I was thinking of posting about our church undoing the link between it and the state re marriage but that can wait for another day. A brilliant set of comments has been posted on an argument made by Ephraim Radner, noted here on July 18th, 2013. In blogging terms that is a light year away so I am reproducing below the link to Radner's essay and copying the two comments (made into one).
From the original post:
"To those advocating for change to our understanding of human sexuality in general and to marriage in particular, or, for that matter, to those advocating not to change, Ephraim Radner has published (IMHO) as good an argument as one can find anywhere that "Same-Sex Marriage is Still Wrong."
But, how good is this argument? Discuss." Some good discussion then occurred (thank you, commenters).
These are the two comments sent to me this morning by 'caleb' (thank you) - with what I consider to be important observations italicised by me (and a footnote or two appended at the end):
"OK, I've read it, and I'm tempted to say that if this is "as good an argument as one can find anywhere" for the traditionalist case, the traditionalist case is in even more trouble than I thought.
I'm intrigued that he bases his argument on procreation rather than gender complementarity, like most traditionalist arguments I've come across. It's been my understanding that in the last few hundred years the (Protestant) church has moved away from seeing procreation as an essential component of all marriage/sexuality - and with good Scriptural reason for doing so... So I'm intrigued by some of Radner's statements to the effect that it's only a Christian marriage when friendship, sexual engagement and procreation are all present - I'm not even quite sure if I'm reading him right. At least, I'd be interested to hear how he (or you, Peter?) would deal with couples who marry never intending to have children of their own, or knowing that due to infertility they can't conceive without sperm donors etc, or couples who marry too late in life for children.* If procreation is the only thing excluding gay couples from marriage, aren't a whole lot of other people excluded too?
Also, I'm not sure how convinced I am by his model of "suffering procreative love" as characterising marriage. It has a certain amount of internal logic and emotional appeal, and it COULD be a good way of putting the various biblical strands together.... Or, it could just be Radner adding the word "procreative" to a description of Christian love. I've seen the biblical strands being put together in just as compelling a way without needing every marriage to ('naturally') produce its own children.
The first half was quite frustrating. He makes some trenchant criticisms of SOME arguments put forward SOMETIMES by SOME revisionists, and it is worthwhile to have those specific arguments exposed to some good critique. I just wish he had described what he was doing in that way, instead of implying that the entirety of all arguments for same-sex marriage is covered by the specific types of argumentation he describes and refutes (perhaps I could say 'caricatures'). I'm sure the arguments he refutes are an accurate depiction of real arguments being put forward by (SOME) real same-sex marriage advocates. But if he tries to impute those arguments to all of us and pretend we've got nothing else to say, it's a straw man argument.
For example, at one point he depicts everyone on the 'pro-gay' side as falling into two discrete categories: "anarchic" "so-called Queer" thinkers who promote social construction of sexualities, and same-sex advocates who (apparently) all believe "sexualities are stable, embedded and consistent", as well as holding strongly to the modern myth of progress. Again, I'm sure these boxes hold a lot of people (and he's right to point out the tensions) but they don't hold all of us.
I share his sense that the "benign individualism" that seems to be motivating many same-sex marriage advocates is morally and rationally bankrupt, hypocritical, sub-Christian, and an ideology extremely well-suited to consumer capitalism. His criticism here was my favourite part of the article. But - once again - you can't write off all arguments for same-sex marriage just because this is the morality underlying some of the arguments. (Also, I could point to equally dubious moral motivations of many traditionalists).
I think he's overcooking the difficulty/impossibility of discovering anything about historical context and authorial intent, which I suppose is a more general hermeneutical debate. But the most glaring problem with his dismissal of "arguing the same-sex issue on the basis of human discontinuities" is that the same criticism can be levelled at traditionalists... If it's speculative and unprovable to suggest that biblical authors' condemnations of ancient behaviours are discontinuous with some contemporary same-sex relationships, it's just as speculative and unprovable to suggest that the biblical authors' condemnations of ancient behaviours are continuous with all same-sex relationships across all times and places. BOTH require some kind of speculative reconstruction of the moral logic of the biblical authors.
For example, we can suggest that Paul condemned what he condemned because it was lustful - in which case the contemporary parallel is lustful sexual activity (homo or hetero). Alternatively, we can suggest that Paul condemned what he condemned because of the genders of the parties involved - in which case the contemporary parallel is all same-sex sexual activity (lustful or monogamous).** It's hypocritical of Radner to criticise the speculativeness and uncertainty of people who take the former route, if he himself is taking the latter route. Our limited access to the minds of the biblical authors cuts both ways.
I suppose there's an important epistemological difference (not acknowledged by Radner) about who should have the burden of proof when the exegetical arguments are so inconclusive. Radner may say what Richard Hays says - that it's most prudent to side with the tradition while there is still doubt. Others would say that while there's doubt we should side with the position that leads to less gay children of God committing suicide.
An important question to ask is: what does it take for the burden of proof to shift to the traditionalists? When does the traditionalist argument become sufficiently weakened (through the various tools of exegesis, as well as other sources of truth - experience, science etc) that there is no longer enough evidence to justify maintaining the gender restrictions on marriage?
He argues similarly about the inconclusiveness of the sciences - basically saying that science is too inconclusive and contested to teach us anything at all, so we should ignore it and go back to the traditional position by default. This is surely a highly questionable claim (for which his sole reference is a comment made by a friend who's a psychiatrist). I don't think the entirety of all natural and social scientists' work on sexuality and gender can be written off quite so easily - even if we are in the "scientific Dark Ages" on sexuality. It sounds far too similar to evolution/climate change scepticism for my liking. In any case, as we move beyond the Dark Ages and scientific knowledge grows, Radner's position here will get weaker and weaker.
Lastly, I too appreciated his comments about the sobering lesson of slavery - the church has been horrendously wrong before, and no doubt we'll be horrendously wrong again... He's right that whatever side we currently find ourselves on, we shouldn't settle for the kind of weak arguments that too many people (on both sides) seem to have settled for. This is far too important for that - people's lives are at stake."
*PRC comment: (1) Openness to procreation is important (cf. Roman Catholic teaching) so in the first case I personally would not take the marriage of a couple who explicitly declared they would not have children under any circumstances. In the second case, miracles or simply surprises re conception do happen, to the couple who (otherwise of fertile age) think they are infertile before marriage can be open to God's future. In the third case, Scripture supports older couples marrying, which says, I suggest, that gender complementarity brought into marital unity is a necessary condition for marriage. (2) The question following begs a question or two, including whether 'procreation' is a thing which is separable so that with or without it, the question of valid marriage in the eyes of God can be settled.
**PRC comment: If I understand Caleb's critique of Radner (mixed in, as it is, with general critique of arguments for/against same-sex marriage), then the heart of the case for/against same-sex marriage must be about gender requirements for marriage (i.e. whether they are requirements which need to be met; or requirements that do not actually apply in all generations).
Plenty to think about here as astute insights are brought to bear on Radner's argument which I now concede may not be as good as I thought.