Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Just Wondering about GC2003...

I. Barely Abstract Considerations
What is the Scriptural justification for forbidding the ordination of an unrepentant, active homosexual?

According to those who think all homosexual activity whatsoever is sinful, that question is an instance of a broader one: What is the Scriptural justification for forbidding the ordination of an unrepentant sinner?

It seems plausible answers will stress the fact of obstinance: the sinner has not repented. Here you have a sinner who knows he does wrong and continues doing it anyway without sincerely regretting it and wishing to do otherwise.

Now, what is the justification for forbidding the ordination of a sinner? Is there any? This is clearly a trickier business. In a sense, we are all sinners--and anyone out there still praying the Prayer of Humble Access may add "unworthy to gather the crumbs from under the Lord's table" or some equivalent. Unworthy indeed: if anyone is ordained, sinners are ordained, no? What matters is not that they are sinners--actively sinning--so much as that they repent of their sins; and if they continue to sin--as they will of course--they continue in repentance.

So to be a sinner is not to be an unrepentant sinner, and that makes a difference when it comes to ordination. What are some necessary conditions for repenting of a type of sinful activity, X?

I think all would agree "knowing X is sinful" would be among the necessary conditions. Those who do not know X is sinful are not in a position to repent of it: even if they somehow went through the motions, it would not count. Clearly one can be a sinner with regard to a type of action, X, and not know that about oneself. Call such a person an ignorant sinner. Is there any Scriptural justification for forbidding ignorant sinners from being ordained? I don't know.

We might ordain an ignorant sinner, especially if we and he do not know that he is sinning in doing X-type activities. On the other hand, if he does not know he is sinning, but we do, and we ordain him anyway--well, it seems we would be at fault in some degree. At least a case to that effect could be made.

Suppose the relevant parties have done their homework sincerely and prayerfully, examining text and tradition, Scripture and Fathers. If no party thinks he sins, there would be no culpability in ordaining him, even if he were a sinner who had not repented of the type of sin in question (not recognizing it as sinful from a well-informed conscience).

It may be the community--including the one ordained-- will have some learning to do about activity X. And when it learns X is sinful, it--including the ordained--should repent.

II. A Conservative Estimate
It seems to me a critic of GC2003 could well take this kind of view about TEC. The critic would think all homosexual activity is sinful, period. And she would object to the ordination of an actively homosexual man. But suppose her case falls flat; the other church persons around her debate her but are not convinced of her arguments or use of Scripture. She tries her best; they do too. All to no avail! She does not convince them, they do not convince her. The ordination goes ahead, and he has not repented.

Of course: he does not think it sinful. Nor do his advocates. And they have fulfilled their epistemic responsibilities. They may be wrong; they may even be in a state of material heresy with respect to whether homosexual activity is sinful. But for all that--they would not be in a state of sin from ordaining him, provided they are sincerely doing what they think is right, and their thinking is justified. Their being in a state of heresy does not rise to formal heresy; it does not include obstinance or willful ignorance. The critic of GC2003, it seems to me, could well take such a view of the Episcopal Church in its ordaining VGR.

It also seems to me most critics of GC2003 have not taken such a view of TEC; they see it rather as being in a state of formal heresy, as if it were willfully ignorant or acting out of malice, doing what it knows is wrong. That imputation of sin seems to me deliberately perverse.


At 11:20 PM, Anonymous John said...

I find it ironically funny when talking with some of my more conservative friends about sin. Of course they see homosexulaity as the gravest of sins, but they don't see themselves as living in sin after divorce or that they are sinning by not tithing or ignoring the poor, homeless, etc. in their area. They don't see their children as sinning when they are living with someone outside the bounds of marriage. I think as Jesus said "We see the speck in our brother's/sister's eye, but not the log in our own" or something to that affect. If you really want to make some of the conservatives mad/angry start talking about their sins.

At 12:18 AM, Blogger Christopher said...

In practice, the conservative Anglican who finds GC2003's actions heretical can turn to her brethren abroad for support. The sense of conscious obstinacy applies not so much to the substance of GC2003's actions as to its apparent disregard for Anglican norms elsewhere. The conservative critique doesn't just say "This is against Scripture"; it always adds "This is cold-blooded tearing at the bonds of affection."

That lets you cry both heresy and obstinacy at once-- and although that may not meet the standard for formal heresy by itself, in practice it seems to be enough for some people.

I disagree with them, but I think I see their point.

At 7:58 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Ah--the point for a conservative, or a certain kind of pro-Anglican Communion partisan, might be "You are obstinately tearing at the bonds of affection".

That might well come out true--however that is a good deal different from the obstinance needed for formal heresy.

Or, at the very least, it isn't enough for formal heresy on the presenting issues from GC2003.

At 8:27 AM, Blogger bls said...

John makes a very good point, I think. It's so easy when you have somebody at which to point the finger - and it lets you off the hook, too, on getting to the bottom of your own sins and errors.

In fact, IMO the worst part of all this is that the "conservatives" are now completely convinced of their own righteousness - and, of course, of the utter heresy of TEC. This I'd think will lead to collapse of the "conservative" movement faster than almost anything else could.

Jesus was quite clear about the speck/log problem; self-righteous judgement of others was one of his major themes. So if TEC gets criticized, it's actually going to be very good for us; it will help us in self-examination and in making positive change. I think it's already done that, in fact.

The "conservatives" are not so fortunate.

At 1:09 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

At times, opposition can be true friendship.

Even if Christians must judge one another--on practical grounds say--there are no grounds in this case for cooking up imputations of Evil that depend on the agent's malice, as motives of that sort are simply inaccessible (at least to outsiders, and many times to the agents themaelves).

Content yourself with judging external actions, but then you would lose license to hurl accusations of apostasy and sinful heresy. That is too much of a price, it seems, for some conservative critics.

At 10:26 AM, Anonymous Tim said...

You omit what I consider to be a vital point here: your talk of potentially `sins of ignorance' still hinges on the *assumption* that one particular activity is sinful when, where and whoever does it, ie universally.

Given that homosexuality is a matter of nature more than nurture, it strikes me that a certain relativism, that a position of "what's right for you need not be right for me, and vice-versa", might be acceptable and profitably peaceful.

At 10:36 AM, Anonymous Tim said...

bls writes: `The "conservatives" are not so fortunate.'

Absolutely. Something in the right-wing/conservative/"traditional" mentality strikes me as increasing the risk of hypocrisy.

A lot of it falls down in practice, too: there's a failure to understand that some things might be ideals, or they might be relative ideals for some people; conservatives rather tar vast chunks of the population with the same brush. This leads straight to the unfortunate case of Ted Haggard, no doubt amongst others.

I'd go so far as to say `conservatives shout good things; liberals believe when it says "love your neighbour as yourself", you should actually *DO* it'!


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