Monday, December 11, 2006

Archbishop Williams and Holocaust Denial

Avidly following the latest burps and regurgitations in the wild world of Anglican Christianity, you might have heard Rowan Williams say this:

The belief among conservative Christians that some behaviour is sinful does not amount to an expression of hate, says Rowan Williams, so why have some student unions withdrawn recognition from religious societies?

I. Williams' Argument
The question was rhetorical--it may have seemed he meant to go on to say that Christian groups should be permitted to say any old behavior is sinful, because no matter what activity they claim is sinful, it will not amount to an expression of hate, and so should not be regulated, e.g. by student unions withdrawing recognition. And indeed Williams would have been on good, solid liberal ground: among political liberals, left and right, there is a tradition of respect for freedom of speech, even and especially religious speech, and this tradition includes appeals made by religious speakers. But it turns out he doesn't want the liberal ground.

He answers his own question: some speech is rightfully regulated and prohibited from the public square:

Are there views whose expression is automatically so hurtful to some that they have to be restricted for the sake of general good order and justice? Well, we legislate on that basis, certainly, where racism or holocaust denial or similar matters are concerned. Talking in a way that denies the human dignity of others - by racist abuse, by labelling Jewish survivors of the Shoah as liars - is outlawed. Such views are unjust: they place people at a disadvantage and deny due respect.

And he admits this may apply to speech about homosexuals:

And we quite rightly regard language abusing or dehumanising homosexual people in the same light: the language of contempt and disgust is not admissible.

The general and substantive moral principle here being:

We recognise the reality and the atrocity of hate crimes in this context as in others, and we recognise that hateful speech is close enough to hateful action for it to deserve sanctions against it.

So, no defense of freedom of speech simpliciter here.

But then, you might ask, why can't Christian groups be regulated for their speech about homosexuals? In principle Williams cannot, it seems, object. Well,

Quite often in discussion of Christian attitudes to homosexuality (and this is often the presenting issue where Christian unions are concerned), it is taken for granted that any statement that a form of behaviour might be sinful is on a par with the expression of hate, so that it is impossible for a conservative Christian, Catholic or Protestant or, for that matter, an orthodox Muslim to state the traditional position of their faith without being accused of something akin to holocaust denial or racial bigotry.

It seems the issue for Williams, then: Is the Christian opinion that homosexual behavior is sinful, spoken in the public square, an expression of hatred? He seems to say it is not: Christian speech against homosexual behavior being of a different kind from say (Christian or otherwise) speech denying the Holocaust or expressing racial bigotry, different at least in not being hateful.

Why? Williams says:

Yet the truth surely is that while it is wholly indefensible to deny respect to a person as such, any person's choices are bound to be open to challenge. Any kind of behaviour or policy freely opted for by a responsible adult is likely to be challenged from somewhere; it isn't as though sexual activity were different from any other area of conscious choice. And to challenge behaviour may be deeply unwelcome and offensive in a personal sense, but it is not a matter for legislative action.

And that is as deep as Williams goes here; Christian speech to the effect that homosexual activity is sinful is compatible with respect for homosexual persons as such. Such speech questions their free choices, choices connected to a type of activity freely opted for, and is in principle no different from questioning the choice to vote for a certain type of candidate or support a certain policy or buy a certain model of car.

It is not as if one's race is being morally questioned, or the moral relevance of whether one belongs to a group like the Jews singled out by the Holocaust. Over such things we cannot have conscious control. You cannot freely choose not to be a Jew in the sense relevant to the Holocaust, or not to be Black. To be disrespected as a person on account of things over which one cannot have free control is morally wrong--and that kind of thing can be regulated, Williams seems to think. But not speech disrespecting homosexual activity--such speech does not disrespect homosexuals as persons, but only a certain kind of homosexual activity.

II. Danger, Rowan Williams, Danger!
Ah, it is not really so simple.

What does he mean by "homosexual activity"? I take it homosexual intercourse would be included; but how aboout really gay kissing--is that icky, o0ps I meant "sinful", too?? Ok--how about holding hands with more-than-brotherly affection? Or a sending a sassy card in the mail?

While Williams thinks that homosexuals might freely choose not to engage in any homosexual activity at all, and that such a choice would not harm them as persons, I think you can see the truth is quite otherwise. Williams' celibacy, the celibacy he thinks homosexuals might choose without harm to their persons, includes a prohibition on "homosexual activity"--everything from an affectionate hug to a sensual kiss on the cheek is on par with intercourse; all of it counts as "activity". He makes no attempt to distinguish the really sinful homosexual activity from the kinda sinful or a-ok homosexual activity--and surely we are on a great big continuum here with lots and lots of room for imagination. It is extraordinary, and indeed indicative of a bizzare affection for Abstractions, that Williams would consider advocacy of a ban on all homosexual activity neutral with respect to the well-being of homosexuals.

If he is going to so theorize with any credibility, he'll have to draw a firm red line; maybe he meant to, but was just to shy (poor Rowan!): let "homosexual activity" mean "homosexual intercourse". But even so--can we seriously entertain advocacy on a ban on such for all homosexuals is neutral with regard to their well-being as persons? Consider the effects of such a ban on all heterosexual persons. We would see, I think, lots of straight folks become mentally ill: neurotic, clinically depressed, et al. And a few might be driven to criminal acts nevertheless. Indeed--did not Paul speak to this effect about heterosexuals? Better to marry than burn? If we recognize "the" or even "a" need for intercourse among heterosexuals, why would we fail to recognize it among homosexuals?

Seems like Williams is plumping for a pretty shoddy double standard, the kind that collapses with any added pressure. It is false to think that speech calling all homosexual activity sinful is neutral with respect to homosexuals--you cannot reasonably expect them to be freely choose not to engage in homosexual activity, at least without incurring harm.

Poor Rowan--it gets worse. Remember we are not talking about the American Bill of Rights and criticizing Rowan using that document as a base. We are rather carrying on an internal critique, using some of Rowan's own premises from his article noted above. His defense of speech calling all homosexual activity sinful is inconsistent with his own principles, the very principles he is using in the article. It is Rowan Williams himself who says that we should or at least may legislate where Holocaust denial is concerned--and not only that. Racist abuse too, and calling Holocaust survivors "liars"--and who knows, anti-Semitism as well? These are sufficient in his judgement for justifying restrictive legislation. As Williams notes, this kind of speech has a bad history, a history closely ties to atrocity.

But Williams seems to have a curiously short memory when it comes to Christian speech, homosexuals, and the Holocaust. Remember the Holocaust? When someone says there were no Jews, or even not so many Jews caught up in and harmed by the Holocaust, or any equivalent, we--on Williams' terms--say the person is a Holocaust denier, and call it hate speech.
Indeed, we provide special protections to Jews because of this history--it indicates a vulnerability of the group to suffer violence in our communities, at our hands. On account of that demonstrated vulnerability, we offer special penalties for anti-Semitic speech, say, as expressing hatred, admitting that here, at least, speech of this certain type is too close to action.

But while Williams is quick to recall the Jews who suffered in the Holocaust--and he is right to do so--he does not have a word for the homosexuals who suffered in the Holocaust.

Yet it is a fact: the Nazis came calling for homosexuals too and carted them off to concentration camps. The Nazis criminalized not just their behavior, but their being as persons. Maybe a bit of a refresher is needed: Rowan could consult the U.S Holocaust Museum online here. What is fascinating in our context about the Nazi persecution of homosexuals was their revison of the notorious Paragraph 175; here, from the museum site:

Even before the new law went into effect, Nazi courts expanded the range of so–called indecent acts beyond the single offense prosecuted under the old law. By 1938, German courts ruled that any contact between men deemed to have sexual intent, even "simple looking" or "simple touching," could be grounds for arrest and conviction.

I anticipate replies from conservative Anglicans saying, in effect, the gays did not suffer in teh Holocaust, or they might have, but their pain was negligible: ignore their pain then, as it is ignored today (and, I might add, uterly ignored in the Windsor report--or did I miss the Windsor report's refernces to the suffereing of homosexuals? I might have--I do not remember). So maybe the deniers/ negaters might want to look over the German government's official site on gays persecuted by the Holocaust (in English); an article on Dr. Vaernet who singled out homosexuals for "experimentation"; a quite extensive bibliography on the topic.

Another instance of an odd double standard for Williams: does he mean to deny Homosexuals suffered in the Holocaust? Or is he just "forgetting" about it--and how convenient for him! Or maybe he is, in fact, willing to admit homosexuals were persecuted in the Holocaust, but he means to deny them the protection he would offer to other groups so singled out? Well in that case I still think he owes us an explanation: Why? Why, Rowan??

Or maybe he thinks that little bit of Holocaust trouble was a mere aberration, and hey, homosexuals should just lighten up and trust Christians to be able to keep their speech and action separate. Hey homosexuals: recent history aside, you can count on Christians to be in the very front lines defending you as persons, whatever we say about what you do. Not.

Explain yourself, Rowan.

There are Christian groups with political influence in the Anglo-American world seeking to bring back the death penalty for homosexuals--you know Rushdoony and the Christian reconstructionists. They are just reading the Bible seriously--as the Global South calls on us to do--taking the Bible authoritatively when it calls for anyone engaging in homosexual acts to be Executed. This is your Bible--and at least Rushdoony was consistent. Our Global South brethren are not--another case of a convenient, self-serving double standard. Although they are happy criminalizing advocacy for homosexuals, they have not called for the death penalty. Yet: have they unequivocally renounced it, and explained why that renunciation is not mere temporal contingency liable to revocation, but necessary, following from enshrined hermeneutical principle? No, they have not: they offer no principled protection against future atrocity.

Of course Williams does not see a problem there; it seems he could care less. He does not seem to have a problem either with Nigeria's apparently surprisingly popular criminalization of advocacy for homosexual persons, a move carried out in Williams' own communion, in the very communion which he heads, over which he has some measure of authority.

One can be forgiven, I suggest, for finding Willaims' defense of speech calling all homosexual activity sinful odd, even mistaken. For his community seems to have grave problems not just with homosexual activity, but with homosexuals as persons--his community has proven and proves again unable to keep the distinction on which Williams' defense hinges in mind and in practice. In practice, where it counts, it does not operate where it should. In the Anglican Communion, speech aginst homosexual activity is too close to actions against homosexuals. Why can't he see this?


At 5:28 PM, Blogger *Christopher said...

Mark Jordan reminds us to pay attention to rhetoric with regard to Church leaders and homosexuality as much of it is Church-speak rather then thoughtful engagment with the complexity and casuistry and ethics of the matter and real life relationships rather than sexual acts taken out of context.

This reads as though Williams is pondering "the homosexual problem", which in other places he has tended to blame the victim, and if one reads pronouncements about Jews by Church leaders in other times and places, this sounds all too familiar as justification of speech that to often has led to justification (or turning an eye--as in Nigeria about which Williams has said nothing specifically) for physical violence.

I might add that one can make a conscious choice not to display one's Judaism, as Judaism is both a religious practice and a people, and at times this has been to one degree or another forced upon our Jewish sisters and brothers by Christians who challenged their behavior regularly and sometimes viciously using laws of the realm/state to enforce their perspective.

The line between orientation and behavior tends to get overdrawn in ways that for a person actually of an orientation makes little sense in the real flesh personhood and can cause severe harm in integrating in a healthy manner. I refer you to this by James Alison:

We would never speak this same way with regard to heterosexuals, and even if we did, it wouldn't be coupled with a long and nasty history to color things. One can choose to live out that orientation in loving or non-loving ways, but the fact is my simply arranging the Christmas tree is done in a homoerotic way, as this is the way I go about making connections in the world, including with God--and that is what sexuality is about at its core, our making of connections.

Being homosexually active, and in which ways is really between my partner, myself, God, and my confessor, as far as I'm concerned, is certainly a conscious choice and a choice within the context of a committed relationship that has been to my good and overall better mental and emotional health, folks are free to bar me from their associations, Churches, call my choice sinful, but their freedom to do more ends at my nose. And that's the rub. The reality, however, is that a long history of violence toward homosexuals coupled with a long history of vicious Christian speech (including in the present by Anglican Primates and bishops and priests) has so blurred the lines between the two, that to say the distinctions are clearly possible is somewhat disingenuous, and Williams seems to be justifying the type of speech as long as its visited on "those people" because its no longer acceptable to do so to Jews or people of color. Frankly, while the thin line can probably be seen between such speech and the bombs blowing up bars or our being threatend on the doorsteps of our apartment by "good Christians", I'm not sure if the might and powerful are the best ones to see the line nor to draw it and the line is very thin and as Dorothy Sayers writes, we will be held accountable for every word we put out into the world.

What is most troubling about Williams is that he is willing repeatedly to stick up for any and all who speak out against, malign, homosexuals, but his words become really wishywashy when asked to speak up for homosexuals so maligned. He is not neutral though many have suggested he has tried to be above the fray. From here, I don't see it, his weighing in since becoming Archbishop has tended to be against homosexual persons and our lives.

I for one do not count on fellow Christians to treat me with dignity and praise God I live in a society where the secular provides a buffer from fellow Christians. God save me from your people is not simply a bumpersticker or a joke, but a real-life prayer.

At 6:02 PM, Blogger Tobias said...

Thank you, Scotist, for saving me the time to write something... although when I have some spare time I may in any case do so! But you have hit several nails quite on the head. Not only does Rowan seem to ignore the Pauline justification for marriage ("better to marry than to burn") but he also seems not to be fully aware of the core ethical dilemma: Does the fact that a negative opinion towards another rests on some theological opinion or belief wipe away any guilt? One needs to examine, I think, first, if the opinion is indeed a matter of "credenda" or a cultural artifact, and secondly the harm done by holding the negative opinion, as if to say: what is the fruit of this opinion. Finally, it would seem that the highest standard, one our Lord himself advised, was not to judge others, that is, not to have opinions about other people's moral standing.

At 7:35 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Thanks for the link; it is striking that Williams has such a thin conception of personhood and choice in his essay.

I have a hard time avoiding the conclusion that he is just playing politics, playing to his base, and does not really believe what he is saying.

Regardless, he comes across as simply morally repugnant--again willing to sacrifice a whole class of persons for poltical/structural goals (here, keeping Christian clubs in universities).

Than you for the support, but: Please write something, and do not let Williams' toxic missive slide into easy obscurity. It deserves a most protracted end.

At 7:51 PM, Anonymous Tim said...

What gets to me is the idea that `homosexuality is bad' is a Christian opinion. While it might be the consensus of many in the main traditions over the centuries (and one does not hear statistics of how many homosexuals have been suppressed over the aeons), it is not representative of all Christians today, by a long shot.

The wider truth is that this is only one viewpoint amongst several; it would be more to the point if CUs were to equip people with the tools to examine scripture for themselves rather than indoctrinate in one specific line.

At 1:46 AM, Blogger Jon said...

He may not entirely believe what he is saying, but if we conclude that disagreeing with the liberal position is inherently un-Christian and act on that conclusion it is hard to see how the Communion can avoid shattering. It's the mirror image of the problem with the position of many conservatives. Do you have any suggestions on how the Communion might be held together that respect the conciences of conservatives?


At 10:26 AM, Blogger Tobias said...

Jon, in my POV the problem with the Communion holding together is that it is seeking unity in opinion rather than unity in Christ. The former is the confessional approach that invariably leads to some not wanting to make the confession. Anglicanism formerly had a breadth of comprehension, but it is narrowing on the conservative end -- look at the recent covenant proposal from Reform, for example. IN the long run all efforts to find unity in some center other than Christ is idolatry.

At 11:43 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


I agree with what Tobias says: what holds the communion together must be unity in Christ, and this alone should be sufficient in our confessions and creeds and covenants; adding on other riders concedes too much to idolatrous impulses.

Respect for conservative--or liberal--consciences should never be allowed to preclude proper Christian worship, yet that is exactly what is proposed when we seek to add extraneous confessional material as a condition of communion.

That is, a covenant prohibiting the ordination of homosexual bishops--what Tanzania seems to have recently implied it would favor--would be just as wrong as a covenant prohibiting bishops express support for war against Iraq, or obligating them to express unequivocal dissent.

Scripture can be mustered to support both of these moral positions, and many besides; we could call up the authority of Scripture as an issue for those who question these positions, and argue that respect for Scripture drives us to write such conditions into a covenant or confession.

But writing such conditions into a covenant--I hope you would agree--is a bad way to go.

Indeed, it would be like taking all that you might find wrong with General Convention legislating morality and replicating that error on the level of the Anglican Communion.

At 2:27 PM, Blogger Jon said...

Perhaps I am profoundly mistaken, but it seems to me that unity in Christ without some sort of honest, incarnational expression of that unity isn't worth the paper it's printed on.

The Conservatives are, as a general rule, clearly aiming for a confession to drive out or at least disempower the Liberals. This is clearly not an appropriate way to deal with our current difficulties. On the other hand Liberals seem to be pushing for the same effect in the opposite direction. Granted the Liberals are somewhat more subtle about it, and aren't looking to put it into a confession, but de facto marginalization is not better than de jure marginalization. I agree that differences of opinion are basically inevitable, but that just more clearly identifies the pressing difficulty. How are we to act towards each other, and talk with and about each other such that we don't incline the church towards marginalization in either direction?


At 3:28 PM, Blogger Tobias said...

Jon, what I am saying is that the spirit gives life and the letter kills. The faith unites us, but doctrines divide. I can't put it any more simply than that; and the genius of Anglicanism in the past was to have "as few doctrines as possible while yet insisting on those doctrines." (W. R. Huntington).

The effort from the "right" to enshrine as fixed doctrine a certain traditional teaching on sexual morality, now that it is clearly no longer the consensus, is a bit late; the arguments against this particular traditional teaching have proven too persuasive to too many for us any longer to pretend that there is universal agreement, far less consensus. So the only options are division over this issue, or patient continued discussion and dialogue under the aegis of mutual admission that one side or the other is mistaken until a new consensus emerges.

However, to argue that no action can be taken in the absence of a new consensus is to ask for the impossible, and the ahistorical. It is quite clear that the Jerusalem Council didn't settle the issue of Gentile inclusion in the church -- there were still "reasserters" who insisted it was wrong, and they bedeviled Paul's ministry for years. As another example, remember that some of the die-in-the-ditch issues of the protestant reformation, particularly on the Continent (people's access to the Cup, and a vernacular liturgy and Scripture) were eventually adopted by Rome herself, but only after a considerable delay. This is how change works in the church, here and there rather than all at once, lockstep.

I don't want to get all Hegelian about this, but the fact is that change in the church (and it has changed) comes about at various paces in various places. The internet has to some extent short-circuited the process, literally, and the insulation that space once afforded (along with a clear sense of geographical authomoy) is rapidly disappearing. But I don't really think our tensions today are all that different, in character, from those at the time of the Reformation.

The question is, how do we handle disagreement, since it is clear we disagree. If the issues at hand are do-or-die, then some will choose not to reason why, and tear the fabric further. Others of us, South Africa, for example, are content to disagree on the sexual morality issue, but say it is not an issue over which we need divide. Whoever has the better right to the name "Anglican" is, ultimately, of little import. What is important to me is the rending of the mission, and in this the Tanzanians have taken a course I cannot in any way commend.

At 3:30 PM, Blogger Tobias said...

Sorry, "authomoy" is a strange hypbrid of authority and autonomy -- and I meant the latter!

At 3:55 PM, Anonymous RB said...

I find the responses to Jon deeply dishonest. Your words are "speech aginst homosexual activity is too close to actions against homosexuals." This means that people who speak against homosexual activity are dangerous and a threat, and clearly you favor suppressing such speech. How do you intend to remain in communion with people you claim are and consider to be dangerous and threatening, and why would you wish to do so? This makes no sense at all to me. Also, why would you expect them to desire to remain in communion with you, especially since you favor suppressing their teachings on sexual morality? Should they trust you and people of you who are likeminded? If not, why have a communion at all?

On a related topic, I would like you to demonstrate that the thought of Rushdoony really is predominant among the leadership (not the donators) of the ACN. Can you demonstrate that because the ACN has received money from a millionaire who has been influenced by Rushdoony's teachings, therefore Bishop Bob Duncon would secretly favor the execution of his (now desceased) lesbian sister? I find very little evidence that Rushdoony's teachings are widely accepted among Anglican conservatives or even evangelicals beyond Anglicanism, but I could be wrong. Can you point to his influence among the influential conservative Anglican leaders and theologians?

At 4:10 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


Again, I like Tobias' answer--especially the part about the pace of change in the church since the Reformation setting a precedent for what seem at the time like life and death issues. The conservative case for splitting seems strangely rushed, especially given that a timeline is already in place for addressing their grievances at the Communion-wide level.

But let me add a couple things. First, I agree when you say "it seems to me that unity in Christ without some sort of honest, incarnational expression of that unity isn't worth the paper it's printed on"--that seems right. But why all of a sudden are the Creeds and the Prayer Book insufficient? Ad hoc covenant making risks transforming the Faith into the mashed potato mountain in Close Encounters of the Third Kind: a dollop here, a dollop there, an obsessive fiddling that never really finishes and results in a big wet heap.

Second, liberals are not trying to marginalize conservatives through confessions or anything else; the conservatives have lost ground in the Episcopal Church becaus they lost numbers quite on their own. Why? Well, they took politicized stands again and again against desegregating the church, in favor of the Vietnam war, against revising the BCP 28, and against ordaining women.

At the end of the day, they simply squandered their credibility on losing causes that made them look bad and mean-spirited again and again--especially in resisting desegregation. Who is going to credit their reading of the Bible this time around, given their sorry track record? If you were to put all that together, they might look like a band of Racist, Misogynist, Warmongering, touchy Antiquarians--but again, they did this to themselves. The liberals forced them into none of those positions.

At 4:31 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


Thanks for your comment. Two things in response:

(1) I wrote the post with Williams' assumptions in mind. He favors restricting racist and anti-Semitic speech, but not speech against all homosexual activity. I denied that he had a principled case; Williams' case was, in fact, self-defeating in a morally disturbing way.

Personally, putting Williams' assumptions aside, I am all for the Bill of Rights: let the KKK and the Nazis get a permit and march down Main Street for all I care. He was speaking in an English context, where there is no Bill of Rights.

But all of that misses the main point, which is not really about the Liberalism you know and love so dearly, with its right to free speech which seems so precious to you.

The main point is that speech condemning homosexual activity--all of it from top to bottom--is morally on par with anti-Semitic and racist speech. I stand by that point, and see you have said nothing to refute it. Alas!

(2)What will keep the good Bishop Duncan, his allies and progeny from reading the Bible seriously, and taking its plain sense honestly, and finally being consistent in their words and deeds? Because the instant they did that, they would agitate for what Rushdoony calls for: executing homosexuals. Isn't that in your Bible rb? Care to take another look? Hint: it sure sounds like it's a moral statute.

No--the Bishop's good will is not enough; it is an accident, a piece of good fortune he owes to his Maker and the rest of the Communion should not have to rely on so flimsy a tender reed. He and his GS allies read the Bible in a way that leaves open the possibility of theonomic reconstruction. That is the problem.

Don't like it? Think I am wrong? OK: then go ahead and show that his hermeneutic is inconsistent with reconstructionism. Go ahead--nobody is stopping you.

4:24 PM

At 4:42 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Or, to put it another way:

If Duncan, Iker, Schofield, and Minns were indeed firmly at odds with Theonomic Reconstruction, as firmly at odds as you, my dear rb, seem to think they are, why oh why haven't they firmly spoken out against Akinola's support of the criminalization of advocacy for homosexuals?

They have had chance after chance to do so--and you probably know what they did as well as I do--they defended Akinola, they equivocated for him, they explained and Clintonized for him, they made a moral spectacle of themselves and humiliated not just the Episcopal Church, and not just the Anglican Communion, but Christianity and the cause for which your Savior and mine sacrificed, suffered and died!
They are an embarassment to the cloth!

But you see, in their moral turpitude, in their lack of courage, in their oh so foggy vision, the lives, the property, the freedom and the very persons of homosexuals are not safe. For these Bishops of the holy church have in this matter too clearly demonstrated their willingness to collude with Akinola's vision.

They have no need to adopt Rushdoony's theology; they are quite capable of brutality all on their own.

At 4:45 PM, Blogger *Christopher said...


I've offered my own thoughts in more detail on my blog.

At 4:54 PM, Blogger Jon said...

Actually, Scotist, I agree with Tobias as well. I think the critical line comes at the beginning of the last paragraph, although the whole paragraph is worth carefully considering. "The question is, how do we handle disagreement, since it is clear we disagree." This is at the heart of my question for you (and the Conservatives as well, although there are very few of them here).

I think you are very much mistaken about the degree to which Liberals are marginalizing Conservatives. Posts like the one that started off this thread are a prime example of what I'm talking about. In so far as we say "Every time someone says 'SS sexual activity is sinful' they are being bigots" we are using our words to push those who hold such opinions to the margins of society, since everyone knows bigotry is a sin. To some extent this is even true if we permit them to speak while insisting that they're opinions really don't matter since they've made themselves look stupid so often before. The only difference is whether the marginalization is active or passive.


At 9:59 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Good point, but are you willing to draw any line at all with respect to the qualilt yof the content of a position someone may hold??

Do we really have to listen with equal respect to Holocaust deniers, neo-Nazis, and KKK members? Or how about obsessive string collectors, foot-fetishists, and gonzo-porn afficianados? Or, if you will grant all of them an equal hearing: will you hear also homicidal maniacs, untreated violent psychotics, and sadistic pedophiles? Really? As if so far as we can tell they all might be equally right? Surely not--to the contrary, we are Correct to draw distinctions of Degree.

Anglican conservatives supporting Akinola's legislation and repressive agenda? Well, let them speak, give them a seat at the table when we draw up an Anglican covenant and so on; you cannot force me to believe they have a cogent argument or even a serious case when it is evident to me to the best of my knowledge that they do not. I say that while recognizing that I may be wrong--note the rider "to the best of my knowledge". I mean they may surprise me, and have a cogent argument or even come out looking right--still, things are not that way now. Now, they seem to be simply bigoted: condoning and apologizing for Akinola's legislation is just reprehensible, sa far as I can see. Pretending it is otherwise is a mistake. Let us take a firm moral stand, prepared if need be to repent.

At 5:46 PM, Blogger Jonathan said...

It isn't a question of the rightness or wrongness of their position; it is a question of how one lives out the baptismal promise to respect the dignity of every human being. Last I checked all the sorts of people you list were human beings. One can appropriately disagree with them, even disagree very firmly and at least in some cases seek to ensure that one's preferences are enacted in the (secular or ecclesial) political realm, the problems arise when we start talking and acting as if they don't matter or can be treated as if they don't really exist. That's the basic problem with assuming and encouraging others to assume that all conservatives are just bigots, it suggests that one need not give any thought to their arguments since they are presumably just a lie the conservatives are telling themselves to avoid dealing with reality. Certainly the conservatives are doing a bad job at this, but that's no excuse for the liberals to follow suit.


At 9:58 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

I am not sure what you are referring to in a number of your points; I assure you I take conservative Anglicans and their arguments extremely seriously, maybe too seriously. I do not treat them as if they do not exist, or even as if they are all just bigots.

Some conservative Anglican bishops want to criminalize all advocacy for homosexuals, and others think such criminalization is permissible. Those positions are immoral, but good heavens--they are simply not held by all right wing Anglicans.

Criminalizing advocacy for homosexuals creates silence and represses where there ought not to be silence and repression; it is a way of disrepsepcting homosexuals as persons.

There is the problem; it is not a matter, as you seem to suggest, of my subjective preferences. There is rather an objective wrong being done and being supported. We have a moral duty to object, and to call it out as immoral.

At 2:36 PM, Blogger Tobias said...

Dear Jon,
The root of my concern in all of this isn't to be able to call people "bigots" as if that solved the arguments, convinced them of the error of their opinion, or to call their dignity as human beings into question. What I am disagreeing with is the apparent argument that because a belief has a religious basis it is somehow immune from being assailed as bigotry, if that is what it is. As I pointed out at my own blog, apartheid was defended on religious grounds by the Dutch Reformed Church -- to such an extent that the Worldwide Reformed fellowship disowned them and called them to repent. (This is, to my mind, a good example of when a church is called to repent).

One of my brothers once worked for a large NY banking firm, and they had a phrase for any issue that was beyond discussion. They would say, "it's a religious question." And that would be that.

To be fair, calling someone a "bigot" is no more a contribution to the argument than saying, "it's a religious question." But since religion has demonstrably served as a cloak for bigotry in the past, I think it wise to keep that in mind before appealing to religion as a defense from the charge of bigotry.

At 4:08 AM, Blogger Jonathan said...

I agree that a position cannot properly declare itself immune to criticism by saying that it is grounded in religion. Calling the position bigotry, however, strikes me as the wrong way to come at it precisely because the word's connotation indicates that there are ulterior motives which are the real reason for the position. In short, it is essentially an attack on the person holding the position rather than the position itself. In the case of the current troubles it strikes me as far more likely that people are just sticking to what is rather clearly assumed (based on a surface reading) in various places in scripture while addng in more modern assumptions about sexuality. I think they're mistaken, but that doesn't invariably mean they hold to those antique teachings out of some hatred of glbt people. Hence Archbishop Williams suggestion that calling same sex sexual activity sinful doesn't amount to hate speech or bigotry as such, although it could easily slide over into an attack on the person rather than the activity.


At 5:31 PM, Blogger Tobias said...

Thank you, Jon. I suppose my concern on this matter arises because I sense that there is more to the argument than the surface propositions; that there is, in fact, a cultural or psychological underpinning to the opposition to same-sex activity, which cloaks itself in theological costume. Why do I say this? I have two primary reasons:

1) There are other activities, some of them sexual, equally condemned by Scripture and tradition, and equally "revised" over fairly recent history, which do not garner the fevered attention that same-sex sexuality attracts or engenders. To take just one example, the prohibition on sexual relations between a man and a woman in menses. (Indeed this is singled out for much more consistent condemnation in Scripture.) It is also widely condemned in some present-day cultures, while others have come to terms with it to the extent that it is no longer considered a serious matter. My point is that this is an example of a "cultural" taboo that has in some places come to be ignored -- the initial imputation of wrongness to this practice is cultural, not, strictly speaking, theological. (And I would say the same goes for same-sex realtionships).

2) The "rational" arguments against same-sex relationships tend generally to fall into a number of logical errors, primarily and most importantly petitio principii -- the assumption as a premise of that which must be proved as a conclusion. This renders the arguments moot, and striclty speaking, "irrational" -- as they depend for their "proof" on a restatement of the premise. I'm in the process of putting together a "Syllabus of Errors" along these lines, but I have yet to see a "rational" argument on this subject that doesn't fall prey to this or some other error in logic.

I agree that calling people "bigot" will not help -- and I avoid that approach. But I think those who hold opinions that ultimately do relate to "people" and not only "practices" (I think it is very hard to tease actions apart from actors, and question the moral basis of this on the basis of the tenth commandment!), need to be ultimately much more careful of their judgments of others. The quickness with which "that is a sin" morphs to "you are a sinner" is not even a full step, no?

At 7:10 AM, Blogger Jonathan said...

I suspect that the importance of walking that thin line between "that is a sin" and "you are a sinner" is precisely what Archbishop Williams was trying to point to in his defence of the CU's. While humanity has consistantly done a really terrible job of walking that line, it remains a line we need to walk. Sin is real enough, whether or not same sex sexual acitivity is a sin, and needs to be opposed. This seems to be rather clearly true in the case of bigotry and infidelity. I'm sure you can think of other cases in which it is relatively clear what sin has been committed. Obviously the difficulty is in doing so without slipping into judgement of the person, but this applies to all sides of the current troubles.

As for the presenting issue, over time the church will come to some consensus on it if we can manage to hold together and try to move forward in the Holy Spirit as best we can. Your particular arguments on the subject will probably be helpful, but in the end no individual can compell the Communion to submit without convincing the Provinces that the point of view is correct, something which depends as much on their internal work as on American arguments.


At 2:22 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


I am not sure anymore whether we really disagree substantively.

You say, rightly in my view, that the fact conservatives holding homosexual activity is sinful "doesn't invariably mean they hold to those antique teachings out of some hatred of glbt people." I do not mean to disagree with you there, and if I have spoken to that effect as if all conservatives on this issue hate homosexuals, let me disown such comments.

On the other hand, I still think it is important to remember that some Anglican conservatives support and defend Abp. Akinola's advocacy of anti-homosexual law in Nigeria. That crosses a line; it attacks homosexuals as persons and goes beyond disagreement over actions.

Archbishop Williams, as an official Instrument of Unity in the communion and its de facto head bears a special responsibility for underlining and emphasizing that line; he should unequivocally speak against translating Christian speech against homosexual activity into law attacking homosexuals as persons.

As it stands now, that line in the Anglican Communion between such speech and action has been effaced; the line needs to be restored.

At 1:25 PM, Blogger *Christopher said...

Given the history of Christianity in Britain on homosexuality, where laws against homosexuality in the guise of sodomy laws were not repealed until the 1960's, I've my doubts about trusting Christians, muchless Christian leaders to restore such a line. The line has been crossed far too many times in quite brutal ways and in quite cowardly silence for me to look to such for moral guidance. To some degree, as Britain's "civilization" was shown up in the Salt Marches in India, heterosexual Christians' "morality" and "ethics" are shown up by this history in their treatment of homosexuals, many of them fellow sisters and brothers in Christ.

In fact, I will call the division of persons and acts set out here a continuation of that treatment dividing up persons in ways heterosexuals cannot even imagine. Given the effects traditional teaching and much Christian treatment has had on the lives of too many gay folk I know, self included, the present Christian point of view on the matter sinful as shown in fruits in our lives.

So the line has been blurred for much of Christian history and I cannot rely on Christians or their reasons, and I praise God I live in a secular society where human decency ofter prevails in terms of rights where Christian "Christ-touched" dignity tends to continue the present marring of images of God who are gay. Who gives a lick about these lines or "Christ-touched dignity" when you can be beaten, murdered, and blown-up by those who take seriously the speeches of others about my supposed sins? Our speech has consequences, and even if others act upon them in ways we wouldn't, we are responsible for having spoken thusly, especially when we are in high places of power and authority. They will be responsible for every one of God's LGBT children turned away because of their words or actions inspired by their words.


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