Friday, April 4, 2014

Urgent Reading

The great day has dawned. Online are reports and what have you from the Ma Whea Commission and the Doctrine Commission, with options to consider.

The links via Anglican Taonga are these:

Taonga Report on release of MW Commission report.

Ten Options in the Report.

Doctrine Commission's Report.

Your comments most welcome. I have not started reading yet. For overseas readers this is material preparatory to our General Synod in May this year.

I am interested in comments which carefully and thoughtfully review what is in these links and offer insight into what we who belong to our church are thinking in response. I am also interested in reflections from those looking in from outside our church which may help us in our review of these matters.

I am not interested in, and may not publish comments which:
- slag off one side of the debate or the other
- take us onto the merry go round of debate about homosexuality in general terms (we have been there before, we can go there again on another occasion).

I would love to hear which of the ten options you think are viable or not viable or a waste of time debating. Perhaps there is an eleventh option, or even a twelfth which you would like to propose.


Father Ron Smith said...

"I would love to here which of the ten options you think are viable or not viable or a waste of time debating. Perhaps there is an eleventh option, or even a twelfth which you would like to propose.
- Dr. Peter Carrell -

Well, Peter, for my understanding of the situation - not being a voting member of the General Synod - I would certainly see Option 'E'
itemised below as a real contender:

"Option E:
Adopt a New Understanding
This new understanding would be anchored by the idea that “God’s love extends to people of all kinds whether they are heterosexual or engaged in a same sex relationship.
“This understanding would not present any bar to those seeking blessing who were engaged in a same sex relationship. A rightly ordered relationship could include those in a same sex relationship.
The church community would provide “access to all of its rituals” for all of its members, as a matter of justice and equity and human dignity."

This seems to me to be both just and fair, in the circumstances.

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter,

It is early days, but let me be brave and offer this initial response. My impression is that options A, E, H and J are the most viable options for our church to consider. I am doubtful that options B, C, D, F, and G are sufficiently different to provide anything more than a distraction. Here is my reasoning at present:

Option B I would consider the hardball option whereby the church’s constitution is contested through the legal mechanisms provided for by the church and secular courts. It favours those already in positions of power and forces dissenting conservative groupings in particular, into reacting negatively through litigation, and, in the end, to despair at the cost to the wider mission of the Church. Loss by attrition is inevitable as clergy and laity vote with their feet. Some will, no doubt, leave earlier than they should, others might hold on for a little longer. But the result is simply option E by default.

Although C, D, F, and G appear to offer different choices, they all appear to again offer the same outcome as if option E had been adopted. This time General Synod is asked to take powers unto itself (which it may or may not have – probably the later) and reinvent the church’s constitution. Assuming that these options can avoid the legal pitfalls of option B, the variety of choices are of little consequence if the outcomes are the just the same as for option E.

Option H is perhaps the most honest but also probably the most unrealistic. I don’t think it’s just an evangelical conceit to question the viability of many of our dioceses without the financial support of conservative parishes. The same would also be true at the parish level as individuals re-aligned on either side of the negotiated division. It would be very difficult for conservative parishes to sustain themselves, but the prospects are surely worst for liberal parishes. The reality is that, despite describing this debate as a generational issue for the church, the younger generations are not present in our liberal congregations. And I don’t see that situation changing post-partum!

Option J may be seen as the easy option that simply delays the inevitable – but at least it keeps us in step with the Home Country! However, I would question whether the talking has in fact finished. I believe there is more that can profitability be said. Some are impatient with the slowness of the Church’s decision-making, but I would strongly argue that such is the nature of theological dialogue. It is too important an issue for us to get wrong – not only for the Anglican Church, but for our mission to a wider New Zealand society.


Andrei said...

We know that option A is a non starter - if adopted it would ensure rancour remains

All the other options either consist of kicking the ball into touch while advancing toward the inevitable goal line of option E or some sort of polite schism, between a traditional church and a "modern" one.

The good old Dominion Post report on this uses the headline: Church proposes separate church for gays - Mischievous though technically accurate and almost certainly the eventual outcome.

carl jacobs said...

I notice that all the downsides seem heavily biased in favor of normalizing homosexuality. Those few downsides listed for traditionalists are hedged with 'possibly.'

In any case, most of these options should include a downside described thusly:

One possible downside would be that traditionalist laity will depart in droves, causing massive financial losses, organizational decline, bankruptcy, and eventual dissolution.

Like has happened to EVERY OTHER CHURCH that has followed these various proposed liberalizing paths.


carl jacobs said...

A. Acceptable but flawed. Liberals will simply renew their efforts to undermine the tradition like teaching one day after this option is selected. It doesn't solve the problem of the unequally yoked church.

B. Non-starter. Stasis is not possible. The issue is inexorably moving toward resolution whether the powers that be like it or not. Someone has to lose. There is probably a hidden agenda here regarding progress by lawsuit.

C. A page from TECs playbook. Implement incremental change by steadily removing Bishops who would resist change, and replacing them with Bishops that support change. These Bishops must sound orthodox even as they impose heresy.

D. A more democratic version of C. It hopes in the idea that Liberals are more tenacious in their synodical organizations and political instincts.

E. The honest consistent heretical option. And also a death sentence for the church organization foolish enough to choose it.

F. Impossible within one organization. You can't instantiate and teach two diametrically opposed views. To accept it in one b part is to approve it in all parts. Thus amounts to option E but with a fig leaf for traditionalists.

G. Two Bishops in one jurisdiction fighting over money and influence? Especially when certain parishes would want their money to support only one of those Bishops? Not a snowball's chance.

H. The honest and much to be preferred solution. Spin the liberals off into their own network where their churches can atrophy and die. Which is certainly what would happen. This solves the problem. No more conflict.

I. The camel's nose creeps into the tent. This is certainly a harbinger of the inevitable implementation of option E, and will be seen as such. It's a new understanding by any other name.

J. The certain recommendation from this list of options. Gutless. Cowardly. Possessed of a desire to avoid any decision that might have hard consequences. Hoping against hope that something might change in two years time to make this all go away. Oh so Anglican.

Options C, D, E, F, & I will cause massive membership losses.

Bryden Black said...

Least my silence be construed as "consent" and I lose my head.

I have heavily annotated my printed copies of both the Ma Whea? Report and the Report of the Theology Commission, which I shall not inflict upon the blogging public. Suffice to say only this.

A public vote of thanks to both groups and their individual members for all their time and spent energy. Sadly, I sense it will only end in tears - and tears. For there are already far too many tares among the wheat.

I.e. the only real option is for two institutional expressions of two rather different religions. All the rest is mockery and instability, frankly.

Peter Carrell said...

A note to Carl and other overseas readers re Option J:

On the face of it, Option J is 'Gutless. Cowardly. [etc]'.

However inside our church I suggest it is not an option at this time about 'Hoping against hope that something might change in two years time to make all this all go away.'

Rather it would be an option about 'Hoping that in two years time we are ready to make a decision and live with the consequences of that decision because we will have properly engaged in our Diocesan synods and huis with what the decision is likely to be and what the consequences are likely to be.'

In my view we have not properly engaged in each of our Diocesan synods and huis with what 'the decision' is likely to be; nor have we dared to openly talk about the possible consequences of the decision. The latter has been difficult because we have not actually had a specific decision put to us to consider.

Bryden Black said...

For my part: you are right Peter in your local reading of option J - if we have the collective, loving patience to pull it off, rather than a hastier move to reach a decision, later regretted (by some, by all) driven by the sense ‘we’ve waited long enough already’.

Jean said...

I think ultimately A or E will need to be the way forward. As others have pointed out otherwise you enter into a very complex relationship where no one knows the boundaries. However, I think the path to acheiving the A or E decision is best reached via option J so at this point:

I would vote for option J

a) Same sex marriage and civil unions are a relatively new social phenomenon in secular culture as well as church culture. Sociologically and ethically speaking the ramifications of the passing of this law by government have yet to be fully experienced/visibly perceived in society at large. Especially such as the social and emotional impact on children raised by same sex couples (whether though adoption or artificial insemination).
b) Like Peter, I do not think there has been enough engagement with individual congregations (perhaps via regional synods) regarding their views. Note some assume there are more liberal than conservative viewpoints within the current Anglican Church in NZ and vice versa but actually we don't know. Giving some credence to democracy before a decision is acted on I believe is wise.
c) The C of E and our relationship to it has been longstanding, they are only just now like us dealing with their response to the legality of same sex marriage. To take time to learn about their experiences post decision would be wise.

However I would add these steps to option J:
a) That in choosing option J, option A (but including the acceptance of openly homosexual priests who choose to remain celibate) and E are presented in a suitable way for discussion and feedback by parishes to each regional synod. With parishes voting in support of the option they most favour this could be done via an anonymous vote to encourage honesty/satefy of expression (e.g. the majority view of their parishoners).
b) Regional feedback is collated and an overview of the results distributed.
c) Engagement (face to face) with gay christians currently worshipping in the NZ Angliican church and their honest experiences of being gay and christian are qualitatively collated and summarised.
d) Experienced theologians (holding both views) list the main theological perspectives held regarding marriage, and scriptural intepretation of passages referring to homosexuality.
c) Reseach, as is possible, into issues/possible complications arising from same sex marriage, or the ordination of practicing married homosexuals is undertaken.

Those then attending the general synod following these steps consider the information provided as impartially as they are able and make a choice for the way forward A or E.

The decision made following the two year time frame decided on for the discussion period is adhered to by all churches who wish to remain NZ Anglican by association (noting: you can still personally disagree with the decision made but must abide by its ruling).

Jean said...

Oh one more but perhaps the most important thing, during the period given, if J is chosen all members of the NZ Anglican Church are encouraged to pray - for those involved more directly in the process, for the outcome God desires, and for the unity of the church. For like in the times of old the prophets looked to God, and people sought his blessing. Perhaps now of all times the verses "seek first the kingdom, seek my face" apply; rather than giving too much sway to voices/opinions outside of the church, God should be the ultimate one we look to and seek for guidance.

Father Ron Smith said...

"One possible downside would be that traditionalist laity will depart in droves, causing massive financial losses, organizational decline, bankruptcy, and eventual dissolution." - carljacobs -

Carl, this is New Zealand, where there is little tolerance for the type of oppositional conservatism that one finds in North America. This is one reason why our politics are less confrontational and less fraught with violence.

carl jacobs said...

I am not clear what benefit might be achieved by waiting two years. I don't know what getting it right would mean practically speaking.

1. The theological argument is well understood and run to ground. People aren't going to change their minds on the basis of some new epiphany. Nothing new will be argued. You will get the same arguments already made several times over, and the same mutual incomprehension driven by conflicting presuppositions.

2. Any experiential information presented will be viewed through the lens of the above theological impasse. It won't change any minds.

3. The views of the parishes are entirely predictable based upon how they align with the theological argument.

4. There is no possibility of synthesis in this argument. If there was, it would have been found by now. This is a conflict of mutually exclusive principles. To accept one is to reject the other.

5. Liberals see this as a matter of justice and will proceed despite any consequences. In fact, Liberals typically see the departure of conservatives as a positive side benefit of the fight.

6. Conservatives see this as a matter of faithfulness, and will resist despite the consequences. They aren't going to be bludgeoned into submission.

So what are you going to get right? You either do this or you don't. If you don't then you have effect separation or you will be fighting this same fight again in five years. The liberals aren't going to stop. They will feel morally impelled to continue until they achieve their objective.

The only reason I can see to do this is to gauge the reaction of conservatives to the change with the hope of stopping them from leaving. In other words, the two years is intended to discuss this question : "Hey Conservatives. How can we convince you to compromise yourselves and stick around for the sake of organizational unity?" And that is an insidious goal.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Carl
Our situation is more mixed up than your outline above matches. So:

1. It may make a difference if our church (General Synod) signals to dioceses and parishes and individuals that it is blessing of same sex partnerships rather than change to doctrine of marriage to incorporate same sex marriage.

2. (Affirming a Ron Smith comment above re confrontationalism in our church) it may make a difference if there is some sense of a secure future for those opposed to change. I am putting that sentence generally without getting into specifics such as dual episcopacy, but if we were to discuss that, I ask you to remember that in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia we already have a form of dual (sometimes tripartite) episcopacy operating (though along cultural rather than theological lines). While vague noises from time to time have been made about such matters, there has never been a clear signal to conservatives about whether new episcopal arrangements will or will not be part of a new future.
(3) This is perhaps most important: our parishes and dioceses are something of a mixed bag. We have (for instance) a few parishes which are wholly conservative and look likely to walk separately if change comes. But we have many other parishes which have a range of views within them (e.g. young evangelical adults in favour of same sex marriage - one or two commenting here in recent days - and other young adults not in favour). Will individuals walk? Will generations depart? Would a rearranged landscape for our church be acceptable to those who want to change things but do not wish to weaken the church in the process? These kinds of questions have not been engaged with widely across the synodical processes of our church.

By the way, and for the record: schism will not bankrupt our church. There are some considerable trust funds around which would sustain most episcopacies, the meetings of General Synod and nearly all our theological education even if the number of Anglicans reduced to the members of General Synod!

However, some of our diocese might not be able to function as dioceses if some parishes walked apart from the official church. On that score some things are finely balanced.

Chris Spark said...

Much has been said, and much of the sort of thing Bryden says makes sense to me.

But, having read only the 10 points page and the Doctrine Commission report so far, one thing I don't think I read in a skim of the comments: in the doctrine commission report there was much talk, rightly enough, of the Christian tendency to take special care of the vulnerable. But then there was astoundingly no mention at all of those who experience same sex attraction and yet choose to live celibate lives as a result of their convictions on the Lordship of Jesus and what that means. These precious brothers and sisters are surely contenders for the most vulnerable of all, as they have often not been well cared for by the church, and yet are often seen as very foreign to the LGBT community too, as they are considered to have denied their gay identity. Yet in terms of taking up their crosses they are surely powerful theological examples to consider. I find that omission strange and powerfully lacking.

carl jacobs said...


I get the impression you think I am arguing that the church is going to start marrying Gay couples, and the next day a mass defection of parishes will occur. That isn't how this works. The loss isn't properly measured in departing parishes. It's measured by the silent attrition of people walking out the door one day and never coming back. That's the devastating and ever accumulating loss. That's what killed TEC. It's the quiet steady bleeding of people who just get fed up and leave. They doing necessarily know where they are going. They just know they aren't staying.

When the outflow starts it becomes irreversible. Leadership perceives the shifting balance of power and starts to push a more radical agenda. That increases the outflow and the process becomes self-feeding. Losses lead to a more liberal church which in turn accelerates the losses. It takes a long time for a church to die this way. But the end is inevitable.

Yes, I understand that churches have trust funds and that bankruptcies don't occur overnight. TEC had boatloads, rivers, oceans of dead men's money in the bank. That's why TEC could do what it did. It could afford to ignore it's laity. But the money is running short now. There are lots of people to employ and there aren't so many laity as before. TEC is heading towards an ASA of 200,000. Those trust fund aren't going to last forever and those numbers won't sustain the bureaucracy.

And all those protections and guarantees and promises you hope can offer security to conservatives won't mean much as the church moves inexorably in a new direction. You will get new Bishops who sound good but are compromised. And they will subtlety compromise the clergy in the dioceses. And then promises once made suddenly won't mean so much and you will be told "Well they were never intended to last forever."

You can say "It's different here. We can live together." That is what all those trusting conservatives in TEC thought as well. Look where it got them. You can say "It's different here. We won't see large losses." And Gene Robinson' election was only supposed to cause trauma for six months before it would all blow over. This subject is littered with underestimated assesments of the severity of the impact.

If you approve this in any way, you are finished as a church. Not tomorrow. Not next week. But inevitably. If you affirm the current teaching, you perpetuate the conflict. Those who want the change will keep coming back until they get what they want. You need to solve the problem and the problem is the doctrinal incoherence of your church. You need to become a church of one religion and not two. Until you face that reality, you will never be free of this conflict.

Time is short. A church that would produce and seriously consider the arguments presented in section B of appendix V is a seriously compromised church. If you don't act fast, you will lose the ability to act at all.


Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Carl for clarification on some points.
We may survive.
I am not presuming that we will.

Bryden Black said...

Many thanks indeed Chris. As I have tried to listen and minister among these very dear ones of whom you speak I have only been humbled by their sheer grace. So may you please continue to pray for them. They are blessed and shall be blessed - but only as they receive the likes of your words, and hopefully the presence of my ilk.

PS: there is but one mention, briefly, in the full Ma Whea report: it mentions the word "betrayal"....

Caleb said...

Disclaimer: I haven't read the full reports yet.

I think I'd vote J because I've become convinced through my study of the subject that removing gender restrictions on sex/marriage is the correct orthodox/evangelical decision to make. But the arguments for that have not been disseminated widely enough yet. Maybe that will have changed slightly in 2 more years.

Father Ron Smith said...

Chris, your category of a Gay person who is Christian and decides to be celibate is one of the categories of 'eunuch' whose Jesus describes in Matthew 19;12 as "eunuchs who are born that way from their mother's womb; there are eunuchs made so by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves that way for the sake of the kingdom of heaven". Jesus then goes on to say: "Let anyone accept this who can" - knowing that there would be some in the Church who 'could not accept' this reality.

Most Christina homosexuals know that they are in the 1st category. They may, or may not choose to commit to the celibate life.

The second category are found in the context of harem slavery and in the papal courts as castrati.

The third category includes those who become monks, nuns. or priests in the Church - believing this to be their true calling from God.

Sometimes, in the latter category, those who are 'eunuchs from birth' may find a vocation to be a monk, nun or priest, then finding that this is too difficult for them, so they withdraw.

Of course, there are also those who are not 'eunuchs from birth' who also find the celibate life too difficult for them and they leave.

The Church should value those celibate monks, nuns and clergy who CHOOSE to remain celibate - whether or not they are in the 1st category and intrinsically Gay!

I think it would be wrong for a homosexual Christian to taunt one of their own for remaining in a celibate religious vocation. This would be totally inappropriate.

Father Ron Smith said...

Carl. Kiwis are't generally drawn into the Christian Church to become inured to the world, and insured agaisnt hell-fire. Most come into the life of the Church to find a community of love and fellowship.

The Hell-fire methodology no longer works. There is too much evidence of past mistakes made by the Church in the area of cosmology and social justice. This is one reason why some people are leaving ALL the churches - because they feel unloved and made to feel guilty when they attend - to hear the same-old, same-old rhetoric of rejection - which is not Gospel.

Where charity and love are - there is God (Maundy Thursday antiphon)

Peter Carrell said...

Well, Caleb, you could help that dissemination by telling us briefly what the main argument for 'removing the gender restrictions on sex/marriage is the correct orthodox/evangelical decision to make'. To say the least, this is a non-obvious decision!

Peter Carrell said...

So, Ron, do you value laypersons who choose to remain celibate?

Father Ron Smith said...

Naturally, Peter - if it really is their own free choice.

carl jacobs said...


Your whistling past the graveyard would be more convincing if your church wasn't approaching this issue like it was trying to de-activate a bomb. If I and those like me were in fact irrelevant flotsam from a bygone era, you would just make the decision and be done with it. But that isn't happening. It seems rather that the church leadership is afraid that cutting any wire will cause the bomb to detonate. Wonder why?


Mark said...

I got sucked into commenting again!
As a Christian I've been keeping a vague eye on the debates and arguments within the Anglican church from a distance. I'm not going to comment or argue one way or the other on same sex relationships. But, from a completely outsider's perspective, albeit one with a Christian world view, I cannot see how the issue of same sex relationships, marriage and ordaining ministers in same sex relationships/marriage can result in anything other than a divided/separated church. There are clearly two sides in the argument so the Anglican church is already divided.

For both sides it seems to me to be a theological argument that neither can back down from. If both sides believe their argument to be supported by Scripture and are firm in their conviction of that then they cannot in good conscience go against Scripture.

From my outsiders perspective, given the importance that both sides place on the issue, the only option that can be accepted to provide a way forward with any grace is Option H and implementing Options A and E for the two groups. While it would be better that everyone held the same view, it seems inevitable that the sides must separate for the glory of God. As I think about it, I'd suggest the Anglican church prepares itself for separation on this issue rather than debating it over and over to no conclusion.

The grace, mercy, compassion and selflessness required to separate will be immense and will be a true test of each person's faith. I hope and pray that there won't be a "it's my ball and I'm taking it home" attitude and, even more so, bickering and name calling from either side.

How do you divide the church?
Do you divvy up the buildings, money and resources based on number of members?
Which side continues under the official Anglican banner and which one starts fresh?
Can both be called "Anglican" or would that confuse the issue?
Is it possible for both groups to continue to work together or does it need complete separation?
There are so many more questions that the Anglican church needs to work through and now is the time to start coming up with answers to them.

If it ever came down to litigation and taking it to the courts I'd be deeply saddened. Paul asks the Corinthian (I think) Christians why they are taking each other to court to get someone with a worldly view of life to decide on matters between people with a Godly view of life. I pray this doesn't happen. Perhaps the Anglican church can preach on the the separation of Paul and Barnabus and learn some lessons before it comes to a head.

I pray that whatever the outcome that people on both sides of the argument will show the grace and love of Jesus Christ to the glory of God alone.

Father Ron Smith said...

carl, my Church (ACANZP) may seem to you to be tackling homophobia and the subject of Same-Sex Relationships 'like it was trying to de-activate a bomb', but to us who are people of faith, and who believe that every human being is made in God's Image and Likeness and worthy of respect on that account, what our Church is doing is attempting to overturn centuries of prejudice and the oppression of intrinsically homosexual people, with as little disruption to the sensitive consciences of our people as is possible - given the amount of prejudice against Gay people that has to be overcome.

Again, I have to tell you that, New Zealand is very different from America. We have no Republican Party desperately struggling to maintain a status quo situation of institutional patriarchy - against a growing tide of gender equality
in the world in which we live and move and have our being.

What ACANZP is trying to do, is to redress some of the grievances that still exist, where race, gender and social inequality have been allowed to predominate, in a country where such injustices are no longer easily tolerated.

Please understand this: that what you in North American politics are totally polarised about; we, in Aotearoa/New Zealand have managed to accommodate more easily to. We were one of the first countries in the Commonwealth to allow women and Lay people the dignity of equal participation in Church and society.

Chris Spark said...

Thanks Ron for your thoughts re the Same Sex Attracted celibate Christians. I agree that the church should value single Christians (all celibate Christians, regardless of orientation) much better than we currently do. Whether they are in orders of that kind or not.

But I guess I would just say, without time to get in a big debate, that I have reason to doubt much of what you say in terms of that very specific interpretation of Jesus' words there. I do think it is very possible that there is a certain affinity of the eunuch in Scripture to the same sex attracted Christian - especially when you take Isaiah 56 and Acts 8 into account. But nevertheless, I am not sure that reading can be made so specific, and certainly I am not sure that it would be a basis for making optional the sort of sexual ethics Jesus seems to be assuming and reinforcing in Matthew 19. For a start, those words about letting those can accept this teaching come in the context of Pharisees testing him (v3) and hearing and using the law but to their own ends. Jesus makes very high standards of chastity and marital faithfulness clear, and then his disciples make a statement of surprise. It is then he follows it with the eunuch saying. I am not completely sure what he means, at this stage, by his two 'let those who can accept...' statements, but they ring closely of 'let him who has ears to hear hear' (eg Lk 8) - which is certainly not a statement of optional acceptance of a teaching. And in the light of the way the Pharisees were refusing to interpret Scripture humbly I wonder if it may carry the same sort of tone. I certainly think it is unwise to jump to the idea of an optional interpretation of the wider passage.

At any rate, my bigger point of concern was the absence of celibate same sex attracted brothers and sisters (except for the one place Bryden points out, which is actually a quote from the Pilling report) and that this effectively marginalises the voice of an already most-marginalised group, that are actually very important to this discussion.

Must fly!

MichaelA said...

"I think I'd vote J because I've become convinced through my study of the subject that removing gender restrictions on sex/marriage is the correct orthodox/evangelical decision to make. But the arguments for that have not been disseminated widely enough yet." [I think the word "same" might have dropped out before the word "sex"]

Have they been disseminated at all? I am not being rude, but I still haven't seen even you state them. On an earlier thread, what I call the orthodox position was put to you clearly, that the bible teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman only. Your only response was, in effect, that the debate was "going around in circles" - which did look rather like an evasion of the issue.

This debate for the last couple of years has been characterised by a general failure of the liberal side to confront biblical issues, but rather to treat them as peripheral or something to brush aside.

Well, now they are here. It is one thing for a church to say (as in England) "the secular government has introduced same sex 'marriage' into law so how are we going to deal with this?". That is something that the whole church can legitimately debate.

But its quite another to argue, as you do, that same sex marriage is a biblical teaching. And even more, to assert (as you did on a previous thread) that because you are aware of some arguments as to why its biblical, therefore it should be regarded as a legitimate evangelical position (I am still struggling to see any logic at all in that idea).

When somebody is prepared to state how Christ and his prophets and apostles (i.e. scripture) are supposed to have taught that its even possible for same sex 'marriage' to exist, then please do let us know.

MichaelA said...

"against a growing tide of gender equality in the world in which we live and move and have our being."

Fr Ron, scripture teaches that it is God in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28), not the world.

However, if someone has substituted this world for God, then I suppose you would be correct.

Peter Carrell said...

I have recalled, Michael, since myself challenging Caleb to share more, that in fact I have a draft paper of his which is linked to via Theology House's website,

Joshua Bovis said...

Hi Peter,

Had a look at the options. Here is my take

Option A - Yes, but incomplete
Option B - No
Option C - tried and failed in The Eroding Church
Option D - an underhanded way of implementing of the previous option.
Option E - in other words, jettison the Scriptures, which is what in essence liberalism is and is trying to do within the Anglican Church already
Option F - Superflous as the Anglican Church unofficially already consists of two views and two faiths. Making it official will only lead to option H
Option G - nonsense. Who came up with this?!?!
Option H - This is what should happen and is what is already happening. Case in point. TEC and ACNA
Option I - Again the old chestnut "of those in stable, committed and faithful same sex relationships" - a precursor to option E
Option J - this one made me laugh! Two year period of "discussion" (Or some other lib speak term such as "conversation"; "dialogue" or "reflection". Has a very ++Rowan feel about it.

I would chose H. It is all to do with integrity Peter. If any clergy don't believe in what they have signed up for at their ordination then they should leave and start their own church. As I read recently:
"It would be ridiculous to suggest that an unashamed advocate of Pepsi and only Pepsi should be given a seat on the board of Coca Cola Corporation or that they should retain such a seat once their preference was clearly stated and understood."

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Joshua
Just one comment.
As I understand the ten options they are our church saying these are the possibilities which some of us support or some of us think might work.
They are not the Commission saying, 'Look at our wise set of possibilities.'
So, if you think one is pretty stupid then what you are asking about who thought it up is a question about which group within our church thinks that way.

Caleb said...

Peter: the way I see it, the main reason(s) is the same as the main reason(s) for removing other gender restrictions, such as the restriction of ordination to males only. The more I study the question, the more I come to believe the reasons for and against this gender restriction (both in the biblical texts and in contemporary ethical debate) are essentially the same as the reasons for and against the other gender restrictions (essentially reasons for or against a compulsory hetero-patriarchal gender binary) and that we should adopt a consistent attitude to all of these restrictions.

Beyond that, thank you for linking Michael to my essay, as I would also direct him there. I've improved it a bit since then (and it's still a slow work in progress), but that draft version should at least be enough to reassure Michael that such arguments do exist, and that I (for one) am not brushing aside biblical arguments. My hesitance to express these arguments here is largely due to my reluctance to over-simplify complex arguments, and my lack of ability to summarise them clearly (even when I tried to put it in simple terms above, I ended up with a complex and unwieldy sentence).

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Caleb
That is well and good but I do not think it cuts much ice as an argument that this constitutes some kind of 'evangelical/orthodox' reading of Scripture. On the one hand there are evangelicals who retain restraint re ordination and women: your argument is of no effect there. On the other hand there are evangelicals/orthodox who have understood many areas of service to be gender indifferent (e.g. discipleship, prophecy, patronage, diaconate, apostleship) with no comment at all being made on marriage. A gender indifferent presbyterate extends the list without making a case for gender indifference in marriage.

The case for gender differentiation in marriage stems from the supposition that marriage brings man and woman together for companionship and procreation, a man and a woman normally being required for a child to be born, and the work together of father and mother providing complementary parenting for the children born to them.

That some marriages do not result in children, or that some marriages are entered into at a point in life where children are not possible, raises questions. A possible conclusion is that later marriages should not be entered into. It is not a necessary conclusion in logic, and certainly not a necessary conclusion from reading Scripture in the usual evangelical/orthodox way to arrive at the conclusion that marriage is gender indifferent.

A possible pathway would be the starting point of love and asking the question whether love requires gender difference for a permanent, faithful, stable partnership to be formed between two people. From that starting point it is hard to see how the answer could be negative. My question then would be whether the starting point for thinking biblically about marriage is 'love'. I suggest the Bible is as interested in narrative, commandments and our Lord's teaching in marriage's starting point being a man and a woman coming together for life. Love entering the picture is a bonus ...

Caleb said...

Well, I think it's the correct evangelical/orthodox reading of Scripture, but I'm under no illusions that all evangelicals or orthodox Christians will come to accept it any time soon! As you say, not all evangelicals or Christians have come to agree that church leadership is "gender indifferent,"* let alone marriage. I don't see it as a necessary conclusion from an evangelical way of reading Scripture, any more than advocating for the abolition of slavery is (that ethical stance has become basically unanimous among evangelicals now, but it wasn't 200 years ago, and I suspect few evangelicals even now could articulate a coherent exegetical argument for it).

Anyway... I quite like your way of putting the issue; talking about certain areas of service being gender indifferent or not. You're right, it is logically consistent to suggest that some roles should have gender requirements and others should not.

However, in order to try and ascertain which category a certain role should be in, surely we should try to clarify our overall understanding of what exactly gender is and how Christians should use it. How would you answer this?

As for me, the best short-hand definition of gender I've come across is Sarah Coakley's "differentiated relationality." I've come to believe Christians should shift our understanding of gender from a rigid binary that justifies stereotyped (self-fulfilling) predictions of someone's personality and determines what social roles they can and should perform (similar to qualifications), to a complex spectrum helping describe a person without preventing them from exercising social roles† (similar to ethnicity). I believe this is not only more consistent with scientific accounts of sex/gender (which Christians should take into account as much as, say, the science of evolution), but also a logical and faithful implication of following the trajectory of Galatians 3:28 beyond how Paul himself envisaged it (cf. abolition of slavery). So this means I believe roles in church, society, community, family and marriage are "gender-indifferent" by default.

* A note on terminology: By "gender differentiation" you seem to mean compulsory gender identities for people occupying certain roles, which is not strictly the same as the concept of gender differentiation; ie, you're not talking about our gender differences but what we should do with our differences. Likewise, I'm interpreting your phrase "gender indifferent" to mean that gender doesn't affect someone's ability to perform a certain role, not that gender doesn't matter at all; cf. ethnicity.

† Apart from certain roles specific to that social group; member of an African immigrants' society, attendee at a men's conference, intersex spokesperson, entrant into gendered public toilets etc.

Caleb said...

As a side note, some comments on the specific arguments for marriage not being gender-indifferent:

We've discussed the procreation arguments before on this blog. My impression was that Tobias Haller powerfully refuted various commenters' attempts to argue that sterile or elderly male-and-female relationships are "inherently procreative" in a way that non-male-and-female relationships are not. It seems to me that this is a way of obscuring the issue; it's about gender roles, not procreation (even if procreation is invoked as an argument for gender roles).

The idea of males and females embodying a higher form of companionship or parenting due to their "complementary" genders (in fact, not just a higher form but the only acceptable form) is also obviously about gender roles. "Gender complementarity" is a highly problematic view on a number of levels and anachronistic when applied to biblical texts, but I won't get into that now.

You make salient points about love, but you'll note I am not trying to forge a separate basis for same-sex relationships based on love, but simply arguing for removing the gender requirements from our existing understanding of sex and marriage; an understanding which is only partly about love, only partly about procreation and - I would argue - not centrally or necessarily about gender roles at all.)

Father Ron Smith said...

"Fr Ron, scripture teaches that it is God in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28), not the world." - MichaelA -

Well,dear Michael, you may recall that God's-self came into this world in order to redeem it - by way of the Incarnation of Jesus; who did not withhold Himself from the world.

MichaelA said...

Peter and Caleb,

I have read the paper and I fear my question still remains unanswered. Caleb, you correctly state at page 4:

"Within the biblical narrative, this evolution does not extend to condoning any same-sex relationships. Positive endorsements of sex are always between men and women (not
always husbands and wives). "

Precisely. For those who truly believe that the scriptures are God's divine revelation to man, that is the main thing. God is not ignorant – he understands us more profoundly than we ourselves do, and we can trust his teaching about us.

However, for those who see the scriptures as merely an ancient human set of writings, to be gotten around like an obsolete law whenever they get in the way of our latest human fad, then a different approach is warranted. That is what appears in your paper – you argue, in effect, that time and circumstances have changed, and therefore what the Bible says is no longer relevant:

"However, the sex-difference is usually simply assumed; few arguments are presented for why it is necessary or beneficial. Therefore, it remains open for debate whether the sex-difference should continue to be considered prescriptive, or downgraded to descriptive in light of what has changed since the biblical texts were written."

And with this single unsupported assumption, out goes the authority of scripture. The resemblance of your argument to the serpent's argument in Genesis 3:1 is instructive!

You later write:

"Unlike in Moses’ or Paul’s time, and despite lack of institutional support from church and society, we now have homosexual couples inside and outside the church seeking the various goods of marriage."

In other words, the mere fact that because homosexuals now want to be 'married' means we can set the Bible's clear teaching to one side.

Caleb, your argument never develops further than this. I can see why you rejected offers to state your position, and that is not because it is difficult to summarize.

There is nothing remotely "evangelical" about this – "liberal" certainly; "gnostic", sure. But certainly nothing to which any true evangelical (or any true Nicene Christian, for that matter) should give serious attention.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Caleb
My brain hurts a little thinking through all your questions and possibilities re gender differentiation but Michael above gives me a clue by way of an (incomplete) response:

1. Why do we not have unisex changing rooms at swimming pools? (That is intentionally both a simple and a profound question).

2. Re benefits of gender differentiation (or lack ... Michael comments above): on gender indifference, as I understand you, it would not matter one bit if a lad or lass growing up has two dads and no mum, or two mums and no dad, because the child would be blessed with two parents. I want to suggest that there is a difference between a mum and a dad, and the child is most blessed to have a mum and a dad. There: there is a benefit to gender differentiation.

Father Ron Smith said...

" I suggest the Bible is as interested in narrative, commandments and our Lord's teaching in marriage's starting point being a man and a woman coming together for life. Love entering the picture is a bonus ..." Dr. peter Carrell -

A very interesting view of marital relationships. Reminds of the song "What's love got to do with it?"

Especially when Jesus said: "They'll know you're my disciples by your LOVE". Not by marriage!

Kurt said...

“Why do we not have unisex changing rooms at swimming pools? (That is intentionally both a simple and a profound question).”—Peter C.

Actually, Peter, some cultures do. And they have unisex bathing, too!

Even in the West such old taboos are breaking down a bit. When I was in college forty-some years ago, my alma mater had a couple of unisex dorms with unisex bathrooms!And we had nude bathing at an outdoor pool, too!

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Caleb said...

Peter, again, how is the word "homophobia" [note: not the ad hominem "homophobe"] disallowed on your blog but serpent analogies are A-OK? I don't mind the strongly-worded critique, but I mind the double-standards.

Michael, I don't recognise my essay in your response. I don't feel the need to respond and defend the straw man you're criticising.

Peter, re: question 2... as I tried to explain above, there is a difference between gender differentiation and:
(a) simplistic binary understandings of gender as two categories rather than a complex spectrum (or spectra)
(b) restrictions based on gender identity.

Again, I think ethnicity is an excellent analogy, both for an alternative view of gender, and for a response to your question about mums and dads. Maori people and Pakeha people are different, certainly (but different in complicated ways, with plenty of individual variation and exceptions); but Maori parents and Pakeha parents are just as good as each other. Likewise, mums and dads.

This perhaps goes some way towards answering question 1 too.

Caleb said...

I should clarify what I said in my last comment about "just as good as" - of course nobody would disagree. You weren't saying mums or dads are any better than each other; just that they're inherently different.

What I should have said is: A child is most blessed to have both a Maori and a Pakeha parent. But they're also blessed to have two parents of the same ethnicity. Most of all, they're blessed to have two good parents. No two parents can cover the full spectrum of human diversity (gender, ethnic, class, personality, skills, etc) but any two parents equipped with the right skills, resources and support can be great parents, or at least try their best to be.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Caleb
A number of theological arguments boil down to 'Did God really say?' and the analogy with the serpent's question in Genesis 3 applies.

If you don't think the analogy applies to an argument, the opportunity is here to show how the argument moves away from 'Did God really say?' to something more solid such as 'What God actually said is ...'

A couple of responses to your points about gender:

If gender is on a spectrum, does that make any difference to moral arguments about relationships? It is not clear that it does make any difference, not least because, arguably, there should be as many blessed relationship kinds as there are gender identities. Perhaps there should be, but it is becoming very very difficult for me - thick as I am - to see how that would be argued from Scripture.

If you think your dad is as good at being your mum as your mum is (the effect of your argument from ethnicity above) then I can but wish you joy in the world you live in.

I have a great dad and a great mum (thanks be to God) but I don't think they would mind me saying that neither would pretend to being as good at being the opposite type of parent as the opposite type actually is.

Peter Carrell said...

Re parents, Caleb:

The argument at stake here is whether gender difference matters. You do not quite say that it does though you do recognise that there is a difference between a mum and a dad.

I am suggesting that gender difference in parenting does matter: having two dads is not as good as having a dad and a mum because a mum brings something to the mix of parenting that a second dad cannot (inherently) do. This is not a comment about general parenting skills: on that score two dads are as good as two mums are as good as a mum and a dad. But if we allow that a dad and a mum make for a better overall set of parents than two dads or two mums (because the latter two sets cannot provide the diversity the first set can) then we are at the beginning of acknowledging that gender diversity matters in family life ... from that we might get to marriage!

But I have no idea, Caleb, whether you are willing to recognise the inherent advantage to two parents being a mum and a dad.

Father Ron Smith said...

re Caleb's comment about Same-Sex Parents being only marginally different from heterosexual parents;

It was good to see on tonight's telecast on TV1, that the protocol allowed the Royal Couple and Prince George to meet up with a couple of Same-Sex parents and their daughter - amongst the other, heterosexual, couples with children, enjoying their company.

Top marks for Plunket (N.Z.'s Child Welfare Agency) for making
this special arrangement.

Caleb said...

Peter, my rephrasal in the second comment was supposed to be a backtracking of my earlier clumsy and innaccurate language about one parent being as good as another - that's not actually what we're discussing; as you say, "This is not a comment about general parenting skills."

I never denied that gender diversity (or ethnic diversity, for that matter) matters in family life. I denied that we should make restrictions on families based on genders.

I think ethnicity is an excellent analogy for the advantages (and alleged necessity) of parents having certain gender identities. A Maori parent brings something to the mix of parenting that a Pakeha parent cannot (generally*) do. I did not have the privilege of a Maori parent, or what they can bring to the mix of parenting. I also did not have the privilege of a Chinese parent, an LGBTI parent, a Hindu parent, an upper-class parent or a parent who can play a mean guitar solo. Like I said - no two parents can cover the full gamut of human diversity. It's also worth considering the diversity within each gender. I had a parent who embodied one particular expression of masculinity; I did not have a "blokey" dad or a "rugby/farming/hunting/cars" dad or a "smiling assassin businessman" dad or a "metrosexual" dad - or mum for that matter! However, I had two excellent parents and I'm very much glad they were allowed to marry and have me.

I wouldn't pretend my dad is as good as my mum at being a mum; I also wouldn't pretend my Pakeha dad is just as good as my Maori uncle at being a Maori parent - even though he's just as good at being a parent! (This is only a problem if we've decided in advance that it's necessary to have a Maori parent and a Pakeha parent, instead of any two good parents; the way you've decided in advance that it's necessary to have a mother and a father, instead of any two good parents).

Sex can obviously offer certain advantages in terms of the possibility of biological procreation; if two people have the right mix of internal and external sex characteristics and fertility, they can have children. Please note that we still allow couples without this "right mix" to marry and to adopt children (regardless of whether we know whether they have the right mix when they marry. I, for example, could later turn out to have a "rogue ovary" that not only makes me not straightforwardly male, but makes me unable to procreate).

Gender, however, I see as being on an equal standing to ethnicity in what it offers to parenting, and who should be allowed to be a parent. Diversity brings a lot of good to any partnership, including parenting (though a certain degree of homogeneity can have advantages too). But I don't think prohibitions of couples without certain markers of diversity are justified; on either gender or ethnicity.

* I've replaced "inherently" with "generally" because "inherently" can tend to imply biological essentialism and clear-cut boxes without overlap or exceptions; which is not an accurate reading of either sex, gender or ethnicity.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Caleb
a. I am not arguing for restrictions re parents and their gender: in today's world that would be too hard to work out via law. I am arguing against a notion that somehow indifference to gender of parents is an evangelical/orthodox position. Nothing you offer draws any kind of reasonable argument from Scripture and tradition to that position.

b. There is a danger your argument ends in absurdity when you write, "Sex can obviously offer certain advantages in terms of the possibility of biological procreation; if two people have the right mix of internal and external sex characteristics and fertility, they can have children." Let's be clear: with the exception of our Lord Jesus Christ 100% of all children born through aeons of time, until about 30 odd years ago, were born through a man having intercourse with a woman. There was no 'can' about sex. It was sex was necessary for conception; conception required sex; there was no conception without sex. That we are now in a position where (e.g.) a man can provide sperm to a test-tube, woman can receive the sperm via a third party procedure offers a wonderful possibility that a man and a woman marrying in good faith re intention to bear children can be assisted in fulfilling that desire. To then argue from this gift of fertility to married couples that since sex is not necessary for fertility so fertility is not necessary for two people of the same gender to be parents is to offer an argument that technology changes value of gender in marriage. Whatever that argument constitutes re validity, it is not, repeat NOT an evangelical/orthodox argument from Scripture and tradition.
c. Put another way: to make your argument evangelical/orthodox you would need to establish via Scripture and tradition that God's intention for creation, for populating creation, for marriage is actually, despite a host of appearances through the biblical narrative, indifferent to gender differentiation. You have not done this. Which is quite good because it means that God has been transparent re his will instead of hiding it as secret knowledge only to be revealed in the 21st century!

Caleb said...

It's putting quite a lot of responsibility on me (and you) to say that simply because I've failed to convince you of something, we therefore know what God has been saying!

Re: procreation; I will acknowledge that my phrasing was not particularly reverent to the miracle of procreation by which I and (almost) all people and animals throughout history came into existence. But I didn't have IVF in mind at all when I wrote it. I'm not arguing anything from the fact that (now) "sex is not necessary for fertility". In fact, I wouldn't even put it that way - sex organs are still entirely necessary for procreation, even if sexual intercourse is not. My contention was that the church has long since held that fertility is not necessary for marriage (long before IVF). If I recall correctly, you also acknowledged this point in your paper at the Theology of Marriage conference.

I've tried to clarify in a couple of comments the difference between (a) reality and significance of gender difference and (b) restriction of marriage to male and female partnerships. I oppose (b), not (a), and I've offered ethnicity as an analogy of how we think along these sides already on another marker of human diversity. I actually think I'm acknowledging better than you the reality and significance of gender difference, as I'm acknowledging its complexity, diversity and (multi-)spectrumed character instead of inaccurately portraying it as a simple binary by which everyone is a man or a woman, and a man inherently possesses a certain personality (and, e.g., parenting style) and a woman another.

I don't think you're acknowledging that there's not a simple line from significance of gender to gender restrictions on things like marriage. You need to form an argument to show not only that gender is significant, but (a) a certain sex/gender configuration (one male, one female) is not only significant but necessary for sex/marriage, and (b) that the lack of this gender configuration is in fact worse than someone not called to celibacy being alone (Gen 2) or burning in lust (1 Cor 7). An argument from silence (ie the fact that all the sex and marriage endorsed in Scripture is between men and women) is not enough, because it doesn't allow God to do a new thing after the closing of the canon, and I believe God has done new things, such as abolition of slavery and the female episcopate.

My argument for what you call the "indifference of gender differentiation" is based on the same logic as the arguments for the indifference of gender to whether someone is ipso facto eligible or ineligible for other social roles like ordination. I don't know if I can expand further upon it. I believe the most coherent interpretation of the Bible's diverse materials on gender is to say that it offers a trajectory towards relativisation of human divisions such as gender, class and ethnicity - best encapsulated in Gal 3:28 - and liberation of those oppressed in various ways as a result of these divisions. (Please note this is not an eradication of difference - which is in itself oppressive - but of oppressive division). I think this argument can be made entirely from Scripture, but is strengthened with reference to the rest of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, including contemporary scientific examination of sex and gender (I believe evangelicals and orthodox Christians should take into account the whole Quadrilateral but prioritise Scripture).

Would you agree with this understanding of gender, and to what extent? You haven't articulated your own understanding of gender.


Caleb said...


You've introduced the idea that perhaps some roles are gender indifferent and others are not. Fair enough. But from my perspective the ball's in your court to show why a certain institution (marriage, for example) is not "gender indifferent." The only argument you've offered is the procreative possibility of male-female unions, but those arguments fall down as they're actually not about gender but about sex, and not all male-female couples have the necessary sex characteristics for procreation. You only employ those arguments against same-gender couples, which suggests there is something else going on on the level of gender rather than sex.

Re "secret knowledge" - I found it bizarre when another commenter accused me of Gnosticism, but I think I understand it now if this is also where he was coming from. Now that I understand it, I can refute it as an unfair criticism. A different (and newer) interpretation is not the same as a Gnostic "secret knowledge" interpretation. Would you have accused Wilberforce of "secret knowledge"? Or the advocates of female ordination?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Caleb
Since I am sticking up for what God has been saying to us for centuries, there is a LOT of responsibility on you to convince those who think like I do (which, broadly speaking, is the majority of current Christians, to say nothing of nearly all past Christians). But you are the one seeking change ...

I suggest the church has only acknowledged that fertility is not necessary for marriage between a man and a woman. It is quite unclear whether the church has yet re-considered this approach if it is going to be used as a reason for deeming that neither is a man and a woman necessary for a marriage. Further, I also suggest that on close inspection the church has a debate going on within it re potential for fertility v. fertility. Even an older couple, finding themselves unexpectedly pregnant, would, on the traditional understanding of marriage, be ready to embrace family life, have a bonded relationship between the one equipped to be the father and the other equipped to be the mother.

God created us male and female. That binariness, without acknowledgment of diversity, is inherent in the story of creation, and it is exactly matched to the necessity re reproduction of there being a male contributor and a female contributor to conception. That males are then diverse (cf. Esau and Jacob re character and interests), also females (not every woman in the OT was willing to drive a tent peg through a man's skull!) suggests that gender is a mix of binariness and diversity. Then, yes, some find themselves in a male body with female characteristics and vice versa and a few shades between. But not of that changes the essentially binary character of gender, noting that even for a person in a man's body to talk about feeling they are really a female is still to invoke the basic binariness of gender.

This binariness is not surprising given a Judeo-Christian view of wholeness of body, mind and spirit. Only maleness and femaleness is required for life so we are not introduced in the Bible to third or fourth genders. The assumption is that men have male bodies and woman have female bodies, sexual intercourse occurs between them and life results. That we acknowledge, in a tiny minority of people, a variation on that account of gender does not change the essential binariness to gender, as created by God and as experienced as necessary for the continuation of life. (cont'd)

Peter Carrell said...

(Cont'd) Hi Caleb,
The significance of gender for marriage is assumed rather than compelled via Scripture. But it is significant. The idea of marriage being 'one flesh' of a man and a woman implies a special combination of difference; further, the difference here is not just any difference (as in Jim is short-tempered and John is patient and calm) but the difference of male and female, perhaps nicely and recently expressed in the book title, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. The diversity of maleness across men and of femaleness across women does not alter the fact that when a man and a woman get together as one flesh they are combining significant difference. Further this significance is underlined in the biblical account of creation and with Trinitarian eyes we read that account as offering the two-into-one as an image of the Three-in-One God (the image being of diversity in unity, don't worry about the maths of two not equalling three!).

As for lack of companionship through marriage or the fulfilling of lustful desire and 'worse' re gender configuration, it would be a curious argument which argued from the Bible that no other arrangements for companionship (friendship?) were possible and that all lusts must be fulfilled (think upon many prohibitions against adultery, fornication, use of prostitutes.

In any case, you admit the nub of your argument lies outside of the Bible: it is honest to claim that God has done a new thing beyond the closing of the canon. By what authority do you discern this to be so? (Appeal to slavery and female episcopate is simply interesting as an appeal: it proves nothing about another matter, and it begs many questions whether the church changing its mind on these matters is because God has spoken from outside the canon or because the church has recognised that it misheard God's voice from within the canon.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Caleb
A further thought: I suggest a strong weakness in your argument if it continues to appeal to Scripture (but I note above that it seems that, in the end, yours is not an appeal to Scripture) is that it overlooks the potential for God through Paul and other apostles to have introduced new ideas about marriage re gender.

As you know, Paul and others were familiar with customary relationships between older men and younger men. That is, they lived in a wider world which did not conform to a uniform, standard account of sex occurring only between men and women. Gender indifference in sexual relationships was known in the ancient days of the early church. Yet not one move is made, not one sign given in the pages of the New Testament of the thought that marriage might at some future point be gender indifferent. By contrast, many hints are given in the NT of the end of slavery in a world marked by lack of boundedness between master and slave; just as the account of ministry is not a uniform account of impermeable boundaries between men and women re ministry roles.

Put another way, to make the claim that God has spoken beyond the closing of the canon is to invoke an argument which is not evangelical: it might be Pentecostal (by way of claim that the Spirit is now speaking thus and so to the church) or ecclesiastical (by way of claim that the church has now agreed that thus and so is a new understanding, differentiated from past understanding via Scripture and tradition). Both claims are possible; both claims could express truth. But both claims require something more than a few people thinking they are right on a matter.

Caleb said...

Peter, you are sticking to what most Christians have believed God has been saying to us for centuries; a rather important difference. (Even then, this supposedly "traditionalist" view has changed immensely over time. Eg. the acknowledgement of sexual orientation as in some ways a real [albeit socially constructed] thing… or the move away from language of "perversion" and "sodomy" towards language of "mental disorder," and then "struggle with same-gender desire"… or the rise of "complementarian" logic instead the "natural" hierarchy of men over women).

As you say, "the church has only acknowledged that fertility is not necessary for marriage between a man and a woman;" for the most part the church has not "deem[ed] that neither is a man and a woman necessary for a marriage." Precisely!This is because that the church's opposition to same-sex pairings is not (now, if it ever was) based on fertility and procreation but on ideas of gender roles. The rest of your paragraph reinforces this: as you note, the church's current understanding of marriage suggests an elderly opposite-sex couple are equipped to raise children (whether unexpected births or adoptions) because of a "bonded relationship between the one equipped to be a father and the other equipped to be a mother". Gender roles!

The fact that you refer to John Gray's book (which is a joke among people who have actually studied gender) speaks volumes. The simplistic binaristic idea of sex and gender encapsulated in that book and your recent comments is in no way borne out by the best examinations of creation using our God-given reason. "Mars" and "Venus" is a dominant ideology justifying patriarchal dominance of men, women and those whom you call "the tiny minority" (remember, we serve a God who leaves the 99 for the one). Appealing to the Bible's "male and female" against the scientific data is equivalent to appealing to the biblical creation stories against evolution.

I don't think there is much point responding to the details of your defence of a binary gender system, because your defence has made it very clear that you do not know or understand the science of gender/sex and the reasons to reject binary understandings of them.

It is worth noting, though, that even if gender is "basically binary" the way you describe, observation of difference (even essentialist difference) is not the same thing as justification of division and restriction. You have given some reasons why the (supposedly essential) difference between men and women brings advantages to marriage; I even agreed (though I removed the essentialism). But you still need to explain why and how this difference means male-male marriages or female-female marriages are worse than useless.

Caleb said...

Re: the "nub of the argument" - I believe God has done new things with the church beyond the closing of the canon. I believe we should discern these new things on the authority of Scripture first and foremost, but we can also be assisted by other sources of revelation. In your terms, this means we should change our mind because we recognise that we've misheard God's voice from within the canon, though we may be assisted in this recognition by God's voice outside the canon. I would find it very difficult to endorse change based entirely on the latter. But I do not believe removing restrictive gender roles from marriage does rest entirely on the latter, any more than removing restrictive gender roles from church leadership does (nor abolishing slavery, supporting trade unions or taking action on climate change, for that matter).

As I said earlier, I believe a strong argument against gender restrictions in marriage, church and society can be made exclusively from Scripture (indeed, I believe it's the most convincing way of reconciling Scripture's seemingly diverse witness on gender). This Scriptural argument does not require our other sources of revelation, but it is strengthened by them. For example, my interpretation of Scripture does not fly in the face of the best science on sex and gender, nor the experience of healthy Christian gay couples. Your interpretation of Scripture does.

I won't bother responding to your eisegesis of "one flesh" and "image of God."

Caleb said...

I hadn't seen your most recent comment when I wrote my last two.

I believe your comment that "Gender indifference in sexual relationships was known in the ancient days of the early church" is very much incorrect. Ancient sexuality, including that which happened between older (or powerful) men and younger (or less powerful) men, was characterised by rigidly hierarchical gender roles. Anything or anyone (e.g. the passive participant in male-male relationships, or any relationship not characterised by gender hierarchy) was unanimously ridiculed and condemned, precisely for violating that society's very strict and hierarchical gender binary.

This helps explain why all recorded same-sex relationships in the ancient world were characterised by power imbalances: there was no shame in taking male lovers, so long as you remained the dominant/penetrating/male role. Men in powerful positions could subject slaves or boys to the humiliation of the passive/penetrated/female role while leaving their own patriarchal status intact. It also explains why female-female sex was discussed and approved of so much less; a woman taking a dominant 'male' role was considered abominable. (There was no sense in which sexual relationships could be free of dominant and passive roles)

The closest thing to an endorsement of "gender indifference" in the ancient world is Gal 3:28. The eradication of patriarchal, oppressive gender roles from marriage is a new thing God has done after ancient times, though I believe it is a faithful application of Paul's vision.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Caleb
Would it be too much to ask you not to put words in my mouth which I have not said (" ... worse than useless")? That is not and has not been the conclusion I have sought to draw.

What I have sought to underline is the Bible's own conclusion that marriage is between a man and a woman. Other relationships are not 'worse than useless' but where they claim to be 'marriages' between people of the same gender I am arguing that the claim involves a misuse of the word 'marriage' which should be reserved for the special distinctions of a man and woman, one flesh, open to procreation relationship.

I do not think I 'need to explain why and how this difference means' anything about 'male-male marriages or female-female marriages.' But what I think you need to explain - for it is you who is arguing the case for changing the received doctrine of the church (something I and other clergy in the diocese swore before the bishop and God the other day to uphold) - is how two men or two women make a marriage despite the requirement of a man and a woman.

(I am pressing you, incidentally, re 'marriage' as a unique one flesh joining together of the essentially different man and woman. If you want to argue that loving friendship between two men or two women should be blessed by the church, that is another story and we could explore that on another day.

Pit your advanced gender theories against Gray all you like: humanity is divided into men and women (with a few exceptions), hence our public toilets and bathing changing rooms reflecting that agreed, universal, accepted division. Most weeks I walk with my mate, a bloke. No problems for my wife. Rightly she would wonder (and he would wonder) if I insisted on walking each week alone with his wife. Life is binary!

Gender roles: absolutely. A mother is a mother and not a father. A father is a father and not a mother. I am husband and the woman I am married to thereby is my wife and vice versa. It is plain odd to hear a bloke talk about his (male) wife. I am tempted to say it is a perversion of the language but perhaps it is not appropriate to use 'perversion' in this context so let's just say it is a mangling.

There are gender roles. It does not mean that there are no roles which are gender free. There are plenty. But when it comes to marriage and family, God made us male and female, and motherhood and fatherhood, husband and wife flow from those basic and somewhat binary distinctions to our bodies (and, to pick up Gray's point, to our internal minds and souls).

Finally, when you say, "Appealing to the Bible's "male and female" against the scientific data is equivalent to appealing to the biblical creation stories against evolution." raises a lot of questions. I'll just say this: when I try to understand my wife as a woman, or my daughters in contradistinction to my son, I don't go looking to scientific data for assistance. The Bible, by contrast, is quite helpful :)

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Caleb (responding to your 3.13 pm)

You need to do more than 'believe a strong argument against gender restrictions in marriage, church and society can be made exclusively from Scripture'. if you wish to persuade the church, the evangelical wing in particular, you need to demonstrate this is so rather than ask us to rely on your belief.

Thus appeals to science should be excluded, as well as appeals to God speaking to us from beyond the closing of the canon. Then you would need to draw out from Scripture that among its clear statements on marriage is a clear statement or at least recognisable, widely received deduction that marriage in God's eyes is indifferent to gender.

My wager is that you cannot do that. At best thus far you have shown instances where marriage, despite being described in terms of men and women, has not required children to be produced.

But it is a long way from that to demonstrate from the Bible that marriage is gender indifferent (the same document, let us remember, that - without guidance from modern studies shaping its interpretation - prohibits sexual relationships between people of the same gender).

You have too many hurdles to overcome for your statement to move from belief to demonstration.

A much more secure route is to argue that the Bible has shortcomings in the face of modern knowledge and we need to leave aside those parts of it which are no longer relevant for advanced societies with new knowledge about life, sex, gender and desire.

The dilemma then is that the route thus taken is not remotely 'evangelical' in terms of Scripture being read as the authoritative witness of God.

Describing my argument re image as 'eisegesis' does not deal with the argument. God the Trinity creates new life out of the love which binds the Three in One together. Babies come from the love which binds husband and wife together. The synergy between marriage and the communion of the Trinity is stronger than you reckon.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Caleb re your 3.28 pm

Have you read Plato's Symposium?

There I suggest you find acknowledgement that relationships need not necessarily be gender differentiated.

In Greek art, depicting homoerotic scenes, is the 'passive' partner ridiculed? Or is the viewer of such art simply confronted with male-male sexual acts as an everyday, gender indifferent matter?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Caleb

A further note, re your point about God caring for the 1 in 100 and thus taking care re 'minorities.'

Precisely because that is true, my work on these issues is about our church holding together and not casting any one out. Further, our discussion is focused on one or two matters but says little about other matters such as how we act with love and mercy and reach out to the 1 in 100.

But what I am focused on in these comments is our doctrine of marriage. On matters of doctrine and related practice I am not aware that God's revelation to us in Scripture implies that we work out doctrine according to the interests and concerns of the 1 in 100. Nor, for that matter, according to the concerns of the 99 in 100. We work out doctrine according to what we agree together is true. But what we agree together is true is likely to have some kind of joyful reception by the 99 in 100 (even better, of course, if received by 100 in 100).

Take another matter altogether: some push for 'open communion' so that baptism as a requirement for receiving the body and blood of Christ is not imposed. A driver in the argument is the open hospitality of Jesus himself at meals, and a clear implication of open communion is that at a communion service no one, not even the unbaptised need feel left out.

We could say, 1 in 100 motivates this change to the church's doctrine on communion and the relationship between baptism as initiation into the church and the eucharist as the sacramental meal of the church.

In fact, kind and merciful though such an approach is, it is an odd way of understanding baptism and communion. In colloquial terms, it puts the cart before the horse. In linguistic terms it mangles the meaning of the word 'initiation' in relationship to baptism. Etc. That is, what is important about baptism and communion is what is true. Whether 1 in 100 (or even 99 in 100) feel left out by the application of the requirement of baptism in order to receive communion is irrelevant to the truth.

Bryden Black said...

Thank you Peter for this delightful juxtaposing of marriage doctrine and sacramental discipline. Point made.

The troubling counter however might be this: our contemporary world is bedeviled (literally probably) by the right of opinions we are socially deemed to be allowed to hold. And yet every opinion cannot literally be right.

Just so, many of our contemporary debates, dilemmas and disputed matters drill down to questions of authority (as I’ve often said on ADU). Hidden too in that word is the indication of source or authorship. Consequently, to ask whose opinion is not an idle question. Nor should we fail to see the outcome of the opposite approach. If every opinion is seemingly allowed to prevail (which is the inherent logic of our deemed social world), that way leads to nihilism - which of course we are witnessing every day in multiple ways nowadays.

The point therefore of these thoughts is not only to adjure to the logic of your own comment. It is to add to your mix the essential question of authority. Thereafter too it is to ask - notably on this Good Friday - what form that authority should take. For the point of the complex enactment of God’s rule through Jesus’ incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension and Return is that here we have quite simply the unique declaration and demonstration of the Creator’s authority, as witnessed to in Holy Writ. Where the Church fails to align itself with this authority and this rich form of authority, then we are in deep trouble indeed.

One final thing to underscore these thoughts - h/t to George Weigel, citing Flannery O’Connor, whose work I thoroughly enjoy and admire. He writes:

“In a 1955 letter to her friend Betty Hester, Flannery O’Connor looked straight into the dark mystery of Good Friday and, in four sentences explained why the late modern world often finds it hard to believe:

The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally. A higher paradox confounds emotion as well as reason and there are long periods in the lives of all of us, and of the saints, when the truth as revealed by faith is hideous, emotionally disturbing, downright repulsive. Witness the dark night of the soul in individual saints. Right now the whole world seems to be going through a dark night of the soul.”

Kyrie eleison!

Peter Carrell said...

It does seem odd to me, Bryden, that in a week of renewal of ordination vows, including a promise to uphold the received doctrine of the church, that I am fighting for the corner of the doctrine of marriage as though defending it is a quixotic quest to save an illogical, irrelevant, unscientific, outmoded, non-biblical teaching which never should have been given to the church in the first place :)

Caleb said...

Again Peter - please be more precise with your language. You're fighting for one aspect of the doctrine of marriage (the male-female gender requirement).

Peter and Bryden, intriguing though your discussion about majority/minority opinions and truth is, that's not what I was talking about with my reference to the 1 and the 99. I wasn't saying anything about opinions or whose opinion should prevail. I was saying that if you're going to refer to the experience of humanity for your understanding of sex/gender, you should refer to the experience of all humanity, not just the 99! And if you did so, you would end up with an understanding of sex/gender that was less a simple binary, more complex spectra (with most people fitting relatively clearly on one side of the spectrum or the other). Perhaps I didn't need to use the 1/99 reference to make this point).

Peter, responses to your earlier questions will have to wait a bit longer I'm afraid! For now, suffice it to say: Aristophanes' myth in the Symposium doesn't articulate gender indifference, and it certainly doesn't articulate the dominant ancient Greek view (nor Plato's own view). Despite Aristophanes' myth and your reading of Greek art, it does seem Greek society/sex was characterised by much less "gender indifference" and much more strict and hierarchical gender binary than ours.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Caleb

With respect, it is you who are fighting for the doctrine of marriage and one aspect of it being set aside: I am trying to defend that which has been the case in Scripture and tradition. The onus remains with you to prove the change is justified not on me as an ordained person sworn to uphold the doctrine of the church as received.

I appreciate your reminder re gender roles in ancient Greece/Hellenistic culture: point taken by me. Nevertheless I suggest that the germ of the possibility of gender indifference was present in Hellenistic culture, illustrated, as one instance, by the act of intercourse being depicted in art with man-man as well as man-woman. Christianity did not take up the cue ... I wonder why?

Caleb said...

Re: onus of proof, see my response a few minutes ago on >the other thread.

Re: gender roles in ancient Hellenistic cultures... I don't agree that "the germ of the possibility of gender indifference was present." The Anglican Communion at the moment (notwithstanding majority opposition to same-sex marriage and significant opposition to female leadership/teaching) is a lot closer to "gender indifference" than ancient Hellenistic cultures. So was the early church, where Paul greeted women as church leaders and relativised human distinctions like slave/free, Jew/Greek, male & female.

So I don't think there was a "cue" of "gender indifference" for Christianity to take up or not take up... There was a cue of rampant, often exploitative promiscuity among ancient Greeks ... some of this was same-sex, but it was required to work within the gender hierarchy, rather than trangressing it. I'm not surprised Christianity didn't take up that cue. Robert Jewett, in his commentary on Romans, suggests some members of the Roman church may have been (male and female) slaves who knew all-too-well what it was like to be subject to the sexual whims of their masters. Paul's two options of celibacy or monogamous marriage with mutual submission (at the time, always opposite-sex) was a definite improvement.

What I am advocating is a removal of the restriction of marriage to male-female couplings, along with the removal of other gender restrictions. This can be described as "gender indifference" ... it's not an ideal term but I more-or-less accept it: I don't think any aspect of our identity is indifferent to any of our roles, but I do think gender should be indifferent to whether we are eligible to be considered for marriage relationships and leadership positions.

On the contrary, it's not possible to see ancient Greek same-sex sexuality (even minority views like Aristophanes' myth in the Symposium) as denoting anything like "gender indifference."

You seem to be treating all same-sex sexuality across all times and places as one concept, and saying therefore that there was a precedent for what I'm suggesting in Paul's world that he could have accepted. But I don't think there was any precedent for Christian same-sex married couples in Paul's world - in fact, as I've said before, I think Paul's statement in Gal 3:28 is the closest precedent in the ancient world.

Again, more detail will have to follow in a future comment - I've procrastinated enough for this morning!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Caleb
I agree there is a lot to explore in Hellenistic culture which definitely had its 'dark' side on anyone's reckoning of it.

Yet The Symposium encompasses a marriage like relationship between Pausanias and Agathon so I suggest Hellenistic culture has examples within it akin to stable same gender partnerships today.

Paul resolutely maintains his distance from such possibilities being affirmed. This is unsurprising because what he says is consonant with what we find in the Old Testament. Paul is a Jew moving in a Hellenistic world with the critical faculties of a Pharisaical rabbi!