Wednesday, February 28, 2007

For Those in Harm's Way

Human Rights Watch posted this letter, including many signatories from leaders in the Episcopal Church, opposing the impending legislation in Nigeria that would make homosexuality a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment in that country.

Archbishop Peter Akinola supports this heinous bill. The public silence of the Archbishop of Canterbury and other Primates on this matter has been disheartening.

I have one four-letter word in response:


. . .and then do whatever else you can.

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:


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...


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...


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...


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...


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,

R said...


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...


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,


Additional comments can be viewed below and here.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Shout it from the Rooftops

Much of the Primates' Communique relies heavily on 1998 Lambeth Resolution I.10, and the assumption that it represents the theological mind of the Communion on human sexuality.

It is no overstatement to say that this is a mis-characterization of the resolution's development, as it was forced and reworked in some very questionable ways, apparently, and creates a myth of consensus amongst the episcopate in the Communion that does not exist. As Tobias Haller has pointed out in commentary from his most recent post, 70 bishops of the Communion voted against the resolution and 182 later signed a pastoral statement distancing themselves from any notion that the resolution fully understood or fairly addressed the diversity of human sexuality, let alone theological views of the same.

This is not an insignificant minority, and it severely undermines the force of Resolution I.10 as a consensus document, and, in turn, raises serious questions about the underpinnings of the Primates' Communique. Moreover, it underscores (hopefully, in my view) that there is much greater diversity already present in the Anglican Communion on the question of human sexuality, and that I.10 is not by any means definitive. All things being equal, it would be my hope to see the question re-opened at next year's Lambeth Conference, but all things are not equal. Perhaps this is precisely what some of the Primates seek to forestall in their deadline imposed on The Episcopal Church. A sure-fire way of guaranteeing more unanimity on any one issue in a body is to work towards ensuring that dissenting voices are not invited to a meeting.

I am tempted to assert that the "Emperor has no clothes." Attempts to use Resolution I.10 with or without the Windsor Report as a measuring rod (if not a whipping rod) and the Archbishop of Canterbury's assertion that it is the "teaching" of the Anglican Communion ring both hollow and disingenuous, even setting aside the simple fact (I am tired of repeating this, but it must be said again) that the Primates have no jurisdiction over any one Province of the Communion.

Please share this fact about Resolution I.10 with everyone who will listen.

If the Anglican Communion must collapse in schism, please, for the sake of Christ, let it do so honestly, not based on distortions or assumptions about the mind of the Communion or a "consensus" where one did not exist to begin with!

Keen Intellects

Tobias Haller+, as promised, has just posted his first take on possible ways forward through the mess. I have not yet had a chance to read it in full, but will hope to have time to later and post my own reactions and reflections both here and over at In a Godward Direction.

Also, along different lines, but certainly well worth a very thorough reading, is Christopher's respectful but critical and incisive Ash Wednesday open response to the Presiding Bishop's initial reflection on the Primates' Meeting. Find it below in its entirety. He posted this to the House of Deputies website and it also made it up a few days ago over at MadPriest's blog.

Christopher also posted last July a cutting indictment of the current trends in Anglicanism, offering a fascinating and important counterpoint to the Archbishop of Canterbury's presidential address to the General Synod in the Church of England.

Finally, Fr. Jake has signed off for the season, desiring quiet contemplation and reflection. Prayers go with him as well as hopes that he will return the blogosphere in Easter. His faithful, tireless witness over the past few years and his blog's "A-list" status have brought considerable weight to bear in the current conversation. I can only echo Mark Harris' sentiment that silence can be a profound response in this explosive climate. In Fr. Jake's case, given his blog's status, I can only remark that I find his silence humbling and a call to a faithful Lent.

God's peace to all of you.

Christopher writes:

21 February 2007

Ash Wednesday

Dear Most Rt. Rev. Jefferts Schori,

Grace and peace be to you from our Lord Jesus Christ.

May this letter find you enjoying spiritual refreshment and gentle company following your return from a tense and complicated meeting with your fellow Primates of the World Wide Anglican Communion. Under our present circumstances, negotiations and decisions are admittedly fraught with the potential for injury, and I doubt that any of us can fully understand the enormity of your burden. Again and again, I have found myself marveling at your ability to remain calm under such immense pressures, offering a word of faith and a testimony to God’s graciousness in the midst of much acrimony. Your words in media statements have made clear repeatedly your hope for LGBT sisters and brothers, so, as I have read and read again your Lenten statement, it is with a heavy heart that I have found myself after each reading simultaneously filled with immense disappointment, great frustration, and profound sadness.

Most LGBT Christians have in life experienced hurtful expressions of the Christian faith, and many of us carry the wounds, scars, and calluses to show for our faith despite others’ misuse and misapplication of Christ to our lives. Others, perhaps most, walk away from the Christian faith altogether. To, therefore, use the Lenten season (this time of recognition of our own separation from one another and from God) and the practice of fasting (a time honored way of relinquishing one’s status and privileges for others that others might simply subsist or of deference that others might be acknowledged in their Christ-touched dignity in imitation of and participation in the Holy Trinity and God’s own for us in Christ and the Spirit) as a framework to justify in liturgical and theological language moratoria on the consecration of partnered bishops and on the authorization of (and it would seem now, even the allowance for) the blessing of same-sex unions is in a most charitable construction, inappropriate.

Such a construction reads as a further misuse and misapplication, and threatens to make of even this most democratic of seasons, being sinners one and all, yet one more occasion for abuse. Such colonization of our shared calendrical and liturgical inheritance converted to institutional justifications cannot help but raise questions about God’s graciousness under such conditions. That LGBT Episcopalians might find themselves angered by your remarks should be expected:
A brother asked Abba Poemen, "What does it mean to be angry with your brother without a cause? [The reference is obviously to Matt. 5:21ff.] He said, "If your brother hurts you by his arrogance and you are angry with him because of this, that is getting angry without a cause. If he pulls out your right eye and cuts off your right hand and you get angry with him, that is getting angry without a cause. But if he cuts you off from God - then you have every right to be angry with him. (R. Williams, Where God Happens)
Lenten fasting under such an interpretation, in contradiction to the words of the Prophet Isaiah, which we all heard today, becomes an occasion to justify living with our divisions and distinctions as foundational to our relating and coexistence for a season of undetermined length, overturning—for some other purpose—the intent of this august and most ancient Christian discipline meant to right our relationships in a Christ-like manner.

Worse, in your Lenten message you write of LGBT Episcopalians in objectifying terms as if we are a third-party witness to our own lives, as if we are listening in on others as they determine our fate for us. I have yet to hear a personal and public I/Thou/Us word from you to us following this latest thickening miasma that addresses us not in the third person, not as those for whom some work for inclusion and others work to maintain a traditional teaching, but as “we”, as full, active, participating, being redeemed, human agents, who alongside you, are being taken up into God’s own story and life. Even such a word would go some distance toward mending the breach that continues to widen as the goodwill between LGBT Episcopalians and yourself is given away to maintain other affections.

In essence, your Lenten address uses LGBT Episcopalians and our abstaining as a means, wrapped in Lenten and Pauline language, to justify an end, what is needed to hold our institutions together in a difficult time, and done so in such a way that those truly being asked to abstain are not properly addressed as persons. Those being asked to abstain on a personal level are not The Episcopal Church entire, but LGBT Episcopalians. And thus, in so doing, you have weakened both the intent and meaning of Lent and of St. Paul’s own words, and sadly, further frayed the tattered trust between LGBT and heterosexual Episcopalians, between yourself with the difficult office your carry and those whom you are charged to shepherd who are LGBT Episcopalians.

The fast you have called for is not a fasting for all of The Episcopal Church, but a fasting for LGBT Christians who are Episcopalian and a fasting from being able to truly share the Good News of Christ Jesus with LGBT persons outside of the Church, for all of this does publicly affect (and increasingly negatively) our witness to the Gospel among LGBT persons. If you doubt this, please check out The Advocate or PlanetOut on-line where many LGBT persons keep abreast of current Anglican affairs. What is reported of us Anglicans is little cause for coming to Christ. I have no doubt that many heterosexual sisters and brothers outside the Church also stay away seeing how much we Christians love one another.

I must admit that I have become increasingly surprised at the failure of some of our most capable minds to come up with more creative solutions not beholden to other powers and authorities, but turning the tables upside down, by offering the other cheek, walking the extra mile, handing over even our undershirt. Solutions that would expose the shameful ill treatment of sisters and brothers through solidarity that sacrifices no one, but instead, draws a fence around the Law of Love rather than capitulate that Law to some other notion.

Solutions that would maintain the courage of our convictions regarding God’s hospitality toward and God’s inclusion of LGBT Christians in God’s own life, this, God’s work for us presently only limitedly expressed for us and among us in The Episcopal Church. Solutions that would cede nothing of our convictions while making space for ongoing conversation Communion-wide. In other words, solutions that would put an end to scapegoating mechanisms among us in The Episcopal Church, return us all within The Episcopal Church to the kenotic and perichoretic imagery found in Paul’s own writings, especially on the Body, meant to lead us into a life that undoes rivalry among us. I recognize that amidst the acrimony and hard lines drawn, this may be nigh impossible, but if so, it is time to be honest publicly that this is indeed so, that some one organ of the Body must suffer and be repeatedly humiliated so that the rest might at least find some modicum of peace. After all, I know many who fail to rejoice under such conditions, and given your own stance previously, I suspect you are among them.

We’re all prone to harm others because of standing in society given us simply for who and to whom and where we were born, are all capable of beating the proverbial dog. But in the Body, it is not these things which shall endure or be remembered, but those who go out of themselves for others and pay more heed to Christ than to the fallen human demand for the blood of sisters and brothers. As that great twentieth century theologian, Karl Barth, once wrote on the eve of his repentance of anti-semitism and the rise of National Socialism: “Every idol worth its salt eventually demands human sacrifice.” Only the power of Christ shall last, all other notions even now already have been brought to an end.

To offer a rhapsody on mutual forebearance or fasting in the Body, drawing upon St. Paul’s words on the eating of meat sacrificed to idols, as further justification for LGBT Episcopalians to fast under the guise that all are mutually fasting in this regard is at best a half-use of his own notion of mutual forebearance. Again, in the sides for inclusion and maintenance of traditional sexual morality as outlined in your address, we are third party to such notions even as we are the first party to actually bear the recommended course of action.

The first problem with your use of Paul’s words is that when one is rather on top of matters, mutual forebearance sounds quite lovely because as you have framed this matter, the moratoria do not really require an abstention on the part of yourself and all heterosexual Episcopalians equivalent with the abstention demanded of we LGBT Episcopalians asked to “mutually” forbear for the sake of the whole even as we are repeatedly humiliated and then offered muted words of reassurance. If this is truly the best we can do at this time as The Episcopal Church, an honest word to this reality would be in order as would a heartfelt and public “thank you” to LGBT Episcopalians, rather than recasting this as the fasting of The Episcopal Church generally. Though this affects all, those who in their persons bear the damning up of our gifts and the pastoral and ritual privatizing of our relationships should be properly, personally, publicly, and openly addressed.

As Dr. Luise Schotroff has suggested in her lectures, the Body imagery in First Corinthians 11-13 is intricately connected to how the poor and working poor (the least, those not honored) were treated at Eucharist in chapter 11. Discerning the Body in this instance is primarily about seeing the Body in those before us face-to-face whom we might consider lowly and of no account. Depending on one’s read of the situation, Paul basically points out to the wealthy, who either ate before the poor and working arrived or who ate in front of those who have little, that they effectively spat upon Christ. The result was unhealth and illness in the community in participating in such feasting at others’ expense; the discord and disharmony of such relating carries with it communal consequences as Christ’s own going out of himself for the world becomes a distant memory. Paul’s use of body imagery is deeply steeped actually in Roman cultural metaphors, in which it was common to depict Imperial Rome as a body in which the wealthy, represented by the mouth and stomach, were to be serviced by the rest of the Body, the poor and the plebs and the slaves. Paul radically reorients this image in such a way that the outcast, the slave, the lowly, those of no account are those given pride of place and honour in Christ’s Body. Indeed, the mouth and stomach are called to relinquish their tendency to take up the whole and to defer to the other “lesser” organs that each organ might have a proper place in the Body. In this way, the Body might function properly as God intended for us from the beginning before we had fallen into sin and death.

In St. Paul ’s image, we move from the Body of Empire to the Body of Christ. Under such conditions, we have to examine the multiple ways that imperialist, colonizing, paternalistic, patronizing, and self-serving ways of relating show themselves in our current structures and contexts as the Body of Christ, and they are legion. The Body as expressed in The Episcopal Church and more expansively in the World WideAnglican Communion is multivalently caught up in ways of relating that are imperial rather than Christic or kenotic. Under such conditions of Sin, none of us is without sin. And as we move into this most holy season of fasting, prayer, almsgiving, and acts of love, serving Christ in all whom we meet, words about the joy, life, and light of Christ make way to recognizing the rifts and separations among us due to Sin. Those rifts and separations are not only across the World Wide Anglican Communion among Provinces, but within The Episcopal Church, including those division based on gender and orientation.

That we all live “betwixt and between”, to quote Dr. Victor Turner, being on a life-long pilgrimage of conversion to what is already accomplished, however, should not keep us from naming those structural matters that infect our life and create rivalry among us, Sin, and at present the one structural matter in our life together publicly and repeatedly justified by many and excused by many more is heterosexism in its blatant forms and perhaps more insidiously in its subtle forms of genteel violence that often go unnoticed by those who think themselves free of such infection, who can speak of “wait” and “someday” because at first glance it’s no skin off their own back.

Nonetheless, when faced with controversies among varieties of practitioners both Jew and Gentile, St. Paul does as you suggest, recommend abstention when in mixed company. This question is not, however, without a corollary, which I have previously discussed in his conception of the eucharistic-body.

The question which you posed more generally, but which I pose personally to we who must personally bear the burden, is not shall LGBT Episcopalians abstain from blessings of our unions by bishops, priests, or deacons or fast from seeking elevation to the episcopacy, the former of which is indeed a pastoral matter especially when we have so often heard cursing of our persons and relationships by Christian authorities, the latter of which is something as a layman and a lover of St. Gregory the Great that I would count, with no disrespect to you, a fool’s errand no matter one’s orientation. In most cases in our Episcopal Church we simply must abstain because such is standard practice. Our abstention and fasting are already the facts on the ground for most LGBT Episcopalians irrespective of our desire otherwise to offer our relationships by blessing God in Eucharistic community with particular words in vows and promises. Since B033, the likelihood that a LGBT candidate would even be considered for the episcopate has become quite improbable.

Drawing upon both St. Paul’s meat example to which you allude and its corollary, St. Paul’s eucharistic-body example, if we cannot maintain unity except by engaging in notions of fasting, abstention, and sacrifice, we cannot put this to others without them putting the same question to us for the sake of mutual forebearance and mutual prevention of rivalry and scandal—that the Gospel of God’s hospitality, courtesy, and generosity toward us might still work God’s desire out among and through our sad divisions.

The question is will you and all of our sisters and brothers who are heterosexual abstain from eating before (in both senses of the term) us through the ecclesial blessing of your marriages (and the innumerable celebrations linked with this over time, which some few of us who are LGBT are blessed to experience in sensitive parishes which recognize our anniversaries, adoptions, et cetera) and from elevation to the episcopate to the degree that our episcopal polity can sustain such an interdict? Will our mutual forebearance be a fully and truly Pauline exercise or the required abstention and sacrifice of a few under the guise of Pauline terms?

Such a mutuality could be modeled on the Medieval notion of the interdict, an action meant to restore bonds of affection and tattered relationships by highlighting our separation and returning us to Who actually unites us across our divisions. This usually occurred by putting a stop to the Eucharist that all might enter a time of repentance to remember in Whom they were one. Without resorting to an interdict on the Eucharist, a lesser interdict on that which divides us would show a sense of good faith in calls to fasting, instead, pointing us one and all to Whom unites, especially in Eucharist. An interdict, in effect until 2012 if not 2015, on the blessing of all unions (different-sex marriages, same-sex unions, consecrations to celibacy, friendships) and on the consecration of bishops except to maintain our episcopal polity, would make ample space among us to repair the relationships strained by one portion of the Body indulging while another is asked to fast (and regularly humiliated) and would make space among us across the Communion as listening continues to unfold and LGBT Christians find their own footing within their particular cultures.

This would truly be a season of fasting for one and all in The Episcopal Church that took seriously St. Paul’s own language and imagery not bent to serve those who personally in their own flesh and bone are unaffected by lesser interpretations, such as your own call for a fast in your Lenten statement. Such a fast would be a mutual going out of ourselves for others that all might share in one another’s joys and burdens together beyond our present divisions between LGBT and heterosexual, between those who applaud our actions and those who abhor our present course. Indeed, we would be free again to talk about pressing matters of poverty, hunger, globalization, and climate change among others without pitting right relationship against right relationship.

But secondly, another problem arises. If we can only frame our communion together in terms of another’s being sacrificed or require that another abstain that we might remain seated together, necessitating the proverbial of skin off of someone else’s back, so to speak, we are already far from Christ. For we are then trying to, in the words of the Reformers, “to add on to Christ’s once offered, full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice”, God’s very self become human who on the Cross and in the Resurrection puts an end to all notions of coming to God by our own means, especially through bloody offerings. God simply deigns to dwell among us, even in all of our mess, and sin, in infinite patience and boundless compassion, drawing us into this embrace through Christ’s self-revelation that God is indeed for us. And in light of that infinite capaciousness, we find ourselves coming up short and at the same time drawn into a new way of being human together.

For what can we possibly add to this infinite Gift of God’s own self? Our response can only be to in Christ offer ourselves already prompted by the Spirit in turn to God and to others, especially those who do not have enough to subsist, deferring to one another in mutual upbuilding and mutual forebearance that we might have hope of imitating the harmonious perichoresis of the Holy Trinity. This is our liturgy, our service, our living sacrifice. So as my priest rightly notes, all of these sacrificial notions that require the offering up of another rather than oneself making a willing self-offering are bad theology and shoddy praise—if not outright heterodoxological. As Dr. Geoffrey Wainwright notes, “sacrifice”, in its proper Christian sense, is one’s offering of one’s self to and for others for upbuilding. But might we not be inspired by leaders of vision to mutually offer ourselves in upbuilding and forebearance? I know of a number of heterosexual men, fellow Episcopalians, who have been willing to show such solidarity. One refused to seek to celebrate his anniversary in his parish, another wrote a General Convention recommendation for the above outlined interdict, a third has pledged to bless no unions should we disallow the blessing of same-sex unions.

The question remains, for the sake of staying together a season longer, can we continue to build up one another amidst so many toxic words and mutually forebear our own prerogatives and liberty in Christ that we might at least still find common footing at God’s font and table?

I forward this to my own bishop and to my priest in the hopes that they will take up this and perhaps other creative solutions, which bear commitment to binding up broken relationships near and far while sacrificing none. Perhaps others can offer even a more excellent way?

Sadly, I doubt that The Episcopal Church has the courage of its convictions regarding Episcopalians who are LGBT, that as our miasma thickens we will do what we hope not to do and will not do what we hope to do. I recognize that it is unlikely that The Episcopal Church would willingly and truly fast in such a way as I propose, sacrificing none but willingly forebearing together, for as Dr. King understood so very well, such matters are rarely voluntary.

Nonetheless, let it never be said that our leadership was not presented with options that would have sought the highest levels of communion within our common life as The Episcopal Church and across the World Wide Anglican Communion without making one organ carry the brunt of the burden for our continued unity and which would have worked, in the words of Mahalia Jackson, to “move us all up a little higher” to the foot of the Cross. For it is here, at the foot of the Cross, where in Holy Baptism and Holy Eucharist, we might move beyond our hostility, tear down our dividing walls, and turn us one to the other in beginning to rebuild broken trust and shattered bonds of affection through means not rooted in fear, resentment, or power unsubordinated to love.

I trust nevertheless that we LGBT Episcopalians will continue to provide and indeed increase our support of and to one another, publicly celebrating and acknowledging God’s blessing on our unions by our blessing of God in Christ through thanksgiving and praise and by our rejoicing in the many other passages in our lives marked by Christ even should deacons, priests, and bishops be prohibited from joining in our joyful noise. That we who are lay will provide even greater succour to those who are LGBT and ordained, that their burdens will not be to no avail.

I trust that we will continue to provide comfort and care to those who have been sorely wounded in body, mind, and spirit by the legion of words about us and host of actions toward us by both the well-meaning and the hostile that tear us down through abstraction and issuization and third person addresses while offering nary a word to us in I/Thou/Us terms about how much we also are valued for our various ministries of service and loved infinitely as fellow heirs in Christ.

I trust that we will put to good use our own burdens and marks of faith, building up others whom our society tears down and holds as of no account that in so doing our stripes might truly heal.

I trust that with our heads high and our backs straight in the hope of the Resurrection, our bearing of the multiple manifestations of the Cross placed upon us in society and in the Church by both the well-meaning and the hostile shall prove witness to the Lord of Life. A Lord of Life who did not go first up to glory, but down to the grave; who did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at, but went out of himself in the form of the least for the sake of the world, even unto death, shameful death by hanging as a criminal on a tree; who once-for-all on the Cross brings an end to worldly ways of relating requiring the sacrificing of some for the sake of the many, and thus, exposes our Sin and calls us to new life together, that all might have life, life generously and without measure.

Even now in this very season of Lent such ways are being brought into judgment in us and among us in the light of God’s infinite mercy and unfailing compassion toward all whom He has fearfully and wonderfully made. God’s Good News shall out even should The Episcopal Church capitulate for a season to the ways of the world for fear of losing our status and place. God’s place shall remain a sure bulwark and never failing foundation no matter how far we might wander.

I leave you with these prescient words from a modified version of “The Invitation to a Holy Observance of Lent” found in the Lutheran Book of Worship:

Brothers and sisters: We were created to experience joy in communion with God, to love all humanity, and to live in harmony with all of creation. But sin separates us from God, our neighbors, and creation, and so we do not enjoy the life our Creator intended for us. Also, our sin grieves God, who loves us deeply, who does not desire us to come under judgment, but to turn away from separation and live.

As disciples of the Lord Jesus we are called to struggle against everything that leads us away from love of God and neighbor. Repentance, fasting, prayer, and works of love—the discipline of Lent—help us to wage our spiritual warfare. I invite you, therefore, to commit yourselves to this struggle and confess your sins, asking our gracious and loving Creator for strength to persevere in your Lenten discipline.

Your brother in Christ.

One Baptized,

W. Christopher Evans

Williams vs. Jefferts Schori

I had posted a few days ago that ++Katharine Jefferts Schori believes the focus of the Primates' Communique had been to disallow authorized rites in The Episcopal Church. ++Rowan Williams, in his address at the General Synod in the Church of England, understands the Communique and the Primates' wishes as a whole this way:
We have suggested a similar voluntary moratorium by the bishops on licensing any kind of liturgical order for same-sex blessings (the understanding of the Meeting was certainly that this should be a comprehensive abstention from any public rites).

So, there appears to be a difference in understanding about what the Primates want from the Episcopal Church -- a complete moratorium on any blessings of same-sex unions or forestalling authorizing rites officially as a Church (while allowing pastoral local provisions to continue).

When push comes to shove, and with all respect to our Presiding Bishop, my guess is that the Archbishop of Canterbury's viewpoint more likely reflects that of the Primates on this particular matter. As I understand it, same-sex blessings are also performed as pastoral provisions in parts of the Church of England, so there will be implications in his own jurisdiction.

It seems, at any rate, we are unclear about how many angels can dance. . . while placing an all-too-familiar burden on our LGBT sisters and brothers.

I regret having played this game here.