August 14, 2008

Crumbs

In response to a question raised over at the House of Bishops / Deputies list last week (basically, “Do gay and lesbian persons really mean the same thing ‘we’ do by monogamy?”) I responded, Yes, at least as far as most in the church are concerned. I know there are exceptions, definitely in the world and perhaps even in the church, and I know I don’t speak for anyone else — but I do know my friends and colleagues, and I do know what the General Convention has said thus far on the matter, and that this is what we are talking about as a church: the recognition of same-sex couples in accord with exactly the same standards demanded of mixed-sex couples.

Then, because I was working on the sermon, I was reminded of the gospel for this coming Sunday, in which we see Jesus in a moment of uncharacteristic harshness. (Matt. 15:22-28) A Canaanite woman cries out to ask him to save her daughter. He gives her the cold shoulder — not saying a word. The disciples complain, and Jesus says, essentially, “Not my problem.” She kneels before him, refusing to give up, and begs for his help. And he then says something so shocking it is hard to believe it comes from the lips of our loving Savior, “It isn’t fair to give the children’s food to dogs.”

Then comes the turn in the story, and the point that Jesus may be making, and what the church today might do with it. For the woman persists, this unrelenting woman with the sick child: she will be driven away neither by silence, nor by complaints, nor by insults: she reminds Jesus that even dogs get the crumbs that fall from the table. And finally, after ignoring her, shrugging her off, and even insulting her, Jesus relents, and acknowledges her persistence — and her great faith; and her daughter is instantly healed.

It may well be that in all of this Jesus was simply testing the disciples, renowned for their “little faith” as opposed to this woman’s great faith. He may have been waiting to see what they would do — if they would continue their approach of getting rid of troublesome people, appealing to Jesus to send them away: whether hungry crowds seeking spiritual and earthly food (Mark 6:36); innocent children (Mark 10:13); or even those exercising ministry in Jesus’ name though not part of his inner circle (Mark 9:38). It gives one pause for thought.

And one thought is to ask, To what extent do the heirs of the apostles continue their efforts at exclusion and dismissal? Or will they finally get the message of Jesus’ wish to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah that all will be drawn into his kingdom, even the formerly hopeless eunuchs and unclean foreigners. (Isa 56:4-6) All, all, belong to the Bridegroom, and his Bride is not fully clothed until every soul God loves is included in her.

We who appeal to the church for understanding and compassion, do not do so in vain, I am sure. Even if we must keep knocking long into the night, we trust that the door will eventually be opened. For I am reminded of another saying of our Lord, (Luke 11:11-12, in the Authorized Version)

If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?

You know the rest. I do not believe the church to be so hard-hearted, nor are those of us who are pressing the church to reexamine its past positions on sexuality asking the impossible. The church has shown itself to be remarkably flexible in its interpretation and application of any number of biblical injunctions and restrictions, down through the years, some of them even involving sex and marriage. It is not an earth-shaking abandonment of the gospel — the claims of some notwithstanding — to consider the possibility of recognizing and blessing the relationships of faithful partners in life, who wish to commit themselves to each other under that blessing and in that bond for life.

Those of us engaged in this patient and earnest appeal, though we be ignored, rebuffed, and labeled as less than worthy, less than human even, will not cease from mental toil, nor from prayer, nor from giving thanks for the scraps thus far cast in our general direction, nor from pleading our case, nor from claiming our blessing, though we must wrestle until dawn, and be put out of joint on its account.

Tobias Haller BSG


30 comments:

Leonardo Ricardo said...

I don't want "exceptions" made for me by any of you...I certainly don't believe God will see me as a "special case" therefore not be expecting me to be responsible/accountable in ALL my affairs...personal, intimate and business...in fact, that's the BIG challenge for me, to be the authentic version of me and not some convulted/twisted self-loathing soul in denial that was seeping through the cracks of his own life/soul by "looking the other way" at my own behavior while playing PRETEND that all was well...all was unwell but thanks be to God many of us are fully present and transparent at The Body of Christ...no, we do not hold ourselves to a "different" standard (we've got the Baptismal Covenant and Creeds to prove it and don't need ++Rowans Inquisition patrol).

fatherjones.com said...

Tobias, I love the Jerusalem reference - can't get enough Blake.

What about your suggestion that the blessing for ss couples simply be the existing household/couple blessing already in the B.O.O.S.?

Tobias Haller said...

Thank you, Leonardo. Absolute authenticity is what I am seeking. We deserve nothing less -- not exceptions but inclusion, which was Jesus' constant message. (Yet still the guards at the door say, Halt...)

Ah, Greg, I cannot have enough Blake! As to the BOS, I recommend that as a present authorized use, but do want to see us move towards marriage equality. I think the next step will be to permit use of the BCP marriage rite, with suitable adaptation (very little is needed), in those civil jurisdictions where same-sex marriage is legal. I think we will see more action on the civil front in the coming years. Slowly the church will catch up with the world, in which God is at work perhaps less fettered by "religion" -- almost always an obstacle to God. (As Blake would have acknowledged --- "binding with briars"!)

Anonymous said...

Tobias,
When folks speak of marriage equality, I find it is usually meant to describe life long unions without regard to gender.

Do you believe that those of us who are bisexual are to be included in this description of marriage? I always seem to get stuck in a loop over the "B" in LGBT when discussing marriage with friends. Is not a bisexual's focus on both rather than a single for a relationship? How could this be understood as Christian?

I am respectfully asking for help to work this out. Thank you.

Greg

Leonardo Ricardo said...

Absolute authenticity is what I am seeking." Tobias

That says it cleanly...put's the emphasis where it belongs...gulp.

My best to you, thank you,

Leonardo

Tobias Haller said...

Anonymous Greg,

The "B" raises another question -- but I think it is more about sexual orientation than the issue I am trying to address. The question, as you phrase it, appears to raise the issue of monogamy. You appear to be suggesting that a bisexual person "needs" to have a sexual relationship with at least two people. Let me try to parse out my thinking on this.

A bisexual is someone who is equally "oriented" towards both sexes. That is, they are both capable and desirous of men and women. But isn't all human relationship about individuals, rather than classes of people? A strait man is perhaps attracted to "women" but in fact is only attracted to "some" women, and the moral principle of monogamy would say he only gets to marry one. Apply this to a bisexual person, who is attracted to several other people, some men, some women. He (or she) still would be governed by the principle of monogamy. It is about choosing one person, not one "sex" that is at issue when it comes to the particular individual.

Now, of course, you might say, Why monogamy? And it's true that monogamy is an evolved moral position -- that is, Scripture attests to polygamy with no negative judgment at all -- much as it does with slavery. But the culture of the time accepted both because both were really about property and power.

In monogamy the partners can truly be in balance one with the other. It is very difficult to create such a balance with more than two --- it might be possible, but there will, it seems to me, always be some tipping of the emotional, affectional, social, and physical towards one partner at the expense of the other(s).

Now, of course, this doesn't mean that a bisexual person is any more expected to be perfect than a gay or strait person. After all, most heterosexual couples actually engage in a form of polygamy -- and that's a cold, hard fact. Over 40% of all first marriages end in divorce -- and of those that don't go to divorce, some degree of infidelity may well be assumed.

Still, monogamy as a moral goal seems to be what the church expects, and I've not seen a persuasive argument against that, given that I see this as a matter of fidelity, balance and mutuality, best achieved between two people.

Some might say, "But I can only be fulfilled by having sex with a man and a woman." Well, others might say, "I can only be fulfilled by having sex with multiple women." The issue is the same, it seems to me -- is this about personal fulfillment? My suggestion is that the moral standard should not be, What do I get out of this, but rather, What do I bring to this. I do not see it so much as the fulfillment of one's own desires as about the commitment to enter into a relationship that is enduring and permanent, based on the total self-giving of the partners to each other. That is the ideal of monogamy -- which, as I say, is open to challenge. It's just that I've not found any challenge to it that makes moral sense based on the moral principles that I hold to be basic.

Hope this helps explain where I'm coming from.

Marshall said...

Greg, isn't it about stability and faithfulness in a relationship to one person? Our critics persevorate that having desires does not for the human drive behavior; and as our faithful monastic siblings show, they're right. That doesn't mandate a Biblical command, but it does speak to us of faithfulness in relationships.

One of my favorite theologians, Carter Heyward, tried to articulate a pluriform relationship in which all parties could be equal and just to one another, and equally faithful in relationship. While I could follow her logic, I couldn't get past a sense that it would require perfect people, and I didn't know any (and don't still). (That, by the say, is why most Muslim men do not act on the possiblity of having more than one wife: they recognize that they couldn't do so and be really just.)

I am faithful to my beloved, not because I don't find another attractive, nor even because I can't imagine another relationship, but because I am committed in love to her - a love that requires stronger expression than simple affection. I know folks gay, lesbian, and straight who have that kind of commitment. I would only expect that bi people would also be capable of that commitment, and recognize human limitations in being truly equal and truly fair in more than one relationship.

Phil said...

And one thought is to ask, To what extent do the heirs of the apostles continue their efforts at exclusion and dismissal? Or will they finally get the message of Jesus’ wish to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah that all will be drawn into his kingdom, even the formerly hopeless eunuchs and unclean foreigners.

Amen; but you are mistakenly conflating the Church's teaching on sexual morality and the "exclusion" of people from the Church. One has nothing to do with the other. Since we're all sinners, you might as well say we're all "excluded;" or, conversely, that the Church should not presume to teach on moral matters at all, since that would ipso facto result in the exclusion of somebody.

Grandmère Mimi said...

The story of the Canaanite woman is surely one of the most difficult in the Gospels. It's hard for me to believe that Jesus' actions and words toward the woman are to be taken at face value. In other words, as you say, he had a teaching plan in mind for those around him at the time.

It seems so very sad to me, but, at the same time, rather obvious to make the linkage between the Gospel story and the appeals of GLTB persons for a place at the table. That any person or any group should be reduced to begging for a seat is scandalous. The lesson of Jesus' scandalous behavior in the story is that it will ever be thus, this side of the heavenly kingdom, and that, in the end, they must be given a place.

On the other hand, I sometimes wonder if the Canaanite woman didn't win the argument with Jesus and convince him to change his mind - but that's off topic. Of course, I could be wrong.

Christopher said...

I am reminded by Blake of Auden's "Heavy Date" where clerk easily fits cleric.

As I noted of the Syro-Phoenician woman just the other day:

A bit of moxy is a good Jewish virtue too often overlooked in Christian discussions dominated by a bossy Paul and a cowering Peter. I find it interesting, that a Syro-Phoenician woman demonstrates this willingness to argue with God, indeed, face-to-face, while those who would be apostles were not so predisposed. I remember my visit to Bergen-Belsen or the incident of a young woman in a congregation where I worked whose family was slaughtered in Rwanda and how she cried out in protest upon hearing of God's genocide in the Noah Story. I think of all the obedience that has shown itself in the modern world, and I cannot say that this is a virtue without qualifications. Spirits must be tested. Perhaps the Binding of Isaac is the first test. Does it call for the sacrifice of others? If so, it is likely a false obedience, a failure to truly listen for the voice of God, especially to be found in those we would sacrifice. Abraham learned from this. Can we?

Tobias Haller said...

Thank you, Marshall. That is much what I was trying to say.

Phil, I think you have missed to very real points of our very real world and church. First of all we have to face the inequity of the application of biblical or moral laws. I hope you will not wince at the reminders I made in the comment to Anonymous Greg about the majority of heterosexuals who are guilty of adultery -- by biblical standards, anyway. Yet few call for a bar on the ordination of a person divorced and remarried (some do, I know, but as far as I know no one has made it a point over which to divide the Anglican Communion! So it is being treated differently; and you will pardon me if I question the sincerity of some who even raise the issue, since that is all they do.)

Some will say, "all are sinners" -- but apparently some are more sinners than others in this Animal Farm of a church.

Then you might say, Ah, but ordination isn't necessary for inclusion in the church; neither is marriage. True -- but the church does in fact ordain divorce persons, or persons guilty of who knows what other violations of the moral law, and bless marriages (of divorced persons) that Jesus said were adulterous -- even if it doesn't turn divorced people away from sitting in the pews.

The problem is that this double standard creates an obstacle for gay and lesbian persons, who are excluded from the church in part because of it. For why should they be drawn to a hypocritical institution --- one that tolerates people living in a state of continuous sin (a second marriage after divorce) but won't tolerate their living in a faithful same-sex realtionship. Why is one a matter over which to split the Communion, and the other a well-tolerated norm?

The Pharisees did not actually say to people (apart from eunuchs, menstruating women, and a few others) you cannot be part of the assembly. But they did lay heavy burdens on people that kept them away from the assembly. That is the present situation, in the lack of equity and the basic moral inequality.

I've heard any number of conservatives tsk-tsk about divorce, by the way, but never heard any of their leadership calling on any of the other leadership (who are divorced and remarried) to resign. I won't name any names, but in fact the conservative leadership has a number of such folks in its inner circle. When people so unevenly apply "the church's teaching on sexual morality" by placing a thumb on the scale for gays and lesbians but winking and nodding at heterosexual offenders -- well, I would not want to be in their shoes. They are placing an obstacle -- as "scandal" as the text has it -- in the way of countless little ones who otherwise might believe. I know many gay and lesbian persons who want nothing to do with Christ not because they are excluded, but because of what they see as blatant hypocrisy.

Christopher, thanks as always for the additional images. I wish the church would spend more time reading the woes addressed to the Pharisees and scribes instead of imitating their behavior. You remind me of another passage, in the rabbinic tradition: when the angels started to join in Miraiam and Moses' song about the death of the Egyptians at the Red Sea, God stopped them and said, "The Egyptians were my children too." Hence there is always a bit of bitterness in the Passover.

Tobias Haller said...

Mimi,

Thanks for this observation. I too like to see the woman as a winner in a classic debate. It is likely she shows the character of shrewdness that the clueless disciples seem so often to lack!

afeatheradrift said...

I have always been troubled by this passage. Your analysis is simply wonderful and such a good answer to those who argue for exclusion of those that are "other." I have always been a believer that Jesus was inclusive and that was a huge part of his message. As a new Episcopalian and former Catholic, I'm so happy to see this kind of thinking. Thanks so much!

fatherjones.com said...

Thanks Tobias.

Greg Jones ('not Anonymous Greg')

rick allen said...

Toby, I think you make very competent use of the argument, "Well, you changed x in your favor; how are you not a hypocrite for not changing y in mine?"

Of course, the argument works just as well to force a re-thinking of of the change of x.

And after all, if one does change y, how much more compelling is it when in come those calling you a hypocrite for changing x and y and not wanting to change z? It is an argument that gains force every time it is successful.

Tobias Haller said...

Rick,

You are once again trying to slip in the "slippery slope" argument. It doesn't wash any better now than it did the last time you raised it.

The question isn't simply, "Well you've permitted X so why not Y?" extended ad infinitum -- which is the slippery slope argument. It is, rather, "You have permitted X, which is of the same type as Y, so why not Y?" There may, in fact be reasons not to permit Y -- but those reasons need to be laid out, and it is not an "argument" to bring in Z, or to assume that the reasons which permit Y also permit Z. Z may be of an entirely different order.

To take an example that is far from the present one, but no less important: The state permits the use of alcohol and tobacco (to say nothing of firearms) but criminalizes the use of marijuana. To argue for the legalization of marijuana, on the basis that it is demonstrably less harmlful than alcohol and tobacco (and firearms) is not to suggest or argue for the legalization of heroin or cocaine -- because those are in fact just as if not more harmful than alcohol or tobacco.

So the parallel here is: you permit remarriage after divorce, in recognizing that marriages, like all living things, can die. (This is one of the common rationales advanced for allowing second marriages). Marriage is better than promiscuity; even a second marriage. So too, gay marriage would be better for society than promiscuity, and would advance notions of stability and personal unity that are recognizably moral. So why not have same-sex marriage on the same basis as mixed-sex marriage? This argument is simply inapplicable to the other items on the slippery slope (polyamory, etc.) because they are not what is being discussed, and they are more different in kind than same-sex marriage is to mixed-sex marriage. If this were a graphical interface I could draw you a Venn diagram: same-sex and mixed-sex marriage overlap in the area of "monogamy" -- which polygamy, for instance, doesn't, although it overlaps in the area "heterosexual." I dare say it never occurs to you to ask, "If you allow two people to get married, why not three?" That is just a slippery slope in a different direction...

Tobias Haller said...

And... FWIW, I think that a faithful same-sex relationship is actually morally superior to an unfaithful mixed-sex marriage. Morality is not about anatomy.

Phil said...

Tobias,

I think the treatment of those who are divorced, certainly with respect to ordination, should be equally strict. You can question my sincerity if you wish – though I know you weren’t necessarily directing that remark at me – but that’s how I feel. Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to either make or enforce policy, so I’m not sure what else you would have me do to avoid the charge of hypocrisy.

In any case, Christ Himself appeared to leave infidelity as a rationale for divorce (Mt 5:32; Mt 19:9). As you correctly observe, there’s way too much of that going on. On the other hand, that means a lot of divorces are licit, even by the Savior’s teaching.

Tobias Haller said...

Phil,
I'll take your word for that. I wasn't speaking of you directly, as I don't know who you are except by Christian name, and as I think happened a month or so ago I confused two "Phil"s as it is. I don't even know if you are one of them or a third! I do not in any of this mean to be critical of any individual.

However, I wonder, and I think it's fair to ask, since I have no way to know, if your opposition -- admitting you have no ability to enforce of make a policy -- rises to the level of actually making this opposition known in situations or forums where you might do so?

As to Jesus' teaching: he gave permission to divorce, but not to remarry, even for the "innocent" party. (Mt 5:32 doesn't mention a second marriage at all; and 19:9 can be read as allowing divorce but still forbidding a second marriage.) I'm not saying we need to maintain that rule or that understanding of what Jesus was saying, although that is what the unbroken tradition did until about the middle of the last century (even the innocent party in a case of adultery was not free to remarry). This is just one of those circumstances in which the church has found it convenient, in keeping with the significant social pressure, to come to terms with what was once considered "blessing sin."

Phil said...

Tobias, to the extent the opportunity presents itself - yes, I have. Of course, as you or any number of people could point out, anything I say along those lines carries no risk to myself and won’t affect any real divorced persons. Fair enough. If, God forbid, I were faced with a divorce myself, then we would see how much principle I really have. Lord have mercy, I would not want to find out. I know how far I am from where God wants me to be.

Your comments are thought-provoking as always.

(By the way, I’m the first Phil.)

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks, Phil. May God continue to bless you and your wife and support you in fidelity and love, all the days of your life. It is more and more difficult to maintain a marriage in our present culture, with its emphasis on self-fulfillment rather than commitment. God be with you now and always.

Christopher said...

Fr. Haller,

I think it's a bit more than this:

This is just one of those circumstances in which the church has found it convenient, in keeping with the significant social pressure, to come to terms with what was once considered "blessing sin."

I think that social pressures might present the problem and force churches to reconsider, but it was churches beginning to engage, even argue with Jesus, i.e. argue with God face-to-face, noting that harm could come from such severe "drawing of the fences", indeed, destruction of faith completely, and we took a more pastoral approach. I find it still interesting that Christians who claim not to be under the law are in fact often more legalistic than our Jewish kin because we don't have methods to engage and interpret law--even our common law, common sense approaches of those like Hooker are ignored.

The idea that the words of Jesus should be swallowed whole hog with engagement becomes more Pharisaical than the Pharisees, who after all were and often are maligned by Christians unfairly, is troubling. It should trouble that Christian responses so often are a knee-jerk, "the bible says" without this kind of critical engagement. After all, our Jewish sisters and brothers came to an understanding of the problems of dealing death as response within their legal traditions long before we Christians did.

What this is to say is that I think it's a copout to suggest that this is simply acquiescing to culture, rather than seeking the heart of God in a very real and personal flesh-and-blood situation. I thought Anglicanism had an understanding of law in this regard, but more and more, I think we've given that away.

Tobias Haller said...

I don't know, Christopher. I surely don't want to see us fall into a reliance on Law above all else -- but neither do I want to rob fidelity to another through solemn vows to the dust heap, or even the back burner.

That doesn't mean that the church should not recognize, as I note, that marriages do fail -- they do die. The question then becomes, should one solemnize a second marriage, made with the same promises as the first? At what point does the virtue of fidelity, and all of the language of "for better for worse" enter in? Ultimately I have to take the approach of looking at each individual case, rather than propounding a rule that all must follow. But it does seem to me that Jesus establishes a standard against which we set the plumb-lines of our own capacity.

What I was getting at in the quote you cited is the sense I have that we have become rather casual about divorce and remarriage in the church -- and that goes for the RCC as well as TEC. (I confess to not knowing much about Lutheran practice; though I recall Luther's quote about marriage and the town hall.)

My concern, in this brief excursus -- which wandered rather a bit from the original note -- is to suggest that by not emphasizing the real virtue of fidelity and permanence in marriage, we are blinding ourselves to where it exists in same-sex relationships, and tolerating abdication instead of encouraging perseverance.

Thank about it in terms of Benedict and the rule, and that may make some sense of what I'm trying to get at -- the sense of solemn vows, and the stability to which they point, is not to be taken lightly.

I have in other posts noted the irony of Christians setting a fence around the Law where the contemporary rabbis are now seeking to limit its sway as narrowly as possible. I am, I think, doing neither in this case -- but rather trying to understand what Jesus intended in his teaching on the virtue of not dividing what has been joined. Somewhere in that is the virtue of stability, I think.

JCF said...

[Tobias, have I mentioned how much I LOVE have the "Post a Comment" thread pop open on its own? Thanks! :-)]

you are mistakenly conflating the Church's teaching on sexual morality and the "exclusion" of people from the Church.

How are you defining "the Church", Phil?

A same-sex couple---apparent as a couple---may not get thrown out of the pews (even that would not be true, in every "Anglican" church worldwide!)

...but they might be excluded from Holy Communion.

Then you go up from there (to find more and more frequent exclusion): (lay) offices in the Church? Catechist? Sunday School teacher? Vestrymember/Warden?

Supported by their parish, in a request for support in discernment (of a vocation to holy orders)?

The whole ordination rigamarole (inc. support for seminary)?

Actual ordination, to the diaconate? To the priesthood?

Support by the bishop, in ministry? Given a call (wherever)?

Finally, we come to consecration to the episcopate (where the exclusion is the current law of TEC).

Only by the NARROWEST of definitions of "the Church"---if there---can you, Phil, justify NOT "conflating the Church's teaching on sexual morality and the "exclusion" of people from the Church"

Lord have mercy!

Christopher said...

Fr. Haller,

Absolutely. I think stability is at the heart of what Jesus is getting at, but I think that is not often how that saying is used by Christians or the Churches. Knowing how this has been applied to myself as well as to members of my family, I am willing to say rather clearly that a straightforward reading as law is something I'm willing to get in others' faces about.

The problem is that many Christians and Churches say this, I surely don't want to see us fall into a reliance on Law above all else, and then proceed to do precisely this in their handling of Jesus's sayings and in their application of those sayings to human lives. And with what often comes off as an arbitrariness and mean-spiritedness and capriciousness that makes exceptions for oneself while applying the full force of the saying-as-law to others.

The lack of chesed/kindheartedness/mercy and of particularity in Christian legalism is something I grow weary of running up against. In other words, in fact, there is a heavy reliance on law without interpretive methods and frameworks for considering individual cases, and because this is so, no sense of standard by which application of law can itself be judged. It is true as the common law approach understands that individual cases require particular consideration, because only then can a real justice be conveyed. But frankly, in light of how Christians actually do law--and pretend otherwise, the reliance of our Jewish kin on law with methods and frameworks of interpretation comes across as downright humane.

I neither want to neither do I want to rob fidelity to another through solemn vows to the dust heap, or even the back burner, and yet it seems as you say, special pleading--a loathsome phrase used by Oliver O'Donovan when discussing gays and lesbians, seems to be all the rage among heterosexuals, and not only in divorce, but in contraception, among other things. But the invocation of "tradition" attends full force when dealing with same-sex relationships. Well, that's simply an ability to get what one wants because one is the majority in my mind. If the tradition is flexible for oneself, you cannot simply make it flexible for oneself or one's own circumstances and harden it when considering others carte blanche. It seems we can find all sorts of wiggle room legally when dealing with married heterosexual realities. And this wiggle room has nothing about it of understanding a Jesus-saying or rule or law as a framework to lead to increase in virtue imho. For that at heart is how I understand a rule or law or vow, as providing a framework for a life lived as response to Jesus Christ. This, however, is not a common conception or use of rule, law, or vow outside of monasticism.

Here is a bit more about what I mean by engagement with Jesus and his sayings:

The problem to my mind is first reading Jesus' admonition as a law or plumb line without a context. Within Jesus' context where a husband could divorce his wife almost without cause, to "draw a fence" makes a lot of sense. Women are given greater protection, and the value of relationship is put at the heart of marriage. I think this suppleness too forces us to ask questions about the spirit of Jesus's intent. And I think you are correct, the spirit of his intent is to make stability (my spiritual elder and the presider at our union calls this "radical fidelity") the heart of the matter. But it is not a stability for stability's sake, but as response to God. Marriage then becomes a discipline, a vocation, a locus of discipleship, a matter largely unnamed in our traditional rites. Marriage is akin to a religious vocation in this regard. I would say the same of same-sex relationships. I would also say too, with the East, that in this regard, religious vows too are sacramental.

Marriages don't only die, and this should be mourned as it always affects the community, but sometimes marriages can become deadly (and it is often then that Christian community is likely to turn a blind eye). I think of the abusive marriage of my grandmother, and the fidelity imposed on her from society and church while she got to be bloodied to a pulp on a regular basis. And of course, the charges by church folk that by marrying again following her divorce, she was an adulterer. She never returned to church, I might add, and I don't blame her. The "virtuous" drove her away by their "virtues".

A spate of recent studies in psychology show that a partial but important contribution to the rise in divorce has to do with women not having to put up with a whole lot they had to put up with before because they can live on their own economically. How is the church addressing then male violence, male dominance, male pigheadedness? We don't. And we don't because men largely are those in the seats (i.e., cathedra) and because when the matter is addressed, men get huffy and pretend that all is okay with us. Instead, the churches just go on about perserverance without providing a more open, honest examination of the contellation of problems that can affect a marriage and affect fidelity. Nor do we have many public examples of married couples who are willing to discuss the ways they have sought help when needed to work though such things. I think of my own union and of our being very clear with family and friends and some in our parishes about seeing a marriage therapist in light of all the aftermath of my partner's coming out. Of learning to argue better. Etc. And that being open about this was an example for others, reducing shame, reducing a sense of "self-reliance", and understanding our relationship as a part of a greater whole and thus liable to affect the whole should it end, etc.

This is to say that sometimes fidelity to the Greater requires leaving a marriage. We have to attend to the spirit of Jesus's saying. That in nowise means I support divorce carte blanche, and would mean that I would as a pastor or therapist or spiritual elder want a series of steps taken to uphold the marriage as a priority. But there are limits, and unaddressed and uncorrected abuse is one of those. We still haven't taken in fully the seriousness of abuse as far as I can tell in thinking about marriage in the church. And neither does that mean I am going to condemn or withhold blessing on another entering a second marriage carte blanche. A good pastor, however, might ask for a period of counseling, etc. to work through that which contributed to the demise of the first. And there may even be situations where someone does need to make serious self-examination in light of cultural tendencies to use one another in marriages, but in the end, I want to see not only Jesus's plumb line but how we are applying it in specific cases of pastoral reality. I want collections of case studies; I want tales of examples. The alternative is, to my mind, a tendency to Christian capriciousness through legal thinking that can do more pastoral harm than good.

This is all to say that for me all virtues, if truly virtues, must first not refer to ourselves but to God's actions toward us in Jesus Christ. Fidelity, as is it's ground, stability, are first God's actions toward us rather than our response. The standard is not even Jesus's saying, but Jesus himself from Incarnation to Ascension. This requires a pastoral theological approach rather than a legal approach, but it nonetheless also requires case examples so that we don't become capricious. One might say that common law is a "pastoral" rather than "legal" system in this regard.

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks JCF -- I found that setting buried away in the blogspot system -- I do prefer it!

Christopher, that basic inequity was what I was getting at: the fact that the church swallows the camel of divorce yet strains at the gnat of same-sex blessings. To be frank, it is as if the church has lost its moral compass -- retreating into the very worst form of legalism that consists of finding out-clauses for oneself and one's friends while trying to be extra strict with others. In the long run, I'm not calling for increased attention to the divorce prohibition (though I'd welcome more deliberation before people choose to marry!) but rather the same kind of "freedom to interpret" applied to the scant anti-gay texts -- which, as you know, I'm examining in detail to show just how thin they are.

In the long run, Jesus doesn't apply a system of Law, but of principle: to love as one is loved, or even more, as on would be loved. There is, in this, no room for abuse, no right of power, no power to control. So it is, ultimately, purely pastoral without any "law" at all -- just the moral principle, against which all acts are measured, and even if found wanting, become acceptable to the degree they are based on love.

Geoff said...

Br Tobias, you write:

I think the next step will be to permit use of the BCP marriage rite, with suitable adaptation (very little is needed), in those civil jurisdictions where same-sex marriage is legal.

Why should the Church follow civil society, rather than leading it, on this matter? Why not authorize the BCP marriage rite for same-sex couples throughout ECUSA, without regard to their status (or lack thereof) in the civil law?

Tobias Haller said...

Geoff, in one sense this is a recapitulation of what happened in the early church -- where there was no marriage rite as such until the need for one came to be felt. When it comes to marriage qua marriage it is a matter between the couple -- they need neither church nor state to "be married" as the church holds that the ministers are the couple, and the state recognizes "common law" as a reality in many places.

In this case, however, I think we want to encourage clarity, and have some sense of the support mechanisms in place -- which you've got in Canada, but in the US will take longer.

I certainly have no objection to less formal blessings of relationships -- but I don't want to fall into the fallacy that "marriage is a religious institution" -- it isn't; it is a secular (human) institution which the church also participates in.

THe other factor is that some who argue against the church doing anything raise the lack of state support as a reason to withhold the blessing -- and certainly wherever the state makes it possible that robs that argument of any shred of logic.

seamus said...

I think the theme that has evolved in these comments as emanating from Phil's comment "you are mistakenly conflating the Church's teaching on sexual morality and the 'exclusion' of people from the Church" reminds me of a Supreme Court Justice's tongue in cheek observation that the equity in the law prohibits the rich and the poor alike from sleeping under highway overpasses.

Tobias Haller said...

Dear Seamus, thank you for reminding me of that excellent bit of jurisprudence! Spot on.