Thursday, August 31, 2006

Golden Oldies

Remember these?

The Boston Affirmations (1976)

The Hartford Appeal (1975)

The Baltimore Declaration (1991)

The Kuala Lumpur Statment (1997)

Spong's "A Call for a New Reformation" and a response: "A Declaration to the Church" (1998)

Certain Historic Anglican Doctrines and Policies (2003)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Canon Heidt on Ordaining Women

The canon theologian of the Diocese of Fort Worth has this to say about men and women; these words are incredible:

Just as the biological differences between men and women express themselves in the physiological and spiritual, so the anthropological differences express themselves in economics and politics. Be they single or married, women get together and talk mostly about clothes and shopping; men talk about sports or ways we should resolve the war in Iraq; Women are the economists and men the politicians. By nature women are practical, men are idealists. But in the eighteenth century Adam Smith changed all this. By redefining economics as finance rather than household management, he took women’s work out of the home of cottage industry into a man’s world of factories, laboratories and banks.- and women have been trying to get back their proper work ever since.

Keep in mind Fort Worth does not ordain women, and in his article the canon has taken it upon himself to argue the dioceses' case; he says:

...the time seems right to repeat once again why we believe women cannot be priests even if they are legally ordained. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

Hear indeed--Heidt's case for denying women ordination is not the traditional one found among the Fathers and Doctors of Christian tradition. Heidt's case is an innovation--a very curious one indeed--standing outside the tradition of the catholic church. It is odd to see an Anglo-catholic trade in such shoddy novelties (he describes himself as The Canon Theologian of Fort Worth on the Theology of Orthodoxy, Anglicanism, Living the Catholic Life in a Secular society...). Aquinas, the prince of Roman Catholic theologians, bizzarely misconceived women as aberrations who would not have been created were there no need for reproduction; they were not ontologically "separate but equal" in his eyes, but ontologically defective, rightly kept in a place of subjection to men. Poor Thomas was misled by Aristotle's loose grasp on the biology of reproduction, a clear case of paganism contaminating Christian understanding. Fort Worth and Canon Heidt do not argue along Aquinas' line--with good reason--but in taking a new line, they have ventured an innovation. How many concurring priests and pew-sitters in Fort Worth have a firm grasp of exactly what Heidt and company are up to?

What indeed is Canon Heidt's argument? Skip down to what he describes as his most important point, the theological error of those who support women’s ordination, and see what you can make of it all.

Let's start on a positive note. This bit is right about Jesus, in my opinion:
He [Jesus] was man i.e. all of human kind, of the same nature as us, and able to represent everyone, women as well as men, but as an individual he was male, with both masculine and feminine characteristics.

And this is fine:
As an individual human being He is fully male, not a hybrid of male and female.

But in Jesus Christ our created earthly humanity is saved, not changed. Our sinfulness does not come from our humanity but from acting less than human.

I'll even go "all in" for more; there is a pretty bit of Platonic metaphysics behind it, but it remains thoroughly Anglican, being entirely in the mode of Hooker:

By our participation in Christ’s humanity, our own humanity is glorified in spite of our sins. And this happens sacramentally, by Baptism and the Eucharist.

Stepping back, I see a substantial amount of common ground with Canon Heidt; how then does he move from all this to denying women ordination?

Heidt writes He [Jesus]had to be male in order to be the sacramental or incarnational presence of divine masculinity, implying at least the rather weak:

(1) If Jesus is the sacramental or incarnational presence of divine masculinity, Jesus is male.

Let the antecedent be (2) and the consequent (3); I admit (3) is true. Why does (2) have (3) as a necessary condition? On the face of it, any person of the Trinity could have assumed the human nature of a female, using "could" with respect to the absolute power of God. According to Heidt, a female incarnation of a divine person would not be the sacramental or incarnational presence of divine masculinity. Interesting, at least insofar as Heidt prima facie discerns
here a limit to the very extent of Omnipotence.

We need to knbow a little more about (2) in order to evaluate (1): what is divine masculinity?
Right away there is a problem with Heidt's account:

Thus God is not male because he has “no parts or passions,” i.e., He is not physical. But He is masculine because He is the spiritual Source and Father of all.

Yes, God cannot be male, being immaterial, but it is exceedingly sloppy to call God the Father of all when this use of "Father" applying to God simply should be distinguished from the sense of "Father" attached to the first person of the Trinity. Moreover, God is one in three persons, and as such cannot be the Father of all, if we take the second and third persons of the Trinity with ontological seriousness--as I grant Heidt wishes to do. For those persons do not proceed from God who is one in three persons. Heidt has reached the height of absurdity even before getting into the meat of his argument. Poor canon!

Well, let's see what the canon will do with his false premise just for the hell of it. This part is fine:
God is only masculine because He is what the philosophers have called “pure act.” The masculinity of God is God's pure actuality, void of any potentiality or imperfection. We may say this then it seems:

To the extent an item is act, it is masculine.

God being pure act is maximally masculine. Fine--let Heidt define terms as he wishes. His use of "masculine" is highly irregular, but let us grant his stipulation. Where are we going with all this? It seems Heidt should--for the integrity of his argument--go on to make a point out of Aquinas' great Summa: men are in act to a higher degree than women. This would be to say, with Thomas, that women are ontologically defective, lesser beings.

Heidt does not argue that way however. Instead he shifts ground rather radically, arguing instead:

Male and female are both masculine and feminine but each symbolizes one more than the other.


Hence women represent the feminine and men the masculine.

Ah--see the shift? He moves from a sense of "masculine" following from ontology, based on
an item's degree of act it seems, to a point about symbolization and representation, a subjective or at best intersubjective attribute. Women are items with some degree of act--but that is not what Heidt is talking about. Women as such also represent or symbolize a certain degree of act.
The function of representation or symbolization is to some degree arbitrary, in the eye of the beholder--we saw this with Heidt's choice about what he thought "masculine" should represent or symbolize. Suppose X has a higher finite degree of act than Y; Y can symbolize a greater degree of act than Y itself or even X. Representation and symbolization need not track reality; we see this all the time in churches with icons, stained glass, Bibles and crosses. That is to say, women might have a higher degree of act than men, and yet symbolize a lower degree. That possibility doesn't register on Heidt's radar. Heidt's shift into the subjective and arbitrary is the most glaring departure he makes from the Christian tradition to which Aquinas belonged as a principal exponent, and it does not seem to be a well advised departure at all.

But what choice did Heidt really have? To stick with ontological inferiority would have seemed recalitrant--how could he argue from a blatant falsehood? To argue from inferior representation or symbolization though, well, maybe that has a chance of coming out OK. At least it doesn't seem blatantly false:

Physiologically the female is predominantly receptive or feminine, and the male is active, initiator, and originator. Women need to be cherished; men need to be honored, as St. Paul himself recognized. (Ephesians 5:33) Women need to be caressed physically and spiritually; men need to be built up physically and spiritually. Women are from Venus; men are from Mars.

A woman will be upset if her husband forgets their wedding anniversary, by at least giving her flowers, but in all my years as a priest I have never heard of a husband being upset because he did not get any flowers from his wife on their anniversary.

Arguing from inferior representation or symbolization, Heidt grants the prevailing culture in which women represent or symbolize a great degree of authority. In effect, he grants sexism authority in the church to determine who may be ordained. This is not well-advised; indeed, it seems an abdication of proper Christian moral responsibility. What we get upset at, how we need to be touched--these things do not follow as propria from our degree of act; they are not ontological counterparts to being a man or a woman.

Heidt's argument is sad. It has the feel of a reductio for itself--how can he argue this way in good conscience? Isn't he afraid of making a mockery of the faith? Is this really the best that Fort Worth can do?

Alas, Fort Worth would do better to keep silence on "why" rather than to offer rational support like Heidt's for its denying women ordination. The unconverted seeing the poverty of his thought might go on to suspect more important matters are similarly void of cogency, like the Incarnation or justification.

There is more to his argument.

The key passage from Heidt seems to be this one (I've added brackets to ease reference to certain statements within the citation):

[A]The church and all its members are feminine in relation to the Father - we speak of Mother Church, but [B] some human beings within the church are ontologically ordered to re-present, to make present, the activity of the Father in relation to His creation which is always masculine. [C]As the Church is called mother, so Priests are called Father. [D]To call them Mother is trying to turn them into something they cannot be. [E]Though men and women both have masculine and feminine traits and both can and must minister in the Church, only males can represent the masculine. [F]Only men can be priests.

[F] is his desired conclusion. [B] is true; note that whatever God does in relation to humanity must have some degree of act in order to qualify as a doing of God at all--and so it will be masculine. [A] is fine--we are not pure act, and so qualify as feminine in Heidt's rather eccentric terminology. As it stands [C] might beg the question; substitute "those ordained" for "Priests." So altered it is fine.The trouble starts with [D] and continues to [E]; these are false so far as I can tell.

The ordained are called "Father" in relation to the church, from [C], to which they
represent the Father. That part is fine.

Heidt seems to want to say that only men can function to represent the Father to the church, since "only men can represent the masculine." A woman could not represent the masaculine--she could at best represent the feminine, in virtue of which she could be called "Mother" in relation to the Church. But that will not do--she should represent the Father.

Well, why is it true that only men can represent the masculine? Heidt is NOT saying men do it better than women, or that most men do it better than any women, or thaat most men do it better than most women--all of which would be too weak for him. He has in mind something much stronger: only men CAN represent the masculine. Women CANNOT represent the masculine; it is simply impossible according to him.

Nowhere does Heidt prove the impossibility of women representing the masculine. At most he could show they actually do not. But he has not even shown that. His cliches about modern culture serve only to show at best what holds for the most part, not what holds all the time, and much less what must and must not hold.

heidt's case is a failure, but worse than that, it is a glaring failure. It is not the case that he has a line of argument here that would be cogent with a few adjustments here and there; rather, the whole thing lacks cogency. His reliance of representation should go, as well as the eccentric stipulations about the use of masculine and feminine. But where can he run to? Aquinas will not offer much cover in this case. I fear Canon Heidt and his ilk shall ever only come up empty handed.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Against Harmon's "Sex Without Form & Void"

For the record, a collection of the parts of my critique of Harmon's article:

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

A Brief Reply to Witt

Part IV: Against Harmon's "Sex Without Form & Void"

Harmon's case would be cogent with a persuasive reading of Genesis, but no reading of Genesis unmoored from submission to Christ should persuade. It is not at all a matter of rejecting the OT as Witt has suggested, but rather a matter of reading the Bible whole with an eye to the principal climax in its narrative: the ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ. Harmon would have Christ bizzarely endorse a version of Genesis taken apart from primary reference to his person:

First, Jesus consistently affirms that sexual intimacy belongs only within marriage, an understanding he derives from Genesis 1 and 2 (cf. Mark 10:4–9; Matt. 19:3–12, etc.).

Jesus derives his understanding of marriage from Genesis? "Derives"? On exactly which line of thought within orthodox tradition? You will not find that notion in the Church Fathers or in the Doctors of the Church. They have quite definite notions of Christ's understanding rather contrary to Harmon's fantasy. It is quite the other way around--Genesis derives its intelligibility from Christ. The Bible is not the Word incarnate; the Word and it do not form one person with two natures unmixed; nor does any other person of the Holy Trinity assume it: Harmon's exegesis exhibits a basic confusion between creature and Creator dangerous to the substance of the faith. The Bible can only ever be a created instrument through which God speaks Christ in the power of the Spirit--sacred, sure, and inspired, yes--yet for all that created. Lingering over Harmon's starting point, I hope to have shown the peril of displacing the centrality of the sufficient person of Christ from our interpretation. The remainder of my critique follows rather briefly.

I. In the OT and NT
His discussion of the sin of Sodom is insufficient to establish that the story teaches any homosexual activity whatever is sinful. He writes, "The crucial point, however, is whether the sin of Sodom is one of hospitality rather than sexual immorality." No--"sexual immorality" is too broad. Of course the sin in question is a type of sexual immorality. Why couldn't the sin in question be hoosexual rape rather than any homosexual activity whatever? In neither Judges nor Genesis is the sexual activity contemplated in the narrative exactly consensual. Harmon's analysis does not differentiate categories of sexual immorality in sufficiently fine grain to prove what needs to be proven.

Likewise, his discussion of the Holiness Code is flawed. The Ten Commandments and associated moral laws are merely "a valuble guide for the community of faith today"--but "a valuble guide" (his words) need not be exclusively normative for the faith community today. Likewise, his "Whereas certain specific cultural applications of the principles underlying many proscriptions in Leviticus are not relevant, the principles are" leaves the matter in question unresolved apart from reference to his tendentious reading of Genesis 1-2.

Harmon's interpretation of Romans 1:26-7 is good up to the point where he writes

Also, our relationships with our fellow human beings no longer function as God intended them, and both women and men exchange the natural created desire for a consummated relationship with the opposite sex and engage in same-sex relationships: “women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another” (vv. 26,27).

The text presumes an exchange of natural created desire--heterosexual--for another type of desire--homosexual. But can one exchange what one has never had? It makes no sense to say a human being exchanges heterosexual for homosexual desire when the human being may never have had heterosexual desire to begin with; it would not have been there to be exchanged. Whether such people make up 10%, 5%, 3%, 1% or .001% of the general human population, Paul's particlular condemnation of homosexual desire would not apply to them. Harmon seems oblivious to this obvious problem, and seems intent on making Paul say something he isn't saying.

NT condemnations of fornication do apply to any sex outside a sacramented union--hetero or homosexual. If Harmon could show that heterosexual marriage is the only sacramental union permitted by Scripture, I believe he would have made his case. But the Bible does not contain such an argument; without such an argument, appeals to Jesus' condemnantion of porneia would leave open the permissiblilty of homosexual activity within a sacramental union.

Scripture simply does not conatin the kind of blanket condemnation of homosexual activity Harmon claims.

II. Tradition
Harmon's appeal to tradition is even weaker than his appeal to Scripture. As with the traditional case for denying women ordination, the traditional case for condemning homosexual activity looks rather hollow, presenting the bizzare cicumstance of the church enthralled to a phantom. Incredulity is the proper response--this is the best tradition has to offer? Then anger.

Consider Harmon's examples:
Thou shalt not corrupt boys; for this wickedness is contrary to nature, and arose from Sodom, which was entirely consumed with fire sent from God. (Apostolic Constitutions)

Therefore those offenses which be contrary to nature are everywhere and at all times to be held in detestation and punished; such were those of the Sodomites....For even that fellowship which should be between God and us is violated, when that same nature of which he is author is polluted by the perversity of lust. (Augustine's Confessions)

“And likewise also the men leaving the natural use of the woman.” Which is an evident proof of the last degree of corruptness, when both sexes are abandoned. . . . For he does not say they were enamoured of, and lusted after one another, but “they burned in their lust one toward another.” You see that the whole of desire comes of an exorbitancy which endureth not to abide within its proper limits. (St. John Chrysostom)

Homosexual desire need not be for little boys, nor need it be a matter of lust, exorbitant or otherwise. It is simply not eveident such examples have the requisite generality for harmon's purposes; they do not catch the type of desire contemplated by advocates of SSUs. Even granting complicity with St. Vincent's dubious criterion, the rather glaring weakness, even silence, of tradition here issues a curious imperative: the tradition of the church has not decided against all homosexual desire whatsover, and to dissent from this witness is to abandon the church's proper catholicity. Is that what Harmon wishes to show? How far is this from the general run of Boswell's thesis in Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality after all?

Poor Boswell is treated rather unfairly in Harmon's hands, in my opinion. Harmon curiously quotes Aquinas against homosexuality without bothering to discuss Boswell's critique, which to me seems quite decisive. Go ahead and read Harmon's section on Aquinas, then read Boswell on Aquinas (it's only 14 pages, from 318 to 332, so you have absolutely no excuse not to read him for yourself), and go back to Harmon on Aquinas again--see what I mean? This is the best tradition has to offer? My oh my; it's pathetic. Appeals to a tradition against all homosexual practice, like appeals to tradition against ordaining women, deserve very little respect or patience.

III. Reason
While Harmon makes some very good points here, reminding all of us that (1) reason in the Anglican tradition is "right reason" or rationality permeated by Scripture and tradtion, and (2)merely scientific reason is not what Anglicanism means by "right reason," these fine points do not make his case.

Note just a couple of blunders. First, he writes:

But the logic of this argument is dangerous: the frequency with which a condition occurs is not related to whether it is right or wrong. Is never automatically means ought.

It is odd to see him buy into the fact/value distinction without any evident circumspection, issuing such a bold, unqualified claim. Never say never; were ought to imply can, is would imply ought: actual necessity--the "is"--would imply obligation--the "ought." That is, suppose agent A cannot voluntarily perform an act of type T; were ought to imply can, A would not be obliged to perform an act of type T. This is not only Kantian morality, but also an application of the Thomist motto, what is received must be received in the mode of the receiver. Anyhow, in the case above, an actual state of affairs, something which merely is, a fact, has immediate moral implications, contrary to what Harmon implies. he should stick to hacking away at Boswell.

Second, he misuses scientific data, conflating hormonal and genetic determination (lengthy quotem, boldface mine):
Does contemporary research substantiate Bishop Spong’s argument that one’s sexuality is determined hormonally prior to birth? No. John Money, for example, writes, “whatever may be the possible unlearned assistance from constitutional sources, the child’s psychosexual identity is not written, unlearned, in the genetic code, the hormonal system or the nervous system at birth” (“Sexual Dimorphism and Homosexual Gender Identity,” Perspectives in Human Sexuality, 1974, p. 67). Masters and Johnson agree: “The genetic theory of homosexuality has been generally discarded today” (W. H. Masters, V. E. Brown, R. C. Kolodny, Human Sexuality, 1984, p. 319). Professor Thomas Bouchard of the University of Minnesota reported the conclusions of his study of 105 sets of twins who were separated within a few weeks of birth and brought up in different families. Although Dr. Bouchard found that genes did have an impact on various social attitudes, he “suggested that homosexuality was not genetically determined, but a response to environmental pressure” (as reported in the Times of London, February 17, 1990).

One would have thought it obvious hormones can affect infants prior to birth regardless of their genetics, so that saying genes do not determine X does not imply hormones fail to determine X.
Oh well; these are relatively minor parts of his overall case, which hinges on a reading of Genesis that I take to be mistaken. Grant that reading, and much of the rest of his argument might fall into place. My main point then is that there is no good reason to grant his reading, and very good reason to give another reading, one that honors the centrality and sufficiency of Christ in the Christian narrative.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

If you have a moment...

Please consider saying a prayer for the 45 children and their families lost near Donetsk in a plane crash.

"Nobody survived," Mykhaylo Korsakov, spokesman for the Donetsk department of the Emergency Situations Ministry, told The Associated Press.

I cannot imagine the horror in the souls of these children and their parents as they realized the plane was going down.

Let us pray that they have found peace.

GC2006 and the Centrality of Christ

My response to Kendall Harmon's "Sex Without Form & Void" rests on an Episcopalian affirmation of the centrality and sufficiency of Christ. Here is one of the most articulate and brief defenses of that centrality and sufficiency in TEC, taken from GC2006; the text in boldface is from a resoultion, D058, brought before GC2006, and the text italicized is the defense to which I refer:

Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church declares its unchanging commitment to Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the only name by which any person may be saved (Article XVIII);

First, this is an inappropriate subject for legislation. It is part of the historic doctrine of the Church, and such cannot be changed except in Ecumenical Council, the last of which was held in the 10th century.* It was acted upon by previous General Conventions in each edition of the Book of Common Prayer (and by the English Church since 1549). In the Prayer Book we have all of the 39 Articles of Faith (save one dealing with the English monarchy); we have the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds; we have the Baptismal covenant; and we have the statement signed by all ordinands that we "do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation.

And be it further Resolved, That we acknowledge the solemn responsibility placed upon us to share Christ with all persons when we hear His words, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6);

This, too, is covered in the Baptismal covenant, as well as in the welcome of the newly baptized: "We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood."* These words are affirmed at every Baptism and every renewal of Baptismal promises.

And be it further Resolved, That we affirm that in Christ there is both the substitutionary essence of the Cross and the manifestation of God's unlimited and unending love for all persons;

First, I don't have any idea what "substitutionary essence of the Cross" refers to.* "Substitutionary Atonement" is one interpretation of the doctrine of the Atonement, but not the only one. This "Resolved" should go to the House of Bishops Committee on Theology, not the Cognate Committee on Evangelism.* Regardless of the theological meaning of the words, the structure of the English sentence is very strange, since it suggests that the Cross alone accomplishes the Atonement and must logically be a person of the Trinity. In fact, Jesus is the one who accomplishes the Atonement on the Cross. He, not the cross, is the sacrifice. Jesus is God, not the cross on which he was crucified.* I think this particular "Resolved" is both bad English and bad theology.

And be it further Resolved, That we renew our dedication to be faithful witnesses to all persons of the saving love of God perfectly and uniquely revealed in Jesus and upheld by the full testimony of Scripture.

This final Resolved is covered in nearly every liturgy contained in the Book of Common Prayer.I ended by stating my embarrassment that anyone would introduce a debate on the substance of this resolution on the floor of the House of Deputies. The commitment to Jesus as Lord is not debatable, it is the foundation and first Creed of the Church since New Testament times. The House should discharge the Committee on Evangelism (and itself) from further consideration of this resolution because it has already been dealt with at previous General Conventions. Jesus is, and always has been, LORD.
[The Rev. Dr. Robert G. CertainDeputy, Diocese of San DiegoMember, the Cognate Committee on Evangelism]

Well done, Doctor.

Part III: Against Harmon's "Sex Without Form & Void"

It might surprise some on the Anglican right who wish to return to the BCP 1662 or at least the BCP 1928 (in part to remedy perceived excesses of GC 2003) that the Anglican tradition does not consider the procreative end necessary to the good of the marriage union, and so ends up ranking it below the unitive end. Fulfillment of the procreative end is conditional in the BCP 1662, not absolute, and therefore cannot be simply necessary to the marriage union. That my seem right, like plain good sense; of course good marriages may exist without children. Moreover--and this is my principal point--the priority of the unitive end, an end never conditional in the Anglican tradition, follows from biblical exegesis that takes Christ as the foundation for its interpretation rather than Genesis.

What of the Genesis texts themselves? Granted we should not start with Genesis unmoored from Christ, what might we learn looking at it through the Gospel lens of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ? After all, if Genesis must be read as inconsistent with my interpretation of the Bible on marriage and blessed unions, my interpretation is wrong. In sketching a reading of Genesis, I shall take contrast with Kendall Harmon's article here as a guide.

Harmon writes "In Genesis 2, since nothing else in all creation is fit for Adam, he is only fulfilled in community with another being like himself (Gen. 2:19–20)," continuing a line of interpretation that seems influenced by Barth. That is, Harmon thinks

First, God creates man in his own image as male and female. As Karl Barth comments, “Man never exists as such, but always as the human male or the human female. Hence in humanity, and therefore in fellow-humanity, the decisive, fundamental and typical question, normative for all other relationships, is that of the relationship in this differentiation” (Church Dogmatics, 1961, III.4, p. 117).

This reading of Genesis is transparently false--contrary to Harmon, and Harmon's Barth, Adam is not fulfilled in community with another being like himself, namely Eve--moreover, he cannot be fulfilled in community with another being like himself. Community with a mere creature like Eve cannot fulfill--such community can at best only contribute to fulfillment, and will always be insufficient. It's not that anything is wrong with Eve in particular, and that some other woman would have done better--Betty of Sally--or some male--Steve, say. Mere creatures of whatever species are simply the wrong type of beings for constituting a community within which Adam can find fulfillment.

Adam can only be fulfilled in community with Christ--of course; who would argue? And Christ, on an orthodox reading of Scripture, is fully human without being merely human. He is divine, the Word made flesh, who dwelt among us. His marriage with Eve will not in itself fulfill him, and no Christian today should go into a marriage thinking that the marriage of itself will fulfill; any marriage without Christ is utterly doomed. Whatever we make of the impetus and reason for marriage implicit in Elohim/YHWH's creating and joining Adam and Eve, we should not portray that reason as implying Adam and Eve in Eden could have lived in fulfillment of themselves.

Contrary to Harmon, the Edenic community of Adam and Eve constituted in marriage is insufficient of itself--and the drama of the Fall has as one of its points a portrayal of this insufficiency. Behind the command (NRSV) You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die is a recognition that Adam and Eve in Eden can sin, and that prevention of sin requires warning and external sanction (the threat of death--I mean to remind you of something). In short, Adam and Eve live in insecurity in Eden--their salvation is not assured within Eden, their ongoing life with God in Eden is not merely contingent, but separation is causally accessible to them from within that situation. Even apart from the Fall, the insufficency of the Edenic situation for humanity is implied in the Genesis narrative. What the Eschaton can supply is security missing in Eden, namely a condition within which separation from God is no longer causally accessible.

The insufficiency of Eden is perhaps point enough, but I wish to add another. When Genesis pronounces So God created humankind* in his image, in the image of God he created them;* male and female he created them, it should go without saying that the conjunction of male and female insufficiently images God. That is, there is more to the essence of God, to the very being of God, than any conjunction of male and female can actually show or express through their union. Any union of male and female will always fall infinitely short of the essence of God--of course, who would argue? For the union of male and female is a created union; God is the Creator. A creaturely union by its very nature falls short of its creator.

Contrary to Harmon's Barth, the union of male and female in marriage cannot serve as a norm for all other relationships. Without heavy qualification, such a thought is ridiculous: which marriage sets a norm for the Trinity? Which even could? Which sets a norm for Christ's eschatological union with the Church? Which even could?

What Harmon and Harmon's Barth give up--without much of a fight that I can see--in their reading of Genesis is what Christians should regard as most essential: the sufficiency of Christ. To Harmon, and anyone else who might be tempted by his misreadiong of Genesis, a lesson from Colossians:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in* him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in* him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

The true and sufficient image of God is not the married heterosexual couple, it is Christ. When the first married couple Adam and Eve took themselves from within their union as sufficient without God, they fell, they sinned. We should not under Harmon's guidance take them in Eden as a model. They rather model insufficiency, a part of all creation yet awaiting its true fulfillment, a fulfillment that can be found for us only in God for us, God made flesh, Jesus our Lord and Savior. We should not be tempted astray by other voices to follow other masters, bowing down before other images--all of that is apart from Christ, apart from the true image of God and the fullness of God, a way that leads of itself only to death.

Monday, August 21, 2006

A Brief Reply to Witt

Always hungry for some decent debate, I was pleased to see Dr. Witt reply at T19 to points raised from a piece I had written. I had said Genesis was the wrong place for a Christian to start in order to make sense of marriage and the blessing of unions; the right place to start was with Christ, specifically as revealed in Ephesians. Putting Christ at the foundation puts Genesis in its proper context. Witt objects (I've marked off separate points he makes with brackets not in his original):

[1] To play off the NT picture of Jesus against the creation accounts in the manner in which Scotist does is to veer toward Marcionism. The NT sees Jesus not in contrast to the OT, but in fulfillment of the OT. Among other images, the NT portrays redemption as a re-creation. Jesus Christ is the second Adam. The eschatological restoration of creation pointed to in Gen 1 & 2 is effected in Christ.
[2]Moreoever, the creation of humanity as male and female is considered normative for the Bible’s own understanding of the relationship between God and Israel, and Christ and the Church. Unlike pagan polytheisms where male gods had consorts, YHWH (who is portrayed as male, but is never pictured below the waist) has only one partner, Israel (who is portrayed as female). The Church is the bride (not the same-gender partner) of the male Christ.
The mistake Scotist makes is to abstract one dimension of Christian doctrine (the normativity of Christ’s person) from its narrative context. Certainly we start with Jesus, but there is no Jesus without Genesis. [3] The OT provides the indispensable hermeneutic for understanding who Jesus is (Christ’s person). In turn, we re-read the OT in light of its fulfillment in Jesus.
[4]So in terms of sexual ethics, there simply is no escape from the foundational texts of Gen. 1-3.
[5]Scotist misreads Barth as engaging in some kind of “natural theology.” Based on the reality of gender complementarity, we arrive at an ethic. To the contrary, Barth is engaging in theology in the classical sense, Fides quaerens intellctum (faith seeking understading). In light of what the texts actually say, Barth then reflects on the theological implications of the sexual complementarity that the texts consider normative.

Whoa there--what's that? I've misread Barth? Perish the thought! In response to Witt's [5], I agree Barth is not doing natural theology. In fact, I do not think my argument makes any reference to or use of natural theology, or even historical criticism. Rather, I think Barth messed up the narrative by starting with Genesis rather than Jesus. That's all--Barth simply told the story wrong.

Note, contrary to Witt's [1]: to insist on telling the story with Jesus at the foundation as the starting point is not to reject the OT after the fashion of Marcion. The OT remains wholly valid, fulfilled in the coming of Jesus. Agreed, up to a point.

The validity of the Pauline figure of Christ as second Adam does not imply an eschatological "recreation" of the situation of Eden, as Witt seems to point out in his [1] above, for the simple reason that--by orthodox lights at least--the security necessary to the eschaton was missing in Eden. And you need only look around to appreciate the difference that makes. Whatever Gen. 1 & 2 point to in Christ, it goes beyond Witt's "restoration." This is significant for pointing out the insuffiency of the Edenic situation; it cannot stand as a starting point for the fact it does not show the ending point adequately--and this inadequacy is built into the Genesis narrative from the very point of insecurity it raises. The Genesis narrative points beyond itself from within itself, and to point out what it intimates is Christ is no betrayal of that narrative, but rather its truth.

Witt's [2] is interesting, but I am not sure what the import of it all is. Surely Christ is not merely portrayed as male--he is male, flesh and blood. Moreover, the Church portrayed as female is in reality a community of flesh and blood males and females. Witt seems to ignore (in gnostic fashion?) the implications of our sexed corporeality at the eschaton. Hand-waving aside, it is inescapable: a male will end up joined with another male in the very eschatological relationship after which marriage here below is to be modeled.

I agree wholly with his point at [3] above, but fail to see what difference it makes for his case.

Likewise, I agree with his [4]--we cannot escape from Genesis. My point is merely that we should not start there.

I think he believes there is no way I can plausibly assimilate Genesis; in effect, he is issuing a challenge: he may be thinking that given what I wish to do by starting with Christ seen by Paul, I have to drop Genesis altogether. OK, good--but that is simply to say I have some more work to do, not that the work cannot be done.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Part II: Against Harmon's "Sex Without Form & Void"

The notion that the eschatological union of Christ and the church is normative for marriage is hardly a merely liberal reading of Paul; Edith Humphrey (who occupies the board of the ACI) starts off making the same point about the meaning of marriage near the opening her contribution to The Homosexuality Debate. Nor is it merely an oddity of Paul's theology. For example, recall the import of John 1, controlling our understanding of marriage with its bold assertion that we were created to be adopted by God (NRSV): 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. Marriage taken simply of itself has no ultimate meaning; any ultimate goodness it possesses it has only as a means. This should hardly come as a surprise; I take it to be common ground in our disagreements over same sex unions.

But then I have trouble making sense of Harmon here:
First, it [marriage] is a relationship intended for procreation (Gen. 1:26,27: “Be fruitful and multiply. . . . ”). Second, this union is planned for mutual joy and comfort (Gen. 2:25, where there is the shared openness and intimacy of being “both naked and unashamed”). Third, the new community is designed for pleasure (the “one flesh” of Gen. 2:24), the erotic love that is celebrated in the Song of Solomon. The language of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer reflects some of this perspective:
The union of husband and wife in heart, body and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord (p. 423).

You'll have to look hard to find the Pauline understanding of marriage's telos in either Harmon's words above, or--I am ashamed to say--in the words of the BCP '79. True, the BCP '79 goes on to offer an option of explicit reference to Paul's understanding of marriage's end in the Prayers and the Blessing:

Make their life together a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful
and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement,
forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair.

O God, you have so consecrated the covenant of marriage
that in it is represented the spiritual unity between Christand his Church....

Moreover, the key Ephesians passage can be read as part of the Ministry of the Word.

Note that while some type of unity is implied by reference to the shared intimacy of mutual joy and comfort, that unity need not be taken to imply any special relation to Christ, much less to one between Christ and the Church. Indeed, one may be left with the impression from Genesis 1:24-8 either that the unitive end of marriage constitutes a good of itself--which is clearly false from an orthodox Christian perspective--or, equally false, that the unitive end is not primary. A proper Christian canonical reading of Genesis should not leave gratuitous and misleading theological danglers like this, as if Genesis is properly read sundered.

The BCP does not make the procreative end of marriage primary or even necessary for a good marriage--hence the conditional wording "when it is God's will." Rather, the BCP seems to make the unitive end primary and necessary, and granting our reading of the Pauline and Johannine Scriptures, we should agree this is correct. In effect, the BCP '79 sets out common ground for debate between the right and the left on same sex unions. We should ask first and foremost whether they are consistent with the Scriptural unitive end of marriage.

If so, it is not correct to say as Harmon does that "marriage is a relationship intended for procreation" and leave it on equal ground with (an inchoate version) of the unitive end. For that would imply, given Harmon's subsequent quote from Stott, marriage apart from procreative intention is necessarily immoral and forbidden to Christians. Stott is quoted writing this:

Scripture envisages no other kind of marriage or sexual intercourse, for God provided no alternative. Christians should not therefore single out homosexual intercourse for special condemnation. The fact is that every sexual relationship or act which deviates from God’s intention is ipso facto displeasing to him and under his judgment.

Harmon's is not the traditional Anglican understanding of marriage. The BCP 1662 provides a blessing for the woman past child bearing, in which it is said:
O God, who hast consecrated the state of Matrimony to such an excellent mystery, that in it is signified and represented the spiritual marriage and unity betwixt Christ and his Church,
an end also part of marriage in the BCP 1662 where the woman can bear children:

DEARLY beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man's innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church


First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name. Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ's body. Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined.

Thus, the BCP 1662 does not envision the procreative end (referred to in the bold-faced passage above) as necessary to marriage, whereas every marriage must satisfy the unitive end, which is treated as sufficient without the procreative end. Even going back behind the BCP '79 to the BCP 1662 will not secure a theology implying the necessity of the procreative end for marriage. Starting with the texts of the New Covenant gives the proper theological context for explaining why this is so. Beginning with Genesis does not, and as we have seen, even misleads.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Part I: Against Harmon's "Sex Without Form & Void"

Kendall Harmon wrote a theological piece relevant to the current unpleasantness in TEC in the 1990s, from which he made this exerpt at Titusonenine. The exerpt preserves the core of his argument in that piece for maintaining official policies faithful to the biblical norms regarding homosexuality, as he put it.

Of special interest are some of his premises. He writes Where the discussion starts [in Scripture] is crucial--and I have to agree. Our starting point will likely affect how we read other biblical texts, providing a focus for subsequent interpretation. A small error at the beginning, a wrong choice of focus, and the rest of the effort may well be wasted no matter how closely and carefully argued. Harmon seems to cite Don Williams approvingly, according to whom When turning to the Bible for its understanding of homosexuality we must not jump in at any point which we choose. We must begin where the Bible itself begins: “In the beginning God . . . ” Harmon is not alone in taking Genesis as a starting point; no less an authority than Karl Barth does so, and this type of move is common among opponents of same sex blessings.

Nevertheless, he has the wrong starting point--Genesis will not serve. If our reading of Genesis is to be normative among Christians, it should start with the revelation of the Person of Christ in Scripture. This is not a trivial point that one may nod away before returning to Genesis. A firmer hold on the revelation of the Person of Christ would keep us from Barth's error in the passage Harmon cites, where (Church Dogmatics, 1961, III.4, p. 117) Barth says

Man never exists as such, but always as the human male or the human female. Hence in humanity, and therefore in fellow-humanity, the decisive, fundamental and typical question, normative for all other relationships, is that of the relationship in this differentiation.

Note Barth's unfortunate use of "all." While that is a reasonable impression starting from Genesis, we should know better as Christians. In particular, the relationship in sexual differentiation cannot be fundamental for all other relationships into which humans enter. It cannot be normative for and fundamental in respect to the eschatological relationship between a Christian and Christ, or for that matter a Christian and the Father, or--stretching things for some nodoubt--the relationship between a Christian and an angel.

This, I take it, is what the author of Ephesians takes for granted:

For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, 30because we are members of his body.* 31‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ 32This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church.

The mysterious eschatological union of Christ and the church is normative for marriage. The Word left the Father to be joined with us, to become one with us, the church. That pattern of action is a model for human marriage, though the eschatological union of Christ and the church is not human marriage.

I would have liked to take it as a given among Christians that all merely human relationships answer to another type of relationship altogether, that between a mere human and God--not only with respect to their very being, but also with respect to what they should be. But that is not Harmon's starting point--and the consequences, as I shall argue, are profound.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

True or False?

What do you think? I propose:

(1) The one, holy, catholic and apostolic church has over most of its history knowingly ordained sexually active homosexuals.

(a) Indeed, the church may have ordained all manner of persons--patricides, kleptomaniacs, string fetishists. But of none of them could we make an assertion parallel to (1); they appear among the ordained, but with nowhere near a comparable frequency. Remember, I'm talking "knowingly" here.

(b) The church did so knowingly, even if officially disapproving. Prima facie, the church has a long history of hypocrisy around ordaining sexually active homosexuals. But an apologist for the church might reply "So what? Over most of the church's history, this was not widely known. It could be, and was, kept on the DL."

(c) "Sexually active" does not imply intercourse.

Now here is the kicker:

(2) The church will continue through most of its future history ordaining sexually active homosexuals.

How do I know? I am guessing, but I have some evidence. Despite protestations to the contrary, I bet the Church of England's stand on civil unions for gay priests institutionalizes the practice described in (2). Nor do I think the Roman Catholic Church will defrock its sexually active gay ordained. Here the church has a tradition--an immoral tradition, one that should not stand, but most likely will stand until Christ returns in Glory--of tolerating a contradiction between praxis and theory. Pious platitudes aside, this rank hypocrisy is a "fact on the ground" that you may, if you wish, chalk up to the hardness of our hearts.

But above all, you should keep (1) and (2) in mind when pious purple shirts proclaim brave new worlds of purity--whether speaking from Pittsburgh or Lagos or Canterbury. They are all of them already implicated; they will--I bet you, gentle reader--not repent. They could, you know, adopt either a tolerant stand, roughly with TEC and Canada, or they could bring back an Inquisition aimed at rooting out all sexually active homosexual priests and bishops. And remember, they will not just be looking for intercourse--unless we're friends of Bill, sex includes a little more than that. Indeed, I bet at the end of the day, precious few, if any, homosexual ordained would truly count as sexually inactive.

It seems to me that either stand is morally consistent, at least, even if the prospect of a new Inquisition aimed directly at sexually active homosexual priests and bishops is odious. But genuine Christian sobriety cannot know any other way. Tolerance--pastoral or doctrinal, as you will--or the Inquisition. I bet we shall see neither in the upcoming months and years. The real "Anglican Fudge"--alas--will be an altogether predictable survival of ecclesial hypocrisy, with Rowan Willaims leading the way.