Monday, April 5, 2010

First response to House of Bishop's report on Same-Sex Relationships in the Life of the Church

OK, it's a geek moment. And this is long and insider baseball, so if this is not your cup of tea, feel free to skip right along, there.

I am trying to read the House of Bishop’s document on Same Sex Relationships in the Life of the Church, and it is making me dizzy. So far, I have only gotten partway through "A View from the Traditionalists.” The logic…I am having trouble with the logic. Here’s a paragraph that makes me go “huh?”.

Taking the [Biblical] passages individually, there is some plausibility in the critical reinterpretation (except, we would say, in the case of Romans 1 where the liberal case is specious). A coherent understanding emerges from setting these passages in interrelationship, not least because sometimes they are alluding to one another. Further, setting these various passages in the context of a broader theological framework has the effect of reinforcing the traditional interpretation of the texts. Specifically, Scripture sets proper sexual expression within the context of God’s designing a lifelong exclusive heterosexual relationship as the context for bringing up children. (p. 12

Let me see if I understand what they are saying:

Taking the [Biblical] passages individually, there is some plausibility in the critical reinterpretation

In other words, yes, there are some arguments against reading the usual passages as definitive statements against what we have as same-sex relationships in contemporary culture.

(except, we would say, in the case of Romans 1 where the liberal case is specious)

The passage in question is Romans 1:26-27 which says, “Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another.” The Traditionalists who wrote this paper say this is “cleverly dealt with by limiting its reference only to those individuals, whether heterosexual or homosexual, who act against their natural instincts and (perversely) engage in erotic activity with those to whom they are not naturally attracted to. In other words, homosexuals who have an inherent same-sex orientation, it is argued, are not in view in this passage, because they act in accordance with nature.” (p. 12) Seems pretty straightforward to me, and a quite literal reading of the text. How is this specious? I don’t understand that. Truly.

A coherent understanding emerges from setting these passages in interrelationship, not least because sometimes they are alluding to one another. Further, setting these various passages in the context of a broader theological framework has the effect of reinforcing the traditional interpretation of the texts.

So…even though each one individually can be shown to have little to no bearing on contemporary consensual same-sex relationships, together they prove the case? I’m stymied. Especially when this is followed by

Specifically, Scripture sets proper sexual expression within the context of God’s designing a lifelong exclusive heterosexual relationship as the context for bringing up children.

Ummm…I’m completely at a loss to see how Scripture gives this as a clear message, given, you know, Abraham, David, etc. Aren’t sexual and familial relationships culturally based throughout the Scriptures?

I'm not trying to be snarky, here. These are genuine questions. Truly, I’m just pole-axed by this document. It’s not that it’s simply recycling old arguments; it’s that it does it so feebly. I’m trying to read it with an open mind but…this is all you’ve got?

Another claim in this document is that “At the heart of our position is the conviction that the issue of same-sex marriage simply cannot be put in the same category as other social issues on which Anglicans and Christians in general have changed their mind.” [p. 7] Why? “[E]ach issue has its own rationale, pattern of biblical material and its interpretation, and its own distinctive relationship to science and philosophy. When this is done, the case for same-sex marriage does not have the same kind of biblical support and philosophical rationale as women’s ordination and a moderate divorce policy have, for example.”

The problem for me is that the arguments DO sound exactly the same. Take the argument over slavery, for example—one that is so clear-cut today. It took me two minutes to Google an article called Battle for the Bible  by Mark A. Noll, a history professor at Wheaton College, not known for its liberal tendencies.  I heartily recommend it.  One paragraph that leapt out at me:


As early as 1846, the Connecticut Congregationalist Leonard Bacon, who very much wanted to oppose slavery as a sin, nonetheless hung back. His analysis of the spirit-over-the-letter argument caught the dilemma exactly: "The evidence that there were both slaves and masters of slaves in the churches founded and directed by the apostles, cannot be got rid of without resorting to methods of interpretation which will get rid of everything." In Bacon’s view, the well-intentioned souls who "torture the Scriptures into saying that which the anti-slavery theory requires them to say" did great damage to the scriptures themselves.

Sounds like those abolitionists were captive to the culture to me.

And the argument that somehow same-sex marriage has less biblical support and philosophical rationale than women’s ordination and a moderate divorce policy have seems (dare I say) specious. At any rate, I don’t know that there’s much historical support for that statement. I guess, however, this means that the fight about women’s ordination is over, eh? Better tell all the traditionalists who still think it’s wrong due to “a misplaced notion that they [the church] needed to be relevant, current, and adhere to secular society's thoughts about women's roles.”

I dunno. I think this fight is the same fight and the same fear that this time the Scriptures will be torn beyond repair, that we’ll “get rid of everything.” But I’m firmly convinced we’re not. This is the same Scripture Jesus was talking about when he said “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for Sabbath.” God knows maybe next time with the next issue and the next group of people it will be me looking on anxiously while I fear the Bible is being trashed.  I hope I’ll remember that the Bible is resilient and that we’ve been through this before.

5 comments:

qoe said...

Considering that Jesus really had nothing to say about sex, in general, I think these arguments are on the nutty side of things and waste a lot of energy to accomplish very little aside from tabloid attention-getting.

Jesus talked about divorce and desire (lust) that would lead someone to misconduct with a married person. The "sinless can cast the first stone" story is about adultery, but since all the men walked away, the implication is either that none of the men were without sin or that the woman was not guilty! Not only that, but I think Deuteronomy says both the man and the woman need to be stoned in such a case... Have to get the tome out and find that passage...

The first question that should be asked and answered is "who is thy neighbor" and the second is "what are my responsibilities to my neighbor?"

Maybe the House of Bishops will take that up, one of these days...

it's margaret said...

I got so frustrated with the so-called traditionalist view that I decided not to try to analyze it.... but, I am not a sola-scriptura kind of gal --sacramentalist all the way, thank you.

I thought the so-called liberal view to be quite traditionalist, and finally puts a good argument forward regarding the institution of marriage --at last.

Anonymous said...

this has nothing to do with same-sex relationships - but you are the second person in a week to use the phrase "inside baseball," and I have no idea what it means or where it comes from. can you enlighten me?

many thanks!

Laura Toepfer said...

How funny! "Insider baseball" as an insider baseball phrase. It just means people talking shop in a way that people who don't know the subject either won't get or won't care about.

You weren't pulling my leg by asking that, were you?

Laura Toepfer said...

Here's the definition from the late, great William Safire:

"From its sports context comes its political or professional denotation: minutiae savored by the cognoscenti, delicious details, nuances discussed and dissected by aficionados."

http://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/19/magazine/on-language-inside-baseball.html?pagewanted=1

And apparently, I've been using it wrong; it should be "inside baseball" not "insider."