Friday, May 27, 2005

The Anglican Communion Institute's "The Holy Scriptures and the Teaching of the Church Universal on Human Sexuality"

Despite its long-winded title, this piece is refreshingly brief; I will try to follow suit (it is near the bottom of the ACI's "Articles" section). It purports to set out "[t]he continuous teaching of the Church," namely "a consistent word" about "God's intention for human sexuality" implicit in both testaments. While the strategy of starting with biblical theology is laudable, I doubt the paper succeeds.

I. A.
First, let's make some relatively superficial criticisms of the paper. According to it,
marriage is instituted inGenesis "as a means" to God's "creative purpose for humanity." In Genesis the eternal purpose is being fruitful and multiplying. In Ephesians et al., the marriage covenant "reflects" God's eternal purpose--a purpose prima facie having nothing to do with reproduction, but rather our salvation. For a paper boasting a consistent word, some work remains: What is marriage for? Reproducing, or reflecting salvation? First, how are these to be fitted together? Second, how is homosexual union inconsistent with reflecting salvation?

B.
Remember: for Paul, being single is permissible, and at least as honorable as being married. Yet, "within the Church...male and female are to be in a covenant relationship of marriage that reflects God's eternal purpose." Note the imperative "force" of "to be": males and females in the Church Ought to be married; from this it follows that nobody in the Church is Permitted to be single. The paper's claim is too strong, contradicting Paul. That is, there is no general rule obligating heterosexual marriage for any individual male or female in the Church. Nor does such a general rule follow from the creation of male and female in Genesis.

C.
Is it true that "African, Asian, and other non-Western cultures have the language, the lifestyle, and the support systems for homosexuality familiar to the West"? Prima facie, that is just incredible. It seems the West has an array of legal protections and socio-economic opportunities absent throughout many of the nations of the rest of the Anglican Communion for gays. E.g. how many Nigerian gay couples can have legally recognized unions in Nigeria, as is possible in Spain, and even the U.S.?

II. Small changes could preserve the paper's general argument from my complaints in section I. So, on to a more serious point: "homosexual practice" from Leviticus to Romans and elsewhere is "a clear rebellion against God's created purpose" be that reproducing or reflecting salvation, according to the paper.

The point isn't that homosexual "practice" precludes or is inconsistent with reproduction, for instance--that would be false anyhow. Gay men and lesbians could meet solely for the purpose of reproduction, and then divide the children between them, for instance. Rather, God has issued a certain command about how reproduction should be carried out: by married heterosexual couples. It is the fact of God's command that counts. Presumably something similar could be said for reflecting salvation: God gets to decide what counts as a permissible reflection by fiat; only heterosexual marriage does, and asking "Why?" is out of place. Our proper place is to obey the command.

Is there any answer to such an argument from divine command? Set aside reasons to question divine command theory per se, or whether divine command theory is genuinely Biblical. I want to keep common ground with ACI; the proper way to give an answer is to start with the Bible, from premises the authors of the paper would accept. Here I rely on the argument in my second post. The paper admits the "Church is the Bride of Christ" and that marriage is a "covenant relationship" that "reflects God's eternal purpose." Ephesians is even stronger--marriage is to be modeled after the relationship of Christ to the Church. Given such premises, it follows gay marriage is permissible: the relation of Christ to the Church includes the relation of male to male (a male Christ to a male Church member, each resurrected). If marriage here below is to be modeled after a relation in which males are relata, men can be the relata in marriage here below.

I don't think ACI anticipated an argument like mine when they were writing this piece. Thus it is no surprise that I can say they err in taking prohibitions of homosexual practice to preclude homosexual marriage. Perhaps the prohibitions against homosexual practice are part of a general prohibition against unchaste action and fornication: in general sex outside of marriage is sinful between anyone. If that were the case, a marriage covenant between gay partners would make sex between them permissible. That counterfactual holds even for conservatives at ACI. Thus, their case requires more argument--bringing up marriage as reflecting salvation opens up the possibility of referring to the eschatological state after which marriage here below is to be modeled. They have to somehow keep the normative grip of the eschatological state while denying it permits gay marriage. Good luck!

13 Comments:

At 9:28 PM, Blogger *Christopher said...

Todd,

Good points. You still need to address lesbian relationships with this analogy. Also, most of the passages dealing with homosexual male contact at least in the Hebrew Scriptures are understandable in light of a near eastern tradition of male-male rape by conquerors and such. Sadly, women didn't seem to matter so much. And they don't seem to in this debate either. Most of the focus is on male homosexuality as far as I can tell.

 
At 10:26 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Good point--I tried laying out a strategy for extending the argument to encompass marriage for lesbian couples over at Preludium.
Although I still have to work out the details, if you believe it was within the power of God's omnipotence to become incarnate as a woman (and who would deny this?), you'd be well on your way..

 
At 10:27 PM, Anonymous John Wilkins said...

Your reason is impeccable, but alas, I have been disheartend by the fact that such reason makes no difference. It's good to have another Anglican with philosophical tendencies blogging.

 
At 8:46 PM, Blogger AKMA said...

AngScot — I don’t recall ever having seen an argument that Genesis mentions “marriage” as such. (I’m not referring to the uses of “possessive + man” or “possessive + woman” in the sense of “his wife” or “her husband.”) At what point does terminology distinctive to marriage as a social institution enter the narrative?

 
At 6:19 AM, Anonymous RB said...

Scotist:

Granting the legitimacy of homosexual relationships, wouldn't the hooking up of gays and lesbians to produce children be in fact an adulterous action, a violation of their covenantal relationship by allowing a third party into their sexual relationship?

Also, Peter Moore once used the image of the Church as the bride of Christ to argue the exact opposite point: "Marriage is a symbol of Christ's love for the church; it's a symbol of the healing the divisions of the sexes. I learn to love somebody who's totally other than me, and who's very different from me. I think that in principle [gay marriages] are not marriages with somebody who is so radically other, that they learn the reconciling power, need desperately the reconciling power of the Holy Spirit." (http://www.stpat.net/debate.html)

 
At 8:49 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

AKMA,
I'm not sure there is a set argument anywhere in Genesis; distinguishing theological reflection from Scriptural text, one might wonder--doing theology-- whether Genesis has any normative force for modern marriage,and if so,what that normative force is. The answers are not "there" somehow on the face of the Scriptural text, but such textual opacity does not imply Genesis has no normative force at all, or on the other hand that "anything goes" in interpretation. To be brief, I infer from Genesis we are obliged to permit heterosexual marriage. That is neither equivalent to, nor does it imply, that homosexual marriage is forbidden, much less that we areobligated to forbid it.

 
At 9:01 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

rb,

I think gays and lesbians would be able to reproduce without having sex; this would not require modern technology, and need not imply adultery or fornication. I'm too shy to get into details here: forgive me.

The idea from Peter Moore is interesting, but I don't agree that, for any given male, any female is more other to him than any male. For all I know, there may be a male out there so bizzare and eccentric, that he is more other to me than my mother--in which case Moore's general principle seems false.

More importantly, I do not believe we are each "other" to each other's selves in any ontologically interesting sense. I am constituted in large measure, though not entirely, by my relations with other persons--the same goes for you. We are not sealed off from each other so as to be autonomous units; to my ears, sucha picture of self-and-other conjures up the spectre of liberal individualism. In short, Moore's picture is too much like Hobbes or Locke's.

 
At 9:25 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Thanks, AKMA and rb, for your comments.

 
At 10:11 PM, Anonymous RB said...

I do several issues with the suggestion that the bride of Christ metaphor suggests the possibility of homosexual marriage: male believers relating to a male Christ as part of His bride. The metaphor is, after all, never actually used of individuals in the NT, only the corporate body of Christ (it isn't the "brides" of Christ to which Paul refers). Furthermore, the metaphor is precisely that: a metaphor, not to be taken literally as if Christ was setting up a heavenly harem. Thirdly, is there any reason to believe that gender distinctions continue after the resurrection? Are you so certain that the resurrected Christ is still male, or that you and I will maintain our gender distinctions? It seems that with eternal beings, reproduction would no longer be necessary, and Jesus himself spoke of their being no marriage in the resurrection. Paul's words about there being no gender, social, or racial distinctions in Christ, though spoken in an entirely different context, may be relevant here as well.

 
At 10:58 PM, Blogger Susan Peterson said...

The way that a former poster was "too shy" to mention involves masturbation (a sinful action) and turkey basters.

I don't know what to say to people who think it is allright for children to come into being as a result of masturbation and the use of a turkey baster! Chilren deserve to come into being through the loving union of a man and a woman who are permanently committed to each other and to them.

 
At 11:44 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 11:59 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

To RB,
While I agree with you that the wedding supper of the Lamb is indeed a metaphor, as is much in Scripture, it nevertheless reveals a literal truth to the interpreter: the saved of the Church have a new, real, reciprocal relationship with Christ in the next life, a relationship as concrete and real as marriage here below. Marriage here below has its meaning, at least in part, from being modeled after this real, reciprocal relation of the afterlife--so from Paul.

The Church is not a ghostly entity over and above the persons making it up--it is those persons in their saving relation with God, no?
If you deny there is a new, reciprocal relationship between the saved and Christ, you step outside a long tradition of interpretation--you might be right, but you need an argument.

It's not a harem that Christ would be after--why would he be interested in sex? There are other interests served by a union with God.

True, if there are no gender distinctions in the resurrection, my argument is lost--but here tradition is on my side. Indeed, as the resurrected Christ was still human, he had to be gendered.

True again, there is no marriage in heaven--but the union with Christ is not marriage as we know it here below; it is different, that after which marriage here below is modeled.

Thanks again for your comments, RB and Susan.

 
At 11:10 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Susan's objection is a bit tricky to answer; details turn out to be significant after all--I'll give it another go, but I'll have to break it down:

I. Masturbation is not necessary for finding the semen required for conception--for instance, a surgical procedure or a nocturnal emission suffice. Nor is a turkey baster required--though it might well be enough. Neither the surgery nor the emission involve illicit sex; presumably implanting semen via surgery or baster isn't sex either. So: pregnancy is possible between gay couples without anyone sinning from illicit sexual activity.

II. But masturbation is the more probable means. I am not sure why you think it is sinful in this instance--you might be right, but an argument would help your case. Masturbation here is not fornication or adultery of course, and it is not quite onanism, or masturbation aimed at avoiding pregnancy, since in this instance pregnancy is the aim. It is not mere self-gratification, but is rather aimed at a common good, say, a community arising from the shared responsibilities of both couples parenting.

III. But the main point should not be lost in the details: through Christ God has sanctified human nature, and aims to take it to himself in a new relationship in the life to come with the union of Christ and the Church. Having an eye on this eschatological unity, I proclaim the Christian motive for the permissibility if gay unions.

 

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