Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A note on the Anglican right's emphasis on complementarity

Here is a brief piece I wrote as a comment over at Jake's place; it criticizes a line of reasoning used by Marty Minns and others on the Anglican right to deny the permissibility of blessing gay unions: in short, the partners in gay unions lack the biological complementarity whose presence is a necessary condition for marriage or a blessed union. It might be useful to trace Minn's emphasis on complimentary design back to an origin, indeed one of great prestige: Karl Barth.

But Barth cannot be right--e.g the fruition of genuine humanity cannot require of a male that he relate in marriage only to the Other as female, as that would deny full humanity to Christ. Barth and the bevy of wingers he has inspired run the risk of crypto-docetism: Christ's humanity only seemed genuine. Insofar as we acknowledge a full humanity in Christ and his life as norm, it is simply anti-Christian to tack on additional elements to the pattern of Christ's life and call them essential for Christians.

It is much more plausible to say humanity attains its fruition only in relation to an Other--but then there is no reason to presume a priori that the Other for every male must be female, and for every female, male. It may be that for all we know, to allude to Aristophanes, that the Other human to be taken in marriage for one is of the same gender.

It seems to me that the question of what constitutes a suitable Other human in relation to whom one may grow into fruition in biblical terms is already settled --it cannot be another mere human; it can only be the Incarnate human. Anything less is idolatry: putting a human in God's place, assuming Jesus is God. The eschatological marriage talk in Ephesians, Revelation, and elsewhere makes this point: earthly marriage is a transient estate imaging an ultimate relation to Christ in the world yet to come. In other words, it is wrong-headed or worse to seriously think marriage is a matter of the fruition of one's humanity--we mistake a transient Image or Imitation and what it effects in us for the eschatological Reality and what it effects in us.

How could Barth have made such an awful error in theological reasoning, especially given his Christocentrism? It is a lesson in humility, indeed, an ironic and even tragic one. We see it repeated among Christians today as if it were theolgically secure. Winess the Southern Baptist Convention's R. Albert Mohler, Jr. He says:

What Paul makes clear is that homosexuality is a dramatic sign of rebellion against God and His intention. Those about whom Paul writes have worshipped the creature rather than the Creator. Thus, men and women have forfeited the natural complementarity of God's intention for heterosexual marriage and have turned to members of their own sex, burning with a desire which in itself is degrading and dishonorable.

Mohler cites evangelical theologian CFH Henry as having continued Barth's line of reasoning, giving a more solid biblical foundation:

Carl F. H. Henry, perhaps the most significant figure in the development of evangelical theology in the last half-century, rightly rejected Barth's extra-biblical theorizing and "fanciful exegesis" of the relation between sexual issues and the imago dei. Nonetheless, he agreed on this essential point: "The plurality of human existence is not optional; man cannot properly be man without speaking of male and female." The revolt against this divinely established order is one of the most important developments of this century, and it looms as one of the defining issues of the cultural revolution.

Note well: man [Henry means "human"] cannot properly be man without speaking of male and female. What of Christ? What of ol' Adam--are we to understand he lacked humanity until Eve was created? That he could not be what he essentially was? What now of Mary, who on one line of tradiotional thought, knew only God--are we to see the humanity Christ picked up from her as impaired? Or are we to regard her humanity as defective? To dodge heresy, the claim needs to be qualified, and Henry's "speaking" understood in a weak way, emptied of its polemical content. What is tragedy from the pen of Barth is farce from the mouth of Minns and the pen of Henry--if you are on the Anglican left and need work, here are a couple stalls to clean.


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