14.7.09

AC and TEC fracturing

It is with sadness that I read that the AC might split with the TEC and it causes me to consider where I stand again on 'Issues in Human Sexuality'. Call it cowardliness, if you like, I do not want to get too heavily embroiled in debate and I am also aware that by reflecting here, I am procrastinating. I should be writing an essay on the shape of Deuteronomy.

But a few thoughts:

If the approach is determined by what might bring about the best result for the most people (utilitarian), it should not be myopic. In consecrating gay bishops, people will still hear about salvation through Jesus Christ. They will form a relationship with a church which would be regarded as an inclusive institution. Contemporary culture prizes inclusiveness highly. The gospel message might seem to be ringing out. Those in same-sex relationships will feel valued as they are released into service for the benefit of others. However, the decision might be compromising the Church. Tyndale, the Bible translator, said that the gospel, 'signifieth good, merry, glad and joyful tidings, that maketh a man's heart glad...'1 but perhaps this sort of assertion and Romanticism, as a philosophical movement, have infected our sense of what constitutes love. Today's culture affirms freedom of choice and human rights but the Church needs to concern itself moreover with our responsibilities to each other and God. Christians, under pressure to do the most 'loving' thing can confuse love with tolerance: the 'great virtue' 2 of our times. Caught up in cultural relativism, people think they are promoting happiness when they affirm freedom of choice but we do not always make the right choices.

Fletcher was a homosexual episcopalian priest who made ethical decisions in accordance with a promotion of agape. Keith Ward claims that because biblical morality is 'motivated by the basic Christian principles of the self-giving, agapistic love ...[and we should] 'never try to disguise it by hiding behind a few written rules....Biblical condemnations of homosexual practice can be consigned to the morally primitive past.' 3 Keith Ward sets rules and love in opposition. The Bible, however, has Jesus; love incarnate, come to fulfil and not abolish the law, and so it is to be wondered whether Christians, who argue that love should motivate our actions, always understand agape. Biblical agape is a desire for the very best interests of another person to be secured. For Christians this is salvation and this might be promoted by bringing a sinner to an awareness of the need for repentance, forgiveness and restoration through God's grace. This has huge pastoral implications and there are organisations set up to counsel those who struggle to live within a biblical sexual ethic like 'True Freedom Trust.' (For more on my thoughts about such organisations see 'Sexual Ethics and the C of E', don't assume I haven't given this a lot of thought!)

The teleologist needs to make a decision which honours God by not compromising his message about the kind of lives he calls us to lead. She also honours God by protecting, comforting and welcoming the marginalised. Those in same-sex relationships should be affirmed in their membership of the church family and their giftings should be nurtured but priests should conform in lifestyle to either married heterosexuality or single celibacy because when teaching on these topics the church has to be a living witness to what it testifies.

One of the consequences for the church is that it must address issues of sexuality for us all. It must not operate a double-standard, but promote a sexual ethic to which heterosexuals and homosexuals are called to transform themselves.

'Issues in Human Sexuality' is, in itself, a rather ambiguous statement of the Church's stance. It describes how homosexual relationships are not faithful to a God-given sexual expression but that those who feel called to this way of life should be accepted... (point 5.6). It concludes that sexually active homosexuals within the Church 'would be seen as placing that way of life in all respects on a par with heterosexual marriage' and it 'cannot accept such a parity and remain faithful to the insights which God has given it through Scripture, tradition and reasoned reflection on experience.' What it fails to do is lay out pastoral guidelines for the church as it faces this predicament.

Less ambiguous is Lambeth 1.10, which sets a moratorium on the consecration of same-sex partnered clergy. This is what the TEC are deciding to break with. What Lambeth 1.10 fails to do is give a clear ruling for the laity, which in itself opens up debate about whether there should be a different set of expectations for ordained or lay leaders. After-all, there isn't a clear biblical basis for a strict three-fold order of ministry. Christians, in servant-leadership roles should all seek to transform themselves into the same pattern of Christ-likeness, without a hierarchical ascendency of pre-requisites, but that is another ethical debate!

A deontological approach can excavate passages out of the Bible. Christians read the story of their lives within the overarching biblical meta-narrative but also live in a post-modern society which embraces a fluidity of meanings. As a consequence there is no consensus on homosexuality. Traditionalists regard those who affirm same-sex blessings, and church leaders in same-sex relationships, as supporting innovations which are scripturally disobedient. Lambeth 2008 lost 214 bishops to Gafcon because of a refusal by some to break bread with those amongst them who supported TEC's consecration of the homosexual priest Gene Robinson. Quite often Revisionists are accused of reading the Bible through a post-modern, culturally relativistic lens and traditionalists are accused of reading it through a lens also contaminated by culture, a lens infected by a type of sub-conscious homophobia.

Revisionists and traditionalists each practise a hermeneutic which delivers a quite contrary exegesis of Genesis 19:1-11; Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10. For traditionalists the story of Sodom prohibits homosexuality. The men of Sodom request to have sex with Lot's male guests where the word 'know' is taken to mean 'have intercourse with' and this secures Sodom's destruction. Revisionists contest the translation of the Hebrew word yada (know) but this seems unconvincing because earlier in Genesis 'Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived...' (King James Version). Where revisionists accept that it is homosexual intercourse that is being sought by the men of Sodom, they then assert more convincingly that what is being prohibited is homosexual rape and not homosexual relations between two consenting men in a monogamous relationship. For Robert Gagnon, the only difference between consenting and non-consenting relations between homosexuals is that with the former both have 'willingly degraded themselves', and with the latter only one is forced into 'self-degradation'.4 For Gagnon, the Bible condemns homosexual practice in any expression. He is very outspoken.

Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 seem less ambiguous but, again, revisionists question translation, this time of the Hebrew word toevah (abomination). They argue that the abomination describes not homosexuality, per se but homosexual acts in the context of pagan worship. The implication being if homosexuality were divorced from its association with pagan worship, it might not be prohibited. The immediate problem with this is that the other sexual sins, of the Leviticus cleanliness codes, are prohibited when not bound up with idolatry. In the pastoral epistles, Paul has to warn Christian communities to guard against adultery and incest.

In Romans 1, the punishment for idolatry manifests itself in a disruption of everything that is natural, hence where heterosexuality is natural, it will become homosexuality. At this point, some pro-gay theorists assert that it is natural for them to be homosexual (God-given); what would be unnatural for them would be heterosexuality. Homosexuality has not been found to be genetically determined. If it were Christians would perceive this to be resulting from the fall, which disrupted God's ordained order for relationships. The problem with the revisionist reading is less that it calls for further medical investigation into homosexuality which is complex, and more that it relies on a very particular reading of the word 'natural', applying it to one's own nature and not nature as creation breathed into life by God and ordered as he purposed it. Jeffrey John's discussions of this epistle, wherein he states, 'Those who claim to be repelled ... by homosexual forms of intercourse might ask why they are not disgusted by a painter who expresses his creativity by painting with his feet'5 is weakened by his failure to locate his understanding of 'nature' in the creation account.

A discussion of nature, (creation) and the fall, as hinted at above, provides a better framework for ethical decision-making than inconclusive proof-texting. Each time homosexuality was condemned in the famous passages, it was abusive in its expression, whether that abuse be directed towards humanity in sexual violence or God through faithless idolatry. The other two texts, 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10, which speak into the issue, emphasise again the linguistic, exegetical debate. Where they list sins and one sin is translated as homosexuality, revisionists argue that the term was only invented in the twentieth century and is anachronistic and what Paul was really condemning was pederasty and male prostitution. It is thought that Paul had no understanding of same-sex, faithful, monogamous Christians because he had not encountered any.

If 'All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness' (2 Tim. 3:16), then we are limiting God's intelligence, if we suppose he was naive about same-sex attraction and it is for this reason that he said little about it, in its monogamous expression. The case made for the homosexuality of same-sex, faithful, monogamous relationships between Christians becomes a kind of advocacy from silence, which is not persuasive.

God's sexual ethic is best revealed by looking at creation. The question over the consecration of gay bishops might be settled this way. This is more helpful than perhaps looking to redemption because of its pollution by the rise amongst pro-gay theologians of a redemptive-hermeneutic in which arguments about God's unfolding revelation and how it has uncovered our exegetical errors in the past, is being used to justify homosexuality, morally. In our ever supposing that God wills slavery and the silencing of women, Christians were wrong. That slavery was ever justified theologically, highlights man's exploitation of the Holy Word. That we now ordain women is still questioned by some because passages in the Bible are ambiguous on the issue, but quite simply, even natural law testifies to the biblical truths at creation of what God intended for our sexual expression because our anatomy testifies to it. Scripture's sexual ethic and our biology will not change despite the changing sexual ethics of the societies we live through. Male and female fit together in a way that male and male, and female and female do not. Even if the much quoted passages addressed in this essay were discarded, Melvin Tinker describes how Homosexual sex is a 'disordered form of sex...[because it] frustrates the structures and purposes of God’s creation.'6 Reductio as absurdum, if we applied Kant's categorical imperative to the dilemma and homosexuality was thought good for everyone, everywhere, humankind would die out.

It is for fundamental reasons that God's blessing is reserved for the sexual act set inside marriage. In same-sex unions, unblessed as they are by either God or children, humans are not endowed with the same urge to commit to one another. Having children, in part, fuels reasons to stay together and monogomy is for theirs and the woman's protection and in this sense marriage echoes the covenant between God and his children Israel in the Old Testament and Jesus and the Church in the New Testament. Sexual expression is for mutual comfort too, and not always pro-creative, but in a same-sex partnership, sex isn't 'a good tied by God to his good gift of marriage'7 because it is not something pleasing to God because only a sexual act between two complementary humans becoming 'one flesh' reflects God's perfect community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Male and female together reflect the Godhead (Image dei). This pattern for relationships was established at our creation.

Is homosexuality a consequence of the fall? The fact that the world seems undecided about whether homosexuality has its locus in nature or nurture does little to impact the debate. Even if the gay gene is found, it could still be argued that homosexuality is simply a consequence of our fallen world and a frustration of God's original intentions. Redemptive-hermeneutics perhaps misunderstands redemption. Through Jesus' saving grace we are not going to become more and more free from the law eschatologically, we will become more and more the people for whom the law is written in our hearts. As Paul explains in Romans, we are justified by faith and our slates are wiped clean and we are made righteous in God's sight, but we will transform more and more into the likeness of Christ as a consequence because we give up our sinful natures; we do not rebel but conform to God's will. At the consummation, when we live in our Heavenly bodies, Jesus tells us there will be no marriage and Revelation implies through its symbolism that there will no more sex. It would seem that sexual expression, whether it be God-honouring or God-dishonouring, will be done away with completely. Peace and fulfilment might reign here instead where once there was tension, addiction and confusion. If the Church speaks with an eschatological voice, which is not the voice of the world, it must not succumb to the world's categorisation of people into homosexual or heterosexual. We are human beings, men and women, living in the love of God and under his authority. The Church must not condemn homosexuality as a more grievous sin and speak of it like Gagnon as degradation, when heterosexuals also fail to embrace God's ordained sexual ethic when they engage in any sexual expression outside of a heterosexual marriage.

The Church must, in turn, not condemn sexual sin as more grievous than any other sin. Homosexuality, like any behaviour that dishonours God, should not be affirmed. In practice, this means that I do not agree with TEC's proposals. If I had decided otherwise, I would be asking the Church (universal) to rethink its entire teaching on sexual ethics and that would involve a serious break with with what was ordained at creation.

Jesus and the early Church in Acts 15 prohibited sexual immorality (porneia). Paul specifically warns against an acceptance of porneia in the church in 1 Corinthians 5—7. The body of Christ is a broken body, made up of broken people. Jesus was broken for us and is tolerant of the broken. Jesus’ response to the woman taken in adultery in John 8, secured her redemption but it also required her to 'sin no more'! At the consummation we will be made perfect and what qualifies someone to lead a church is their faith, just as it was with Abraham, who was chosen for his faith. But faith manifests itself not just in words but in actions. The fruits of faith are displayed in the gifts of the Spirit and a lifestyle that conforms itself in likeness to Christ. If Christ is logos made flesh and we have the mind of Christ, then we should be able to fathom to some extent, albeit with error because we are flawed, the mandate for our lives set down in the Holy Word, fulfilled in Christ and revealed by the Holy Spirit.

Bibliography
Brown, Paul, E., ( 2007) Homosexuality Christian truth and love, Day One publications, Leominster.
Gagnon, Robert, A. J., (2001)The Bible and Homosexual Practice, Texts and Hermeneutics, Abingdon Press, Nashville
Goddard, Andrew, (2004) Homosexuality and The Church of England: The Position following 'Some Issues in Human Sexuality' Grove booklets, Cambridge
John, Jeffrey, (2000), Permanent, Faithful, Stable: Christian Same-sex Partnerships, Affirming Catholicism, Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd.
Tinker, Melvin, (2001) Alien Nation, Christian Focus Publications, Scotland Ward,
Keith, (2004) What the Bible really Teaches: A Challenge for Fundamentalists, SPCK, London

Secondary sources
Robinson, Gene, (2008), In the Eye of the Storm, Canterbury Press, Norwich
Short, Rupert, (2008) Rowan's Rule, the biography of the Archbishop, Hodder and Stoughton, London
Stott, John, (2006) Issues Facing Christians Today (4th ed.), Zondervan, Michagan

Footnotes
1Brown, Paul, E., Homosexuality Chrisian truth and love, p.5.
2ibid, p.9.
3Ward, Keith, What the Bible really Teaches: A Challenge for Fundamentalists, p.176
4Gagnon, Robert, A. J., The Bible and Homosexual Practice, Texts and Hermeneutics, p.78
5 John Jeffrey, (2000), Permanent, Faithful, Stable: Christian Same-sex Partnerships, p.21 6Tinker, Melvin, Straight or Narrow? Sexual Confusion Genesis 2:18-25, p.6
7 Goddard, Andrew, Homosexuality and The Church of England, p. 10

Worth a read

6 comments:

David Ould said...

Thanks Rachel.

Good reading. You're right that a creation ethic is helpful.
But don't dismiss teleology/redemption. The church is the bride of Christ and that marriage will, one day, be "consumated". In redemption we see the husband a bride. "Heterosexuality" is embedded throughout the narrative of salvation.

Listen to me, I sound like someone in one of those big books 8-D

Rachel Marszalek said...

Thanks David.

Yes, you should write a book, or maybe you have already...

And yes, we need a biblical redemption-hermeneutic.

Anonymous said...

That is one of the finest things I have ever read on this subject Rachel.

Iconoclast

Rachel Marszalek said...

Wow! Thank you Iconoclast.

poppy tupper said...

All of this needs a context. Now, imagine yourself not just in love with another woman, but in a long-term relationship with her, loving her as you love your husband. Now imagine the same call to priesthood that you feel. Now imagine that, having gone to your BAP they say to you, 'We don't want to hear about what you feel God is calling you to do. Your life is not real. Go away. You love another woman.' Walk in someone else's shoes, Rachel I know you can.

Rachel Marszalek said...

But Poppy - I do not think that a Bap would ever say that the life of someone in a same-sex relationship was not real. It is very real. Life is God's gift and people in same-sex relationships are children of God. Someone in a same-sex relationship has just as much a legitimate call from God to ministry as someone who is heterosexual because God does not catagorise us according to our sexual identities.

However, if the church is to speak with an eschatological voice, it has to call us to conform ourselves in likeness to Christ. Christ at work within us transforms us more and more into the redeemed people that we are in God's imagination. In God's imagination there is simply sexual fulfilment for us all and no longer any angst attached to any expression of our sexual selves. However, until we live in these redeemed bodies, I think we were ordained to express ourselves sexually as man to woman and woman to man because even natural law testifies to God's law at creation. Man and woman fit in a way that woman and woman and man and man do not and you ask me to imagine loving a woman as I do my husband, but that I consider because of the aforementioned reasons, an impossible thing to do. This will in no way impact any future pastoral ministry I might have to people in same-sex relationships. We all fall short of the ideal of which there was only one: Christ. The Church has to work very hard to release us all into service with the giftings that we were given by God for the body of Christ. The Church has to think through very hard whether it should be constructing ideals for clergy which it does not anticipate for laity. The Church must not condemn sexual sin any more than any other sin. The Church must consider that heterosexuals fall short of God's ideal for our sexual expression too.

Good to get me thinking again, Poppy. Keep conversing. I want to have a 'teachable spirit'.
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A little background reading so we might mutually flourish when there are different opinions