Tuesday, February 20, 2007

What God Has Joined Together

Disappointing news from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where last week the primates of the Anglican Communion met to discuss the issues threatening to tear apart this global body of Christians: the bishops adopted a “communiqué” with a series of “recommendations” for the Episcopal Church, which is the American branch of Anglicanism.

To me a “recommendation” is a suggestion meant for serious consideration. However, the communiqué specifies that the Episcopal Church has seven months to comply with the “recommendations” or face a “reduced role” in the Communion. Recommendations don’t come with an “or else.” That’s an ultimatum.

The “recommendation” is that by September 2007, the Episcopal Church will agree to stop “authorizing” the blessing of same-sex unions and will no longer consecrate bishops who are not celibate outside of heterosexual marriage, i.e. gay bishops, even/especially those in committed relationships.

There are all manner of complicated issues in play here, regarding church structure and doctrine, as well as resistance by the more conservative bishops to our newly-elected presiding bishop, the first woman to hold that post. Father Jake opines that the fight isn’t really over issues of diversity; “That is the presenting issue; the canary in the coal mine. The foundational issue is about where the locus of authority will reside in the Anglicanism of the future. This proposal by the Primates is a direct challenge to our polity.”

Though it is an immensely complex issue, I wanted to offer a couple of thoughts on the “blessing” of unions, even as a step short of the full sacrament of marriage.

One of the passages we must consider regarding the compatibility of homosexuality with Christian life is Romans 1:24-28; many take this to be the final word on the subject. Paul writes of men and women who “exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural.” But Paul himself did not intend for us to take his letters unquestioningly at face value.

Twice (here and here) in 1 Corinthians, Paul exclaims “Judge for yourselves!” Significantly, the latter passage is one of Paul’s more controversial arguments. He says to us, “Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head unveiled? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?” Well…no, frankly. There aren’t many Christians today who worry over whether a woman must cover her head to pray; we took Paul at his word, judged this statement, and found it to be silly. (Jesus also asked “Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?”)

This is the only proper response to those who claim that in order to justify homosexuality using the Bible, we have to “pick and choose” our verses and ignore other passages. But we don’t just “pick and choose,” it’s called discernment, and it’s what Paul himself invited us to do. All Christians do it (especially the ones who claim they don’t).

We question Paul’s statement about “natural intercourse,” since the overwhelming majority of scientific knowledge on the subject points to biological causes for sexual orientation. Would Paul have made the same claim knowing what we know today? We question Paul’s statement in light of the radical welcome preached by Jesus. Paul and Jesus encouraged us to look around and judge for ourselves: what we see are committed same-sex couples of faith wanting to bring their relationship inside the church and be a part of it.

23 comments:

The Law Fairy said...

Just to throw another wrench into the puzzle:

This whole notion that natural equals good -- even if there is something "natural" (whatever that means) about heterosexuality -- is really not a very Christian concept at all. We're naturally sinful and selfish, yet we're not called to fulfill that part of our nature.

Similarly, I'm reminded of the story of Peter and the vision of the sheet. In that vision, God made it clear that the old notions of "clean" and "unclean" did not apply in light of the New Covenant. Since we are cleansed through our faith, we have moved beyond the simplistic rules that governed our lives under the old law. This seems to me an indication that God is (probably always was) more concerned with our humility and goodness of heart, than with the very specific, mundane details of our lives. Under the old laws, the Jews followed strict, regimented rules and had a sacrifice an animal every year. I don't fully understand the purpose for this -- but Christ was the Final Sacrifice. I don't know many fundamentalists who say we shouldn't eat pork -- indeed, they are the ones who pick and choose which Old Testament rules we should now follow, based on the scattered and vague allusions and opinions of a single apostle.

I feel like I had more to say, but I'm scatter-brained today.

Gino said...

is there anything that somebody who believes as i do can say to you that would cause you to rethink your position?
or do you hold firmly to this postion regardless?

Andy said...

I dunno. Say what you have to say, and we'll see. I'll just preface by saying I prayed, earnestly, for years and years for God to "heal" me from homosexuality, and instead I feel he has led me into a religious tradition that has helped me see my sexual orientation as a gift. My relationship with God has only improved and strengthened since I stopped fighting who I am.

Gino said...

i'll take you on your word as per your struggle. i know others, as well.
and as you've said, being gay is not about sex desire alone, but other attachments as well. we all accept gay men make the best artists and designers, so there is one gift of gayness, whether it applies to you personally or not.

but to me, its obvious throughout scripture and the prophetic tradition, that sex belongs rightly only within marriage, and marriage is confined to man and woman.
it happens, lucky me, to suit my sexual attractions, but being a man, monogamy is not a natural state for me either. but one i must adopt to stay within the rightous path according to my faith. and should my wife become obesely unattractive, or invalid, to the point i cannot 'do' her as i would like, that would be my tough luck. and then i may as well be gay. the resulting obedience, or otherwise, to Truth would be the same.
would it be proper for me to take on a few more wives to satisfy my desires, because somewhere paul said 'judge for yourself'?
what would you say to me if i did that?

there were gays in the time of paul,too. if their relations were o.k., i'm sure paul, or at least ONE of the more moderate apostles, would have said so, and welcomed them, sexually active, into the church.

btw, last sunday got a call from a co-hort in crime. he was my cousin. we were close.(to my parent's dismay)
he searched for me and found me after 18 yrs.
when we rasing hell together, he was married with 3 kids(i was godfather to one).
he now has a 'partner', for the last 17yrs. we had a long talk about his last 18yrs(about 4.5hrs).

i'm cool with his decisions. his life is much better,sober, and out of jail, for 17yrs. he's the same jackass i loved then, but he finally has a control over life he didnt have before.
he was a macho, bar brawler,loud mouth jackass.
he has 3 kids.
he's gay.
go figure...

anyway...
i am not the judge. i can only explain the Truth as i am lead to perceive it.
it makes niether you, nor i, evil folks. and i would hope, no less as friends.

i will yeild the floor to your minions to launch continuing attacks against my closed-minded homophobia.

Matthew said...

"...to me, its obvious throughout scripture and the prophetic tradition, that sex belongs rightly only within marriage, and marriage is confined to man and woman."

As a straight Christian, I would like to dispute this statement. On the first assertion, there is ample evidence that the bible as published today has been substantively changed from the original text. Further, the materials we have today are only a subset of the total revealed scripture God has given us. The Bible itself refers to several books of scripture which we do not have. Therefore, interpreting the Bible we have today as the immutable wholeness of God's revelation is know to be false.

Second, on the point of prophetic tradition, it should be noted that vast swaths of Christiantity (Protestants) think that prophetic tradition has gone quite a bit off-kilter from what God originally wanted. Apostacy of the Catholic church, etc. etc. Furthermore, even if we accept that the prophetic tradition even exists, there is very shaky evidence that this would be a valid source for establishing the will of God. The scriptures and history are full of prophets making mistakes. Without opening to scope of this debate too much, I'll just refer to Andy's comments on the nuttier portion of Pauls teachings as an example.

Therefore, the two examples you have cited can not be used to establish the arguments you have asserted.

I personally am not sure if God finds homosexuality and homosexual marraige to be a bad thing. I rather suspect He does. However, from a sociological perspective, the bulk of the evidence I have seen suggets that it is in the best interests of society to encourage marraige. In addition, I believe society should allow as much freedom to the people as possible. Therefore, unless I can see a reason why it is extreemly bad for society, I think we as a democracy should allow all the Andys to get as gay married as they want.

Andy said...

Therefore, the two examples you have cited can not be used to establish the arguments you have asserted.

I wouldn't quite phrase it that way. You can absolutely line up a litany of selected verses and passages which will make exactly Gino's point. There is a solid scriptural case to be made for it.

The best arguments of this kind, of course, take into account all the factors you just described here, as well as historical context. And I can put together a litany of similar verses that, to my thinking, override, revise or reject the verses Gino has. I can provide contextual arguments about the sexual ethics of the Old Testament, which condoned several practices which today we find morally abhorrent. But all of that just leaves us throwing Bible verses at each other. That's why the Bible just ISN'T the final word on these kinds of things.

Yes, we need constantly to look to Scripture for guidance, but it's not our only resource. Judge for yourselves! We have minds, hearts, consciences, and the gift of the Holy Spirit to help us. We're not always going to reach the same conclusion.

Now, as to Gino's specific questions: you are right to point out that it would be immoral to abandon your wife in the circumstances you describe. Why is that? Because the bonds between you consist of fibers other than sexual ones. There is more to a marriage than sex. Similarly, there is more to a gay relationship than sex. Being gay and having a relationship is not just about satiating desires. Caring for someone, dedicating your life to them is, I think, what God calls us to do. The sacrament of marriage is extended even to heterosexual couples who cannot procreate; so even the church acknowledges there's more to it than that. These bonds I'm taking about transcend mere sexual activity, and therefore the gender of the couple becomes irrelevant. Could you fall in love with a man, Gino? I mean, deeply, madly, head over heels in love with a man, so much that you'd want to spend your life with him? I think your answer is no. It's not about whether you'd want to have sex with a man. Could you, would you, fall in love with another man? Presumably no, because sexual orientation is not limited to erotic attraction, but also the orientation of the heart. You're not gay. I am. Falling in love with a man isn't about the lusts of the flesh, it's what happens to gay men.

Yes, Paul probably knew of men who had sex with other men. But he specifically refers to men and women who are acting out of lust: essentially he's condemning fornication. Paul does not mention the issue of two people of the same gender forming a household and living together in love, presumably because the culture of Paul's time would have been so hostile to that notion that gay people would not have been doing it openly. It is a certainty that there were committed gay households in Paul's day and time, but they would not have identified themselves that way. Paul was talking about sex for the sake of sensual gratification. I really don't think it occurred to him that two people of the same gender would want to get married. After all, Paul couldn't conceive of a Jesus with long hair, apparently. Have you ever seen a portrait of Jesus with short hair? I think if we could teleport Paul out of 1st century Palestine into today's world, he might change his mind about a few things.

Elizabeth said...

Ah, there aren't many women who cover their heads anymore, but many who look askance at my son (10 on Monday) who has waist-length, beautiful blond hair. Whether they believe it's okay or not that a boy has long hair, they *all* think he's a girl. Yet another social norm that needs to be challenged. My son doesn't mind doing just that, actually! It's kind of hilarious sometimes to be out with both of my kids, because at times the girl is mistaken for a boy, depending on how short she's sheared her own hair. I have real gender-bending kids.

Elizabeth said...

Okay, now commenting on the comments...

Gee, Gino, I pity your wife if she should ever gain a few pounds. This isn't just about homophobia, it's about not being a jerk. Fat does not equal unattractiveness. Just ask my husband.

Life is never just as we'd like it to be. There are imperfections. It is in the imperfections that we find true love.

Elizabeth, fat and beautiful

Tracy said...

I'm actually quite excited that you brought up the first chapter of Romans because it has never been explained to me quite this way before. Also, I'm glad to hear you feel a closer relationship with God now.

I still believe however that the context of the first chapter of Romans isn't a contemporary cultural quirk like (head coverings) but rather the nature of God and His willingness to turn man over to his reprobate (depraved) mind. I've seen it as setting the stage for a state of sin (rather than the fundamentalist line that it just means 'don't be gay.') I believe it also sets the stage for his lengthy discussion on grace in the following chapters.

Nothing is quite so boring as deep theological discussions using words used from the earliest available manuscript but I will say that ignoring the descriptions of the depraved (They are filled with every kind of unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, malice. They are rife with envy, murder, strife, deceit, hostility. They are gossips) is dangerous.

Amazing how you never hear anyone point this verse out and say those who cause 'strife' are an abomination...like Andy implied: picking and choosing is much more convenient.

The Law Fairy said...

I haven't had Andy's struggle with homosexuality, but I also used to hold much more old-fashioned, traditional fundamentalist-type views about sexuality, etc. And I was a damn "good" Christian. I went to church multiple times every week, prayed hard all the time, read my Bible constantly, went to Bible camps, read all the right books, learned all the apologetics, was a leader in my church to the extent a teenage girl can be, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseum. I could probably put Dr. Dobson's kids to shame.

Like Andy, I was constantly praying and seeking God's will and direction. And you know where he led me? A complete 180 of who I used to be. Do you honestly think that God would allow someone so devout and so actively seeking his will, to go so far astray from it? Or do you think it's more likely that God takes a broader view of his own creation than simplistic and black-and-white genderized views of everything, and he in fact led me away from my small-minded views because they were wrong?

As a Christian and as someone who takes to heart Christ's command to love God and love our neighbors, I am no longer ABLE to understand the homophobia I once held. It is nonsensical to me. Looking back, I realize it was caused by the same sexism that caused a great deal of existential angst for me -- an intelligent, ambitious, argumentative (gasp!) WOMAN. As I learned to accept myself as God made me -- bright, inquisitive, and restless, in spite of my vagina -- I realized that God made us way more diverse than we're supposed to be in our binary, black-and-white, male-and-female society.

Gino, as for not being able to have sex with your wife were she ever to get fat, I can't tell if you're joking or just being a bastard. Men get fat, too, and a lot more often than women. Yet you don't see a whole lot of women leaving their husbands for that reason. But I suppose that's sexism for ya. Oh, wait, and I forgot, "real" women don't have sex drives, we're pure virginal angels just waiting to be plucked by a knight in shining armor who will love and protect us if we only obey him as good little women should, so naturally we don't care what men look like, because we're just looking for "providers," unable to take care of ourselves as we are. Now please excuse me while I vomit.

Gino, you ask Andy to "rethink" his "position" as though HIS VERY EXISTENCE AND PERSONHOOD are some abstract ivory-tower concepts without real-life consequences. Your comment so perfectly demonstrates your abject misunderstanding of sexual orientation. You can no more ask Andy to admit it's "wrong" to sleep with men, than he could ask you to admit it's "wrong" to sleep with women. That you would adjudge him disordered for simply being who he is, is bizarre, unfair, and immoral. Frankly, I admire Andy's composure in having to deal with this kind of rudeness and what amounts to ad hominem attacks. Andy, you remind me a lot of one of my best friends in college (I think I've spoken of him before) -- also Episcopalian, and also gay. An amazing, kind, patient guy, whose friendship with me in spite of my bigotry was a huge part of turning me into the (hopefully) far less bigoted person I am right now. So who knows, maybe Gino will be the next me ;)

Gino, I also can't tell if you're joking about the "gift of gayness." But anyway -- there are some amazingly talented artists and designers who are neither gay nor men, but that wouldn't fit very well with your strange paradigm, now would it? I also know some gay men who are "butcher" than probably most straight guys I know. But, again -- I guess it's too hard to deal with people who don't fit into cookie cutter quasi-"realities."

Sorry for making this comment so long and disjointed... I just read Gino's comment and felt that reason-killing headache you get when reading something that doesn't even make internally coherent sense.

Gino said...

unfuckinbeliveable.
LF, and liz,
have a stiff drink, lighten up, and read everything i wrote again.

geez, a dude tosses out a hypothetical for discussion purposes, and gets hysterically judged by all those non judgemental women out there.

gotta love it.
i can almost hear the shrillness.

any more?
throw it out gals.
i can take it.

The Law Fairy said...

lol @ "shrillness." All you misogynists seem to have very few vocabulary words when it comes to insulting women.

Gino, grow up and grow a pair. If you can't handle a counterargument don't spew your bullshit where people with brains are likely to read it.

As for drinking, I only get more argumentative the more I drink. Guess I'll go do a shot, then.

Andy said...

LF: great comment (as per usual).

Gino: I do genuinely appreciate your coming back regularly to this blog and contributing to a lively discussion, I mean that. I appreciate the sincerity you bring to your viewpoints, and your willingness to at least discuss ideas you'll probably never endorse.

That said, when you say tacky, thoughtless things and people get offended, the correct response is not "lighten up," but rather, "Sorry."

Tracy: you're absolutely right. In the same passage, Paul says their behavior consisted also of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, gossip, slander, haughtiness, boastfulness, etc. There's nothing from this text -- or any other -- to indicate that homosexuality (*if* it is a sin) is any worse than any of the rest of these sins, yet so many people choose to focus all their wrath and furor on gay people. I bet there's plenty of churches out there that have haughty gossipers in their pews. All of us are probably guilty of all those sins, to varying extents. But you don't hear anyone quoting Romans 1 to condemn gossips.

Steve said...

Andy...

Thanks for the last comment. The hypocrisy that I see within the church is a thing of shame.

Four years ago, I was working for a church in the Mid-West. I had graduated from seminary and was working in Children's Ministry.

I had posted a profile on the internet and an anonymous someone found it. They recognized me and printed off the profile and sent it to my employer.

I was immediately demoted and told to enter counseling to "heal" me. I was in the eyes of the church broken.

Six months after beginning this journey, it ended abruptly. I came in to work and within an hour I was told that I would need to resign or be fired. In fact, the person who gave me this news already had a resignation letter written for me.

I left the church crushed, thinking my life was over. There were definitely some heroes in the process but for the most part I do not have much patience for the insitution of the church.

Homosexuality is the CARDINAL sin. While gluttony, lying, gossip and others are seen as no problem.

It is sad.

Gino said...

for the record:
i wasnt asking andy to rethink his position. i was asking if it was possible.
is his position set in stone, or does he ever question it himself? or give thoughtful pause to the other point of view made by someone other than me?

in other words: is the resolution still, at least partly, on the table? or not?
that is what i was asking.

i also stated my position was my position. i dont speak for God, and its not for me to judge.
like andy, i arrive where i am at just as honestly as he does.

and i offered up a hypothetical about sexual restrictions of marriage, and i get blasted for bashing fat chicks? if i had used the analogy of too skinny and ugly,instead, what else would have i been hit with?


was it necessary to project some sort of evilness or ill naturedness upon me to discuss the point i was making?

or necessary to ascribe to me statements i didnt make to launch an attack? ( i made no judgement of gays, or what they do, in this post)

the only thing personal, applying to my experiences, was the 'btw' concerning my cousin, and my feelings for him.
so yeah, LawFairy, i guess you can not ask if i actually DO know at least ONE gay butch man.
but recognizing this wouldnt fit your anger template toward me. am i right? you'd rather i fit your cookie cutter image of those who disagree with you.
maybe if YOU had been blessed with 'a pair' you wouldnt be so angry-at-war with those of us who have them. 'pair' envy, maybe? ;)

and your buttons are WAY too easy to push. need to work on that. its not becoming of somebody who likes to make the point of being smarter than i am.

are you this way with all your male friends, or just me? :)

yeah, i got personal.
when somebody calls me a bastard,or jerk, then the discussion has been sunk to that level. not. by. me.


oh, and andy: i am open to hearing what others have to say on almost everything, and having them explain themselves. i dont know everything, and never claimed a market on truth. that why i read you. and put up with some of the crap here that i do.

how many other bloggers, of left and right, orthodox or liberal, visit the varied ideas and idealogues that i make a point of doing. i'm probably one of the most open minded on a scale with the majority. i have no halleluah chorus around me, and i dont want one. it would bore me.
but fewer personal attacks would be nice.
maybe i'll just talk to you in email from now on.

The Law Fairy said...

lol, gino, MY buttons are easy to push? Don't be so shrill and hysterical.

And my pair is bigger than yours, unless you need a bra for yours.

When I said "bastard" I wasn't using it in what was meant to be insulting -- I meant it in the same way that I would call my brother or my dad a "bastard" if they said something that seemed so obviously designed to provoke a reaction. If you honestly didn't mean the fat chick comment to provoke a reaction, then you've got yourself some learning to do.

I'm like this toward anyone who makes ridiculous comments, male or female.

Btw, throwing around silly stereotypes like the "man-hating" feminist is really hackneyed. If you can't do better than that eventually I'll stop playing this silly little game.

Bethany said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Law Fairy said...

Oh yeah, and sarcasm isn't anger. You wouldn't like me angry.

:D

And my point stands on asking Andy about his "position." His orientation isn't a "position" and it's ridiculous and RUDE of you to pretend it is.

Oh -- unless you were asking him for sex tips. In which case, Andy, I'm all ears ;)

Matthew said...

Andy,

"I wouldn't quite phrase it that way. You can absolutely line up a litany of selected verses and passages which will make exactly Gino's point. There is a solid scriptural case to be made for it."

My issue there is that while you can line up verses as you describe, I have concluded that there is significant doubt as to whether or not those verses actually represent the will of God, or even the original authors. Therefore, I don't think that scripture citing is the way to go. I gather that you subscribe to an equation that looks like:

(Scriptures + scholarly insight) + answers to prayer = establishment of knowledge

That equation is basically fine with me. I think we assert the scriptures to have rather different levels of reliability, but not a fundamentally different place in the equation. Is this a fair restatement of your perspective?

kr said...

Ah.

This explains why Gino was extra grumpy about feminism today.

Yar. What a mess.



On Andy's post, there is so much to be said. I bow out as unqualified on the scriptural specifics, as I have not made a serious adult study of Paul (it took me until about two years ago to be convinced one could make a serious adult study of Paul: headcoverings?!? Come on!).

Liberal high church Americans (both Catholic and Episcopalian) seem generally and continually flabbergasted at not being considered the leading edge of their respective worldwide fellowships ... perhaps because our history only extends 300(ish) very uproarious years, and the sheer amount of historical and cultural weight involved is just not something we can understand easily. The American Episcopalian Church has knowingly pushed a bunch of boundaries ... eventually there would be backlash, as the majority (or, the power structure) decided youall weren't doing a good job "judging for yourself"--or that you were doing too good a job, and why then do you still want to be affiliated with their stickinthemud selves anyhow? American Catholicism of course did this in the 1970s. And a huge number of people left the Church. Messy messy times.

But the easy route is rarely the best one. When people get involved, the easy one is just a mirage anyhow.

Tracy, great stuff. Love the strife comment :).

Matthew, bravo. Buried in the brouhaha, but brave and balanced.

Last thought, which I haven't got a conclusion for: "natural."
I think we can agree that congenital blindness is "natural," and yet it is also clearly not how people are designed to be (whether designed by evolution or by Creator God), and so at some level we instinctively reject it as "natural" (and are developing medical treaments to correct it).

I hope we can see that the same proposition could be made about homosexuality, if, as current evidence supports, it is determined pre-birth. It doesn't make obvious "sense" to the survival of the species.
Not that I am putting this extension out there as True, but I think it is a reasonable logical construction.

Jesus specifically makes a point of saying The Man Born Blind's blindness was not because of sin (of the man or his parents), and that, at least in that one case, it was for the revelation of God's glory, revealed when Jesus "heals" the man born blind (biblical scholars welcome to correct phrasing/interp).

I am not sure where this leads or doesn't lead, but I think the "natural" argument, regarding sexuality, somehow connects here. The blind man was not "wrong" ... but Jesus "healed" him, and did it for the glory of God ... a morally concerning sort of process if the parallel to homosexuality is potentially supportable?, about which I would be interested to hear initial thoughts from this crowd, if it doesn't seem off topic. (Thoughts can obviously include why you believe it is not at all potentially parallel!) Obviously Andy's years of praying for "healing" would weigh in ...

Again, no conclusion. Just a questioning direction.

Gino said...

Law Fairy:
:D

Andy said...

Matthew: there is significant doubt as to whether or not those verses actually represent the will of God, or even the original authors. Absolutely! Yes, this is part of putting together religious arguments of integrity; we have to allow for this particular unsolvable mystery and admit the foundational uncertainty of textual arguments. But despite that uncertainty, there's a great deal of value and importance in scripture. That's part of what "faith" means to me. I know that the origins and history of these texts are murky, that every translation available has been sewn together using various fragments of incomplete copies of the original texts which have long disappeared, and are at a minimum a century or more removed from the original. Still, there's a lot of Scripture that speaks to me, that resonates with me as containing the word of God. I can't base that on anything other than what I here called "discernment." As the author of 2 Timothy said, all scripture is inspired by God and is useful for instruction. That doesn't mean that scripture was dictated; actually, it means scripture WASN'T dictated. It means it was written sincerely, but written by men. It's actually kind of a disclaimer. "Useful for instruction" doesn't mean it's inerrant, either. It just means even if it's wrong, there's something to be gained from studying it -- you might even discover that it's wrong, and therefore it was useful for your instruction!

So I'm all in favor of Bible-based arguments, but in the Episcopal tradition it's one of the three "legs" of faith: we also rely on reason and tradition.

LF: Okay, I think you went kind of right up to the line if not over it there. Everyone calm down.

Sex tips: it's like riding a bicycle. ;P

Gino said...

pun intended? ;)