Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Anglican incarnational theology boils down to this?

"The argument that the physical embodiment of the sexes is morally determinative for marriage is identical in form and substance to the argument that the physical embodiment of the races is morally determinative for slavery." Tobias Haller at In a Godward Direction

What do you think? Is this the epitome of Anglican incarnational theology, the cornerstone of all reasonable arguments for the malleability of marriage? Or?


Father Ron Smith said...

I agree with the two commentators on Tobias' own web-site. 'Unity in Diversity has long been the ethos of Thinking Anglicans. Prejudice on account of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender are not particularly 'Christian virtues'.

Andrew said...

Argument by analogy fails rather quickly when presented with the question, "Can the union, in the general case, produce a child?"

G said...

"The general case," of course, is where it falls apart: many heterosexual unions are entirely analogous with same-gender ones in being no more able to produce children "naturally" (if that were what mattered to parenting). It's no good saying infertile heteros get a pass from the "universal definition" of marriage because they're the exception that proves the rule in some mysterious way that gays aren't.

Anonymous said...

"Prejudice on account of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender are not particularly 'Christian virtues'."


The Bible, which is the basis for all Christian virtue, is very clear that false religions and immoral behaviour, such as homosexuality are wrong. Prejudice against that which God Himself is opposed to is perfectly Christian.

Tobias' argument is shallow and based on a false moral equivalance; that the Biblical basis for marriage is equal to an argument for slavery. One of the many problems with this argument is that it could be applied to any number of issues. For example, one of the arguments for slvavery was property rights. Does that mean therefore that ALL arguments for property rights are wrong? Of course not.

Once again so-called "thinking Anglicans" are simply engaging in self-serving hot air, with no appreciation for the narrative of Scripture, and very little real thinking.

C. Wingate said...

So what's a union?

I think to prove this statement, you would have to prove that the ontology of race is identical to that of sex. But since that will fail, I don't think this argument flies. Indeed, it seems to me just as reasonable to turn the thing around: to justify homosexual marriage, one must demonstrate that the complementarity of the sexes is irrelevant. I'm not saying that it cannot be done, but it seems to me that the parallel with race is too imperfect to be defensible.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Race is a result of the genes, just like sex. My point was that giving moral relevance to a physical characteristic is problematical. I am not saying that race and sex are identical, but they are both physical "ontologies" if you will, and the result of genetics.

Scripture made a clear distinction on the basis of ethnicity when it came to slavery. Look it up if you don't recall.

C. Wingate said...

No, no, no, no, NO! Since everything physical about a person (modulo errors in genetic expression) is "the result of genes", therefore am I to conclude that bones are the same as livers and brains are the same as buttocks? I category reject that kind of reductionism; using the same material to write down the assembly instructions says nothing at all about the nature of what is being constructed.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

C.W. I am not really sure what you are asserting here. Or to what you are objecting. Perhaps I have not been clear. My original comment -- which is really just a statement of fact, as I see it, and about which I have elaborated elsewhere at far greater length -- has to do with the social construction given to sex and to slavery based on race. The arguments used in support of ethnic slavery held that there was a natural and significant, and divinely ordered, difference between the races and that it was thus natural and good -- and divinely ordered -- that some races should serve others.

I am simply noting the difficulties that arise when certain physical characteristics are given "theological" or "social" significance.

Peter, when it comes to the Incarnation, note that according to orthodox doctrine, male and female are accidents, not ontological or essential features, of the human person: and in the Incarnation Jesus became of one substance with humanity solely through the Virgin Mary. The human nature, as human nature, is neither male nor female. Individual persons are one or the other, or sometimes due to genetic or gestational issues, intersex.

The problem is that some choose to give a moral valence to what is ultimately a physical characteristic that humans share with most of the animals and a few of the plants. This is the same sort of problem that arose when a moral valence was given to race differences.

Anonymous said...


"Race is a result of the genes, just like sex."

Correct. On that we are in agreement.

"My point was that giving moral relevance to a physical characteristic is problematical."

It is only problematical to a liberal, as liberals believe in the eradication of all God given distinctives and genuine bio-diversity.

"Scripture made a clear distinction on the basis of ethnicity when it came to slavery. Look it up if you don't recall."

Let me rephrase that to make my point. 'God made a clear distinction on the basis of ethnicity when it came to slavery.'

Which is true. But that to me is not a problem. Scripture is not a faulty document that must be repaired by "enlightened" Western urban liberals. Scripture is, all of it, the Word of God, no matter how much that makes us uncomfortable.

And it should make us, all of us, uncormfortable. It is supposed to.

As Christians and disciples of Christ, one of our tasks is to allow Scripture, in all its rawness and its shocking (to some anyway) lack of concern for modern, Western notions of political correctness, to challenge and transform us. Our task is not to transform Scripture to suit ourselves or the moral and ideological fashions of the day.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Tobias
There are problems in some instances when people give significance to certain physical characteristics. There are not problems in all such instances.

Thus we have given significance to being human but not being mammal in respect of killing (i.e. we eat cows but not each other). That is not a problem (except for cows).

We have given significance in respect of care, nurture and protection to being a baby, being ill or disabled, or elderly but not to being healthy and physically fit. That is not a problem that I am aware of.

We have given significance to certain clumps of cells (foetuses) and not to others (tumours) and treated them differently. No wait, that's right, some parts of the world have made no difference and cheerfully destroyed both.

In the end, being male or being female is not an "accident" when it comes to marriage and to family. We value being male and female in that specific context precisely because life itself is at stake. Without the "accident" of our sexuality there would be no "substance" to human nature.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

That is an interesting point of view, but not one shared by all Christians, even since the patristic era, and much more since the Reformation, which recognized different weights to different portions of Scripture, as well as the authority of Right Reason to make use of Scripture. So this is only "liberal" if you include Augustine and Hooker as "liberals." Jesus himself, following the prophets, set the pattern of privileging parts of Scripture over other parts (in particular nuancing the Law) and he committed that power to the church. The church is not entirely "passive" in the face of Scripture, but is actively engaged with it.

Peter, that is quite true (up to a point) but that is also why the burden is on those who "rely on Scripture" to show why they are free to reject one Scriptural "preference" but not another -- and also to show clearly what the moral value is that they place on any given physical characteristic. My point ultimately is that morality resides not in the substance of our physical bodies, but in how we treat each other -- and that the virtues of fidelity and loving care are not restricted to heterosexual marriages.

My caveat regards the word "accident' which I am using in a philosophical sense. I can certainly affirm that the sex difference is how human beings reproduce, as I noted, just like most animals. It is the wisdom of giving that fact moral significance that remains to be demonstrated. It appears, in many cases, to assume that procreation in itself is a moral virtue -- a point I cannot affirm. It also appears to suggest that absent procreation a marriage is not a marriage. Which I also reject. So if you care to outline it, what precisely do you believe to be the moral significance of the sex difference? IN other words, what is the locus of morality in a marriage -- is it primarily the anatomy or the mind and heart. Do we not, as C Wingate suggests, rightly privilege the brain over the buttocks? There is a danger, it seems to me in giving goo much 'honor to the less honorable parts..."

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Tobias,
Unless we wish to become extinct, we can never give too much weight or honour to our genitalia. Moreover, because procreation is essential to the continuation of human life, we cannot give too much weight, value, importance to procreation as one of the primary purposes of marriage. I cannot accordingly place "mind and heart" ahead of "anatomy" in respect of the locus of morality in marriages. The moral significance, if we talk in such terms, of the sex difference, is its generative power in procreation. Diminish that significance if you will (as you constantly do) but please do not be surprised if in your old age there are no young nurses and rest home helps to look after you!

Anonymous said...


"That is an interesting point of view, but not one shared by all Christians"

It is consistent with the Reformed theological tradition. That is my only concern.

"Jesus himself, following the prophets, set the pattern of privileging parts of Scripture over other parts (in particular nuancing the Law) and he committed that power to the church."

I disagree that Jesus did what you are saying. Augustine and Hooker may have done so (I think this is a more arguable point than you make it seem but that is not the point I am making), but Augustine and Hooker were fallible human beings, so I do not think the Church is under any obligation to follow suit.

But the real question is, did Jesus do so? I see no case for this claim. The Sermon on the Mount is usually used to claim that Jesus was more concerned about the moral importance of some parts of Scripture than others. For example His words on the Biblical principle of 'an eye for an eye'.

However I believe that a good case can be made (and has been) that Jesus was not giving more weight to some parts of Scripture than others, but was in fact attacking a mis-use of Scripture in which the original and still valid Biblical moral principles were being distorted and/or ignored in practice.

Also, it should be noted that when it came to marriage, Jesus DID give great weight to the creation narrative in which gender complementarity is a gift from God, not an accident, and in which marriage is defined clearly and exclusively as being between a man and a women.

"and much more since the Reformation"

Not uniformly. The Reformed tradition has fairly consistently tried to give equal weight to all of Scripture, and it was the Reformed tradition more than any other that restored the importance of the Old Testament as a moral and legal guide for the Church.

"as well as the authority of Right Reason to make use of Scripture."

The problem with this claim is that it assumes that there is an objective standard as to what is "Right Reason". But this is not the case. While reason, rightly understood as a fallible but useful tool, is part of how we make use of Scripture, we do not have the God given right to elevate reason above Scripture, to as it were, lord it over Scripture in the way you claim.

This simply leads to a 'pick and choose' approach in which we decide for ourselves what parts of Scripture suit us and which do not. Given the reality of human depravity, this is not a viable way to approach Scripture, as it far too easily becomes a self-serving exercise. "Reason" can too easily become a smokescreen for "what suits me".

Moreover, I am not seeing "right reason" in your arguments, but the cultural Marxism that has become the real authority for progressive-liberal Christians, especially in TEC.

In short, what you claim to be "right reason" looks suspiciously like thinly disguised political ideology to me.

Father Ron Smith said...

With all this emphasis on procreation - we need to remember that it is only for 'NOW'. Presumably, as Scripture tells us: at the eschaton there will be no giving or given in Marriage, and no procreation thereafter.

Let's see procreation, then, in its proper perspective - not as a moral necessity.

Besides, I know several instances of heterosexual Married couples (whom I could name - among literal Biblical fundamentalists - but won't) who have no children. What happened there? Was God not concerned for their immortal souls? And if not, what is all the fuss about? Procreation is not for all!

Just remember the eunuchs Jesus spoke of - of whom he was one.

Father Ron Smith said...

It would be far less inhibiting on weblogs if people did not choose to show the head of a bird of prey as their. I find them a bit scary.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Well, Shawn, I would point to Jesus teaching on divorce and diet as two examples of overturning rather explicit aspects of the Law of Moses.

It is plain from your comment that you see this discussion in ideological terms. You also are not using the term "accident" in the sense in which I was. That the gender difference is "accident" not essence to the human nature is upheld by Scripture and the Fathers.

You and Peter both are reading into Scripture things that are not there. The notion that Genesis 1 presents anything "exclusive" is a matter of interpretation, and by no means present in the text. The same goes for "gender complementarity." This is a novel concept that does not exist in Scripture or the Fathers.

I find it impossible to imagine Jesus or Paul saying things about the flesh that you seem to put into their mouths. Jesus makes clear again and again that the locus of morality is the heart.

Father Ron Smith said...

'Avatar' was the word I missed out on my last comment - I find a bird of prey as a significantly scary one.

Peter Carrell said...

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Shawn's pictogram reminds me of the symbol for John's Gospel, the gospel of love.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Tobias,

I simply reply that gender difference is not an accident in respect of the continuation of the human race. It is essential to it. In that gender complementariness lies the future of life and the reason for the existence of yourself and myself. Whether the ancients would recognise the phrase "gender complementariness" they certainly understood the concept. They did not think babies came from under gooseberry bushes left there by flying storks.

It is you not I or Shawn who is reading things into Scripture if you persist in seeing same sex 'marriage' as compatible with the flow of biblical teaching on marriage. That teaching always presumes and represents marriage as between a man and a woman, even to the point of characterising the relationship between Christ and the church as a marriage in which Christ is the groom and the church the bride.

Even in Paul's theology of the church as the bride of Christ there is a theology of complementariness in which the church relates to Christ as subject and Christ cares for the church.

You are drawing a very long bow when you assert that marriage between two people of the same gender is a simple development from the Bible which is also consistent with the Bible.

Father Ron Smith said...

"...........even to the point of characterising the relationship between Christ and the church as a marriage in which Christ is the groom and the church the bride."
- Dr. Peter Carrell -

This is typical macho-patriarchy logic. If you really consider Jesus to be 'speaking' of the Church as 'female', when compared to his human 'masculinity'; I suggest you are severely limiting the Gospel understanding of both Jesus and 'The Bride'.

Both Jesus and The Church have all the elements of our full humanity - and are not limited to either the masculine or feminine gender. This thinking is too earth-bound and limited for legitimate theological speculation.

It is this sort of thinking that perpetuates the heresy of the male-only priesthood that the C.of E, is still battling about today. Most of the Provinces have understood, with St.Paul, that 'en Christo' there is neither male nor female. You just cannot reduce the essence of Jesus and The Church to anthropological temrinology.

Peter Carrell said...

You miss my point, Ron, with your charge of 'typical macho-patriarchy logic' (if only I was one of those macho guys, let alone a patriarch ruling my subservient household :) ). The point is that when Paul might have spoken of the marriage of Christ and the church (fullstop), leaving open the tantalising prospect of a conception of marriage without sexual complementarity, he did not. He invoked the typicality of marriage, that it is between man and woman, beginning with groom and bride.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Peter, there is no question that the sex difference is inherent to procreation and the continuance of the species. My problem here is that you press this obvious fact (one supported by Scripture) to make the assertion that the sex-difference is inherent to marriage, and even appear to suggest that procreation is too, though you acknowledge it doesn't always take place. That is a position I do not find supportable in Scripture.

To take Paul, for instance, when he talks about marriage he does talk about sex -- the "marital duty" as some used to call it. But he also talks about love, care and self-sacrifice and self-giving. I am agreeing with Paul that marriage is not all about sex -- the sex act -- and by extension (and I realize this is an extension, long bow or not) to the sex of the couple.

I think I'll leave it at that, as I sense our positions are clear. I see a moral framework for same-sex marriage in the ethical and moral teaching of Paul, and you do not. You see in Genesis and elsewhere an exclusive affirmation of male-female marriage as the only possibility, and I do not see that in the text. I don't think either of us is likely to convince the other.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Tobias,
Your comment here, and on each of the other posts are particularly clear. Thank you.