Sunday, February 25, 2007

Keeping Promises

These are agonizing days for members and leaders of the Episcopalian majority. As they continue to digest the nearly week-old Dar es Salaam Communique, a cold reality is emerging. They are between the proverbial "rock and a hard place." The rock is their commitment to what they call "full inclusion" of GLBT (Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgendered) members in the life of the church. I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of their contention that it is a moral imperative rooted in the gospel and in their very identity as disciples of Jesus Christ. The hard place is their attachment to and affection for the Anglican Communion. Many of them have deep connections and long-term relationships with various people and places in the larger Anglican world. It would be incredibly painful to lay those relationships aside.

So there is a degree of internecine tension in the "progressive" community. Some are advocating acquiescence to the demands of the Primates. The fact that the Presiding Bishop's name is on the communique supplies a good bit of the energy here. She still enjoys, from what I can tell, an enormous reserve of goodwill among those who were overjoyed at her election. She has political capital. But if she dipped into that capital just three days after her election when she appeared on the floor of the House of Deputies in that unforgettable moment and advocated for B033, she is really dipping into it now as she tries to sell this latest package. If I correctly understood her in the briefing of the '815' staff last Friday, her rationale is something like this: The tide of world opinion is heading only one direction, and that is toward an acceptance of homosexual relationships as within the range of normal, and deserving of all the rights that heterosexual relationships enjoy. Some Anglican provinces are in essential accord with TEC in recognizing this fact. Some Anglican provinces are not as "progressive" as we are, but show signs of openness to our way of thinking. And some, while adamantly opposed at a formal level, just haven't had enough exposure to the gifts that GLBT Christians bring to the life of the church. If we lose our place in the Anglican Communion, we will lose the ability to leaven the lump, and influence the process long-term. It is therefore worth swallowing some of our principles short-term in order to secure these long-term benefits.

It remains to be seen how persuasive this argument is. Several bishops of prominent urban dioceses have already expressed flint-like opposition to any compromise, any retrenchment, in the march toward "full inclusion." Even the prospect of links with the See of Canterbury being severed is not a sufficient deterrent. They would rather lose the Anglican franchise than "sell out" their "GLBT brothers and sisters."

I don't, as they say, have a dog in this hunt. But it gives me no joy to see my "progressive" friends (and others) faced with such an agonizing dilemma. Yet, many of them are inclined to be cynical toward expressions of empathy from someone like me. Comments on this post from last week bear witness to this fact, and I've received similar notes by private email. With some recent exceptions (look at this one), "reappraisers" tend to view "reasserters" as bigoted homophobes who have left their rational faculties in a roadside ditch and are utterly unfaithful to what is now being referred to simply as the Eighth Promise: "Will you seek and serve Christ in all people and respect the dignity of every human being?" It boggles their imagination that a reasonable, faithful person could have any view other than their own. It is an utter disconnect for them.

Communication is a tortuously difficult task even between two people who are committed to it. I've been married to the same woman for nearly 35 years. Despite the fact that we've been together our entire adult lives (we met in college), sharing all that history together, including the raising of three now grown children, and despite that fact that we completely cherish one another, it's not that one of us is from Mars and the other from Venus. One of us is actually from Pluto! We are that different, and communication is therefore that much of a challenge.

So if it's that hard in the supportive context of a marriage, it's amazing that we even try anywhere else. But I'm going to give it a shot. Speaking as a "conservative" (aka "orthodox" or "reasserter"--not, please, "neo-Puritan"), let me say that I believe that persons who find themselves capable of forming an intimate bond only (or primarily) with someone of the same sex are created in the image of God and objects of the love of God. I understand and acknowledge that their orientation is not a choice they have made, and that the orientation itself is morally neutral. When I renew my baptismal vows using the Prayer Book form, I mean every word of what I say.

Why, then, you might ask, do I not support the agenda of "full inclusion"? Because I also believe that God, the creator of human sexuality, has revealed the context in which sexual intercourse may be called blessed--and that is when it is between one man and one woman who are in a covenanted intentionally lifelong relationship with one another. Sexual intercourse in any other context, while it may, by God's generous grace, mediate significant glimpses of the cosmic reconciliation of which it is meant to be a sacramental sign within marriage, falls short of God's design and desire. "Falling short" is one translation for the New Testament word that is usually rendered "sin." The Christian community lacks the authority to invoke God's blessing on a relationship that--notwithstanding its particular qualities, and by its very nature--falls short in that way.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with the intrinsic dignity of GLBT persons. They bear the image of God as much as anyone else. They have the same range of strengths and weaknesses as anyone else, and the same range of gifts and disabilities. I welcome them fully into the life of the church. But I expect them, as I expect myself and everyone else, to be faithful to the "teaching and fellowship of the apostles" (which includes what God has revealed about sexual morality) and to renounce the "sinful desires that draw [them] from the love of God" (which would include any desires that fall short of God's revealed ideal). The only standard of sexual behavior that the church can commend is fidelity in marriage (defined as it has been traditionally understood) and chastity outside of marriage. Those who are engaged in behavior that, on its face, is dissonant with that standard, are not appropriate candidates for positions of visible leadership in the church. Is this a "hard saying"? You bet. Would I change it if I could? Certainly. Do I have that authority? Thank God, no!

So, you see, my "conservative" position is grounded squarely in the vows and promises of Holy Baptism--not just the eight promises that fall under the rubric of the Baptismal Covenant, but also the six renunciations and adhesions that precede it.

9 comments:

The Ranter said...

I think tend to agree with what you said. I think many look at this as "setting boundaries" and many others are calling this same act "oppression" and those for whom the boundaries are intended as "victims."

R said...

Dan,

Thank you for this conciliatory post, in that you recognize the sincerity of the "other side." I pray that I may say honestly I recognize your sincerity as well, and with that in mind, I would like to ask a few questions about your position for clarification, if not that they might lead to further discussion:

1) You posit the notion of "revealed" truth. Does that forestall the possibility that God might reveal more (either now or in the future)? I think in particular of the Scriptural record regarding slavery, regarded as a revealed reality for many Christians (and our spiritual forbears) for millennia. We could argue that only in the past few centuries was it "revealed" to the majority of humanity and all Christendom that slavery is, in fact, sinful.

2) Is it sufficient, morally and as a witness to the compassion of Christ, to collapse the profound ethical dilemma presented by the traditional Church to our gay and lesbian sisters and brothers by asserting simply that it is God's will for them? The dilemma is, put most simply, a double-bind: they are either to enter traditional marriage against their natural sexual attraction, or assume a life celibacy. That celibacy is a call of some I will freely admit, but it is not to be forced (forgive me for assuming that you would not agree with the Roman Catholic position on clergy).

3) How do we own, as a Church, in your view, Jesus' words in Matthew 18:18-20? I do not presume, in this case, to argue that the Church can do anything with God's approval, but rather I seek to point out that marriage is, however divinely inspired, a human institution that has undergone considerable change over the past 2,000 years within the Church and reflects remarkable diversity even within the Christian family today. Is it remotely possible that the privileges of marriage might be extended to same-sex couples if we came to agree (I ask you take this on only for the sake of argument) that the few explicit prohibitions in Scripture are, like slavery, more cultural artifacts than divine dictums?

Faithfully in Christ, and my prayers.

Dan Martins said...

Richard, thank-you for your comments and questions. I will respond in (hopefully) some depth, but not before this evening (Tuesday), as my calendar is jammed up today. (As you realize, bloggers who are parish priests have "day jobs", eh?!).

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I'm wrong about this, and if so I'm open to listening, but it seems to me that the basic argument put forth by the LGBT community within the church is that sexual behavior is morally neutral, i.e., it's not a moral question.

And in fact, that is the commonly agreed upon opinion within the secular, non-Christian community, in this society. I actually know very few people, and none outside the church, who think that what one does sexually is a matter of right or wrong.

There may be particular circumstances that are more or less approved of, but even those are disputed.

It seems to me that this is the view that the church is being pressured to affirm.

The problem is that the sexual act is not just or primarily a form of recreation, release, or bonding. It is primarily the way that in this creation new life is created. Everything else pushes otherwise atomized individuals to keep creation going.

Because I believe in God, I believe that this was His design and it is good. Therefore, I think that to say that the desire given by us by God to participate in creation is morally neutral means virtually everything, including participating in the end of life is morally neutral.

What's more important than what we do with our God given ability to create life? Not everyone can participate in that. Those of us who have not been given that gift can support the ones who have.

But to denigrate that life creating force, at the demand of a culture that knows nothing but immediate gratification does not seem to me to be a Christian understanding of creation or what it means to live a moral life.

R said...

anonymous,

I would disagree with your characterization of LGBT Christians' position as a whole. You might find individuals who would argue this way, but if this were broadly true, several matters under serious debate right now (such as same-sex blessings) would not even be on the table.

I agree with you that sexual behavior is not morally neutral -- except perhaps in the most clinical sense, but that reduces sex to the combination of body parts devoid of context, which never happens in the world in which I live, at least.

Sexuality (or sexual orientation), on the other hand, is morally neutral. This may be what you have been hearing. In fact, as I understand it, this is what the Roman Catholic Church teaches at present: that the simple sexual attraction we may feel for another person remains essentially neutral unless we act on it. How we act on it is then the moral choice, and those actions carry the moral content.

Sexual behavior always occurs, I would argue, in a context of relationship, intention, and a measure of love, which means even sex within marriage can be morally bad (as in rape) or morally good, as, I agree with you, God intended.

To me, the divine admonition in Scripture to "be fruitful and multiply" can broadly apply to both heterosexual and homosexual couples. "Fruitful" can imply bearing fruit in the greater community, the couple providing a locus of hospitality for guests, strangers, friends, and even other creatures of God. C.S. Lewis, for example, posits that the entire household may be raised on the last day as a living unit.

Sacramentally, the couple are more than the sum of their parts: 1+1 does not equal 2, but something far greater, a new creature in Christ, "one flesh" that brings new life into the community and a vessel of God's grace.

In this context, sex does indeed signify a deep spiritual and physical bond of utter self-giving and mutual joy that, in some cases, might bear biological children, but in most cases (heterosexual or homosexual) is a sacramental act that is the outward and visible sign of the couple as "one flesh," very much in line with traditional Christian teachings and Pauline writing.

We can "multiply" so many ways. Some couples devote their lives to service that multiplies their gifts, and they may never have children. Others may multiply not through biological offspring, but through adoption, drawing those who would be otherwise destitute into a household of warmth, affection, and creative love that offers the child(ren) a place in which to grow into God's call for them.

I believe where our disagreements lie is in a much more narrow moral question: is all homosexual sexual behavior "bad," or can it be morally good in particular context(s)? What most LGBT Christians in the Episcopal Church are arguing right now (and I agree with them) is that within the context of a loving, committed, monogamous, life-long relationship, sexual acts between same-gendered couples can meet the biblical criteria of "be fruitful and multiply," be blessed by the Church and God, and bear salvific fruit in the context of the Christian community and the world. This is, in fact, what I have repeatedly witnessed.

I pray you find this helpful for discussion and further understanding of the positions in the present debates.

Dan Martins said...

Richard wrote:
"You posit the notion of 'revealed' truth. Does that forestall the possibility that God might reveal more (either now or in the future)?"

Without suggesting that everybody has to do it this way, when I use the terms "reveal/ revealed/ revelation" I am speaking of both "general revelation" (aka "natural law") and "special revelation," of which scripture, interpreted through the Church's tradition, is the primary witness and record. In this sense, there is no further revelation. However, Christians obviously discern aspects of revelation that may not have been evident to earlier generations (such as with respect to slavery). It seems more appropriate to use terms like "illumination" rather than "revelation" for such ongoing discernment.

So I do not expect further revelation (in the technical sense) on the subject of sexual morality, though I cannot, on the basis of my own principles, discount the possibility of further illumination. In fact, I suspect we can all expect further illumination in ways we cannot now imagine.

BTW, I do not concede the point that "the Bible" condones slavery anywhere. The worst that can be said is that it is neutral. It simply accepts the reality of slavery as a human institution, without either condoning or condemning it.

The second question you pose--the appearance of "forced celibacy" on GLBT Christians--is admittedly a challenge to anyone's compassionate instincts. It is to mine, at any rate. But your question seems to presuppose a premise I am not ready to accept, which is that the chance to bond in a sexual relationship is a basic human right. Recently on a listsev I frequent, someone linked to a situation in which a hospice program run by Roman Catholics cooperated in procuring the services of a "sex worker" for a dying young man who expressed a desire to have intercourse before he died. The implication of the post was that we would naturally feel tremendous compassion for this man, and see his situation as a difficult moral dilemma. Well, I didn't shed too many tears of sympathy. Plenty of heterosexuals go through life unpartnered, not because they plan it that way, but because, for a variety of reasons, that's just what happens. Men who are married to women their own age usually retain their sex drive quite some time after their wives' has waned. Are we to have an outpouring of compassion for them, and make allowances for the reinstitution of the biblical practice of concubinage? I don't think so. You don't have to have sex to be fulfilled as a human being.

Your application of Matthew 18:18-20 to the problem at hand is certainly arresting. I will not here attempt to exegete the passage, but it's a moot point with respect to where my own understanding of a (divinely revealed) negative moral assessment of intercourse between persons of the same sex is grounded. Unlike some others who would take a conservative view, Leviticus and Romans figure only tangentially for me. My argument is more from Reason than from either Scripture or Tradition. It is teleological, an argument "from design"--or evolutionary biology, if you will.

Also unlike some others of the "conservative" label, I am not closed to a degree of pastoral flexibility with respect to caring for gay and lesbian persons. Quiet, even tacit, pastoral flexibility. But the church, per se, simply lacks the authority to, as you put it, "extend the privileges of marriage" in an official and formal way. It would be to invoke God's blessing on that which, by its nature, falls short of God's revealed ideal. And as I write, I completely understand that this might come across as patronizing. I don't mean it to be, but if it sounds that way--so be it.

Richard, you have an awesome blog and I appreciate this opportunity to engage you.

R said...

Dan,

Thank for the generosity of your time and attention to my questions, and your kind words about my blog. Likewise, I am honored to be in this conversation with you.

Like you, I find the Levitical arguments, as well as those from the Letter to the Romans over-wrought in the debate at hand. Their concerns seem to focus, in context both textual and cultural, on very different concerns than the matters before us. They strike me, too, at best as tangential.

I am interested to know what you make of current exegesis recovering texts (particularly in the Old Testament) as examples of covenant in same-sex relationships (whether physically sexual or not is less important to me, but I will return to that point in a moment.) I'm thinking particularly of the covenants made between Ruth and Naomi and between David and Jonathan. There is also the neutral-to-positive way Jesus treats the loving relationship of the centurion and his boy or servant ("pais"), which may or may not have been sexual in nature. That these are suggestive only, I will admit, but do they open the door in the Scriptural record far enough for us to see possible accommodation for our LGBT sisters and brothers?

Where I might dare to pick up your distinction between "revelation" and "illumination," it seems to me possible that we are in an age where at last we may see illumined our historical heterosexual bias (conditioned, of course, by culture as well as natural biological bias in terms of population percentage) and find, in fact, evidence that some of the biblical authors saw goodness in same-gendered covenant.

What concerns me about your position is that it appears to boil down to concerns about sex itself, and, in particular, anatomy. Three points I'd like to make in disagreement:

1) I would be the last to argue a healthy marriage is rooted ultimately in sex, and, like you, I am very willing to concede that sexual bonding is not a "human right" per se. But that begs the question still of eligibility. All things being equal, do we a priori rule out an entire group of individuals from such culturally/ecclesiologically sanctioned pairings? Put another way, I posted fairly recently a video documentary about a girl (who came out as a lesbian in a very conservative community in the Midwest) who asks her pastor (honestly, it seems to me) if she might spend the rest of her life with another woman (implying to me covenant) and yet not engage in sexual intercourse?

I can remember being attracted to girls before puberty -- but not for sex; rather for companionship. And I will be the first to admit that there are periods in my marriage that are chaste for a long time, and that these probably will increase in the future. It is my understanding that homosexual couples experience precisely the same thing. In short, sexual attraction and pairing may not always involve intercourse, which, while it is a beautiful sacramental thing to me, is not absolutely essential in either a) making a relationship "work" or b) prohibiting the covenantal union of two faithful adults to each other.

2) Contemporary science has uncovered remarkable similarities between men and women at various stages of development and life cycle -- vestigial organs, hormonal triggers, and a whole host of environmental factors that posit gender as more of a continuum than the traditionally understood bifurcated order (which brings the question of transgendered people into the argument). My point is simply that ontological arguments about male and female tend to be rooted only in "majority arguments" (what fits the most facts), but do not comprehend the full make-up of humanity. If indeed God in Christ is One and desires to "draw all things to himself," surely we must begin to take proper account of the experiences and humanity of those who have been historically marginalized and treated as aberrations simply because they are minorities and do not fully fit the bifurcated ontological schema: male - female / heterosexual. (That we have come a long way is in our cultural/theological rejection of light/dark, strong/weak, dominant/subservient, etc.) This to me lies, in part, at the crux of matters concerning ordination. It also points to the long string of sins of the Church in compartmentalizing Christians in various ways based on biological difference, once thought ontological, but now increasingly understood as simply a sign of human diversity. Again, our most ancient tradition reminds us that in "Christ there is neither male nor female. . .Jew nor Greek. . ."

3) Finally, in our age, there is widespread understanding that even within heterosexual relationships there is a wide variety of kinds of intercourse. Earlier, more conservative eras gave us, of course, very narrow definitions of what could be considered "holy sex" -- some of those laws remain on the books in some places. We laugh at some of them today. But this seems to me where a thoroughgoing biological argument leads -- the particularization of the body down to constituent specialized parts. Surely Christian orthodoxy suggests precisely the opposite about holy unions -- that they involve the entire person: body, mind, and spirit. Else marriage is based on fleeting moments in a relationship where particular parts of the body are "joined" according to the Divine plan? I mean not to paint your argument as silly, but only to wonder how it is appropriately nuanced in your mind so as to prevent it from reaching conclusions that might seem overly minimalist or particularizing in the extreme.

Tackling the teleological/biological argument more directly for a moment, there is increasing evidence that homosexuality is widely seen in the animal world as well. For whatever evolutionary reason, it may, in fact, be a naturally appearing part of the created order. Our biases, again, have made us blind to its presence, much as our assumption that slavery was just part of the world made us blind to the plight of peoples in bondage.

I don't claim your arguments and those of others are at all patronizing. But I do wonder if they take fully into account what has been illumined by contemporary empirical research -- the same sort that, in another era, wrought the Copernican revolution at a time the Church was dead set against the notion of anything other than an earth-centered universe. Please understand, I intend no patronization there, either (for heaven's sake, I know the polemic of "flat earthers" is more than painfully overwrought sometimes on "our side" -- it's just insulting!). But this is just a request to further understand. . .or simply to agree to disagree on this point.

I make no argument with you about the strange anecdote you tell about offering sexual favors in extremis. Granted the world is full of strange stories about sex (we as a species and a culture seem to collect them), but it seems to me the current matters under discussion are more "mainstream" in that they involve people leading otherwise fairly mundane and ordinary lives such as I lead, and I suppose, to some degree, you do as well.

With this, I will close simply by noting, I believe in agreement with you, that we live in a sex-obsessed culture. Sexual addiction is a real problem in our environment, as is the erroneous fascination with it as physically only, and devoid of moral content (as I admitted above). But this, to me, does not by any means rule out the very real needs of our LGBT brothers and sisters to live in holy relationships when they hear the call as we do, without bearing reproach or condemnation from their Church, their priests and ministers, or their God. Perhaps you might see me like Jacob wrestling in the wilderness on that one, but what I have learned in the company of my LGBT sisters and brothers invites me to dare to grapple even with God on this question.

Thank you again for the blessing of this time to discuss these matters faithfully.

My prayers remain with you, your ministry, and the Diocese of San Joaquin. As an important aside, I pray that you may find a way to remain a part of the Episcopal Church, and that we may find ways mutually to engage each other without fear or rancor as sisters and brothers in Christ in the days to come.

God's peace.

Anonymous said...

I'm Anonymous from above.

You say:

But this, to me, does not by any means rule out the very real needs of our LGBT brothers and sisters to live in holy relationships when they hear the call as we do, without bearing reproach or condemnation from their Church, their priests and ministers, or their God.

And that sounds so reasonable and kind, one would be a monster, a bigot to object to it.

But we have a problem here. Actually we have a couple of problems.

One problem is that by sanctifying by marriage LGBT sex, we are encouraging children, in their confused adolescence, to think that they have to "make a choice" between being "heterosexual" or "homosexual." This is wicked and evil. Kids go through endless confusions and upheavals during those years and the demands by the
GLBT curriculums in schools to make them commit to homosexuality is awful. But these curriculums are supported by the LGBT people in the church.

A second problem is that this sounds very nice and loving, but we have been told by Lewie Crew that this is just part of the battle against the "patriarchy." Now I don't know what LC means by that. But I know this, if he isn't part of the patriarchy, I don't know who is. He's been manipulating this show, ramming his point home for 20 years.

That's why I just don't understand this "victim", "we're so oppressed" meme. The Episcopal Church has been run and dominated by more-or-less publicly active homosexual priests and bishops for 20 years.

And they don't like women. They'll use women who are useful but that's all they are to them.

Thirdly, the idea that the "inclusivity" of the Anglican church requires rejecting basic catholic doctrine and faith in favor of secular cultural norms is an invention of the deplorable education of so-called Episcopal seminaries.

Sorry, but as as a multi-generational Episcopalian who has been watching carpetbaggers taking over the church since the 70's, I really find this victimization meme offensive.

And I find the latest piling on against the Communique by Integrity, Oasis, and all the syncophant bishops disgraceful.
Everyone of them is accusing the Episcopal Church of bigotry if they don't consecrate bishops living in adultery and blessing relationships that have never been considered Christian.

I just don't understand. Why can't you make your own church that blesses what you want to bless? If you want a ceremony that celebrates two men, why can't you make your own?

You have made it very clear that you're not only not the same as us but (wink wink nudge nudge) you're better than us.

Fine. Could you just stop whining? And complaining that you have some lock on pain and suffering that none of the rest of us have ever known?

Keep watch. dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for thy love's sake; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Anonymous said...

The more I read this blog, the more I agree with Dan