Tuesday, February 27, 2007

More Across the "Divide"

My sincere gratitude to Daniel Hayden Martins, priest in the Diocese of San Joaquin and deputy to General Convention, who was willing to open conversation with me about our theological disagreements over human sexuality in response to his post Keeping Promises. I have long avoided more vitriolic and polemical sites and blogs on the web for my own sense of spiritual well-being. Thick skins are not infinitely so, and what sometimes unfolded at Fr. Jake's place was sufficiently bracing for me!

What I lose, though, particularly in the Diocese of California at times, is a sense of a thoroughgoing argument from the "other side," and for that I am grateful to Dan for courting conciliatory, candid, and civil discourse, even as he weighs carefully, along with his colleagues and bishop, the merits of his diocese remaining part of the Episcopal Church. Dan wooed me by gracing this blog with a comment or two, a sense of humor that brings some welcome perspective, and a truly pastoral and generous tone with those who would sharply disagree with him.

Again, I offer this discussion, or, as Tobias Haller more aptly puts, "engagement" for consideration and comment. Please bear with me faithfully in mind and heart, though, that this is a discussion between two heterosexual, married, male priests, at least at the outset. For that reason, comments from LGBT sisters and brothers and women will be important to bring fair and honest treatment to this conversation. My hope, as another Lenten discipline, is that this demonstrates patient, honest, thoughtful, and charitable argument at a time when our discussions are largely anything but. I will post the discussion here as long as it unfolds, and bear correction to my points in keeping with the thread of the discussion.

Note to the reader: parts of the discussion here are quite candid regarding matters of human sexuality. I have edited some of the comments for content so as to keep this conversation appropriate for as wide an audience as possible (apologies in advance to those whose comments I have seen fit to edit -- call it blogger's privilege.) Still, reader's discretion is advised!


In response to the original post, I commented:



Dan,

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

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

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

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

Faithfully in Christ, and my prayers.


Dan Martins said...

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


Anonymous said...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R said...

anonymous,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dan Martins said...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R said...

Dan,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God's peace.


Dan moved the discussion to this new post on his blog, and continued from there (further comments also appear on his post):

I'm opting to move my ongoing exchange with Bay Area (Marin County, no less) blogger and parish priest Richard away from the comment thread on an old post, and here to a more prominent position. This is a serious and civil discussion that I (and a few others, it appears) are finding quite stimulating.

By way of laying some groundwork for a specific response to your most recent volley, Richard, let me say something about signs and symbols--and by extension, sacraments--because I'm probably going to get into some further consideration of body parts, and I want to establish at the outset that I take seriously your observation that bonded relationships of the sort we are discussing, while they may include a sexual dimension, cannot be defined or even substantially understood by what partners do with their various body parts. One of the axioms under which I am operating is that, for human beings--who, in distinction to all other animals, bear the image of God--pair-bonded relationships participate in a symbolic vocabulary that is integral to the character of those relationships. They cannot be wholly understood only in relation to the symbols with which they are associated, but neither can they be even partially understood apart from those symbols.

An analogy may be appropriate (though it may also open a whole new can of worms!). For the Church's Easter faith, the Risen Christ is, to a quite substantial degree, symbolized by the Empty Tomb. The mere datum that the women found the tomb empty on the first Easter morning certainly does not exhaust the meaning and importance of the Resurrection. The Risen Christ, many have contended, is so much more than a resuscitated corpse. True. But, I would submit, it is at least that much. To proclaim the Empty Tomb is not a sufficient accounting of the mystery of the Resurrection, but it is a necessary part of a sufficient accounting. The Risen Christ is about more than the Empty Tomb. But he is surely not about any less than that either.

Human relationships that are presumed to have a sexual component--including, of course, marriage, and also the sort of same-sex relationships for which ecclesial blessings are being sought--are certainly about more than what body parts go where under what circumstances. To talk about the physical act of sexual intercourse is not to sufficiently account for the reality of those relationships. But neither are those relationships about anything less than their sexual component. In fact, their sexual component is an essential symbolic key to their character, even as the Empty Tomb is an essential symbolic key to the Resurrection (and this holds, some would say, whether one actually believes in the Empty Tomb or not! In the same way, sex remains an important symbolic key to understanding pair-bonded human relationships, even when the participants in a particular such relationship are not, or no longer, having sex).

Now to some of the specific questions you put to me:

With respect to whether certain covenanted relationships in the Bible can be read as connoting a homoerotic dimension, I cannot say that I am very impressed by this argument. Just using the venerable principle of Occam's Razor (i.e. all things being equal, the simplest explanation of any set of circumstances is probably the best one), to suggest that there was anything sexual between Ruth and Naomi is beyond speculative; it is fanciful. If they were lovers, why would Naomi coach Ruth on how to seduce Boaz? And to suggest the same about David and Jonathan ignores David's relationships with Michal, Abigail, Bathsheba, and possibly even Abishag. The existence of these women is especially compelling if one is invested in the notion that orientation drives behavior; David is clearly not "gay" as that term is understood presently. As for the centurion and his pais--Is not this precisely the sort of exploitative relationship that some "progressive" apologists suggest is being talked about--and condemned--by Paul in Romans 1? I don't understand how any of this helps your argument, Richard. I don't see how such examples "open the door" in the way you would like them to.

As I mentioned above, I appreciate your comments about not allowing the physical mechanics of sexual relations to dominate our understanding of human pair-bonded relationships. I realize there is a host of reasons why two people--whether of the opposite sex or the same sex--might want to set up housekeeping together and rely on one another in various ways. And I have no desire to put up roadblocks in front of people who want to know some companionship and love in a world that is too often very bleak and lonely. But, let's face it, that isn't what this whole mess we're in as a church and as a society is about. What it's about is bonded pairs of the same sex wanting to be married to one another "with all the rights and privileges thereunto appertaining." The actual word "marriage" may not be used, but it is clear that what is sought is indeed marriage, even if by another name.

It is the very formality of such arrangements that makes them, in my view, morally objectionable. They presume to participate in the symbolic vocabulary of marriage, but they cannot, in fact, do so satisfactorily. They overreach. They may indeed enjoy some or even much of the "inward and spiritual grace" of the sacrament of marriage. (Trust me here: I'm going out on a limb saying this, and I reserve the right to scurry back to the trunk without notice!) But they cannot, by their very nature, share in the "outward and visible sign," and it is that outward and visible sign that we're talking about when the subject of public rites of blessing for same-sex relationships is on the table.

Same-sex relationships cannot naturally be signs of marriage; they have to improvise. Such couples cannot produce offspring as the fruit of their coition; they have to adopt (one of them, at least) in order to "start a family." Now, allow me to get a little graphic here--I apologize to readers who may be squeamish. Same-sex couples cannot even "have sex" without improvising. For two men to copulate, there must be a surrogate vagina. For two women, there must be a surrogate penis. (OK, I realize that latter situation is a little more subtle and complicated than my statement implies, but I think, on the whole, it still stands.)

Richard, you bring up evidence from animal behavior and other sorts of statistical indicators. It's late as I write, so I'm going to be perhaps a little more direct than I would like to be. (And I realize there are GLBT people "in the room" who have a quite personal stake in this, and who must feel as though I am being insufferably arrogant and condescending; I quite understand.) As a general principle, it is unwise to base policy on exceptional circumstances. I realize there is a certain percentage of the population for whom gender is an ambiguous experience. Such persons are real, and their experience is real, but they are exceptions. On the other hand, the phenomenon of gender polarity (what Tobias Haller likes to call sexual dimoprhism) is normative reality. It is the primary element in the symbolic vocabulary by which scripture and Christian tradition (and human experience across cultures) understand these issues that vex us. It is like the Empty Tomb, in that it is symbolically true even if one does not accept its literal truth. (For the record, I believe in the literal truth of the Empty Tomb.)

BTW, if it helps anyone to figure me out--the MBTI groupies, at any rate--I'm an INTJ.

I don't know whether I've wrapped anything up, but it's way past my bedtime.


R said...

Dan,

Thank you for furthering the conversation. I am by no means willing to hang a proof on the biblical passages I mentioned. I said they are merely suggestive. The cultural realities of the passages in question made a thoroughgoing, life-long same-gender bonding impossible, quite clearly. Naomi and Ruth lived in a patriarchal culture where their best path to survival was to marry a man. David had a dynasty to consider and demonstrates the classic conflation of sex and power (whether he was "gay" in the contemporary sense seems to me beside the point). Nor do I dispute (and certainly would condemn in the contemporary context) the potential pederastic relationship evident in the centurion and his pais -- although, as I understand it, the pais may also have been a young adult male. At any rate, for the sake of conversation, I am willing to put these passages aside, only noting that they do not form the center of my argument and to avoid our conversation falling into the trap of dueling hermeneutics. There are many fine scholars who have made our points for us on both sides, so I have no desire at this stage to push this any further.

I want to first address your assertion: "It is unwise to base policy on exceptional circumstances." This points back to my early majority-minority argument in terms of sexuality (not only human but in the greater natural world.) I can agree with you this much: that marriage between a man and a woman is normative for much of the human family. That is not under dispute here, it seems to me. What is under dispute is whether or not normative should be equated with exclusive. And I mean not to imply, either, that this question has a clearcut yes or no answer on either side.

But returning to my earlier point (advisedly, but I recognize the danger of circling in rehashed assertions and counter-assertions), the ultimate unity that God desires should, in my view, take the exceptions fully into account. In fact, I would argue we do this already: for heterosexual couples who cannot bear children, others for whom sexual intercourse is impossible, etc. Part of the unity we are after, in God's name no less, it seems to me, is to draw the "exceptions" or, as I prefer to call them, minority situations, into the sacramental life of the Church. Else we continue to perpetuate the divisions of the human family that, it seems to me, Christ comes to end.

I appreciate your illustrations of symbolic/sacramental language, as they helped me better understand your position. I still hear, though, an ontological argument rooted in the precise natural purpose for various organs of the body, and that all other combinations are "surrogates." Surely you and I would agree that were it the case (as is seen in parts of the animal world) that human sexuality were merely for procreation (necessitating vaginal, heterosexual intercourse), that we would not be interested in it except for that. Rather, the broad experience of humanity, it seems to me, demonstrates that sexual contact of all kinds (this is a fuzzy boundary, as merely kissing is considered sexual in some very conservative cultures) can demonstrate affection and self-giving charity.

Your argument also appears to me to extend to other non-sexual questions, such as adoption (as secondary in desirability to, say, biological procreation? Or do I misunderstand you?) That such an argument would be perceived by many as offensive, I agree, but setting aside the offense for a moment I see a suggested hierarchical order that again is rooted in majority over minority witness, experience, or argumentation, with the potential danger of being oppressive in practice, particularly as it is institutionalized by the Church.

Taking sex off the table for the moment, many adopted children I know would not posit they are any less children of their adoptive parents than biological offspring are or would be. Something deeper than mere biology has been at work in their family relationships that has made them children of their parents. On the other side, there are also biological children who, for reasons of abuse or neglect, feel they are simply not children of their parents.

Likewise, there are spouses in marriages who essentially live entirely separate lives (save for legal contractual arrangements). While, by contrast, there are homosexual couples who lead deeply intimate and mutually nurturing lives with no benefit of societal or Church sanction.

My point is this: I continue to question the proposition that the combination of particular parts of the sexual anatomy forms a core or central symbol of the married state. I believe something else entirely does -- something in which the entire married state (sex and all) is subsumed. So I have difficulty agreeing with the analogy you draw between the empty tomb/resurrected Christ and heterosexual vaginal intercourse/married state.

As an aside, I do believe the former is central to our faith (To address for a moment your apparent caution, I am not personally interested at this point in disputing matters of historical fact in the first century -- rather that my articulation of "Christ is Risen" comes from the real, tangible ways I witness the Risen Christ at work in our midst. For this reason, I take serious exception to any suggestion that I say the Creeds with my fingers crossed. This has figured heavily into the debates elsewhere, and I have no intention of seeing it rear its ugly head here, if you don't mind.)

But to build analogy from this for the relationship between heterosexual vaginal intercourse and marriage illustrates a foundational disagreement we have about marriage itself. I posit the relationship of marriage differently (and I think I have some backup from the tradition itself), and that sex is not part of the foundational symbolic vocabulary of marriage:

1) Christian marriage is built first and foremost on the recognition and love of Christ in another and a life of exclusive self-giving commitment to Christ in that person (hence, the sacramental action). The recognition of Christ in the other is, in my view, the central symbolic/theological vocabulary for marriage. I must stress that even our current marriage rites and vows do not mention sex, except in the most tangential ways (as in readings, perhaps from the Song of Solomon -- and even then this is not the intention of having the Song of Solomon in the liturgy to begin with!) The heart of marriage is found in the relationship of self-offering between Christ and the Church.

2) From the essential actions of marriage -- covenanting (as God in Christ covenants with us) and householding, or setting up a life together -- flows God's grace in transforming both lives into something greater than a mere combination, but a new and greater life that bears fruit in the community: hospitality, in some cases children, in other cases gifts of creativity, or a combination of all three and more. In short, the couple together become more Christ-like for each other and the greater world than they might apart and single.

3) Sexuality is subsumed or servant to this core vocation of marriage. Sex between married individuals is only one embodiment of the self-giving and mutual joy that the couple share, pointing to the self-giving that Christ calls us into and the giving of Christ to the Church and vice-versa. But sex is only one way to demonstrate this. It is not ultimately essential to marriage.

4) Great care must be taken to avoid articulating marriage as the only desirable state for Christians. The single life can be seen as generative and transformational depending upon context. Clearly, the single and celibate life has been upheld by Christian tradition for ages.

Single or married are both vocational calls that are best discerned in and through the support of Christian community. Most of us live singly as a provisional vocation for a good portion of our lives, simply because marriage is not possible or desirable.

Gender, then, it seems to me, becomes far less important, although I will concede this demands of us a review of the traditional theological understandings of marriage (rooted in patriarchal culture) that Paul uses in some of his writing (Christ as the bridegroom, the servile Church as bride.) But, as has been pointed out elsewhere, Franciscans for centuries have posited men becoming "brides" for Christ, bringing this theological language out of essentializing male/female biology and reconciling Paul's language about marriage with other passages of his that in Christ there is no longer "male or female."

Again, none of this is to say that marriages between men and women will no longer be normative in the Church -- but again that is only because the natural majority of our members are likely to be heterosexual.

What is transformative and holy about all relationships, sexual or otherwise, is the divinely-inspired love that binds them together and utterly changes the make-up of the individuals over time through relationship. This is, it seems to me, more broadly speaking, the sacramental action and God's grace at work. It is this quality of the centrality of relational love that to me best parallels the empty tomb/risen Christ symbol. It also speaks to ways love works in Christian friendship, and puts sexual behavior in its proper context without, on the one hand, elevating it to idolatry, or, on the other, denigrating it to something casual or unholy.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Dan, a very interesting and civil discussion, indeed. What a relief to find such a discussion that does not include name-calling and ad hominem attacks. I thought the conversation needed a woman's touch, therefore, I chimed in. Because of my nom de blog, it is obvious that I am female and not young. I find that, more often than I would like, the conversation tends to circle around me rather than include me.

I call your attention to this comment of mine at Richard's blog, and, while I realize that it probably has little effect on the discussion between you and Richard, I think that your statement that I quote below is incorrect.

Dan, I must take exception to this comment of yours, "Men who are married to women their own age usually retain their sex drive quite some time after their wives' has waned." I don't think that is true at all. I have not, just now, checked out what surveys say, but if my memory serves me well, they show many women retain the sex drive well beyond menopause. A minor point, perhaps, but a reason why the women's voice needs to be heard.

Ofentimes, the men wear out before the women, thus the huge sales of Viagra.


Mystical Seeker said...

I wanted to comment on the statement that same-sex relationships necessarily involve improvisation, while [different-sex] relations do not. There are two problems that I see with that statement. First, there is the assumption that improvisation in sex is somehow bad, unnatural, contrary to the natural order, or otherwise proof of inferiority in the natural order of things. Second, there is the assumption that heterosexual couples do not, or are never forced to, improvise because of physical limitations. . .

The way that men and women please each other frequently involves improvisation. . . [Mystical Seeker here pointed to numerous examples of improvisation widely recognized in heterosexual relationships, and also cited bobonos for their wide-ranging sexual behavior in the natural world].

What makes human intellgence so wonderful is our ability to improvise, to overcome obstacles that nature puts in our way. If we didn't do that, we'd be stuck in the dark ages. Not only is there nothing wrong with improvisation, I think we should be celebrating it as an example of the triumph of the human imagination. And it is God who gave us that imagination. Thank God for that.

Charles said...

All,

I trepidate and joining this conversation. All interlocutors seem practiced and fluent in these matters, I will gird myself and try to add something of value.

First, as the son of a Lesbian, I can certainly attest to the serious affection that is reciprocated between my mother and her partner. Holidays with my mother and her partner are the most pleasant and I dare say their hospitality (with all the attendant sub-sacraments of food, drink, music, and chatting) out stripes the warmth and conviviality of my hetero-sexual father and his wife. I just want to be on the record as one who is a beneficiary of the non-coital existential dimension of their relationship and of its natural loving outreach. I would also like to say that I have a dear friend in my mothers partner, for whom I have the most earnest affection.

Second, I do agree with Father Dan, though I can not articulate it nearly so elegantly in such fine post-modern parlance.

Richard, I would respectfully take issue with you on a couple of points in hopes that you would respond to them in kind. Before I begin though, I assume that we can all agree that what one does does not create or underwrite one's nature (in an ontological sense) -- in essence, you are "not" what you eat. I say this because I see this as a philosophical error articulated by both hardened Protestants who argue for capital punishment on the grounds that the person has forfeited his own human nature, hence the jus of life, and on the other hand from certain progressives that seek warrant for certain types of behaviors since it must be a kind of expression which underwrites their own identity (without which they would auto-extinguish). Keep in mind, I am saying this with the full realization that, as you say, there is a "kind" of sacramentality (in a literary sense -- like in Moby Dick where Queequeg and Ishmael share the marriage bed) that is achieved in the common life of same-sex partnered persons. I, like Father Dan, reserve the right to qualify this if pressed.

Moving on, I do not think it is sound that we appeal to your political metaphor to qualify the moral shape of partnered relationships. Now, there is a way in which I am totally wrong, but hear me out. I think there is a tad of abuse going on when we take the hoi oligoi , whoever they may be, and plant them next to the poor and the peacemakers because as a factor of volume, they are all in the margins. In essence can we morally exonerate minorities qua minorities. Likewise, I would defend patriarchy against the stigma it has accrued. I will use a common shibboleth of the Republican Party to prove my point. Republicans are know in times past to say: "Small government is good government." We all know this is false. It should be "Good government is good government." By this I mean, patriarchy is not bad, rather, bad patriarchy is bad. By the same token, there are good majorities and evil minorities. Likewise the possession of a monopoly on violence as a factor majority, or imagined majority (the police don't put you in jail, the people do) does not make a majority bad, pernicious, or implicitly corrupted. We cannot exploit some prevailing cultural (or sub-cultural) abstractions by trying to have them do the work that only persons can do.

Next I would go on along the same lines as Father Dan and start bloviating about ontology and teleology, but it is also past my bedtime. I will return soon.

in XC,
Charles

R said...

Charles,

Good that you joined the conversation. If I understand your two counter-points correctly:

1) I have no intention of arguing that behavior must be accepted if people argue it underwrites their identity. Indeed, we would be agreed some very bad actors in both history and probably our own lives have argued such to defend wickedness. My argument does not set aside that we must measure the fruits of the relationships that are seeking holy blessing. This applies to heterosexual marriage just as much as homosexual, in my view. No priest is obliged to marry anyone. What I am arguing against is assuming a priori against homosexual unions on the grounds that they are a) ontologically impossible (which experience seems to demonstrate to me is false), or b) they are fundamentally flawed in some sense (which would point to pathology -- either spiritual, clinical, or both). Again, I do not see this as the case.

2) Your second point is well taken, and perhaps I got the proverbial cart before the horse. Again, it was not my intention to argue all minorities are good ones. I assumed the minority in this case (LGBT) essentially as created in the imago dei. I think where there might be some misunderstanding is that I was not intending a political argument per se, but one rooted in majority/minority manifestations of biology (sexual orientation), that have no intrinsic moral dimension except as we act on them. That much, I hope we would agree. Where the question does become political and ecclesiological is in how we address the call into sacred relationship in the LGBT community, or how we (as has occurred historically) dismiss this as aberrant or unnatural, or worse. Oppression is a reality, and I mean nothing liberal nor conservative by that statement. It just is. It is well documented, it seems to me.

I will not endeavor to argue with you here regarding patriarchy -- surely we have all known truly benevolent patriarchs! You have certainly called me out, though, on my biases, so point well-taken. Again, though, I believe this is tangential to my central argument:

That the scriptural and traditional witness is that relationships are blessed by God where they are bearing good fruit in community and discerned as Christ-filled. That in Christ there is no longer male nor female, at least in any ontological sense. And my personal witness is that LGBT Christians who oare so called can and do (with or without the Church's support) enter holy unions that show all the primary fruits of Christian charity that heterosexual marriages can, and therefore should not be denied the blessing of the Church, inasmuch as it publicly hallows what is good and gracious in the lives of the faithful.

Dan moved the discussion to yet a third post on his blog:

To Mystical Seeker:
As a middle-aged male, making broad generalizations about the sexual satisfaction of women is way above my pay grade. Suffice it to say that I am aware of divergent testimony on the matter you addressed.

To Grandmère Mimi:
I take your point. How 'bout we agree that, as couples age, the libidinal disparity between the partners tends to increase, causing a de facto state of "enforced abstinence" on one of them.

To Charles:
Your prose is plenty elegant, but this is the first time mine has been accused of being post-modern!

To Richard:
First, let me remove any suspicion that I may have implied that you cross your fingers when you say the creed. That thought has never entered my mind.

I agree with you that an extended point-counterpoint exchange over a narrow range of subjects invokes the law of diminishing returns rather quickly. Plus, it just gets boring. I find it both more helpful and more interesting to explore the underlying suppositions that lead us to different pragmatic conclusions on the questions that vex the church we both love.

I'm not sure of all that this might mean, but it seems potentially significant that I tend to speak of "norms and exceptions to the norm" while you favor the language of "majority and minority" (presumably both within the range of "normal"). These two paradigms certainly have their similarities, but they are also importantly different. Why is it that you embrace one and I embrace the other--I'm suspecting, without a lot of conscious intent?

Here's a theory: It seems plausible that you (and many who share your point of view) begin with the pastoral reality that there are gay and lesbian persons who "profess and call themselves Christians," and from there seek to articulate an idealistic construct that supports a robust ministry of inclusion. In the meantime, I (and many who share my point of view) begin with an ideal that we perceive as divinely revealed, and from there seek to find pastoral practices that minister to those whose experience diverges from that ideal, but without sacrificing the ideal. Could this be a speciation of the distinction between the Top-Down and Bottom-Up methods of doing theology?

You have suggested that my position is based on ontology. As far as I know my own mind (which is a significant qualifier!), the distinction I want to make is less ontic than semiotic. It's about the sign value of human relationships--sign values that exist despite the particular qualities of particular relationships that may not literally manifest that sign. I will confess that my view is substantially similar, though not identical, to that of the Roman Catholic Church, in that I would contend that the telos of sexual coupling is ordered toward reproduction. That is the primary sign. There are other benefits, from the unitive to the recreative, but they are ancillary and cannot be divorced from the primary sign. Heterosexual copulation looks like something that can be fecund, even when, in any given relationship, it cannot. But that gets into territory we've already traversed, and I sort of promised not to do that!

R said...

It seems plausible that you (and many who share your point of view) begin with the pastoral reality that there are gay and lesbian persons who "profess and call themselves Christians," and from there seek to articulate an idealistic construct that supports a robust ministry of inclusion. In the meantime, I (and many who share my point of view) begin with an ideal that we perceive as divinely revealed, and from there seek to find pastoral practices that minister to those whose experience diverges from that ideal, but without sacrificing the ideal. Could this be a speciation of the distinction between the Top-Down and Bottom-Up methods of doing theology?

Dan, I think I would agree with this characterization of our differences. Speaking for myself, I am most interested in articulating my faith as "incarnational" -- in a nutshell, what God in Christ reveals in the very tangible lives I most closely engage with and serve. One might posit this as experience, but I see it subsumed in the traditional Anglican category of reason (a la Richard Hooker). This leads me, as well, to recognize and value diversity across the church Catholic, as God is manifested in different cultures and locations in different ways.

Not to imply, of course, that I dismiss revealed truth in the Church Tradition or Scriptures, anymore than I would assume you dismiss the incarnational realities and experiences of Christ in the others you meet in your day to day ministry and life. But only to say that the revealed truth we have received may well be understood and applied in different ways through the way it is incarnate in our different locations.

Nor do I mean to imply that there aren't any universal truths. I believe that there are, but they are few and broad enough to encompass a remarkably wide range of incarnational witness.

So I agree, we may be starting at different points and hence reaching different conclusions.

I think it is clear we disagree about the primary sign of marriage being biological reproduction, while admitting exceptions for a variety of reasons, and hence requiring male-female pairing. It appears I take the meaning of the "be fruitful and multiply" divine directive much more broadly, seeing the primary sign of marriage in the benefits of Christ revealed more in the community through the couple, an incarnational revelation which may or may not involve children (biological or otherwise.)

In addition to the Christological/incarnational basis of marriage I posited earlier, I think I am also attracted to the notion of marriage as vocation or call to serve Christ in another, as that reminds me that I don't "marry" couples. They marry each other. And, as I have been taught, for this reason they are the primary celebrants of the sacrament in the liturgy.

I would like to venture to suggest that, while we have focused here largely on our differences, there is also much we still agree on, and emphasize again that my support of same-sex blessings does not intend to set aside the very best elements of traditional marriage. Some have argued (successfully, in my view) that same-gendered blessings may in fact illumine the very best in heterosexual marriages.

Returning to what you wrote above, would you regard the present arrangement in the Episcopal Church (protests from some of the Primates notwithstanding) of local pastoral provisions for same-sex blessings within the parameters of, as you put it, seeking "to find pastoral practices that minister to those whose experience diverges from that ideal, but without sacrificing the ideal"?


Dan Martins said...

To Richard, with respect to his final question in the above comment:

The "current arrangement"? No. The current arrangement is embodied in C051 from GC '03, which explicitly recognizes public blessings of same-sex unions as "within the bounds of our common life." This gives formal, church-wide recognition to the practice, and that is a "bridge too far" for me.

How about the pre-2003 status? This is a possibility. I think if we had left things there we would not be suffering what we're going through now as a communion. "Progressives" could be blessing unions when permitted by the Ordinary, and "orthdox" could plausibly retort that they (the "progressives," that is) are acting outside the norm. Nobody would have completely what they want, but all would have a leg to stand on.

I believe the public voice of the church, speaking to the world, needs to say, "Same-sex coupling falls short of the only norm on which we have authority from God to invoke God's blessing." I also believe the pastoral voice of the church, spoken quietly and unofficially to persons who find themselves in a category that I would call "exceptional" and Richard would call "a minority," and wish the church's support in maintaining a stable relationship, should be: "We will not judge or condemn the choice you have made, and we will help you look for God's sustaining grace and love, even within your relationship." But it's not marriage, and there should be no prayers or rituals that purport to make it look like marriage, or be "para-marital."

Anonymous said...

"We will not judge or condemn the choice you have made, and we will help you look for God's sustaining grace and love, even within your relationship".

I thought you had affirmed that it what not a "choice"?

Dan Martins said...

Anonymous, I affirmed that orientation is not a choice. Setting up housekeeping is a choice, and that is the "choice" I referred to in the passage from my last comment that you quote. Thank-you for the opportunity to clarify.

R said...

Dan,

Thank you for answering my questions so directly and clearly.

I don't have anything additional to bring to the conversation at this point, but I certainly want to leave the invitation open to you for further discussion either now or at a later date. Your blog or mine. . . :)

I don't think either of us expected to "solve" anything with our engagement here, but I have found it personally helpful to better understand your position and see how it is reflected to some degree in the current conflicts in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. And I am profoundly grateful for the space to attempt to articulate, albeit not all that adeptly, my position as well.

However much I may disagree with you regarding what we discussed here and stand in solidarity with my LGBT brothers and sisters in Christ, I still offer you my continued regard as a fellow Christian on the Way. And I certainly mean never to impugn all that is good, holy, and just in your life and ministry in the midst of God's people.

Please know my prayers are with you, the people of St. John's, and the Diocese of San Joaquin, in the ongoing hope that we may indeed yet find a way to remain in Communion together without sacrificing where we hear God's call to us and our communities.

Your brother in Christ,

Richard


Additional comments can be viewed below and here.



14 comments:

KJ said...

Rich, I wouldn't add a thing and appreciate the spirit of discussion presented. It is bemusing that many heterosexuals spend so much time pondering the sexual acts of homosexuals. I can assure you that such fascination is not mutual.

I often tell my partner, our lives would make really boring TV.

Grandmère Mimi said...

I'm pleased to see to see KJ enter into the conversation, since as I was reading both Dan and Richards's words, the thought came to me that we need to hear from LGTB folks - as Richard has said - and from women.

Dan, I must take exception to this comment of yours, "Men who are married to women their own age usually retain their sex drive quite some time after their wives' has waned." I don't think that is true at all. I have not, just now, checked out what surveys say, but if my memory serves me well, they show many women retain the sex drive well beyond menopause. A minor point, perhaps, but a reason why the women's voice needs to be heard.

Then you say. "Are we to have an outpouring of compassion for them, and make allowances for the reinstitution of the biblical practice of concubinage? I don't think so." Dan, I don't think concubinage is the answer either, however, I see nothing wrong with compassion for those who desire sex, and for one reason or another, can't have it.

Richard, it is my understanding that one can remain chaste while having sex within a committed, faithful relationship. Perhaps, we put different meanings to the word "chaste". OK, I looked it up in Merriam-Webster online, and here's their definition: "innocent of unlawful sexual intercourse". That's what I mean by chaste.

As to the celibacy question, the celibate life is, as I understand it, a call from God. In my opinion, no human can impose celibacy on another human being.

God created male and female and gay and straight human beings, and he said that his creation is good. Does God create humans with desires for members of the same sex, and then make it a condition for living a godly life, the expectation that these persons will never bring those desires to fulfillment? I don't think so. I can't believe that.

R said...

Mimi and KJ, thank you much for your comments, and Mimi, thank you for pointing out the important need for a woman's voice in this discussion. Male blinders strike again!

I agree with your definition of "chaste," my rather idiosyncratic use notwithstanding -- my mis-application of the word is just the product of haste. I might seek a better term to describe what I meant. . .any suggestions?

Grandmère Mimi said...

I might seek a better term to describe what I meant. . .any suggestions?

Richard, you already used another word, "intercourse", or perhaps "periods with no sex".

Were you perhaps joking and not really expecting an answer? Well, I gave you one.

I like to think that I can remain chaste while still having sex within my faithful relationship.

Padre Wayne said...

Richard, I could not ask for a better, more thoughtful, more compassionate spokesperson from the heterosexual community. You are a blessing, and I thank you deeply.

For both Dan and Richard (and KJ and, of course, our dear Grandmere), thank you also for such a reasonable, measured engagement. I look forward to reading more. Both of you make me think.

I agree with GM: I consider myself chaste-but-not-celibate in that I am devoted to monogamy as a sign to my love of my faithfulness.

Mystical Seeker said...

I admit to being befuddled by the argument that Dan presented for a theology of exclusion. I appreciate that he doesn't use the same sorts of simplistic arguments from Leviticus that some anti-gay theologians use, but the argument he does use really seems equally bizarre to me. He just throws out the conclusion that "God, the creator of human sexuality, has revealed the context in which sexual intercourse may be called blessed", as if that were somehow self-evident. I'm not sure if he is claiming that homosexuality is against nature or what.

Maybe he has explained this position elsewhere more fully, but as it stands that statement is wholly unconvincing. God has revealed nothing of the sort as he claims about human sexuality, which, by the way, is a subset of animal sexuality that evolved millions of years ago, and lots of animals exhibit many varieties of sexual behavior that evolved for many purposes. One of the things we know about human sexuality, something that Jared Diamond and others have pointed out, is that human sexuality has evolved in such a way that it is as much, if not more so, about bonding between human beings as it is about reproduction. Meanwhile, sexuality among our closest primate cousins, the bonobos, is about conflict resolution as much as it is about reproduction. If there is one thing that nature has taught us, it is that sexuality has evolved into a variety of forms across species and within species, it serves many purposes and to throw out supposedly self-evident notions about which form of sexuality God considers the "right" one is taking a very narrow and simplistic view.

The analogy with concubinage is also rather hard for me to follow. Most women that I know of would not approve of such an arrangement with their husbands. There is a concept of mutual love and respect in a relationship that is supposed to undergird blessed unions, and a husband going out and getting some outside his marriage would seem to violate that. He is therefore comparing apples and oranges. In order to bolster his case, he instead would need to find an analogy with heterosexual behavior that was in the context of a mutually supportive relationship but which he argued is wrong. So what is wrong in that context between a married man and woman? Viagra? Anal sex? Ultimately, this whole idea that somehow God "revealed" that same-sex relationships are not to be "blessed" boils down to an arbitrary distinction.

And what's with the scare quotes that he keeps putting around the word "progressive"?

R said...

mystical seeker,

You might want to put these questions to Dan directly. The last one I am willing to take on as an acknowledgment that Dan appears to me to want to avoid misleading labels, so the quotes around progressive imply to me he uses the label lightly, rather than as a scare quote or a slur. That it may be perceived differently, I will admit, but I believe this is his intention. Much of the labeling in the current debates has become caustic and divisive rather than illustrative and helpful in not only keeping all the parties at table, but helping us seek understanding, even from those with whom we most strongly disagree.

God's peace.

R said...

Mimi,

Thanks for the clarification! You underscore what I meant to say.

*Sigh*

How does the old adage go:

Many of us mean what we say, but few of us say what we mean!

Thanks again, and God's peace.

Dan Martins said...

Hi Richard. I've responded to your latest comment on my blog (which you have reproduced on your own as a post), not on the comment thread but on a new post. Thanks or the dialogue!

Dan+

Dan Martins said...

To Mystical Seeker--Richard basically interpreted my use of quotes around "progressive" in the way I intended. It is not meant to be derogatory, but simply to signal that, while I recognize the term as a descriptor of those who use it of themselves, I have a problem with the implication that those who are not "progressive" must therefore be "regressive." The same would apply to conservatives who use the term "orthodox" to refer to themselves. I would wager that many "progressives" would not want to surrender orthdoxy to the "other side" in that way, and hence would put quotes around "orthodox" in the course of discussion. The same principle applies with the pejorative labels we apply to those with whom we disagree--like liberals calling conservatives "neo-Puritan" or conservatives calling liberals "revisionist."

KJ said...

Rich,

I have to thank you and Dan again for the tone of this discussion. It is pleasant to be able to talk without the word "fascist" or "liberal" getting flung about. I believe that you have represented the views of many in a very gracious and loving way, including the crazy notion that homosexuality is more than a sexual attraction but is also the ability to love, in all senses o the word, the same-gendered other.

I apologize in advance for the length of my comments; I didn't see an e-mail address to where I could send my thoughts. Some things are difficult to condense.

I have visited Dan's website and read his response. However, I must say that as a man who has no memory of NOT having an orthodox Christian faith and no memory of being sexually attracted to the opposite sex, such a cognitive approach to matters that affect me, fellow believers and those outside of church walls, strikes me as presenting the face of Christ devoid of humanity -- rationale devoid of empathy. If this is what the Gospel calls us to offer the world, it's time for a "faith fast".

I am a simple man with an even simpler faith. I cannot achieve the level of engagement for which Tobias is calling and you are likely achieving, and though it is likely necessary, I have little motivation to even try.

Remember when God was recruiting Moses to lead His people out of Egypt? Moses suspects, correctly, as it turns out, that he won't be believed and asks God how he's supposed to handle that. God asks him, "What is that in your hand?" as, of course, Moses the shepherd had his staff, a tool of his trade. God was all set to miraculously use what Moses already had.

All I have is a confession of Christ (I guess I would be labeled a "creedal conservative") and my story; It is a story in which I would not change a thing.

For most of my life, I followed Dan's line of thinking, but at the age of 40, the Spirit removed from me the "luxury" of attempting to believe what was commonly taught in my evangelical faith home (Homosexuality is a s result of a broken relationship with God.) with what I knew (I loved God, but had a same-gendered sexual orientation.).

When prompted by the Spirit to be authentic regarding my sexuality, I first took the "Jonah route" and attempted to live this out in a "covert" manner, a situation which ended disastrously as such things will and should. (I firmly believe that if the church does not move on into full inclusion that leads to spiritual and mental health, Ted Haggart will not be the last one exposed in attempting to live in two worlds. Dan's approach to "the topic" will result in this happening again and again, toward what end?)

I then decided to ignore God's leading for me to be authentic and continued to wear the mask of "normalcy". After all, it hardly seemed fair that the GLBT Christian is called to a higher level of authenticity and transparency than what is required of fellow church members. This began to lead me towards mental illness, and I have no doubt, ultimately would have led to self-destrtuction.

It wasn't until March 21, 1999 when I yelled "Okay!" to and at God into the gray, early morning western Washington sky that I finally had peace on the matter. I didn't know where agreement with God would lead, but as long as I did not leave Christ behind, I would go. The future was uncertain, but I had jumped into the arms of my loving Savior, and I wasn't letting go.

And of course, there was great cost. However, immediately, I was able to share my faith with people whom I would have never even met if my life's goal had been religious, pious "safety" as opposed to authenticity. For the first time in my life, I knew the power of the Spirit ministering through me without my pretense being in the way. Other believers contacted me with similar stories. Some were living "double" lives. I knew the pleasure of seeing surprise in the faces of non-Christians when they learned I was Christian AND gay, since given all the church nonsense, those on the "outside" have a hard time imagining that a GLBT individual would have any interest in the Christian faith at all. It is pure blessing to be able to share the Gospel without the burden of religiosity. One of my most surreal moments was experienced while sharing my story at a gay community center in Seattle -- a Wiccan on one side of me, a Jewish cantor on the other, and nary a priest in sight. But I knew I was exactly where I needed to be.

Do I need a church to be able to live authentically? I guess not. Would I prefer to have a supportive faith community. Definitely.

So, let the necessary engagement continue, but meanwhile, in spite of church nonsense, I have begun to learn what Paul meant in Philippians 3 when he states, "...But I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me." (NIV) That's a very, very good place to be and makes the pronouncements of primates rather inconsequential.

If the church sets as its focus determining who's "in" and who's "out" and how "ins" should behave and with whom instead of creating a community that in and through grace allows followers of Christ to follow the movement of the Spirit while being the individuals they are created to be, then we are "churching" ourselves into irrelevance. In the end, the only "lifestyle" of any importance and impact upon a needy world is Gospel lifestyle which, like the end of a good game of "Hide and seek," proclaims, "All out are in free!"

R said...

"All out are in free!"

Amen to that. And thank you for gracing this blog and all of us with the beauty of your journey deeper into the heart of God.

It is certainly clear to me from reading the Gospel that Jesus had very little time for religiosity. He was simply too busy calling the marvelous Divinity out in the people around him through healing, calling for just and honest relationships, and a recognition that God was near at hand -- not in the Temple in Jerusalem alone, nor in the pious practices of those who wanted to be known for their religiosity!

Thank you again for your faithful witness here. The conversation with Dan was not intended to "fix" anything, except perhaps to serve as a reminder that even Christians who strongly disagree can still come together in the love of God. Like you, I am uncomfortable with the constant abstraction of people through a cognitive process of theologizing. Moreso with the appeals to "orthodoxy" over and against those who have been historically marginalized from the full life I believe the Church should be offering them, if I am indeed reading the Gospel correctly.

As Dan pointed out late in our conversation, the difference between us may very well be a "top-down" vs. "bottom-up" approach. Another way of describing it may be mind to heart or heart to mind. Yet another: mind-embodied, embodied-mind.

The way I read both my experience and the greater experience of the Church is that, in the best occasions, the Truth of God has always emerged in our midst. That seems to me what incarnation means. Theology and religion have always come in response to that transformational glimpse of the Divine between, beyond, and within us, rarely (if ever) the other way around. Theology only illumines what God is doing or already has done. It cannot encapsulate it or pre-define it.

I love your phrase and the image of the "Gospel lifestyle." Indeed, that is what I was trying to point to in this discussion, attempting to make the assertion (in all my wordiness) that covenants of all kinds between people are most Christian when they are about cultivating the Gospel lifestyle through devotion to Christ in another. With that, holy unions (regardless of gender) can be seen like the rest of our sacraments as rooted in the call of baptism.

I believe that the very best witness you can continue to provide all of us who are white, straight, and male and recovering (sometimes stubbornly so) from our engrained heterosexism or worse is simply to continue becoming the beautiful person in Christ God has called you to be. And, of course, whenever we get in the way, let us know! :)

Love, prayers, and peace to you.

Adam Jacob said...

Richard and Dan,

You certainly make it no easier for that apparent minority, of which I am part, who still has no clear-cut stand on these matters. I fear that I am something of a "Birmingham moderate" on issues regarding the church's appropriate response to issues of human sexuality, and I'm not entirely comfortable with that. If I am to err, I would rather err on the side of inclusion, so I've "come out" as a supporter of LGBT Christians to my family and closest friends, but there remains a splinter of doubt in my mind...

It's not really about whether I doubt that true biblical justice (from the OT prophets thru to St. Paul's assertion that there is no longer male nor female, etc.) expects such inclusivity, it's that I remain unconvinced of what exactly that inclusion must look like in the relatively narrow world of institutional Christianity. As a catholic Christian, I acknowledge the church's role in the unfolding drama of redemption, even as the non-conformist in me rails against hierarchy and dogma and other mechanisms of control that appear to be necessary evils, even within the common life of Christ's bride.

Anyway, the question for me personally seems to come down to something like this: Would I rather be considered a "liberal" in a self-proclaimed conservative and "orthodox" environment (which is basically my situation here in +Quincy), or am I called to experience my Christ-following journey in a more "progressive" context, where I would likely be seen as a bit to the right of most? I am entirely unwilling to accept the idea that there are "two gospels" being proclaimed in TEC, and the (often unstated) attendant that one is right and Christ-honoring, so the other obviously is not.

Anyway, there is hope in your dialogue, Richard and Dan, even as there are obviously matters on which you'll never agree. There is hope that this thing can still hold together somehow, and even if not, then there can still be a reunion someday after we've walked apart for a season.

I just pray that the Spirit will lead my family to a safe harbor if that season must indeed come...

Blessings on you all in your lives and ministries, and on our beloved church.

R said...

adam jacob,

Many thanks for your comment, and I offer you blessings as well and prayers for your discernment.

What you say is so very important to demonstrate that neither "side" is monolithic or lacking in diversity of perspective, as well as theological and incarnational witness. It's only our sinful habit of bifurcating complex situations that tries to make it so. We should stop.

May you find welcome wherever you are in the Church and a place where you may continue your journey with honesty and a sense of integrity with the Christian community.