Friday, August 31, 2007

Non Sequitur

These two assertions recently made in First Things seem to encapsulate at least some of the virulent conviction behind the march of the "Global South" toward separation.

First, this:

The tepid response to Williams’ Lambeth invitations has already shown how and why this will work—hundreds of Anglican bishops will simply decide that Lambeth is not worth going to since no one is required to abide by its decisions.

I think the author, Jordan Hylden, is not alone in his misconception of Lambeth's role in the Anglican Communion. It has never had the power to make any decisions that its members were "required to abide by." True, select parts of Lambeth 1998's 1.10 have been specially singled out and treated as if members were required to uphold them, but this is sheer opportunistic novelty. A new party--the right-wing evangelical "Global South"--came to power in the Communion, and liked it enough to unilaterally but tacitly re-define the authority of Lambeth in practice to suit its interests. Because it wanted to and it could.

There's more:

Like any group lacking authority, Anglicanism thereafter will break apart into several factions.

He means "like any group lacking authority to require members to abide by its pronouncements"--which may seem to contradict his earlier assertion. How could it lack what it has? But nevermind; the larger issue is his assumption that group unity demands that kind of power.

It didn't have that kind of power for more than a century (from 1867), but Lambeth stuck together nonetheless.

Now that such power is sought, the Communion is about to come apart. One might wonder whether it is precisely the fact that such power is sought that is helping cause the Communion disintegrate. After all, the Global South "prosecution" is the faction pushing disintegration hardest, and this is the very faction that seemed most to want Lambeth to have more power.

Is there a connection? I venture to say so. It is as if having tasted power, the GS faction wants more, and is almost convinced it can have as much as it likes, that maybe there need be no limits in Anglican tradition to what it can get away with, or atleast none it is obligated to respect. Its will in this regard is the law.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Roughly Where We (sc. U.S. Citizens) Stand

The Baltimore Declaration Revisited

In the current unpleasantness afflicting the Anglican Communion, it is all too easy to interpret opponents as having no strong points to make at all, as being roughly analogous to the Amakelites from whom the nascent Israelites were to take no goods or prisoners whatsoever. That brutal attitude fits with the profusion of Eliminationist Rhetoric, an easy temptation as lines harden and form walls. So, I figured it might be a good idea to pause and look over one of the Anglican right's earlier attempts to address what it saw as serious trouble in the Episcopal Church: the Baltimore Declartation (1991). Of its signers, I only recognize the name of Alvin Kimel, who is no longer Episcopalian and used to run the Pontifications site. However, the document was an occasion for other reflections, namely those of Reclaiming Faith (1993), a collection of essays penned by more familiar players: Radner, Seitz, Turner, Reno, Sumner, Yeago, Charry, et al.

I. What We Have in Common
How much common ground do I have with the Baltimore Declaration? Well, I find it hard to see exactly why it was controversial. I must be missing something.

It seems to me that most Epipscopalians who are willing to go along with GC2003 would approve of most if not all of the Baltimore Declaration. The only sense I can make of its being controversial is that its authors were in fact engaging with a very vocal minority in high positions around the Episcopal Church. In their minds, that vocal minority may have included people who would sympathize with Spong or Pike and were ready to use their institutional power to spread Spong or Pike-like positions wider in the Episcopal Church, making them normative in time. So it did not matter if in fact the targets of the Declaration were at the time just a minority; the worry was that this minority would surely become a ruling majority, making its noxious brand of unorthodoxy dominant. From such a perspective, GC2003 would have confirmed the worry: a terminal endpoint had been reached.

For instance, I agree with these parts of the Declaration, going from the summaries in boldface at the end of each numbered section:

I (Jesus "definitively and uniquely" reveals God, whom should not stop referring to as Father, Son, an Holy Spirit--and we should not apply titles of our own making to God)
II (monism and deism are false)
IV (humanity needs the salvation that comes uniquely from the Cross and Resurrection)
VII (one should not replace Scriptural content with secular, let historical criticism/the Jesus Seminar tell the Church who Jesus is and what he wants from us, or forbid the Church from a messianic reading of the OT)

Yes, even (I) has a feminist-friendly reading, and does not rule out Scriptural titles and images(like "Mother" or "Creator" and "Sustainer"). (IV) is soft enough to admit inclusivism. (VII) does not actually reject historical criticism.

I, II, IV, and VII need no significant modification in my view. Minor modifications are needed in these following articles, but their drift apart from the gaffes is right in my opinion:

VI (misogyny is wrong and anti-Biblical, and it is false that the Father as "Father" is inaccessible/unavailable to women)
V (anti-Semitism is wrong and anti-Biblical, but Jews still need Jesus and need to have jesus preached to them)

The failings of V and VI are similar, in that they are relatively ahistorical, failing to take account of certain ugly facts on the ground. V does not say enough about how the Gospel should be preached given the history of Christian anti-Semitism with a Biblical foundation: we should at least acknowledge and take responsibility for the fact Scripture and Christian tradition has lent itself to misinterpretation along anti-Semitic lines. Moreover, I wonder if the drift of V means to rule out inclusivism.

Likewise, VI does not seem to acknowledge that women may not be able to approach God as Father, even if logically it remains legitimate and called for in the Church for God to be named Father, etc. VI thus contians a weird a priori principle singling out women (might men have a similar problem?) and ruling out the possibility of human weakness or affliction among them around the issus of how we refer to God. On the face of it, VI seems perilously close to self-contradiction.

The only article that seems to me totally wrong is III, which says Jesus is the whole revelation of God and there is no other revelation of God from which we may gain knowledge of him. That seems unintentionally to rule out the OT being a revelation from God to Israel that gave them knowledge of God; surely it is just such a revelation.

Moreover, it seems intentionally to rule out natural theology altogether, in effect elevating submission to Barth's methodology as a condition of faith. That's just silly. III needs to be qualified at least to permit the OT's being a revelation prior to Christ and to permit natural theology.

Still, a solid core of the declaration (I, II, IV, VII) seems to survive intact, and other bits (V, VI) need only small modifcations. That is alot of common ground. Of course I may be wrong, but I bet most of the Episcopal Church is with me on this. You might think in spite of GC2003, we should be able to get along. Why not?

II. Deeper Differences
The Baltimore Declaration did not put down the most important principles governing separatist opposition to GC2003; it tells only part of the story. Among the most important of the missing:

Christians are obligated to break communion with material heretics, i.e. those sincerely mistaken about the faith.

Sometimes I wonder whether this is among them:

There is no distinction between material and formal heresy; any mistake about the faith is sin implying broken communion.

There is no room for an error in the new Anglican Communion of the separatists. The fact that GC2003 acted bona fide, sincerely, to the best of its ability and knowledge, having discharged epistemic responsibilities is of no importance. I think those principles are false; the Scriptural evidence for them is insufficient--and I think much of the Episcopal Church recognizes their falsehood.

Of course, those rules are impossible for the Church to live by. The separatist camp includes factions with incompatible accounts of the faith who have agreed to put aside their differences for pragmatic ends. In reality, then, the principes should be something like:

Christians are obligated to break communion with material heretics only if they are from the Episcopal Church and against separation; any mistake about the faith is a sin only for an Episcopalian against separation.

Of course, viewed in the light that way, these principles are ridiculous. The separatist movement afoot in the Anglican Communion seems not rooted in the faith of the Creeds and catholic Christianity, but a morally indefensible mean-spritedness incompatible with Scripture. Am I wrong? As I said before, I must be missing something. No?

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Danger of Nihilism in Brothers Minns & Akinola's Letter (somewhat pretentious biretta tip to Brother Milbank)

As you may well know, Akinola's latest missive seems to have been penned in part by Virginia's own import, Bishop Marty Minns.

I advocated the HoB affirm Minola's (as Minns and Akinola seem to be speaking in one voice for now) list of bona fides--but this elicited a well-founded worry that the HoB would be leaving itself vulnerable to the anti-Anglican Communion interpretation of the Minolans.

My response:

The problem for the Minolans is that the decoder ring for Minola's list doesn't come in the Bible box.

It seems the Bible needs the Church, the Spirit moving in the work (liturgy, esp. Eucharistic and Baptismal) of her people, if the Bible is to even approach the significance God intends.

That implies one must go outside the Bible to make sense of what is in the Bible. But--alas--any evidence at this point will underdetermine theory. That means authority will be necessary for Minola to single out which interpretations, which compromises, which equivocations, and which silences about tough texts are permitted and which are not. I.e.: they may be tempted to an exclusivist decoding of Scripture.

The church has to take stands on the basis of underdetermined theory--it is unavoidable. That's fine if it is ready to be always reformed and reforming: if it is ready to be corrected in the Spirit and repent.

But Minola might be tempted instead to Eliminationist Rhetoric--the kind of rhetoric they(?) have used before: TEC et al are a cancer, to be cut off and burned; TEC are not merely erring Christians but not Christian at all; etc. That rhetoric does not call for Separation alone, but a more extreme Solution: Separate and Destroy. The thing speaks for itself, as we have seen the Chapman Memo strategy unfold even as assorted conservative resisters said it wouldn't.

An exclusivist decoding in any terms--conservative or liberal--is an exercise in sheer assertion of Created will over against that of the Creator--Who knew we could never comprehend Him.

The sheer assertion of Will, along the lines of a fiat "Let it mean what we say it means" is an exercise backed by Nothing (what can we really be apart from God?); and the fervent advocacy of sheer will backed by Nothing is merest Nihilism: the impossible attempt to Reduce the Creator to the plane of the Created.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


With a very minor change, the U.S. House of Bishops should immediately affirm every one of these points in its September meeting, post Williams:

a. The Authority and Supremacy of Scripture.
b. The Doctrine of the Trinity
c. The person, work and resurrection of Jesus the Christ
d. The acknowledgement of Jesus as Divine and the One and only means of salvation
e. The doctrines of sin, forgiveness, reconciliation, and transformation by the Holy Spirit through Christ.
f. The sanctity of marriage and teaching about morality that is rooted in the Bible.

And not on my say-so alone. These points are taken, of course, from the new, revised, standard version of Akinola's latest missive (to his own bishops ostensibly). [Update: Who knew this toothless, awkward missive was mostly the work of Brother Minns? How long do you suppose Minns has played Rove to Akinola? I for one am less than shocked.]

The minor change? There is no mention of Jesus' full humanity. Points (b), (c), (d) and (e) make Jesus' full divinity amply clear, but lest the document seem crypto-Gnostic or quasi-Apollinarian, we should amend it minimally so as to make clear the full humanity of Christ--which in the Spirit of Charity we should take Akinola[/Minns] to have intended.

Anyhow, shouting loudly that they accede to each of these points, the bishops could make clear how much common ground actually remains between the so-called GS and the rest of the Anglican Communion, audacious propaganda aside.

If someone wants to then dispute the bishops' sincerity, that soul shall have to make clear more is meant than appears on the little list. What more is meant, whatever it is, should have an opportunity to come out of the darkness and into the light.

If the HoB proclaimed these points, and nobody stepped into the breach to say with cogency "Why, it just can't be so!" then post 9/30 hysteria will appear--and in fact become--quite irrational. Akinola[/Minns], has, in spite of himself one fears, given the HoB a wonderful present.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Just Wondering about GC2003...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Gagnon II: Jesus (An Exercise in Deconstruction)


In his Intro, Gagnon writes

The focus of this book on same -sex intercourse or homosexual practice as opposed to homosexual orientation is a reflection of the Bible's own relative disinterest toward motives or the origination of same-sex impulses. What matters is not what urges individuals feel but what they do with these urges, both in their fantasy life and in their conrete actions. (p. 37-8)

Gagnon here is saying the feeling or desire for SSI is not itself sinful--it is not "what matters"--according to the Bible. The Bible, Gagnon seems to be saying, is focused on deliberate actions both internal, e.g. having to do with "fantasy life", and external.

He sounds here a bit like those who stress the distinction between those who are chaste homosexuals and active homosexuals, and who then go on to say only the active homosexuals are sinful--on account of acting on their desires. For instance, you might hear someone say it's not ordaining a homosexual that is wrong, but ordaining an active homosexual.

It is no wonder, then, Gagnon says

It is questionable whether Jesus thought 'committing adultery in one's heart' was as serious an offense as 'commiting adultery in one's body' (the implied parallel). (p. 207)

Jesus, especially in Matthew, threatens to undermine Gagnon's focus on deliberate action "with his stress on interior attitude" (p. 206). As Gagnon notes in the course of criticizing "the myth" of a "sexually tolerant Jesus",

On matters relating to sexual ethics, Jesus often adopted stricter, not more lenient demands than most other views of his time....his expectations regarding sexual purity, in some respects at least, exceeded the expectations of both the Torah and of traditions prevailing in Jesus' day. (p. 197)

Jesus seems to point out (e.g. Matt, 5:27-8; 23:25-6; Mark 7:15; Luke 11:39-41, cited by Gagnon on pp. 205-6) that being perfect and holy as our heavenly Father is perfect and holy extends beyond getting the actions right and obeying rules; Jesus calls on "interior attitudes" to be perfect and holy as well. That's not to say obeying getting action right is unnecessary; rather, it is insufficient.

Thus, in light of Jesus' stringent conception of righteousness, Gagnon's focus--announced in the Intro--on practice and action just does not go far enough. The mere feeling or desire for SSI, construed as an "interior attitude", should count as sin by Jesus' criteria if indeed homosexual action is sinful. Of course, Gagnon shows little sign of equivocating on his opinion that homosexual action--interior or exterior--is sinful. Maybe the internal sin is not as severe on Gagnon's account as the external, but it is a sin nevertheless.

What's the trouble for Gagnon--aside the merely formal one of a minor inconsistency? So what? After all, on its face Gagnon's inconsistency could hardly comfort partisans of GC2003.

Well, I think it shows that given Gagnon's reading of the Bible, the distinction between "homosexual" and "active homosexual" is indefensible in our argument about the sinfulness of homosexuality.

Some of those upholding the distinction have said the inactive homosexual could count as "chaste" by refraining from homosexual practice. But I think on Gagnon's reading of the synoptic Jesus we may see why this is to no avail: from Jesus we hear (on Gagnon's reading) that even homosexual interior attitudes can count as sinful regardless of chastity with regard to practice. Action's not required for sin. Or, harsher: the inactive/active homosexual distinction is merely political, without Scriptural theological integrity.

Well, where is the problem in all this for Gagnon? "So much the worse for gays" you might say.
The problem for Gagnon emerges from the moral equivalence between gay desire and other states of sin that follows on both (1) Gagnon's premise that the Bible unequivocally regards homosexual practice as sinful and (2) the rejection of a relevant distinction between active and inactive homosexuals. That is, gay desire emerges as sinful in itself, regardless of interior or exterior action; in effect, no state of "gay desire" is permissible.

In this regard--for a more consistent Gagnon--being in a state of gay desire is worse than being in a state of adulterous heterosexual desire. The adulterer can repent by, say, following Paul's advice and directing the same type of desire toward a spouse, in which case the desire ceases to be sinful. Gagnon cannot say such an expedient is open to homosexuals. Gay desire--let alone action--emerges as bad through and through, like the lust to commit murder, desire to torture innocents or desire to commit pederasty. Thus, Gagnon is committed, whether he likes it or not, to (A):

If one is in a state of gay desire, one sins for that reason alone.

Here things get interesting. Many of those sympathetic with GC2003 do not buy into (A) at all, on grounds of experience. They may know gay couples or have homosexual relatives, and on that basis have a very hard time seeing how mere gay desire itself is sinful; they discern the effects of the Spirit rather than the effects of sarx in the Christian lives of ther gay comrades. That is, they attest to the truth of (B):

There are persons in states of gay desire who do not sin for that reason alone.

What is so interesting about (B), I think, is that one can gather up as evidence for it observations from the lives of chaste homosexuals. In effect, (B) offers the prospect of strong-arming certain critics of GC2003 into compliance, provided their respect for logical consistency. The chaste homosexual on (A) is sinful just as the active homosexual is--chastity makes no relevant difference. Surely, however, those conservatives who extolled the option of chastity for homosexuals left open the real possibility of their exhibiting effects of the Spirit from being in their chaste state--otherwise they would not have left open the option. That is, conservatives who extolled chastity would have to agree with (B) just as much as partisans of GC2003 would.

Of course, (A) and (B) are logically inconsistent; given (B), (A) cannot be true. From the falsehood of (A), it follows that interior states of homosexual desire are not sinful in themselves. What else do you suppose follows?

Consider (C):

If an action following on a type of desire is sinful, then the type of desire is sinful.

I think Gagnon's treatment of Jesus gave us strong reasons to assent to (C). But we have just seen that (A) is false, implying that homosexual desire is not sinful in itself. It follows, with (C), that homosexual action following on homosexual desire is not--for that reason alone--sinful.

The permissibilty of homosexual practice follows from Gagnon's reflections on Jesus, though Gagnon did not see this, and he would not--I gather from his recent critique of the Lutherans--assent peacefully to my reasoning.

To review the argument concisely:

Gagnon is compelled to hold(A): If one is in a state of gay desire, one sins for that reason alone. For, as his exposition of the synoptic Jesus on sexual morality turned up, textual considerations support (C): If an action following on a type of desire is sinful, then the type of desire is sinful.

But experience yields up good reasons for (B): There are persons in states of gay desire who do not sin for that reason alone. Gagnon admits the validity of evidence from experience, as we saw earlier: sound Biblical interpretation should not contradict what is known from experience.

But (B) and (A) are inconsistent, implying that (A) is false as we hold (B) true.

Moreover, given (B), homosexual desire in itself is not sinful. Thus, from (C) it follows homosexual practice is not sinful from its being homosexual alone.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Gagnon I: Introduction

Robert Gagnon's The Bible and Homosexual Practice is probably the gold standard for resistance to blessing same sex unions and ordaining actively homosexual clergy in mainstream Christianity in the U.S. I emphasize "mainstream": by no credible stretch does Gagnon write as a fundamentalist reader of Scripture. For instance, speaking of assessing the Bible's credibility on homosexuality, Gagnon wishes to bring "the witness of nature" and "arguments from the realm of experience, reason, and science" in to join "the revelatory authority of the Bible" elevated "above all" (p. 41). It seems then Gagnon's is a text TEC should be focused on engaging in detail--if for no other reason than ecumenical interest. I would wager many intellectuals sympathetic with the Anglican "Global South" coalition are at least familiar with readings such as Gagnon's; the fact there has been little high-profile, public engagement is a lost opportunity for us--and for them.

The latter part of his Intro sets up his two theses (p. 37), roughly:

T1: Good evidence indicates the Bible unequivocally regards same-sex intercourse [SSI] as sin.

T2: There is no sound interpretation of the Bible or reason from science or experience for overriding the Bible's stand that SSI is sinful.

It's good to see Gagnon distinguish in T1 and T2 the issue of what the Bible most likely says about X and whether it is nevertheless credible about X. He does not make much of the distinction, but it shows again that he is'nt interpreting and arguing as a fundamentalist--who would likely not recognize the distinction. By seeing an issue here, Gagnon in effect sets a minimal standard for argument; i.e. it is not enough merely to show T1 is true to show an obligation against SSI.

His distinction clears some air, as it leaves an argument to be made for T2 by recognizing prima facie some things the Bible clearly says might not be binding if reasons from science or experience can be found to override them. That is, perhaps the authority of Scripture is not behind everything that the Bible clearly says, and we have an obligation to discern where Scripture carries authority given that "everywhere" is inadmissible. There is a good deal of circumspect good sense in accepting his distinction up-front, for church history is littered with accomodations of what the Bible says to what we seem to otherwise know (issues around Moses' authorship, moving the Sabbath around, geocentric cosmology, usury and divorce come to mind), and some of these accomodations may be permanent even if questionable--like the church's toleration of and participation in usury. But evaluating the church's manifold accomodations is another issue for another day.


I wish to draw your attention to a couple interesting points in Gagnon's Intro. First, notice his heavy stress on the complementarity of males and females; it is a cornerstone of his case in general:

A major aim of this book is to lift up in a more rigorous and scholarly way than has been done till now the argument of the complementarity of male and female in material creation as a key argument in Judeo-Christian opposition to same-sex intercourse. (p. 40)

He is not at all alone among contemporary Christian ethicists in taking this approach to evaluating the permissibility of SSI. Nevertheless, it is curious that he should stress this. Even granting that the Bible has such an argument in what it clearly says, it would not be binding on us unless it is compatible with our science and experience--and this on his own terms.

One might worry straight off that his approach will be hampered by considerations like this:

1. Complementarity requires an irreducible teleological orientation between the sexes.

2. An irreducible teleological orientation between the sexes is incompatible with our biological science.

Thus, 3. Complementarity is incompatible with our biological science.

Barring invocation of faith-based biology, he might have a problem here, as his case seems committed to a prima facie dubious conception of human biology.


What does "SSI" cover? Not just sexual intercourse, apparently, but for Gagnon "homosexual practice" (p. 37). What counts as sexual intercourse is fairly clear, but what counts as homosexual practice can get rather murky--hand holding? A longing gaze? A too-passionate kiss? Thoughts of homosexual sexual intercourse? Yet he clearly means to invoke the wider notion of homosexual practice. That may present a problem.

To see the problem, ask why, finally, Gagnon thinks SSI (widely contrued as homosexual practice) is forbidden; Gagnon is not as clear as he should have been, I fear. On the one hand, it seems that the moral issue might be disobedience, regardless of effects. Hence:

Thus same sex intercourse constitutes an inexcusable rebellion against the intentional design of the created order. (p. 37)

In that case, even if all the effects of SSI in every case were good, SSI would still be forbidden inasmuch as the act of SSI is morally vitiated by rebellion against God's will. What matters on this way of seeing things, morally speaking, is God's will. Gagnon would seem to be voicing a species of divine command theory.

But then, on the other hand, it seems Gagnon thinks SSI's deleterious effects are behind its being forbidden:

It degrades its participants when they disregard nature's obvious clues, and results in destructive consequences for them as well as for society as a whole. (p. 37)

Is this a kind of consequentialism about SSI? If SSI had good effects overall, would it be permitted? It is hard to see what makes SSI wrong from Gagnon's point of view; is it rebellion? Or are bad effects also needed in some measure? Very tentatively, I venture on Gagnon's behalf to say it is rebellion that makes SSI wrong; bad effects are strictly speaking unnecessary--for Gagnon, but they serve rather as signs enabling us to discover where there is rebellion. In other words, bad effects do not make an act wrong, but show that it is wrong. Gagnon seems to have a tacit principle in mind like this:

(P) Wherever there is rebellion against God's order, bad consequences follow.

The problem with this, it seems to me, is that SSI widely construed might not have bad effects at all. That is, it is possible that SSI widely construed excludes actual intercourse, or any kind of penetrative sex. In that case, although presumably rebellion would still obtain, it seems much more difficult to say bad consequences would follow. In effect, application to SSI widely construed makes (P) seem false, or at least rather dubious.