The weakness of Harding's latest critique: Part I
Father Harding recently published a commentary on ECUSA's To Set our Hope on Christ (hence TSHC); it is worth a visit especially if you've asked yourself Well, what do the right-wingers find wrong with this effort? However, all things considered, I am afraid it is not a convincing critique. Harding does not give evidence of having a grasp of ECUSA's argument; a serious debate never gets going, and he ends up merely talking past TSHC's authors.
I. The Argument alluded to at TSHC 1.4
For instance, Harding understands the argument from fruits of the Spirit alluded to at 1.4 this way:
One of the key elements of the argument is set out, that people with same sex attraction and living in covenanted same-sex relationships show evidence of holiness in their lives including the virtues of patience, peace and self-control. If I am following the syllogism it goes like this: Mr. x who is in a committed same sex relationship gives evidence of possessing either a gift for ministry like being a pastor or teacher or a Christian virtue like patience or self-control. These are gifts given by the Holy Spirit. Therefore the Holy Spirit is blessing Mr. X. Therefore God is showing the church that the Holy Spirit blesses same-sex attraction and these covenanted relationships. This argument is a form of question begging and a spurious syllogism. [argument reconstruction in bold]
Harding is absolutely right to say the argument is a key element of ECUSA's case: all the more reason to get the argument right. Getting the argument right is partly a matter of seeing the form and stating the form clearly--something that Harding does not do above, or anywhere else in his commentary. Here is how I see ECUSA's argument (see TSHC, 2.0-1):
(1) Same-sex unions exhibiting effects of the Spirit are holy.
(2) There are same-sex unions exhibiting the effects of the Spirit.
Therefore, (3) There are holy same-sex unions.
As you can see, the argument--call it E1--is valid. Behind E1 there is a second argument, call it E2:
(1) The church is permitted to bless holy unions.
(2) Some same-sex unions are holy.
Therefore, (3) The church is permitted to bless some same-sex unions.
So, from E1 and E2, one may infer given that there are same-sex unions exhibiting effects of the Spirit, the church may bless them. In effect, one has a clear argument for ECUSA blessing same-sex unions. Now go back and read Harding's attempt to give ECUSA's argument--no wonder he has a problem with it--indeed, part of the problem, I suggest, stems from his own obscurity.
II. Evaluating ECUSA's argument
The neat thing about valid arguments, like the one given by ECUSA in TSHC, is that if their premises are true, then their conclusions must be true. If the premises of the argument above are true, then it is all over for Harding; regardless of gaffes and omissions made elsewhere in the report, ECUSA will have a sound argument for blessing gay unions.
Although Harding complains about both premises of E1 (call them E1(1) and E1(2)), I think he would be wise to grant E1(1). It rests on a hermeneutical principle seemingly given by Jesus himself: by their fruits you shall know them. Jesus has a decent point; if there are effects, E, that could only come from the presence of one cause, C, then given the presence of E, we may
infer the presence of C.Will he fault ECUSA for taking Jesus at his word? Harding omits any mention or discussion of Jesus' principle, the principle ECUSA employs.
Instead, he makes three criticisms, none of which work. First, he says,
The problem with the argument can be shown if any other condition besides same sex attraction is inserted as a place holder. The rector is a gifted communicator of the Gospel. The rector is engaged in an illicit affair with a member of the congregation. Communicating the Gospel is a Holy Spirit gift. Therefore the Holy Spirit is blessing the rector and therefore the Holy Spirit is blessing the illicit relationship.
Think reader, think--can you spot what is wrong with Harding's first criticism? Take a moment.
Time's up: ECUSA's argument does not concern finding gifts of the Spirit in an individual, but in a relationship; i.e. in same-sex relationships recognized as such within the Christian community. Harding's try at a counterexample misses this point--his case concerns an individual, a rector. Whether or not the rector is blessed by the presence of the Spirit, it is another matter to say his illicit relationship is blessed. Harding fails to explain why we should accept the passage from indiviudal to rector--a passage that ECUSA does not contemplate.
The sloppiness we found in Harding's attempted statement of ECUSA's argument is evident again in his "counterexample". Alas! Unclear about the structure of ECUSA's argument, he just cannot seem to mount a relevant counterexample.
Harding's second criticism:
We are all a mixture of holiness and sin. God surely blesses sinners and even uses them to advance His cause. To argue from this fact to a thorough-going revision of the sexual ethic of the church is to build a staircase with many missing steps. Of all the types of Christians that there are it seems to me that Reformation Christians should be the least surprised that great goodness and great human weakness, cupidity and sin can exist in the same person.
It is hard for me to see any evidence of disciplined thought for a conclusion in that mess of bromides--what is he trying so hard to say? He should be trying to address the truth of the premises in ECUSA's argument; none of those premises are contradicted by anything Harding says here.
On to Harding's third criticism:
An additional problem with the claim to have seen evidence of the gifts of the Spirit is that no reference is made to the Ten Commandments but only to gifts of ministry and lists of virtue. But the whole sweep of the Bible is that holiness consists in keeping the Word and Law of God. Neither lists of gifts of ministry nor Christian virtues can be an adequate definition of holiness apart from God’s foundational holiness code revealed at Sinai. When Paul writes to the Corinthians to complain about their lack of holiness, he points to their violation of the natural law and the law of Moses by virtue of sexual immorality. The approach here again begs the question. [my brackets above]
Again, note the lack of discipline in Harding's writing. Just what is he criticizing? Ostensibly premise E1(2) above. Well let's see how he does. In , is he implying that a statement X which claims to find evidence of fruits of the Spirit but does not refer to the Decalogue is false? I do not want to read him that way, because such a reading is obviously mistaken--but then what is the point of ?  is right, but how is this at issue? All sides would agree with Harding's . Struggling to make a relevant point, he seems to say in  ECUSA is mistaken for thinking virtue lists define Sinai holiness. An insipid point: who is saying virtue lists define holiness? Neither E1 nor E2 rest on such an assumption. Likewise,  says nothing to contradict any point in ECUSA's argument--ECUSA nowhere denies natural law or the Decalogue. Finally, I would love to know exactly what question Harding alludes to as begged in --can you find a statement of the question he means?
I conclude Harding has no case against E1 and E2. We get a faulty attempt at a counterargument and alot of heavy gesturing without much serious cognitive content.