Commentary on “To Set Our Hope On Christ”

By
The Rev. Leander S. Harding, Ph.D.

1.In the introduction by Bishop Griswald and in the opening paragraphs much is made of the fact that the Episcopal Church has been discussing the issue of the appropriateness for ordination of persons with same sex attraction who live in covenanted relationships for over forty years. The presiding bishop mentions this in his preface and it is mentioned several more times in the opening paragraph. It is apparently a plea to understand that the consecration of Gene Robinson was not an impulsive action. Purely in terms of the validity of the argument this is a form of special pleading and question begging. There are theological issues that have been discussed for hundreds of years which appear repeatedly. The antiquity of the discussion does not particularly favor one side or the other in an argument.

2.In paragraph 1.3 there is a nod in the direction of the problem of theological or cultural imperialism and the expression of a desire to learn from the theology of the churches in the developing world. It appears to me that this humility is the stalking horse for setting up the problem in terms of the differences of cultural experience. A very Western philosophy of religion is being invoked at the outset clothed in the rhetoric of mutual submission. The subtext so far seems to be that ECUSA has forty years of cultural and religious experience of which the rest of the Anglican world knows not. If the dispute were not between churches but between individuals the argument so far for the election of GR would be a form of illuminism or the claim to a special revelation by a spiritual elite.

3.Having been a member of the Episcopal Church since 1971 as a lay person, deacon and priest I can attest that though the prospect of revising the sexual ethic of the church in favor of the gay agenda has been discussed at some levels of the church there has been nothing like a grass roots consultation or a sustained and serious church wide theological conversation.

4.In 1.4 reference is made to the lists of the fruit of the spirit in Romans, Corinthians and Galatians. One of the key elements of the argument is set out, that people with same sex attraction and living in covenanted same-sex relationships show evidence of holiness in their lives including the virtues of patience, peace and self-control. If I am following the syllogism it goes like this: Mr. x who is in a committed same sex relationship gives evidence of possessing either a gift for ministry like being a pastor or teacher or a Christian virtue like patience or self-control. These are gifts given by the Holy Spirit. Therefore the Holy Spirit is blessing Mr. X. Therefore God is showing the church that the Holy Spirit blesses same-sex attraction and these covenanted relationships. This argument is a form of question begging and a spurious syllogism.

5. The problem with the argument can be shown if any other condition besides same sex attraction is inserted as a place holder. The rector is a gifted communicator of the Gospel. The rector is engaged in an illicit affair with a member of the congregation. Communicating the Gospel is a Holy Spirit gift. Therefore the Holy Spirit is blessing the rector and therefore the Holy Spirit is blessing the illicit relationship.

6. We are all a mixture of holiness and sin. God surely blesses sinners and even uses them to advance His cause. To argue from this fact to a thorough-going revision of the sexual ethic of the church is to build a staircase with many missing steps. Of all the types of Christians that there are it seems to me that Reformation Christians should be the least surprised that great goodness and great human weakness, cupidity and sin can exist in the same person.

7.An additional problem with the claim to have seen evidence of the gifts of the Spirit is that no reference is made to the Ten Commandments but only to gifts of ministry and lists of virtue. But the whole sweep of the Bible is that holiness consists in keeping the Word and Law of God. Neither lists of gifts of ministry nor Christian virtues can be an adequate definition of holiness apart from God’s foundational holiness code revealed at Sinai. When Paul writes to the Corinthians to complain about their lack of holiness, he points to their violation of the natural law and the law of Moses by virtue of sexual immorality. The approach here again begs the question.

8.In 1.5 Romans 14 to 15 and 1 Corinthians 8 through 10 is invoked. This seems simply bizarre. The most straight forward reading of Romans 14 is that one who claims a superior spiritual understanding that allows the relaxation of commonly accepted discipline should nevertheless give way to the “weaker brother.” This is the exact thing which ECUSA in approving the election of GR refused to do. Here the power of the current hermeneutic at work in the Episcopal Church is seen in full force. There is such a deep conviction that the scriptures are fundamentally about accepting “the other” and “the marginalized” that the straight forward meaning of this passage from Romans is simply stood on its head. Possibly the authors of TSOHOC believe that these texts can be used to put the dispute about same-sex attraction on within the paradigm of things not necessary to salvation about which there can be disagreement. It is hard to see how something that is a central to the Biblical witness as sexual ethics can be put in this category. At this point in the document the argument that same-sex attraction is a matter of adiophora is simply asserted.

9.Also in 1.5 Matthew 8:4 is cited. This is a story about Jesus healing a leper. A leper would be ritually unclean and unable to live in the normal community because he was declared unclean. Jesus heals him and bids him show himself to the priest so that the priest can declare him clean and thus able to rejoin the community. Here is a reference to a familiar argument for the revision of traditional ethics, that the biblical condemnation of homosexuality is a part of the ritual law concerning cleanness and uncleanness which has been overturned by the coming of Christ. Jesus does declare unclean things clean. It is here being asserted that same sex attraction is one of those things which Jesus has declared clean. The use of Matthew 8 in this way seems to me an example of arbitrary proof-texting. In this instance Jesus is in fact urging submission to the Temple system and the purity laws. The person can be restored not because Jesus has redefined the category but because He has healed the condition and the leper is actually no longer a leper and thus actually clean and the Temple priest is bound to say so. In just these few opening paragraphs the handling of the scripture is very ideologically driven and presented through a hermeneutic that sees the themes of inclusion and exclusion as the fundamental themes to the complete eclipse of the themes of sin and forgiveness. The readings being proffered so far in the text are idiosyncratic readings at best.

10.Paragraph 2.0 reiterates the assertion that for forty years members of ECUSA have been discerning the “gifts of the Spirit” in the lives of persons living in covenanted same-sex relationships and have seen the sanctifying power of such unions to draw people more deeply into holiness and service. This is, of course, the argument from experience and it is very hard to gainsay. It is by nature subjective and not objective. The subtext is something like, “forty years have come and gone on this side of the water and we have seen the real holiness of these people and their relationships and you have not and you are not in a position to gainsay our experience of the movement of Spirit in our midst.” This move is a conversation stopper not a conversation opener. The move here in the argument is a way of saying “I know what I am talking about and you do not.” Even if it is true it takes the argument no where. Much of the text so far is simply argument by assertion. I am willing to stipulate that covenanted same-sex relationships may produce real moral goods. Something can produce real moral goods, proximate goods so to speak without being ultimately good. A man is a follower of a false cult. He lives a disciplined life and is loyal to his god and to his companions in the cult and even lives a life of service and self-sacrifice. The idolatry produces proximate moral goods. The life of this person may on some points be morally superior to the life of a servant of the one true and living God but the service of idols is not ultimately good. C. S. Lewis in his Thomistic way talks about ethics in terms of a fleet of ships. One set of ethical problems will have to do with how well the ships are run. Another set of ethical problems will have to do with the relationships between the ships. Yet another set of ethical problems has to do with the destination of the ships. The ships can be well ordered individually, the can be proper in their relationships with each other and yet headed for a wrong destination. The shape of the argument presented in TSOHOC is that because the individual ships are well ordered and because the relationships between the ships are characterized by loyalty and decency and mutuality, the destination must be proper. This is yet again a form of question begging. How can it be shown that this form of human sexual relationship is God’s intention and teolos or destination for man and woman?

11.2.1 contrasts the holiness experienced in these same-sex relationships with other kinds of sexual expression which are clearly to be condemned and most of which can appear in both homosexual and heterosexual form. This again appears to be a reduction of the question of teolos, of ultimate purpose to proximate goods. The argument that if a person shows any goodness or holiness in their life then their form of sexual expression must be completely holy is made once again. Thus as we are forced to admit that homosexual persons can display goodness and holiness we are forced to admit that same sex attraction is being blessed by God. The document says that God is helping us see things that God had been doing all along and which we had not been able to see before now. Take out the term homosexual or same-sex attraction and insert any other category of controversial behavior and one sees immediately the problem with the argument. We are dealing here with a form of “but X is a really good person.” Classical Anglicans are bound to doubt the legitimacy of the category “really good person,” and to be very dubious that the real goodness of which we are capable somehow removes all question about the ultimate character of our form of life.

12.In 2.2 the comparison is drawn with the inclusion of the Gentiles in Acts 10. Peter and his companions had not thought that the Gentiles were to be included in the church but the evidence of God’s blessing and the gifts of the Holy Spirit were incontestable and so the early church learned to look for holiness in unexpected places. The issue of sin is completely finessed in this comparison. It is repentance and faith which are seen by the early church as the basis for membership in the community and not ethnic identity as in some understandings of the nature of old Israel. In the Jerusalem council the Apostles set down the minimum conditions for the inclusion of the Gentiles. They do not have to become ethnic Jews and adopt Jewish customs but they must adhere to the Torah and among other things forsake porneia. Again it appears that the hermeneutic of inclusion clears the boards of any other way of reading the Bible and that a narrative in which the issue of the right use of sexuality is front and center and which is therefore problematic at best as a proof text for the new morality is heard as unequivocally as an endorsement of homosexuality. Up to this point the same false syllogism is repeated over and over—These are good people, there are real signs of Holy Spirit gifts in their lives, there are real signs of God’s blessing therefore all must be well. Among other things there is a romanticism here about human nature and about the appearance of virtue and vice as unmixed quantities. The Reformation doctrine of simuluts, of simultaneously justified and a sinner is nowhere to be found.

13.In 2.2 through 2.5 there is put forth an understanding of the origin of scripture and the nature of traditional scriptural interpretation. To summarize, what is put forward is an historical-critical understanding of the Bible rather than a narrative or canonical understanding. The fact that there are a variety of biblical voices is used to justify the idea that there can be no definitive or authoritative interpretation of scripture, no one right way to read the scriptures. It is claimed that the attempt to find one right reading is “modern” and in contrast to the practice of the Church Fathers who read the scriptures just as the proponents of GC 2003 do. It is rather the hermeneutic of the authors of TSOHOC, who are reading back into the biblical witness secular pluralism and relativism, that needs to be identified as modern or post-modern. The claim that the Church Fathers had a pluralistic understanding of scripture is an astonishing claim made without any evidence. If this were so one would expect the Orthodox Church to be on the cutting edge of revising traditional sexual ethics. The witness of the Fathers is unanimous in its opposition to same sex practice and this in spite of the wide acceptance of homosexual practice in the Hellenistic world. The tone of the document here condescending. We are told that “a quick glance at the early Christian writings that became the New Testament” should suffice to show that the early church used the scriptures as the proponents of GC 2003 do. There is of course a subtext here that if you know the history of a thing you are superior to it in every way.

14.In 2.6 it is asserted that the church has never been in agreement on all major matters. I Corinthians 8 through 10 and Romans 14 through 15 are used as evidence that the Apostle Paul accepts that there can be major differences on important matters and urges mutual respect. I hardly know how to respond this string of idiosyncratic interpretations of scripture. Rather than go verse by verse through the scriptures cited let me say here that to picture the Apostle Paul as approving and encouraging doctrinal and ethical pluralism in the church is to turn the whole Pauline corpus against itself and to make ironic to the point of breaking the words of the Apostle in I Corinthians:10 where the Apostle urges “that there be no division among you.” This interpretation makes the office of Apostle an oxymoron.

15.In 2.7 the example of the inclusion of the Gentiles is again taken up.

16.In 2.8 Acts 10-15 is again cited as particularly important to Episcopalians.

17.In 2.9 it is asserted that noticing the similarity between the issue of including Gentiles in the church and including the same-sex attracted that God’s help and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit were asked to confirm that these scriptures should be taken as an endorsement by the Holy Spirit of accepting same-sex attracted people into the church and sharing leadership of the church with them. Two issues are conflated here. One issue is the issue of whether same-sex attracted people should be admitted to the church. Admittance to Holy Orders is another issue. It is not helpful to conflate them. The prayer instanced amounts to a request for an interior illumination and a confirmation of personal conscience. This is an approach to scripture that is characteristically American and known in Southern Baptist circles as “soul sufficiency.” It is an approach to scripture that is not characteristic of catholic Christianity in the Patristic or any other era and is precisely the approach to scripture practiced by the Gnostics, ancient and modern. This is scripture read as naked scripture and apart from any tradition of interpretation and apart from the catholicity of the Church both in terms of consultation with fullness of the Church in this time and time past. It represents an unwarranted and demonstrably dangerous reliance on isolated conscience whether of the isolated believer or the sect which has become a church unto itself. Here the Gnostic and sectarian tendencies in American Protestantism are in full display. See the very helpful book of Phillip Lee, Against The Protestant Gnostics.

18.In 2.10 Acts 10-15 is proposed as a model of how the Holy Spirit teaches the church new things. An exact equation is made between being homosexual and being a Gentile. The fact that Gentiles who repent and accept Jesus as Messiah are accepted even though they were seen as unclean is used as an exact equivalent making homosexuality no longer unclean. It is pointed out again with an air of condescension that it took the church awhile to catch up with the new thing God is doing. There are many contentious issues of exegesis here. The conflating of sexual morality and ritual law regarding food is the most obvious. There is also a replacement of the category of sin with the categories of clean and unclean. This exegesis has been powerfully critiqued by Richard Hays and others. If there is an hermeneutical principle to be drawn from Acts 10 through 15 it is that the regulations in Leviticus and Deuteronomy concerning sexual morality are of a different and less negotiable type than those concerned with dietary restrictions. I continue to think it very odd that so much weight should be placed on this portion of scripture from Acts which seems to be to emphasize the necessity of converts to give up pornei.

19.In 2.11 we are told that after much discussion the Church comes to a new understanding but not everybody agrees and some portions of the church are more open to the Gentiles than others and so a variety of practices exist in the early Church. “In the meantime there was room for a diversity of life-styles.” Apparently the Church believed Peter’s testimony to the holiness of the Gentiles and therefore critics of GC 2003 ought to believe the authors testimony to the holiness of life of the homosexual members of the church. The argument so far has been a combination of question begging and the assertion of a privileged point of view which cannot be gainsayed.

20.In 2.12 examples of contested issues in the church are brought forward as evidence that the church has changed its mind about ethical issues even in the face of apparently clear Biblical prohibitions. There is a mixed bag here. Some of the things are not even mentioned in the scripture, whether evolution should be taught in schools for instance. The argument seems to be that the fact of conflicting interpretations makes it a moral obligation for the church to tolerate absolutely contradictory teachings while the Holy Spirit works to change minds. If this is so it is hard to see how an authoritative teaching could every be articulated. If there should arise now those in the church who think slavery Biblical must that teaching be tolerated and room made for different life-styles? All the weight is given to the fact of disagreement and no weight to the overwhelming consensus of both the tradition and the witness of all the major churches against the position of the authors.

21.In 2.13 the previous argument is summarized and a plea is made that the issues should not be church dividing because they are not as grave as the issue in Acts 10 through 15 which was who might belong to the church and the early church had decided that even this issue ought not to be church dividing. Clearly Paul thought it ought to be church dividing and “confronted Peter to his face.” Again the reading is self-serving and idiosyncratic and amounts to an ideologized re-writing of the biblical narrative in an effort to make it serve a pre-determined outcome.

22.In 2.14 further summary. Further insistence that the gradual acceptance of the Gentiles into the early church is the model for the gradual acceptance of homosexual practice in the church, first in one part of the church and eventually under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the whole church. Therefore, the authors argue we should patiently listen to the testimonies of the holiness to be found among same-sex couples for God has already blessed them and the challenge before the church is to endorse what God has already done. The whole argument depends on accepting that there is an exact equivalence to be made between homosexual practice and biblical Gentiles. No explicit argument is made for this other than to insist that this exact equivalence has been revealed to some Episcopalians by the Holy Spirit. The authors appear to be deeply convinced that there is incontrovertible evidence of holiness in the lives of the same-sex couples and that this holiness is incontrovertible evidence of the acceptability to God of this manner of life. There is a tremendous burden being placed here on the holiness of life of same-sex attracted members of the Episcopal Church. It is as though the observed holiness of their lives is so incomparable to ordinary Christian experience as to demand the overturning of the traditional sexual morality. Ordinarily we would not assume that evidence of God’s blessing or gift meant that God accepted in every particular a person’s behavior. So far the first fourteen paragraphs have rung the changes on a dubious syllogism and a novel interpretation of Acts 10 through 15 that completely dodges the question of sexual morality. There is also put forward a sort of corporate “word of the Lord” in the form of a claim that the Holy Spirit has vouchsafed to the authors that their interpretation is true. It appears that it is the vocation of the Holy Spirit to create divisions in the church by giving advance knowledge of coming truth to privileged elites. In America there is a history of claims for a limited revelation to an elite person or group. One thinks of Mary Baker Eddy or Joseph Smith to name two instances.

23.2.15 through 2.17 acknowledge the challenge to take up specific texts that seem to oppose homosexual behavior. A proof- texting approach to the scripture is rejected. It appears to me to be just the kind of approach that has been used by the authors themselves to date. The importance of understanding historical context for proper exegesis is stressed. It is implied that the biblical context and the contemporary context must be exactly equivalent for the given text to have authority.

24.2.18 is a disavowal of “knowing better than the biblical writers” but an insistence that the contemporary context is so vastly different from the biblical context that the biblical prohibition does not apply. The main difference identified is that in the biblical world there were no known instances of faithful Christians living together in covenanted life-long relationships. The claim that same-sex attraction in the ancient world and same-sex attraction in the contemporary world are apples and oranges has received magisterial treatment by Robert Gagnon among others. Here it is asserted that they are incomparable realities as though that were a settled issue.

25.2.19 makes the case that because we do not keep all the commandments in Leviticus it would be odd to take one from among them all (homosexual acts) and make it the most important of all.

26.2.20 makes the point that there are few places in the bible where homosexuality is discussed explicitly and that most of the ethical discussion in the bible is about poverty, widows and orphans etc. The argument seems to be that the issue of homosexuality is an issue of secondary ethical significance. The relationship between sexual ethics and the orders of creation is not noticed. One could say in response that there is a very great deal which is said about male and female and marriage in the scripture and that it is one of the fundamental figures in all of scripture running from Genesis to Revelation. Genesis 19:1-29 and Judges 19 the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is taken up. It is asserted that these scriptures are about sinning against hospitality through the rape of guests and not primarily about same-sex attraction. Again see Robert Gagnon for a more detailed treatment. The problem for those proposing a revision of the church’s sexual ethic is not primarily isolated prohibitions but primarily the teaching about human creation ordered male and female and oriented toward procreation which runs through the whole of the Old Testament is intensified in the New Testament. Several more New Testament texts are taken up (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 1Timothy 1:10, and Acts 15:28-29). It is asserted that these texts add nothing to the debate because the terms used to describe homosexual practice are so obscure as to be incapable of precise translation. This is asserted with a kind of breezy condescension, as if it were well known. Again see the magisterial refutation of such claims in Robert Gagnon’s work. The discussion of these texts is used to point us to the number one problematic text in Leviticus 18:22. It has previously been argued that the context of Leviticus is irrelevant to our contemporary context and that the church has jettisoned most of the prohibitions in Leviticus, so that the purpose of making this the key text can hardly be missed.

27.2..21 takes up “the two most significant biblical sites for the present discussion.” It is argued that Leviticus is primarily a book about what constitutes holiness and that holiness is defined as “staying within your class.” This is
important in order to maintain Israel’s distinctiveness in the face of the nations. The argument is made that the context which drives the prohibitions in Leviticus is no longer applicable and that it has been overturned by the insight of Acts 10 through 15. Again all of this is asserted as though it were settled opinion. These claims have been given exacting treatment by Robert Gagnon and others. At the least the interpretation of Leviticus put forward here is highly contested. It seems on the face of it hard to believe that any book about Law in the Old Testament does not have in view the Ten Commandments and is only about holiness conceived as ritual purity and not also about sin. The more important point to make here is that it is not acceptable to reduce the biblical witness against homosexual acts to a few isolated texts and then to dispense with the texts by historicism. The Bible is pervaded with a vision of the relationship between male and female and when it opposes homosexual practice does so in the light of its understanding of God’s purposes for sexual expression. The question of the proper purpose of sexual expression is simply not addressed in the document up to this point.

28.Following this Romans 1:26-27 is taken up. It is admitted that the prohibition is clear. It is argued that Paul given his acceptance of the Gentiles would have seen the logic of accepting same-sex practice could we interrogate him today. It is argued that we should approach the scripture as though we were able to argue with a living author who had put forward his proposal for the sake of argument. This is at least a novel understanding of what Paul thought he was doing as an Apostle. It is argued that in the letter Paul invites the Romans to judge for themselves what is natural and what is unnatural. This is again an astonishing exegesis. The whole drift of Romans 1 is that the natural law is so plain and so agreed upon that even the pagans know that such behavior is wrong. Paul invites his hearers to judge for themselves not in an invitation to use modern autonomous reason but in an invitation to submit to God’s law written both in the book of nature on the tablets of Moses. It is further asserted that the logic of the Letter to the Romans as a whole stands in tension with the explicit prohibition in the first chapter. On this see N.T.Wright in his Abingdon commentary. Wright argues that in Romans 1 Paul is saying that Jews and Gentiles alike have turned from the worship of the creator to the worship of the creature and that as a result humanity has lost its capacity to image God (here the male and female of Genesis is invoked) and that there are many examples of this among which is rampant homosexual practice. This is not a particularly heinous example but a particularly visible example of the common human problem of the loss of the life for which humanity was made. Oddly the authors make use of this exegesis but derive from an endorsement of homosexual behavior. The whole argument is laced with question begging and special pleading based on novel and strained readings of the text.

29.2.22 takes up the question of the scientific understanding of same-sex affection. I was prepared here for an argument that homosexuality is biologically hardwired. This is generally assumed by many people in the debate and impossible to sustain on a scientific basis. Here the authors admit that a number of factors are active in the origin of same-sex erotic desire. They list a “genetic-biological basis” which combines with “psycho-social and historical-cultural factors.” The claim to a Gay gene has been decisively refuted. They claim that sexual orientation is fixed and “that continuing studies” confirm that homosexuality should not be considered a mental disorder. The footnote is to a report to the General Convention in 2000 authored by Timothy Sedgwick. I have argued that showing that homosexuality is primarily biologically determined would be necessary though not sufficient to establish the new sexual ethic. I do not believe it can be done and continue to challenge all comers to cite original scientific articles which support the view that homosexuality is primarily biologically determined. It is fascinating and telling that the scientific argument is so brief and dated. But grant that same-sex erotic attraction arises from some combination of biological,(I think on the basis of close study the biological contribution minimal) psychological and cultural factors it begs the question of whether the church ought to add to a culture that encourages embracing this form of sexual practice. There are many things to which we may have an innate disposition, angry outbursts for instance, why should this disposition be uniquely encouraged and supported. It is also asserted that sexual orientation is fixed. This is famously disputed. To anticipate the argument which will move to the experience of same-sex attracted people, why is gay rather than ex-gay experience given priority?

30.2.23 asserts that heretofore we had not noticed the holiness of life in same-sex couples because of an assumption that homosexual acts were inherently sinful. Now there is an understanding that what makes sexual activity sinful or not is the virtues that characterize it rather than whether it is homosexual or heterosexual. This argument is a repeat of the reduction earlier in the document of ethical considerations to utilitarian issues with a complete bracketing of the issue of the morality of purpose. The Bible thinks homosexual acts wrong because they are counter to the purposes for which sex is created. It is possible for these acts to be tender and mutually regarding, etc. and still be wrong because they do not fulfill God’s intention for sexual expression. To restate C.S.Lewis’ analogy about ships, it is possible for the ship to be well run and to have good relations with the other ships and still to be headed in the wrong direction.

31.2.24 makes the case explicitly that same-sex attraction is a human difference that is exactly equivalent to the differences of gender, race and tribe and therefore the kind of difference being overcome by the reconciliation in Christ. I think here the scientific question comes back in. Should it be the case that homosexuality is not primarily biological in origin the argument fails and this case has not been made. It is as I say a necessary but not sufficient condition of the proposal that homosexuality and male and female are alike part of the divine order of creation. Certainly it is true that in Christ there is no male or female, nor slave nor free, nor Jew nor Gentile but each and every one of these categories of people in the process of being made part of the new humanity must repent of sin and of all in their lives that is not according to God’s purpose. It is also true that all previous primary identities are to be submitted to a new identity in Christ. This is the exact thing the authors seem unwilling to do. They present same-sex attraction as a more irreducible identity than even male and female.

32.2.25 is an assertion that the foregoing being true, same-sex covenanted partnerships can exhibit the same graces and virtues as Christian marriage.

33.2.26 affirms that Christian Marriage is ordered toward procreation but that it is also for mutual joy and companionship.

34.2.27 Furthers the argument that procreation is only one of the possible purposes for Christian marriage. Something called “the liturgical tradition” is appealed to as evidence. It is interesting that early in the paper much effort was expended to argue that there is no such thing as “the tradition.” But here “the tradition” shows up on the side of the authors.

35.In 2.28 it is argued that the extension of love by same-sex couples to those outside their immediate pairing fulfills the procreative purpose of love. The authority for so redefining procreation is a report by the Standing Liturgical Committee and the House of Bishops Theology Committee. These are at the least unimpressive authorities for the radical changes being proposed.

36.In 2.29 the virtual identity between same-sex blessings and Christian marriage is asserted. Interestingly the document is not arguing for a pastoral provision for persons who sexual orientation is beyond their control but for same-sex marriage to be on a par with marriage between a man and a woman though fulfilling the goods of marriage in slightly different way.

37.2.30 recommends the evangelical possibilities of public rites for same-sex relationships as a form of prophecy against a culture of sexual fulfillment. The point be made repeatedly in these paragraphs is that same-sex covenanted relationships must be life-long and sexually exclusive and are therefore a public Christian witness.

38.2.31 states that homosexual couples experience the rejection of public blessings for their relationships as a personal rejection and as an endorsement of public violence against them. If this is true it is unfortunate but there is no logical connection here. It is quite possible to think that God does not intend this manner of life for people and still be against hostility and violence toward homosexuals. Again the authors resort to a form of question begging and special pleading.

39.2.32 positions the endorsement of same-sex blessings as an act of justice and of siding with the oppressed. It is possible to be against any oppression of homosexual persons and any violence toward them and still to think that justice is not served by these blessings. I have argued elsewhere that if homosexuality can be shown to be in whole or in significant part a result of developmental disorder then its promotion is an act of injustice. If many young people go through a period where their sexuality is ambiguous and can be pushed in either a homosexual or heterosexual direction then a pressure in the direction of homosexuality coming form the church would be an act of injustice. It is my belief based on careful study that to say that homosexuality is biologically determined and irremediable is simply an untruth, an injustice and an instance of false prophecy.

40.3.0 summarizes part II. It consists of assurances that the reader may be allowed amazement because the authors themselves have been quite amazed at the new teaching that the Holy Spirit has vouchsafed to them and that they do very much understand that it will take time for the rest of the church to get used to this startling new truth.

41.3.1 begins to recount some of the history of this dispute within the Episcopal Church. The reading of Acts 10 through 15 put forward at the beginning of the paper continues to be the hermeneutical framework. The history of oppression of Native Americans, Blacks and women is used as evidence that the church has not used the Acts passage in a sufficient way. Given this history the authors plead, let us not make the same mistake with homosexuals. Again begging the question of the exact equivalence between a group of people defined by a particular kind of sexual practice and identities based on gender and ethnicity.

42.3.2 asserts an experience of differences being put aside and new unity being found when “mission” is put first.

43.3.3 and 3.4 lay the groundwork for what is seen as the uniquely democratic polity of the Episcopal Church. It is asserted that it is a founding principle of the Episcopal Church that unity in mission does not require agreement in belief in all matters. This history being given is contentious and self-serving. The question of what constitutes the fundamental doctrine and discipline of the church is being begged.

44.3.5 instances a number of controversies through which the Episcopal Church was able to maintain its unity including the dispute over slavery. This is perhaps not the whole story. In any event the dispute over homosexuality is being put in the category of a disputed ethical issue. I think it better placed as a dispute over the theology of creation and the nature of scripture itself.

45.3.6 asserts that the election of Gene Robinson was exactly equivalent to the dispute over slavery and the ordination of women.

46.3.7 through 3.15 continue to recount the history of issues concerning Blacks and women in the Episcopal Church. The main point being made here is that homosexuals are an oppressed minority in exact equivalence to racial minorities and women and that the justice driven changes the church has developed in its attitude toward these groups gives a road map for a proper assessment of homosexuality for the inclusion same-sex partnered people in the church’s leadership. The argument only works if this manner of life is according to God’s intention and plan and this is the question in dispute and being repeatedly begged in this document.

47.3.16 through 3.20 rehearses the history of study reports on the issue of homosexuality in the Episcopal Church. It is implied that there has been extensive discussion of the topic at the parish and congregational level. This is an exaggeration. A recent poll by the Episcopal Church Foundation of parish leaders in the Episcopal Church revealed significant sentiment that the issue was being forced on the church by a national leadership out of touch with parish realities.

48.3.21 gives a summary of the actions of GC 2003 including the election of the bishop of New Hampshire and the refusal to authorize church wide rites for blessing same-sex relationships.

49.3.21 asserts that the “unity in difference” of the Episcopal Church is based on a common commitment to mission and not on agreement in belief. This is an unsupported assertion and one that is in my view either self-deceived or intellectual dishonest, else what possible sense could it make to require ordinands to subscribe to the “doctrine and discipline of the church.”

50.3.22 is hard to decipher. It appears to define the reconciliation of Christ as essentially “unity in difference” and to be at its depth a reality which does not require agreement in the faith. This section appears to be deeply committed to a fundamentally pluralistic understanding of truth and to be arguing that such an understanding is the “real Christian” understanding. It is interesting that after a long initial argument against any authoritative reading of a particular passage of scripture as “the Christian” understanding that we have here exactly this rhetorical move. The suggestion seems to be that if the opponents of the homosexual agenda were more spiritual in their approach to the truth they would be able to at least tolerate the new hermeneutic and new morality. It is hard not to hear this as an intentional condescension.

51.4.0 takes up eligibility for ordination.

52.4.1 and 4.2 start with understandably with the grounding of Apostolic ministry in the witness to the cross and resurrection of the Lord. Subtly the argument moves from a witness to actual historical events, from objective content to the virtue of humility and from the virtue of humility to the virtue of “being seen as being willing to be used by God for the empowerment of others.” Therefore the authors argue to eligible for leadership in the church is to be willing to be used by God for the empowerment of others. It is quite interesting how this particular virtue has now taken precedence on over any personal moral virtues or over any fidelity to a particular objective content to the faith.

53.4.3 contradicts much of what has been established in 4.1 and 4.2 with a long quote from Michael Ramsey about the dependence of the whole church upon its crucified and risen head and of the apostolic ministry as the witness of that dependence. In the last few sentences of this section historical witness to a common faith is again finessed into being really about a certain kind of virtue or character. It is argued that the local community is the only competent judge of this character and that it is the long custom of the church to endorse this local discernment of character. There are of course many instances of local elections being distrusted by the wider church and even of elections being overturned. The significant problem with this section is the somewhat unconscious switching back and forth from language about historical witness to language about rather abstract categories of virtue, kindness and meekness and such. I suspect that the deeply entrenched practice of reading the scriptures as being really about some virtue of which Jesus is the exemplar, for instance inclusion, really makes it almost impossible for the authors to identify this shift in focus from the objective to the subjective. It is really quite striking to go in the space of the same paragraph from the Apostolate being about being a credible witness to the Resurrection to the Apostolate being about being nice and humble and oriented toward empowering others.

54.4.4 Begs the question of whether a candidate for the episcopate may be divorced. I believe not. 4.4 also notes that a bishop must be able to guard and defend the faith.

55.4.5 further pushes the qualifications for a bishop away from any fidelity to objective standards of faith and practice and in the direction of virtues defined in an abstract and spiritualized way.

56.4.6 continues the confusion of all the paragraphs above between witness to the Resurrection as a history and to the faith as an objective creed and to the Resurrection as an event that reminds us or points us to various virtues which are then described in an abstract and spiritualized sort of way. The basic argument of earlier sections of the paper that V.G. Robinson is a very nice and spiritual man and everybody says so and therefore it cannot be that he is guilty of belief or practice which would make him unfit for office, reappears. It is also asserted that not only did the diocese of New Hampshire see in this man unusual virtues befitting the episcopacy but so did all the delegates that voted for him. This is contrary to the explicit testimony of many of the bishops and other delegates that the did not see any grievous cause why the ought to overturn the election of a diocese. At the time the argument was made that a delegate didn’t have to approve of the man, but only had to believe that everything was canonically in order.

57.4.7 begs the question of what obedience to Christ means. It again is evidentially not subscription to any morality in particular but to the spirit of some particular virtues. If I follow the willingness of the bishop to follow Christ then switches the focus to the virtues of Christ himself so that the virtue or lack thereof of the bishop ceases to be significant. I confess I find it hard to follow the rhetoric here. The basic drift I think is to shift the ground for eligibility for Episcopal office away from any specific beliefs or practices and to a community discernment of “holiness of life.” In fact only local communities are in the position to discern the form of holiness of life appropriate to their community. How this conclusion is supported by what comes before is obscure to me.

58.4.8 Reiterates that “holiness of life” is the fundamental criteria Episcopal election and that the local community is uniquely and primarily equipped to define and discern this holiness. It is furthered denied that this amounts to a claim that criteria for holiness of life of the candidate is a matter of adiaphora. They are not but they must be locally determined to a “significant” degree.

59.4.9 states that election of the bishop of New Hampshire was according to established canon law and church practice.

60.4.10 reiterates much of what has come before. It is taken as a matter of fact that each Christian community has its own conceptions of what constitutes holiness.

61.4.11 makes the distinctiveness of each community’s conception of holiness more explicit. Holiness must be embodied in a form particular to each community in order to be real for that community. This seems an encoded argument for moral and ethical relativism. The authors assert that it is up to each community to recognize in individuals those qualities that can lead them into the fullness of Christ’s saving holiness. Again through a combination of ethical pluralism and relativism and an emphasis on character and virtue described in a very abstract, somewhat unctuous and spiritualized way at the expense of any specific beliefs or practices the playing field for the argument is being draw by the authors in such a way that only one player can possible win.

62.4.12 promises to show that the election in New Hampshire is a gift offered to the whole church.

63.4.13 affirms that bishops are for the whole church but denies that universal consent to an election has ever been required. But this is of course to beg the question of communion. The paragraph confusingly goes back and forth between established catholic order in the early church and the record of the emergence of catholic order in the scriptures. This appears to me apples and oranges.

64.4.14 reviews canonical actions at Nicea as further evidence of the tradition of local authority in choosing bishops. The authors appear unaware that at Nicea and other councils bishops were removed from office.

65.4.15 compares the willingness to allow women in the episcopacy in Anglicanism and argues that the Anglican Communion is not based on uniformity of belief but on a common sharing in the death and resurrection of the Lord apart from any specific beliefs or practices. Communion is defined spiritually as a spiritual reality which is in practice almost impossible to specify.

66.4.16 lists some of the theological emphases that have been held together within the Anglican Communion.

67.4.17 asserts that the unity in Anglicanism unlike other churches has always been a “unity in difference.” It is often asserted that the unity of Anglicanism is non-confessional in distinction to for instance Lutheranism or the Reformed Churches. It is true that theological comprehensiveness has been a virtue and value in the Anglican tradition but it is simply historically inaccurate to imply that Anglicanism has never had confessional touchstones. The Book of Common Prayer has always been thought a confessional document and the willingness to use it de facto acceptance of its doctrine. In most of the communion the 39 articles have greater weight than they do in ECUSA. Again it makes no sense to require subscription to the doctrine and discipline of the church if these do not exist. The traditional Anglican virtue of theological hospitality and a desire to comprehend differences within a common commitment to the reformed Catholicism of the Prayer Book and the Articles is here being turned into a brief for utter self-contradiction. Oddly the authors quote the Virginia Report’s recommendation of synodality in the widest possible sense, consulting with as many partners in the communion as possible. The authors seem to think that a willingness on the part of ECUSA to maintain communion with those members of the communion who think the election in New Hampshire a communion breaking event is an example of synodality. The plain meaning of synodality in the Virginia Report is that no innovations are made without the widest possible consultation and that restraint in taking a potentially communion breaking action is exercised until the wider church can come to a common mind. Offering a communion breaking action for discussion and discernment ex post facto is a curious understanding of what synodical decision making looks like. The authors define unity as necessarily unity in difference and regard the production of difference as a contribution to unity. The authors argue that the fact that this difference (GC2003) threatens in an unprecedented way the unity of the communion makes it an especially valid contribution to unity. It is hard to read these sentences without thinking of George Orwell.

68.4.18 communion is defined as an ideal state than can never be achieved and towards which the churches of the communion are always in process. Since communion is an always future ideal, the authors argue, it make no sense that we have achieved communion or that we had achieved it and now it is broken. Therefore the actions of GC cannot be communion breaking because something that does not exists or exists only proleptically cannot be broken. The election of GVR to the episcopacy in New Hampshire is therefore a contribution to a more inclusive communion of the future. The authors use repeatedly the technique of arguing by redefining the disputed terms unilaterally. Here they make the notion of communion explicitly so unreal and non-specific that it may mean anything the authors wish it to mean. The authors cite again their basic model of discernment in the church which is that individuals inspired by the Holy Spirit take ground-breaking action which occasions heated and careful discussion in the church which is sometimes painful and distressing but leads the church ultimately to officially embrace the innovations and see them as prophetic.

69.4.19 envisions that the invitation to the wider church by ECUSA to “come and see” the holiness of life of same-sex attracted members is an invitation to participate in a “unity in difference” that reflects the triune life. It is denied that indifference to unity of the church is intended but that this paradigm breaking innovation is in reality a contribution to a more universal and adequate communion. The authors present this theory in such a way that it appears inconceivable to them that the Holy Spirit could do other than to ultimately confirm the innovations of GC 2003 in the minds of opponents once they come and see the holiness of life and blessings in the church flowing from these actions. It is asserted that God embraces and uses differences. It seems to follow that the intentional production of differences is mandated by God. This appears to be a repeat of the Orwellian argument above that provocative and unprecedented innovation is actually a contribution to unity because unity is unity in difference. The ante is upped here by describing such testing of communion as divinely mandated.

70.In 4.20 it is asserted that bishops represent unity not by virtue of fidelity to any definite content to the faith or definitive practices of the faith but by exhibiting love and mutual responsibility during the in-between times when there is brokenness and disagreement. It is apparently normal and normative that bishops should not be of a common mind about faith and practice. Here we have moved from Orwell to the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. “Words mean what I say they do.” Apparently, to be a bishop is to be someone who is very good at loving disagreement with other bishops over the essentials of the faith. What the authors mean by mutual responsibility is obscure. The image of the beloved disciple and the mother of Jesus at the foot of the cross is invoked as an example of a community created by the Lord in the midst of grief where those who have not before now walked together are asked to walk together. It is asked whether the communion might take this as an example. To think of the beloved disciple and the mother of the Lord as examples of “those who have not walked together” is inexplicable to me.

71.In 4.21 a unity of “mere like-mindedness” is condemned and the “unity in difference” held up. What the authors make of St. Paul’s injunction to have this mind among you which was in Christ Jesus, they do not say. Gay and Lesbian bishops are put forth as an act of the Holy Spirit like the raising up of women and African American bishops. The catholicity of the church is defined as the inclusion of multiple voices including the voices of homosexuals rather than as “that which has always and everywhere been taught.”

72.4.22 makes again the equivalence between homosexuality and persecuted ethnic and racial minorities and asserts that the raising up of Gay and Lesbian bishops is thus a gift to the whole church which increases its unity and catholicity as previously defined. The authors imply that those who oppose the ordination of active homosexuals are idolators and guilty of lack of love. The raising up of Gay and Lesbian bishops has the potential to break this idolatry. The authors have at least the virtue of theological hutzpah. I Corinthians 12: 12 -25 is invoked to argue that communion must be maintained even when it is being intentionally broken. There seems to be an invincible ignorance on the part of the authors that in confirming the election in New Hampshire ECUSA has just so said to the rest of the communion “we have no need of you.”

73.In 4.23 the Virginia Report is quoted as an authority for the necessity of maintaining fellowship during the process of discernment and reception of disputed innovations. This of course begs the question of whether the election in New Hampshire is an innovation which is a possible candidate for reception.

74.4.24 prays that the lived experience of the context of ECUSA may be an occasion for a new apprehension of truth in the whole communion.

75.5.1 and 5.2 urge continuing conversation and especially the opportunity for same-sex attracted clergy and laity to give a witness to their ministry. There is also a call to focus discussion on AIDS and world poverty and a recommendation of the millennium goals to eliminate world poverty.

76.5.3 is quote from Ephesians 1:12.

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