The weakness of Harding's latest critique: Part III
Trying to take Harding to task, I have set my cards on the table; you know what I think ECUSA's principal argument is in To Set Our Hope on Christ (hence "TSHC"), and what I take the real source of disagreement to be between supporters and critics of GC2003. We, the members of ECUSA are divided on our understanding of Christian ethics: are we obligated merely by divine will in itself apart from nature, or is divine will mediated by human nature, so that his commands always complement our nature? We cannot settle such deep disagreements about Christian ethics in time for GC2006 or even Lambeth 2008.
I. Realizing the unitive end of human sexuality
ECUSA's TSHC does not aim to do philosophical theology; its aims are more modest. Sections 2.25-32 argue for the holiness of some same-sex unions, going over the ground of my argument E1 (above) in greater detail; in so doing, they shed light on the nature of holiness.
Section 2.26 notes Christians permit sexual relations in marriage for either procreation or for "sharing themselves with each other" as persons, i.e. for unit, "life-long fidelity and self-giving love". Thus, Christinaity recognizes human sexuality has both procreative and unitive ends; further, it recognizes "the unitive end of human sexuality may be realized apart from the procreative end" (2.27). For instance, a heterosexual marriage of known infertile partners is genuine, and not invalidated simply from their infertility, insofar as they can realize the unitive end of their sexuality.
ECUSA seems to imply that given the deliberate realization of the unitive end in sex apart from the procreative end is permitted in heterosexual unions, failure to realize the procreative end of sex alone should not bar same-sex couples from unions. Not only that, sexual activity between same-sex couples in a union that realizes a unitive end is for that permitted, as it is for heterosexual couples in a union. There is no morally relevant difference between the two unions that would imply a disanalogy.
Note, for ECUSA, realizing the unitive end of human sexuality requires the union of the couple:
The Episcopal Church has called for all in relationships of sexual intimacy to the standard of life-long commitment.... (2.25)
Harding does not have much to say about the line of reasoning in 2.25-7.
II. Holiness in Same-sex Unions
One may ask what realizing the unitive end of human sexulaity has to do with the truly pressing issue, whether same-sex unions can be holy. As we have seen earlier, ECUSA's argument E1
(by my nomenclature) requires not merely the presence of the Spirit in same-sex unions, but something more, their holiness. Why, in other words, go through with the blessing of same-sex unions detailed in 2.29, with vows that "constitute same-sex relationships within a larger reality, that of a covenant to form a household together as part of the Christian community of faith...."?
The sexual desire manifest in same-sex unions achieving the unitive end is not mere cupidity, i.e. egoistic desire aimed merely at self-satisfaction. that sexual desire is love of the same sort with the desire that aims to be drawn into communion with God. That very desire for communion with God is the very same desire "that begins in self-giving of one to another and invites an offering of the self in return" (2.28) But such love can only be "God's love, which has made us members one of another in Christ Jesus," (ibid) i.e. a gift from God, and part of the great reconciliation God is effecting between both creation and God, and parts of creation.
Section 2.28 gives the core of ECUSA's case for the holiness of same-sex unions (E3):
(1) Same-sex unions realizing the unitive end do so by God's love.
(2) Any realization of the unitive end effected by God's love is holy.
Therefore, (3) same-sex unions realizing the unitive end are holy.
The key idea in E3 is that those being reconciled in actual unions effected by God's love are being set apart for his purposes in the world and thereby made holy. I happen to think E3 is quite powerful, and it convinces me of the holiness of some same-sex unions. You might see E3 in connection to E1 by picturing "realization of the unitive end" as an effect of the Spirit.
What does Harding have to say at this critical juncture? Nothing that addresses E3. He says,
In 2.28 it is argued that the extension of love by same-sex couples to those outside their immediate pairing fulfills the procreative purpose of love. The authority for so redefining procreation is a report by the Standing Liturgical Committee and the House of Bishops Theology Committee. These are at the least unimpressive authorities for the radical changes being proposed.
Amazingly, he misses ECUSA's point altogether. He seems to be addressing that part of TSHC that follows "Such love has, moreover...." on page 28, section 2.28. Even so, he pictures ECUSA as redefining procreation, when the term ECUSA uses in the part of 2.28 he takes the trouble to address is "generativity," a term chosen in deliberate distinction from "procreation".
III. Refuting ECUSA
What would an effective refutation of ECUSA's argument look like? In effect, ECUSA has argued same-sex unions can be holy where their sexual love serves God's purpose of reconciliation. That is, rather cleverly ECUSA took the very sexuality of same-sex unions realizing the unitive end--what some critics would find most objectionable--as a place where holiness is found.
A conservative who could show why all sexual activity in a same-sex union is antithetical to God's purpose of reconciliation would be on route to a refutation. One way to do that would be to argue that a same-sex union cannot realize the unitive end of human sexuality--that would be a tough case to make. Another way would be to argue that the procreative end cannot be separated from the unitive end; i.e. all sex must aim at procreation. That strikes me as another tough case to make. Or one can pound the table and start shouting.
Another way to look at this: once the procreative end and the unitive end of sexuality are sundered, the way is open to understanding God as working reconciliation through same-sex unions.