Monday, December 29, 2008

The argument that dare not speak its name

It used to be that homosexuality was 'the love that dared not speak its name' but those days seem far distant when we see the kind of excoriation heaped on Barack Obama and Rick Warren because the former invited the latter to lead the inauguration prayer scheduled for late January 2009. The latter being publicly associated with California's Proposition 8 campaign and therefore, by today's standard's of vilification is 'anti-gay'. Almost simultaneously on the other side of the Atlantic, Pope Benedict XVI, speaking up for marriage and against 'gender theory', has also been excoriated for anti-gayness. (No official text of his address to the Curia has been released as far as I know). Giles Fraser, a very smart vicar and writer of no mean ability, tackles Pope Benedict here.

I find this line of Gilesian thinking makes me think again about the Bible and homosexuality:

"This is the great obsession of much of the early history of the people of Israel. From this perspective, fertile women are politically valuable, and infertile women, homosexuals and eunuchs considered almost traitorous. Thus, for instance, the rather bizarre stuff you get in Deuteronomy that "no one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord".

But there's a twist here. For when it comes to the book of Isaiah, Jesus's favourite book of the Hebrew scriptures, this more enlightened biblical author realises that the obsession with children has warped the moral values of his culture. In direct opposition to the theology of Deuteronomy, Isaiah writes that "to the eunuchs that keep my Sabbaths and hold fast to my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name that is better than sons and daughters". Note: better than sons and daughters. And what is true for eunuchs is true, by direct analogy, for people who are gay. Inclusion is not a piece of trendy modern theory. It is a biblical imperative.

Those who take the Bible as if it were a reference book cannot mentally accommodate the idea that the story being told is about the developing consciousness of the people of Israel, of how they got it wrong and how they are led to a new understanding by God. For Christians especially this new understanding is that God is there for all; that, as St Paul is very keen to insist, you don't even need to be a Jew for God to be there for you. Which returns us to the message of the angel: that Christ is good news to all. This is the ultimate communication of religious inclusion."

I note, however, that Paul on human sexuality (Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 5-7) does not seem to be unduly driven by negativity about infertile sexual behaviour.

Giles Fraser goes on to make this very interesting observation about evangelicals and gender theory:

"The broader theme of the pope's address concerns gender theory. His idea is that trendy philosophy has obscured the distinctiveness of male and female, which ought to be regarded as rooted in the order of creation. As it happens, evangelical Christians are often incredibly suspicious of this sort of line. They are afraid that it endorses the argument that, because homosexuality is actually prevalent in nature, and because people seem to be "born gay", natural law ethics could be won round to regard homosexuality as natural and thus good.

In light of this, conservative evangelicals have begun to take an interest in precisely the sort of gender theory that the pope excoriates. It seems bizarre to me that evangelicals have started to read postmodern philosophers such as Michel Foucault with approval, but what they argue is that because our sexual inclinations are not stubbornly rooted in nature, they are more plastic and thus they are capable of being changed. In this way they can argue that gay people are not gay because of intransigent nature but because of wilful disobedience. Foucault would turn in his grave."

I think Giles Fraser makes a fair point here, and misses a fair point too! Its a fair point that homosexuality is embedded in nature in (at least) the sense that some men and some women cannot find in reflection on their past or present any sense of meaningful desire for the opposite sex. For such people homosexuality is experienced as their 'natural' condition and is neither a 'chosen' condition nor a humanly 'imposed' condition (e.g. through sexual abuse). For evangelicals, and the Pope this means (at least) the need for great care in the use of language concerning 'nature/natural', and 'order of creation' ... greater care, arguably, than the Pope took, but we must await official publication of his talk before making definitive judgement. But I think Fraser misses a fair point - a point I presume Pope Benedict was making - namely that there is talk around gender ('gender theory') which is neutral about preference where preference is possible. A bisexual woman (for example) is under no particular compulsion to constrain desire towards a man: yet the 'order of creation' within the Bible is not neutral about the constraint of desire. Christians working from a base in the Bible are reasonable in saying of a bisexual person, 'you appear to have a choice; this is the direction you should choose.' Fraser rightly draws attention to evangelicals foolishly questing to make the case that some people have choices about their sexual preference when they do not. But I wonder whether Fraser would counsel someone who did have a choice to fall in line with 'the order of creation' in the Bible?


Anonymous said...

Good heavens with all that Jesus did for ALL of us by dying on the cross, and rising again to overpower the evil one, you could still right this article.
Thankfully Gods love is greater than yours. The age of Grace changes a lot of things.
I find it distressful that you think you, a mere mortal can challenge the Manliness of GOD and the power of HIS Love. You really should GROW UP and spread the Salvation message as if you have read the book of Revealation and are a believer, you will know we are in the last days

Peter Carrell said...

Hi David
Thanks for commenting.
I am afraid I do not understand how I have challenged the 'Manliness of God and the power of HIS love.' ...

Anonymous said...

You may not understand because you do not understand GOD.
Through Jesus God became truely and properly God and truley and properly man, he knows and understands completely human emotions and feelings and there fore understands us as humans. He knows and understands our human weaknesses and has made allowences by His Grace to help us get to our eternal reward.

Anonymous said...

There is no polite way to say this, so publish or reject as you wish, Peter: Giles Fraser is ignorant and confused and spends much of his time maligning and misrepresenting evangelicals - and now Catholics - who do not share his liberal modernism. Evangelicals are perfectly aware that people discover themselves to have developed a propensity to all kinds of paraphilia (such as pedophilia or gender dysphoria or bisexualism) which they have not (as far as they know) consciously 'chosen', but this has no bearing at all on the *objective moral status of that emotion, or whether oen consents to act upon it. After all, Catholics and evangelicals believe in the Fall - which liberals like Fraser have a lot of difficulty with. The fact that these things 'occur in nature' means nothing - so does cancer. Evangelicals and Catholics have never said 'Whatever is, is right' - that is a characteristically liberal reflex. We look to the redemption of fallen nature, not its endorsement.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
I know what you are saying; and do not substantially disagree; except I think some evangelicals are better at thinking through these matters than others; and there is a tendency among some evangelicals IMHO to assume that with some prayer and a fair wind all people with homosexual tendencies can change those tendencies. You rightly imply that a true understanding of the Fall and of Redemption might lead to a wholehearted embrace of celibacy by those unable to marry is little or not understood by leading liberal blogistas!

Anonymous said...

'...except I think some evangelicals are better at thinking through these matters than others;'

Well, 'twas ever thus; but it ought to be principle of debate that you engage with the best representatives of a viewpoint, not the weakest; otherwise you spend your time mowing down fields of straw men, which is exhilirating for the ego and may draw plaudits from one's own personal Amen corner but doesn't serve the Kingdom of God. In my experience, Fraser is a journalist not a theologian, and not really up to the task of serious debate with serious Christian thinkers of orthodox persuasion (such as Gagnon, Nicolosi, Benedict XVI - an impossible scenario, I know - 'Aquilae non captant muscas'). But his own qualifications are in the philosophy of Nietzsche, not Christian theology or the Bible, so it's not likely he could easily debate in such fora. Does it need to be said that his biblical exegesis as exemplified here is appalling? Every careful reader of the NT knows that Jesus most frequently quoted from Deuteronomy, and would never have set Moses against Isaiah.
"and there is a tendency among some evangelicals IMHO to assume that with some prayer and a fair wind all people with homosexual tendencies can change those tendencies."
More typically a Pentecostal attitude, I would have thought, than evangelical, especially those of the sterner more reformed school.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
Thank you for clear thinking and careful knowledge re various matters connected with Giles Fraser's column - matters I had missed but now am illumined about.

I take your point re Pentecostal/evangelical/reformed evangelical but the distinctions may be less sharp here in NZ.

Fraser v Gagnon: that would be a great debate!

Anonymous said...

Peter, if Giles Fraser has anything so coherent as a 'theology', then it would be the kind of thing described here by Philip Turner on the 'working theology' of Tec (in contrast to any official Nicene theology):
Fraser is a driving force behind a pressure group called 'Inclusive Church'.
Many years ago Gresham Machen descried the basic typologies in 'Christianity and Liberalism', and the latter has continued to morph, into 'inclusvist' unitarianism.

Anonymous said...

Here's Machen's book, written in 1923, now in public domain: six basic topics clearly delineated:

It does describe proleptically (prophetically?) how Ecusa developed in the 1960s. Lessons for ACANZP?