Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Taking Out the Trash

I A Line in the Sand
It seems to me that some in very high places, like ++Rowan and various right-wing Anglican luminaries, like to insist that there is a distinction between homosexuals and homosexual practice or activity. I am not sure that the distinction has been thoroughly thought through; in fact, I believe once it is thought through many will see its untenability. It is time to throw it out. The difficulty is twofold: (1)its theological grounding, and (2)facts on the ground in the Communion that render it irrelevant in practice. Here I want to concentrate on the latter point, (2).

The problem, so the story goes, has to do with celibacy. One may find himself or herself with clear, persistent homosexual inclinations so woven into one's dispositions and daily life that for all practical purposes they partially constitute one's personal identity. That's one thing, they say: being a homosexual. Being homosexual, they claim, is not in itself sinful.

It is quite another thing for one to act on such inclinations; indeed, it is a sin. The homosexual ought to abstain from sex, or else marry and have at it with someone of another (I suppose) sex. There is no condition whatsoever on which it is permissible for anyone, homosexual or not, to engage in homosexual sex. Period. A homosexual who abstains has done nothing wrong, the story goes; such a one may be ordained to whatever office, whether deacon, priest, bishop, archbishop. In theory even celibate gay unions may be blessed--nihil obstat, ceteris paribus. For it is not being homosexual that is a sin, but rather homosexual activity.

The distinction is extremely important in context. It serves like a fig-leaf in our current unpleasantness, permitting those excoriating the Episcopal Church to claim they respect all persons as such. Their opposition to GC2003 is not--they say--opposition to homsexuals as persons, but opposition to homosexual activity. Their stand, they claim, is thus not bigoted, and homosexuals cannot cogently make civil rights claims against them--for no persons as such are included in the criticism, only what persons do.

Attacking homosexuals as persons, after all, might seem uncomfortably reminiscent of persecution of homosexuals in the Holocaust. Then maybe various neo-orthodox warnings about Christianity capitulating to culture might seem to come into play in a rather new and unexpected context, and Christian tradition might seem unduly infected--once again--with a strain of virulent paganism spreading a disease of hatred and exclusion as it once did with Jews, women, and blacks. Oh the headache!

II. A Bogus Distinction
You can see how important the distinction is; it would be a real shame if something happened to it. Let's see how the distinction plays out in practice.

Suppose I am evangelizing for the Episcopal Church in my diocese, and some upstart asks Aren't you guys part of that Anglican Communion? I am obliged to say Yes. Then: And don't you guys support the persecution of homosexuals, you know in Nigeria or whatever?

What do I say? Well, not all of us do; you see there are various national churches, provinces, each autonomous. We have no say in the Church of Nigeria's support of persecution-- I would of course be talking complete bull.

After all, whether we really are and will be autonomous is quite up in the air. Being a distinct national province might not really mean much after the polity of our church has been sufficiently worked over. You can imagine a rather dystopic future: some rabid, right wing Anglican assembly of Primates votes in a binding, Communion-wide resolution implying a provincial obligation to support political legislation criminalizing discussion of homosexuality or advocacy for homosexuals, and we are compelled, being subject to the assembly, to comply.

Far fetched? Well, my interlocutor could ask You say it is far fetched, but who would have thought the Nigeria law would pass now in 2007? What can you say to guarantee homosexual persons will not be persecuted and attacked? As you know, that sort of thing has been the norm in the past, both in England and in the US. Your precious communion has already failed the issue of moral principle; now aren't we just waiting to see how far the stain will spill over?

At any rate, for the moment we still have a choice, and need not be party to a koinonia that sees fit to tolerate persecution of homosexual persons. That seems a rather misplaced toleration, no? To anyone with a bit of history it may be uncomfortably close to the Holocaust. Not in the sense of playing Neville Chamberlain--if only!-- but in the sense rather of being the good German who kept his head down and did as he was told.

Sometimes it is odious to keep one's head down and do what one is told. Sometimes a better response would be resistance.

We should fear the wrath of the power of Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit more than the wrath of ++Rowan Williams, ++Marty Minns, and ++Akinola; a bit of fear here would be entirely appropriate. Pleading the distinction above in section I is bizzare to anyone with reality as it is now unfolding in mind. For the horse has already left the barn; Elvis has already left the building: the Anglican Communion, ++Rowan's little organic unity, is already persecuting homosexual persons in Nigeria via the Nigerian Church.

It, ++Rowan's organic unity, formerly known as the Anglican Communion, had a chance to register an objection loud and clear when it might have effected something significant before the law was ratified. Or at least it might have acted to declare solidarity with those bearing the image of Christ among Nigerian homosexuals. It chose not to do so. What madness is this? We are acting like people possessed--indeed, I am learning anew the gravity of Mark's exorcism stories. We are nearing the limits of argument.

We need not be party to a koinonia that sees fit to persecute homosexual persons. As I have noted before, there are other international communions of churches to which we might work to belong, and spade work has already been done preparing the ground for what could be membership in another Christian communion apart from the Anglican Communion. True, these others, like the LWF, might well not condone blessing same sex unions or ordaining active homosexuals to the episcopate--but they have this on the AC: they have not participated in persecution. What would happen if all of a sudden we found a voice on this issue, and requested some sort of acknowledgement in the Communion that its silence on Nigeria was and remains morally wrong?


At 7:45 PM, Blogger bls said...

Scotist, you are 100% right.

Unfortunately, TEC is among the national churches - all except one, in fact: Canada - who have done and said absolutely nothing about this, even having had many chances.

So the Anglican Communion is actually just TEC writ large; I wonder where my own national church has been.

I don't really have any faith in the Christian church as a force for good any longer - although individual Christians can be, of course. In any case, you made me see something important with this post: that the Church has more to fear from the wrath of God than it does anything else.

Thanks for waking me up again, though; you are 100% right in what you say here.

At 8:02 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

The Anglican Scotist said...
Too many people in our little debate keep talking as if the Nigerian law and Akinola's support for it were not happening, as if it were not a datum to consider seriously--and the list includes ++Schori so far as I can see, as well as ++Williams and many others.

Yet with the Nigerian Church's support of persecution, and the Communion's acquiescence, we have crossed a very important line. By permitting the suppression of thought and discourse we are permitting an attack on persons as persons--we are standing by while the injured writhe.

Not exactly a Good Samaritan-type response.

One would think the evil of Nigeria and Akinola's persecution of persons would register as significant. That things are quite otherwise strikes me as sick, a pathology.

At 1:08 AM, Blogger Taylor Burton-Edwards said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 1:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agreed that the situation in Nigeria gives the lie to the distinction supposedly supported in the AC, it seems to me there may be another principle upon which to question the given distinction between orientation and "behavior."

Namely, incarnation.

In short, my question would be whether this distinction is a form of gnosticism-- one that artificially but intentionally segregates spirit or essence from flesh or behavior.

To be sure, one can advocate for discipline and self-control in any event. But here, the argument itself appears to be based on ontology in this sense: one who IS heterosexual need not exercise entire abstinence in all instances, while one who IS homosexual must do so. Since the argument turns on ontology, rather than on other appeals that might be given (such as some sort of reasoned argument that the behavior itself causes harms, or even that the behavior itself is said to cause harm in scripture, for example), this does turn out, does it not, to be about separating spirit and flesh.

Last time I checked, gnosticism was heretical.

Funny that in this instance those calling themselves orthodox may be its most ardent advocates.


At 6:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're right, of course, about TEC's odd omission in not condemning the Nigerian anti-gays law. (Though I do feel I need to point out that at least one Episcopal bishop has signed on to a letter condemning the law and asking that it be withdrawn: see a recent post at Daily Episcopalian.)

I'd imagine that we might be held back by the possibility that it would seem an entirely political gesture -- TEC condemning a church making incursions into its territory, or ++KJS condemning a primate with whom she has been at loggerheads.

If that's the case, then we're already seeing membership in the AC impeding our witness.

-Appalachian Episcopalian

At 1:07 PM, Anonymous Charlotte said...

It has been suggested elsewhere (not by me) that the Episcopal Church might review its support, financial and otherwise, for nations, churches, and church organizations engaged in the active persecution of homosexual persons. These, and others doing business with them, would be subject to sanctions and boycotts.

The model would be the sanctions and boycotts in effect while South Africa was under its apartheid government.

I like the idea. It's a nonviolent way of making violence against GLBT persons costly to the perpetrators.

At 1:52 PM, Blogger *Christopher said...

As I wrote at Entangled States:

As I have said, I will disavow using the title of "Episcopalian" and "Anglican" to describe myself should a clarity about this not come forth; I will not leave, but those terms will come to represent anything but the Gospel. This crosses a line, and I cannot go along. While everyone was calling for this or that fasting (for someone else, of course), holding on to this or that posture or position or status in our structures, folks are facing further expressions, now physical, of persecution at the hands of Primates and Anglican leadership and the silence of the rest of the Communion is deafening. Our moral credibility as a constitutent institution and as a communion may be quickly coming to an end for all of the world to see. And the Scotist is right to invoke the fear of God's judgment. I wonder if this legislation was even discussed in Tanzania? And it now appears that even some Muslim leaders are hesistant while our own Anglican leaders forge ahead.

"catholic" arguments for our (re)structuring in the face of our present Anglican polity only serve in the end to widen the responsibility for this lack of voices saying "no" to such legislation and to Christian leaders who would propose such. Three years ago, I wrote to Archbishop Williams about turns of events in this direction in an open letter posted by Dr. Crew, that blood will be on our hands. Others pooh-poohed me at the time. Now here we are.

At 5:26 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

I agree with that suggestion completely. While we may argue over doctrine and interpretation, and witholding funds would be wrong in such disagreement, the situation in Nigeria is different.

There, the issue is no longer merely theological; it has passed over into an unequivocal human rights problem. Even one who thinks homosexuals do not have civil rights claims as homosexuals should agree that there is a human right to speech and discourse. Just such fundamental human rights are being destroyed in Nigeria by Akinola and the Anglican Church there.

Taking the Anglican Communion seriously as an organic unity--as we are being ordered to do by all the Primates--means seeing the Communion as a whole being morally responsible. A unity invested with power without moral responsibility is simply tyranny.

You were prescient, and now we must ask whether this kind of communion is permissible. Is worship without justice--willfully without justice--worth anything in the eyes of God? What would Amos say?

At 8:28 PM, Anonymous Timothy Bays said...


I guess it's not entirely clear to me what you're claiming here. Let's distinguish some questions.

1. Can we, on a purely conceptual level, draw a distinction between "being homosexual" and "homosexual practice"?

Sure. Indeed there are probably many different ways of drawing this distinction, depending on how we explicate the notions "being homosexual" and "homosexual practice." Of course, there are some ways of explicating these notions which will make the distinction pretty picky---e.g., if we just defined "being homosexual" in terms of "engaging in homosexual sex." But there are other cases where it's less picky, and may even do some important conceptual work (see 2 and 3).

2. Can we find actual cases where the two sides of this distinction come apart?

Sure. Just consider any homosexual who is called to---and who faithfully practices---celibacy. Let me be clear here. I'm not suggesting that all---or even most---homosexuals are called to celibacy, any more than all heterosexuals are called to celibacy. But there are some---both homosexual and heterosexual---who are called to celibacy, and their lives provide concrete actualizations of the distinctions between "being homo/heterosexual" and "engaging in homo/heterosexual sex."

3. Do these distinctions carry any important theological weight?

Sure. We're not going to be able to really discuss, say, monasticism, unless we have something to say about the call to celibacy. But that's going to require being willing to make the kinds of distinctions discussed in 1 and 2.

4. Do these distinctions help to show that all homosexuals called to celibacy?

There's the $64,000 question in the current ruckus. I'd say no, but that's what the fight is about.

4. Do these distinctions serve a rhetorical purpose which helps to cover up some pretty ugly things?

Yep. There are lots of people who use these distinctions to make it look like they're quite reasonable, but who then slur over the distinctions in their actual treatment of homosexuals. To use the jargon, these are people who say *say* that they "hate the sin" but very rapidly slide into "hate the sinner" and then on into "oppress the hell out of the sinner" as soon as other peoples' backs are turned. Certainly there's a lot of that going on in Nigeria at the moment, and the silence from conservatives in the communion on this issue is appalling.

5. Does our answer to 4 affect our answer to 1-3? That is, does the fact that these distinctions all too often play a really nasty rhetorical role tell us anything about whether they can play any more-substantive role in our theology (or, even, whether there are really any such distinctions to be made)?

Now, it looks to me as though you (Scotist) are claiming that our answer to 4 *should* affect our answers to 1-3: that the ways these distinctions have actually played themselves out in practice should lead us to think that the distinctions themselves are "untenable" or "bogus."

But this seems quite mistaken. On the surface, after all, it looks like a straightforward form of ad hominem argument. The people pushing P in public are really quite objectionable; therefore, P must be false. That won't do at all.

Have I badly misunderstood you here?

-- Tim

At 9:02 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Timothy Bays,

I will do what I can to clarify, as you wish.

On 1: Yes, you can draw a conceptual distinction.

But while I can draw a conceptual distinction between the road from Deltona to Deland and the road from Deland to Deltona, they may yet be exactly the same road.

One might as well draw a distinction between the Morning Star and the Evening Star, or Superman and Clark Kent--that is, how the distinction maps onto reality is a trickier, but more interesting issue. For a conceptual distinction between X and Y does not tell us that X is not Y.

The Anglican right needs something more than a merely conceptual distinction here.

On 2: I left aside any mention of a call to celibacy; whether a homosexual is called to celibacy or not, the Anglican right would say he or she is obliged to abstain from any homosexual activity whatsoever.

On 4: I am not sure who on the Anglican right holds that all homosexuals are called to celibacy, but if they were committed to it I think their cause would be lost.

I do not attribute that view to the Anglican right.

On the second 4: I left the notion of "covering up" out of my account. I do not know why the leaders of our Communion are silent about Nigeria.

Regardless of their motives, their is an important disjunction between rhetoric claiming that the issue with TEC concerns only homosexual practice, and the reality that the Anglican Communion is persecuting hoosexuals--and others as well--in Nigeria.

I am guilty in earlier posts of missing the point that Anglican persecution of the Nigerian people extends beyond homosexuals to anybody in principle.

On 5: I do not want to say that the inability of the Anglican Communion to refrain from persecuting homosexuals and others among the people of Nigeria shows the distinction between homosexuals and homosexual activity is bogus.

That would take a theoretical argument, and that is not what I have given.

My point was rather to show that our discourse is missing the point.

We are guilty of continuing to treat the distinction as something exonerating the Communion's discourse on homosexuality when in fact the Communion is engaging in suppression of free discourse regardless of having made the distinction.

The discourse does not acknowledge the divergent practice; we are talking about the wrong thing.

At 10:10 PM, Anonymous timothy bays said...

Thanks, Scotist,

A few comments before I turn in for the night.

On 1. You're certainly right that a mere "conceptual distinction between X and Y does not tell us that X is not Y" and that the "Anglican right needs something more than a merely conceptual distinction here." The point of my original 2 was simply to show that they can get more than a conceptual distinction---that there are at least some cases where X and Y really do come apart.

On (the first) 4. Woops. My copying and pasting got the better of me. I should have just said, as you do, that the issue concerns whether homosexuals are "obliged to abstain from any homosexual activity whatsoever." (Though my answer would still be "no.")

On 5. I'm glad that you're not saying what it looked (to me at least) like you were saying. I agree that there's an important disjunction between our rhetoric and our practice, and that the distinctions at issue here often play the practical role of exonerating our behavior. Sorry for giving your remarks the rather stronger reading that I did.

At 7:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Other than to hear TEC words as a worthless vengeful critique or not to hear them at all, would any words of TEC make a difference? Given that TEC probably has no leverage, how about TEC individuals writing to Vestry etc. at CANA congregations +Minns David Anderson etc. to influence +Akinola?


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