Thursday, July 18, 2013

Getting Wronger Every Day?

Running up to a conference exploring theology of marriage, a couple of items catch my eye this week, forcing some thinking about the 'state of the argument' in respect of what marriage is, ought to be and possibly could become.

In that well known blog Ezekiel, post #18, being read around the world in the morning office, we have an interesting case in point of transformed interpretation. Pause to read Ezekiel 18

Famously this chapter within the Hebrew scriptures (that is, in the scriptures being written and read by God's people before the singular transformative effect on interpretation wrought by Jesus Christ) alters the understanding of another passage in those scriptures. Exodus 20:5 says that the Lord God visits 'the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.' Ezekiel 18 is summarised in 18:20a, 'The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son.'

Now arguments can be had about whether the later passage is a straight-line contradiction of the former passage, or a clarification of it (noting that Ezekiel 18 is also a message about possibilities for repentance, for sons seeing iniquitous fathers and choosing not to be sinful, for the wicked person turning away from all their sins) or a development from one to the other in a richer more nuanced moral understanding and so forth.

But there is no argument that once Ezekiel 18 has been received into the sacred scriptures of Israel that Exodus 20 needs to be read newly in the light of the later revelation.

In a worldwide debate about changing attitudes to marriage, it is worth pondering the extent to which later revelation modifies earlier revelation. Such a matter is inextricably tied to our understanding of revelation and how that is discerned by God's people. For some, all relevant revelation is already received by the church in Holy Scripture, so debates about later and earlier revelation are intra-scriptural debates about meaning and application. For others, revelation is possible beyond the closure of the Christian canon of Scripture.

A keen question, perhaps, about church unity is whether "some" and "others" here can co-exist in one body of believers. Discuss.

To those advocating for change to our understanding of human sexuality in general and to marriage in particular, or, for that matter, to those advocating not to change, Ephraim Radner has published (IMHO) as good an argument as one can find anywhere that "Same-Sex Marriage is Still Wrong."

But, how good is this argument? Discuss. (I suggest it would save a bit of time and bother if we discussed the character and content of Ephraim Radner's argument articulated in the essay rather than engaged, yet again, in a free and wide-ranging general argument about human sexuality and marriage).

Postscript: A fascinating point made by Radner, interalia, is that slavery in the mode which was abolished in the 19th century is an example of a phenomenon which the church had rejected (as an application of scripture) then changed its mind about only to eventually have to admit (also from a basis in scripture) that it got this "horrendously wrong."

Later: For the latest contretemps involving St Matthew's in the City and same-sex marriage, go here.

Via Twitter, yet another angle here re human sexuality, Christianity and marriage.


liturgy said...

That all relevant revelation is already received by the church in Holy Scripture is a revelation beyond the closure of the Christian canon of Scripture. Discuss.

The canon of Scripture is a revelation beyond the closure of the Christian canon of Scripture. Discuss.

What is the Christian canon of Scripture? Discuss.

That many issues are so difficult to find unmistakably articulated in the Christian canon of Scripture points either to the inadequacy of it for the purpose of all relevant revelation received by the church or indicates that a variety of responses to these many issues are acceptable to the Revealer. Discuss.



Anonymous said...

Ephraim Radner is erudite and verbose, but what it boils down to, alas, is "this is how it has always been, this is how it shall always be, and if you don't like it, stuff it." To which I respond: how very, very scared hetero, white, male of you, Ephraim.....

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco,
It would be good to have an estimation of how many cups of coffee this growing list of discussions requires ... :)

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous,
Pithy comments are appreciated here ... so is the use of at least a first name.

Andrei said...

Church pulls out of same-sex wedding radio stunt

Andrei said...

I didn't say anything when I posted the link above....

... well I did but thought better of it.

How did we get to this position where we have allowed?, a Church marriage to become a prize in a radio stunt?

Does anybody grasp how profane that is? Two random people(1), who most likely have never been in a church before and never will again getting their trophy "wedding" before the altar

Anyway now the media has been given yet another opportunity to paint the Church as "out of touch", "old fashioned" and "bigoted" and I expect the bishops will duck for cover or if cornered waffle and try and talk out of both sides of their mouths.

(1) Well not quite random to have been eligible for this prize they would have to have been of the same gender.

Zane Elliott said...

You have a much better grasp of the rules than I (or Bosc may know),
is this statement true: 'Gay couples were still welcome to have a religious ceremony in an Anglican church, but had to have the civil ceremony elsewhere first'?

Can a priest in the ACANZP currently offer a ceremony or service which is a belssing of a same-sex civil contract? I'd have thought that being bound to only use services as authorised by the Church would prevent this.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrei
To be fair to most of the rest of the church, I cannot think of other vicars around who would have contemplated what seems to have been contemplated in the link you posted.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Zane
I would bow to any better judgment coming here, especially from Bosco, but I would take this view on my understanding at this time. (It is a view as to how the "rules" work, rather than a citation of the rules).

1. We should use authorised services when doing things for which there are authorised service. P. 404 etc for eucharist, one of the wedding services for a wedding and so forth.

2. There are things which happen in church for which there is no authorised service but the church seems comfortable that it happens (i.e. objections are not raised). I cannot find an authorised service for the blessing of animals, for instance, but many parishes have such services on St Francis Day. Thus if a wedding has taken place elsewhere of two people of the same gender, a blessing of that relationship could not be miscontrued as a wedding, in which case the requirement of taking an authorised service (which specifies a man and a woman) does not apply. Thus, it could be argued (I am not making the argument per se), that the blessing of an already married couple (of any gender) is permitted (or, at least, not prohibited) by the requirement to take only authorised services.

But I could be wrong ... in any case, something like the logic of what I have just written seems to be in the mind of Glynn Cardy.

Bryden Black said...

PC: “A keen question, perhaps, about church unity is whether "some" and "others" here can co-exist in one body of believers. Discuss.” Thanks for the inviting prod! And I shall try to be constructive ...

As set up here by this very post Peter, it boils down to the matter of revelation, I sense, that is to say, authority - since built into that word “authority” is the question of “author” or source: back to revelation therefore. And the entire role of the canon is to act as just that - the norm [with or without copious cups of coffee!] - as ER states: “the rule and ultimate standard of faith”. That is, it behoves us to attend carefully as to how that canonical form of witness sets up due paradeigmata of what is faithful and responsible [German: Verantwortlich] ‘imitation’ of Jesus Christ, and what not. And while we can and must most certainly bring fresh questions and insights to the text of the Scriptures - various historical eras of the Church have certainly done this [viz the slavery issue as cited] - at “the end of all our exploring” (with apologies to TSE) I guess it becomes a question of whether we can live together with each other’s various forms of legitimation, and whether thereafter these forms are just complementary, or instead divergent.

The way I have myself encountered most if not all the arguments to date these past 25 years re ‘LGBT’ folk and now ‘marriage’ etc., I have been forced to conclude we are dealing with divergent principles of legitimating different forms of authority. All of which does not bode well for such contrasting birds to live in one and the same nest. In fact, my nest is certainly now populated by alien cuckoos!

A brief PS. In support of ER’s remarks about the political dimension of science, let alone the social sciences: I will always be grateful to my school Div Don (as we called them) for giving us Michael Polanyi’s Science Faith and Society to read. It sowed seeds in me as to just how complex we humans really are when it comes to ‘knowledge’. St Augustine was thereafter the teacher who put icing on the cake! All of which is to plead for a similar cogency and robustness when trying to address our contemporary ‘dilemmas’ ...

Peter Carrell said...

This is a preliminary comment, Bryden / Bosco, in which I wonder if 'authority' is way to proceed with the discussions Bosco requests.

That is, has the church agreed to the canon of Scripture because it has received a revelation that this is so, or because it recognises the revelation in and through Scripture to be the authoritative norm?

Bryden Black said...

Or again Peter: because the Church has acknowledged Scripture, as collected by sheer use/citation early on in the piece, is both the authoritative witness to and unique instrument in the saving economy of God, climaxing in Jesus, the Messiah of Israel.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone else get the impression that Glynn is not doing his homework before his transfer to Presbyterianism?

I'd expect him to have some idea of the same-sex marriage situation in his new church, given that it seems to be such a pressing issue for him.

Perhaps the Westminster Confession wouldn't go astray as background reading and the sermons of the arch-reformer John Knox. I'm not sure if either address the same-sex marriage issue but I suppose one can always extrapolate.


Anonymous said...

We do not need to re-litigate the Reformation. The Reformation got it right. Two source theories of revelation lead directly to the paganism and corruption of the medieval Church, including praying to and worshipping "saints." The five Sola's are a better foundation than re-packaged Romanism.


Father Ron Smith said...

"The five 'solas' are a better foundation than re-packaged Romanism" - S.H. -

I don't know Shawn, whether our Anglican Representative to the Holy See (our very own Archbishop David) would quite agree with you on this issue, Shawn. Such Fighting Talk is hardly conducive to ecumenical reationshps in today's Church. We all know that 'semper reformanda' has been seen by some greater minds than ours - including that of Good Pope Jonh XXIII - as vital to the ongoing life and integrity of the Church, Catholic & Apostolic. To continue the hoary old argument of Sola Scriptura is to deny the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church &World of today.

Peter Carrell said...

Lightly moderated from Shawn:

"No Ron, Sola Scriptura affirms the real work of the Spirit in today's world and helps us to discern that work from false works and mere human ideologies.

The Roman Church still preaches [a] half-Gospel. It has not engaged in real Semper Reformanda.

It still preaches works righteousness, prayers to dead humans, and the evil idea of purgatory, where Roman Catholics are still encouraged to perform religious works to get their relatives out of being tortured in purgatory.

The Reformation is as relevant today as ever, and a false ecumenism that tries to paper over these issues is not to our benefit or the Gospels.

Also, the Anglican Communion has many ecumenical partners, and a few of those you have dismissed as "sects."


Caleb said...

Hmmm, Bryden, I think caricaturing this as a debate about authority of scripture vs. culture is becoming less and less accurate and fair. The debate seems to have shifted from authority to interpretation.

Stephen - isn't the the Presbyterian church a lot more congregationally led than the Anglican?

Peter - thanks for the link. "As good an argument as one can find anywhere" for the traditional position - looks like it's worth a read.

Caleb said...

OK, I've read it, and I'm tempted to say that if this is "as good an argument as one can find anywhere" for the traditionalist case, the traditionalist case is in even more trouble than I thought.

I'm intrigued that he bases his argument on procreation rather than gender complementarity, like most traditionalist arguments I've come across. It's been my understanding that in the last few hundred years the (Protestant) church has moved away from seeing procreation as an essential component of all marriage/sexuality - and with good Scriptural reason for doing so... So I'm intrigued by some of Radner's statements to the effect that it's only a Christian marriage when friendship, sexual engagement and procreation are all present - I'm not even quite sure if I'm reading him right. At least, I'd be interested to hear how he (or you, Peter?) would deal with couples who marry never intending to have children of their own, or knowing that due to infertility they can't conceive without sperm donors etc, or couples who marry too late in life for children. If procreation is the only thing excluding gay couples from marriage, aren't a whole lot of other people excluded too?

Also, I'm not sure how convinced I am by his model of "suffering procreative love" as characterising marriage. It has a certain amount of internal logic and emotional appeal, and it COULD be a good way of putting the various biblical strands together.... Or, it could just be Radner adding the word "procreative" to a description of Christian love. I've seen the biblical strands being put together in just as compelling a way without needing every marriage to ('naturally') produce its own children.

The first half was quite frustrating. He makes some trenchant criticisms of SOME arguments put forward SOMETIMES by SOME revisionists, and it is worthwhile to have those specific arguments exposed to some good critique. I just wish he had described what he was doing in that way, instead of implying that the entirety of all arguments for same-sex marriage is covered by the specific types of argumentation he describes and refutes (perhaps I could say 'caricatures'). I'm sure the arguments he refutes are an accurate depiction of real arguments being put forward by (SOME) real same-sex marriage advocates. But if he tries to impute those arguments to all of us and pretend we've got nothing else to say, it's a straw man argument.

For example, at one point he depicts everyone on the 'pro-gay' side as falling into two discrete categories: "anarchic" "so-called Queer" thinkers who promote social construction of sexualities, and same-sex advocates who (apparently) all believe "sexualities are stable, embedded and consistent", as well as holding strongly to the modern myth of progress. Again, I'm sure these boxes hold a lot of people (and he's right to point out the tensions) but they don't hold all of us.

I share his sense that the "benign individualism" that seems to be motivating many same-sex marriage advocates is morally and rationally bankrupt, hypocritical, sub-Christian, and an ideology extremely well-suited to consumer capitalism. His criticism here was my favourite part of the article. But - once again - you can't write off all arguments for same-sex marriage just because this is the morality underlying some of the arguments. (Also, I could point to equally dubious moral motivations of many traditionalists).

I'll resume in another comment since I'm butting up against character limits.

Caleb said...


I think he's overcooking the difficulty/impossibility of discovering anything about historical context and authorial intent, which I suppose is a more general hermeneutical debate. But the most glaring problem with his dismissal of "arguing the same-sex issue on the basis of human discontinuities" is that the same criticism can be levelled at traditionalists... If it's speculative and unprovable to suggest that biblical authors' condemnations of ancient behaviours are discontinuous with some contemporary same-sex relationships, it's just as speculative and unprovable to suggest that the biblical authors' condemnations of ancient behaviours are continuous with all same-sex relationships across all times and places. BOTH require some kind of speculative reconstruction of the moral logic of the biblical authors.

For example, we can suggest that Paul condemned what he condemned because it was lustful - in which case the contemporary parallel is lustful sexual activity (homo or hetero). Alternatively, we can suggest that Paul condemned what he condemned because of the genders of the parties involved - in which case the contemporary parallel is all same-sex sexual activity (lustful or monogamous). It's hypocritical of Radner to criticise the speculativeness and uncertainty of people who take the former route, if he himself is taking the latter route. Our limited access to the minds of the biblical authors cuts both ways.

I suppose there's an important epistemological difference (not acknowledged by Radner) about who should have the burden of proof when the exegetical arguments are so inconclusive. Radner may say what Richard Hays says - that it's most prudent to side with the tradition while there is still doubt. Others would say that while there's doubt we should side with the position that leads to less gay children of God committing suicide.

An important question to ask is: what does it take for the burden of proof to shift to the traditionalists? When does the traditionalist argument become sufficiently weakened (through the various tools of exegesis, as well as other sources of truth - experience, science etc) that there is no longer enough evidence to justify maintaining the gender restrictions on marriage?

He argues similarly about the inconclusiveness of the sciences - basically saying that science is too inconclusive and contested to teach us anything at all, so we should ignore it and go back to the traditional position by default. This is surely a highly questionable claim (for which his sole reference is a comment made by a friend who's a psychiatrist). I don't think the entirety of all natural and social scientists' work on sexuality and gender can be written off quite so easily - even if we are in the "scientific Dark Ages" on sexuality. It sounds far too similar to evolution/climate change scepticism for my liking. In any case, as we move beyond the Dark Ages and scientific knowledge grows, Radner's position here will get weaker and weaker.

Lastly, I too appreciated his comments about the sobering lesson of slavery - the church has been horrendously wrong before, and no doubt we'll be horrendously wrong again... He's right that whatever side we currently find ourselves on, we shouldn't settle for the kind of weak arguments that too many people (on both sides) seem to have settled for. This is far too important for that - people's lives are at stake.