality." My conclusion is that fixing morality on gender or anatomy (as the narrowest traditionalist position inevitably must do in this case) is ultimately unacceptable for a number of reasons, chief of which: it focuses on the aspect of our embodied being that we share with the animal world, rather than upon what it is that makes us distinctly human and made in God's image. I then explore the question of how the relevant moral principles can be applied, consistent with Scripture, though recognizing the impact of culture and changed circumstances upon how the application might be made in a way that is neither special pleading nor would lead to the other problems (age of consent, polygamy, and others). Ultimately I think the same biblical and reasonable moral "lens" can provide guidance in all these circumstances.

[BTW, and I hope Simon doesn't mind the promotional note, the book is now available via Google Books, though still available from Church Publishing Incorporated.]

Posted by Tobias Haller at Saturday, 15 January 2011 at 3:17pm GMT

I think I may hold a different position to David Shepherd on the question of marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples.

As David says, "scripture's applicability" is the area of pivotal significance in trying to discern if there is a standard for Christians that rules out certain things.

The trouble is, of course, that "scripture's applicability" is the heart of the liberal-conservative (hate using labels but you 'get' what I mean) debate, and the reason for so many tensions in the Anglican Communion today.

There simply is no consensus.

What do you do then? Split, or opt for comprehensive unity, a sort of unity in diversity, where we all agree to disagree, but each commit to following Christ and serving Christ, according to the integrity of our faith relationship with God.

With reference to 'paedophiles' being cited in a discussion involving homosexuality, I'd gently suggest, regardless of the reasonable logic with which this was done here, that there is such a history of associating homosexuality with bestiality and paedophilia, in order to anathematize gay sex, that it is probably wiser to avoid any reference to these terms together, even if logically distanced. It's just that gay love has too often been smeared by association with these other behaviours, which (as David himself recognises) are not connected. David did not attempt to connect them. But I still think... just keep the terms well apart in a debate involving the morality of gay or lesbian sex/marriage etc.

Having said all this as an intro, I'd like to make my main point, which is that I feel David has been criticised rather stridently in some places in this thread.

Mark, I respect your position, and agree with it far more than David's I guess, but to say of conservatives as a group (and David by inclusion in the pronoun 'you'): "you lack any capability for self-examination" is a sweeping statement which devalues the currency of the dialogue because it portrays a parody of human beings who, in their faithful lives, may often have had self-questioning, and may well have undertaken heart-searching and self-examination, before conscluding in loyalty to God that they hold a particular position on "scripture's applicability".

There is so much rhetoric on all sides these days in the life of our communion, and I am sure I have been guilty of it, and many of us probably have.

But I am perfectly clear that we can hold opposite and contrary views on some difficult issues (or on the whole way we apply scripture) and yet exercise an integrity of faith and loyalty to God.

There simply is no consensus over "scripture's applicability" in today's church.

What to do about it?

I can see no way except a generosity of love, and personally I hope some kind of 'Elizabethan Settlement' can be found, to allow Christians with different views to share in the unity in Christ which, in the end, is the true reality.

We're not going to agree, but we worship the same God, and we can still love one another.

Posted by Susannah at Saturday, 15 January 2011 at 6:31pm GMT

"I cannot and will not subscribe to the concept of some trickster God who is silent and allows ongoing discovery to mislead us, a mad God who demands we do exactly what we cannot see as providing benefit, nor a God who is so weak that we have broken completely free of the moorings of His image which requires a static interpretation by some mysteriously-pre-destined human proxy in the ecclesial structure."

Thank you! This is what I find so baffling about the "anti" side of the debate. Sure, you *could* derive that reading if you want to (but why would you, other than to be a stumbling block to your brother?) but only if you discard "orthodox" teaching about the nature of God more or less in its entirety. In their eagerness to be "faithful" to a myopic reading of Romans 1 they are surprisingly casual about rewriting massive swathes of theology proper. In another forum, someone complained that my arguments boiled down to "It's not fair," as if this were a trivial objection! Surely attributing injustice to God is a far greater heresy than reading Paul in a manner consistent with that principle - which is all the "liberal revisionism" does.

Posted by Geoff at Saturday, 15 January 2011 at 7:17pm GMT

I will take the time to read Tobias's book. I can follow and want to discover the structure of his reasoning.

At first sight, it does concern me that, should we unhinge our morality from gender or anatomy, we could fall into a gnostic dualism. Yes, we share our embodied being with the animal world and it can even be the occasion of sin. However, it is as integral to the humanity that Christ took upon Himself and redeemed, as the mind and spirit. The body is the temple of New Testament worship, whereby its actions become a living sacrifice. (Romans 12:1)

Regarding scriptural interpretation, Christ Himself highlighted glaring contradictions between the oral traditions and commentaries and the explicit injunctions, (e.g. the Corban exemption nullified the duty of filial care enjoined by the commandment to 'Honour thy father and mother'). Today, there is a similar danger that the ever-widening body of expert opinion (both liberal and conservative) will form a Midrash that is at odds with scripture elsewhere.

In some places, God's actions are easily explained, recognisably and immediately beneficial and perfectly rational. However, it would be a mistake to assume that God can only operate in a manner that is compatible with our short-sighted reasonings about what is good.

Is it a 'trickster God' who eventually abandons Ahab, saying, 'Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?’ (1 Kings 22:20) and then assures the lying spirit that he will prevail in a lethal deception.

Is it a 'mad God' who challenges Abraham to sacrifice His entire covenant posterity in the form of Isaac? A sacrifice that contradicts everything we know of a just and loving God. Unless, we believe in some sort of restoration
beyond Isaac's death, of course.

Is it a 'weak God' who appoints twelve fallible men as eye-witnesses to the resurrection of His Son, favouring an indirect relay of faith via apostolic proxies over direct epiphany?

If we believe that the ultimate control of human destiny is indeed God's prerogative, we may wrestle with actions and laws that contradict human assumptions about love and justice.

Nevertheless, the sum of those limited human assumptions can only result in a God who is made in man's image, rather than the other way around.

Posted by David Shepherd at Sunday, 16 January 2011 at 8:12pm GMT

@David Shepherd: So basically "the Lord works in mysterious ways" - funny how this devastating capriciousness only extends to other people.

Posted by Geoff at Monday, 17 January 2011 at 12:04am GMT

Dear David, hope you enjoy the book and find it helpful, even if you find yourself in disagreement with conclusions I reach. I spend a good deal of time on the "gnostic" issue and hope you find my reflection helpful.

And, of course, as one can judge from the title, I believe that same-sex couples can indeed present their embodied selves as a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice --- in their gift of the self one to the other and to God; which is precisely the primary understanding of Christian marriage. This understanding is not gnostic, as it does involve the body, though not exclusively so.

Posted by Tobias Haller at Monday, 17 January 2011 at 3:13pm GMT

David,

"Is it a 'trickster God' who eventually abandons Ahab. . .?"

Yes.

"Is it a 'mad God' who challenges Abraham to sacrifice His entire covenant posterity in the form of Isaac?"

Yes.

"Is it a 'weak God' who appoints twelve fallible men as eye-witnesses to the resurrection of His Son, favouring an indirect relay of faith via apostolic proxies over direct epiphany?"

Yes.

*If* you accept that it was God who did these things. You do. I don't. They are only myths, and largely interpreted, as all history - even mythic - is, by the winner.

"If we believe that the ultimate control of human destiny is indeed God's prerogative, we may wrestle with actions and laws that contradict human assumptions about love and justice."

Then this God is no better than the old ones - worse, really. He's sneaking around, hiding what He wants, and even a good, old-fashioned blood sacrifice won't appease Him. He's a dictator writ large, a controlling, unnatural parent. Worse than useless - actively harmful.

God created us to be like Him, and sent His Spirit to all to direct and lead (strangely, Jesus doesn't mention an instruction book compiled by a group of politically-invested Imperial theologians)or He didn't. I choose to believe He did, and see evidence to that effect. What you propose with your God is a vicious God who does everything He can to lead people *away* from what is right in everything from their construction to the circumstances in which they live.

There is also the fact - fact, mind - that, if humanity is *so* distant and *so* cut off from God that wrong is right, then we are still left with the fact that what we call Holy Scripture was written by humans of the same complete disconnect, Tradition formed by humans of the same complete disconnect, and interpreted by a structure formed of humans of the same complete disconnect. That is why Reason is the most necessary leg of the stool - without it, the other two fall into irrelevance.

Your position has no absolute value, no universal objective value, only value relative to you - you are served by it at others' expense - so, perhaps it is *your* God formed in human image? Have you considered that?

Posted by MarkBrunson at Tuesday, 18 January 2011 at 9:48am GMT

So, in an earlier post, you happily recognise the value of the growing and adaptable Talmud.

How does the Talmud escape your critical scrutiny, when, along with its scholarly explanations, it treats the Torah as factual? Was it not developed from the Oral Traditions (that Jews claimed to be handed down from Moses with the written Law)?

The Talmud was also written by 'groups of politically-invested theologians': the natural successors to the Pharisees, or is the KJV the only target here? So give up your position on the value of the Talmud. You can't have it both ways.

Why don't you hold the Talmud to the same standard of reason that you use to judge the Torah (on which it's based) as mythic. While you laud its adaptability, it gives creedence to the claim of an oral tradition having equal standing with the Law of Moses. Yet, in spite of this selective approach, it is you condemns my belief in written scripture.

According to your lights, since reason trumps revelation at every turn, Jesus really wasn't at odds with the Sadducees. He was a probably rationalist, like you and them, who died (and stayed dead) believing: no angels, no spirits and certainly no resurrection. There's really no need for Paul's 'hope of the resurrection', is there?

O wretched me, but how fortunate for you (and the chosen few) to know exact division between elements of biblical myth and fact. The feeble apostles, the Church Fathers, indeed, the entire historical church is clearly lost without the 'universal objective value' of your position.

Posted by David Shepherd at Wednesday, 19 January 2011 at 9:40pm GMT

Do you have any idea how this self-pity makes your position look, David? It's all an attack on *you*; there's no extension of understanding of the attack your position makes on others.

Your arguments, if they can be called that and not knee-spasms, proceed from an entirely self-centered worldview. First, you presume to apply to *me* views that *you* believe I hold. I applaud the adaptability of the Talmud, which in no way means that I applaud the acceptance of Biblical myth as literal fact. To this end, you may also want to find out how wide a spectrum Jewish thought takes on the literal nature of Torah. Ignorance doesn't help your argument.

Ascribing reason as applicable to the political pragmatism of the Sadduccee party indicates that your understanding of the phenomenon of reason is flawed, ossified, lacking adaptibility or dynamism. It would be no point to engage one whose thinking is so binary. You might make a fine calculator, but a poor theologian. Let me show you the flow of your reasoning here, by turning it back to you: According to your lights, Jesus would've wholly approved and supported those in war crimes trials who were just following orders - holocaust is justified, so long as orders are legitimate.

Your last passive-aggressive post indicates that your view is one that is entirely self-oriented. In the end, if the view that gratifies your ego and self-indulgence is the true one. Here, again, you make the self-centered assumption of what my worldview means - that "I" believe "I" have THE TRUTH. This is merely a reflection of your own arrogant conviction that *your* truth is THE TRUTH. Poor thinking. I cannot see ultimate truth any more than any other human - including your much-vaunted "Church Fathers." Fathers, mothers, big brothers all can be wrong. I know, on many issues, I am wrong: e.g. - that conservative Christians cannot possibly believe in God, and are eternally damned, of which I am emotionally convinced, but which is not borne out by consideration of a loving God.

So, it is down to which is the more arrogant and self-centered:

A liberal/progressive view says that we don't have, and can't have, all the answers and must be prepared to accept human limitations both in understanding and our expectation of establishing constraints based on a realization we can only have a "best" understanding, and that our understanding and development is not the be-all-end-all of Creation.

The conservative view says that a select group of humans had full understanding and established written laws which we must subjugate God-given intelligence and reason to in order to be the end product of Creation - that, in fact, Creation reached its pinnacle in these long-dead select group of humans and those who serve their reason; that you are the end of Creation.

I must constantly evaluate my position and move beyond my comfort level to a Creation and a God which I don't comprehend, and find myself challenged to extend that comprehension.

You want a static status-quo which has served your comfort.

I believe your party lack the ability for self-examination.

Posted by MarkBrunson at Thursday, 20 January 2011 at 7:27am GMT

Can we return any further comments to the actual topic, namely the content of the TEC documents, and avoid ad hominem tendencies, please.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Thursday, 20 January 2011 at 1:48pm GMT
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