The weakness of Harding's latest critique: Part II
Earlier, I suggested we understand ECUSA's argument around TSHC 2.0 and elsewhere for blessing gay unions as having two parts, E1 and E2:
(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.
(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.
I. A hypothetical opponent speaks up
Once the reader accepts E1(1), "the ball gets rolling" and the rest of the argument strikes me as rather difficult to resist. An opponent of blessing gay unions should, in my opinion, hold that
E1(1) is false. Sure, some gay unions exhibit effects of the Spirit--my opponent may well concede--but that in itself is insufficient to render the relationship holy.
The Spirit is at work in various relationships of uneven moral quality--even perhaps among the very worst recalcitrant sinners--moving them, say, towards repentance; still, the presence of the Spirit might not succeed in making the relationship holy. That is not to say, my careful opponent would interject, that holiness requires complete sanctification--surely sinful relationships can be holy, otherwise no human relationship here below would be holy. Rather, there are different conditions of human imperfection--e.g. one disposed toward sanctification, as in the contrite and repentant sinner, and another disposed toward damnation, as in the obstinate and hateful sinner.
My opponent would worry that a gay couple's relationship, regardless of how many fruits of the Spirit it exhibits, regardless of the presence of the Spirit in it, just cannot be holy. It is the wrong kind of relationship--and a gay couple confirmed in their relationship is courting disaster, and the church should have no part in enabling it.
I take Harding to be making a point like this when he writes:
Yet another set of ethical problems has to do with the destination of the ships. The ships can be well ordered individually, the can be proper in their relationships with each other and yet headed for a wrong destination. The shape of the argument presented in TSOHOC is that because the individual ships are well ordered and because the relationships between the ships are characterized by loyalty and decency and mutuality, the destination must be proper. This is yet again a form of question begging. How can it be shown that this form of human sexual relationship is God’s intention and teolos or destination for man and woman?
And it is a good point, obliquely raising the question What makes a relationship holy? or What counts as a holy relationship? Pace much of his commentary, he should be discussing the holiness required of us in our relationship with God and whether gay unoins can exhibit or are even consistent with such holiness.
II. A Reply
In cases of murder, bestiality, pederasty or incest I can point out the violence done. The last three cases are especially relevant, involving sexual sin. Their violence follows from their necessarily being exploitative--a daughter or son, a child, and an animal are not agents even capable of giving valid consent to sexual action with adults. In these cases, we have sufficient foundation to argue any such sexual act is a type of rape--an act whose violence I take to be self evident.
Where is there similar violence in active homosexual relationships? Typically, one answers in either of two ways: (1)They do violence by going against nature; (2)They do violence by going against the will of God. You see where I am going, I suspect. Answer (1) implies a teleology to sex organs; the very concept of such a teleology is incredible, and advancing it in the current climate of philosophy and science is a kind of bizzare special pleading, an atavistic return of the swamp thing. Though you may find some opponents of blessing gay unions saying "C'mon, can't you just see tab A was meant to go in slot B?", the heavy lifting is done by answers of type (2): the violence in homosexual activity is its defiance of God's will.
Again we return to holiness: what is God's will for our moral response to him? How in dedicating ourselves to God are we set apart as a result for his purposes?
III. On Holiness
And here is a very deep stratum of disagreement in ECUSA, deeper, I think, than disagreement over bibllical authority. One camp is content to read the divine will off Scripture, finding in it God's moral commands for us. There need be no reason for the particular commands God issues--the fact that he wills thus, even when he could have willed the contrary, is enough. What matters is not whether God has a reason or what his reason may be, but that God has commanded so. Our consequent obligation is simply absolute. I call this camp the Divine Command (Divco) camp.
According to the Divco group, there need be no special violence manifest in a gay union beyond its violating God's decree. Even the most loving gay couple, exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit and the cardinal virtues in its relationship, does violence in their relationship sufficient to evacuate it of holiness. The couple, disposed to defying God's will, is courting the disaster of damnation--the church should not bless such a union, but do whatever it can to break it up. So far as I can tell, Harding belongs to the Divco camp.
But there is another group that sees God's moral commands for us as stemming from his immutable nature rather than from sheer acts of will--the Human Nature or Nat camp. Given what we are, our essence as understood by the divine intellect, only a certain range of sexual relationships are consistent with human happiness. Just as, so to speak, man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for man, so man was not made for sexual relationships, but sexual relationships for man. Which types of sexual relationships are conducive to human flourishing?
For the longest time it was thought that of course only heterosexual relationships were conducive to human flourishing--and this seemingly natural recognition informed the reading of Scripture. Grace was seen as completing nature--God's decreeing against homosexuality on account of human nature.
But today we have empirical evidence of homosexual relationships in which the parties flourish--this is the fact to which ECUSA is so eager to draw our attention. Barring radical, philosophical skepticism or some form of metaphysical idealism, we are oblligated to adjuct our understanding of human nature. Indeed, the actuallity of flourishing gay unions implies a possibility for such in our nature. We turn out--against past expectations--to be the kind of beings who can flourish in homosexual or heterosexual relationships.
Thus, if God's commands on human sexuality are rooted not in his mere will, but in his knowledge of our nature, he would not issue a blanket condemnation of gay unions. Indeed, such a divine command would go against nature.
I think the authors of TSHC belong in the Nat camp rather than the Divco camp. For the Nat camp, being in a gay union is no bar to holiness. The kinds of things that would undermine holiness in a gay union would also do so in a straight union--physical or emotional abuse, promiscuity, dishonesty, etc.
But who is correct? Are we to see Christian morality as primarily a matter of divine command, or grace complementing nature? Harding to my knowledge does not bring the issue up; this fissure in ECUSA cannot be healed by reading more Scripture closer, or by attending to scientific research in genetics--serious theology is required.