Comments: Opinion - 3 May 2017

To Jayne Ozanne: well put; and, yes, on our progressive end of the spectrum we do have bigots that we need to acknowledge and challenge. It doesn't change how progressive I see myself, but perhaps does call me to some humility.

To Andrew Lightbown: simply, yes.

Posted by Marshall Scott at Wednesday, 3 May 2017 at 3:04pm BST

Thank you Andrew

Posted by Lavinia Nelder at Wednesday, 3 May 2017 at 7:57pm BST

The Jayne Ozanne article is fine as far as it goes; but it does suffer from one flaw i.e. a tendency to rely upon a particular kind of biblical piety as a means of analyzing controversy and identity politics in the church. One consequence of that can be seen here, when she writes:"Many within the liberal/anglo-catholic group tend themselves to write off those from the evangelical group for being 'narrow minded bigots, who leave their brains at the door' ”.

From a justice point of view this kind of thing is, or is at risk of being, a kind of false equivalency. One needs to ask, not just about attitudes of groups who are odds, but whether or not the consequences experienced by members of differing groups are the same, have the same impact, or of the same severity and so forth.

As for some who "leave their brains at the door", the turn of phrase may be blunt, but it does point to an actual phenomenon in which arguments are met not with counter-arguments based on the matter at hand, but simply rejected with biblical platitudes. It's an anti-intellectual approach.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Wednesday, 3 May 2017 at 10:34pm BST

"The Jayne Ozanne article is fine as far as it goes"
Rod, I had placed a response on the via media site before I read your comment. I quite agree with you, but would like to repeat what I said there, with a little change.
When I was studying Romans at University of Nottingham in 1982, Dr, later Professor, James D G Dunn had an interesting take on Chapter 14, where he saw Paul presenting a paradigm that can apply in many situations, including debates about (homo)sexuality. Paul describes two groups of people, whom he describes as “strong” and “weak”, thus displaying his own feelings. Dunn suggested that “conservative” or “traditional, and “liberal” or “progressive” can be substituted.
On any issue, be it the eating of meat sacrificed at pagan altars, or the ordination of women, or equal marriage, there is a natural tendency for conservative people to judge those who are pressing for change, and for liberal people to despise those who argue for maintaining old patterns. Verse 3 says that meat-eaters must not despise the scrupulous, and the scrupulous must not condemn those who eat the meat. And v10 says that we should never pass judgement on a sister or brother, nor treat them with contempt.
Rod, you, and I and Jayne Ozanne (and I guess most TA readers) can place ourselves towards the "strong" end of Paul's spectrum. Dunn's point is that the temptation for us has a different hue than that applying to conservatives; it is a temptation to despise or treat with contempt those who disagree with us, including those who in their turn are tempted to judge or condemn us.
Of course we need to call out anti-intellectualism when we see it, but we are unlikely to be heard if our critique is coloured by contempt.

Posted by Edward Prebble at Thursday, 4 May 2017 at 2:49am BST

That's what we progressives are best at - faced with others engaging in cruelty, bigotry, hypocrisy, we ask what's wrong with *us*. It's like the beaten wife on "Maury." "If I didn't make him so mad, he wouldn't have to hit me!"

Posted by MarkBrunson at Thursday, 4 May 2017 at 7:46am BST

Re: Edward Prebble,I hear what you are saying; but I'm pointing out the limitations, as I see them, in engaging human rights controversies in the church using paradigms that are largely if not exclusively constructed within one sort of biblical framework or another, whether it be Jayne Ozanne's or the one detailed in your rejoinder.

Slugging this out based on trading biblical texts, even texts presented with nuance, is not sufficient. Fundamentalists and biblicists will piously quote the bible. Progressives and liberals can quote the bible in reply. The problem is that the conservatives quote the bible armed with more privilege and political capital than those who have been marginalized and victimized by the church.

Progressives or liberals (or how ever we want to label ourselves) need to recognize that any progress that has been made within the church owes as much to the influence of enlightened thinking from outside the church as it does to new theological paradigms.

" is a temptation to despise or treat with contempt those who disagree with us..." This is a red herring. Do not let conservatives play on the guilt phobia. Besides, its a temptation that can be resisted by focusing on arguments.

Biblicism and ignorance of contemporary empirical insight has been extremely harmful to vulnerable people within the church. It damages the limited credibility the church attempts to bring to dialogue with those beyond its ramparts.

Advancing arguments based on Pauline notions of strong and weak Christians is mistaken. It ends by requiring us to play by rules the biblicists are comfortable with and by which they hope to continue control the conversation. We do them, nor others, any favours by letting them off the hook with that.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Thursday, 4 May 2017 at 3:40pm BST

Thank you, Rod, for your comments - on Paul's take on moral questions. None of us ought discount the cultural situation in which Paul wrote his letters. From his previous Judaic theology, for instance, Paul had to adjust to the more humane pastoral approach of Jesus - whom he was able, after a lifeltime of experience as a Pharisee, to proclaim as the true Messiah. Likewise, if Paul were alive today - with modern insights into human biology and an understanding of authentically committed same-sex relationships, he might be writing differently.

Context has a lot to do with theologising in the particular situation one is intepreting.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Friday, 5 May 2017 at 10:28am BST

I suggest great care should be taken when relying on Romans 14.2. It only says that some are called to live by more restrictions than others. It does not suggest that it is acceptable to preach that everyone should refrain from eating meat.

Posted by Kate at Friday, 5 May 2017 at 11:00am BST

Re: Father Ron, sure thing, right on.

I should add, that if I am not discordant with what is a tacit insight in Edward Prebble's comment, in the sense that love is a transcendent value, and in the Christian tradition it is the premier transcendent value (something Paul affirms). After all it is our awareness of Divine love for us that gives rise to the first stirrings of faith within us, preceding our cognition of God.

But love is bridged with justice, and justice demands attentiveness to whether or not the presentation of our arguments may be injurious.

Because we are finite beings in an existential situation, even in advancing justice we can make arguments that result in harm. So, I think I'm in the same general ball park as Edward Prebble and Jayne Ozanne.

The aspect of the issue I have trouble with is the use of biblical examples in terms of direct correspondence to our particular horizon. For example, with regard to Romans and the "strong and weak", I question the assignment of the term "weak" to conservative bible quoting Christians in the church, who often have a privileged position with the full backing of the hierarchy and church bureaucrats.

Conservatives present themselves as victims but the church establishment seeks to console them almost as a reflex. In what sense could the appellation "weak", in politcal terms, possibly apply to them, and thereby fit with Paul's argument re eating meating controversy? Carleess analogies feed rather than critique false equivalency.

Paul was a very creative thinker, and as Fr. Ron points out, within a different horizon he may have provided a very different solution to the one at hand regarding meat and idolatry.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Friday, 5 May 2017 at 5:11pm BST

I think we are in absolute agreement on two assertions, separated by a "but". The only difference is which assertion comes before, and more importantly, which assertion comes after the "but".
For example, I can say "I really love looking after my grandchildren, but it's sometimes hard work", Or "It's sometimes hard work looking after my grandchildren, but I really love doing it".
I totally agree that sticking to clear arguments is a good defense against the temptation to despise those with whom we disagree, and even more do I agree with your earlier point that reflecting on the harm done by various opinions is a good way to counter a false equivalency between "conservative" and "liberal" positions (as always, those are very poor labels, but let's stick with them for the moment).
Let's recall that this interesting discussion begins with Jayne Osanne's comments. I think she is quite right with her central assertion that when we allow ourselves to speak from the perspective of various "tribes", we run a greater risk of doing harm by our arguments. The very name of this website is another example - are those who disagree with the views typical on this site unthinking? I expect that she would agree with you (and me)about some of the comments we might like to add after a "but" BUT her point stands.

Oh, and how can conservatives be regarded as "weak"? I have thought about that a lot since adopting Dunn's schema based on Romans 14 many years ago. I think Paul illustrated his very point by describing the non-meat-eaters as "weak". Why he needed to use such a disparaging epithet for these people only he can say, and he is not here to ask. I quite agree - many of them are strong indeed.

Posted by Edward Prebble at Saturday, 6 May 2017 at 2:11am BST

Thanks again, Rod, for your further ruminations. I wonder how a modern St.Paul would have dealt with the conservative GAFCON position, vis-a-vis the matter of their siding with the local regulatory persecution of Gays in their territories. It seems to me not too unlike the situation of the Pharisees all too ready to cast the first stone, while not considering the effects of their own repressive attitudes towards 'sinners', whom Christ came to redeem.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Saturday, 6 May 2017 at 10:08am BST

"But love is bridged with justice,"

American theologian and philosopher, Cornell West, says that "justice is the public expression of love."

Posted by Cynthia at Saturday, 6 May 2017 at 4:57pm BST

Re: Cynthia, "American theologian and philosopher, Cornell West, says that 'justice is the public expression of love.' " I'm not deeply familiar with Cornel West, but the statement seems a good short hand on the face of it.

Most Christian social justice theologies or programs would ground love as the value which is the well spring for constructing an effective and functional common good.

That love is at the heart of Christian social teaching is something that is recognized across a wide spectrum of theological opinion(e.g., Caritas In Veritate).

Justice fundamentally is about relationships. Hence the need to ground thinking about those relationships in the primary value of love.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Saturday, 6 May 2017 at 8:08pm BST

Re: Father Ron Smith, I think St. Paul gets a bit of bad rap these days. He is often seconded by conservatives who mangle his legacy with proof texting while he is ignored to some degree by progressives i.e. contextualized to the point of being marginalized. His accomplishments in terms of creative thinking, concern for the unity, in the sense of integrity, of the body of Christ are an important legacy. Notwithstanding, his horizon is difficult to access and opens one up to the risk of oversimplification.

Edward, with regard to Jayne Ozanne, "BUT her point stands." It does, but (I would add) her cautionary tale about tribalism must be qualified by the prerequisite of justice as a fundamental concern for minorities within the larger commonwealth of God.

I'm writing from a Canadian context where social conservatives consistently use the "reverse discrimination" mantra both as a place holder for themselves as well as a barrier to the full inclusion of others.

I would simply add that i'm not a big fan of the notion of "tribalism". Its use often results in a premature dismissal of legitimate demands for reform and justice.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Saturday, 6 May 2017 at 8:27pm BST

I have always understood that when St Paul describes believers as 'strong' or 'weak' he is referring to their faith or their conscience, not to the degree of power that they hold. This is his argument in 1 Cor. 8 regarding the eating of meat, where those with a strong conscience eat meat sacrificed to idols, knowing that idols have no real existence. Those with a weak conscience don't eat such meat, worrying they may be compromised or polluted by it. Rom. 14:1 also says it is those with a weak faith who refrain from eating meat - unless they refrain out of a desire not to put a stumbling block in the way of the weak.

From his point of view, as I see it, those with strict scruples are weak in faith and those with a stronger faith may take a more liberal attitude. When I was a conservative evangelical these two passages prompted me to do some hard thinking.

Posted by Janet Fife at Tuesday, 9 May 2017 at 4:11pm BST

Re Jane Fife, "I have always understood that when St Paul describes believers as 'strong' or 'weak' he is referring to their faith or their conscience, not to the degree of power that they hold." You make a very good point which calls us back to what Paul is addressing.

Joseph Fitzmyer puts it this way, regarding Romans 14:1--15:3. " The second part of the hortatory section is immediately concerned with such minor questions as the eating of meat and the observance of holy days.But fundamentally it deals with the age old problem of the scrupulous vs. the enlightened conscience or the conservative vs. the progressive." (New Jerome Biblical Commentary 51:122).

Attempts at establishing a direct correspondence between Paul's argument and our contemporary controversy creates more problems than it resolves because the power difference inherent in our current predicament has to be taken into account, whether it was relevant in the situation being addressed by Paul or not. Besides, our sexuality controversies are hardly "minor".

Posted by Rod Gillis at Wednesday, 10 May 2017 at 3:47am BST
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