Sunday, June 24, 2012

Are opponents of gay marriage the New Pharisees?

Diving deep, deep down into hidden depths of possible permutations in arguments for and against extending (or transforming) our understanding of marriage to allow that this divine institution does not, in fact, require a man and a woman at its core yields at least one interesting thought: to oppose such change in definition is to be a 21st century version of the Pharisees who opposed Jesus in the first century. I draw this conclusion from a recent comment in a very long thread of responses to a post below. In that comment the following is said (about me),

"I thought I'd made it clear that I accept the clarity of Scripture on the rightness of sexual relations within marriage -- you say here I think the opposite!

What I am suggesting is that it is because of this that the institution of marriage should be extended to include same-sex couples.

Your position, which I do not regard as conservative but rather fundamentalist, is that the fact that Scripture only cites mixed-sex marriage that this is the only form of marriage possible. This is a position that runs counter to the principles laid out in the Articles of Religion. You are free to hold it, of course, but others are free to reject it.

In the long run, I do not think you are doing hermeneutics, or exegesis, but eisegesis -- you are reading into Scripture limitations that are not in the text, but imported and generalized.

Your words about accountability before God, and the day of judgment, are well stated. I am glad that you show willingness to apply them to yourself, and to see if you are standing with Jesus, or with those who found fault with him, on their reading of Scripture, and faith to their traditions. The mercy of God is unending, but is most generous towards those who seek to show charity and mercy to others, rather than engaging in judgment as to what is right or wrong in them or their lives."
With the italicised (by me) words I think we have a reasonable description of the methodology of Pharisaism as portrayed in the gospels. The Pharisees, according to the gospels, misunderstood Jesus, interpreted Scripture 'fundamentalistically' when it suited, and not when it didn't, instead importing traditions and interpretations to justify their conclusions which often were the opposite of a plain reading of Scripture. Further the Pharisees were quick to pronounce when people were wrong, especially in their sexual behaviour. (To be clear, the commenter is not throwing the charge of Pharisaism or neo-Pharisaism at me. But in gospel terms, among those opposed to Jesus are the Pharisees, and their type of opposition is invoked in the description above).

Well, if the cap fits etc. But just before I put the cap on, might we have a moment or two to consider the extraordinary state the argument above thinks it has achieved:

(1) We might doubt that marriage is limited to a gender differentiated state.

(2) Actually, we might be sure that marriage is not limited to a gender differentiated state.

(3) Indeed, we can be so sure of (2) that we can move beyond this being a matter of adiaphora (agreeing to disagree among Christians) to it being a matter in which those not on the side of gay marriage are both not on the side of Jesus and for wont of good arguments to be counted among his opponents as the New Pharisees.

Of course, I might be the only one who thinks this to be extraordinary and I ought not to be given any reprieve from wearing a cap with "NP" inscribed on it.

I have a bit more sympathy for the Pharisees. Dimwits that they were in seeking to uphold the status quo!


Anonymous said...

I had thought we were past that rather 1970s habit of flinging the charge of 'Pharisaism' at others, and figuring the word produced more heat than light, I vowed not to use it myself. Yet it seems to me that the main charges against the Pharisees in the Synoptics (not in Paul, who happily owned the title) were hypocrisy, greed and lack of concern for the lost. Compared to the Sadducees, the Pharisees were not "fundamentalistic" (if I know what this silly pejorative word means) or even Sola Scriptura sorts (since they accepted the oral tradition of the fathers - good Anglicans, perhaps? :)). I don't think Jesus (in Matthew) criticized the Pharisees' doctrine of Scripture, only the hermeneutical gymnastics they would engage in, to evade the clear message of God's word, 'the weightier matters of the Law'.
Everyone knows that Christian marriage in the NT means a man and a woman covenanted in faithfulness to each other until death. To argue otherwise by using Schoolmen-type abstractions is chop logic, newthink and - well, neo-pharisaism. Woops, I did it again.
Martin (not a pharisee as far as I see :))

Peter Carrell said...

Indeed, Martin, it is not helpful to fling the charge of Pharisaism around, but in this case I am flinging it at myself and wondering if it sticks!

Andrei said...

The problem we all face, Peter, is that we are all in one way or another sinners.

And as we mature in our Faith, we become conscious of our own failings.

We also take to heart Matthew 7:3.

But this does not mean that God didn't create us "men and women" - not only does scripture reveal this but so does everyday experience and equally clearly God intended us to bond with someone of the opposite Gender from us - this being a fruitful relationship in terms of producing the generations to follow on from us, something same gender relationships cannot achieve.

Why God organized it this way I cannot say.

Pointing out, what is patently obvious and was understood throughout all of history and still is in most places on the planet today does not make you a Pharisee.

It means you still retain your common sense - something that North Western Europe has lost in this regard

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrei
Thanks for the encouragement! As you know, common sense itself can be de-constructed!

Father Ron Smith said...

"But this does not mean that God didn't create us "men and women"

I notice the subtle demarcation you have used here: "men AND women', not 'men OR women' - in accordance with the scriptural reference 'Male and Female created (God) them.

However, today's Epistle from Paul's Letter ot the Galatians: chapter 3, verses 23-29, has this to say:

"Before Christ came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed
Therefore, the law was out disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.

As many of you as were baptised into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ. THERE IS NO LONGER JEW OR GREEK, ..SLAVE OR FREE.. MALE AND FEMALE. For you are ONE in Christ Jesus.

There does not seem to be any ground for selective ambiguity here. The generative biological process is just that. It does not touch upon our equality en Christo.

Suem said...

Dear Peter,
I think it is unhelpful to call other "pharisees" and unhelpful to feel that others are using that word about us (unless they actually do.) It is, of course, vital that all of us, liberal, traditional or whatever, question ourselves about whether we are narrow, judge other without compassion, lose sight of mercy in our pursuit of the law, act and think hypocritically. I believe that we should concern ourselves first and foremost with our own lives, conduct and integrity - to judge ourselves first and foremost and refrain as much as possible from judging others. However, if we believe something in conscience and have thought and prayed about it and continue to do so, we can do no other than stand by that. This does not mean we are freed from the need to treat others with respect, love and compassion, naturally, but I know you would not think that anyhow.

Peter Carrell said...

Good points, Suem!

Certainly "Pharisees" has a nasty edge to it. But that is all the more reason to mention it: are those of us, in good conscience or not, with respect, compassion etc, who cannot extend the definition of marriage effectively "Pharisees" to a liberal/progressive "Jesus" advocating for extension of the definition and (crucially) calling out the bad arguments of the "Pharisess"?

The very nastiness of the term could push the "Pause" button so we ask whether there are bad arguments against gay marriage which stem from respectful use of Scripture.

Suem said...

I suppose that the most relevant chapter is Matthew 23. The Pharisees "tie up heavy loads and put them on mens' shoulder but do not lift a finger to help lift them." I am never at all impressed when I meet those who oppose same sex marriage but who do not seem to really have thought or imagined the anguish that causes many or who do not worry about those who have left their faith under the heavy burden of mandatory celibacy. If you oppose same sex marriage but have made no attempt to get to know a gay person, or have never put yourself in their shoes, or really prayed for them, or never thought, "would I have walked away from my faith in their position?" - then maybe that would fit Christ's descriptions of the Pharisees' approach?
Would Jesus see those who oppose same sex marriage as "Pharisees"? I don't know but I suspect that Jesus might be less interested in our "opinions" on a range of subjects and more interested in how we have treated others (and loved God) - ie the first two commandments.

Suem said...

"Good" and "bad" arguments are relative terms depending on how we see the argument in question. Likewise, one person's "respectful use of scripture" is another person's abusive use of Scripture. So, hard to say on that one.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Suem,

I do not see an inability (because of doubts, lack of conviction, etc) to accept that God wishes to bless same sex "marriages" as the equivalent of laying a heavy burden of mandatory celibacy on people. It is possible that some situations in life are of an "anomalous" character, that is, falling between laws/rules/customs of life, of the church, or of society. (I am not saying that you are making that equivalence; but I sense that is an implication of what you write here in response to my position). Part of my argument re the invocation of the term "Pharisee" is to highlight that some argumentation against those who will not agree with gay "marriage" is of a form which posits just two positions on these matters rather than three (or more).

Anonymous said...

Martin has nailed it. The Pharisees were NOT scriptural fundamentalists. Jesus did not at any point attack them for sticking strictly to Scripture, he attacked them for the opposite reason; they were adding things to Scripture, using "reason" to get out of obediance to the plain meaning of Scripture, and of course he attacked them for self-serving greed.

NONE of these attacks on the Pharisees can remotely be aimed at conservative or evangelical Christians (in general) in today's world.

The first two however CAN be aimed at liberals. It is liberals who add things to Scripture, including man-made "traditions" and new revelations. It is liberals who use "reason" to get away from the plain meaning of Scripture.

One of the main causes of Jesus' attacks on the Pharisees was that they were not interested in bringing God's grace to all people, but reserved it for a spiritual elite.

Yet in the Church today it is evangelical Christians who most passionatly believe in bringing the Gospel to ALL people, regardless of the sins they have committed.

The constant claim by some liberals that conservative/evangelicals are trying to exclude people is wrong, and in fact betrays a deep ignorance about evangelical theology and spirituality.

On the other hand, liberals have set themselves up as a spiritual elite, morally superior to all of us ignorant rednecks, privy to special gnostic revelations from God about homosexuality, and excluding and viscously attacking anyone who does not agree.

In many places in Europe, and in Canada, publicly saying that you oppose homosexual behaviour can get you hauled before a court, charged with a crime, fined, and even imprisoned.

In Britains Christians can no longer foster children if they refuse to teach little kids that homosexual acts are are legitimate!

Personally I am sick and tired of being labled a Pharisee by some of the most elitist, hateful and judgemental people I have ever met in my 47 years of existence.

Father Ron Smith said...

"NONE of these attacks on the Pharisees can remotely be aimed at conservative or evangelical Christians (in general) in today's world." - shawn -

So that's that then. Evangelical Christians have passed the test. Not guilty m'Lud. It must be really good not to have to strive for one's own salvation. Let's you off the hook?

Liberals are not just aware of their own responsibility for The 'Sins of the World', neither do they blame 'the others'. Liberality is one of the charisms of Jesus in the gospel - that shall 'Make you Free'. Heavy burdens are meant to be relieved, not imposed by us.

Peter Carrell said...

This is a moderated comment from Shawn. It (actually two similar comments) has been moderated because in part it refers to a matter not part of this thread but part of previous threads in the past. In part because it uses too much "you" language.


"So that's that then. Evangelical Christians have passed the test. Not guilty m'Lud. It must be really good not to have to strive for one's own salvation. Let's you off the hook?"

Do you have a point to make? Mine was simply that it is wrong to accuse conservative/evangelicals of being Pharisees. On the charge levelled ... that we are Pharisees, we are not guilty. ...


" Liberality is one of the charisms of Jesus in the gospel"

Grace is one of the charisms of Jesus. Political/theological Liberalism is not.

"Heavy burdens are meant to be relieved, not imposed by us."

Nobody is imposing heavy burdens. The teaching on marriage and sexuality is from Jesus Himself, and is not a heavy burden."

Anonymous said...


I am confused as to why my two quite reasonable statements, which were not ad-hominem, were edited, while this from Ron is allowed to pass?

"So that's that then. Evangelical Christians have passed the test. Not guilty m'Lud. It must be really good not to have to strive for one's own salvation. Let's you off the hook?"

Ron did not even bother to addess the substance of the debate, but merely twisted my point and accused me, again, of being self-righteous. Now this is your blog, your choice, but is difficult to impossible to address Ron's continued personal accusations is we cannot even refer to them in past threads, nor point out the obvious double standards he has engaged in in the past.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Shawn,
I am trying to encourage less statements of the "you" kind (you think this so you are X; you could be made more perfect if only you were enlightened by studying Y; you and your kind are responsible for the plight of the church/world/Irish rugby).

The statement cited by you is (in my view) focused on evangelical Christians as a general group and not on any one member of the group.

I understand that you might be a bit confused (though I am not!).

Anonymous said...


This part:

"It must be really good not to have to strive for one's own salvation. Let's you off the hook?"

Is clearly aimed at me. Notice the "you" statment.

Peter Carrell said...

Yes, agreed, Shawn, I could have been tighter in moderating that bit of the comment.

Suem said...

"On the charge levelled ... that we are Pharisees, we are not guilty. ..."

Shouldn't we all ("liberal" or "conservative") be prepared to at least consider that we can have aspects of the Pharisees in our behaviour and approach? To say, "this can never be relevant to me", is that right?

Anonymous said...

Shawn (if I may): I am certainly not the best person to say this, but as one who has long admired John Stott - and who largely agrees with you, I know it is best to ignore all ad hominem and uncharitable provocations and simply to make a positive affirmation of what we believe and know to be true.
The evangelical faith is deep and strong and authentically Anglican. We fail to live up to our profession, but we are saved by grace. Keep affirming the truth with a smile!

Anonymous said...


"Shouldn't we all ("liberal" or "conservative") be prepared to at least consider that we can have aspects of the Pharisees in our behaviour and approach? To say, "this can never be relevant to me", is that right?"

Yes, I agree with you completely. But I was really responding specifically to the charge that conservatives/evangelicals are inherently Pharisaic, and/or that our support for traditional Biblical marriage and traditional sexual morality is inherently Pharisaic.

That said, of course we can all be Pharisaical at times, and every "tradition" within the Church can, and has at one point or another, become so.

So I was not meaning to say that we are simply "not guilty", but specifically not guilty in the way that we have been accused of by some.


Good advice. I will try harder, but for various reasons (most importantly years of being a victim of severe bullying at school) I just don't do so well at turning the other cheek when it comes to certain kinds of personal attacks.

Anonymous said...

That comment about Irish rugby...ouch.

Peter Carrell said...

Oh, dear, am upsetting both the Pharisees and the Irish rugby fans!