Monday, August 19, 2013

Tonal quality

Tough Questions Today: Exploring theology of marriage, our Theology House conference, Friday evening to Saturday late afternoon, is over bar the posting of papers and (fingers crossed re me and technology) the audio recordings on the TH website by Thursday this week). I am very grateful to the contributors who provided papers of remarkable depth and, contrary to the expectations of some, managed to find some 'new ground' to ponder if not plough over. That's a general reflection from me, not a promise to analyse each paper in depth in subsequent posts!

Feedback given orally has been encouraging. That the event went well and that kind of supportive evaluation. Neither I nor any participant is under illusion that it was more than a contribution to the ongoing conversation of our church, let alone some 'final word.' I think all are agreed that the 'tone' of the event, that thing which is impossible to organise, was very good. By 'tone' I mean considerate, careful, caring approaches and attitudes to our conversations together. I am grateful to 120+/- participants for making that tone happen.

In reflecting on the event and its possible wider significance, I am wondering about two hunches on my part which arise from the whole event rather than from any one thing said in it or about it. In no particular order ...

1. Are we all, on all sides, tacitly recognising that the way forward is for all to converse together with deep respect and great caution? A large group will all get to the same destination if they walk together rather than break into two or more groups travelling at separate speeds.

2. Are we beginning to acknowledge that the way forward is to find the language, the framework, the description of the future which we can hold in common, rather than to hammer one or other 'position' in the hope that if we do so for long enough or loud enough then eventually those promoting other positions will give in or give up?

The second reflection picks up on at least two observations I make, both about conversation at the conference and elsewhere.

First, that the situation is, in fact, complex around arguing for change to 'marriage' itself. On the face of it, definition of marriage is straightforward to change, one simply 'extends' it or 'varies' it. One is for or against, say, 'marriage is only between a man and a woman' or 'marriage is between any two people'. The latter is just a variation of a few words or just an extension of the scope of 'who' may marry. But, in fact, responsible theology (as undertaken at the conference) recognises the deep 'givenness' of marriage within Scripture, the intricate relationship between creation in God's image, gender differentiation, procreation, companionship and the telos of creation expressed in marriage imagery. Marriage in theological terms is not a Concise Oxford definition. Change to definition is conceivable in theological terms but there is a lot of work to do and it has not yet been done. It might not get there in terms of finding common ground, hence the next observation.

Secondly, that the situation may yield a way forward which is discovered in terms associated with marriage but not in terms of marriage itself. When the church is not against gay people per se, when the church is for relationships and community life, and when the church is for sinners because we are all sinners and all fall short of the glory of God, we must be open (in the long run, at least) to finding the language of theological common ground which enables us to respect and cherish one another and the loving, permanent, stable, committed relationships we all form. In specific and concise terms, is there a way forward to be found when we talk about (one or more of) friendship, companionship, souls knitted together, households and family?

To put all this in another way: it is sometimes said of current debates that 'no one ever changes their minds.' Does that mean no one ever changes or will change their mind, or does that mean that we have not yet found the common mind people of differing and unchanging views might yet discover?

Here is my wildest hunch: everyone, deep down, wants to discover that common ground.

38 comments:

Andrei said...

Here is my wildest hunch: everyone, deep down, wants to discover that common ground

No Peter - unconditional surrender is what is sought and here's my prediction the Anglican Church through a series of compromises will eventually surrender.

Just look at what happened to the Russian athlete Yelena Isenbayeva this week. The forces of cultural vandalism now have their techniques of character assignation honed to fine art and will enforce conformity to their views.

People of goodwill don't stand a chance, they will be like lambs to the slaughter

Peter Carrell said...

That could depend, Andrei, on whether we see ourselves involved in warfare or loving our neighbour. The tone of the conference (and, as far as I can tell, of other conversations going on in our and other churches, cf. Pope Francis' recent comments) implies we are trying to love our neighbour rather than engage in war.

Andrei said...

That could depend, Andrei, on whether we see ourselves involved in warfare or loving our neighbour.

The Christian's dilemma - what do we do when the barbarian hordes are invading and if permitted will carry our women and children off and sell them into slavery? Turn the other cheek?

Such things are not within our personal experience of course but they were part of my parents life, for example.

BTW
Did you see Patriarch Kirill's thoughts on these matters, offered up about a month ago in Kazan Cathedral?
"This is a very dangerous apocalyptic symptom, and we must do everything in our powers to ensure that sin is never sanctioned in Russia by state law, because that would mean that the nation has embarked on a path of self-destruction," said Kirill. "We face enormous temptations when countries start approving sin and codifying it into law in order to justify it."
Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/russian-orthodox-patriarch-calls-gay-marriage-legalization-apocalyptic-symptom-100701/#yy7pllPQRYi3vItG.99

mike greenslade said...

Kia ora Peter,

I think you make some excellent points. As is often the case, the issue is not the issue. How we engage in comm-union is.

Father Ron Smith said...

"Does that mean no one ever changes or will change their mind ?" - P.C.

Well, Peter, the Church of England faced a very quick 'change of mind' - about the acceptability of Same-Sex Civil Partnerships - once the UK Government allowed S/S Marriage!

It seems that pragmatism quickly won over the theological niceties when push came to shove.

The question is: When will the Church begin to understand the true nature of LGBT persons, and their need for committed, faithful relationships?

Sadly, some people seem to have equated that possibility with the possibility of sanctioning open polygamy, bestiality, and all sorts of other ridiculous scenarios, which really hasn't helped.

I, too, heard that the conference went well - especially the presentation of our Bishop Victoria. Congratulations!

Tim Chesterton said...

Hear, hear, Peter. This was a heart-warming post.

Bryden Black said...

Just another reflection that arose within my own mind after the panel discussion, Peter, after all the presentations had been given. The Early Church had a number of ‘categories’ of members and of half-way house membership, which we nowadays simply don’t entertain - to our detriment.

For example, as I’ve posted often here on ADU, there’s Jana Marguerite Bennett’s Water Is Thicker Than Blood: An Augustinian Theology of Marriage and Singleness (Oxford, 2008), which explores the varied vocations on offer for women, together with varieties of “households”. To be sure, as we’ve ourselves discussed together, this last idea might be open to ‘misuse’ at the hands of some who see a form of legitimation here precisely for same-sex households among the virtually ‘married’. But I say ‘misuse’, given Augustine’s strong theological language of “signification” which Bennett also signals. As he rings the changes, Augustine would reconfigure all human states of life, spiritually and physically, within that of the One Church, whose many descriptive tropes render creation’s good relationships writ large as being virtuously restored along the way to the Eschaton. [See too + Victoria’s presentation on companionship precisely at this point - even if there are left hanging some inferences perhaps. Aelred come to our aid indeed!] Notable too for our own culture is the insistence on the ecclesial integration of both polis and oikos: notions of private morality and public justice give way to faithful lives of holiness and righteousness before the Trinity, whose “home” is the City of God (Civitas Dei), whose just worship returns praise and glory to that very God - the Creator and Redeemer of all, especially the creature in the divine (now marred) Image. There’s in fact little ‘wiggle room’ here for some forms of ‘consensus’ currently sought, IMHO ...

And then the Early Church knew forms of catechumenal apprenticeship that allowed forms of integration for the pagans whose lives were not yet ‘ready’ - even if the ultimate vocation was exactly that of holiness! Might this not be an option in some people’s eyes for exercising due love of neighbour, permitting degrees of ‘difference’ nonetheless? And then on the other side, extensive debate on those who were deemed to have “lapsed” permitted other forms of half-way house membership - in periods of penitence, in varying degrees again. Both of these naturally envisage forms of discipline all too scarce nowadays. But that just endorses again another theme addressed by +VM - the cultivation of disciples who are disciplined!

That is Peter, the consensus you claim ‘we’ are seeking might just be a form of repristination - but with significant tweaks given our 21st C neo-pagan cultures. For mark this: neo-pagan we have become; Nietzsche was all too correct! So; what might the Church become AFTER the Gospel has been preached, learned, imbibed - and then squandered? Especially when curious forms of its legacy remain - albeit mostly in counterfeit, ambivalent expressions.

carl jacobs said...

A more interesting (and revealing) question is who didn't attend. It's easy to get a positive impression from the self-selected cohort that would choose to participate. Attendance indicates a predisposition to find commonality through 'conversation.' I can tell you that the probability I would attend such a conference is the very definition of metaphysical zero, and I am not alone. There isn't anything to talk about. There isn't any place for the conversation to go. You might as well ask me to converse with someone who wants to justify sex between father and daughter. And, yes, that is a fair analogy.

There isn't any language or formulation of words that can bridge this gap. It doesn't exist. The act of seeking co-existence itself tacitly justifies the contested behavior. It amounts to implicit surrender. Can you imagine seeking co-existence with incest? Can you imagine 'conversing' about it to "find the language, the framework, the description of the future which we can hold in common?" Then why should you seek co-existence with homosexuality? And, no, the number of advocates on the other side doesn't matter. Logically, you would be compelled to reconsider if large numbers of people decide to follow the culture in its increasing acceptance of "loving, permanent, stable, committed relationships." But you won't. And don't say it won't happen. How many people justified homosexuality so much as thirty years ago?

Autonomy is a relentless solvent. This isn't a work of the Spirit. It is a stiff-necked rebellious assertion of autonomous human will. And you are seeking to find some way to live with it. Why?

carl

Janice said...

Sadly, some people seem to have equated that possibility with the possibility of sanctioning open polygamy, bestiality, and all sorts of other ridiculous scenarios, which really hasn't helped.

Sadly, the scenarios are no longer just scenarios. Philippa Martyr has an article at Quadrant titled Some 'marriages' are more equal than others in which she states:

In the Netherlands, gay marriage was recognised early, and now civil unions between more than two persons have full legal recognition there. In Sweden, half-siblings may marry.

She also links to the website of German "Zoophile Engagement for Tolerance and Information" organisation which has the following:

As fellow humans [Zoophiles] deserve the same basic constitutional rights and duties as every other citizen. Through the German basic principle of a free and democratic composure of society, they are entitled to develop their personality within the measure of the law and shall enjoy protection from discrimination. Our initiative wants to promote that an open zoophile-lifestyle is possible without incurring negative social backlash.

Now zoophiliacs (zoosexuals?) just have to go harder with the rhetoric of human rights and get some friendly 'scientist' to produce the required research results. It doesn't matter if the science is garbage. Our intellectual/political elites generally know little about research design and methodology in the sciences so they'll lap up whatever appeals to their moral vanity and will come around to seeing the 'righteousness' of this new cause in the name of sexual freedom.

Father Ron Smith said...

"You might as well ask me to converse with someone who wants to justify sex between father and daughter. And, yes, that is a fair analogy." - Carl

See what I mean, Peter, in my penultimate paragraph, above? Some people really do acquaint same-sex relationships with polygamy, bestiality, and now, incest!

Tim Chesterton said...

What all of this rhetoric about sexual freedom and licence and sex between a father and a daughter has to do with my daughter and her wife and their little son (our only grandson), and their home and their jobs and their rent payments, is totally beyond me.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Tim,
It has at least this to do with it. One clergy here in Chch lobbied me re the conference about whether the conference would address the full range of sexualities now discovered by science. As best I could understand this was a recommendation in line with Gene Robinson's claim that there are as many sexualities as there are letters of the alphabet ( I.e. more than "GLBT"). Now I do not know what all that is about (it seems to me that quite a range is covered in "GLBT"!) and it may have nothing to do with incest and (one desperately hopes) bestiality. But one point here is that some sincere Christian folk when pressing for change are indicating that they would not be satisfied with the blessing of same sex partnerships. Twould be but a first step.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
I acknowledge that you have never advocated for anything other than the acceptance of same sex couples. Are you willing to acknowledge that some Christians seem to be advocating for more than that ( even if they lack clarity as to what the 'more' is)?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrei at 8.51
That is an interesting article. Would any democrat wish to live in Russia right now?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bryden at 3.07 pm
If we are a neo-pagan world then it is a slightly different one to that in which our ancient forebears of the faith engaged the gospel with.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Carl at 3.29pm
You are correct. It is interesting to consider who was not at the conference and to surmise whether the tone would have been the same if they had been there.

In this case, I actually think a larger conference would have still had the same tonal quality.

Andrei said...

That is an interesting article. Would any democrat wish to live in Russia right now?

I picked it at random to give an English language reference for the quote (translated clumsily as it is)

It is of course written by an American (protestant?) with American antipathy to Russia underlying it.

As for democracy, well, didn't we just see a radical redefinition of a social institution come into force yesterday? And I don't recall that this was put forward as an issue during the last election campaign (it was perhaps on the Green party's manifesto) but it surely was not on the table when I went to the ballot box.

It came out of left feild.

On the other hand the recent legislation passed unanimously by the Russian Duma that is causing angst among reporters in the West has at least 75% support of the
population at large, the support more likely to be in the high 80s in fact.

Funny thing about democracy is that our elites don't like it when it delivers a result they don't approve.

Which of course is why the radical change we saw yesterday could not be decided by a referendum but had to be quickly steamrollered thru parliament

carl jacobs said...

Tim Chesterton

The offense of incest is at least as great as the offense of homosexuality. The moral prohibition of incest is at least as strong as the moral prohibition of homosexuality. Why then should I contemplate 'conversation' about one but not the other? Peter Carrell has previously said "Because there are many people who seek to justify homosexuality and virtually none (yet) who seek to justify incest." My parenthetical. But this argument doesn't hold water. Peter Carrell isn't going to change his mind on incest no matter how many people might oppose him. We all know it. So he is tacitly admitting a moral difference between the two behaviors. That tacit difference is why he is willing to have this conversation.

People like me admit no tacit difference. We are not going to talk about the former. Neither will we ever talk about the latter. And it doesn't much matter to us what the godless culture around us decides to do. We are supposed to stand aginst it. We aren't supposed to make common cause with it. And make no mistake. Laws against incest are crumbling. Once you base sexual morality on consent (and that is the foundation of modern sexual morality including its justification of homosexuality) you surrender the principle barricade restricting incest. You think you can hold the line. But you will find yourself accused of possessing your own 'ick factor.' The arguments for justifying homosexuality can all be applied to incest.

Every. Single. One.

carl

Bryden Black said...

Hi Bryden at 3.07 pm
If we are a neo-pagan world then it is a slightly different one to that in which our ancient forebears of the faith engaged the gospel with - PC

Indeed Peter; it is as I also said: “what might the Church become AFTER the Gospel has been preached, learned, imbibed - and then squandered? Especially when curious forms of its legacy remain - albeit mostly in counterfeit, ambivalent expressions.”

A primary fruit of the Gospel is the understanding of human being that gives rise to notions of personhood, civil rights, and all that. YET when these get severed from the tap root of Trinity and Incarnation, all hell breaks loose - literally!

Shawn Herles said...

A one off post in response to the conference and the points raised by yourself Peter. I will not he responding to any responses or questions.

Can people change their minds? Well, yes, of course. I have, to a degree.

On the issue of Christian marriage I remain as before firm in my view that the Church cannot change the definition of marriage given to us by our Lord, Jesus Christ.

For me, issues such as gender difference or procreation are not relevant in the slightest. Jesus said one man and one women for life. That settles it for me.

That does not mean however we cannot find a way forward. BV's talk on companionship blessings offers one possibility that I am now open to. If we leave marriage alone, but explore this idea further, we may get somewhere. So, on that possibility, I have changed my mind.

I respect those who would be concerned about slippery slopes, but slippery slopes can be applied to just about anything. Roman Catholics argue that the Reformation was a slippery slope that resulted in secularism and the decline of the Faith in the West. Are they wrong? Maybe, maybe not. But the point is worrying about them will get us nowhere.

At the end of the day, as far as slippery slopes are concerned, I have to remind myself that, as a Calvinist, I believe that God is charge, totally. Ultimately, there is nothing to worry about. The song 'Don't worry, be happy' is a good summation of Calvinism for me!

And Bryden, the ancient pre-Christian Celts and Nordic peoples had cultures strongly based on virtue, honor, fair dealing, and warrior values. I don't see much of that in today's West. ;)

Blessings to all.

Peter Carrell said...

Agreed, Bryden!

Peter Carrell said...

Slightly moderated from Ron (please concentrate on the issue rather than speculate about the knowledge, ability or intention of a fellow commenter):

""The offense of incest is at least as great as the offense of homosexuality." - Carl Jacobs -

Am I to believe that this statement comes from someone with some understanding of both homosexuality and incest? I must confess I would find it difficult to believe such a thing.

Even the recent dictates of Lambeth Conferences (Anglican) have affirmed the human dignity of homosexual persons - as being made in God's Image and Likeness and worthy of respect! ..."

Bryden Black said...

To be sure, Shawn. As CS Lewis fondly used to point out, where paganism used to enjoy certain types of myths, the key element of the Gospel was they had now become actual history! Similarly, as Augustine used to point out: just as “Israel plundered the Egyptians at the Exodus”, so too could the Church ‘plunder’ the goods of Classical culture.

The problem with neo-paganism might just be Matt 12:43-45, given our once appropriation of the Gospel.

Anonymous said...

Shan writes: "BV's talk on companionship blessings offers one possibility that I am now open to. If we leave marriage alone, but explore this idea further, we may get somewhere"

What exactly does this mean? Is this some form of 'virgines subintroductae' or syneiskatism?

Martin

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Martin
The papers from the conference are now published at http://www.theologyhouse.ac.nz/marriage-conference-2013/

Anonymous said...

Here's an instance of the indoctrination that has become commonplace in American 'higher' education:

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/347003/academias-unexamined-assumptions

Secularism is pushed, Christian thought is punished.
Brave New World.

Martin

Peter Carrell said...

A slightly moderated comment from Martin (let's not discuss families by name or the details, please ...)

"Thank you, Peter, I'll read these carefully as time allows.

Perusing the comments above, I think that Carl Jacobs is reading the 'signs of the times' best. That [one of our number] can write very easily about his "daughter and her wife and their little son" demonstrates what a sea-change has come over us. Could this have been written 15 years ago? [...]

Martin
"

Father Ron Smith said...

"Could this have been written 15 years ago? [...]"

- Martin -

Probably not, Martin; because the subject would have been kept under wraps - for fear of criticism from the 'pure and holy' among us.

I prefer the honesty of the priest who is not ashamed of his child's sexuality - believing that it is as much part of creation as that of any other child of God. It certainly is not abusive of any other person, being motivated by Love. "God is Love".

Tim Chesterton said...

An assumption has been made that I 'wrote easily' about my daughter and her wife and their little son. I'm not sure how the commenter has access to that information.

Peter, I'm entirely happy for my name to be used; it illustrates the fact that we're not talking about 'issues' or 'godless culture' or 'modern sexual morality', but real people who are trying to find a way to live faithfully with the hand they've been dealt, and extended families who want to continue to love each other rather than 'write hardly' about each other (whatever that means).

Peter Carrell said...

Your candour is appreciated, Tim. However you are something of an 'old hand' on comment threads and will understand that it can be useful to nip certain personalised discussions in the bud ... otherwise nek minit (next minute) we will be discussing why you only change your socks every third day and how it is imcomprehensible that you voted the way you did at the last election :)

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, does your last comment mean that writers here may only mention the impersonal - in order to avoid nasty comments or judgemental remarks? This is precisely what I submitted would have happened 15 years ago. Have we not grown up and become a little wiser and more compassionate since then

Peter Carrell said...

The less comment here, Ron, that involves discussing the personal situation of other commenters, the easier my life is.

That does not mean that commenters may not mention their own personal circumstances if appropriate.

carl jacobs said...

Tim Chesterton

real people who are trying to find a way to live faithfully with the hand they've been dealt

Yes, we are dealing with real people. And those real people are real moral agents who will really be held to account for their real moral decisions. Those real people may have been dealt certain cards, but those real people are still morally responsible for how they play those cards. You do those real people no favors by confirming them in their hope that they can change the moral nature of an act by changing the context of the act. A homosexual relationship is structurally defective. It is toevah in the eyes of God. No amount of faithfulness, love, fidelity, or commitment can change that. It is your moral responsibility to uphold that basic truth.

carl

Peter Carrell said...

A note to commenters continuing this discussion ... I am not always going to be online over the next 36 hours ... please be patient!

Father Ron Smith said...

I note that, despite our Host's disincentive to discuss the content of other commenters' contributions on his site, we can still have this sort of remark"

" A homosexual relationship is structurally defective. It is toevah in the eyes of God. No amount of faithfulness, love, fidelity, or commitment can change that. It is 'YOUR" moral responsibility to uphold that basic truth."

I think, Peter, if you want no-one to question the statements of other people - that you allow through your selective sieve - you really need to censor them as strongly as you are apt to censor my comments.
Otherwise, the whole debate can tend to become lop-sided.

It is remarks like this, which are manifestly debatable, that egg on people like myself to refute them. Without the ability to contest other people's opinions, what really is the purpose of a blog - except to preach or teach?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
Have you understood me properly?

I encourage comment which analyses and critiques the content of what commenters say in respect of a view, issue or question. What Carl says, which you cite, is eminently commentable upon.

What I am asking for restraint on is discussing the circumstances of other people (should they care to share them with us).

I dod see that I have let through Carl making the pointed remark about "YOUR moral responsibility" and in hindsight I should not have done so.

Janice said...

Peter and Bryden,

I'd be interested in your thoughts on this articles from the Trinity House blog. It's titled, Sexual Idolatry.

There's another one, Reorienting our Sex Talk, which is also interesting.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Janice,
With respect to the Sexual Idolatry post: indeed, sexual idolatry is a pernicious, dangerous matter, going, as it does, deep into the core of ourselves. But whether homosexual sexual idolatry is a worse form of idolatry, I would be careful about, myself. The basic doctrine of sin is that all are sinners (equally).

With respect to Reorienting our Sex-Talk, a fair point is made re language use. But in the end, does it develop any concept other than, 'behaviour matters'? (That is an important concept!)