Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How to conduct a debate on sensitive matters

I love the name 'Metacatholic'. Its got a ring to it, that 'Anglican Down Under' does not have! Its the name of a blog, based in the UK, and keenly interested in many matters, including Anglican matters. A recent posting is entitled 'Gay questions to straight answers'. Its a model of Christian tone and respect (for people, for Scripture), and its commenters comment well, too.


Anonymous said...

"I have to say that the venom and desperation of some, together with some dubious arguments, suggest to me that the traditional reading not only has its weaknesses, but that it produces some very sour fruit."

Oh dear, what happened to the irenic tone? Blunderbuss ad hominems that never specify their target (what 'venom'? what 'desperation'?) are only an attempt to claim the moral high ground while disparaging assumed opponents at the level of their presumed bitterness and psychological insecurity. Is this any different from the mirror image argumentum ad misericordiam ('Feel my pain!')?
If Chaplin can come up with a *genuinely new and *valid way of reading 'those texts', good luck to him. But he will have to do a better job than Gagnon, who studiously avoids casting aspersions on the motives of revisionists and sticks to historical and grammatical exegesis.
Gagnon has already dealt extensively with proposed analogies with chattel slavery, so Chaplin is scarcely being novel is raising this question. As an historical note, let me say, en bref - nobody in Christian Europe proposed chattel slavery until the era of colonization of the New World in the 16th century, when it was argued, not on biblical grounds but on Aristotelianism, that 'los Indios' were not really human - a view fiercely resisted by Bartolomeo de las Casas. Within Christendom itself, the idea that a Christian soul could be the property of another had long been repudiated - so slavers had to maintain that blacks and Indians didn't have rational souls.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
Good points all.
I agree that Gagnon is the benchmark for a traditional or plain or orthodox reading of Scripture on sexuality. Chaplin aka Metacatholic would do well to engage with Gagnon.
If the recent "Gagnon v many others" correspondence on a Fulcrum thread is anything to go by, then some extraordinary argumentation needs to be brought out from hitherto unextracted exegetical seams!

Doug said...

Thanks for linking to this, and for your comments. May I make two comments in reply to the conversation?

First, I've deliberately chosen not to engage explicitly with Gagnon. This is because I want to adopt a question asking approach, rather than an argumentative one. Gagnon's work is so exhaustive at one level (not to say exhausting) that engagement with his arguments and on his terms could be the only possible approach. Asking the question "Do I agree with Gagnon, or not" doesn't seem to me to offer any fresh possibilities at all.

The second comment I would like to make is that blogging seems to bring out a knee-jerk reaction in some people. Not only does your anonymous commenter misread your quotation of me and take "some" to read all, but he clearly hasn't bothered to read my post to which you link. He (or she) speaks of my coming up with new and valid ways of reading these texts. By contrast I say: "It is too much to hope that any significant new meaning might be found in texts as well quarried as these. It may not (I think) be too much to hope that we might see one another as having some integrity and being serious about engagement with the texts."

I don't think I am making any claim to novelty. Whether I do mange to offer something different to the run of mill (and often bad-tempered) argument will be for others to judge. I just want to think out loud while taking both scripture and the experience of gay Christians seriously, rather than starting from the assumption that they are an either-or.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Doug
Thanks for your comments.
Gagnon's exhaustive work is exhausting! (But I love the way he never backs away from any argument or any issue).
We need fresh light/life in the quest for a 'solution'.
I sometimes wonder what Jesus, and Paul would say, if confronted by today's issues.
I am not quite sure what they would say ... but I reckon it would be a little different to what we are all saying!

Anonymous said...

Hello Doug - no, you misread me, the word 'all' doesn't appear anywhere in my post. I read your post twice. Did you read mine carefully? I was simply drawing attention to your ad hominem criticism of certain unnamed 'venomous' and 'desperate' spirits, which is an unworthy tactic. Name the beast, Doug!
Nor did I say I thought you could come up with a significant new understanding - you prescind from that very possibility. What I meant was this is the only really important question for anyone who believes in the authority of holy Scripture. Unless you are willing to engage with Gagnon (as Via, Martii Nissen and others do) and to argue he is wrong, what have you got to add? Your comment 'Asking the question "Do I agree with Gagnon, or not" doesn't seem to me to offer any fresh possibilities at all' sounds just a tad obscurantist ('Don't bother me with the facts or arguments, my mind's made up') or even timid - me genoito!
Everything else, including your plea that we be kind and respectful to each other, I take for read - which is why I was disappointed in your reference to 'venom' and 'desperation'.
For myself, I have no problem recognizing the integrity of those I oppose. The revisionist case is actually very clear and coherent in its own way:

"St Paul (and a fortiori the 'Leviticist') were not speaking/writing the Word of God when they opined on homosexuality, so there's no point trying to make them say what they weren't. Scripture is a human, culture-bound phenomenon that only very imperfectly witnesses to the Word of God; it must be criticized and sifted for truth. Instead (runs the argument), the 'real Gospel' is found in Jesus' accepting attitude to others etc"

- I think you know how the script runs. Well, as a catholic evangelical seeking to understand and obey Scripture I oppose this 'version' of the Gospel as much as I do the rival 'versions' found in Mormonism and the JWs - with the same respect I have toward Mormons and JWs, in the sincerity and integrity of their beliefs.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
Doug Chaplin can speak for himself etc
But I understand him to be questing for a new angle on an intractable puzzle: the contrast between the direction of Scripture (sum: against any sexual expression of love between two men or two women) and the reality of gay and lesbian Christian experience (sum: committed partnerships are a good thing, enabling support and companionship on the journey of life and faith ... and certainly are a better thing than loneliness and/or promiscuity).

One possible angle might come from this comment made by Cranmer a few days ago at

"But Cranmer has a question.

Peter Tatchell agrees with St Paul when he says that homosexuality 'isn't natural'. Paul refers to men who exchange natural acts for unnatural; that is, they engage in sexual activity which is ‘para physin’ - 'against nature’ (Rom 1:18-32).

Is a life of celibacy not also ‘para physin’? Indeed, the forbidding of people to marry is referred to as ‘a doctrine of demons’ (1Tim 4:1-3)."

That is, what would a (Christian, Scripture-informed, theologically responsible) answer look like to this question, which I suggest we can argue was never directly addressed by Paul or Jesus:
in an age when we more openly understand than before the nexus of facts and issues of sexual drive, human intimacy, social aspects of personal wholeness, 'essential' and 'constructed' characteristics in human sexuality, are there two and only two styles of holy living in respect of our sexuality, celibacy or (man and woman) marriage?

Doug said...

I will indeed speak for myself - hopefully in careful arguments over a series of sporadic posts. But broadly, Peter, you grasp the dilemma well.

I note that I am challenged to name specific individuals if my point is to have any validity. Somehow I can't quite get over the irony that this challenge comes from someone who wishes to remain anonymous, but still have their points taken seriously.

I will however suggest perusing *some* of the comments on blogs like Virtueonline. It shouldn't take you long to spot a bit of desperation or vitriol.

Anonymous said...

Peter: if you think Jesus never thought of such a possibility (and I wonder if you overrate modern psychology vis a vis ancient and medieval knowledge and don't give God Incarnate His proper due! :)), then you must also grant that any argument for a loving, consensual homosexual partnership is also an argument for loving, consensual polyamory and (deep breath) loving, consensual adult incest (it does exist, you know - why should it be illegal?). Can these be other 'styles of holy living' too? If not, why not?
And what about the Christian bisexual? How should he/she live? Serial sex relations, perhaps?
Not to mention the lonely heterosexuals with no prospect of marriage.
The assumption of course is that Christ and His (supposedly Holy Spirit led) apostles didn't know about these things and 'we' do - a point nicely brought out in this new essay from ACI by Chris Seitz:

Briefly put, the discovery of 'new' religious truth apart from the Scriptures is really personal intuition of a par with Valentinian gnosticism.

Doug: I don't read Virtueonline, but I do know that David Virtue nursed his brother in law, who died of Aids. Why not email Mr Virtue about the tone of some of these comments on his site? He's an evangelical Christian and would agree we should 'speak the truth in love'.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
Virtue Online: there are virtues to David Virtue and his quest to speak the truth in love ... but some comments appears on his and similar 'ultra' conservative blogs which, call me oversensitive, but look more like bigotry and hatred than speaking the truth in love ....

Your points re Jesus, Paul and the relevance of their knowledge to life today are well made ... and one of the definite problems with the 'revisionist' argument is the door it opens to incest etc.

The question I am trying to raise, however inarticulately, could be put this way: is there anything about the development of life today which means that the incarnate Jesus in Western society (at least) might say something different to what conservatives and liberals think he would say?

The question arises because Jesus had some intriguing things to say when confronted with the pragmatics of pastoralia (John 4, John 8, etc).

Anonymous said...

Peter, your concluding question is a very pertinent one. I was once a leader in a church where one of the more or less regulars had an on/off live-in boyfriend, and I knew nothing of her kids' paternity. My view, which the vicar agreed with, was that we accepted her, a bruised reed, as fully as we could, partly because we felt spiritual responsibility for her kids, but she wasn't in any position of leadership.
I wonder if Roman Catholics handle these thorny pastoral things a bit better than other Christians. Maybe I'm being a bit romantic here. But it's not enough to have the 'right' answer without also having the right - Christlike - spirit.
I also had some minor pastoral dealing with a woman whose vicar husband left her and their kids to take up a homosexual relationship. That, and other tragedies I know of (marital breakup from a lesbian affair; a seminarian's death from Aids), reminds me there is nothing theoretical about these debates.
Really we do have an impossible calling: to be as pure as Jesus and as loving as He. Which casts us sinners back on the miracle of His grace.