Saturday, June 11, 2011

Trinity and 'the issue'

Writing almost anything these days as a Christian about homosexuality is a fraught exercise. Each 'side' is looking for the 'right' thing to be said. And it can be 'woe betide' the one who does not say the right thing. To state the obvious, there is a divisiveness around Christian talk about homosexuality these days which is salutary. Sometimes there seems to be a lack of appreciation for all that is good in what 'the other' (i.e. counterpoint to 'me' or 'us') is saying. There is palpable evidence, for instance, that in a secular world in which church-going and open identification as a Christian are not compulsory, gay Christians are engaging seriously with what it means to be gay and to be Christian. The least appreciative analysis of their discipleship is to render it null and void on the grounds that they do not share a conservative interpretation of the Bible. More appreciative would be acknowledgement that they are our Christian brothers and sisters in human frailty and Christian faith. The evidence, however, is also palpable, that the Christian tradition has steadfastly affirmed marriage or singleness as blessed life situations for disciples of Christ, beginning from the earliest days when the apostles to the Greeks refused to sympathise with contemporary homosexuality (read Plato's Symposium before you tell me 'homosexuality' as a modern word has no bearing on those ancient days). Sometimes this tradition and commitment to it seems under-appreciated when progressive Christians comment on the internet.

It can be quite confusing, incidentally, to be told by 'catholic' Christians that the ancient ways are best and should be followed, except when it comes to sex! The conservative approach to homosexuality is actually quite catholic (respecting tradition) and quite evangelical (respecting Scripture). There is a theological strength to conservative Anglicanism which is better dealt with by corresponding theological strength in progressive counter-argument, but which all too often is dismissed with epithets of 'bigot' and explanations of 'but science says.'

Conversely, even as the Anglican slow train wreck of a schism is unfolding through these years, Western societies are making rapid changes, with civil legislation and social mores running well ahead of the church on committed same sex partnerships. Whether we agree with those changes or not, whether to accept them would be a cultural cave in or not, our societies are challenging us in ways that we seem poor in responding to: to threaten schism over sex (for instance) looks for all the world like an obsession taking over the church prior to dismembering it. In my view, we who identify ourselves as conservatives have as much responsibility as anyone for the perception that the church is weird on sex.

Does a Trinitarian hermeneutic help us as a Communion on the issue of homosexuality? In thinking about this I am inclined to conclude, 'only a little.' A Trinitarian hermeneutic seems to have an application in thinking about men and women relating together because in creation men and women are created in the image of God, in redemption we are one in Christ, and in marriage there is an intriguing analogy of diversity-in-unity with the Trinity as diversity-in-unity. I fail to see such a strong application to a same sex partnership. What has struck me more in my posts of late is that the basis for the doctrine of the Trinity, the dance between revelation and reason, is a reminder of the importance of all theological work doing the same: what has God disclosed to us, how do we understand that, what deeper insights are available to us as we use reason to think about what God has revealed?

In respect of homosexuality and the Communion can we say we have yet done all the work there is to be done on understanding Scripture as the vehicle for God's revelation to us?

To give an example of a question which I suggest is under-examined: suppose (for the sake of argument) that the homosexuality of today's world is a new phenomenon, unknown to Moses and Paul, thus rendering their (God's!) laws and ethics irrelevant. What does that mean, then? Are we theologically emboldened (as some seem to be) to move to acceptance of this new phenomenon when expressed in a monogamous partnership? Or should we stay a little while with the possibility (on the basis of the supposition above) that we do not know what God's will is for this new phenomenon? As a matter of fact, unless the Spirit of God reveals God's will for such a new phenomenon, we are ignorant. To the obvious rejoinder that the Spirit has so led us, it is right and proper that we pause and ask, How do we know, beyond individual conviction of mind, that the Spirit has led us to this truth? It is a basic recognition of the body of Christ to ask that question because so many in the body (actually, the vast majority of Christians in the world) have not heard what the Spirit, apparently, is saying to the church. There is also the question of whether the supposition made above for the sake of exploring the argument, in fact, holds good.

In a very recent comment on another post, Fr. Ron Smith gives as eloquent an expression of the case for accepting this new phenomenon as you could find anywhere. It may be interesting for readers to comment on whether this case is persuasive or not, and if not, why not. My own question would be where would we stop if we accepted experience as the key determinant for blessing a relationship. I imagine similar eloquence supporting the case for polygamy (the case is kind of there when Big Love screens!), or for men and women living together without life-long commitment. Would the church consider blessing such relationships also? Logically, on Ron's argument, we should. If we should not (but should bless same sex partnerships) what would be the theologically reasoning for distinguishing one relationship from another? (Please note that I am not wishing to argue 'thin end of the wedge' here, but, like for like, plausible dignified human relationships for plausible dignified human relationships, why stop with one in a series of possibilities?)


If I were the last Christian on earth resisting the acceptance of the blessing of same sex partnerships, the questions I am raising here might seem to be time-wasting before the inevitable falling in line ... but I am not the last conservative standing. Is it possible that the many Christians whether resisting such change or simply doing nothing to change the status quo - still the majority as far as I can tell in the church to which Ron and I belong - have a theological unease (e.g along the lines of the above paragraph) rather than corporate bigotry or phobia at the base of their continuing commitment to the status quo?

Can we Anglicans engage in theology, real theological discourse in these ways? That would be consistent with what made orthodoxy orthodoxy: a theology of revelation and reason which led to Chalcedonian Trinitarianism. Unfortunately, if the Primus of Scotland is any kind of benchmark of Anglican discourse (see post below) we will have our work cut out to get anywhere, given that, apparently contradictions contribute to our richness!

POSTSCRIPT: Here is one diocese broadening out its 'series' of blessable relationships. (H/T Christopher Johnson).

24 comments:

Suem said...

Well, I am convinced by Ron's arguments, but then I was on "that side" already. I guess you can see merit in them, but are not really convinced. Thus we reach an impasse - and so I think we have to respect each others opinions and allow a freedom of conscience and practice in these matters.

Will the acceptance of same sex relationships lead to a. blessing of uncommitted relationships or b. blessing of polygamous relationships.

I do not think we would bless polygamous relationships unless these became commonplace and formalised as legal units in our society. Advocates of polygamy would have very strong grounds from scripture, would they not? And doesn't that give us a problem if we see scripture alone, (without seeing it in its historical, social and cultural context) as our benchmark?

One of my biggest problems with polygamy is from a feminist view; I think it arises from a particular view of women, and can lead to abuses of women and children that are documented in many polygamous set ups.

Would the church bless uncommitted relationships - if by that you mean a couple turn up saying "we're not going to be together for long, please bless our temporary relationship!" - then I hope not! However, the church does bless countless marriages where the couples claim to make a lifelong commitment - but in reality soon leave each other and move on to another partner (sometimes also married in church.) So, in reality the Church already does marry many people whom it knows - just through statistics- are not going to be life long partners, or have not been life long partners.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Suem,
I appreciate the way you engage in the content of issues!

Precisely: there are problems with the (potential) next issues I raise and they would need discussing case by case. But that serves us better than claiming the Spirit has already told the truth of the matter to a few.

Father Ron Smith said...

"There is palpable evidence, for instance, that in a secular world in which church-going and open identification as a Christian are not compulsory, gay Christians are engaging seriously with what it means to be gay and to be Christian."

- Dr.Peter Carrell -

Thank you, Peter, for your bravery in opening the possibility of real dialogue on the question of how a Christian, who is also homosexual, can find an honoured place in the Church - that is, supposing there is such a possibility.

You have might have mentioned the word 'prejudice' which certainly can describe the attitude of Christians who have no direct contact with the phenomenon of persons who are both gay and devout Christians. This prejudice might even occasion the opinion that the term 'gay Christian' is an outright oxymoron.

The 'prejudice' that is thought to occur on the other side - that of the actual gay Christian, against homophobia - is based on denial of what a gay Christian would take to be their human right to just exist - before their actual behaviour is even taken into account.

This is, firstly, a problem of the recognition, or non-recognition, of the experienced ontological reality of 'gayness' as a given - by God The Creator - to a small number of human beings who are made in the divine image and likeness.

To compare homosexuality with the more normal heterosexuality as a defective human paradigm - when measured against the relationship between the 3 Persons of the Trinity - is hardly a 'theological' conundrum we ought to be talking about. There can be no comparison between the ineffability of the God-Head and the fallen nature of God's human creation.

I am hopeful that someone besides myself will be bold enough to step up and argue theologically with Bryden and others who are plainly dismissive of the LGBT community as intrinsically defective bearers of the image and likeness of God - in terms that B.B. with his dogmatic conservatism will understand.

B.B. is a farmer/theologian and he will have at least observed the gay
phenomenon amongst sheep and cattle he (if he finds the time to do so) has dominion over. Of course, B.B. will then argue that humans beings are not animals. However, to some extent we do share their creatureliness.

In any event, thank you, Peter, for bravely opening up the situation on your blog. I don't expect there will be many contributors from the liberal side of the argument - but at least you have shown willing to lend a 'listening ear'.

James said...

I think you need a "not" before the word "salutary."

James said...

In the 1980's, literary studies departments were divided on the notion of teaching a "canon" of exemplary literature. Is it imperialist to ask students to read so much Shakespeare and Dryden, but then nothing from 16th-17th century or Middle East? Is our literary "canon" sexist and racist? On the other hand: what motivates us to, e.g., teach literature from Shakespeare rather than from a chainsaw manual or a grocery list?

Incipit Gerald Graff and his exhortation: "Teach the controversy."

Were I not Anglican, with our own discussions frequently poisoned indirectly by associations with loud calls for non-Trinitarian Jesus following - I might very well advocate that churches do exactly this: "Teach the controversy." Unfortunately, in Anglican camps, there is a very prominent connection between the pro-gay sex side of argument, and Christological teachings of Spong, Borg, and Jefferts-Schori.

So for us, my urgency is getting LGBT people especially away from the poisoned Anglican well, since they are especially likely to draw from the font of the dead Jesus school, and in doing so, terribly stunt their faith - succumbing to a fate worse than sexual abstinence or (in my opinion) engaging in sex condemned by Scripture. They're also likely to be tempted into thinking they must engage in church politics and advocacy. This is, I believe, a thing which, amongst Anglicans, is especially likely to hurt one's faith. Because our conflict has also to do with the very person of Christ, it's red-hot and terribly bitter. The anger is not at LGBT people - it's at basically the formation of a new religion within the church. But LGBT people are likely to feel this pointed at themselves, since sex is our "presenting issue." Whereas in other denominations, there is much less rage, sniping, and wounding from stray shots in the fog of war - since sex is not the presenting issue, and Christology respects Christ. LGBT people are very likely to feel they are "targets" in the terrible war between camps in our midst and: "they hate me."

When I was researching this issue for our church in 2001, I came across quite a few non-Anglican groups discussing it. There was quite a lot more "teach the controversy" style teaching going on there. With us, it's pretty much stopped at "We're orthodox and you're not!" and "Bigots! Homophobes!" etc.. It's so polarized that we're sometimes practically screeching at one another.

Another problem (not anywhere as serious as the Christological one) with the "pro-gay sex" side in the Communion now is: parishoners are likely to hear a number of arguments about why Paul's words are really inapplicable to us, are really about temple prostitution, etc. etc.. With this teaching, they're likely to form sexual relationships, which condition and modify their sexuality (as all sexual relationships do). Years down the road, they may very likely come to the conclusion that these interpretations of Scripture are wrong, with only a bit of study ... but having spent years forming their own sexuality into a pattern of same-sex attraction, or find themselves in a committed and mutually-dependent relationship, or both.

The very despair here will likely drive them further away from the church, or toward a view of Scripture as more or less a collection of little literary bits we can allude to and selectively quote in adorning the various views we already espouse, but not the inspired Word of God which we consult in order to form our views themselves. And this, of course, brings them to non-Trinitarian Jesus following.

I do see a place for churches teaching Scripture - but then also holding classes where both sides of Scriptural interpretation are fairly presented.

Peter Carrell said...

Thank you Ron and James for serious commenting!

'Not' before salutary or 'should have been more' before salutary and 'than to date' afterwards :)

Anonymous said...

It can be quite confusing, incidentally, to be told by 'catholic' Christians that the ancient ways are best and should be followed, except when it comes to sex, just as it can be quite confusing, incidentally, to be told by 'evangelical' Christians that the Bible ways are best and should be followed, except when it comes to creation, women in leadership, divorce, family headship and anything else that affects the evangelical personally.

Alison

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Alison,
You are very good at criticism served up with some wit and smart comment.

I would like to hear from you your own constructive proposal for a consistent hermeneutic of Scripture and/or a consistent theological paradigm for working out Christian ethics.

Anonymous said...

Your gibe against 'catholic' Christians obviously set up a straw man – not uncommon on this site. It merely served to magnify to the astute reader that your own theological paradigm is severely lacking in consistency. Realising your own nakedness you now point frantically around to attempt to distract by finding the nakedness of others. Fortunately, or possibly unfortunately for you, for those seeking a consistent evangelical hermeneutic of Scripture and/or a consistent theological paradigm for working out Christian ethics there are Rosemary and Peter the Greek. Your premises inevitably lead to their conclusions, a consistent reading of the Bible held throughout the ages. You like to term yourself conservative, but in central Biblical teaching you are not and you know what the Bible says about that. There is just one minor teaching left and you will have slidden into line with the 'catholic' Christians you slate.

Alison

Lucy said...

I guess most of us would be happy to agree with Father Ron’s statement that the Holy Spirit led the early church Fathers as they formulated the Creeds, and that the same Spirit was also responsible for challenging and changing entrenched attitudes about women and slaves. However, when he argues that this moving of the Spirit can also be discerned in the contemporary demand to name homosexual love as a holy, God-ordained relationship, I think he claims too much, too freely.

When the Creeds were formulated, they became a distillation of truth readily seen in Scripture, at least to the extent that there is nothing in any creed that directly contradicts a command, pattern or underpinning concept in Scripture. In a similar vein, the changed attitudes towards slaves can be seen already present in ‘seed form’ as it were.

In regard to the altered status of women in the church: while some might argue that the church has thrown out too much NT teaching regarding the distinctive roles of men and women; that we have lost the ability to speak creatively into our communities as a result; and as a consequence we cannot celebrate 'vive la difference!', it is also true that even the most extreme feminist position in the church has not begun to call holy and God-ordained a relationship which, if pursued, God says will keep a person out of the Kingdom.

So, eloquent Father Ron may have been, but persuasive ... I don't think so.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Lucy for an eloquently stated case.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Alison,

I am genuinely confused as to how catholic Christians who insist on sticking to ancient ways of the church then leave those ancient ways on sex. (Not all catholic Christians are so insistent on ancient ways).

I am also genuinely confused by the brilliance of your jabs against me. Am I a whisker away from being consistent like Rosemary and Peter or a whisker away from some dreadful antithesis ... or something else ... liberal ... catholic ... one minor nut unstated teaching to go .... 'Fraid you have left me not only exposed in nakedness but with no idea where to find my clothes.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate Peter's postings, not because I always agree with them (I don't) but because he's an explorer, and in the words of J. I. Packer, you shouldn't shoot explorers anymore than piano players (well, some piano players). In raising these questions, Peter rouses me from the slough of my complacency, even if I eventually slink back there, and he's gracious toward those who disagree with him. When it comes to the heart of the Gospel I am sure we see eye to eye, as well as in the desire to see a post-Christian world find forgiveness and life in Christ.
I cannot get too exercised about the ministry because it's a secondary issue for me; though if I were a catholic, I would probably be upset because of the intrinsic bond there between sacraments and ordained ministry.

On other matters, nobody should think that those of us who support traditional Christian sexual ethics are stupid or lacking intellectual heft or compassion. We are, however, compelled by an integrated understanding of the Bible that liberals reject, since we see the Bible as God's word Written, while at best the liberal will see the Word of God contained in the Bible and admixed with human error.

Peter "Palaiologos"

Peter Carrell said...

I like that phrase 'integrated understanding of the Bible', Peter.

Father Ron Smith said...

"it is also true that even the most extreme feminist position in the church has not begun to call holy and God-ordained a relationship which, if pursued, God says will keep a person out of the Kingdom."

- the Gospel according to Lucy -

Where, precisely, does "God" say that Lucy? Can you quote chapter and verse in the scriptures?

Regarding Simon the Greek's allusion to the ineffable inerrancy of scripture; I understand where he's coming from with his mention of J.L.Packer - now there's a real conservative for you.

Lucy said...

the Gospel according to Lucy ... now Father Ron that has quite a nice ring to it; perhaps I am about to be discovered as a 21st Century Mother of the Faith; you've mentioned them once or twice I seem to remember.

as to chapter and verse: you and I can both read.

Father Ron Smith said...

"as to chapter and verse: you and I can both read." - Lucy -

Now Lucy. There's lots of stuff in the Bible - especially that which is written with the explicit intention of loading guilt on to the reader, that one could not, today, in all conscience accept as God's definitive word. (Jesus did overturn a lot of shibboleths!)

You too can read If you only will.

Bryden Black said...

“I am hopeful that someone besides myself will be bold enough to step up and argue theologically with Bryden and others who are plainly dismissive of the LGBT community as intrinsically defective bearers of the image and likeness of God - in terms that B.B. with his dogmatic conservatism will understand.”

Love it Ron - you have out run/ron yourself this time around, laddie. The reason is that we have all proven to be defective bearers of the image of God. I fancy that’s why Jesus came to save us: to restore that very image! And since all have fallen short of the glory of God - through ignorance, weakness, and our own deliberate fault - the only real question is whether some forms of repentance are “valid” and others not (to echo other threads and comments ...!)? And the answer to that would have to take the form of another question: I guess it depends upon what it is we think we need to repent of, and what not.

I for one will never dismiss tout court your own experience, or that of my friends and associates - even and esp. Juan’s - who happen to deem themselves members “the LGBT community”. Where however I will more possibly take issue is in your or their understanding of that experience, and then certainly most serious issue in your woeful evaluation and judgment of my understanding of that experience (with abject apologies to Bernard Lonergan). So; please “step up” yourself to an evaluation of your understanding that goes way beyond mere experiential pleading - and we might, just might, be getting somewhere. And in getting there, begin to reflect something too of that image being restored by the Spirit of Christ: “we all ...” (2 Cor 3).

James said...

"I am hopeful that someone besides myself will be bold enough to step up and argue theologically with Bryden and others who are plainly dismissive of the LGBT community as intrinsically defective bearers of the image and likeness of God - in terms that B.B. with his dogmatic conservatism will understand.”

Fr. Ron, I'm in agreement with Bryden here. You asked me to interact with +RW's The Grace of the Body; I did! I heard nadda back. And then I heard something else, to which I responded, etc. etc..

I'm in no way dismissive of the LGBT community and most certainly believe that they, as all of us, are born in the image of God. I'm paying, as is Bryden, careful attention to LGBT voices, and in particular, of your own arguments for same-gender intercourse. If there is "dogmatism" here, it's in the continual insistence that, despite so much evidence to the contrary, those who don't agree with you are less than open-minded and unable to interact with the reasons presented.

In the meantime, we're also busy illuminating other issues related to the LGBT issue - I call out to the LGBT community specifically, showing how in embracing non-Trinitarian religion within a body still claiming to be Trinitarian, that something is horridly wrong, with a high likelihood of isolation of the LGBT cause to a rather sickly, rejected Anglican Communion ... and not only do I hear nadda, I hear again for the nth time "plainly dismissive ... dogmatic ..." etc. etc..

Fr. Ron, I dig you, dude! You're a fun guy! I dig interacting with LGBT people too, and I rejoice when we have something to rejoice in together. Which, granted, isn't every point of discussion.

But I gotta have stuff on my plate to interact with!

You are cool, my friend, Fr. Ron. You keep standing up when the going is rough. You have been exposed to tough arguments, and you are still here and you shine with Christ's light every time we are able to rejoice together in Him.

But I don't wanna be too insistent on the quote above either, and I know: that was mostly Fr. Ron not having a good day. Which is something James does a lot of the time as well - James has rough moment, James says dumb things.

Blessings to you. (I almost said "Inclusive blessings" there, but that would have been the naughtier sort of irony - and that wouldn't have shown mutual respect - I've got my own snark weaknesses).

Father Ron Smith said...

" I guess it depends upon what it is we think we need to repent of, and what not." - Bryden Black -

Precisely! Now, you, yourself may not best understand what you have to repent of. I do know my own faults, they are only too clear to me, but they do not include discrimination against women and gays.

Rosemary said...

Father Ron said, "I do know my own faults, they are only too clear to me, but they do not include discrimination against women ..."

Oh dear, what a whisker, when just reading the pages here contradicts that.

Bryden Black said...

“Now, you, yourself may not best understand what you have to repent of. I do know my own faults, they are only too clear to me, but they do not include discrimination against women and gays.” Fr Ron; dude extraordinaire

And just when I thought you had really out run/ron yourself with your last, you come up with this ...! Suggest you enter the next Olympics for the 100 metre sprint, even the 60 m dash! “Step up” to the starting blocks and “just do it”: on this present form even Usain Bolt should be worried. And BTW: do steadfastly continue to refrain from comprehensively dealing with the actual theological arguments ... It keeps my comments shorter - and easier for general consumption, to boot!

Brother David said...

Oh dear, what a whisker, when just reading the pages here contradicts that.

Easy to say Rosemary. I would like to see the links that actually support the accusation. I do not recall Padre Ron stating anything that could be mistaken for discrimination against women. So far this just appears to be a seagull's bombing run.

*****

Where however I will more possibly take issue is in your or their understanding of that experience, and then certainly most serious issue in your woeful evaluation and judgment of my understanding of that experience

First you insult us with the comment that we "deem" ourselves GLBT. Then you question our own understanding of our experience and are willing to substitute your understanding of our experience as the more knowledgeable understanding. You do dismiss our experience and try to cover it with the blatant lie that you don't.

Father Ron Smith said...

" It keeps my comments shorter - and easier for general consumption, to boot!" - Bryden Balck -

Well now, ain't that a blessing of itself?

Dear Rosemary. It's so good to see you and Bryden agreeing on something - even if it's only to criticise me and my support for Christian LGBTs.

Regarding your suggestion that I am dismissive of women: I do not reserve my dismissiveness to any particular gender. Really, I don't.