Examining "Claiming our Anglican Identity," Part III
I ended Pt. II with this:
Scriptural clarity appears not to the scholar as individual with a neutral standpoint, but only from within the view of a committed community. That's a clever move in the right direction, but it fails. Homework assignment: why so?
Now I have to deliver--what is the answer? What is wrong with the exegesis of Claiming?
I. A brief bit on Anglican authority
We should begin making our case--whether for or against blessing gay unions--from Scripture, as even that wonderful wax nose, the Windsor Report, suggests. Anglicans have claimed for Scripture primarily, and secondarily for tradition and reason, the authority others claim for a magisterium of some sort, or a universal primate, or councils of primates. In truth, I believe Scripture, tradition, and reason in the relevant senses interpenetrate--to isolate reason from Scripture, (or Scripture from reason), for instance, would be to invalidate its authority. That is not to say the Anglican three or four-leggesd stool should be reconceived as a block.
Rather, for instance, when we do natural theology (starting from reason), our reasoning should be informed by Faith. Informed by Faith how? We need not start reasoning from premises inimical to the Faith, adopting premises that rule out miracles, say, or that conceive of the universe as closed under merely physical causation. When faced with a choice between premises that are inimical to the Faith and those which are not, we should choose the latter. That is not to say we should bring the Faith explicitly in as a reason as a part of our natural theology; natural theology has to start somewhere, whether for the faithful or the faithless, and a starting point consistent with Faith in natural theology is as legitimate as one inconsistent with Faith. To put the point differently, there is no use pretending reason alone can provide a neutral starting point for thinking about God, but that fact does not invalidate natural theology, or remove its necessity for us here below.
Likewise, when we start from Scripture, our readings should be informed by reason: not a reason sealed off from the Faith, or a reason with starting points inimical to the Faith, but a reason that takes up experience and scientific endeavor while holding to premises consistent with the Faith. For instance, we should read Genesis with the principle "Evolution is probably true" in mind, and our interpretation of Genesis should seek consistency with what we know by reason. Of course, behind that principle is a tacit, prior judgement "Evolution is consistent with the Faith" insofar as the reason which recognizes evolution here is one already informed by Faith--no matter, not a real problem. We are always already locked into a web, or constellation--or circle--of epistemic commitments, whether faithful or faithless. The relevant question should be: Will our circle take account of the Faith or not? And there is no reason (pardon me) why it should not.
II. Application to Claiming our Anglican Identity
And so, dear lectores, be not surprised when I call on your Scripture reading to be informed by reason. In particular, I presume on the basis of reason-informed-by-the-Faith that meaning is not merely in the head. What a proposition P means is not simply a matter of what is present to an individual consciousness. Nota bene, that is not to say P lacks definite meaning, or that we must remain in ignorance of P's meaning. Whatever P means is a matter not only of its standing in a relationship with a community but also with the world. P's meaning depends in part on its relationship to a world external to the narrative or canon of any community. Here, crucially, I part company with narrative theology et al which informs so much right wing Anglican thought, including the thought behind Claiming. Thus, for instance, what Genesis means may be tied up with whether evolution is true, evolution involving something external to the mere narrative in which Genesis was, for a very long time, caught up. We should not be surprised then to learn that what Genesis means exceeded the conscious grasp of its human author(s), inasmuch as they did not know whether evotion was true, or probably true--they most likely had no such concept.
A moments reflection reveals how all this might apply to blessing gay unions. Here is one application, for instance (you can come up with others, no doubt):
We do not know whether being gay is simply natural or even has a natural component--for all we know it does, but the scientific data neither rules it in nor rules it out. I am taking "natural" crudely as meaning something like being biologically based. A rationally informed reading of Scripture takes this into account. Thus, when we read Romans 1:26-7, our reading should be made with the principle "Homosexuality could be a natural condition." That will affect the meaning of the passage, as we will not read it in such a way as to make homosexuality necessarily unnatural. Our reading, on pains of consistency with reason, will make room for the possibility of homosexuality being a natural condition, one intended by God for human beings.
Suppose one objects: Paul could in some possible world, say, point to this and that and say Whatever it ultimately means to say that they are male (or female), they are male (or female) and may not marry. What does it matter that what he means exceeds what he is conscious of, so long as he refers? Sure, soncede that we should not presume that what consciously came to mind for those who read it in the past exhausts the significant meaning it actually has. More: it will remain unsettled or open, inasmuch as its meaning depends on data that we cannot rationally close off. We have to live with that open texture--will that compel us to change our understanding of Paul's proscriptions?
Well, to stick with the line of reasoning I used in the italicized paragraph above, our understanding of "female" is not merely Paul's, but more besides, including scientific information of which he was completely ignorant. If there are, say we discover, females naturally gay, or to be more precise, biologically disposed to being gay, that would be part of an understanding of "female" Paul did not have. Yet, if we discovered such a fact, that would affect the permissibility of blessing lesbian unions. Thus, if we discover "female" means certain things, then the permissibility of blessing lesbian unions, or even performing lesbian marriages, comes into play.
Hence, we could distinguish Paul saying, for example "Whatever 'female' ultimately means, no female unions may be blessed" from "Whatever 'female' ultimately means, no heterosexual female unions may be blessed"--the latter being considerably weaker, leaving room for blessing gay female unions.
Regardless of whether a scientific consensus emerges around there being a biological basis for homosexuality, the mere possibility of such a basis is beyond Paul's knowing. Indeed, science being incapable of delivering apodictic utterances on there being--or there not being--such a basis, our theology should adjust to reality accordingly. We should not compel readers of Paul to adopt readings of him that court inconsistency. To rule out the possibility of a biological basis a priori (reason and Scripture interpenetrating, I suspect many on the right will be so tempted) is to cut off contact with reality on this question. Surely that is too high a price to demand for a tendentious rendition of orthodoxy.