The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Discerning Development

It is frequently suggested (see, e.g. ), that those who argue that the Church is morally required to modify its view on homosexual relationships are really replacing Christianity with a new religion, that they are willing--even eager--to discard traditional theology and Biblical Christianity in toto and replace it with an ethic of niceness combined with a social services agenda--that they are merely caregivers in cassocks. (Not all who hold this view are conservatives; Rumpole creator John Mortimer is known for his depictions of clergy as "wet" liberals with no real faith in God, from his Paradise Postponed (1986) to The Prince of Darkness (1978)).

While there may be some who really believe in the jettisoning of the Incarnation, Resurrection, and other foundational beliefs, I am, simply, not one of them. Not at all. My analysis is based within a traditional creedal Christianity, and I accept that Richard Hooker's "three strand cord" or "three-legged stool" does not equate Scripture, Reason and Tradition, but requires Reason and Tradition to be used in interpreting Scripture, within Scripture's purview, defined by Hooker as "Matters of fayth, and in generall matters necessarie unto salvation ." (Lawes III, quoted in Wm. Harrison, "Prudence and Custom: Revisiting Hooker on Authority, Fall 2002 Angl. Theol. rev., archived here: Hooker notably distinguishes between matters of faith and custom, including in the latter questions of Church governance--thus, the Anglican Communion has been able to reconcile a growing role for women despite Paul's discomfort with women speaking in Church in 1 Cor. 11, 14. (Of course, there is a strong rear-guard refusing to recognize ordinantion of women in an exercise of a rather simplistic Biblical literalism, but they are truly a rearguard).

Likewise, Charles Gore, in his essay "The Holy Spirit and Inspiration," in Lux Mundi argues that inspiration does not result in a line-by-line, unambiguous perfection of text, subject to simple application to real-life issues, but requires a careful perusal of all the Scripture in light of the level of theologiocal and/or historical understanding of the time of writing. Add to that the statement in John 16:12, and St. Paul's own warning, that perfect understanding is not ours yet, and what has been called a "clobber verse" approach is revealed as too literalistic and crude to provide an answer to the question.

So, I would use Reason and Tradition to seek to understand the Pauline prohibition of homosexual behavior. I would also view it in the light of two sayings, one of Jesus, and one by Paul himself: First, Jesus's statement that "By their fruit shall ye know them"(Matt 7:16), and second, Paul's own statement that "the letter killeth but the spirit giveth life" (2 Cor. 3:6). One classically Anglican synthesis of these passages holds that the gifts of the spirit may be known by their fruit.

Tradition, of course, has supported the Pauline prohibition. For most of Chritian history, homosexuality has been heavily stigmatized, known as recently as the late Victorian Age as "the crime that dare not speak its name" or, in the 18th Century, the "monstrous and detestable crime against nature." (Blackstone). Of course, the tradition can be questioned, as indeed can the translation of the scriptural passages at issue; see J. Boswell's controversial Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (1994); on translation see Rev. Goran Koch-Swahne, here: and here:

I lack the background to evaluate either Bosewll's or Rev. Koch-Swahne's analysis, so I will merely resort to the third strand, Reason, and ask what the fruits of this prohibition have been: Pain and alienation stemming from an inauthentic existence for gays who enter heterosexual marriages because they are not called to celibacy, but wish to have socially acceptable family lives; the pain caused by these half-marriages to partners who cannot be loved as they want and deserve, and to their children. See, e.g.,

Moreover, violence has been directed at gays and lesbians throughout the millenia, often in the name of Jesus Christ, even after the horriffic example of the persecution of them in the Holocaust. See, e.g, the life and career of "Rev." Fred Phelps, whose website's address is alone enough to condemn it:; a short account of the Nazi persecution may be found here:; the continued widespread phenomenon of assault against gays and lesbians just in schools, may be seen here:

To me, this is all too reminiscent of the Christian tradition of anti-semitism, which drew scriptural support from St Matthew's Gospel, St. Paul, and St. John's Gospel; traditional support from Ambrose and (to a lesser extent) Augustine, the practice of the Catholic Church over centuries, and continued well into our own time.(A good account, if somewhat heated and personal, is Carroll, Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews (2001)). Just as with anti-semitism, so anti-gay bias and its violence stand as a reproach to the Church, and are all too often deemed to be co-extensive with Christianity.

Just as that scripturally-based tradition has shown itself to be not a gift of the spirit, but a cultural misunderstanding of the text's implications, so too I would argue that our traditional understanding of the passages relied upon as a blanket ban on homosexual relations should be rejected. For the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life...

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