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.


At 11:40 AM, Blogger Closed said...


I'm sending you an email with some thoughts.

At 10:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Christopher and Scotist, I'm hoping you'll post those thoughts here. I've been reading your work with a great deal of interest lately.

At 2:01 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Fighting the good fight on T19, at least for a while:

Let's see where this goes.

At 6:43 PM, Blogger Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

In addition, of course, making eschatological sense out of marriage is made all the more difficult by Jesus assurance that those worthy of the age to come do not marry. In short, contrary to William Witt's assertion that the eschaton reestablishes Eden, it is altogether something new. Why? Jesus tells us, 'They cannot die any more.' Ergo no need for procreation, no need for marriage. This is why for Jesus the primary sign of the eschaton is not marriage, but celibacy!

At 10:15 AM, Blogger Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I neglected to add... lest it seem I think procreation is the sole purpose for marriage and the end for a need for procreation is in itself sufficient to end marriage: the other ends of marriage are also realized in the eschaton --- unity and joy. After all, this is the telos for the Christian soul: to know and love God and enjoy God for ever.

At 3:45 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Ah, thanks Tobias for your endurance; I had lost interest in the T19 thread, and neglected to see Witt had a point. The idea that the eschaton reestablishes Eden is--I agree--silly. I think that when a guy of Witt's talent has to say such silly things to carry his case, it is a sign he really does not have much of substance to say--and maybe that not much can be said for his conclusion, period.


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