Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Reconcilaition and Same-sex unions

I. Reconciliation in the '79 BCP
Christians are obliged to serve in Christ the reconciliation of all things to God. So our Catechism describes the ministry of the laity (BCP '79):

The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his
Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be;
and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on
Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take
their place in the life, worship, and governance of the

Follwing Paul at II Cor. 5:17-20, this ministry extends to all Christians:

17Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. 18And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; 19To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. 20Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. (KJV)

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. (TNIV)

What does this mean? To return to the '79 Catechism,

Q. Why then do we live apart from God and out of
harmony with creation?
A. From the beginning, human beings have misused their
freedom and made wrong choices.

Q. Why do we not use our freedom as we should?
A. Because we rebel against God, and we put ourselves in
the place of God.

That is, we sin in putting ourselves in God's place, taking upon ourselves the determination of moral right and wrong. Here is the fundamental wedge driving us from God and deepening our alienation from the Holy One. Reconciliation implies returning God to the proper place, even to the point of surrendering moral autonomy to God's direction. Thus, in the New Covenant, the response required from us, according to the Catechism, is that we believe in Christ and "keep his commandments." These include the Summary of the Law, which summarizes the Decalogue. The Decalogue, according to the Catechism, includes the command [t]o use all our bodily desires as God intended.

II. A tale of (at least) two approaches
So far, I have said nothing to undermine the critic of same-sex unions; the critic can go on to cite verses seeming to imply God intends sex to occur only within heterosexual marriages. Having been reconciled to Christ, we would obey his commandments, including this one about sex. This would be enough for the Christian who is willing to let the commandments rest as sheer divine command--once we know God's will, nothing more should be said; indeed, haggling with God at this point would seem to risk re-introducing alienation between us and God. Certainly many, including a number of influential modern Protestant theologians, have taken this route.

But there is another route, one with an equally impressive tradition: the commandments are not a matter of unmediated divine will. What God wills takes into account the nature of creation; God's decrees are aimed at the fruition of what God has created. In effect, God aims through reconciliation to bring creation to a fruition it cannot achieve in any part on its own, and yet this fruition is a completion of creation in the nature of its parts. And this is no mere accident--God being God, things won't get done in such a way that divine command stands over against creation. From this point of view, we cannot be sure we understand exactly what God has commanded apart from knowing whom God is addressing with the divine decrees. Thus, for instance, what God intends for human sexuality takes into account the natural fruition to which human nature is ordered.

The "problem" is this: we know, ECUSA claims, same-sex unions are capable of being morally virtuous, in the sense of cultivating those cardinal virtues we can attain by our own effort. Since, ECUSA maintains, this is actually so, it is a possibility rooted in human nature: that is to say, same-sex unions have always been capable of exhibiting cardinal virtues. Thus, God's decrees concerning human sexuality take this fact about humanity and its capacity for virtue into account. For God to issue a decree condemning all same-sex unions, given the human capacity for virtuous same-sex unions, would set his will against nature. That God would not do.
We have here two distinct understandings of God's moral decrees (among many others) .

III. Reconciliation in Same-sex unions
Given ECUSA's understanding of God's decrees, not all same-sex unions are against God's will. What would turn God against a same-sex union involves what would turn God against a heterosexual union. Thus, obeying the commandments does not imply condemning same-sex unions.

The significance of this is that it leaves the door open for God to make a same-sex union holy; they may be fit instruments for God's work of reconciliation. At a bare minimum, in a holy same-sex union God infuses the partners with his love so that they might be reconciled in love to each other in their mutual relationship to the Father through Christ. Of course, as with Holy Matrimony, we would expect more: that their God-given love become an agent for reconciliation to God in the world beyond themselves.


At 9:25 AM, Blogger Bruno said...

and here is where I think the big problem lies.
If-same sex relationships and sex can be holy by virtue of respect and caring, then hetero sex relationships can be wrong by lack of these virtues. Procreation is NOT a saving grace in and of itself. This then means that women and children are of equal value in the eyes of GOD and are deserving of the same respect, care and honor. Women and children are no longer property or tools for use.
This changes rules, people who set the rules don't like that.
If all persons, are just that, PERSONS in the eyse of God, with no distinguishing characteristics that elevate value or worth (worthiness) then equality is called for.

At 2:17 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

I agree that the procreative end is neither essential to nor sufficient for a good marriage--and language expressing the priority or sufficiency of the unitive end goes back in Anglican prayer books to 1662, and even to the King's Book. That move is a critical one (and the BCP '79 cannot be blamed!)

At 7:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Once again, the argument proves too much.

The "problem" is this: we know, ECUSA claims, same-sex unions are capable of being morally virtuous, in the sense of cultivating those cardinal virtues we can attain by our own effort. Since, ECUSA maintains, this is actually so, it is a possibility rooted in human nature: that is to say, same-sex unions have always been capable of exhibiting cardinal virtues.

Thus any relationship displaying virtues on the part of its participants is blessable. Voluntary adult incestuous relationships (if they are faithful and lifelong), polyamorous (if they are lifelong and display fidelity within the group), and of course in Woody Allen's movie, Gene Wilder was faithful to the sheep to the very end... Or are some of these not "possibilities rooted in human nature"?

At 9:37 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


Fair enough.

Given what we are, polyamory and incest, as well as murdurous rage, salacious cupidity, and much else are possibilities written into our nature. That is to say, necessarily, humans mat sin in these ways. But they are not possibilities for our flourishing in the sense of cultivating the cardinal virtues.

I do not think there is any way to get around the violence of incestuous relationships, even among "consenting" adults. In virtue of the child's bad moral luck, the parent exercises such power over the child, and any "consent" it would try to give is vitiated: analogous to a general and a private in the USMC--even if both parties consent, the relationship is forbidden.

Polyamory is a tougher case; the only thing I can think to do is to fall back on Aristotle's reasoning in the "Nich Ethics" about friendship. One's love should and does tend toward unity so far as possible; so in the Eschaton we will each be united in love with Christ, and ion this, our nature finds fruition.

To accept polyamory here below is accept a disposition against the simplicity and unity that characterizes the love of the Church and Christ in the Eschaton.

Neither of these defects need infect same-sex unions, though of course they may--still, polyamorous homosexuality and gay incest would be immoral at least in part for the reasons above, reasons shared with heterosexuals.

At 12:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do not think there is any way to get around the violence of incestuous relationships, even among "consenting" adults. In virtue of the child's bad moral luck, the parent exercises such power over the child, and any "consent" it would try to give is vitiated: analogous to a general and a private in the USMC--even if both parties consent, the relationship is forbidden.

So incest is quite all right if, say, one participant is a grown man and the other is his widowed stepmother who is actually younger than he?

At 1:16 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


Push the case further: in one instance, instance X, the man knows his widowed stepmother and marries her. In another instance, Y, neither knows the true status of the other (insert a clever narrative). In case Y--so long as the mutual ignorance continues--neither party is guilty, though what they are doing is wrong. In case X, where each knows, each is guilty.

I do not see how being a grown man makes much of a difference. While one case may be less of an evil than the other, even the grown man cannot escape his acquired dispositions: i.e. given his dispositional understanding of "mother", in case Y he would be a beast were he untroubled at discovering he married his mother. He could only cease to regard himself as her partner, e.g. her equal. Where is the difficulty?

You seem have a post-Cartesian understanding of the human person as located in free, rational agency--think Kant--whereas I urge a pre-modern understanding of the human person, peppered with terms like "disposition" and "virtue." That's why you think speaking of a grown man makes a difference, as if the issue were his reaching the age of reason or some sort of competence as a rational agent. \

Note too, your case doesn't touch the the USMC analogy; would you suggest lascivious fraternization should be permitted?

At 2:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The point of their both being adults is, of course, to test your "violence" thesis, and the reason the stepmother is younger is to remove any possibility that she personally had any real parental authority over him during his formative years.

You haven't answered the question. Yes or No?

At 8:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

[W]e know, ECUSA claims, same-sex unions are capable of being morally virtuous, in the sense of cultivating those cardinal virtues we can attain by our own effort.

Where precisely does ECUSA make this claim? When did we come to a consensus on this? All official statements of which I am aware note a lack of consensus.

At 4:05 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Of course incest even in your case is morally prohibited and sinful; I do not see how the parameters you introduced eliminate the violence of such an incestual union.

I think this because of my pre-modern understanding of human persons: any man who did not feel shame at marrying, or even trying to marry, his mother, regardless of whether she is a stepmother or not, would sin: this would hold even in cases where the son found his mother adopted him, such that they had no biological relation, just as well as in cases where his mother was a younger stepmother.

Why? The elements of motherhood that would vitiate his consent are not simply reducible to biology (nor do they all have to do with what he feels and is conscious of); altering biological variables alone will always be insufficient to yield permissibility.

On the other hand, if one were to redefine "mother" in relation to a given male to mean "any female thirteen years older," we would have removed in some cases the variablesthat made marrying a mother forbidden--and in that new, artificial sense, one could marry a "mother". But only because we so drastically expanded the meaning of the term.

At 4:15 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

ECUSA claims it in To Set Our Hope on Christ; the claim is made that same-sex couples satisfy various parts of the virtue lists that figure prominently in NT letters.

Those virtue lists were not made up de novo by Christians, but were taken up from prior, pre-Christian thought--Hebrew (Wisdom lit) and Greek (Plato, Aristotle, Stoics, et al). I am not just talking St. Thomas, Summa Theol., I-II, Q. lxxix, a. 1, ad 1, but also among the Fathers St. Augustine, Ambrose Jerome etc etc.

Thus, it is not a distorting stretch to parse ECUSA's calim to be that same-sex couples can satisfy the cardinal virtues: courage, wisdom or prudence, temperance, and justice.

You deny this? Then you must hold: At all times, same sex-couples are disposed to cowardice, intemperance, foolishness, and injustice. That is: all couples at all times; the high-bar should cause you to pause.

At 9:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, thank you for attempting to answer the question. Your answer, in summary:

Well, um, that's different.

Observe that simply redefining the term "violence" to cover all the cases you wish to retain as immoral does not constitute an argument unless you can show, rigorously, how some inherent characteristic of these cases corresponds precisely with all and only the cases you wish to include; this you have not even come close to doing. All your discussion consists simply of arm-waving.

Note that it would make just as much sense, given the vagueness and ad-hoc character of your definitions, to say that homosexual intercourse involves "violence" to the physiology of the situation.

Another swing and a miss.

At 10:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm. Even if he has valid points to make (I have no idea), I find Mr. Goodrich to be at the extreme of obnoxious.

At 10:36 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


I am pretty sure I can answer your question:

Consent is a necessary condition of permissible sexual conduct.

That, I take it, is not controversial. In all the cases we have discussed, consent is vitiated--at least one party cannot consent.

How is this so? Giving consent requires more than mere assent--again, this is uncontroversial, inasmuch as the assent of a minor does not make pederasty OK.

Sometimes--we agree-power differentials are sufficient to vitiate consent, as between an officer and an enlisted soldier, or a teacher and a student. Again, uncontroversial.

Above I extend this to cover incest: it is enough for incest to be wrong that one party, filling the role of parent--whether or not a biological parent--creates a power differential like that between officer and enlisted soldier, or teacher and student.

Where is the complexity in this? You seem to keep missing the point.

There may be a bit of pushing and shoving in this debate, but bear with us--there is a line of debate here, even if it appears tenuous at times. What you see here is sadly more of an engagement than what you often may find elsewhere th the AC. in

At 10:36 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

oops: "in the AC" i.e. Anglican Communion.

At 12:14 PM, Blogger Closed said...

Much heterosexual intercourse in the world is non-vaginal, meaning stroking, touching, rubbing, oral, and anal sex. Many women in many parts of the world consent rather to anal sex than endure more pregnancies. Many heterosexual men enjoy having their anus played with in various ways. And that makes sense, next to the glans, the anus has the largest bundle of nerves, followed by the prostate.

It always seems that the fear of violence to physiology revolves around male-male anal penetration, which in the case of rape makes sense, as this particular act is often used as a way of violence and domination among men, mostly heterosexual men, I might add.
But not so between a loving committed male couple. And not all male homosexual sex is anal intercourse, though it may sometimes be, and I can speak to that first hand. Frottage, intercrual, oral, mutual hand touching, etc. are all other ways two men have sex. Or rather make love. Indeed preferences around which acts best show love in a relationship vary from couple to couple just like with heterosexuals.

As for violence to physiology, the physicalist reductionism that parts have one purpose is proven wrong by looking at biology alone. The penis is used to urinate as well as inseminate, but most importantly and best, as a member of love. For that is what we are made for gay or straight, for love which involves growth in the virtues.

Once the procreative is placed within the context of love, the unitive, which is its undergirding rather than insisted upon in a production-oriented (and worldly even pagan) fashion, this type of physicalism is in for serious questioning, especially when male and female couples display virtues and graced lives.

At 7:00 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


You mean to call the teleological assumption from biology into question, namely the assumption that gendered bodies intend only heterosexual vaginal intercourse. Granted--though some care is required here. I have the impression that an increasing number of hetero-evangelicals are willing to lump heter-anal intercourse, oral sex, and everything genital but vaginal intercourse for procreation into the forbidden category of sodomy. That is, the considerations you raise will not cut ice with an increasing number of Christians.

Of course, such singular elevation of the procreative end is troubling from an Anglican point of view--but that is another post.

At 11:34 AM, Blogger bls said...

Incest is forbidden because it destroys the family structure. The family is the place in which children are supposed to feel safe and protected in a non-sexual manner. "Trust" is the basis for relationship between parents and children, and between brothers and sisters, and this trust is compromised once sexual relations enter the picture. Simple as.

None of this, of course, applies to homosexual partnerships.

At 8:59 PM, Blogger Closed said...


First, our understanding of gendered bodies has changed dramatically in 2000 years of Christian history. We've went from a single sex, two gender model (with quite a bit of flexibility) to a dual sex, two gender model (that is quite hardened). I prefer the pre-modern version as at least it recognizes that we are one nature. The theologies of JPII and other Body Theologies propose in essence two human natures: A human nature (male) and a special woman's nature. Biologically speaking, our template is female (rather than male as the ancient's thought) and we gender male and female to varying degrees even though most of us have fully male or female genitalia. We must remember that there are intergendered persons, which the Talmud deals with far more compassionately than Christians do, and that we each in our mind are variously composed and this affects us bodily as well for mind/body dualism is a modern division. Theologically speaking to speak of human nature as male and a special woman's nature is deeply problematic and counters Chalcedon. This is why the present stance on women's ordination is deeply questioned.

That is indeed my intent, but it is really my preference to begin with an eschatological teleology which calls gross physicalisms into question without regard for our end, which is not procreation but the New Creation. Too much Natural Law theology begins with biology rather than eschatology, with our parts and a singular function rather than our End in Christ and our ongoing creativity and multiplicity of how our parts function to that end, and that is the starting problem. Beginning with biology begins with fallen imperative of procreation as the means to overcome death (which it cannot) and as our end and posits procreation as the final goal. When the unitive is absolutely tied to this, we must dismiss many infertile heterosexual couples, monastics, and same-sex couples altogether. Beginning with our End in Christ posits kenotic love as our goal, and a finger can be an instrument of great love and reconciliation as well as a grasping tool.

And I'm not terribly concerned about what a growing number of Christians are willing to reduce sex to procreation. First, the concern often reduces the family to about "me, myself, and mine", who is "like me", and forgets the eschatological nature of family which breaks open this tribalism that left to a procreative imperative, even if unitive, cannot be easily avoided. And if they do so, I hope they use no forms of birth control and abstain except to procreate as the Tradition has tended to maintain, I think in error. Even Natural Family Planning is actually a violation of this earlier understanding of sex in the Tradition, and Humanae Vitae makes leaps of reasoning that more and more find incredible to sustain given this apparent contradiction and some fuzziness about "natural" and "artificial". A thermometer is quite artificial, for example.

Often, the result of such thinking is a procreative imperative that fails to consider the eschatological telos of sex which is not first and foremost procreation, but reconciliation and relationship in Christ by the Spirit. Fascinating that as more hetero-evangelicals go this direction, more and more RC'ers are becoming more flexible in their understanding of what exactly unitive and procreative mean.

Vaginal intercourse can be sodomy. I say this in terms of intent. I say this in terms of the number of women in my life who have experienced rape by men or had sex pressed upon them by husbands. Rape of a woman by a man in penile-vaginal intercourse is sodomy, and this can happen even in Church-blessed marriages, and too often, our history of Church-blessed marriages tend to show a terrible tendency of men to dominate women. Vaginal-penile intercourse in and of itself is not necessarily holy or even good and can be used to destroy, control, dominate. Simplistic sexual ethics of many hetero-evanglicals don't cut ice when we start looking deeply into intent and what is unitive.

I would note as you note elsewhere that from an Anglican perspective the procreative is about generativity or that is the thrust of development within the prayerbooks over time. See my priest's posts at meditatio on the latest.

Here is a quote from Elizabeth Stuart in "Gay and Lesbian Theologies" that I find truly helpful:

Earlier generations of Christians were much better at parodying gender than us. The prominence given to religious life in a Catholic context right up until the mid-twentieth century was crucial to the parodic performance of maleness and femaleness. The vowed celibate testified to two ultimate truths. The first is that heterosexuality, marriage and family life are not identical with Christian discipleship. How could they be when Augustine constructed heterosexual desire as non-essential but the consequence of the fall? The second is that all desire is ultimately oriented towards God. Our desire for the other is ultimately desire for the Other and will not be satisified until it reaches its telos, its end in God. The decline of, and increasing invisibility of religious life in western Christianity constitutes a huge crisis for the Church in general and for its discourse on sexuality in particular. It is both a product of, and has contributed towards, the collapse of Christian discipleship into heterosexual marriage. In public discourse on sexuality the western Churches currently give every impression of wanting to produce heterosexual desire rather than desire for God and contemporary society does not need yet another agency producing such desire. The immensely popular "Seeing Salvation" millenium exhibition at the National Gallery in London contained a number of pictures of Christ exposing his wounds to Thomas or to other disciples. The imagery was certainly most erotic but the erotic gaze was diverted from the genitals, imparting the message that ultimately human desire could only be fulfilled through the wounds of Christ, though God's sheer gift of himself. The vowed celibate in their own person testifies to the telos of desire. They further testify to the end of history inaugurated by the birth of the Christ child--the perfect human being--and by his death and resurrection which together dissolve the need for human beings to reproduce because the perfect child has been born and in the resurrection which he inaugurated all will be re-membered and remembered and so the need for heirs is cancelled....

As Rudy noted the Church has a long tradition of affirming that sexual relationships must be unitive which is to say that they break the boundaries of the self and propel people out of individualism into koinonia. While any sexual encounter can temporarily break the boundaries of the self, the Christian aim is to achieve a permanent pourousness which can only be achieved with considerable practice--lifelong practice in fact--and therefore requires stability and a presumption of permanence on behalf of the couple and the community around them. In his film The Opposite of Sex Don Roos poses the question: "what if sex is not about reproduction or recreation but concentration?" St. Augustine had a strong awareness of the inability of the human will to stay focused; it was too easily distracted and dissipated. Marriage should school the will and desire to concentrate and focus as part of the preparation for the eternal concentration on God. But this should not distract us from the fact that Christians are not called into sexual community but an ecclesial one. We are not called primarily into coupledom but into the body of Christ. Sexual relationships must themselves be permeable to the Church and spill over into the Church. Only if our relationships build up the body of Christ by proclaiming the gospel and challenging the Church to be faithful to that gospel can they be deemed to be truly unitive.

The Church is called to be holy. We say that something is holy when we recognise what John Milbank has called the "heavy pressure of the divine on finite reality." And divine reality is sheer grace, an excessive giving that creates the possibility of reciprocity and mutuality not mere exchange. Grace is returned to God by being passed on, by sustaining the momentum of God's giving and the Church is both constituted by the gift and caught up in the divine act/being of giving. Within the Christian tradition marriage and monasticism have been presented as two paths to holiness. Rogers noted that both monasticims and marriage are ascetic practices in which human love is taken up into the divine and through which we participate in the excess of God's giving by learning to love and through offering hospitality to strangers. Indeed Rodney Clapp has argued that Christians only have children so "we can become the kind of people who welcome strangers". Since gender and sexual identification have no ultimate significance in Christian theology, marriage cannot be understood as a heterosexual institution any more than monasticism can because heterosexuality does not "really" (that is eschatologically) exist. Those who, in the cultural constructions of our day are labelled lesbian and gay are entitled to the same paths of holiness as everyone else and all are entitled to have the path of monasticism recommended to them with as much warmth and effort as the Church currently encourages marriage. Indeed, both monasticism and same-sex marriages are necessary for the holiness of the Church, to remind it that gender is not of ultimate concern and that desire has an end beyond human relationships.

I would say with Stuart that heterosexual desire has become a very real idol in our time and that desire has been focused on the self and one's own family and tribe. Children as possessions rather than gifts to whom we provide hospitality. Women as possessions, and even now men, to get our rocks off and make us happy. And we queer folk to a point aped in kind, but I think some of the most excellent queer theologies reorient our desires godwardly, and that is my deepest concern regardless of what a majority of Christains think.

Sorry for the length of the post.

At 9:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thus any relationship displaying virtues on the part of its participants is blessable. Voluntary adult incestuous relationships (if they are faithful and lifelong), polyamorous (if they are lifelong and display fidelity within the group)

Craig, you forget one thing: not only do persons in those categories have to exist (and I am not convinced that they do), but they also have to seek out such a blessing.

It's hardly outside the realm of possibility that, for example, an elderly brother and sister sharing a home, might seek out a blessing upon their home. Is any priest going to ask re their sleeping arrangements? No. But are such a brother/sister going to volunteer such information? Are they going to request the language of a nuptial blessing? "joining together" "mystery of union" "union...in heart, body and mind" "forsaking all others"?

I really don't think so.

If TEC is not to turn Inquisitor (making "windows into the soul" as QE1 abjured), then it's always possible that we will bless what ought not be blessed . . . but how preferable *that* is, compared to the alternative: withholding blessing out of pride, or spite (or even the paralysis-of-over-analysis: studying for year after year, decade after decade, as flesh-n-blood Children of God are left in the Wilderness of No-Pastoral-Care).

The "Worst Case Scenario" option that you present, Craig, should then be seen for what it is: not a real prediction of a likely future, but rather scare tactic designed to distract from the *real harm* being done in the present to same-sex couples.

May TEC always listen to the better angels of its nature, continue to trust in God, and ignore the (demonic) distractions!


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