Friday, September 24, 2010

An unreasonable fiat

(My thanks to John K. for broaching my post passim).

I appreciate the attempt, but I'm afraid there is nothing new here. That there is a difference inherent in the activities themselves is precisely what is at issue - you seem to reiterate this claim without providing any further reason for believing it than has been given so far.

As for Paul on heterosexual marriage, I did state that as a premise without explanation, since as you say I assumed some prior familiarity with (even respect for!) the texts in question, and Paul's toleration of marriage as "better than to burn [with desire]" is a far cry from "an honorable estate."

I'm afraid you've missed the point about gender; it isn't a straw man at all. If the moral status of the behaviour depends on the gender of the parties involved, then clearly something about gender is being assumed. Otherwise, it would be incoherent to claim that God forbids one and blesses the other. As you demonstrate, reasserters are very good at repeating this assumption, but evidence for it is less forthcoming.

You are moreover not "a member of another group likewise limited." You may be constrained from sleeping with other women, but you are not forbidden from sleeping with *any* woman - the Church has an existing approved context for you to do so. Gay people on the other hand have no such option, and so precisely what they are supposed to do in order to gain God's approval is not clear.

As for the burden of proof, again you offer mere contradiction. Gay people are the accused: it is not our responsibility to prove our innocence. That changing the pronouns in the marriage service is a "change" in the first place, much less an "abandonment of the old faith" is precisely the unexamined assumption that I am challenging. Gay Christians who wish to marry wish to do so *because* they believe in the old faith.

I'm a little unclear about your response to the scientific arguments, in which you say "the issue is not orientation." I'm not sure that that makes a difference to that segment: the point is that penalizing people for making what would appear to be, if sinful, the least sinful option feasibly available to them is unfair. Nor do I in fact think that we can draw such a glib line between orientation and behaviour: it puts gay people in the position, as I say, where their orientation precludes them from "behaving" in the approved manner. And since we don't condemn married couples for such behaviour, it would seem that it really is about the gender/orientation. Otherwise, we seem to suggest that there is a morally inherent difference in orifices, which you're free to argue, but smacks a bit of materialism and can hardly just be assumed as a 2000 year consensus - clearly there are many for whom it does not at all go without saying. And as I say (again you don't address this) we seem to have realized this when it comes to women's ordination, so to not extend the same conclusions to SSM seems to be special pleading.

I certainly don't want a religion that changes with the times: indeed, I am attracted to Christianity precisely because of its counter-cultural nature and rejection of the values of the world. But I do want a religion that has the humility to admit when it has been inconsistent, and if it has been teaching different things about these two types of relationships without a moral distinction to support the difference. In the same way, I consider the ordination of women not a "change" but an ironing out of a disparity between our practice of ordination and the Chalcedonian affirmation that Christ's human nature is from his Mother. I do agree that it demonstrates the divide: it's clear that some Christians view the Bible as an omnicompetent text whose stipulations are all equally authoritative irrespective of how absurd some of their possible conclusions can be shown to be. They are entitled to that, but it is unfair to expect the Anglican Church as a whole to affirm their private opinion as a matter of policy. If you believe that same-sex relationships are forbidden by God, good for you: avoid such relationships. But to crusade against those trying to play with integrity the hand they've been dealt is unchristian. (And lest you think I have a dog in this I live a celibate lifestyle myself, but I am acutely aware that this is a vocation from God that must be discerned and cannot be imposed en masse on an entire category of people).

Anyway, thanks for trying, but it still sounds like an evasion of the actual issues I've tried to raise.

11 comments:

John K said...

Hi Gregg (Are we on a first-name basis already? :)
I think we are just talking past one another. My entire position is based on the fact that I believe God has told us that same-sex sexual activity is wrong. I believe the Biblical position on this is clear, and I take it seriously.

FYI, I attend an ACoC church, and although I am sympathetic with the ANiC, I would have some difficulties joining them because of their involvements in lawsuits. I have discusssed my concerns on their blog and we apparently agree to disagree.
But just as I take Scriptural prohibitions in sexual areas seriously, so do I think that 1 Corinthians 6 is as much God's word as any of the passages on sexual prohibitions.
And let me say that I admire your committment to celibacy, even while I can't accept your views on other matters.
Peace,
John

Geoff said...

"My entire position is based on the fact that I believe God has told us that same-sex sexual activity is wrong."

Precisely. And so if that belief is undermined, you are obligated, intellectually, to revisit any position that you previously based on it. And nothing in your reply answers my objections in such a way as to demonstrate that a consistent or fair reading of Scripture can support that belief. So repeating over and over again that you hold it doesn't suffice as a counter-argument - in fact, it arouses the suspicion that you lack one.

So I will ask again:

*on your view, what is the person to do who happens to be homosexual and wishes to follow Christ, but has not the ascetic discipline to submit to a sacrificial charism you yourself evidently were not willing to undertake? Would your conviction in the absolute perspicuity of Scripture perhaps be less unyielding if you found yourself on the wrong end you could not be saved if you ever committed a sexual act? In any case, ought you perhaps be a little more reticent about professing knowledge of the mind of God with respect to your neighbour's good-faith actions?

*by what logic do you maintain that opposite-sex marriages are worthy of blessing and same-gender ones morally corrupt? In what does the moral distinction subsist? If there is no such distinction, then how can you say that the Bible says both x and not-x: marriage is good and marriage is bad (depending on some arbitrarily-chosen feature of the marriage)?

"We" are not talking past one another. My objections are clear; you are talking past me. If you simply choose to think that same-sex relationships are always wrong because you feel like it, fine, but don't expect the Church to share your personal preference - and until you can provide an argument,

John K said...

"...if that belief is undermined..."
And what could possibly undermine what God has declared, unless there is a higher power than Him?

"what is the person to do who happens to be homosexual and wishes to follow Christ,..."
Do his best to remain celibate. Yes, it is difficult, but Christ called on each of us to deny ourselves and pick up our cross daily. He never promised we could satisfy our every desire. We all stumble in various ways, but when we do, we need to realize we have done wrong, confess and ask for forgiveness.

"by what logic do you maintain that opposite-sex marriages are worthy of blessing and same-gender ones morally corrupt? In what does the moral distinction subsist?"
The moral distinction is in the sexual practices inherent in either relationship. I don't believe God would recognize a same-sex relationship involving activities He clearly denounces, as a marriage. If you don't get my point here, then we are indeed talking on two different levels.

My objection to same sex sexual relationships is not based on, "because I feel like it." It is based on what I believe the word of God says.
I might ask you to address this point. Show me a good Scriptural argument that would override what the Bible so clearly says.

Geoff said...

I think that drawing attention to an apparent contradiction in the text *is* a Scriptural argument. I can't point to a text that says "gay and straight marriages are the same" but nor can I point to any such text about interracial, intergenerational, interdenominational, or many other kinds of marriages. Must each have independent Scriptural approbation? The Bible says it is not good for man to be alone, and that those who lay burdens or stumbling blocks on anyone sincerely seeking the kingdom of heaven that they would not endure themselves will be punished. So like you I believe the Biblical position on this is clear and serious.

I'm still not clear what "denounced" activities you take to be features of only and all same-sex relationships. Again you repeat that "[t]he moral distinction is in the sexual practices inherent in either relationship" without giving me any better an idea of what you suppose those practices to be.

"Do his best to remain celibate. Yes, it is difficult, but Christ called on each of us to deny ourselves and pick up our cross daily. He never promised we could satisfy our every desire. We all stumble in various ways, but when we do, we need to realize we have done wrong, confess and ask for forgiveness."

Your advice then is that it is better to seek intermittent casual sexual relief when one's strength fails and then return to the fold, rather than to form a permanent and monogamous relationship based on Christian values?

John K said...

"I'm still not clear what "denounced" activities you take to be features of only and all same-sex relationships. Again you repeat that "[t]he moral distinction is in the sexual practices inherent in either relationship" without giving me any better an idea of what you suppose those practices to be."

I'm not sure whether you are being coy here, or naive, or think you are being clever, or just being silly, but what part of, 'Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman...' (Lev 18:22), or Romans 1:27, or any of the other passages of Scripture that, either explicitly or implicitly, condemn homosexual practice,(eg. 1 Cor 6:9, Jude 7) seems to be unclear here. If you and I are apart here, then our premises are completely different, and we will never arrive at the same conclusions. Such a gap in understanding and communication is unbridgeable.

"Your advice then is that it is better to seek intermittent casual sexual relief..."

No, that is not my, "advice." Outside of heterosexual marriage it is either celibacy, or "self-satisfaction," I suppose.

Geoff said...

Repeating the same unintelligible Biblical passage doesn't advance the argument. The point is that that passage rests on an assumption that is not tenable. And in any case, Christians have never been bound to keep kashruth. You still have not answered my questions about the viability of your application of this passage, you are just taking the "ugly American" approach of shouting your assertion louder and louder.

The bottom line is that it only makes sense to say "You shall not lie with a man as with a woman" if the former is somehow fundamentally dissimilar to the latter. Until you account for that dissimilarity, it doesn't matter how many times you repeat the mantra, it's just an arbitrary dictum like so many others that the Church has exercised its authority to set aside.

Your response to gay Christians who do not have the discipline of celibacy remains unclear.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Good luck, Geoff.

Your post highlights the problem, and JohnK articulates one aspect of what appears to be a primary detente -- the issue of the Scriptural passages alleged to be relevant. If "God has spoken" who are we to disagree?

You know I've answered that question elsewhere, and you are doing a good job of it here. It is a position assailable on many fronts from, "Is this God speaking?" to "And what does it mean precisely?" to "If we take this bit seriously, oughtn't we take the bit a few verses later just as seriously?" to "And if we don't, why? and Can the same principle be applied to the other bits?" All of this is the sort of thing the church has been engaged in from the time when the Apostles decided (contrary to Scripture) that circumcision wasn't required in order to become part of the people of God.

As I say, good luck.

John K said...

So I guess we should attempt to answer your questions:

"Is this God speaking?" Are the Scriptures God's word? If not, what authority do they have.
"...what does it mean
precisely?" Good question. What does it mean not to lie with a man as with a woman. What do you think it means and what evidence do you provide for your position?

"If we take this bit seriously, oughtn't we take the bit a few verses later just as seriously?"
Which bits, keeping in mind the Jerusalem council of Acts 15?

"And if we don't, why? and Can the same principle be applied to the other bits?"
Again, in Acts 15, the only major part of the law required by the apostles for the gentiles to keep was to refrain from sexual immorality, which, in the context of 1st century Judaism, would have meant all the Levitical prohibitions.

"...the Apostles decided (contrary to Scripture) that circumcision wasn't required in order to become part of the people of God."
Why contrary to Scripture? Where does God command Gentiles to be circumcised to be His people? Circumcision was for the Jews. He poured out the Holy Spirit on Cornelius and his household without circumcision.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

John, I don't want to monopolize Geoff's space here, but actually I have written a full length book in response to those questions, among others, which was very favorably reviewed by the Anglican Theological Review (though negatively by Ephraim Radner, to no one's surprise). It is impossible in this space to lay out all of the detailed arguments, but I can bullet point it for you:

1) The Laws in Leviticus are only in part relevant to Christians. There is also question as to what of them come to us as "Word of God" vs "Law of Moses." Jesus only cites one law from Leviticus.

2) There have been many interpretations of "with a man do not lay the layings down of a woman, she is abomination"; including that this only applies within the degrees of kinship treated earlier in the chapter. Notable also is the absence of any reference to a woman lying with a woman -- which raises its own set of questions, and points in the direction of a cultural antipathy rather than a divine ordinance.

3) Acts 15 is important. Do you believe -- contrary to Western Church tradition -- that all Christians should keep kosher rules concerning meat, as the Council mandated?

4) More importantly, you are repeating a mistaken interpretation concerning the meaning of "porneia." I know this claim is oft repeated, but it is baseless, as my longer examination of the question in my book demonstrates. 1st century (and later) Judaism would not have seen male (or female) same sex acts as "porneia" -- which is not to indicate they approved, they didn't, but it falls under a different category entirely. ("Porneia" in first century Judaism almost always refers to idolatry or to prostitution, and in a few very rare instances to the incest regulations -- and later rabbinic exegesis explains the reason for including incest under that heading.)

So those are the simple answers. For the evidence in detail, see Reasonable and Holy, published by Church Publishing. You may, of course, not accept the evidence I offer, but you would then be called upon to offer evidence in response. In all of the literature (for instance, Gagnon) one finds assertions supported by webs of inference, but no hard evidence.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Oops, pressed the button too soon.

Here are the relevant texts on circumcision required for membership in the Holy People:

Genesis 17:14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant."

Exodus 12:48-49 If an alien who resides with you wants to celebrate the passover to the LORD, all his males shall be circumcised; then he may draw near to celebrate it; he shall be regarded as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it; there shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you."

The eating of the Passover is crucial for membership in the Holy People, which is why Paul uses the imagery of "Christ our Passover" to distinguish the new covenant from the old.

The principle was well understood, which is why the debate continued even after the Apostles ruled otherwise, as we can see in Galatians.

Anonymous said...

I'm very tired of suposedly "straight" people telling gay people that they must be celibate in order to be faithful or even a Christian, while they are free to enter realtionships, to be married, and to have the love, support, and intimacy that they take for granted as 'straight" people. In telling gay people to be celibate they are saying that the love, support, intimacy, and the benefits of such realtionships are their preserve and gay people are excluded from them. This is usually predicated on the idea that gay people choose to be gay and are wilfully committing some kind of sin or that, if people are born gay, then God has intended their lives to be lonely and unhappy, without any hope of a meaningful, supportive raltionship or any true love or intimacy. These "straight" people seem to think that they have every right to be happy and fulfilled, while God has consigned gay people to an almost sub-human existence. Not only is this illogical, it is cruel and inconsistent with any view of God that supposes that God cares for each person equally and endows each person, gay or straight, with the capacity for earthly love as a sign of Divine Love. These people love to call people sinners for something they have no chosen, while they seem to indulge in their sense that, whatever their sins, they are always less sinful or at least less tempted to sin than gay persons.