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.
- Show quoted text -


Sibyl said...

Simply put, we either act, think, speak and believe in congruency, conformity, unity and accord with God's Word and His Nature which define Truth, Love, Life or we do not.

Not doing so is sin, brings harmful consequences; doing so brings blessings and continues our sweet communion with God, which IS life's greatest IS Life.

plsdeacon said...

Marriage is not a construct of the Church nor is it a construct of Society. It is something that God created and ordained in Creation. In the Church, we bless marriages for four reasons:
1. God ordained it in creation
2. Jesus adorned it by his presence and first miracle at Cana
3. Paul tells us it signifies the union between Christ and the Church
4. Holy Scripture commends it to be honored among all people.

So far as I can tell, none of these are true for same sex unions. Therefore the Church lacks the authority to call them "marraiges" and it lacks the authority to bless same sex unions.

Phil Snyder

Undergroundpewster said...

I followed those posts, and I commend you for your courage. I am fortunate to be blocked from commenting on those pages, because if I were allowed, I might be faced with the following problem,

"Just then they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that rise from that plain. And no sooner did Don Quixote see them that he said to his squire, 'Fortune is guiding our affairs better than we ourselves could have wished. Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them. With their spoils we shall begin to be rich for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless.'

'What giants?' asked Sancho Panza.

'Those you see over there,' replied his master, 'with their long arms. Some of them have arms well nigh two leagues in length.'

'Take care, sir,' cried Sancho. 'Those over there are not giants but windmills. Those things that seem to be their arms are sails which, when they are whirled around by the wind, turn the millstone.'"

(Quotation lifted from wikipedia)

Otherwise, I agree with Phil's summary. Hoist that banner high as you charge forth!

Sibyl said...

I will add another item to Deacon Phil's summary: Christ's words in Matthew 5 and Mark 10 reiterate and confirm God's ordained design for marriage in creation.

Martial Artist said...

Fr. Martins,

I second the reasons set forth by Deacon Snyder and Sibyl. And I thank you for exposing the members of the HOB/D listserve to the truth.

Pax et bonum,
Keith Töpfer

Sibyl said...

Another thought this morning - as we align ourselves with God and His Word, as we worship in Spirit and in Truth, we are in unity with each other as a result, thus, we allow God's grace, blessing, peace, freedom, joy, anointing and power to avail for us, as individuals, families, as groups and nations.

If we do otherwise, we depart from God's Word, will and design and that is giving place to and cooperating with the enemy of God. When we align ourselves with evil and destructive spiritual entities, we open the door to the enemy of God to operate and wreak havoc and destruction in our field of influence. Matthew 12:44; Luke 11:25.

TLF+ said...

I wish the fruit of the Spirit that grows on you were more abundant with me. I very much admire the love, patience and self-control with which you walk into that temptation laden listserve.

My flashpoint is too low, also.

Thank you for your Scriptural, traditional and reasonable reflection here. Even the "straight" culture regards marriage as a social construct, not a vocation. We are jettisoning a revealed vocation as we buy into the cultural trend.

Victorian Barbarian said...

Thanks for the measured tone and humility with which you express this opinion, even though I suspect that you are mistaken about whether same sex relationships can be marriages. My opinion is otherwise, but at least yours is clearly grounded on a reasoned intrepretation of scripture and understanding of tradition, unlike so many others on both sides of this controversy.

I cannot explain the survival of my own partnership for 35 years without believing that God's transforming and sustaining power is at work there as well as in any marriage recognized by the Church or the state; only God can turn dry bones into living flesh.

Sibyl said...

Here are a couple of article on marriage in the arena today:

In the orthodox corner, defending the Championship title, sponsored by The Scriptures and over 2000 years of Christian Theology is Mike McManus, journalist:

In the opposing corner, contending for the title, is the Anglican Church of Canada sponsored by the Revisionist Pansexual Agenda and Contemporary Experiments in Western Thought and Culture:

Dale Matson said...

"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."
I don't agree with what you say here. You initially say that an adulterous affair can mediate Joy and Life, then you say that they are distorted joy and life. If they are distorted then they are not joy and life. How can a sinful act lead to ANY form of joy or life? Sin may stroke the ego but it damages the soul.

Anonymous said...

While the argument from creation is powerful--persuasive even--that the union of same sex couples cannot be called "marriage," it doesn't definitively explain why monogamous same-sex relationships of fidelity cannot be blessed. Are there grounds on which that claim can be made, other than through passages in Leviticus or the widely contested reading of Romans 1? Is there some other way of seeing that argument? I'm genuinely curious.

Sibyl said...

Dear Anonymous, Because God said so and we must trust and believe Him. And because sin always harms, distorts, defiles, destroys. See Dale Matson's answer. What looks, seems and feels good to us, is not necessarily good. We must seek what is good in God's eyes. We can hedge, wrestle, wheedle, wangle...but it will not change reality or God's Word.

The way of blessing, righteousness, peace and joy is to deny the (conditioned and inborn behaviors, feelings, desires of the) flesh, the ungodly pressures of the world and the temptations and deceptions of the devil. We must crucify, expose, renounce sin, evil and deception and live in the Kingdom of Truth, Love and Light - and make Christ our first love - (Psalm 73:25-26) even if as we live a chaste and celibate life. That would be better than to live in sin separated from God. To live out of conformity to God's Word is to live under the cruel dominion of evil.

God's love, truth and mission offer real satisfaction of all human needs and are more than sufficient to fill all the voids and heal the wounds (occurring often so early that it seems inborn and central to one's identity) that have created sexualized same-sex feelings. All physical and emotional responses are created by conditioning and are subject to change through healthy changes of thoughts, beliefs about oneself and in healthy relationships with therapists and in the healing and supportive koinonia fellowship of the Church. This is Christ's intent for His Church as laid out in I Corinthians 6:9-11; Ephesians 5:21 and James 5:16 and throughout the Epistles. We are all disoriented and misdirected and need reorientation and redirection process called sanctification. Philippians 2:12-13
We are to overcome sin, not celebrate it. We glorify God and overcome by the Blood of the Lamb, the word of our testimonies and being willing to die to self and if necessary, give our lives for the truth of the transforming Gospel. Revelation 12:11

Anonymous said...

Thank you Dcn Dale for addressing the elephant in the thread!

When I initially read Fr. Dan's response I was perplexed by it and said the same thing to myself. Not being able to comment on the Listserv I commented to my computer screen instead. Now I find that he has posted his response here on his sight and you beat me to the punch. But that is God's way of using the right person to say it so it gets said correctly and not in a tone of .....You've got t o be kidding me!" kind of way!
Thank you Dcn Dale