Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Still Thinking Post-Hui Thoughts

Not quite the right time at present to do much writing re the Hermeneutical Hui and reflections after the event. But I am still thinking, and listening to what people are saying.

I am impressed by the following, at this time:

the resistance of some to change

the openness of some to the pastoral dimensions of the situation

the apparent irrelevance of the Hui to many in the church (for whom a host of other issues are urgent).

Friday, July 9, 2010

Published Papers from Hui

Some readers here have worried about the lack of available papers from previous Hermeneutical Hui in our church.

Well, here we are. Some from the latest Hui are available. Thanks Taonga!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Further note re Leviticus and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

In a recent posting I drew attention to the background in Leviticus 18:22 LXX for the (then) new word arsenokoites (a man who lies with a man) in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, suggesting (with many scholars) that Paul uses this word with Leviticus 18:22 in mind.

But at the Hui the presenter of one paper drew attention to a better candidate, Leviticus 20:13 (which is effectively Leviticus 18:22-plus-punishment).

Here, courtesy Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft are the two verses in Leviticus LXX:

18:22 καὶ μετὰ ἄρσενος οὐ κοιμηθήσῃ κοίτην γυναικός· βδέλυγμα γάρ ἐστιν.

20:13 καὶ ὃς ἂν κοιμηθῇ μετὰ ἄρσενος κοίτην γυναικός, βδέλυγμα ἐποίησαν ἀμφότεροι· θανατούσθωσαν, ἔνοχοί εἰσιν.

In the former arsenos and koiten are separated; in the latter they are side by side.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Second Post Hui Thoughts

For me, from the Hui, thanks to the thinking of others, especially some excellent theologians in my small group, these three (sets of) questions are topmost in my mind the day after the Hui:

(1) Are we in a 'new situation' today where stable, faithful, permanent, covenanted same sex partnerships, including those socially ordered via state civil law, constitute an expression of sexuality both unknown and not addressed by the New Testament (and the Old Testament viewed through a christological lens)?

(2) Are we stuck in a polarised debate which serves no useful purpose because if one side were to win the debate it would not change the presence of gay and lesbian people in the life of the church, and if the other side were to win the debate it would not change the presence of conservative Christians in the church (and in surrounding churches)? Can we move beyond this unresolved if not unresolvable debate by a re-envisioning of the situation, for example, by beginning a conversation about a theology of friendship which offers a Scripturally framed account of same gender relationships?

(3) Can we be honest to ourselves as a whole church and acknowledge that on matters such as usury and remarriage of divorcees we have faced Scripture, which on a plain reading bans usury and permits remarriage of divorcees under the narrowest of extenuating circumstances, we have gone 'beyond' Scripture to find a way forward which embraces social reality and expresses grace and compassion? If we were agreeable about what we have done on these matters, could we then find a way forward together (for that by and large is what we have achieved on usury and remarriage) on homosexuality? [For the record, my immediate thoughts on this question are that this set of questions does not necessarily lead to a quick and satisfactory answer because there are plenty of nuances to consider, including the fact that embracing usury has in times and places contributed to human misery, and the church generally has not changed its mind that divorce is not something to celebrate ...]

Thursday, July 1, 2010

First Post Hui Thoughts

I have published these over at Anglican Down Under. I will probably post here in the next week or two on various aspects of the Hui - some of my own learnings, some of my questions.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Final Pre Hui Thoughts

Some final thoughts before the Hui next week.

(1) This next Hui is part of a work in progress, building up to a final Hui next year. Please do not expect some 'conclusion' of great seminal importance to emerge from next week.

(2) It remains quite unclear to me how any conclusion we reach next week will be translated into resolution of this church, be it via General Synod or diocesan synods and hui amorangi. Any conclusion reached by a small group of our widespread church will need to be received, and the character of that reception is not at all clear to me.

(3) A great challenge for the particular task of the forthcoming Hui will be to engage members in real communication with each other (not talking past each other), and in real communication with the texts (not talking solely about each other's experiences and doing so disconnected from the text).

(4) Please pray that the Holy Spirit who inspired Scripture will illuminate it for us. Thank you!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

1 Corinthians 6: the most important passage? (Pt 2)

"'Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practise homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of heaven.And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God." 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (ESV)

In my previous post I note a number of questions raises by this passage which I am afraid I do not have time currently to take further, but I happily commend two great commentaries on 1 Corinthians to you, those by Fee and Thiselton. So, just a few more exploratory thoughts - more questions, than answers!

Important here is the opening question, "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?" Paul is writing (as he has been on other matters up to this point) about things of ultimate importance. The alternative to inheriting the kingdom of God is not retirement in Bermuda. It is non-trivial to find that, in the end, the judgement is made that we shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

This gives a general edge to our considerations: let's understand this passage well. But it also gives a particular edge to an important element in Anglican Communion debates (and similar debates in other churches): we are not talking about a range of ethical possibilities, all equally valid, and wondering if we can agree to disagree and all get along; rather, many conservatives are pointing out, we are talking about salvation itself, and the possibility that making the wrong ethical choice can lead to loss of salvation. In blunt terms, it is often said, the gospel itself is at stake in the debate over homosexuality. Here I do not want to take these points further as they involve some considerable questions and issues, but I think it worth reminding ourselves that for a substantial number of Anglicans what is at stake is not only 'ethics' but also 'theology', and their depth of concern is such that they have in many cases made a decision to walk away from Anglican churches which deny their concerns.

Then there is the question of what kind of 'unrighteousness' is envisaged here. 'Thieves', 'drunkards', and 'swindlers' appears to refer to egregious criminal behaviour. But is 'greedy' referring to a criminal level of behaviour (pace certain moneymen appearing in courts around the world today) or to me and the mysterious disappearance of chocolates from the chocolate box last night? Who are 'revilers'?

With reference to the sexual matters mentioned in the list, sexual immorality, adultery, and homosexual practices, are these the lurid kinds of acts that tabloid newspapers love to salivate over, or a simple indicative list of sexual behaviours which are outside of the bond of marriage?

Then, and this takes us back to the intriguing question of the meaning of the Greek words (see my post below), is there anything here which impinges on 'loving, stable, permanent, faithful same sex partnerships'? Most Christians, liberal through to conservative are unpersuaded by arguments for the righteousness of casual sexual promiscuity: if that behaviour is all that Paul is referring to here, then we agree with him!

I suggest we take care not to get too anxious over the meaning of the Greek words used, malakoi and arsenokoites, as though if we can prove they mean X and Y but not Z then Z is 'in the clear'. Paul clearly is not giving a comprehensive list of the practices which imperil salvation. He does not mention incest or bestiality but it is incomprehensible that their absence here means we can think them righteous behaviours. Similarly for cruelty to people or animals, or murder, or drug-taking.

It is quite possible - but not often noted - that Paul (a) consistent with other passages in the Bible which affirm marriage (including the treatise he is about to pen in 1 Corinthians 7) and do not affirm homosexual practices, believes God to judge any same sex partnership, casual or permanent, to be unrighteous, and (b) singles out two practices here (i.e. via use of malakoi and arsenokoites) which are unrighteous but also represent God's salvation at work, for the Corinthian congregation includes post-malakoi and post-arsenokoites washed, sanctified, justified Christians.

Another way of putting the point just made is this: doubting the applicability of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 to faithful, stable, permanent same sex partnerships is not the same thing as establishing the righteousness of such partnerships. To establish that case involves some other steps (e.g. along the lines being advanced by Howard Pilgrim in his comments on this site, and in particular in reference to the most recent posts here).

I need to stop for now. A further point, which I think is important: the whole of 1 Corinthians 5-7 is a complex, creative, and wide ranging treatise on human sexuality. It earths Christian sexual ethics in a theology of creation (6:16), welds it into a theology of the Holy Spirit (6:19), nails it to the cross (6:20), and refuses to pit it against Christian freedom (6:12). Much more can and should be said, but this treatise is one of the most sophisticated pieces of theological argumentation you will ever read!

Thus Paul in tackling the question of consorting with prostitutes does not resort to saying "It's wrong. Do not do it." Instead he takes his readers in 6:15-20 through a subtle argument in which he teases out the implication of our bodies being members of Christ, of sexual intercourse with any woman being a marriage act, of the special character of sexual sin, of the character of our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, and, above all, of the significance of belonging to God.

Our minds should boggle at the thought of what Paul would write were he preparing a paper for the forthcoming Hermeneutical Hui. Would his exacting theological analysis and creative (inspired!) exploration of all relevant themes combine into a conclusion which would fit with your present views, or mine, or neither?

Monday, June 21, 2010

1 Corinthians 6: the most important passage? (Pt 1.1)

Howard Pilgrim, a theological colleague within ACANZP (and contributor to the forthcoming Hermeneutical Hui) has responded to my Pt 1 below ... but had difficulties with Blogger 'chewing' the comment. So here it is (with a couple of comments from me in italics):

A second attempt to respond to your post, Peter ... Blogger ate the first one, so I will try to keep this one leaner and less appetising to the lurking nemesis. Without knowing where you intend to go with Pt2, I want to pick you up on two points so far.

1. You read this text as affirming that “our sexual behaviour ... impinges on our salvation.” This is true only to the extent that other offences on Paul’s several lists in Chapters 5 and 6 carry exactly the same consequences. Broadly speaking, those offences are matters of sexual behaviour (mostly heterosexual) and financial/economic oppression. I want to suggest that even these do not comprise an exclusive list of danger areas, but are included in this part of the epistle as a response to the particular presenting issues before Paul – the forbidden relationship between a man and his step mother, the court case(s) between fellow Christians, and some tolerance of the use of prostitutes. Paul’s rhetoric against these abuses includes condemning them by association with other sexual and economic wrongdoing. There is no suggestion that salvation is not imperilled by other classes of sins, and indeed idolatry and pride find their way into his condemnation, by association. My point then is this, that this text cannot be cited to single out sexual sins as specially perilous as you appear to be doing here. [PRC: Agreed.]

2. Your discussion of possible meanings for the key terms naming homosexual relations makes one thing clear – that the meanings of these terms, as Paul used them, is not clear at all! What does this portend for our discussion of homosexuality? How can an unclear text guide us towards the mind of God? I submit that there is a clear answer ... that we do not need to concern ourselves with the exact meanings of any of the terms in these lists of sins. Now let me explain myself:-

a) It is no easier to determine just what Paul meant by greed or robbery than it is to decipher the exact meaning of his sexual terms, but that does not lessen the impact of his warning regarding them.

b) His warning does not refer to these sins in their particular nature, but to sin in general. Sin is incompatible with salvation. Each of these particular sins is an abuse of our duty to love God and/or our neighbour, and none of them is a victimless crime. In each case, the Christians involved should have known better, and their failure to act out their faith is what puts their salvation at risk.

c) This is where my argument gets really Anglican, appealing to the tradition of Hooker, Sanderson, et. al. Any attempt to derive moral theology from the scriptures involves a fusion of at least two things: an exegetical process of reading the text to ascertain what it most probably meant in its original context; and a “reading” of our own particular social context to determine the facts on the ground to which the scripture may speak. As the two contexts, separated by 2000 years of cultural change, will have differences as well as similarities, finding the mind of God for today involves a transforming process of reasoning, prayer and consultation (as in Rom 12:1-2). One part of this process that cannot be bypassed is the “facts on the ground” investigation. Specifically, if we are considering homosexual relationships, then we need to find out what is happening in such relationships today, in our own context, among faithful Christians. Those facts, as we find them, are far more significant than what was happening among homosexuals in Paul’s day (which is why Lambeth 2008 called in vain for conservatives to engage in respectful conversations with gay Christians, as had happened among a minority of bishops at that conference). To know whether our economic arrangements constitute greed or theft, in the light of Paul’s warning, we need to examine the facts of modern life, asking whether we are loving our neighbours as ourselves. Similarly, a Christian ethic of homosexuality can only be derived from considering the facts of life as lived out by our brothers and sisters committed to faithful same-sex relationships. [PRC: The words 'can only be derived' is a very strong statement limited, apparently, engagement with what Scripture says.]

Sunday, June 20, 2010

1 Corinthians 6: the most important passage? (Pt 1)

In our haste to interpret texts which speak about an issue of the day we can rush ourselves and miss relevant wider contexts. Two wider contexts for the text 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 are Paul's lengthy addressing of a range of questions and issues concerning marriage and sexual behaviour, and the connection made between sexual behaviour and salvation. It is the latter context which relates this text, perhaps more than any other, to a strong theme in 'current Anglican troubles'. That theme, as emphasised by many Anglicans described as 'evangelical' or 'conservative' or both, is that our sexual behaviour is not a small, let alone trivial matter; rather, it impinges on our salvation. At the very least this means it is no light matter for the church to press ahead seeking change to our understanding of sexual ethics: we could - with the best pastoral intentions in the world - deceive fellow Christians into thinking that something was right and unproblematic when not only was it wrong but also that it represented a problem for our salvation.

Here is the text:

'Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practise homosexuality,* nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of heaven.' 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (ESV)

Actually, I think we should extend this to include 6:11:

'And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God.'

Now first a technical matter of translating two key Greek words (indicated by the asterisk above): 'men who practise homosexuality' translates the words malakoi and arsenokoites. It is not too difficult to work out that these words concern men and sex: malakoi means a 'soft man' and arsenokoites literally is 'men' plus 'bed'. What is more difficult, indeed the subject of ongoing debate, is what behaviour or behaviours are being indicated by these words. To give one for instance, is malakoi about 'effeminate men' akin, say, to certain stereotypes about homosexuals, or is it a word indicating a male prostitute, or is it a word for the (so called) passive partner in a sexual act between two men? If the last then is arsenokoites a reference to (so called) active partners in such acts? Further, noting the Hellenistic background , with its custom of men loving men in a socially accepted manner, that is, older men having a younger male for a period prior to marriage, is Paul 'having a go' at this specific practice by using these two words?

Or, is malakoi a reference to something we cannot now be clear about, but arsenokoites is a generic word for all men who engage in sex acts (for which 'bed' is a euphemism) with other men? One part of the debate (indicated by me in an earlier post) concerns whether arsenokoites is a coined word from Leviticus 18:22 and thus is a very direct linkage between New Testament and Old Testament concerns about homosexuality.

In short, quite a few questions. In Part 2 I will explore these and further matters.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Romans 1

The sad thing about focusing on homosexuality in this chapter is that we quickly move from considering the role the chapter places as the foundation to the whole of the Epistle to the Romans which is, arguably, the greatest single piece of Christian theological literature ever written. If Romans is the gospel, God's solution of grace to the problem of the human condition, then Romans 1 sets out the problem, 'For the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.' (1:18)

One way to look at some issues in the chapter in respect of homosexuality is via a dialogue between two people GSE and GUE! The first is Gay Sympathetic Exegete and the second is Gay Unsympathetic Exegete.

GUE: Romans 1 is a key passage in understanding the Bible on homosexuality. It is the one passage which clearly condemns both gay sex and lesbian sex.

GSE: Just so we are talking about the same words, can you please point me to the condemnatory words.

GUE: Here they are, in verses 26 and 27, 'For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. 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. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.' Pretty clear don't you think?

GSE: Well, maybe not as clear as you think. What is clear is talk about 'exchanged natural intercourse' and 'giving up natural intercourse'. But, do you not know, that many gay and lesbian people have no nature or natural longings to exchange or give up? They are the way they are made. The passage, I suggest, only applies to people who make sex such an idol that they will have sex with anyone or anything - Paul had probably heard about the party antics of Roman nobility at orgies, and about the Roman emperor who wanted to marry his horse! After all the main wickedness Romans 1 is aimed at is idolatry (verses 21-23).

GUE: Let me get this very clear in my own mind because it is something I have not heard about before. Are you saying that for many gay and lesbian people, the way they are is their 'nature' and being gay or lesbian means nothing is given up or exchanged about their sexual identification?

GSE: That's right. And I am only saying 'many' because I recognise that some gay and lesbian people have been married and produced children, so the question could arise about whether they have 'exchanged' what was natural. But even then, lots of questions exist about why they married, against their true nature. Was there, for instance, a social pressure which led them to go against their natural inclination? In a sense, Romans 1:26-27 could be a condemnation of a heterosexist world in which people feel forced to conform to it, against their natural condition.

GUE: So that's it, then?

GSE: No. There are a few more things to be said. Verse 26, for instance, begins with this sentence, "For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions." But our debate in the church today is not about "degrading passions." It is about whether two people may love each other, passionately, yes; but not with any sense of degradation. When we read verses 26 and 27 against the whole of the chapter, we see Paul condemning what is gross wickedness, not the ordinary things of human life, a family at play, a couple in love, a community enjoying God's good creation. Whatever is going on here, this passage is not a condemnation of two people of the same gender committing themselves to each other for life.

GUE: OK, I think I get all that. But I think I am still left with some questions. Perhaps they will be answered at the Hermeneutical Hui! :) Here are two:

(1) When I read Romans 1:1-3:20 it seems that Paul is writing about the whole of humanity, Jew and Greek (i.e. Gentile), all of us sinners, none of us righteous. Is it straightforward that Romans 1:26-27 is talking about individuals and their natural sexual natures, and then singling out those indulging in licentious sexual idolatry, or is it talking more representatively about abnormal sexual tendencies in human society, measured against norms in creation, resulting from our general rebellion as humanity against God?

(2) Suppose, according to your arguments above, Romans 1:26-27 is, indeed, only focused on naturally heterosexual people pursuing sexual pleasure to a point where they will indulge in what is for them unnatural sexual intercourse, does that not leave us with 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 to consider?

GSE: Naturally (!) I do not agree with your (1). And (2) is logically correct!!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Fiddling While Romans Burns?

Our Hermeneutical Hui project in ACANZP is clear that there is an important need to talk about the Bible and Human Sexuality. Albeit slowly, we are making our way with determination towards the 'topic of the day'. None too soon in respect of the Communion to which we belong being on the verge of a meltdown.

So you will understand if I am not entirely convinced that a much bigger Bible reading project for the Communion is okey-dokey starting with the environment as a key issue of the day. The environment is an urgent issue; but is it the Communion's most urgent issue?

From an ACNS release:

"Members of the worldwide Anglican Communion are working together on a project to discover what the Bible tells the church about saving the planet from environmental damage.

The Bible in the Life of the Church project manager, Stephen Lyon, said that World Environment Day was the perfect moment to reveal that the first issue under discussion would be the Environment.

“We are already seeing the impact of climate change, particularly in the developing world,” he said. “Most Anglicans live in countries like India and Nigeria that will be worst hit by greater flooding, or diminishing levels of potable water.

“All faiths have a duty to protect the environment, for themselves and others. Our particular tradition, Anglicanism, has enshrined the need to protect our world in its mission statement The Five Marks of Mission*. This is one of the reasons why we have picked this issue—to ensure that all Anglicans everywhere realise the biblical imperative to protect and sustain God’s creation.

“We also hope that, through exploring together a selection of key biblical passages which relate to this theme—widely acknowledged as one of the most crucial challenges facing the Churches and humanity today—we will be able to offer evidence of the way in which Anglicans actually handle the Bible, and to identify principles of biblical interpretation.”

Speaking about the project, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams stressed that God was a creator who was faithful to what he created.

“I hope that through this project we learn not just to say words about how important the Bible is, but really to allow God’s Spirit and God’s Word through the Bible to come into us and make us the community of people that God wants and so make the world the world that God wants;” he said, “the God of the Bible who loves what he’s made, is faithful to what he’s made, and who has actually come to work within the world he’s made through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.”

The Bible in the Life of the Church is a major project being undertaken over three years by the Anglican Communion, mandated by the Anglican Consultative Council at its Jamaica meeting in May 2009. It is seeking to discover how Anglican Christians read the Bible, recognising the very diverse contexts they inevitably bring to this reading. The work of this project will largely take place in a number of regional groups based around theological education institutions in East Africa, Southern Africa, South East Asia, Oceania, North America and Britain. The Steering Group also includes members from Cuba and Nigeria."

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Old Testament as Prelude to Romans and 1 Corinthians

If we read the whole Old Testament, with an eye to texts which speak about same sex sexual relationships, we find very little material. The story of Sodom (if we might allow that this story, multiple themed as it is, at the least touches on same sex relationships, albeit in respect of threatening, inhospitable, rapaciousness); the proscription in Leviticus 18:22; a reference or two elsewhere to male prostitutes; and (if we may mention this without engendering lots of controverted comments) the enigmatic story of David and Jonathan. I estimate that less than 1% of all verses in the Old Testament relate, even tangentially, to same sex sexual relationships.

This is not unexpected! If Leviticus 18:22 represents a very dim view in Israel of same sex sexual intercourse; and if, generally, Israel steered clear of many sexual practices endemic in other cultures, we should not be surprised that the writers, and then compilers of the Old Testament felt no great compunction to put together material about same sex sexual relationships.

So, with just a few weeks to go to the next Hermeneutical Hui, our next look at biblical material will be the New Testament. Intriguingly, there also, we find very little material devoted to the subject.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Further comment re Leviticus 18

Following up a comment below, that Leviticus 18:19 might be the key to interpreting the whole chapter, I offer these thoughts (but recognise, as usual here) that many other thoughts could be shared!

My sense (reflecting on previous internet discussions going back a few years now) is that Leviticus 18:19 is highlighted because a presumption is made that this is one proscription in a chapter of proscriptions which is uniformly not obeyed (or, at least, widely disobeyed) by that community of Christians who otherwise argue that Leviticus 18:22 (and, of course, a number of less or non-controversial commandments in the chapter*) should be obeyed.

Some questions arise:

(1) Suppose all the disobeyers of Leviticus 18:19 got their act together, repented and obeyed this proscription. Would that mean that all the disobeyers of Leviticus 18:22 would also repent? (My hunch, of course, being that a different line of hermeneutical consideration of 18:22 would then be pursued!)

(2) Whether or not the connections via the Greek version of Leviticus 18:22 and New Testament passages holds good (as referred to by me in a post below), I think it unarguable that, to the extent that the NT says something about same sex sexual relationships, the NT takes a 'dim view' of such relationships, in line with Leviticus 18:22 (and, yes, mostly with male-male same sex sexual relationships in mind). This of course is unexceptional as an observation inasmuch as virtually all the NT says about ethics of human social behaviour is in line with OT commandments. Does the NT 'reinforce' or 'underline' the ongoing application of Leviticus 18:22 for the Christian community? If so, is this reinforcing or underlining of Leviticus 18:22 a dimension we need to consider as a binding of the commandment for the Christian community in a way in which Leviticus 18:19 is not (because not further attended to in the NT)?

(3) Suppose we agreed that Leviticus 18:19 (i) no longer applies to Christian readers of Scripture (ii) the lack of continuing application raises the possibility that other proscriptions in Leviticus 18 no longer apply? [Logically this must be the case!] Does it thereby follow that any of the other proscriptions are thereby remitted? I suggest the answer is "No." We would not suddenly be freed to sacrifice children to Molech or to sleep with our neighbour's wife. We would, of course, be in a situation where the mere statement of a proscription in Leviticus 18 was not sufficient in itself to yield the definitive, everlasting conclusion, "Do not do X applies to Christians." Other considerations would need to be brought to bear on the discussion. In the particular case of 18:22, that, I suggest would include consideration of (2) above.

In short: I think there is an important hermeneutical discussion to be had about 18:22 in the respect of the whole of Leviticus 18: the questions posed here are questions, but, at least on an initial response to the comment made about 18:19, I am not convinced that 18:19 is the 'pivot' on which the discussion turns.

*None of us know any sane person who argues for bestiality or child sacrifice to Molech!!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Eat what you like, so long as its vegetables or fruit

It's true; and I found it on a hermeneutics blog this site links to!

Leviticus 18

A lot could be said about this chapter! Robert Gagnon has probably said it already. Here I offer three observations:

(1) The whole chapter is important, not simply one or two verses. It is worth asking, what is the whole chapter about, and how do the individual proscriptions within it relate to the chapter as a whole?

(2) In respect of the topic of 'the Bible and homosexuality', 18:22 is very important. It is the key Old Testament text underlying the New Testament texts which are normally discussed within that topic (i.e. Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:10). One reason for saying this is that in the Greek Old Testament, Leviticus 18:22, reads, "καὶ μετὰ ἄρσενος οὐ κοιμηθήσῃ κοίτην γυναικός· βδέλυγμα γάρ ἐστιν" so that the words for 'man' (arsenos) and for 'bed' (koiten) appear to be conjoined together in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 which both use arsenokoitai. (1 Corinthians 6:9 may in fact be the earliest use of this compound word, raising the question of whether it is directly conjoined from the Greek Old Testament).

(3) Leviticus is, quite obviously, part of the Law of Moses. Jesus had quite a bit to say about the Law of Moses. Any observations about Jesus' silence regarding homosexuality should engage with what Jesus had to say about the Law of Moses. On that topic, Jesus was not silent!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Genesis 19 - maybe part 1 of more, maybe not

There is quite a lot of dodgy sex stuff in Genesis 19-20, all against the background of the difficult story of Isaac's conception and birth, sidetracked as it got with Hagar's concubinage and the fathering of Ishmael.

In Genesis 19 a rapacious sexuality* asserts itself (19:1-29), then incest creeps in (almost literally on a drunken Lot, 19:30-38). Sarah herself, despite advancing years, is attractive to Abimelech, king of Gerar, who acts on the attraction, takes her, then hands her back on discovery through a dream that she is not Abraham's sister but his wife (20:1-18).

What is going on here? A setting out of ethics via narrative? At the least the narratives illustrate some of the proscribed behaviours in Leviticus 18 - as does the story of Abraham nearly but not sacrificing his child Isaac (Genesis 22; cf. Leviticus 18:21). A settling of ancient scores? This is particularly noticeable in the stories of Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael and Lot, his daughters and their (grand)sons, Moab and Ben-ammi. The emergent nations from these children are of dubious parentage, forever slurred within the history Israel tells itself.

The material we are working with in Genesis 19:1-29 is enigmatic, ambiguous, and contributory to inter-textual echoes throughout the Bible. Some kind of spiritual warfare is going on: angels manifesting as humans become the occasion for rapacious, violent, inhospitable behaviour. The men of Sodom wish to dominate and desecrate them - a vicious manifestation of prior wickedness within the city. But these are not ordinary humans they try to intimidate. As angels they have extraordinary power. They rescue Lot from the vindictive bullying of the assailants, blind the bullies, and destroy the city. Fiery, sulphuric desolation is the fate of Sodom, and of nearby Gomorrah.

The story is 'classic' spiritual warfare: good versus evil; evil appears to have victory in its grasp; but good triumphs and evil is vanquished.

The reactive destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is of a piece with the story of Noah: wickedness increases on the earth, but it will be checked, and then defeated. If my beginning observation was about dodgy sexuality being narrated through Genesis 19 and 20, a closing observation could be that dodgy humanity is being narrated through these chapters. People can be incredibly righteous (Abraham, many references in Genesis), very caring (Abraham as intercessor for Sodom in Genesis 18:22-33), full of integrity (Abimelech in Genesis 20), and quite stupid (Lot's wife and Lot's sons-in-law, Genesis 19:14,26). But people can also behave badly, so very badly that destruction is the consequence (Genesis 19:1-29).

Why Israel would tell such stories is not hard to fathom. Israel's calling is to be righteous, caring, and to act with integrity. This elect nation should be very clear that wickedness is intolerable to God. But it can be encouraged to trust God who is merciful - to people such as Lot who is not very wise, but has not completely given way to wickedness, to Abimelech who makes an innocent mistake, to Hagar and Ishmael who have been entangled in a complicated moral situation not of their own making - and patient but slow spiritual learners such as Abraham and Sarah. In certain moments Israel is a Lot, an Abimelech, a Hagar and an Ishmael. But mostly Israel is Abraham and Sarah. Called by God. Promised through a covenant to receive a great future. But impatient, unseeing, lacking faith, fearful, while also understanding something of the mercy and love which God asks of them.

With respect to modern concern about homosexuality, Genesis 19 tells us very little. We can only understand ethical imperatives which the narrative touches on (to do with homosexuality, incest) through other texts (such as Leviticus 18). The narrative itself is more interested in other lessons such as avoiding complete moral degradation, and seeking righteous and wise ways of living.

Yet the narrative challenges us in one way in respect of our times. When so much of our discussion is on what we think Scripture means, whether the church might bless or approve such and such a relationship, or not, these chapters in Genesis confront us with the God who sees exactly what we do, who acts mercifully and punitively, though never capriciously. [ADDED NOTE: the view taken here is that Sodom was punished because of its general wickedness, to which the reader begins to be alerted in 18:16-33].

If we seek from Genesis 19 an answer to an ethical question we find no answer which can be isolated from other relevant texts, but we meet the One to whom we all answer for the way we live.

*My initial post had 'homosexuality' here instead of 'sexuality'. I have been thinking further because I acknowledge that 'homosexuality' is a much debated word in this kind of context. Some, for example, advancing the thought that this nineteenth century coined word should only be used to refer to 'modern homosexuality', and perhaps specifically to 'same sex attraction' as opposed to 'same sex sexual activity' which might not involve 'same sex attraction' as understood via modern psychologists. Thus, on this line of understanding, men seeking to dominate other men via sex are not necessarily homosexual, neither are Hellenistic older males and their younger boy friends, all destined later to take up a happy married life. The weakness with this distinction between modern and ancient worlds is that if homosexuality is a phenomenon occurring in nature, including within human experience, then it is not a suddenly appearing feature, but a recurring feature. Ipso facto, it was a part of ancient Middle Eastern life as well as of (say) modern Californian life. I conclude therefore that homosexuality may be properly used in connection with things to do with 'same sex' in ancient times as well as modern. Whether it ought not to be used about men acting out sexually with men for motivations other than attraction is an interesting question. I cannot see a difficulty in taking a word such as homosexuality to speak generally of same sex matters: attraction, as well as activity, whatever the motivation(s) of the latter. There would then need to be clarification through appropriate adjectives and phrasing.

In the case of Sodom it is possible that the rapacious men were motivated by a need to dominate and not by attraction. But I do not see enough detail in the story to rule out attraction playing a role. Not least, of course, because the offer of Lot's daughters was specifically turned down. Either way, what is narrated at Sodom is a vicious and violent expression of sexuality. It would be a long bow being drawn that used this story to condemn all expressions of homosexuality. And that bow is not being drawn here. Nevertheless I shall refrain from using 'homosexuality' here and use a more neutral-for-this-context 'sexuality'.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The texts for the next Hermeneutical Hui

The texts which will be reflected on at the next Hui, at the end of June, through individuals presenting, and in group work are as follows:

Genesis 19

Leviticus 18

Romans 1

1 Corinthians 5-7 (including 6:9-10)

As time permits I thought I might offer some of my own thinking about these texts over the remaining weeks. (NB I am not a presenter at the hui; I am on the organising group).

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Is one thing like another?

In a comment to my post below on Parameters, Tobias Haller, himself a published author on the subject of homosexuality, suggests:

"I would suggest a study of how the church managed to do this in the past on issues of a similar nature -- starting with the Apostolical coming to terms with Gentile inclusion in the people of God, without the Scripturally mandated circumcision -- which was achieved in part by coming to understand what had been a matter of the flesh in terms of the Spirit."

I think there are a series of interesting questions connected to this suggestion.

(1) Is there an analogy between "Gentiles" (outsiders to the Jewish nation) and people identifying themselves as gays and lesbians (often experiencing themselves in relation to the church as outsiders)?

(2) If there is an analogy, what consistent sexual ethic applies across the integrated people of God (i.e. heterosexual-and-now-integrated-homosexual people of God)? Or, do two different sexual ethics apply within the one people?

(3) What relevance, if any, does the original insistence have, in the apostolical inclusion of the Gentiles, that Gentile Christians share the same sexual ethic as the Jews?

(4) Is it fruitless to pursue an analogy with the Gentiles in this instance, because Scripture knows nothing of a people group determined by behavioural characteristics?

Monday, May 17, 2010


"And yet. It’s also impossible to avoid the reflection that the Episcopal church is unilaterally imposing its own vision of the church on a worldwide communion. Whatever one thinks of the matter on a personal basis, the New Testament as well as the Old specifically condemns homosexual behavior as contrary to the will of God. Myself, I think St. Paul’s condemnation of what was long known as ‘peccatum illud horribile non nominandum inter Christianos‘ (that horrid crime not even to be named among Christians) should be read as a condemnation of gratuitous sexual experimentation in a culture fundamentally deformed by widespread slavery and of Greco-Roman permissiveness towards what we would now call child sexual abuse and even rape rather than as an attack on the idea that some people are by the laws of their own nature drawn to members of their own sex. But that is one man’s opinion, and the institutional church with centuries of tradition and theological reflection cannot be expected to embrace radical new ideas overnight. This is not just a question about homosexuality; it is a question about how the church among other issues understands the nature of revelation and tradition. What does it mean, for example, to say that St. Paul didn’t know what was and wasn’t sinful, but that modern psychology can straighten him out? And to the degree that homosexual behavior and the meaning of that behavior changes from culture to culture, how should the different ideas and perceptions of people coming from different cultures be handled?

These are not easy questions and a person doesn’t need to be a homophobe or unthinking fundamentalist to continue to accept traditional Christian teaching on this subject. And when both the Greek Orthodox and the Roman Catholic churches continue to embrace traditional ideas, it is unreasonable to expect the Anglican Communion to move at warp speed to accommodate the ideas of American Episcopalians (less than 5 percent of the Anglicans worldwide) on a topic this controversial.

Even if the mind of the church ultimately comes round to the Episcopal view of homosexuality, the Episcopal church has made a profound and historic error in attempting to force this choice on the Anglican Communion as a whole. A great deal more reflection and discussion is needed before a step this significant can be taken by a worldwide body, and the Episcopal insistence that all the world should march to the beat of an American drum and an American timetable on this issue violates the plain duty of members in a common fellowship.

It seems to me that both the American Episcopalians and their bitterest critics in some of the African branches of the Anglican Communion are making similar theological errors: all sides are turning cultural preferences and habits into religious mandates without an adequately critical theological examination of their own biases. If American society is so permissive, sexually and in other ways that we should all think twice before we assume that our changing cultural norms reflect eternal law, sub-Saharan Africans are also not without their quirks and their blind spots. Neither conservative Nigerians nor liberal Americans come to this fight with clean hands; however the church at large ultimately resolves these issues both sides might do better to review and correct their own shortcomings rather than hurl anathemas at their enemies. Until time, reflection and the Holy Spirit show us the way forward I would like to see us all go on quarreling bitterly in the same house as high and low church Anglicans have been doing for centuries and I’m sorry that both sides have taken provocative steps that make this unlikely."

Walter Russell Mead's whole essay is here.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


I see it is nearly two weeks since my last post. Not good. Not with the next Hermeneutical Hui coming up very fast: last week in June 2010, at Dilworth School, Auckland. Not, by the way, the last hui ... this one will be 3.1 and the next, possibly in 2011, will be 3.2.

Here is some of my thinking re the hermeneutics of homosexuality in Scripture ... musings more than dogma, let the reader understand!

What will aid us not to be a church where the first thing a gay or lesbian person feels is that they are not welcome? (That question is intentionally worded in this way, but it does sit alongside the obvious complementary question, "What will aid us to be a church which welcomes gay and lesbian people?")

What understanding of Scripture can I (and you) reach which is not going to buckle or even reverse at the first sign of a reality check (like discovering a best friend is gay)?

What understanding of Scripture can we reach as a whole church, which is faithful to our long 2000 year tradition of being church? (And what would "whole" church mean? Just ACANZP? the Anglican Communion? the Anglican, Roman and Eastern Orthodox churches?)

What is God saying to the church? How do we know it is God doing the saying and not, say, our wishful thinking?

You can probably think of some other parameters. Let me know.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Is the lectionary nuts?

I confess to being something of a late appreciator of the lectionary. That is partly because I never understood the advantages of the three year cycle Revised Common Lectionary (following, for at least the months Advent to Pentecost, the two year cycle in our NZPB instead); partly too because I did not appreciate the significance of the words "the appointed readings" in our prayer book services: "appointed" meaning "as appointed by the lectionary".

But being a late appreciator does not mean I am a zealous convert, enamoured of all the virtues of the lectionary (RCL) and blind to all its faults.

Preparing for the next two Sundays' sermons (9th and 16th May) I discover that the readings as set down are:

9th May: Acts 16:9-15; Revelation 21:10, 22 - 22.5; John 14:23-29 or 5:1-9

16th May: Acts 16:16-34; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26

The virtues are straightforward to see in this little sequence:

there is a nice sequential reading through Acts 16 across the two Sundays

there is a sequential reading through Revelation 21-22 across the Sundays

there is a sojourn in John's Gospel.

But the vices are not hard to detect either!

What is with the omitted verses in Revelation? (More below)

What explanation of the sequence of gospel readings is detectable (whether John 14 then 17 or 5 then 17)?

Why is a choice of gospel readings given for the 9th May?

Let's look a little closer at the Revelation readings:

Revelation 21:10, 22 - 22.5 and Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

The first reading does not involve omission so much as addition. The passage Revelation 21:22-22:5, concerning the new Jerusalem being without temple, sun or moon for the Lord God is its temple and its light, could do with an introduction, so Revelation 21:10 is supplied to begin the reading.

I think this is nuts, myself! An introductory verse is "nice", but it raises the question why we would not wish - being Scripture-minded - to hear Revelation 22:11-21. What are we missing out on? As a matter of fact that question is also raised by looking back to Sunday 2nd May where we find that the sequential Revelation reading is 21:1-6. Knowing that, we may also want to ask what we are missing by omitting Revelation 21:7-9.

This is what we are missing in the latter case:

" 7 He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

9 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” "

Looks like we do not get to hear the politically incorrect stuff!

In the former case we are missing in Revelation 21:11-21 a vast amount of symbolic detail about the new Jerusalem: its cuboid shape, its encrusted jewels, etc. All potentially rich spiritual mining in the hands of a competent preacher!

Then we have our 'selected verses' in the second Revelation reading, 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21. What are we missing?

First we are missing, between Sundays, Revelation 22:6-11:

"6 The angel said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.”

7 “Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book.”

8 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. 9 But he said to me, “Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!”

10 Then he told me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near. 11 Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy.”

Then we are missing the italicised verses in this passage, 22:12-21:

"12 “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you a this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.

18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen."

Yep. That message is coming through loud and strong. Keep the verses speaking of reward and blessing. Jettison the verses which speak of punishment and bad consequences.

This is nuts! The lectionary "selectors" are excising from the reading of Scripture pieces of uncongenial Scripture. The uncongeniality may be for different reasons (difficult symbolism to understand, difficult "negativities" to explain) but it seems to be all uncongeniality to the selectors. Out it goes.

Do we believe Scripture comes from God or not? If we do not, let's just say so!

Perhaps we think that some passages are "not suitable for public reading". I can think of a few passages in Judges of that kind. You can think of others. Well, if something is not suitable for public reading, then omit the whole passage, please. Do not retain awkward passages and then (so to speak) cherry pick the nice cheeries and pass by the sour ones.

Who appointed the selectors of our appointed readings?

Monday, April 26, 2010

More nuts

Don't you just hate it when people invoke the Bible in support of something and on close inspection the invocation is complete maudlin, sentimental mush? Ok. Perhaps you do not. But I do. With H/T to Christopher Johnson of MidWestConservative, here is Bishop Marc Andrus responding in an interview for the Examiner:

"If there is a key Bible vision that supports Gay Marriage & Same Sex Blessing, please give a Biblical example and explain something of your vision on interpretation? Who else shares this sensibility and understanding we might know or recognize?

The story of the anointing of David by Samuel in which it editorially says that God does not judge as human’s judge, human’s judge by outward appearances, but God sees the human heart. When The Episcopal Church is looking at a human couple who seeks the blessing of the church on their relationship, we humbly attempt to see as God sees, which reveals certain characteristics – love, fidelity, forgiveness, mutuality, humility — all of which The Episcopal Church considers more important than external considerations."

I am not closed to a good, sound, plausible argument in favour of same sex relationships being blessed by ministers of the church. This is not that argument. This is sentimental mush which could not distinguish between me marrying my sister, forming a civil union with my cat, or entering a lifelong partnership with my favourite rose bush.

Progressives, please do better than this!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Not nuts

Some sagacious wisdom here from Darren C. Marks writing for Christianity Today (h/t to Anglican Curmudgeon):

"The sharp-eyed reader will note two things missing from my argument so far. One is positioning the Bible as the only guide to Christian faith. The other is looking at the role of the Holy Spirit. Both are integral to theology. Without them, doctrine and theology become propositions or proof-texting. The opposite of experience is dogmatism, staid religious scholasticism that sucks the life out of a relationship with God.

We have to begin by acknowledging a reality that rightly makes us nervous: All Christian theology helps us interpret the Bible. Theology is what helps us read disparate writings that span thousands of years and arise out of cultures very different from ours. Further, the Bible comprises many texts that address specific problems in specific places (e.g., sexual immorality in Corinth). It presents ideas that at times seem current and at other times obscure. One seemingly crystal-clear verse (Gal. 3:28, "There is neither Jew nor Greek …") or book (Philemon on slavery) can be interpreted by the faithful in a variety of ways. The earliest Christians knew this all too well.

The first three centuries of Christianity featured a running dialogue with the Bible. In their theology, the earliest Christians had to avoid reading the Bible as too Jewish, too Gentile, too focused on Peter, too focused on Paul, too focused on faith, or too focused on works. To read the Bible through only one interpretive lens could lead to false conclusions, like denying the Trinity or Jesus' humanity or divinity. In each case, a simple reading of a passage, usually through the reader's cultural lens, resulted in a distortion of Christian life. Those who found little biblical evidence for what was emerging as the doctrine of the Trinity, for example, usually ended up with a Christ who never knew humanity (docetism) or a Jesus who was not fully God (Arianism). Thus, doctrine became a yardstick by which to measure various readings and help Christians pinpoint the essentials.

To some people, this will sound like the Bible is not primary, that theological discourse needs to correct Scripture. This could lead some to see the Bible as an interesting historical document to get us started, not the active Word of God that shapes us. And some argue that Christianity is more a communal practice than a personal relationship with the living God. (Schleiermacher would likely agree with that statement.)

But, at its best, Christian theology has never understood itself to be merely a human reflection on contingent truths. The best theology grounds itself in Scripture as the revealed Word of God, not in the religious experiences of ancient people. Scripture's authority is not something that the community relates to first with its own experience. Instead, as Martin Luther put it, Scripture bears authority because it bears Christ—because it points unequivocally and majestically in grace to the living God. Scripture interrogates the community. Because it can be a difficult task to hear Christ speak clearly in Scripture, the church has used theology to test that interrogation. Some may read or hear Scripture in a new manner under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as the 18th- and 19th-century abolitionists did regarding slavery. Theology tests such new readings by asking questions of both the text and the church, helping to clarify the movement of the Spirit."

The article is found here. It is six webpages. The excerpt cited here is from pages 3-4.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Here I reproduce a reflection following the TEC HoB theological reports on same sex relationships. It's by George Clifford. What do you think?

"The report, “Same-Sex Relationships in the Life of the Church,” commissioned by the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops and published this Lent merits widespread study within both the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion (unless otherwise noted, page numbers refer to this document). The report avoided an overly facile effort to reconcile the diametrically opposed positions about whether the Church should bless same-sex marriages. Instead, the Committee recruited a panel of four Christian ethicists to delineate the arguments against same-sex marriage and another panel of four Christian ethicists the arguments in favor of same-sex marriage, and then each panel responded to the contrary position.

The view with which I profoundly disagree, that against recognizing same-sex marriage (“Same-Sex Marriage and Anglican Theology: A View from the Traditionalists,” pp. 1-39), prompted some fresh reflections about natural law. The traditionalists correctly contend that natural law (as heretofore understood) supports heterosexual but not same-sex marriage. The panel does not inquire whether the received interpretation of natural law might be wrong. Had the panel done so, its members might have altered their views.

Natural law claims to identify principles or “laws” that govern the natural world. Pre-Enlightenment “scientists” often defined those laws based upon a priori arguments or scriptural interpretation rather than the scientific method (determining the validity of a hypothesis by measuring its predictive power). The Enlightenment heralded a new and enduring reliance on the scientific method, triggering a succession of clashes between conflicting understandings of natural processes. The sixteenth century dispute between proponents of a geo-centric and helio-centric solar system was one such clash.

In the twenty-first century, “discerning the sexual pattern in creation” (p. 22) probably demarcates another pending clash. As the traditionalists note in their report, the natural law tradition has until now argued, in species with two genders, that heterosexual relationships and reproduction are normative (pp. 31-33).

Although scientific data remains inconclusive in the estimation of the traditionalists (p. 25), the weight of accumulating data points increasingly toward proving the assessment of heterosexual relationships and reproduction as normative wrong. Nature exhibits incredible diversity and contending that any one pattern of sexual behavior is normative has become very problematic. That natural diversity has become more apparent as researchers greatly improve the accuracy of their observations, vastly expand the quantity of observations, and compile an every growing, ever more fully nuanced body of evidence based theory.

The following seem relevant to any discussion of natural law and human relationships:
• All life forms appear to have evolved from a common source.
• Patterns of behavior in other life forms, especially in primates may therefore shed light on human behavior.
• Some animal species, including chimps with whom humans share 96% of their genome, exhibit diverse mating patterns, i.e., both opposite and same-sex.
• Some of these relationships, both opposite and same-sex, are monogamous and last for years.
• Reproductive patterns among species with two sexes also vary widely, e.g., species in which some females morph into males, a species in which male fish mate by biting a female’s back and then being permanently absorbed into the female to ensure a ready supply of sperm, etc.
• Some same-sex non-human animal couples rear offspring.
In other words, the implicit presumption of natural law as traditionally formulated that only heterosexual couples mate, procreate, and nurture children is wrong. (For a highly readable synopsis of current research on gay animals, cf. Jon Mooallem, “Can Animals Be Gay?” New York Times, April 3, 2010.)

The traditionalists candidly remark (p. 16) that attempting to learn what the Bible says about same-sex relationships “involves looking to it for answers to questions it does not pose, at least not in the form we want to ask them. The notion of same-sex marriage did not exist in Scripture or in its contemporary contexts.” The Anglican tradition only maintains that the Bible is the repository of all information necessary for salvation and not all important or even useful information (Book of Common Prayer, pp. 513, 526).

In the absence of biblical answers to our questions, we have no choice but to search for other approaches to find answers to our questions. One of those approaches may be natural law, which, as outlined above, offers a far more complex and nuanced picture of relationships and reproduction than the historic formulation of natural law presumes. (I have admittedly formulated that picture to support my views as strongly as possible but the actual picture does not cohere to the historic view of natural law and is complex.) Another approach relies not on specific passages but broad biblical themes to extract from them a tentative answer. The Liberals utilized this method in “A Theology of Marriage including Same-Sex Couples: A View from the Liberals” (pp. 40-69).

Within the Christian tradition, views about marriage have evolved as Christians faithfully sought to interpret Scripture in the light of both tradition and reason. For example, Christian thinking about marriage shifted from marry if you must to avoid sin (expecting an imminent parousia, celibacy is better), to sex is only for the purpose of procreation, to marriage is for the community’s benefit, the mutual well-being of both partners, and the procreation and nurture of children.

My reading of the traditionalist position in the report is that this last issue – procreation of children – constitutes the major obstacle to accepting gay unions as marriage. Obviously, the traditionalists interpose other objections to the idea of same-sex relationships, such as natural law and their understanding of what the Bible teaches. The traditionalists do not seem to question the mutual well-being that a same-sex relationship may provide the two partners. The value to the community of same-sex relationships is largely a function of the degree to which that community accepts or rejects such relationships.

People today can procreate a child through intercourse, in utero artificial insemination, or in vitro fertilization with subsequent embryo implant in either one of the partner’s wombs or a surrogate’s womb. Perhaps can also “procreate” by adopting a child(ren). Most of theological and ethical thinking is woefully inadequate with respect to procreation in the twenty-first century, cf. Ellen Painter Dollar’s three part essay, “Why Episcopalians need to care about reproductive ethics,” Daily Episcopalian, March 9, 2010. If nothing else, available procreation options offer all couples, regardless of their gender composition, the option of having children. Even as improved insights into how the world functions call for an updated natural theology, so do scientific advances that expand the options for procreation call for Christians to rethink associated theological and ethical concepts.

Neither the release of “Same-Sex Relationships in the Life of the Church” nor the upcoming consecration of the Rev. Canon Mary Glasspool as Bishop Suffragan in the Diocese Los Angeles has led to a cataclysmic outpouring of wailing, gnashing of teeth, and consternation among most Episcopalians. Easter is dawning! In the meantime, thanks be to God that dialogue continues, at least some of the discourse exhibits Christian respect for the dignity and worth of those who disagree, and the Episcopal Church in good Anglican fashion continues to incorporate diverse viewpoints.

The Rev. Dr. George Clifford, Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years He taught philosophy at the U. S. Naval Academy and ethics at the Postgraduate School. He serves as priest in charge at the Church of the Nativity in Raleigh and blogs at Ethical Musings."

I think this is nuts. The normative pattern in creation for reproduction, as exemplified by vast numbers of people, is man+woman*sex=child. Possibilities otherwise are available. Does anyone know anyone who has resorted to them save in the sorrow of man+woman*sex=child not being possible? Statements like this, "Nature exhibits incredible diversity and contending that any one pattern of sexual behavior is normative has become very problematic." means what? That all sorts of variations take place within humanity all the time? Not in my world. That world is heteronormative. And it is resolutely so. There are exceptions. But they are rare, and certainly not normative. But I do understand one thing about these kinds of views: they have a hold on a lot of people and they drive a lot of Western society's movers and shakers. Well, let's see where this world-view takes us. But one place I guarantee it will not take us to is this: a healthy, growing Western population.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


I have heard of this guy. Not read his works. Probably should have. But, via Fulcrum, came across a link to an introduction to his thought, by James Alison.

Some taster/tasty paragraphs ... and as you read them, could be worth thinking about some ways in which we make certain people in the church the 'fall guys or girls' for the chaotic, tempestuous state we seem to be in:

"Readers with theological antennae will-quickly grasp the significance of this: the possibility of an anthropology which is, at last, compatible with the Catholic faith. If human desire is in principle a good thing, however distorted and inflected it may become by differing sorts of violence in practice, then at last we begin to be able to make anthropological sense of the Church’s teaching on Original Sin – that the Fall did not make us essentially corrupt in such a way that there is no possible reasonable link at all between our ways and God’s ways, God’s action and our action. However, there is nothing rose-tinted about Professor Girard’s understanding of desire (in fact, he is usually accused by those who read him too fast of far too grim a view of human desire). Professor Girard is well aware that human culture since its inception has been lived out with human desire distorted into rivalry and violence leading to and flowing from death.

What he is able to show (exhaustively) is the relationship between that distorted human desire and the foundational mechanism of what he calls surrogate victimage (more popularly called “The Scapegoat Mechanism”). That is to say, human desire, as we live it (and thus the formation from within of our ‘self’ and our consciousness) derives, as a cultural fact, from desire becoming distorted by rivalry, until there is a point where there is so much group violence that unanimity (and thus peace and the avoidance of the collapse of the group) can only be restored when, apparently mysteriously, all become fixated on someone who can be held responsible for the collapse of unity and order within the group and then expelled, permitting the establishment of a new social unity over against the expelled one.

That is to say, an act of collective fratricide against a victim is foundational to all human cultures, with its being absolutely vital for the cultures so founded that they believe in the culpability of the rejected one (or group), and continue to bolster up this belief by forging prohibitions, myths and rituals.

Professor Girard had assumed that the Jewish and Christian sacred texts would show exactly the same thing as all other ancient texts and myths – the threat of collapsing social unity leading to violence and the emergence of a new peace around the cadaver of the victim. To his amazement he found that although they did exactly that – they really are structured around sacralised violence – there was a unique and astonishing difference: the Jewish texts, starting with Cain and Abel – gradually dissociate the divinity from participation in the violence until, in the New Testament, God is entirely set free from participation in our violence – the victim is entirely innocent, and hated without cause – and indeed God is revealed not as the one who expels us, but the One whom we expel, and who allowed himself to be expelled so as to make of his expulsion a revelation of what he is really like, and of what we really, typically do to each other, so that we can begin to learn to get beyond this."

The whole essay is here.

Monday, March 29, 2010


The new Archbishop of Nigeria makes an interesting point about fear of women, as reported by Ruth Gledhill. I offer this link without endorsement or dispute. I simply think it worth reflecting on the possibility that a world favouring gay 'marriage' has potential to be a world in which, once again, the importance of women is downgraded.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

What gene drives the mind of the Bishop of New Hampshire?

Below I have posted some material relating to the recently published report (or "reports amalgamated") of TEC's House of Bishops on homosexuality. At that stage I did not have the "traditionalists" introduction to their report to the bishops.

I can now point you to the link, H/T Titus One Nine, here.

As an introduction to Grant LeMarquand's statement, some observations about the course of the presentation and responses is made. It includes this:

"Both Willis and Grant gave ten minute presentations summarizing the two positions, for and against same-sex marriage. The bishops then discussed among themselves in table groups following which there was an hour for the bishops to ask questions. Perhaps the most interesting thing which happened during that question period was a short speech by Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire, who expressed dissatisfaction with both papers and stated that it was time to move beyond speaking simply of “GLBT” (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered) orientations: “there are so many other letters in the alphabet,” he said; “there are so many other sexualities to be explored.” He did not elaborate as to what those other sexualities and other letters of the alphabet might be."

Umm, one concern widely shared in the Communion is that the agenda of the progressives is a restless, ambitious one, which will not be satisfied with one concession (same sex partnerships blessed by the church). There is nothing here to allay that concern!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The end of the human race, or just the progressive Western segment of it?

I am beginning to dip my toes in the waters of the report issued by the TEC House of Bishops.

On the one hand I acknowledge a new dimension in the debate over same-sex partnerships - new at least to me - that proposes understanding marriage as expansionable to include same sex coupling. This is an argument worth considering rather than dismissing because it moves the debate away from "rights", earths itself in the analogy of expansionism of mission from Jews to Gentiles (Acts 15) and keeps in view one aspect of marriage which potentially all kinds of marriage can benefit from, namely discipline of sexuality (cf. Paul's "better to marry than burn"). Thus Willis Jenkins offers these thoughts in his introduction to the House of Bishops' session (reproduced on the blog On Not Being A Sausage):

"The basic argument for expanding marriage is laid out in the preface to our document: marriage is a discipline and a means of grace. Same-sex couples need that discipline and grace no less than other-sex couples. They, like other-sex couples, should not be discouraged from committing their lives to each other nor from giving their commitments to the church. The church is free to bless those couples who present themselves as fit for Christian marriage by their readiness to enter a covenant of self-offering and of witness to Christ’s love for the world.

That argument would be simple and the liturgical amendments minor – a matter of altering a few pronouns – were it not for the deep suspicion that it meets across the church, especially beyond our province. Listening to criticism that the Episcopal Church has not answered that suspicion with a coherent theology of marriage, we have elaborated how same-sex marriage fits within a faithful pattern of Christian life, how it harmonizes with orthodox theology, and how it makes sense within scripture.

Our way of illustrating that fit does not require theological defeat of traditionalists, does not impose cultural change, does not rely on American power. To answer worries that we would demean other-sex marriage, we make painstaking clear how our proposal reclaims and affirms the deepest meaning of marriage. We reaffirm procreation as a purpose of marriage, and the welcoming of children as a gift proper to it. We reaffirm the unitive purpose of marriage, and chastity as a gift proper to it."

In a very cursory glance at one aspect of the traditionalists contribution to the report I notice that again and again they nail the liberals loose, light, and lithesome exegesis (e.g. overlooking that the expansionism of Acts 15 was not the church merely responding to a prompting of the contemporary voice of the Spirit but fulfilling ancient prophecy). Then this passage particularly struck me because it touches on something I think is fundamental to marriage, procreation, and thus arguments diminishing its fundamental role undermine the strength of arguments that same sex partnerships should be deemed to be marriages:

"Procreation is identified as “what the human being shares with the animals,” as if this were a slight on us; for all the talk of bodiliness the argument here has a gnostic tinge. We do indeed share our bodiliness with the animals; here the biologist has something to say to the theologian. What is at stake here is the very nexus of creation and redemption, of which we spoke in our paper. Why should we assume that in matters such as ecology we do well to think and act “with the grain of creation,” but when it comes to the doctrine of the human person, and our sexuality, we ought not to think and act so? Something theologically basic is at stake here which would have major consequences if this anti-breeding drift were to affect our understanding of the human person and of society. To cite but one implication, denigration of procreation leads to the “devaluing [of]…the bearing and raising of [page 74]
children.”9 This needs, for the sake of transparency and candor, to be made clear to the Episcopal faithful in the pews--one wonders what their reception of this dimension of the new teaching might be."

(Note also this footnote at the foot of page 73: "8 At this point, we must dissent from the claim of the liberal side that they and we have no disagreement over the “significance of marriage.” While we applaud their highlighting of a common commitment to charity in this debate, we believe that the liberal transformation of the traditional end of procreation into a personal choice, and the relegation of childbearing to the old eon, amount to a seismic shift in the significance of marriage. Their desire to blunt the sharpness of their argument is odd, given their willingness to follow its radical nature through much of our dialogue. Our disagreement can and should be charitable: in this vein, we welcome their rejection of litigation and happily and enthusiastically endorse rejection of all coercion and prejudice against gay people. At the same time we honor one another more if we take seriously the fact that we have before us a real disagreement on which a great deal rides. To claim that it amounts to a celebratory diversity following from the very persons of the Trinity resonates rhetorically, but hides the fact that discernment means deciding and deciding has consequences. (In fact the advocates of same-sex marriage know this, driving determinedly toward implementation of the revision. In this light, claims that the opposing sides are but complementary perspectives in the spirit of F.D. Maurice seems ironic.")

Go back to Willis Jenkins and notice this sentence:

"We reaffirm procreation as a purpose of marriage, and the welcoming of children as a gift proper to it."

In the citation above I have emboldened "a" in the first clause. It is the weakest link in the chain of the liberals argument. Not only is it weak theologically, it could mean that one day no one will be left to maintain the argument :)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Reading Scripture together, councils and bishops

Some links worth a look ...

Clayboy (Doug Chaplin), working his way through the 39A has some thoughts on Article 21 Of the Authority of General Councils, which, necessarily raises questions of interpretation. Here is an excerpt:

"Well, in one sense, Cranmer’s answer is an appropriate one: scripture can say a council has erred, but this fails largely to deal with the issue that scripture needs interpreting. Councils generally (and whether rightly or wrongly) declare their teaching to be an interpretation of scripture, and to teach things “taken out of Holy Scripture”. Exactly how authoritative in standing against this collegial declaration is an individual theologian’s or bishop’s (never mind an individual Christian’s) statement that a council has erred? In one sense it is not authoritative at all: it can only be a persuasive statement of scriptural teaching or meaning, to argue that the council has failed to give an adequate account of scripture. Its authority is intrinsic and lies in its own reasoned integrity. It has to appeal to, renew, or even re-create, the sensus fidelium.

Where Cranmer is right is to insist that there should be consonance between council and scripture. Neither the interpretation of the collegium, nor that of the individual, should be arbitrary, imposed simply by external authority, but themselves subject to the authority exercised by God through the Church’s reading of the scriptures. Where he is wrong is in failing to develop an adequate account of the Church, a point noted in previous posts.

A coherent critique needs to reflect more on the Church’s being under authority, and not simply having authority. It needs to take on board finer nuances of the relationship of scripture and tradition, and not a simple opposition. It needs to reflect on conciliarity and collegiality in the way that post-Vatican II Catholicism has done in theory, but miserably failed to do in practice, and so needs to take councils more seriously than this bare statement does. It needs to reflect on the role of the papacy in relation to the broader institution of episcopacy in terms other than jurisdiction: that is, it needs to conceive the Petrine ministry in a more mutual and non-hierarchical relation to the whole apostolic ministry. It needs in short, to offer a self-definition that is defined more positively and less negatively."

Then Thinking Anglicans posts links and a small citation from reports from TEC's House of Bishops' Meeting which received on same sex relationships, and which has in turn published these as their report here.

I have not had a look at this report but I understand one of the reports making up the report (confused?) is 'traditionalist'. I am a little fearful that I am going to find it is not of a high standard ... but I hope I am wrong.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A thoughtful post on reading the Bible

Thanks to Fulcrum!

Finally, for now, on Clarity and Confusion

Has God's revelation through Scripture been overtaken - on some aspects - through the passage of time and its associated changes to social circumstances? If we thought that God said something about X that was relevant and applicable in (say) 150 AD, could it be possible that that same thing is now no longer relevant and applicable in (say) 2010?

I appreciate very much that behind such questions lies a concern for honouring God and God's Word revealed to us. For myself I would not want to be propagating lines of hermeneutical enquiry which led to conclusions in which the church was effectively saying "God was right once. Now we know God is wrong." God is always right; we, many times, are wrong!

At all times we need to take care in how we handle the Bible. Just as we can dishonour God by mishandling in one way, so we can cause pastoral mayhem by mishandling in another way. Currently in NZ, for example, we are now receiving fairly regular news reports of the destructive effects on poor Christians belonging to the Destiny Church due to Bishop Brian Tamaki's understanding of what tithing means in relation to his income (they give, he receives) and what income he deserves because he has been faithful to God (a lot lot more than the least of his brethren).

In my understanding at least three possibilities for "change" to our understanding of Scripture need not incur the charge that we think God was right once but is now wrong. (I acknowledge that the three possibilities are probably variations of each other!)

(1) We think Scripture points us in one direction but events press us to reconsider our understanding of Scripture. The conclusion we reach is not that God is wrong but that our understanding has been wrong. The classic example (in my view) would be slavery. Many fine Christians (including George Whitefield, I learned recently) have been comfortable owning slaves. Now that is not so. Our understanding of slavery and its rightness or wrongness has changed, not least because we have changed our understanding of what it means to be a human being: an African, for example, is not a lesser being than a European.

(2) Over time we review not only what Scripture says, but our attitudes to something. A good example in my view would be alcohol. Many a zealous Christian has been dead against alcohol and found texts to support that view. But over time attitudes have changed and Scripture has been read more carefully: it warns against drunkenness, it does not prohibit consumption of alcohol. A number of my Christian friends used not to drink, but now they enjoy their chardonnay and shiraz!!

(3) We change our minds about applying a principle in Scripture. The principle stands, but for various reasons our commitment to applying it is revised. An example would be capital punishment. The principle that a person taking the life of another person forfeits their right to live still holds. But for various reasons - from a new appreciation of mercy to a necessary recognition of the irreversibility of a wrongful judgment by a court - many Christians no longer support capital punishment as an option on their nation's law books. God is not thereby proved wrong, but we show that we have freedom both as humans and as Christians to vary the way we govern ourselves.

There is one further issue which has been mentioned in comments. (In my words) the issue is that God is made deficient in his provision for us if we allege that the written Word of God does not provide for a situation which arises - the deficiency could be that God is imperfect in his power because God is unable to see sufficiently far ahead in respect of what changes in life will arise.

I do not think the Bible is intended to provide for every situation that conceivably could arise in the permutations of human life. If it was, would there not be a smidgeon of material which applied to the various issues arising around genetic engineering, IVF, stem cell research, and the like? Or, what about a clear, ever relevant ethical theory about going to war? Wisely the Anglican reformers said both that Scripture was sufficient for salvation and agreed that the church may make decisions on matters not expressly touched on by Scripture.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Further on Clarity or Confusion?

Given that hermeneuticists are likely to pay more attention to a matter on which there is a perception of lack of clarity, rather than on matters that are perceived to be clear, it is easy to wonder whether hermeneuticists ever deal in clarity!

Briefly, I want to suggest that there are many matters hermeneuticists are clear about. Rather than speak for all of them, let me speak for myself.

I am very clear that God through his written Word has revealed that his intention in creating humanity as male and female was that men and women would marry in an exclusive lifelong and fruitful relationship. I am also very clear that the theology of marriage revealed in Scripture means that a married couple should do all in their power to remain married. But. Yes, there is a 'but'! I am less clear about what people should do when a marriage has not been successful and divorce takes place, when a couple discover that they are infertile but may be fertile with the assistance of various 'in vitro' or surrogate or whatever possibilities for fertility, or when adultery takes place whether the onus falls on the hurt partner to the marriage to not only forgive but to take their sinning partner back into the full intimacy of marriage. Matters such as these are the 'stuff' of hermeneutics; and often they represent the real and present questions of Christians, both those new to the faith and those mature in the faith. It is pastorally necessary in many instances for the church to encourage good hermeneutical work in relation to such matters rather than to discourage it.

Another example: I am very clear that the Bible encourages good, wise, faithful, and bold leadership in the ministry and mission of Christ. Equally clearly, this leadership should be taken up by gifted, called, empowered and enthusiastic men and women. As far as I can tell 99% Christians are agreed with me on this; so my clarity is our clarity. But there is a specific issue within this understanding of Christian leadership on which Christians disagree about: that is, whether women may lead and teach mixed gender congregations; and this disagreement for some stems from a more 'traditional' reason (presbyters and bishops, like the Twelve, have always been male) and for others from a more 'Scriptural' reason (either women are specifically prohibited from doing so or men and women are ordered in such a manner that it is not a woman's role to do so or both). Some Christians are very clear that this is so. Some Christians are not clear that this is so. How might agreement be reached between us? One way, of course, is to keep examining Scripture, working through all relevant issues and questions, seeking a joint clarity. Again, this is the 'stuff' of hermeneutics.

A third example: I am very clear, as stated above, that "God through his written Word has revealed that his intention in creating humanity as male and female was that men and women would marry in an exclusive lifelong and fruitful relationship". But I am also clear that some men and some women are not made up - genetically, psychologically, etc - in such a manner as to have the requisite attraction for the opposite sex in order to be fruitfully bound together as 'one flesh' - body, heart, soul, and mind intwined as intended in marriage. Perhaps some may be transformed from this shortfall; but it is increasingly clear, as more and more testimonies of people are being revealed in a day when greater honesty seems possible, that some people are resolutely and unchangeably attracted to the same sex and not to the opposite sex.

What advice is the church to give to those among our brothers and sisters who are made this way? What response are we to make as God-appointed governments around the world move to legitimize formal commitments of couples of the same gender? I am less clear on these matters - the more so as increasingly I recognise that the way the church responds and has responded may be a significant cause of teenage suicide, of people leaving the church, and of depression and despair among homosexual Christians who long to be able to freely love and enjoy being loved by another person. It may be confusing to a new Christian to find their way to a website such as this and be drawn into reading material which does not immediately give a black/white answer or set of answers. I suggest we need to sit with that possibility and recognise another: that to give a black/white answer or set of answers may be devastating to a Christian who is beginning to wrestle with the reality, and the implications of their sexuality.

Must stop. More soon on whether God is somehow deficient if we argue that Scripture is not clear on this and on that.