Monday, November 08, 2004

Windsor Commentary II: Conservatives, Liberals and Gay Theology

As I read and listen to reactions to the Windsor Report given by the various voices on the 'Net (and a few I get to overhear) I am struck by a particular theme: the inability (refusal) to recognize that that not only do people on various sides of these issues have different perspectives, but entirely different worldviews.

Many on the left take for granted that a theology that will pronounce homoerotic relationships as part of God’s creative and redemptive intention for his image-bearers is ultimately an issue of gay liberation. The oppressed are finally being listened to, and that will change things. Let me clarify here that violence against others is always wrong, and that homophobia is wicked and evil. The problem is that the oppressed are being granted epistemological priority: their narrative is now to be super-imposed over everyone else’s, and it will be the overarching story into which every other story fits.

Beware the tyranny of the oppressed: forcing everyone to conform to the (felt, experiential) truth of the oppressed is not a reasonable corrective to the former practice of everyone conforming to the (felt, experiential) truth of the oppressors. What’s more, not everyone buys into the narrative of oppressor/oppressed. While you find elements of liberation in the Christian story, it must be said that classical recapitulation / Christus Victor (freeing the Creation from the principalities and powers and placing it under the headship of Christ) is not the same as post-modern liberation: God-empowered self-actualization over and against those who would keep you down.

I hear often that the decisions at ECUSA’s 2003 General Convention (encouraging the blessing of same-sex unions and confirming the election of Rev. Canon V. Gene Robinson to the see of New Hampshire) represent a step forward with the Holy Spirit, and that the Africans (and American conservatives) are asking “us” to step back. Not all steps are forward or backward. I think it’s a step down from the kind of life Christians are intended to live together.

It’s not about scriptural interpretation. It’s about worldview, and whether one considers New Testament sexual ethics to be normative and binding for the Christian Church. I don’t think anyone’s questioning what the NT norms are themselves.

Check out Oliver O’Donovan’s thoughts on the left/right extremes as well as the state of “gay theology” (and see here for the entirety of his essay on the Windsor report):
Nobody reading Resolution 1.10 of Lambeth 1998 – and I am among those who read it sympathetically and appreciatively – could seriously pretend that it was supposed to represent the last word about homosexuality or about the church’s pastoral practice in relation to its homosexual members. It simply set responsible bounds within which we could approve one another’s pastoral practice in good conscience to Scripture and tradition while continuing to explore together a phenomenon of extreme cultural and anthropological complexity. The difficulty the church faces with such an exploration is that left and right wings, in almost equal measure, seem to think that there is nothing to explore. Either Scripture and Tradition have Settled it Once and for All (though how well our phenomena match those that Scripture and tradition addressed is an open question until we have learned to describe our phenomena better); or else Science has Taught us Better, (though no one can quite remember what the scientific experiments were, or what they were supposed to have demonstrated). Our greatest difficulty is that we all follow faithfully the ironic advice of Hilaire Belloc: O let us never, never doubt What nobody is sure about!

If anyone thinks that a prolonged exploration would simply hand a victory to revisionists, let me recall that in 1997 a group of British theologians (“traditionalists” as the press would call them) put some questions, chiefly about theological anthropology, to advocates of the gay cause in the churches – hoping for a reply that would bring to clear expression gay thinking about the gay position and so provide something to discuss. I was among the authors of the so-called “St. Andrew’s Day Statement” – and to the best of my knowledge the questions I and my colleagues then asked have not received the first shred of an answer. The Christian gay movement is not, by and large, a self-theorising movement. For that reason the distinctive experience it wants to attest is often inarticulately expressed, and easily swamped by a well-meaning liberal social agenda of championing all minorities in sight, an agenda which is precisely uninterested in what makes the gay experience different. All this poses a problem for the church, since it means that any possibly helpful pastoral initiative risks signing up, unwittingly perhaps, to a dogmatic revolution. In a world where nothing is clearly explained, all cheques are blank.

(The above emphasis is mine) I’ve read some theology done by the Christian gay movement, and must point out (I don’t think many people know this) that there isn’t a consensus of those thinkers that civil unions, marriages, or “long-term relationships marked by full fidelity” is what homosexual men and women ought to be striving for in church and society. Such arrangements are considered by some to be a product of heterosexist norms and to strive for those is still a way of conforming to the desires of the “oppressor.”

All cheques are indeed blank: can any of these well-heeled, educated, guilty white liberals draw boundaries on what “liberation” ought to mean?


Not here anymore said...


The Archer of the Forest said...

Nice comments, Kyle.

I have to agree with you on just about everything. I may use your step down analogy...I like it