Monday, December 10, 2018

Religion is what matters most and what matters most might be politics

Andrew Sullivan is a shrewd commentator and always worth reading. In this article, "America's New Religions," he argues

"Now look at our politics. We have the cult of Trump on the right, a demigod who, among his worshippers, can do no wrong. And we have the cult of social justice on the left, a religion whose followers show the same zeal as any born-again Evangelical. They are filling the void that Christianity once owned, without any of the wisdom and culture and restraint that Christianity once provided."

Along the way, Sullivan offers insights and bon mots on the nature of religion, its necessity for humanity because we of all creatures know we are going to die, and the follies and fallacies of (at least some) well-known atheists.

A challenge - it struck me - is what role does "religion" play in my own life. If religion is that which helps us to make sense of the meaning of life, then, yes, Christianity - the faith based on the gospel of Jesus Christ - is central to and dominating in my understanding of the meaning of life. But, what other things help me find meaning? Are other religions at work within me? As a Kiwi looking at a Trumpian America, aghast at the involvement of evangelical leaders in the "worship" of Trump, I can readily (according to my own lights) identify a certain kind of American tribalism as that which gives meaning to such Americans. And tribalism is always a false religion. But, then, I need to reckon that being a Kiwi also helps me to make sense of my life ...!

Incidentally, the comments at the foot of the Sullivan article are fascinating. Not everyone agrees with him.



Unknown said...

Yes, this much is true: a young daughter can marry a Jew or Catholic with confidence, and a Mormon or Muslim or Hindu with few worries, but for her to mate with an outspoken partisan of the wrong party will be deplored by her dear family as divisive narcissistic wounding. And whilst few parishioners can guess their pastors' views on, say, the New Perspective on Paul or Radical Two Kingdoms theology, everyone can tell their political leanings; that is why they trust them. By many stable, objective, time series measures, the reverse was true just a generation ago, but Americans now identify with their parties more often and more deeply than with their churches, if any.


Unknown said...

However I am inclined to say, as one busy in both worlds, that class and region have been fused into a new shaper of American (and European) identities by material processes evident for decades. Here, one is either an inland communitarian or a coastal cosmopolitan.

For obvious constitutional reasons, political parties track the complex regional variations in these much more closely than homogenized, national, mainline denominations have imagined doing in their worst nightmares. After all, politicians count votes, take polls, convene focus groups, measure the effects of ads, etc. And when they get it wrong, they lose. Denominations just have unrepresentative synods and can scarcely count their members. When the national leaders of churches care about the opinions of local folk, they tell them what those opinions are going to be.

And these inland/coastal identities are defined by conflict, just as church affiliations used to be. So inland voters are not so much for Trump himself as against the hegemony of the coastal elite that he baffles, infuriates, appalls, etc. When their side does something outrageous, they deny this as long as they can, then shrug-- the other side has done worse, they will say. A definite identity with enemies naturally has more solidarity and loyalty than a vague, borderless benevolence.


Unknown said...

So aghast at them as we may be, Franklin Graham and other evangelical leaders know what they are doing-- getting a Federal judiciary that will not threaten them for at least a generation in exchange for a few years of loyalty to a leader without a conscience. Like Pius XI's concordat with Hitler, a bargain with the devil.

But given their passionate resistance to SSM, they were terrified by the prospect of a government led by Hillary Clinton and staffed with social justice warriors. It cannot be said that she or her party did anything to allay their fears. And so it often is said in Bible studies, Christian schools, soup kitchens, etc that Trump's improbable and unrepeatable win was God's intervention to protect his own. That will not happen again, but if Trump appoints a third justice to the Supreme Court, they will have won a high court too conservative to trouble them for decades to come.


Father Ron Smith said...

"And we have the cult of social justice on the left, a religion whose followers show the same zeal as any born-again Evangelical. They are filling the void that Christianity once owned, without any of the wisdom and culture and restraint that Christianity once provided."

As for 'filling the void that Christianity once owned', Peter; it may have passed your readers' notice but this is the area that the Gospel still does own and advocate - after the example of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Social justice was one of the areas of Jesus most active ministry while he was here amongst us. In fact, it was for this that he was most feared and in some places hated by the religious establishment of his day. Jesus' elevation of the status of women, slaves and the poor an lowly of the land did much to raise the ire, enmity and opposition of the scribes and Pharisees - and the Temple hierarchy, who had him surrendered to the Roman Governor for crucifixion.

And as for 'cults' - described in the OED as "a system of religious devotion directed towards a particular figure or object" - this is certainly true of the conservative evangelicals' support of Trump as President of the United States. Their support does not seem to be based on a particular moral basis - except for that of his rejection of LGBT+ people and the desire to 'Put America First' - hardly an ideal basis for Christian support.

Christianity is not an isolationist cult religion. Christ died for all people - not just the 'great and the good'.

Jean said...

Now for me it is C.S.Lewis’s quote that rings the bell of truth, “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen. Not because I see it but because through it I see everything else.”

I support the equal worth and value of women yet when attending a speech given by a well-known white male (and yes American just to be topical) Christian during a NZ visit I was horrified that rather than questions regarding the topic at hand and his ministry the questions he fielded were largely irrelevant in the context and were along the lines of, “And what do you think of women in the Church?”; “How do you deal with the fact that you are a privileged class being white and male?”

With no doubt the best of intentions, in the scenario above the people were no longer seeing Christ first and all other things through him but had reversed the order importance to such an extent that I would dare to say when looking at Christ they could only see their burning issues.

As the article says meaning is all important, as humans we seek it. At our best as Christians, with the primary meaning of our lives rooted in loving the Lord our God with all our hearts and souls and minds ..... If I advocate for social justice and see it through the lens of Christ then I allow Him to determine, instruct and guide my actions. If I am in politics or interested in politics and see it through the lens of Christ then I open myself up to Him to determine, instruct and guide my actions in this area. I am and will never be culturally neutral, my upbringing, nationality and life experiences will influence many aspects of my life, however, if Christ rules at the top of that list there is some hope if I am biased I will be convicted, if I tempted to forgoe my principles for short-term gain I will be able to withstand because ultimately I am not my own plumbline. My loyalty lies first ‘to a Kingdom not of this world.’

It is so easy to pick on America (sorry Bowman, I like the Americans I know). The question I would ask of an American political supporter or social activist who was also a Christian would be the same, “If your political party or social cause contradicts Christian principles are you prepared to walk away if push comes to shove?.” What or whom is your first love.

When Trump first came onto the scene I was puzzled, not over his obvious appeal to some parts of America that were struggling financially, or his appeal to national sentiments or conservative viewpoints. What puzzled me was how one who was still building his own inherited empire on immigrant labour and off-shore manufacturing, alongside a dubious personal relational history could ‘preach’ the opposite and be believed. I get increasingly frustrated with how success and popularity almost acts as a qualification over and above character.

Added note: the article refers to Christianity as being a precursor to individual rights over the collective. I am not 100% on this one, I think it was a precursor to the value and worth of each individual, however Christianity has also had a strong emphasis on the common good of all within the community and body of believers; as well as the stranger, alien and enemy.

Unknown said...


Jean, because region-classes shape the moral sentiments that guide both the parties and the churches, it would be hard for most Christians here to encounter the dilemma you pose or to understand your question about it. Separation of church and state? Of course. Separation of local culture from church or state? No way-- what does that even mean?

The effect is easy to measure: longitudinal studies of Americans who have emigrated to a new region show that they agree with their new neighbours within about five years. What everyone got wrong about America (and Europe) was the effect of late modern social forces on regional cultures. These forces are not dissolving differences in a national cosmopolitan soup; they are increasing self-selection to the region where one's psyche best fits in.

Most believers in the 50 states see themselves as Christians in some place in America, not as American Christians holding hands as they march into a common religious future. Most evangelicals here are congregationalists who have no use for national denominations at all, and Catholics of course prize their immigrant ancestry and papacy. Both tendencies strongly promote regionalism in religion, and neither nurtures a mass constituency for big national synods promoting flavours of national conscience derived from factions of the English Civil War. Before one could talk an Iowan, a Michigander, etc into any given stance of TEC, PCUSA, UMC, ELCA, etc, one would first have to convince her that a merely national body has authority in a universal religion, as though Congress could have authority over the set of real numbers or bread baking. Flatly stated, even Americans with a taste for civil religion normally and viscerally reject the *national principle* in polity as the Anglican Communion supposes that.


Unknown said...

Postscript. What we might call Old TEC accommodated the American reality with a latitudinarian ethos and a very flat polity-- no primatial see*, no archbishops, nominal provinces, independent seminaries, and heavy reliance on diocesan canons. Until the early C20 "presiding bishop" was an informal designation for the longest serving bishop, who customarily presided at meetings of his house. At early Lambeth Conferences, he was not seated as a primate. The highest office in the church was diocesan bishop.

Strange as it has seemed to Anglicans elsewhere, when opposition to the consecration of Gene Robinson grew, and again when the Anglican Communion Covenant was proposed, the burning moral question then on the minds of leaders here was-- can TEC intrude on the life of a diocese in the way that Anglicans elsewhere demand? They may have been very happy for other reasons to think not, but they had no live alternative.

* The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, the "National Cathedral" where George H. W. Bush was recently remembered is the diocesan cathedral of the Bishop of Washington. Presiding Bishops have a throne there but no jurisdiction; they have resided in Connecticut and worked in New York.


Unknown said...

And, Jean, Trump was elected by voters who saw him-- and still see him-- not as wise and good, but as uncompromisingly loyal to their long-betrayed interests. The second most potent message in all politics is, "You've been robbed of what is rightfully yours, and I'm going to get it back for you."

As a scandal of his own threatened to force him out of the 1992 primary, Bill Clinton spoke to a hall of underemployed workers in New Hampshire. The press were expecting him to announce the end of his sinking campaign. Instead, he reminded his hearers that despite their loyal support for the patrician George H. W. Bush, whom they had strongly supported as fellow Republicans and New Englanders, the region was losing jobs. "If you help me now (pause) I will never forget you (pause) and I will fight for you until the last dog dies." Political genius-- the passionate soundbite invoked voters' deep feelings of betrayal to focus their minds on loyalty, and then spun the scandal into a pragmatic reason for New Englanders to make a new pact with a Democrat kid from, of all places, rural Arkansas. We need loyalty; he desperately needs us; he will be loyal to us; we will vote for him.

Trumps's relationship with his base has that same dynamic. His faults are irrelevant to them so long as they hunger for a loyal champion of their interests, and so long as he appears to them to be the only one. If scandal and opposition makes him need them more, then his loyalty to them is all the more assured, and so is their support. But as the Conservative British PM Francis Urquhart memorably put it, "Every reign, however glittering, must come to an end."


Father Ron said...

B.W., I'm not quite sure where you are headed here with your last two posts. Are you advocating for self rule in each diocese of TEC? Do you not believe there is no such theological entity as a coherent provincial Church body?

If you think that the alternative diocese in South Carolina shoule be allowed to manage its own affairs, that does not seem to be happening - nor, indeed, in ACNA. There is massive supoort from foreign provincial Churches in both instances - as there is in FCANZZ in New Zealand - here, from Sydney Diocese and GAFCON.

Jean said...

Hi Bowman, that is a very interesting insight. Is my interpretation of your comment correct - would American Christian’s ‘tie’ their faith more strongly as an attachment to their identified State, with some denominations/types of Churches dominating in different regions, than say viewing it as a faith that connects them with other Christians throughout the US and the world?

Anonymous said...

"with some denominations/types of Churches dominating in different regions"

Most denominations have an ethnicity, either that of the land of origin or that of the founding generation here. Today, their local churches are found where people of their ethnicity settled. Where more settled, more churches were built. For any given town, the number of churches of each kind will tell you roughly who has settled there.

"Would American Christians ‘tie’ their faith their identified State..."

First settlement shapes the culture of a place. Then people see their religion through the lens of that local culture. Finally the locale subtly molds the interpretation of the religion.

For the simplest example, C17 folk from the south and west of England were preoccupied with hierarchy, authority, continuity, tradition, etc whilst their contemporaries in East Anglia were energetically challenging all of those values. The former settled Virginia and Maryland, which had then and still has now a political sensibility of moderation erring toward conservatism; the latter settled New England, which had then and still has now a culture that prizes the latest thing and errs toward liberalism.

Now there are all kinds of churches in Richmond, Virginia and Boston, Massachusetts, and most of these were never dreamt of in C17 England. But even, say, Methodists in the Virginia Conference know that they see their Methodism somewhat differently from those in the New England Conference-- they are a bit more likely to care about continuity with the brothers Wesley, and a bit less likely to see social causes as the heart and soul of Methodism. To those up north, the Virginians can seem to have missed the main point-- the Wesleys, by throwing off the dead weight of the still too Reformed CoE, enabled the birth of a great American theological tradition.

Conversely-- and more dramatically-- Roman Catholics in Boston are mostly Irish-Americans whose ancestral conservatism has been tempered over the past century by the liberal ethos of the Boston brahmins. So they were the first in the world to expose widespread sexual abuse by some of their clergy, and their archbishop today, Sean O'Malley OSF, is one of eight prelates charged by Francis with proposing reforms for the RCC. Neither C17 East Anglians nor C19/C20 Irish bishops could have imagined this hybrid of their two cultures into a reform-minded, liberal Catholicism.

"more than say viewing it as a faith that connects them with other Christians throughout the US and the world?"

Upstream of the denominations is the difference between ideas of salvation that do and do not need participation in the Body. Those whose common traditions emphasise the means of grace do seem to feel more connection across denominations and national boundaries with people like themselves (in-group altruism). Those with a strongly individualistic piety have little use for church structures of any kind, but they do care about missionary work among people who are very unlike them (out-group altruism). Lutherans in America will build hospitals for Lutherans in Africa; Calvinists from America will camp in jungles to learn the languages of hostile indigenous people so that they can translate the scriptures for them.


Anonymous said...

Father Ron, my replies to Jean had no further agenda.

But, yes, you are right that the Diocese of South Carolina would have preferred to stay in Old TEC rather than being swept up into either New TEC or ACNA. They are conservative on That Topic-- the people of South Carolina are conservative on every topic; they started the Civil War-- but their exit was triggered by an quasi-archepiscopal action against their bishop that was unthinkable not long ago. Like Virginians, and for the same reason, South Carolinians resist centralising change of any kind more than, say, Californians or New Yorkers. Anyone familiar with American history knows this. Why not also try to make the French speak German?

Balancing all interests in a post-denominational America, the gospel would be better contextualised here by an Anglican polity not prone to meaningless conflicts over enduring cultural differences that are older than the nation itself. Since nothing in American life corresponds to the *royal supremacy* anyway, an elegant solution would be for the Communion to recognise the nine provinces here, but no otiose *national church* at all.

The canonical Anglican bishops and synods wholly in each province would then govern themselves according to the usual canons, locally interpreted.

Where the provinces wanted to collaborate, they would be free to do so.

It would be traditional and convenient to recognise the ceremonial role of the Bishop of Washington in the nation's civic culture.

From time to time, any who want them could host informal conferences of the hemisphere's Anglicans.

Canterbury would decide where to put American churches south of the border or in Europe.

Bowman Walton

Father Ron said...

Thanks, Bowman, foir yiour rfeply to mine.

One good instance of regional togetherness for Lambeth-friendly Anglicans was the recenbt gathering of Episcopal units of both North and South America in Canada. Suorisingly, though, there was one bishop among them who is more aligned with the GAFCON 'Jerusalem Statement of Faith' than with the Lambeth Accord. However, I think the presiding bishop of the Southern Cone (who spoke strongly against Canterbury at the last GAFCON Meeting) will be up for a TRIP TO LAMBETH in 2020. I think he likes saying different things to different audiences. How he maintains his moral and spiritual equilibrium I do not know.

Jean said...

Thanks Bowman for your detailed description. It is quite a different ‘world’ than what we have in NZ but then again one wouldn’t expect it to be otherwise; especially given the vast territory and population of the US. The idea of recognition of dioceses in the U.S. as opposed to a national body seems to make sense in the context.

Perhaps because of our size, although we have areas in NZ that were more dominated by one denomination (excuse the pun) - e.g. the Scottish in Dunedin, English in Canterbury ... we are perhaps too small for that to have stayed that way for long ended up with most denomination or branches of Churches existing nationally. Within each denomination there is a spread of types of worship from charismatic to quite formal liturgical, however, that doen’t seem to be geographical either. Aside from the creeping in of liberal/conservatism here the statement I come across most is one which see’s a distinction between the ‘traditional’ and the ‘more pentecostal’ churches. Traditional being all Protestant denominations and Catholics. In terms of mission most churches I know seem to broadly be open to all; interdenominational; evangelism to the ‘unreached’; and within their own church networks.

I hope you are enjoying the lead up to Christmas.

Anonymous said...

Father Ron, the pleasurable privilege of thinking things through with you or Jean-- or both :-D -- is one that I never take for granted.

Sometimes, although the distant future is clear, the intervening years are murky. One can see how things must end up, but not which of several paths the Lord will choose to bring them there. When that is the case a bit of talk or work can sometimes help here or there, but overmuch speculation will drive one mad. We cannot do much but pray.

The Communion will somehow evolve from a sort of fuddy duddy English heritage club for the Commonwealth (and interested Americans etc ;-) to a supple, multi-polar community for missional discernment at global, continental, and regional scales. For those around to see it, that will be truly helpful and inspiring. But from here to there a lot will change, and as the free Creator Spirit first uses materials on hand and then discards them we will often be perplexed until we see the pieces of the puzzle come together.


Anonymous said...

"The idea of recognition of dioceses in the U.S. as opposed to a national body seems to make sense in the context."

To be clear, Jean, my suggestion-- a thought experiment really-- is that the Communion could recognise, say, Province III-- the Middle Atlantic states-- and all canonical bishops there who work missionally with the other bishops, regardless of whether they otherwise meet with TEC's Michael Curry, ACNA's Foley Beach, etc. Province III comprises thirteen TEC dioceses and lots of ACNA or PEAR-USA parishes. Their culture and focus should be about caring for the people who live there. Full stop.

Now this would deflate so many officers and structures on both sides that this will never, ever happen by voluntary human choice. But I mention this idea once in a while for two reasons--

(1) Thinking in provinces is thinking missionally. This structure would invite Anglicans to ask, not "How are the branch offices of people who agree with me getting along?," but rather "What do the people there-- Anglican or not-- need from us?" The former is a mighty killer of koinonia; the latter is the appropriate sort of question for a discerning Communion that prioritises missions, enculturation, and convert-led growth.

(2) The Holy Spirit is deflating many officers and structures anyway by taking their members and money away. For example, the next TEC Presiding Bishop may again be a bishop serving a diocese in the hinterlands as they all were before the early C20, not an executive commuting from a mansion in Connecticut to a building in Manhattan. As that erosion continues, it is calming and prudent to recognise that much that will be lost are monuments to lay tokenism, donor ego, institutional perfection, or past squabbles not needed to bring Jesus to hungry people today.

From time to time, forests naturally catch fire. When they don't, the dry underbrush that accumulates eventually kindles vast conflagrations that are far more destructive and deadly.


Jonathan said...

Fr Ron and Bowman, thanks for book /writer recommendations on another thread recently; and Peter this post on the Sullivan article. The USA is to me one of the great mysteries of the universe... Fr Ron that is heartening thst the Bishop of the Southern Cone is up for a trip to Lambeth: there are plently of us who could do with prayer for moral and spiritual equilibrium! Or for more of it even if we have some! The other night I went to see The Children Act; a superb movie about a London High Court Judge who has to make a difficult judgment involving a potentially life-saving blood transfusion for a Jehovah's Witness lad a hair's breadth from being able to (legally) make his own decision on the matter. Apart from the movie's value in portraying the importance and limitations of professional boundaries in relationships, it managed to portray respectfully the tensions involved for these parties. Which is a long winded way of saying that the Holy Spirit hasn't finished with liberals, conservatives or those who haven't figured out Biblical faithfulness on whatever topic is at hand.

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Peter and Friends on ADU, I discovered this delightful video presentation on the Internet today. With music by Leanard Cohen, it is a very soulful rendering of the Christmas Story. Blessings!

Anonymous said...

Jonathan, if anything about Mystery America particularly baffles you, I will do my best to explain what I understand of it. As with several other countries (eg England, Italy, Turkey, China), it sometimes helps to keep the inter-regional dynamic in mind. We just happen to have a few more regions culturally distinct enough from the rest to be wholly different nations (eg New England, Great Lakes, Great Plains, Northwest, Middle Atlantic, Appalachia, Rocky Mountains, Gulf States, Mexican Borderlands, California, Hawaii) bound together by a constitution that tempers popular will with geographical representation.*

This means, of course, that no church here can enculturate the gospel in just one way and engage the whole country in depth. As we should expect, each flourishes in some places and fails to show up in others, each tolerates something that others would not, each loses members to inter-regional migration,** and each looks silliest at the highest level (eg TEC General Convention, Catholic bishops investigating the orthodoxy of nuns, SBC evangelicals supporting Trump, etc), and each-- including both TEC and ACNA-- does some wonderful but uncelebrated work at the local level.

* In 2016, Hillary Clinton got @3M more votes than Donald Trump. Trump won anyway because @70,000 of his votes were in three heavily weighted states where fewer of Clinton's party voted than usual. That will not happen again anytime soon.

** Evangelicals hither and yon often imply or say that the sustained membership decline of all mainline denominations in America reflects a public verdict on their liberal doctrine. Because this implies that younger Americans are more evangelical and conservative than their elders-- which we know from much better data to be false-- this factor does not explain much of the change. Among other social forces, the migration of the general population from locales where liberal churches are strong (eg New England) to others where Catholics or evangelicals are stronger (eg Mexican Borderlands) probably matters more. This too has its theological significance, but a different one.


Father Ron Smith said...


Dear Peter and All at ADU, greetings on this Gaudete Sunday:

Psalm 96:11–13

Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice; let the sea and what fills it resound; let the plains be joyful and all that is in them. Then let all the trees of the forest rejoice before the LORD who comes . . .

Anonymous said...

.... the LORD who comes to judge the earth.
He will judge world in righteousness
and the peoples in his truth.

Beware of those who quote only one part of Scripture and omit the parts they find uncomfortable or condemning. The Second Coming is *not good news for "the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars - their place will be in the fiery lake of sulphur. This is the second death.' (Revelation 21.8)
Or has the Lake of Fire also been abolished by Enlightened Anglicanism, along with gender and sexual holiness? How fortunate to be alive in these blessed days of universalism!
But as BW doubtless knows, all across the northeast of the United States, those Protestant churches that once proclaimed a sterner creed - that Christianity is about salvation, not therapy - are closing shop (even or especially the ones that fly rainbow flags from their steeples) because they have so few customers among a population that has become determinedly post-Christian in outlook - while down in the land of the long white cloud, that is already the majority position: Sweden without the blonds (or the money). Imitating Tec will not reverse the decline in the New Zealand church, and neither will losing the younger and rather more fertile congregations that are jumping ship - like St Matthew's in Dunedin. Why these self-inflicted wounds on the Body of Christ? And surely BW recognises that northeast Tec is going the same way as the Unitarians who rose to prominence in the 19th century in that part of the world - and have now disappeared into secular Democratic politics?
A question I have *never* heard Ron Smith answer: If God "created" people intentionally to be same-sex attracted (which I don't believe for one minute), why did He "create" people to be attracted to both sexes, knowing that this contradicts a "monogamous" relationship?
And why did God "create" people with Gender Identity Disorder needing surgery and hormonal treatment to alleviate this distress?
Ron cannot answer these questions because he knows they undermine his fundamental (and mistaken) thesis about homosexuality. At least Pope Francis (certainly the most intellectually feeble pope in living memory) has *some understanding of the chaos that homosexuality has wrought upon his church, as his recent comments on homosexuality in the Catholic priesthood indicate.
Gaudete, omnes!


Father Ron Smith said...

Thank you, William for your sermon - a la John the Baptist, who was to major on the Wrath of God and the Judgement to come - so much so that when Jesus came, preaching Love and Forgiveness; John (in gaol) sent to him asking if he really was the Messiah (Jesus' message was probably too permissive for John the Baptist).

Jesus' reply gave him his answer: "Tell John that the dead are raised, the blind see and the dumb speak" - all the fruit of Jesus' affirming ministry - not frightening people into repentance, but offering unmerited forgiveness first - thus encouraging repentance of human resistance to God's power to redeem.

Have a Blessed and Holy Christmas, William - offering forgiveness rather than judgement (which belongs to God alone) - Good News!.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi William
Your latest comment could do with an ad hominem or two take out of it ...

As I predicted (sadly, not happily), Ron Smith TOTALLY FAILED to answer my questions about Bisexuality and Gender Identity Disorder, and he can only repeated one-sided clichés from the 1960s. I invited him to answer but he completely AVOIDED the question - even though the western world right now seems to be obsessed with something called 'gender fluidity' and a quarter of schoolkids in the west say they are sexually confused. Given the catastrophic cultural climate change we are going through, I am not surprised.

Ron Smith [must know] that Bisexualism and Gender Dysphoria are signs and evidence of disharmony and disorder in people's sexual self-understanding, and he knows they require healing, not affirmation. They are NOT how God "created" human beings; instead they are tokens of living in a fallen world - as all sexual disorder is. But to admit this would destroy his advocacy for homosexuality - an advocacy based on the utterly false idea that Jesus of Nazareth, one of the most morally ascetic characters known in First Century Judaism ('If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out' - what rabbi ever said things like that?) would have affirmed what every Jewish teacher called grave sin. The idea is preposterous, yet sadly the failing and disappearing Anglican Church of New Zealand has fallen for it. And yet, as I said, even Pope Francis is worried about what homosexuality has done to his church.
New Testament exegesis or knowledge of First Century Judaism is not one of Ron's strong suits, so I wonder if he has ever looked at a concordance to see who has the most to say about hell and to warn about judgment for sin (including sexual impurity) in the New Testament - more than any other person? I'll give Ron a clue []: it isn't John the Baptist but the One he was sent to proclaim. The One who warned us of the terrible consequences of leading others into sin.
Ron, put away your old Beatles' LPs ('All you need is love') and read the New Testament instead, looking at Mt 5.22, 29, 30; 10.15, 28; 18.9; 23.33, and ask 'Who is speaking here?'
Have a reflective Advent.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi William
The same Jesus will not break a bruised reed.
Isn't there a challenge to avoid making the Jesus of the Gospels seem like an early 20th century conservative Western moralist?
On the one hand I am sure Jesus would have something to say about gender dysphoria; on the other hand I am not sure that it would be as antagonistic towards people as - frankly - your interpretation of Jesus assumes.
Has Ron ever "advocated for homosexuality" (as though homosexuality is something to be advanced for the greater good of humanity)?
I recognise Ron as advocating for homosexuals - advocating for their fair treatment, their true inclusion in the life of the church, etc. But the emphasis is on advocating for human dignity and for acceptance of all humans. Not "advocacy for homosexuality."
As for gender confusion: undoubtedly aspects of Western society, to say nothing of some strange parenting, is contributing to gender confusion. But what do we say to the person who is actually, genuinely and not-because-of-their-parents-or-schools confused about their gender?
(My answer: I think I would listen to that person's life story before saying anything.)

Anonymous said...

'Hi William
The same Jesus will not break a bruised reed.'
- A bruised reed is not the same as a healthy reed. Jesus did not say, 'You're OK the way you are. I came to affirm you, not change you.' Don't confuse style with substance.

'Isn't there a challenge to avoid making the Jesus of the Gospels seem like an early 20th century conservative Western moralist?'
- That applies to every age. Early 20th century conservative moralists were nothing like Jesus. They were people like Woodrow Wilson and Harnack.

"On the one hand I am sure Jesus would have something to say about gender dysphoria; on the other hand I am not sure that it would be as antagonistic towards people as - frankly - your interpretation of Jesus assumes."
- Well, I'll just pass over your own ad hominem assumptions about me. Do YOU think God "creates" people "in the wrong body" or do they have a mental illness? I'd like to know, Peter.

"Has Ron ever "advocated for homosexuality" (as though homosexuality is something to be advanced for the greater good of humanity)?"
- All the time! Have you not been paying attention all these years? Ron thinks same-sex desire is a good thing which God intentionally created in some people. He has said so repeatedly. But let him speak for himself. He is of age.

"I recognise Ron as advocating for homosexuals - advocating for their fair treatment, their true inclusion in the life of the church, etc. But the emphasis is on advocating for human dignity and for acceptance of all humans. Not "advocacy for homosexuality.""
- Recognising 'same-sex marriage' and valorising and praising it - as Ron does - IS most definitely advocacy for homosexuality. That is what he openly promotes. Have you not read this?

"As for gender confusion: undoubtedly aspects of Western society, to say nothing of some strange parenting, is contributing to gender confusion. But what do we say to the person who is actually, genuinely and not-because-of-their-parents-or-schools confused about their gender?
(My answer: I think I would listen to that person's life story before saying anything.)
- No different from my pastoral approach either. It's striking that 80% of young people who complain about gender confusion problems (historically, one in a thousand) have overcome these by early adulthood. That's why adult transgenderism has historically been about one in five thousand. I expect this number to increase in coming years. This will cause more problems for radical lesbians who can't stand transgender men pretending to be women - especially those who still have their wedding tackle and plan to keep it. Perhaps they are aware that very many people with gender dysphoria have come to regret their surgery and hormonal treatment - and very sadly, the suicide rate among transgenders remains very high. A bruised reed, indeed. How important, then, that troubled children are NOT interfered with through puberty-suppressant chemicals but counselled lovingly.
As for Ron, I still await his answers on bisexuality and gender dysphoria: did God create people this way? Tell me, Ron.

Father Ron said...

Just a final word to William (if Imay, Peter) on this thread.

Jesus in the Gospel record seems not to have majored on sexual sins as much as his abhorrence of (1) hypocrisy - pretending to be something other than one really is, and (2) boastfulness about one's own compliance with the extant Law - which Jesus later simplified as the need to love God and one's neighbour as one's self

Jesus' response to these particular matters, reflecting the above situations?:- (a) the woman caught in adultery - forgiveness before repentance; & (b) the publican and the sinner - Jesus' question: "Who went away justified?")

As I said in my earlier comment, William, Jesus was much more gentle with people than some of his keenest disciples. As a Christian priest, I am an agent of God's forgiveness - not God's condemnation - that's solely God's prerogative. After all, Jesus, in the Lord's Prayer, instructed his followers to ask for forgiveness to the same extent as we are prepared to forgive our neighbour.

As for your remarks about the incidence of gender and sexual difference - based on an outdated clinical understanding of these conditions - even you - as a former professional in that field - have to admit that psychology and psychiatric praxis has moved on from the old system, where such incidences were labelled as disordered or even wilful or demonic. Creation may not be as orderly as you fondly imagine. We have to learn to live with the reality - not the imaginary perfect binary construct.

Finally, I certainly would not advocate a way of life guaranteed to cause pain and suffering at the hands of other people. Even the Church of England has now agreed to treat the LGBT+ community as equally loved and cherished by God, withour reserve.

For me on this thread - C'est Finis! Have a Blessed Christmas, William.

Anonymous said...

Once again Ron Smith TOTALLY FAILED to answer - or even acknowledge - my simple questions about Bisexuality and Gender Identity Disorder.
He can't - because if he did, they would TOTALLY UNDERMINE his project of normalising same-sex attraction as something he alleges was "created" by God for certain individuals. That idea is ridiculous, unscientific and totally at odds with the physical design of our bodies - a point any Catholic understands, including Pope Francis, who is rightly worried about the effect that homosexuality has had on the Catholic priesthood (another point that Ron Smith keeps deadly silent about). And I don't "fondly imagine that Creation is orderly"; the fond imaginations are among those, like Ron, who fail to see that Creation, including our sexual desires, is marred by sin. God did not "create" anyone homosexual - or bisexual or gender dysphoric. These are *psychosexual developments* - and if you have a telic view of human nature (as I do), then you can easily see that some developments will go wrong, i.e. not as the Creator intended. (Actually, God didn't "create" anyone heterosexual either, but that's another matter. But it would help if people studied some of the literature, instead of trotting out 60s cliches.)

Yes, I am finished with this thread, too. The fact that Ron has repeatedly refused to answer my simple questions ('Did God create people to be bisexual?'; 'Did God create people to be gender-dysphoric?' is proof enough to me that he has no answer to them and that they undermine his totally unbiblical claim that "God created some people to be homosexual".


Anonymous said...

A Judgy Advent to you too, William! ;-)

Thank you for sensibly focusing your comments on a single region (Provinces I and II) of TEC's sprawling transnational corporation. That immediately improves the clarity of your critique. I hope that many others follow your good example.

As you say, two phenomena are in the same place. Yes, the northern end of the Acela corridor is home to much of America's liberal elite, although + Albany's denunciation of gay marriage a fortnight ago is a reminder that the region remains diverse even in TEC. And yes, I have seen signs of decline that coincide with some strain of liberalism-- dropping parish indicators, bishops out of touch with working class parishes, the demise of the Episcopal Divinity School, a clergy more academically than otherwise accomplished, etc. Does one cause the other, are both caused by some upstream factors, or are they unrelated although coincident?

Causation there is complex to sort out from data because social class, Roman Catholicism, aging, and ethnic transition are all powerful confounding variables in the Northeast. When a tiny working class parish overwhelmed by the upkeep of a church built by C19 English shipbuilders sees their neighbourhood fill with Portuguese-speaking Brazilian expats and the diocese sends a married lesbian vicar who speaks Spanish as the Catholic parish ramps up its appeal to charismatics, how do we explain the continued fading of the TEC congregation? Everybody has-- everybody had!-- a favourite culprit to blame. Analytically, it might be somewhat helpful to have more Anglicans to compare who have comparable parishes, working class roots, and a more evangelical ethos, but the ACNA missions in the region are just getting started, and not located in comparable areas.

We should expect both decline and growth. All churches everywhere have congregations that thin and swell as people die, have children, and move. When we see only the decline, we are most likely seeing a polity so focused on its old locations that it has not opened enough new ones. Quite apart from churches, this problem is widespread in the non-profit sector.

When I was very young, a Lutheran bishop that I knew-- Virgil "Buck" Moyers, Jr-- effectively doubled the number of congregations in his diocese over about 20 years. The missions staff of the old LCA had warned him that the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia where Lutherans settled in the C18 was losing population to the cities on the coast where there were scarcely any Lutheran churches at all. Simple math-- build new churches or lose all your people! He responded with a single-minded determination to do missions at a scale unheard of in mainline denominations here. There were failures along the way, some lessons were learned, and the math was a bit too simple, but the work got done. Theoretically a mild-mannered synod president, he was in style a wily commanding officer. Think Patton.

Anonymous said...

I cannot imagine anything like that happening in TEC, let alone in Provinces I and II. The liberal theology of inclusion should theoretically support energetic missions work in marginal areas. But the polity is too congregational for any bishop less charismatic than Buck to set firm long-range missions goals and see them through. And in fairness, it is much trickier to do this within a metropolitan region such as Boston or New York, or to move resources from rich dioceses (eg Massachusetts) and poor ones (eg Maine). Roman Catholic and Methodist bishops who have more raw power than their colleaugues in TEC and ACNA are notably reluctant to use it.

Should every Anglican diocese have an HTB evangelical mega-church? Sure-- why not? We used to call them cathedrals, and they can do a lot of good. The titular cathedrals of many English dioceses also seem to be at least attracting people in droves. But on the scale of whole provinces and churches neither is nearly enough to be an effective missions strategy. Hence my positive arguments here focus on two other factors-- an ethos that promotes convert-led growth, and polities that enable decisive missions leadership at the scale that fast-changing societies require.

Postscript-- Universalism has varieties. New England's Universalism was an evangelical variety that did not deny hell-fire but insisted that it is purgative and temporary rather than retributive and everlasting. This working class, evangelical scruffiness is why the Boston Brahmin Unitarians took so long to accept them.

As you may know, the old exegetical arguments of the Universalist Church (eg *aionion*) have been revived and refined by Thomas Talbott, Robin Parry, etc and-- to the anxiety of old time liberal universalists-- have begun to attract exegesis-driven evangelicals. Meanwhile, Christian Universalism is making a modest comeback among UUs in New England.


Anonymous said...

"God did not "create" anyone homosexual - or bisexual or gender dysphoric. These are *psychosexual developments* - and if you have a telic view of human nature (as I do), then you can easily see that some developments will go wrong, i.e. not as the Creator intended. (Actually, God didn't "create" anyone heterosexual either, but that's another matter. But it would help if people studied some of the literature, instead of trotting out 60s cliches.)"

Welcome to the future, everyone! When today's happy warriors are gone from the scene, this is the sort of thing that the mainstream in both of their respective tribes will be saying. William is no liberal, and his conservative worries flow reasonably from what he says, but when I read this I thought that I was listening to a trans seminarian with piercings and tattoos in Berkeley. Lurking in the exchange between William and Father Ron above are perennial theological questions about *vocation* and *providence* and also the relation of both to the *probabilistic causation* of life that we have understood better and better since 1952. There are many reasons to sort those out apart from That Topic (eg autism, schizophrenia), and at least in Western-ish societies following the DSM, churches will have to get that done. In the meantime, no, happy warriors on both sides will not "read the literature," psychosexual or theological-- it's just not what they do-- and so, yes, ignorant armies clash by night on the darkling plain.

Future historians of That Topic may well begin from puzzlement that there was ever a disagreement about this, of all things, among Anglicans, of all people. The fault line runs through Hx, a wholly empirical, scientific, and so unstable notion with no theological content over which religious people can disagree. People of comparable faith-- Jews-- are not divided over the same scriptures and the same science with anything like the same ferocity. The decisions that matter are being made outside churches in parliaments and courts, and now as William says, the professions. If synods did nothing at all, nobody outside the bubble would notice. There is nothing real at stake for us to fight about.

Historians will always emphasise different causes of complex events, but they may converge in the view that That Topic did not cause a fight, but that people who badly wanted to fight over mid-C20 pieties found that they could use That Topic to upset the contented, polarise local opinion, and build international alliances. Here up yonder, myriad acts of microaggression among liberals, evangelicals, and Anglo-Catholics in the '40s to '70s* turned some of the natural leaders of each tribe into happy warriors eager to avenge interpersonal wrongs whilst advancing their cherished theologoumena. Those who lost big battles over BCP revision and the ordination of women and many smaller battles in dioceses began to look overseas for aid, first from Canterbury and then from Sydney and Africa.

Geological faults have branches as does this one, and readers here will not be surprised to find that some run through the Bible, others through church order, etc but the system of all the heaving in the earth cracks through *religious epistemology*. But here the metaphor of breaking breaks down-- neither of the usual sides has a consistent episteme, and diverse believers on each have kindred to find on the other.

* For example, the ugly mid-century fights within Virginia Theological Seminary that led to the foundation of the Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry did much to further polarisation in TEC, even though-- especially because?-- TEC controls neither seminary.


Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Bowman.
If I understand you correctly, the effect of what you are saying is that we are having an Anglican schism over a matter which is, in the very great scheme of things, trivial.
Moreover, we are in grave danger of asserting certainty about the matter, when it is actually full of uncertainties.

Anonymous said...

The easy comfort that comes from talking about "Future historians" comes from the fact that neither BW nor I will likely be around to see how right - or wrong - we were. Those liberal Protestants who launched that journal 'The Christian Century' certainly got the 20th century seriously wrong anyway, along with Harnack, Herrmann, Troeltsch and a gang of others.
I prefer to keep my prognostications modest, within the terms of what present demographics tell you (age, fertility rate, death rate, conversions). And for New Zealand Anglicanism the position looks decidedly unpromising. In Dunedin diocese, for example, I can see half the parishes amalgamating in the next 7-10 years as the burden of buildings and salaries will be more than pensioners can bear. And that isn't because Dunedin is an aging city! It has many thousands of young students, most with hardly a glimmer of understanding of the faith. Yet its Anglican churches are tottering and one of its stronger parishes has now left over "That Topic".
I cannot share your hopeful (wistful?) optimism that paraphilia is really a non-issue in the great scheme of things. ("Forsooth, Athanasius! Why this fuss over an iota? Future historians will think thee a strange and crabbed man - worse, judgy!") In reality, it cuts to the doctrine of creation. There is a great undercurrent going on. Go into high schools where there is active organising by gay groups, and talk to teenagers if you know any. They are very troubled.
Your cryptic reference to 1952 is lost on me. Was that the Urey(?) hypothesis? I seriously doubt scientists are any nearer to "probabilistic explanations" of how life arose. Didn't Watson and Hoyle believe in 'panspermia' or some such nonsense (life from outer space) to account for life on earth?
(For the record I am not transgender, tattooed or pierced and have never been to Berkeley, and I can't imagine how anyone could have got that impression from what I wrote.)


Father Ron Smith said...

Dear William, I guessed all along that you were from the Sydney Diocese. Am I correct? Agape.

Anonymous said...

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

"Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it his not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

"Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

"So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love."

Thank you, Peter and William, for making time to read my comment. I believe this answers your questions better than I could do.


Glen Young said...

Hi William,

I don't care where you live; but accept that you come from the "TRUTH".
Last Saturday, heard a lovely sermon from Stu. who had traveled from Dunedin to help "BLESS" the new West Hamilton Community Church. His words were an inspiration to all of us who are trying to live out our Christianity; in a world where science and common sense are being distorted. The WHCC is going from strength to strength."Except the Lord builds the house, the builders build in vain". Peter Jenson sent a lovely message of hope and encouragement from Australia. All I can say William, is to keep the Faith and don't be misled by the father of lies. His message is not new, but it is consistent.

Anonymous said...

Ron, your guess is as good as your biblical exegesis and your genetics. I have never had anything to do with the Diocese of Sydney. I know Christchurch better than anything in Australia. And I know what is going on in Dunedin Diocese.
Now will you answer my question - if you are brave enough and not evade as you have done the past four times I have asked this:

Did God CREATE (intentionally plan and decree) some people to be Bisexual and some people to be Gender Dysphoric? Is Bisexuality for some part of the divine plan? (I have known people who have always felt attracted to both sexes.)

Your inability or refusal to answer this simple question makes me suspect that you are genuinely troubled by it, but you can answer for yourself.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Glen. Stu and St Matt's are paying a heavy price - but in the end it's just a building (albeit one that generations have paid for, cared for and extended) and how often have we insisted "The Church is the people, not the building"? We must remember that the apostolic church didn't suffer from an Edifice Complex. A new-old Anglicanism is arising in the Shaky Isles and the refusal of the NZ bishops to be accommodating in any way (generosity has its limits, you know!) won't really matter in the end. An empty building that needs earthquake-proofing may not be much of an asset. I recall that the Tec bishop in Binghamton N.Y. refused to sell a departing congregation its building but sold it half price to a Muslim group to be their mosque, so who knows? NZ Anglicanism seems to take its cues from North American Episcopalians.

Anonymous said...

"William is no liberal, and his conservative worries flow reasonably from what he says, but when I read this I thought that I was listening to a trans seminarian with piercings and tattoos in Berkeley."

"For the record I am not... and I can't imagine how..."

Insofar as you are discussing some inferences from empirical data *, William, we should both have expected that others who know those data could see contrasting or complementary implications in them. But not until you put your thoughts as you did above did I see that your argument against the fixity of sexual orientation is also their argument for the occasional idiosyncrasy of it. Your argument is, I think, that if factors after birth influence the development of a person's sexual orientation, then some human somewhere can be made to be a responsible agent in the development of it. Their argument is, roughly, that the multiplicity of such factors defeats both a person's agency in one's own development and any easy classification of the results into tidy groups labeled L, G, B, or T. Your and their speculations have different concerns in view, but they share a common empirical basis and their conclusions are not contradictory. They seem convergent.

So neither should we be surprised that just as you raise questions about divine providence, so they raise questions about divine vocation, for providence and vocation are two sides of the same coin of life in the *new creation*. Vocation comprises self-recognition in Christ (eg a call to the ministry), responsibility for the situation in which divine providence has placed one (eg family, lord, land), and gratitude to the Creator for all things (eg suffering that builds character). We see this both in St Paul's letters and in the pastoral writings of Luther and Calvin. However the science works out-- nobody can possibly know that now-- these scriptural precepts applicable to all lives in Christ will be applied on both sides of the Unhappy Division to persons of all orientations.

* A certain drift of funding and research from idea to idea is usual in unsettled science that lacks a unifying paradigm; this is not bad, but it is not progress either. Before, as Father Ron seems to recall, investigators and speculators thought of orientation as a quantitative genetic trait resulting in a natural continuum of orientation in the population at large. More recently, the rise of epigenetics and the overall promise of developmental models has driven them toward more developmental guesses about orientation.

Of course, just as Francis Crick's *central dogma* ruled out the mere possibility of epigenetics until it suddenly made sense, so there is no way to rule out further sorts of explanation in advance. And since the range of kinds of evidence reasonably bearing on the natural history of That Topic is notoriously interdisciplinary and wide, it is hard even to imagine closure on the basis of science in the foreseeable future. Even if it were the case that ordained clergy were more reliably informed about the cause of an individual's orientation than the individual's self-knowledge, is it clear how that knowledge would be useful in pastoral care?


Anonymous said...

"I recall that the TEC bishop in Binghamton N.Y. refused to sell a departing congregation its building but sold it at half price to a Muslim group to be their mosque, so who knows?"

In America, the lawyers know. That several TEC bishops have acted with malice toward departing clergy, congregations, and dioceses is beyond reasonable dispute. But some decisions that we should find perverse have been taken on the firm advice of legal counsel that reflects the civil constitutions of the United States, the several states, TEC, and some dioceses. Whatever the bishops may feel about particular cases, they have been told that they cannot allow any legal precedent anywhere in which a faction wins a vote to take property out of the denomination. Full stop. That said, my understanding is that the TEC Diocese of Pittsburgh and its ACNA counterpart-- both interesting dioceses-- reached settlements that were more amicable than most.


Father Ron Smith said...

William, you have said:

"Did God CREATE (intentionally plan and decree) some people to be Bisexual and some people to be Gender Dysphoric? Is Bisexuality for some part of the divine plan? (I have known people who have always felt attracted to both sexes.)"

Well, William, being simply human, I cannot know the mind of God. We are told in the Scriptures that "even the Spirit is searching the mind of God". So, if the Holy Spirit is (still) searching the mind of God, how can I, or you for that matter, possibly answer your question?

I then ponder another scripture: "My ways are NOT your ways, NOR my thoughts, your thoughts!" Can you not see William, that your question implies a thirst for inside knoqwledge about something you should not be worrying about.

Other Scriptures contain certain warnings that perhaps even you need to be aware of: "Do not think of things too high for you"; and this one in particular: "Judge not, that you be not judged yourself!"

The mysteries of Creation are still a mystery to most of us. Even the astronomers and space-travellers have not yet plumbed the depths of the Cosmos. All we can know about, in the here and now, is what each of us actually experiences of God's great Love expressed in all Creation. One particular feature of that creation happens to be a creature that does not need a binary opposite to procreate. Ir does it all on its own (with God's help, of course).

I realise now, William, that you are probably from the former congregation of St.Matthew's Anglican Church in Dunedin - allied with a once Anglican Church in Hamilton (via Sydney. FCANZ and GAFCON). I'm glad you're finding peace with your new community. Have a Blessed Christmas with your own family and don't worry too much about the rest of us. Christus natus est. Alleluia!

Anonymous said...

"Your argument is, I think, that if factors after birth influence the development of a person's sexual orientation, then some human somewhere can be made to be a responsible agent in the development of it."
No, ALL factors after birth influence a person's sexual orientation. Genetic and epigenetic factors have some say, but nothing has shown that these are decisive. Nor is a personality type dispositive. My "argument" (such as it is) is that human beings aren't born with any defined "sexual orientation" but in about 98% of the time this develops into being predominantly or exclusively heterosexual, and this accords with the fact that the *natural design of our bodies (for lo, I am a follower of the Bible, Aquinas and natural, telic law) is heterosexual: to wit, and to speak frankly, the penis is designed for the vagina, not the anus (which is for defecation, not pleasuring oneself). Homosexual acts can only be parodies of sex as God intended it, if my reading of natural law and the Bible on the meaning of marriage and sex is correct. That some people through no fault of their own do not develop heterosexual affections does not surprise me at all, and I certainly do not condemn or despise people for whom this is their life experience. In my teaching days I could see some teenage boys developing this way and I genuinely felt for them. Children have little control over the vast complex of factors that make up their environment. But adults do, to some extent. Homosexuality can be socially discouraged - or encouraged. My study of Greco-Roman literature of the NT era (Catullus, Chariton, Longus, Xenophon of Ephesus etc) as well as ancient Sparta constantly reminds me how much ancient Greek culture encouraged and valorised homosexuality, alongside heterosexuality. It was remarkably widespread - and then the advent of Christianity saw the end of the cultural valorisation of homosexuality.
"Their argument is, roughly, that the multiplicity of such factors defeats both a person's agency in one's own development and any easy classification of the results into tidy groups labeled L, G, B, or T. Your and their speculations have different concerns in view, but they share a common empirical basis and their conclusions are not contradictory. They seem convergent."
A multiplicity of factors is precisely what I believe in - including the factor of societal encouragement or discouragement (as any scholar of classical Greece knows). Where we don't converge is in moral and theological evaluation. It seems to me that the post-Christian western world is returning to a pre-Christian Greek view of human beings and eros - much liberal Protestantism (Lutheran and Anglican) has been caught in the undertow since the 1960s. In Sweden, for example, it is notable how frankly pagan the State Church. Those are not my views but those of a Swedish acquaintance, a graduate of Princeton who declined to be ordained in the Swedish Church because he could see the trajectory it is taking. (There will soon be a large number of young Muslim men in Sweden, so I wonder how that fact will play out in the body politic. Good luck, Pippi Longstocking!)


Jonathan said...

William, without going into details, there are dimensions of myself and others that I wonder whether God made or permitted, and having made or permitted them I then wonder at the beauty or distress (or both) that results. Gender Dysphoria for some is resolved through a sex change; or a change in gender identification; or living with ambiguity; which one views as preferable or permissible will depend on one's theology and view of biological determinism of gender expression and physical configuration of that. Dysphoria of any sort implies God's approval of a resolution – whether the distress is “sent” by God (pain in childbirth) or permitted by God (slavery in ages past; and unexplained sufferings of God's people as expressed in some Psalms) or whether we simply don't know. Whether a person sees bisexuality as being created by God is likely to depend on whether or not a person views all same-sex sexual relationships (irrespective of context) as contrary to God's will. If the answer is “no, God's will depends on context” then a bisexual, like a heterosexual, will need to (ideally) forsake all others to commit to one person for life. If the answer is “yes, all same-sex-sex is wrong in every context” then that person (should they wish to marry) will need to enter a relationship with a person of the opposite sex or remain celibate – much the same as Vaughn Roberts, Wesley Hill, Sam Alberry and Ed Shaw. Blessings - Jonathan.

Father Ron Smith said...

Thank you, Jonathan, for your timely entry into this conversation.

William, in your last comment you spoke of the fact that the theories you were outlining were "not my views but those of a Swedish acquaintance, a graduate of Princeton who declined to be ordained in the Swedish Church because he could see the trajectory it is taking."

You are attributing to someone else a thesis you yourself agree with. That does not necessarily mean that it is true.

As Scripture says: "I speak only of what I KNOW" - not what other people know and (presumably) have experienced for themselves.
You can keep quoting more conservative theologians, or even more conservative bio-ethicists, for as long as you want but that is not clear evidence for your arguments here.

As we both know, personal experience is worth a ton of speculation, and I speak from personal experience. What personal evidence do you have of your theories onm homosexuality or any other sexual difference?

I manage to speak from a deep devotion to God in Christ, and my own conscience about myself is clear. BUT, it is an informed conscience and not something that I arrogate to other people's expectation of what my (God-given) conscience for them) ought to be.

May God open up your heart and mind to the Truth, so that the Truth can make you free! (I'm sure you would say that prayer for me, too).
Private conscience is essentuial to one's faith integrity. Please do not assume to usurp my conscience - born of 89 years of experience.

A Happy and a Blessed Feast of Incarnation, where The Word became Flesh and actually "dwelt among us".

Anonymous said...

"I manage to speak from a deep devotion to God in Christ, and my own conscience about myself is clear. BUT, it is an informed conscience and not something that I arrogate to other people's expectation of what my (God-given) conscience for them) ought to be."

Ron, unlike some of you Protestant sorts, I had a thorough Catholic education at the hands (ouch!) of Catholic teachers and I know my Aquinas (well, bits of it). Conscience is not infallible and very often is mistaken - that's catholic teaching. I believed - with a good conscience - many things about physics that were wrong. My sincerity didn't make me right. Catholic teaching is that conscience is to be respected - but also to be corrected.
I am not and never could be a Nominalist as your last sentence suggests you are. God doesn't contradict himself. Our God is YHWH, not the capricious deity of the Qur'an.

William (not of Ockham)

Anonymous said...

So then, two aspects of the scripturally-attested *now and not yet* should be honoured on That Topic.

On one hand, the *now*. Romans 5-8 being the heart of the gospel, God's post-Resurrection people are so to live by the power of the Holy Spirit in the ruins of the good but fallen world that God's *new creation* can be visibly anticipated in them. The sexual differentiation that is visible in myriad living things and a part of every person's journey through the human experience is one of several sites for that anticipation. Any real church is committed to a wiser *collective* living-out of *la différence* than that of its neighbours. Insights into how we might *together* do that can be found throughout the scriptures, and also in the lives of those Spirit-led saints whose lives are visible signs of the age to come.

On the other hand, the *not yet*. As all struggle with the overlap of two aeons, God continues to supply the Judaic *binding and loosing* to individuals who need it, most explicitly in St Matthew xvi 19 and in St John xx 23, the latter of which is also the core of the classical Anglican formula for ordaining a priest: "Receive the Holy Ghost for the office and work of a priest in the Church of God now committed unto thee by the imposition of our hands. Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven. Whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained. And be thou a faithful dispenser of the holy word and sacraments..." By divine law, the remedy for the hard cases of this aeon is to "open your grief to a discrete and understanding priest" (Visitation of the Sick). The old Anglican adage about individuals reliance on this authority-- "All may, none must, some should"-- prioritises the soul's reliance on God's justifying grace, whilst supplying a doubtless fallible but divinely accepted remedy for uncertainty.

The two themes are sides of the same coin. Neither makes sense without the other, and the post-Resurrection predicament organically requires both.

From here up yonder, it can appear that the Unhappy Division is opening Down Under out of a failure, well-intended but short-sighted, to hold these together in their scriptural unity. Conservatives eager to get on with a robust application of the former sometimes talk as though all application of the latter to sexual anomalies is a betrayal of the whole idea; they do this, I think, because happy warriors at the opposite pole who actually have lost sight of *new creation* seem to be in charge. Others, eager to extend the latter duty of pastoral care to the 3% (and to others alienated from procreation), seem to view the former expectation of *new creation* in the ruins as an obstacle to doing so (cf A Way Forward); they do that, I think, because when they open their Bibles what they hear is, not the apostolic gospel, but the Book of Homilies against which all women today are understandably more or less in rebellion.

Neither agenda is livable without the other. And when the Bible's *now and not yet* is out of view, it is not even clear what Jesus has to do with either side. A church does not need Resurrection faith to promote family values, or to push the limits of social inclusion outward. But it does need to be consciously living in his Spirit's post-Resurrection *now and not yet* to do both of these things together. Which is to say that it needs petrine bishops who are clear-eyed about what God intended for the created order of this aeon, but also prudent in helping souls in many predicaments ready themselves for the one to come. Blessed indeed is the diocese that has found its Peter.


Anonymous said...

At 10:48 AM on December 20, Ron Smith posted a piece in which he said he had no idea whether or why God "created" some people bisexual or gender dysphoric and that he was quite agnostic about the moral status of bisexual behaviour.
I wrote a very detailed reply showing why bisexualism or gender dysphoria could never be the creative will of God as He is revealed in the NT (referencing Scripture, church tradition, natural law and Thomas Aquinas) and how this undermined Ron Smith's groundless claim that God "created" some people to be homosexual, but for some reason this has not been posted.
This is simply to say that I did respond to what he said (or rather failed to say) and the argument for claiming that bisexualism and gender dysphoria are God's will for some people (as it must be if homosexuality is) is as groundless as ever.


Father Ron said...

William, you do not believe that one's consicence is primary in the matter of personal behaviour. That, sadly, would (and does, in some case) allow even Christians to avoid the call of personal conscience in their behaviour towards others. I am now reading a new biography of former Anglican priest/ become Roman Catholic Cardinal: John Henry Newman, who specifically placed personal conscience even above R.C. dogma!
Perhaps you could look up the history of this famous English theologian. It may help inform your own conscience. Happy Christmas!

Anonymous said...

A footnote: Newman, in contrasting Conscience to the Papacy, never meant that an individual's "conscience" could trump the authoritative teaching of the Pope on faith and morals. In the perfervid climate climate created by Rome's declaration of Papal Infallibility and the denunciation by Gladstone of Catholic political actions supposedly with papal sanction (was Gladstone thinking of Ireland?), Newman wrote to England's premier Catholic nobleman, the Duke of Norfolk as follows:
“ But of course, when I speak of Conscience, I mean conscience truly so called. When it has the right of opposing the supreme, though not infallible Authority of the Pope, it must be something more than that miserable counterfeit which, as I have said above, now goes by the name. If in a particular case it is to be taken as a sacred and sovereign monitor, its dictate, in order to prevail against the voice of the Pope, must follow upon serious thought, prayer, and all available means of arriving at a right judgment on the matter in question. And further, obedience to the Pope is what is called ‘in possession;’ that is, the onus probandi of establishing a case against him lies, as in all cases of exception, on the side of conscience."
In other words, "conscience" for Newman means very carefully thought-out disagreement with the Pope's directive when the latter has stepped outside his defined area of competence in faith and morals into pragmatic and political matters that are not strictly 'de fide'. As Newman clarifies elsewhere, "conscience" cannot mean the freedom to do whatever your inner instincts lead you to think is right "whether that be regicide, infanticide or free love".


Anonymous said...

"...human beings aren't born with any defined 'sexual orientation' but in about 98% of the time this develops into being predominantly or exclusively heterosexual...That some people through no fault of their own do not develop heterosexual affections does not surprise me at all..." -- William

"You can't live a vocation of No." -- Eve Tushnet *

So far as I can surmise, Father Ron and William, your argument above is slowly approaching the ongoing dispute among conservative Christians between those who, like Albert Mohler (SBC), argue that the homosexual orientation is itself intrinsically dangerous and should be renounced without hesitation, and those who, like the celibates Eve Tushnet (RCC) and Wesley Hill (TEC), argue that the integrative dynamic of celibacy itself requires that those with a homosexual orientation embrace it as a good part of their identity.

As for *conscience*, I have not used the idea in years. The better idea is that anthropology is criterial: because moral action must be human action, we reject moral claims on subjects that they could only satisfy by acting in a way that is less than fully human. Confessors and spiritual directors still sometimes refer to eg "training the conscience," but by that they mean using the usual authorities and heuristics to induce a subject's inside-out awareness of what due reflection on human participation in action is like, which includes both self-awareness and cooperation with others. Importantly, self-awareness includes reflection on even *moral emotions* and cooperation includes recognition of intrinsic authority and its limits.

"Distinguer pour unir," said Maritain. The clever readers at ADU will have noticed already that this-- like the most traditional idea of *conscience* (cf Sophocles, Antigone)-- is a negative criterion: it tells you what you may never do (or fail to do), but not what you may choose to do, nor what you ought to do, still less what you might best do. It is in that way a bridge from *internalism* to *reliabilism*, one that delineates a bounded zone of subjective reflection that can be joined securely to an authoritative principle of cooperation. Startling as this will be to some, the criterion makes sense even when cooperation entails coercion of the subject insofar as the subject continues to participate humanly in the community.

Nowadays, extravagant overuse and abuse of the notion of *conscience* is common among Anglicans-- and for that matter Catholics-- and it is easy to cite both conservative and liberal examples of this. William's quotation from Newman shows that this is not a new problem. It may be different on the blessed isles, but here up yonder Americans have unreflectively identified *conscience* with *moral emotions*, especially the *CAD* emotions. A misplaced faith in the leadership abilities of the frustrated gut inspires grumpy trumpiness on the left and the right. It makes political advertising very lucrative, and actual politics very hard.

CAD emotions? No, not heartless egoism. All human emotions begin with appraisals, and the old CAD Hypothesis linked the influences on negative appraisals to the resulting emotions and sequelae. When someone says or does something you disapprove, you will feel Contempt if it violates a Consensus norm, Anger if violates a norm you have formulated Autonomously, and Disgust if it violates a Divine purity law. Test it for yourself for a few days. Next year.


Anonymous said...

Once again a long and detailed reply I wrote to Ron Smith, this time explaining what 'conscience' meant in Newman and referencing his famous 'Biglietto' speech on individualism and religious indifferentism in the name of 'conscience' wrongly understood has disappeared into the ether.
As one who had a Catholic education and studied the Oxford Movement in some detail, I am not unfamiliar (as Ron Smith imagines) with Newman - nor with how Manning's use of the tag 'Securus judicat omnis orbis terrarum' shook him out of his Anglican sense of superiority.
But all that is in a long post now lost.
But I encourage Ron Smith to discover what Newman actually meant by 'conscience', by an 'informed conscience' and the obligations of conscience to the Church's clear teaching. Newman could clear: it is not 'conscience' that trumps the clear teaching of the Church or the Bible but the rebellious human will.
Yes, I would encourage Ron to consider Newman carefully and to understand why he has not followed him to Rome.


Anonymous said...

I don't think Albert Mohler is quite as simplistic as you represent him, BW, and to be honest, I really don't know what an "integrative dynamic of celibacy" means. If it means friendship without sex and lustful imagination on one's own, I don't imagine Mohler would disagree with that - but then would warn that five years down the line (probably less), a "spiritual friendship" could easily become carnal when the world no longer cares, or indeed expects it to be. Imagine my dismay many years ago when I learned that one of the heroes of the Episcopal Charismatic movement, Graham Pulkingham, a married man, had succumbed to homosexual temptation while doing 'spiritual therapy' with another man. Knowing one's limits is always a sign of Christian wisdom.
But then I haven't spent years studying psychotherapy and the minute analysis and taxonomy of emotions, and - no surprise here - I confess to being pretty sceptical about a great deal of modern psychology and psychotherapy, which I know is a vast industry in the United States. Indeed, it seems that in the wealthy post-Christian parts of the United States, like the Northeast and coastal California, psychotherapy (in all its protean forms) is the replacement religion, with all its attendant sects, including at the vulgar level the Church of Oprah. TEC itself is at the forefront of a movement that has replaced regeneration and askesis with therapy - and heaven knows "western" Anglicanism, including England, Canada, most of Australia and NZ is fully on board with that project.
But as you say, none of this has anything to do with 'conscience' as western theology since Aquinas and before used the word (synderesis). It is simply the triumph of the therapeutic, along with that ruggedly American conviction that I am the judge of right and wrong, of truth and falsehood.


Anonymous said...

As you seem to know, William, Albert Mohler blogs as a happy warrior, but can be intellectually hospitable in more dialogical contexts. Michael Bird and Peter Enns both found him to be capable and reasonable in discussing their quite different critiques of inerrancy at the ETS panel in Baltimore, 2013. My sense is that a contemporary SBC seminary president is a *figure of unity* somewhat comparable in interesting ways to an old-time RCC archbishop who stays in the ear of the Baptist laity to keep their clergy in line.

With "integrative dynamic of celibacy" I alluded to the commonplace idea that the components of a personality are more easily and deeply integrated around Christ in the single state. Conversely, if they are not integrated well, then the celibate is unstable and bad things can happen-- alcoholism, improper attachments, etc. As we have seen.

One could say, perhaps, that the two sides of that debate fear the same bad things, but prioritise different threats. Mohler worries that the trajectory of a disorientation is unknowable, and that a community of even celibate homosexuals could speed it along to a tragic result. Tushnet et al worry that closeting SSA prevents, not just healthy accountability, but also marshalling one's full motivation to a worthy vocation.

A widely-used textbook on emotional psychology is available for a 7-day free trial from Amazon. As I recall, it relates ancient Stoic and Epicurean understanding of the emotions to evolutionary theory (eg Darwin's Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals) and contemporary experimental and observational knowledge (eg Paul Ekman).

You may recall that Jonathan here at ADU has been reading Matthew Elliott, Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament. For further Christian reflection on the emotions, I have suggested the obvious works by St Thomas Aquinas, Richard Hooker, Alasdair MacIntyre, Robert C. Roberts, and Linda Zagzebski.

Personal impressions--

I do know a few psychotherapists who are Episcopalians. A few of the most liberal clergy in TEC have a specific affinity for the *analytic psychology* of Carl Jung or the *integral theory* of Ken Wilber. Some evangelical psychoanalysts have founded a training institute in Pennsylvania. Of those I have known well, the therapists have had more empathy for social and religious conservatives than the mainline clergy. Seminarians of nearly all mainline denominations spend months learning counseling skills at a prison, hospital, clinic, etc. Lots of mainline clergy have used the Enneagram or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The culture is awash in knowledge about brain function that only research scientists knew a decade ago. I am otherwise surprised that I have not detected more churchly interest-- friendly, critical, or hostile-- in basic knowledge about personality, motivation, emotion, learning, change, etc. Corporate executives seem more interested in this.

Bowman Walton

Father Ron Smith said...

"Yes, I would encourage Ron to consider Newman carefully and to understand why he has not followed him to Rome". - William -

And you, naturally William - given your own idealistic point of view - would naturally discount the understanding of the relationship between JHN and his beloved Father Ambrose St.John as was what used to be called a "special Friendship" normally discouraged by the Roman Catholic hierarchy. It is thought that this is one reason his relics (there was no actual body) were removed from the common grave he shared with his beloved. Your reading on the Blessed John Henry could be enlightened by John Cornwell's latest biography "Newman's Unquiet Grave - The Reluctant Saint. I hope you're not too shocked. Happy reading!

Unknown said...

I knew that shoe would drop.

Why the snark? You two disagree; good people do that once in a while.

My thanks to you both for several hours of happy, provocative reading in 2018. Do enjoy your holidays wherever you are spendimg them this year.



Anonymous said...

Stop making uninformed assumptions about me and what I know and believe, Ron. Unlike you, I had a Catholic education and we were well aware that there were homosexuals among the Catholic priests and brothers. Indeed, we long suspected that the head of our school was homosexual but he never apparently crossed the line into actual criminal behaviour - so good for him. So if you think I get shocked easily, you clearly know nothing about me and nothing about Catholic education and you haven't been following the tragedy of modern Catholicism in the past twenty years.
I know also that close friendships existed between upper social scale men in 19th century English society that didn't necessarily indicate homosexuality (think of Tennyson and 'In Memoriam'). The classic literary version of this is Holmes and Watson - although of course today a modern obsession with homosexuality among TV producers cannot resist depicting Benedict Cumberbatch as a homosexual jealous that Dr Watson has committed matrimony. It's all projection - and there is not a little of that projection in what you think you see as well, Ron. Just like black female judges in US court dramas, there are a lot more homosexual men in TV-land than anywhere else. That's how TV writers want to see the world, not how it actually is.
Did Newman have homosexual feelings? Who knows? His biographer Ian Ker doesn't think so (I presume you know Ker's work?) and there is nothing in Newman's life that indicates he acted homosexually. He often spoke of celibacy as a costly sacrifice to him and like many Catholic priests wandered what marriage was like. But I wouldn't pay much attention to that poor atheist Peter Tatchell and his sexual obsessions.