Friday, February 12, 2010

Radner on Haller

From the Living Church a review by Ephraim Radner of Reasonable and Holy. The review is generally negative, not because Br Tobias does not refute the traditional arguments but because he apparently fails to "provide...an overarching vision of Christian marriage..." (I have not read the book in its print form, so I must take Radner at his word, but in my experience Haller's work presents a very clear evangelical paradigm for marriage, albeit one which does not suit Radner).

Radner acknowledges Fr Haller's arguments one by one, but feels that they somehow aren't sufficiently tied together - "discrete" is his word, though how else he would have us respond to the discrete (and in many cases far more questionable) contra arguments isn't clear. Particularly telling, though, is this passage:

Ultimately, the kinds of “objections” to same-sex marriage that Haller is trying to refute emerge from such a larger scriptural vision, and not from their status as discrete arguments. The central element of procreation in marriage, for instance, is bound up with the character of Israel’s calling in fallen (and the Fall has no place in Haller’s scheme) human history — genealogy — and ought not simply to be examined in terms of this or that individual person or couple (a rather modern obsession).

In these remarks, Radner falls victim to a common "reasserter" mistake, the treatment of the subject matter as academic theology. For gay people, the debate is very much about individuals and couples - real people whom the Church at present tells that their relationships are not deserving of recognition. Those who would uphold the law over charity (unlike the Anglican approach to divorce, for example) owe these people a good reason, not a poetic vision. "Marriage has to represent the (male) Christ and the (female) Church" (another common "poetic" argument) is not such a reason, for symbols are meant to assist our devotion and not the other way around. Symbols are helpful as far as they go, but if we become so attached to them that we are willing to give up our fellow Christians as sacrificial lambs to preserve them intact, then we are putting the symbol above the grace which it is meant to convey. If you can't wrap your head around same-sex marriage because it wreaks havoc with the "Bride of Christ" paradigm, then set that paradigm aside, and not same-sex marriage. The lives of gay and lesbian Anglicans are not a kindred matter to the timing of the extinction of the Paschal Candle or the direction of celebrant at Mass. "It throws the symbolism all off!" is just not going to cut it as a reason to bar Christians from two of the sacraments.

Granting that procreation is a common biblical motif, marriage must be reckoned with on theological and not literary grounds. The only question to be asked is, Does God care what gender one's spouse is? I cannot fathom a God who would, and Tobias Haller's writing casts serious on the assumption that there is an intrinsic value in sex difference that renders it necessary for marriage. Yet Radner characterizes his arguments as "familiar," which seems a trifle disingenuous. "Reappraisers" are well aware that our arguments are familiar, but if Radner and his ilk are so "familiar" with them then why have they not bothered to rebut them? Of course, much of the "debate" of the past 30 years has consisted of liberals spilling buckets of ink on the subject, which is then ignored by traditionalists, who insist that a stronger case must be made if blessings are to proceed, but stick their fingers in their ears when it is presented. So Radner is perhaps unwittingly apt here.

The fact is that there is no reason why heterosexuality is essential to the "overarching narrative" of Christianity. Procreation is not "bound up" in the Fall and redemption (although in the western, Augustinian conception it figures prominently), and the recognition of same-gender couples will not constitute a recanting of that narrative. But one of the key reasserter talking points is to portray the gay issue as a more dramatic departure than it is. Gay and lesbian Christians are not trying to overhaul Christian theology (contrary to Radner's assertion, I highly doubt that Haller would have us discard the Fall), and while marriage indeed "touches on" a number of central issues, this doesn't preclude its extension to same-sex couples. There is simply no reason why same-sex marriage must necessarily threaten the "larger scriptural vision" on which the Church is founded, and which gay and lesbian Christians take as seriously as any other.

It is time for the Church to decide whether it will use its power to loose and bind for the welfare of its gay and lesbian faithful.

3 comments:

BillyD said...

"Does God care what gender one's spouse is? I cannot fathom a God who would..."

Oh, I think I can. If God intended you to procreate, he'd want you to have a spouse of the opposite sex. Of course, he'd also make you heterosexual.

And yes, I realize that these days all sorts of gay and lesbian couples are procreating and adopting and otherwise having progeny, but I only deal with kids when I'm on the clock, and think that gay parents are spoiling it for the rest of us.* I used to be able to tell my mother-out-law that of course we weren't going to have children - we were gay, after all. That worked for a while. She's started asking again.

*joke. Sort of.

BillyD said...

"It is time for the Church to decide whether it will use its power to loose and bind for the welfare of its gay and lesbian faithful. "

(Sorry for the double post)

I think that the Church historically thought that gay Christians would either do as they were told, or move out. I don't know think they realize how many have ended up staying, and simply ignoring its pronouncements on matters of sexuality.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks, Geoff. Well said. I've posted one response to ER and am working on another as time permits.