Thursday, June 29, 2006

More Anglican Political Commentary

Okay, so last time we talked about how the new Presiding Bishop of dfmsT(p)EC[usa] is openly female and theologically just a little bit past her due date (produced by modernity, and launched into paganism by postmodernity) and why that's a problem for some others in the Anglican Communion.

Richard de Chico was kind enough to provide us with the above acronym (again, see the previous post on the matter for our rationale). He also pointed out that we find ourselves with some hilarious dueling archepiscopal metaphors. Outgoing PB Frank Griswold is often fond of referring to that which holds the Church together (yes, something we take entirely on faith) as a "forcefield of love." The new PB has spoken of our Mother Jesus giving birth to the Episcopal Church, which she has also described as conjoined twins, which a doctor ought not ethically separate unless both can live full lives. (Does that mean she's not pro-choice?) So, as Richard de Chico has suggested, our Mother Jesus has given birth to a mainline Protestant denomination conjoined with a funny kind of catholic/evangelical mutant and only Rowan Williams has the skill to separate them.

The operation has taken many years so far, and lots of blood has been lost. And more importantly, money. Souls? Screw that, who cares?

The other Big Problem is that Gene Robinson, the bishop of New Hampshire, is gay. Did you hear me? Gaaaaaaaaay! Specifically, Bishop Robinson is partnered with a man, and the lifestyle of a bishop is meant to be a model for the whole Church, and a focus of unity as well. Accepting Bishop Robinson as someone qualified for episcopal orders is a de facto endorsement of same-sex unions as a valid sacramental category. For the most part, American Anglicans are cool with this. A vocal minority are not.

Note: we get more opinionated from here.

The best logic on the "left" is that for men and women who are faithful Christians and understand themselves to be homosexually oriented, this is a faithful way of living with that reality. It must be remembered that nobody really knows why some people are erotically and emotionally attracted to persons of the same sex. The worst logic comes from folks who insist that it's all a matter of "inclusion" and "exclusion" rather than a question of ethical behavior. I think it's essentially about buzzwords.

For folks on the "right," the best I hear is that heterosexual, sacramental marriage, and celibacy under any other circumstances is the scripturally appropriate way of living in consistency with the biblical witness to the continuity of creation and redemption. Some folks, however, like to talk about what is or is not "natural" (a theological dead end if there ever was one), find homosexuals to be "gross," and with minimal hermeneutical reflection, want to proclaim that they know "what the Bible says," and why, and that's that. I have little respect for those arguments.

It also must be remembered that while some conservatives are conservatives because they are bigots and homophobes and some liberals are liberals because they have no desire or ability to interpret the Scriptures, they aren't usually the people who are having conversations about it anyway, and assuming these very worst things of your conversation partners is the best possible way to kill any fruitful debate. (see also Weekend Fisher: Pet Peeves in the Homosexuality Debate)

Mind you, this is a kind of flippant, Cliff's Notes version of what is actually a complicated and deeply nuanced debate. There's my disclaimer, do with it what you will.

Here's the problem with the rest of the Anglican Communion: Anglicanism on some level tries to understand itself as catholic, which means at the very least that one must consult with those with whom one is in communion, and in mutual submission allow oneself to be limited (protected?) by the consensus of the faithful. Some things people can agree to disagree about, but there must be consensus about the things that can be disagreed upon. The concept is in the Windsor Report (dum dum dum) and it's called "adiaphora."

Folks on the left generally have said, "We can agree to disagree about this development in our sexual ethics." Some say, "This is a question of justice, and we can't actually agree to disagree."

However, most on the right have replied something like, "We can't agree to disagree because one's position on sexual ethics actually affects one's entire vision of the creation/redemption project and how we determine what behaviors are within those boundaries." That is, to what extent does the New Testament dictate to us what those boundaries are, and in what ways (if any!) can we 1) move past it and 2) move in a way that seems to be against it. Conservatives/Traditionalists/Reasserters might be able to work with the first, but can't defensibly work with the second.

However, some conservative evangelicals (and of course lots of liberals) think they are justified in making "pastoral provisions" that allow people to be divorced and re-married and not be excommunicated, but would never dream of making such allowances for homosexual persons. I call that hypocrisy, and have moaned about it at length elsewhere. Serial polygamy is certainly not consistent with creation and redemption.

So ultimately, the American province did consult, but did not allow themselves to be bound by the results of that consultation in the face of a consensus that disagreed with them. That's the problem - not homosexuality or sexual ethics directly.

But who am I anyway? (wink, wink)


Ben Finger said...

Good post Kyle. I do have 1 sort of 2 questions though... Is divorce a sin of the moment or continued as active through the person's life? I am trying to work out whether it is appropriate to compare the two or not. Acts of homosexuality tend to be continuance and long going where as when two individuals seperate in divorce this seems to be a short term (and perhaps instanous) moment.

If you would like to pick this up at another point or in a different thread that is cool too. Guess this is more dealing with sexual ethics than polity.

(And for the record I do support certain instances of divorce. Sometimes it seems to be the greater destructive sin to stay in the marriage than to sunder it.)

Chad Toney said...

Why do you consider the arguments from Natural Law on this issue a "theological dead end"? Yeah, you got plenty of bucktooth know-nothins saying such 'n such "ain't natchrul", but the Natural Law stream of theology shouldn't be dismissed so quickly, IMO.

+ Alan said...

Well, Ben, if divorce is "a sin" it would logically be a state of sin that one enters into once one declares ones self divorced. If you enter the covenant and Sacrament of Marriage and then declare that null and void, you have stepped into a state of brokenness that can only be repaired by stepping back into the covenant. That is the logical conclusion of the matter whether we like it or not.

+ Alan said...

One more, sorry - can't help myself.

It would be like kidnapping a child and saying, woops, I shouldn't have done that, that was a sin, "I'm sorry Lord, forgive me for kidnapping this kid" - and then keeping the kid.

Not gonn' work.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

I'm a liberal (or post-evangelical) Christian. I am rather pleased that Canada has legalized same sex marriage, because I regard it as a human rights issue.

But I still find this debate very painful and difficult. Despite my liberal ways, I prefer to take my stand on biblical teaching wherever possible.

In my view, divorce and same sex relationships are distinguishable issues. First, the law of Moses makes provision for divorce. Jesus' commentary is also significant, it seems to me: "Moses permitted it due to your hardness of heart." In that light, divorce becomes an act of grace on God's part in light of our recalcitrance. It's hardly an endorsement of divorce; but it does remove it from the realm of moral absolutes.

Second: yes, Jesus' prohibition of divorce is absolute in Mark; but Matthew permits divorce in cases of adultery, and Paul permits it in cases where a non-Christian deserts a Christian spouse. You can't pretend those New Testament texts aren't there, even if you think they are later concessions contrary to Jesus' original position.

Finally, I think there's more merit to Ben's argument than Alan is willing to concede. Divorce isn't something one actively does on a daily basis. One may be divorced; but that isn't the same thing as perpetually divorcing. Whereas being in a same sex relationship is to commit the "sin" (if it is that) over and over and over again, with the intention to continue doing so.

The problem we all have to wrestle with is this: there isn't a single positive or permissive remark about homosexuality anywhere in the Bible. Thus (to compare it to some comparable issues) it isn't the same as allowing women to hold offices in the Church, since we can point to women like Phoebe, Junia, and female prophets. And it isn't the same as divorce, because of the permissive statements listed above.

When one endorses same sex marriage, one is taking a stand entirely on one's own view of morality, in direct contradiction of the scriptures (both Testaments). That is no small matter; it's not a step any Christian should take lightly.

However, I do see it as a matter of human rights. And that's why I suspect the Anglican communion will be unable to avoid the train wreck that lies in its near future.

It will never be seen as a matter where disagreement is permissible: for conservatives, it constitutes willful repudiation of biblical teaching; and, for liberals, to draw back is to fail to defend the human rights of gays and lesbians.

In other words, neither side is about to blink. Fasten your seatbelts, folks.

Anonymous said...

The statement in Mark was an addition, I am sure of it...

Divorce is a broken covenant. It is unfaithfulness. It happens.

Looking forward to the restoration of all things to ebcome new...

Kyle said...

Thanks for the thoughtful contributions, everyone.

Ben, to suppose that divorce is a "sin of the moment" that can't be undone is to assume that to continue in a state of non-reconcilation is some kind of acceptable norm. If we are Christians, we must insist that on the whole, reconciliation can and must occur. There are obvious "pastoral" exceptions, but one may not allow exceptions to determine the rule. I do think Alan's analogy is relevant.

If one starts allowing divorce for "good" but ultimately non-biblical reasons, we have to acknowledge that we're working outside of the explicit counsel of scripture. That's not bad, but we ought not pretend that we've not done it.

Chadrack, I'm sure you're right; ultimately, I am uncomfortable with any theology that must say, "as it is in 'nature,' so it ought to be." Entropy and domination are found in nature, as well; it's that kind of thing I was getting at. I'm probably showing my ignorance of more robust and reasoned Catholic Natural Theology. :0) Welcome to my little space, by the way.

Alan and Mike, I think I follow you.

Q, welcome, and thanks for your thoughtful engagement.

I do agree with you that yes, there are concessions in the NT in regard to divorce. That means it's not treated as an absolute in the context of the canon, but we can't give ourselves license, either. I think that happens a whole lot.

I disagree about the "continual" nature of divorce: it is (though sometimes for very good reasons!) continual unfaithfulness to a covenant once made and an ongoing reality of non-reconciliation. It's a problem.

I do think consistency would require Christians to campaign for anti-adultery legislation before they work for anti-gay legislation.

From my perspective, I can't fault your recognition that the entire scriptural witness is negative in regard to homoerotic behavior, and we're to an extent stuck with that; such consistency is not the case in regard to other issues, as you note.

What we have to do in order to countenance a change in our teaching regarding sexual behavior is to decide to move past and even over against the scriptural witness because for some reason or another we see it as out of bounds in that regard. Honestly, that's a conversation I could have.

And of course, I do maintain that we do that in regard to heterosexual couples when we allow them to contract second marriages. To allow divorce is consistant, but not remarriage.

Sounds like we land in somewhat the same place in regard to our assessment of the Anglican situation.


Rob said...

you know how you posted a few days ago on wanting to post on something controversial?

"What we have to do in order to countenance a change in our teaching regarding sexual behavior is to decide to move past and even over against the scriptural witness because for some reason or another we see it as out of bounds in that regard. Honestly, that's a conversation I could have."

Now that's controversial!

Hope you're all settled in KY now!

Kyle said...

Hee hee!

Cheers, mate, I try.

jess said...

great blog & provoking comments!

#Debi said...

So, for me this goes back to the question that I have asked myself (and others) off and on over the last 20 years: Have I been living in a perpetual state of sin for these last 20 years, seeing as I am a divorced person? And, seeing that my ex is remarried and that there is no way in Hell (or out of it) that I would ever put myself back into that "covenant", how does absolution occur for me?

+ Alan said...

Wow, too many questions and challenging statements here that I DO want to deal with but I can't right this minute. I will though, I promise. Peace.

+ Alan said...

Alrighty then. I'll try to be as brief as possible. The trouble with a forum like this is that we have so many people from so many different backgrounds and theological groundings. It can be difficult, to say the least, to come to any real terms of agreement on such things. Interesting to talk about though. Good to make each other think. As long as we know where we are.

Natural Law - I think the diffuculty you and some others have, Kyle, as evidenced by some things you said here, is the word and concept of "natural" in connection with the fact that the cosmos that we inhabit is broken ontologically. So, what IS natural and unnatural in that context? That is perhaps where some of the difficulty lies. I believe a concept that might help with that is one that I use - rather than merely saying natural, I would say God's Created Order. This is to say what Nature really is - it is what God created the natural order to be. So, when one talks about something, such as homosexuality, being unnatural they should be referring to God's Created Order, and in doing so, it would be appropriate to say this.

Divorce, Marriage & Exception - There is, to an extent, a connection to the first point here. We must also know how we understand Jesus' invasion of the broken Cosmos to have affected our lives. Is there, inherent in the Jesus invasion, something about a total restoration of all things to God's Created Order? I think there is. I think that's obvious. I think it's a qualitatively different thing than what was going on through the Law of Moses or through the Abrahamic Covenant or any other before it. Something has now been set in place that was never set in place by those other ways God was relating to mankind. More than externally, something on the order of being and reality itself has changed and is now in motion that never was before - not like this.

So, to say that Moses gave people an out at that time, uninhabited by the Life Essence of God as they were, incomplete and veiled as all that was, on the matter of divorce, is not on the same order as saying anything about divorce and marriage now. Are we weak now as well? Sure, but if we are Christian we are NOT merely human. We are not people in the same way as those people were then. We are new creatures, old things have passed away, behold, new things have come.

We cannot, also, be "pastoral" to the detriment of ushering in the Kingdom of God. That, to me, is tantamount to being anti-Christ. We must always favor the Kingdom in its fullness. We must always bend in that direction, even if it feels like it will utterly break us. It may well do that. But we will then be resurrected by its power.

This is complicated stuff - or it has been made so - not sure what mix of what is what. We must first properly understand what Marriage is and is not - WHEN it IS and when it IS NOT. I believe there are marriages that we call marriages, which are not. There are many which should never happen. I speak only of Marriage as a Sacrament inside the Christian Community at large and nothing else. I'm not sure it's helpful for us to discuss marriage outside this arena.

There are many reasons why a marriage would not be, in fact, valid - not a Marriage in reality, Sacramentally, but perhaps only legally or as a matter of culture. In cases like these, there is Annulment (not just for somebody who got married drunk one night and never consumated it). This is to discern and state whether a marriage was indeed a real Marriage. This is more fleshed out in the Roman Catholic world by far. I find it more consistent with a Sacramental and permanent understanding of marriage - and very helpful in cases like yours Debi (which I would suspect could be seriously considered annulment material).

" decide to move past and even over against the scriptural witness because for some reason or another we see it as out of bounds..." - This, to me, is getting into territory I'd rather avoid. I think it's so on the edge of the envelope that you risk a monumental "papercut." It seems (only saying what it could come off as) as if one has looked at Scripture and found what it seems to be saying, noticed what it did not say (such as in the case of homosexuality) and found it "wanting" or uncomfortable and therefore, decides to find another answer somewhere else, I'm not sure why. The usual answers are Science and Psychology. I refer us all to the difficulty in the concept of the broken "natural" Kyle spoke of earlier. Colloquially, I'll say it this way - that old dog won't hunt.

If Sacred Tradition is (and I believe it at least partly to be) the collected interpretation of Scripture by and in the Church, then the case of homosexuality should be accepted as sufficiently interpreted, as certainly "out of bounds" with God's Created Order, His Kingdom come in Jesus. The only doubt has ever been very recently, as far as the Church is concerned, and this, only by those attempting to be "pastoral" in a way that, to me, is sadly outside of true shepherding - to facilitate true spiritual transformation in people.

OK, so much for brief. Lord have mercy. Hopefully that made sense. Undoubtedly there will remain a certain level of disagreement in a setting like this, as I said at first. Oh well. Pax vobiscum.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

• Alan:
The cosmos that we inhabit is broken ontologically. So, what IS natural and unnatural in that context? That is perhaps where some of the difficulty lies. I believe a concept that might help with that is one that I use - rather than merely saying natural, I would say God's Created Order.

Thanks, Alan, I found that approach to the issue very instructive. But I disagree with your bottom line.

If I follow you correctly, you're saying that homosexuality and divorce are natural in the "ontologically broken" cosmos that we inhabit. But they are unnatural if compared against God's created (i.e. unfallen) order.

So far, so good. But I part company with you here:

If we are Christian we are NOT merely human. We are not people in the same way as those people were then. We are "new creatures, old things have passed away, behold, new things have come".

2Co. 5:17 is a problem text for me. I took hold of that text early in my Christian pilgrimage, but eventually grew disillusioned with how poorly it conforms with actual experience.

The fact is, we Christians are not demonstrably different from the non-Christians around us. Perhaps we should be; but in fact, we aren't. We continue to be "people in the same way as those people were then", contra your assertion.

Here we must introduce the familiar tension between the now and the not yet of the Christian era. The death and resurrection of Jesus, and the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit, inaugurated a new age. But still we await the consummation.

2Co. 5:17, then, is potentially misleading, since it describes the ideal rather than our actual condition. Paul speaks as if there were no longer such a thing as a not yet in Christian experience; as if the consummation were already upon us.

I am very fond of Jesus' comment that Moses permitted divorce because of the hardness of our hearts. It touches me because it describes a very gracious concession (from God, not merely from Moses) to human fallenness.

The cosmos is still "ontologically broken". Notwithstanding the advent of Christ, people still enter marriages with the best of intentions that turn out, in retrospect, to have been catastrophically poor decisions. And people are still homosexual in orientation, arguably from birth (not by choice) in this broken cosmos.

In my view, we continue to stand profoundly in need of a concession from God to our human brokenness; and it will be so until the time of the consummation, when 2Co. 5:17 will describe the actual, rather thanthe ideal.

The more Christians emphasize the ideal, the less they express compassion for broken people — which, truth to tell, is all of us. (Not that I'm accusing you, personally, of a lack of compassion. I'm speaking only in general terms.)

+ Alan said...

Thanks for the response and clarification Q. We certainly do disagree on the bottom line. I'll not go down the line tit for tat - not sure that's very helpful. I will respond to this though - "he more Christians emphasize the ideal, the less they express compassion for broken people." - I see that you weren't making it personal against me, but you know, I'm in the group, sooo, there you have it.

IF you were referring to an "ideal" that is somr moralistic/legalistic notion of perfection, then I would probably agree. That kind of thinking - that belief system leads away from love I think. I would imagine you'd agree. This would not be what I'm referring to. There are those of us who believe there is a new order at hand, that we, in fact, as Scripture and Tradition tells us, we are NOT merely like every fallen human being, who also understand the process of transformation, how long it takes, etc. I am one of those. I fully understand that there is a journey that we begin and then continue on until it's over - and that takes a long time.

To understand this and live as if its true is not to say one's outer life will fully manifest the initial union with God within us right away. This would take longer than I have energy to type to get into fully. Suffice it for me to say, we are both already new creatures and are also being fully made into new creatures in Christ. But this is real metaphysical change, not merely believing in something that has been done for us.

So, to "make concessions" in understanding we're all on the journey inward - upward - toward a fuller union with God, is fine. Of course. But to "make concessions" with the idea that, of course, we never will be like Christ so we should basically say that what is outside God's Life Order is fine to embrace and live in, is not compassionate but actually harmful to people. It may feel loving and merciful, but I do not believe it is. I think we're helping people to remain broken if we do this, and perhaps helping to break them more and hinder their possible fuller union with God. All this for me, to be clear, is not a matter of Heaven of Hell, but of being swallowed up in the Life of God as we were created to be.

Again, Scripture and Tradition tells us that we really arne't just like any other person - not internally - not metaphysically - when we are "in Christ." We are sharing in the Divinity of the Triune God. We have His Life Essence as part of our own now. This is what moves us toward this transformation I was talking about - not some obedience to laws so that we dont' have to fear punnishment. I think I can honestly say that having this view has not impaired my compassion for anyone who has any degree of brokenness. I have brokenness as well, but am in the process of being transformed. I pray that I continue to be open to receive Grace for this journey. I hope, also, that I will be able to compassionately help others along this path as well in whatever their dealing with.

I hope that clears it up a bit. We still may not agree. I would imagine not. But perhaps we've seen something here that we hadn't thought of in a certain way before. Peace to you.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

I've definitely picked up a new thought or two from your perspective, so thanks for that.

I don't think it would be constructive to continue to debate the issue. But I want to repeat that I am not accusing you, personally, of a lack of compassion.

Specifically, I am thinking of your comments re annulment, and your aside to Debi. There you show clear pastoral compassion.

A commenter on my blog this week informed me that many fundamentalist churches in the USA insist that abuse is an unbiblical ground for divorce. That's the kind of thing I mean when I say that some people emphasize the ideal to the point where they cease to exercise compassion.

It's clear to me that you're not in that camp!

+ Alan said...

Thanks Q. Good hashing back and forth with you. Peace and Grace to you.

Kyle said...

This is good, guys. Thank you.

My only contribution along these lines would be to say that I would be trying to flesh out some kind of "path of continuity" between the reality of present/past "ontological brokenness" and the upcoming/inbreaking fact of the New Creation. I would want to say that there is some kind of progression in continuity that should avoid counsels of perfection while not giving way to the cynicism that says "I am what I am and that's all that I am," essentially.

Does that make any sense?