Carioca: Anyone born in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Confess: to acknowledge one's belief or faith in; declare adherence to, to reveal by circumstances.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
On Sin & Blessability, etc.
Yesterday was a more-active-than-usual day for me on the HoB/D, and it seems worthwhile to share my own contributions to a thread about the perrennial bugaboo of sexuality:
To address xxx's question: (If a same-sex couple from your diocese came to Connecticut and got legally married, could either person (or both) then return home and serve at the altar in your diocese?)
Not being the bishop of my diocese (for which legions give thanks), I cannot give a definitive answer.
Were I the bishop, I don't know that their partnered status prior to their brief Connecticut sojourn would have prevented them from serving at the altar (in either a licensed or non-licensed lay capacity) in the first place. So whatever took place in CT would not change that. That's just my personal view. I realize it may be a little more "progressive" than the policy of the Diocese of Dallas. But before you pop the champagne cork: Again, were I the bishop, either status would yield a presumptive negative answer to any question of discernment for ordination. Nor would there be any question of celebrating or blessing whatever may have taken place in CT. The point is, while I support extending the sort of legal "rights and privileges" of marriage to any two consenting adults who might want them, I continue to hold the presently unpopular (on this listserv, at any rate) view that marriage inherently is something, and is not simply a social construct that can be whatever a societal consensus might support, and that that "thing" that marriage is precludes the use of the word to denote a relationship between two persons of the same sex, as much as such relationships might look or feel or work like or otherwise resemble marriage, and even as much as any given such relationship might display the attributes of Christian marriage as well or better than any given actual marriage. Not everything that quacks and waddles is a duck.
Someone asked me to elaborate, and this was my reply:
This is an attempt to respond to xxx's question upstream. I do so with trepidation, aware that this listserv has a low flash point, and my best attempt at "cool" communication will no doubt be offensive to some. Nonetheless, I will take the risk, because the question as hand is important.
When I mention "attributes of Christian marriage", I am thinking of the "Dearly beloved..." speech in the Prayer Book. And in the context of relationships that (I would contend) are not marriage exhibiting these characteristics, I'm thinking specifically of "mutual joy" and "help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity." I am certainly in no position to deny the testimony of those partners in same-sex relationships that they experience these things in their relationships. And I rejoice in that. "Mutual joy" and "help and comfort" are good things, blessings that I would wish on everyone. As to whether the presence of such qualities is a presumptive sign of the overt presence of the Holy Spirit, I do not consider myself qualified to say, and I am terminally suspicious of anyone who claims to be so qualified.
I understand that this might strike some as either incoherent or inconsistent (or both!). I'm tentative about this, but the sum of my experience and reflection has brought me to a place where, at present, I can acknowledge the presence of goodness and health even in the larger context of sin and disease. For instance, the fact that an adulterous affair is "inherently sinful" (probably no argument from anyone in the room on that, I suspect) does not negate the reality that it can mediate joy and life to those who participate in it. Distorted joy and life, no doubt, but joy and life nonetheless. But recognizing the presence of good things (joy and life) in the midst of a bad thing (an adulterous affair) does not make the bad thing good--i.e. does not therefore make it merit a blessing.
Now, as to "inherently sinful"-- Yes, if pressed (which is to say, this isn't the first thing I would say on the subject), my understanding of the Christian moral tradition and enduring consensus is that sexual activity outside the context of marriage between one man and one woman is "inherently sinful." Many of our problems in discourse arise, however, when "sinful" is automatically equated with "overtly and fully evil," such that two teenagers getting carried away after prom is equated with genocide (at a visceral level, at any rate). I have found it helpful to keep coming back to the Greek root of sin as harmartia--literally, falling short of the mark. An arrow can be aimed in the right direction, but fall short. My intuitive hunch is that a merciful God is pleased when our arrows are aimed in the right direction even when they fall short. He encourages us and says, "Good try. Keep it up. You'll get there." But he does not unqualifiedly bless our efforts as if we had hit the target. And neither can we bless our own efforts that don't hit the target, even if they are aimed in the right direction.
And why do I insist that sexual relationships outside of (heterosexual) marriage fall short of the target? This brings us back around to the "Dearly beloved..." speech. In addition to the characteristic of marriage that I already mentioned above, the Prayer Book rite talks about "the bond and covenant of marriage [that] was established by God in creation," a relationship that "signifies to us the union between Christ and his Church." The allusion to "creation" removes marriage from the category of a merely human social institution that human society is at liberty to reconfigure at will. The imagery borrowed from Ephesians 5 is nothing other than a "boy meets girl, boy loves girl, boy loses girl, boy rescues girl" narrative. (It's not for no reason that the Church has always been referenced by feminine pronouns.) Indeed, the entire meta-narrative of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, is speckled with nuptial imagery as a metaphor for the divine-human relationship.
Finally, there is the procreative purpose of marriage: "...for the procreation of children, and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord." Procreation is certainly not the sole purpose of either marriage in particular or sexual relations in general. There are childless marriages and there is non-procreative sex. But we delude ourselves (IMO), and do so at our collective peril, if we think we can totally isolate marriage and sex from procreation. Intercourse in marriage "looks like" an act that has the potential to create a child--it is a sign of fruitfulness--even when there are obvious reasons that any given act will not do so, and even when measures are taken to ensure that it will not do so. It is a reminder that neither sex nor marriage are "all about" the participants. They are sign-laden channels of connection with the mysterious tapestry of God's re-weaving of the torn fabric of creation. When we think anything less of them, we get into trouble.
I don't expect to persuade anyone of anything by all of this, but I thought xxx's questions deserved a thoughtful response.