July 1, 2009

Not a requirement

One of the major arguments against blessing same-sex marriages is that they are not supported by Scripture. Leaving aside the question of whether that is actually true or not (!), I think it is important to examine the underlying misconception in that argument.

The Anglican tradition holds that the Church may not require or impose that which cannot be proved from Scripture.

But the Anglican tradition equally holds that the Church may allow things not provided for in Scripture, condemn things that are allowed in Scripture, and allow things that are condemned.

So the thesis that allowing the blessing of same-sex marriages requires explicit scriptural approbation fails.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

22 comments:

motheramelia said...

If we as a church believe in blessings (and I certainly do) rather than curses, than how can we not bless at every opportunity. The idea that blessing requires any kind of "permission" is neither logical nor scriptural.

Christopher (P.) said...

Tobias-- Going with your working assumption not to address whether Scripture is for or against same-sex marriage, I'm with you on two out of your three positions of the Anglican tradition: I do see that the Church may allow many things not provided for in Scripture--say, the Church itself, as currently constituted (but there are likely better examples); I see that the Church may condemn things that are allowed in Scripture, say, the institution of slavery; but I'm having a hard time coming up with something that the Church allows that is condemned in Scripture. The easy answer might be remarriage after divorce, but of course the Roman branch does not allow this, nor do the conservative parts of our own Episcopal/Anglican church, or, rather, if currently allowed, it's seen (at least by my Rector) as the next battle after, perhaps, rolling back women's ordination. Showing my ignorance here, I ask for an example of something that Scripture unambiguously condemns, that the Church equally unambiguously allows. (And for the record, it is not my opinion that Scripture unambiguously condemns same-sex marriage.)

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks, Christopher. The item most strongly condemned in Scripture that is effectively now allowed would have to be eating meat with the blood in it. This is a "creation ordinance" in that Adam and Eve were mandatory vegetarians, and only after Noah's flood was meat allowed -- on the condition that it be completely drained of blood. The prohibition comes up a number of times in the Law and the Prophets, and most importantly it was repeated by the Apostolic Council. (It is not to be confused with the dietary laws, which are of an entirely different order, in not being binding on Gentiles.) More details on this, and a few other examples (lending money at interest, breaking the sabbath), are in my book...

Erika Baker said...

Tobias
I'm finding myself increasingly muddled about what a blessing is and I don't really understand what the church is saying when it states that it can or cannot bless same sex relationships.

Is it something the church bestows on people and objects, or is it rather that the priests asks for God's blessing upon someone or something?

I tend to feel (and it is pure feeling without any theological grounding), that we may well ask God to bless warships, or claim to bless them on his behalf, but that this by no means implies that God will actually comply.

Christopher (P.) said...

Just so--many thanks. (Need to get the book!)

plsdeacon said...

Tobias,

Can we now bless automobile theft. It is not condemned by Scripture. Homophobia is not condemned by scripture. How about a service blessing homophobia. Racism is not condemned by scripture. Shall we now bless the KKK? Drug abuse is not condemened by scripture. Let's bless that too.

We don't bless blood nor do we bless lending at interest. There is a big difference between allowing and blessing. How about we treat same sex unions with the same level of 'blessing' that we treat drinking blood or charging interest for loans.

The argument from silence is one of the weakest arguments. Since Holy Scripture does not differentiate between types of homosexual sex, then we should not either.

To make the biblical case that homosexaul sex is now blessed, you need to show a scriptural case that blesses homosexual sex. I away your making that case.

YBIC,
Phil Snyder

Christopher (P.) said...

Phil--

No doubt Tobias can respond more effectively than I, but I understand the point he is trying to make as this: there is not a necessary one-to-one relationship between those things that Scripture sanctions and those things that the church may allow (not require, but allow). It is an entirely different point as to what those things actually are that the church may allow. Those things are to be determined through a long process of discernment, so that sufficient reasons are elaborated. That process of discernment is hardly the moral free-for-all that your comment describes.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Erika,
The theology of blessing is complicated, but it basically does involve, as you say, our asking God to bless X. In early forms it is reversed: we "bless" God for giving us X. I think looking at various table graces provides a non-controversial way of looking at the question.

Phil, your straw-man arguments don't really work, because no one is suggesting blessing automobile theft -- theft is condemened by Scripture. Racism is a better example of how things change, since it is actually approved by Scripture -- but we now condemn it. And I would say that drug abuse is condemned by Scripture, to the extent that the "drugs" of choice -- wine and strong drink -- are condemned when used to excess.

You seem to be caught up in a strange kind of reverse literalism here. I know you think Scripture condemns homosexuality pure and simple. The fact is that it doesn't. And if there is any "principle" at work (as in the cases of theft and drugs) what is condemned is not "automobiles" or "heroin" but the deeper principle of what is moral. It isn't the automobile that is moral, or the alcohol -- but what is done with them, and by whom, and to what end. Morality isn't about "things" but behavior, and the only form of homosexual behaviour condemned in Scripture is that connected with idolatry, abuse, promiscuity, unfaithfulness and prostitution -- just as with heterosexuality. Thus the morality is not about the gender of the couple, but the quality of the relationship.

The lack of a clear positive example (if I were to agree there isn't one, which I don't) of a life-long, loving same-sex relationship is of no significance, though you appear to think it is. But, as I say, we do not require an explicit example of approval in order to approve. What we do is find out what is the moral basis for the approval. It's not about automobiles, or drugs, or gender.

The Anglican tradition has always allowed the church to innovate in such cases, where a moral principle can be shown to "trump" a merely cultural or ritual prohibition. In this case, what is "moral" in sexual relationships is not the gender of the couple, but the nature of the relationship -- and this is true for all people. There is nothing "moral" about gender. Holy Scripture (to the very slight extent it addresses it at all) is quite precise in differentiating between the various types of sexual behavior. Nowhere does Scripture condemn same-sex marriage; and if it can evince the moral qualities required for such a relationship, the church can allow it, and even bless it. This is not an argument from silence, but an argument based on recognized moral principles, rather than on a "taboo" mentality, whether based merely on residual homophobia, or a form of "natural law" that merely ensconces mistaken readings of nature or ones own cultural prejudices.

IT said...

The church will bless a dog, or a boat, or a house.

But not a faithful gay couple.

Of course the church will bless the union of a felon, or a divorced couple.

But not a faithful gay couple.

I am legally married in the state of California. LEGALLY. I am one of the 18,000 and the SCoCal has upheld our marriage. But the church has told legally married couples they are out ofluck.

now, let's consider divorce. Strictures against that are much less ambiguous. But nearly all churches marry the divorced, even Bishops are divorced, and yet, I don't see anyone waving the flag against divorce they way they wave it against gays. Pass laws against divorce? Where is that movement?

Can it be that the prohibition of divorce is too inconvenient to the straight people, and their donors? Interestingly, the highest rates of divorce in the US are conservative evangelicals. Like other religious conservatives, they are amongst the most adamantly opposed to legal or religious recognition of gay couples.

But on the much clearer issues of divorce? ::crickets::

So, with that hypocrisy clearly before us, the anti-gay conservatives have lost the battle. Don't DARE point at a few ambiguous Bible passages that do not even mention faithful gay couples when you ignore the unambiguous ones against divorce.

Speck: meet log.

Erika Baker said...

Tobias
Thank you.

Does that, then, not weaken the case against same sex blessings?

Merely asking God's blessing on something carries far less responsibility than claiming to act directly on his behalf and assuming his authority. There is scope for legitimately getting it wrong. And if we do get it wrong, God will simply withhold his blessing (whatever that might mean in practice).

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks, IT. If even a fraction of the energy leveled against GLBT people were devoted actually to building up strait marriages, and working to maintain them, the landscape would have a much different pitch. As it is, it's a case of camels and gnats, I fear.

Erika, that's it exactly. It is God who blesses. In marriage this is all the more important since the "theology" of the rite states that it is the couple who are the ministers -- not the priest. People marry each other; the church asks God's blessing and serves as witness.

David |Dah • veed| said...

I am also inclined to believe that somewhere into this argument one could weave the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. What we, the Church, bind on earth is bound in heaven. What we, the Church, loose on earth is loosed in Heaven.

Why give us the authority, if not the manner with which to wisely use it, and then trust us to use it wisely?

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Exactly, Dahveed. This is why the authority of the church is what is actually at work. The Scripture doesn't "impose" it's own authority; it must be in the decision of the church that the authority is made real -- both to condemn or acquit.

When Jesus gave this authority, he was well within the rabbinic tradition, and ratified it:

If the Torah had been given in fixed and inimitable formulations, it would not have endured. Thus Moses pleaded with the Lord, “Master of the universe, reveal to me the final truth in each problem of doctrine and law.” To which the Lord replied: “There are no pre-existent final truths in doctrine or law; the truth is the considered judgment of the majority of authoritative interpreters in every generation.” pSanhedrin 4.2

The question of who the "authoritiative interpreters" are is of course open to question. In the Jewish community, it is understood regionally, and according to the tradition to which one belongs -- Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox. Thus the majority of US Conservative rabbis may make a decision that is not acceptable to the Orthodox in England -- but it is authoritative for US Conservative Judaism. (Which doesn't mean there might not be individual rabbis who disagree. Disagreement and debate are a lively part of Jewish "walking in the Way" -- living the Law.

Christians, particularly conservative Christians, tend to think in a monolithic and unchanging law in all respects. That is neither historically true, nor a proper understanding of what God really intends -- which is for us to grow to the maturity of Christ, the living Word of God.

plsdeacon said...

Tobias,

I'm afraid that you have a rather ill formed ecclesiology if you think that TEC is The Church and has authority, itself, to change the moral teaching of the Church. I submit that something like this would take either the whole Church or, at the least, the Anglican Communion.

As it stands now, the Anglican Communion (through the united witness of its "instruments of communion" has "bound" blessing same sex unions. The teaching of the Communion is found in Lambeth 1.10. Lambeth 1.10 did not set the teaching, it merely stated what the teaching has always been. So, the Authority of the Church says that we should not proceed with the actions of blessing SSUs.

There are matters of Church Order that the Church has said are open to local option. But matters of moral behavior are not open - and specifically, the matter of blessing same sex unions is not open to local option.

YBIC,
Phil Snyder

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Phil,

Sorry to say that you are objectively mistaken on just about everything you say here.

1) You are welcome to your opinion that changes in moral teaching require either "the whole Church" or "at least" the Anglican Communion. (Don't you notice how these two are mutually exclusive? How can the "Anglican Communion" change something at all if it requires "the whole Church.")

2) The Instruments of Communion do not in fact speak for the churches of the Anglican Communion, nor do they have the power to bind, set, or reaffirm some imagined teaching "that has always been." The most that can be said is that these Instruments represent a "mind" of the communion -- but even then they agree that the old "consensus" has dissolved. Lambeth is not, and never has been, charged with the power to establish or define the "teaching of the Church." In fact, such a suggestion goes directly against its founding documents and charter as a "conference" with no canonical power whatsoever.

3) So, in fact, there is no consensus in the communion on the rightness of SSUs. The Instruments recommend no changes in practice "until a new consensus emerges" as the Windsor Report says.

4) In fact, the blessing of SSUs is open to local option, but the Windsor Report recommended against exercising that option.

You are, of course, welcome to continue to believe as you do; but in the ecclesiology of Anglicanism this is all a matter of voluntary agreement. There is no central governing body in Anglicanism to settle such matters -- the eventual settlement will emerge from the decisions of the individual churches; at least until and unless some form of Anglican Covenant is adopted that provides for a differently ordered way of coming to conclusions.

There are, of course, churches that claim the kind of top-down doctrinal authority you describe; but Anglicanism has traditionally eschewed such an approach; traditionally vesting final authority in the national or provincial church -- as did the Church of England when it broke with the "authority" of Rome.

MarkBrunson said...

Consensus has never been the way God worked.

Sorry to strip you of your perceived importance, Phil, but you've no more of a lock on God's absolute iron will than the rest of us.

Scripture cannot legitimately claim primacy over direct experience, Mr. Snyder.

MarkBrunson said...

Not to mention, of course, that the AC has no more "moral authority" than any other purely voluntary organization, say the Rotarians or Junior League, and considerably less demonstrated ability at discerning anything close to Truth.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks, Mark.

Moreover, the Anglican principle of provincial autonomy was manifest in the declaration that "the Bishop of Rome hath no more authority in the realm of England than any other foreign bishop" and the temerity to say that "the Church Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred; so also the Church of Rome hath erred... in matters Faith." It is within the authority of the national church to make such declarations on faith and morals; for example, to say, "Lambeth, being an assembly of fallible men, hath erred..." and "The Archbishop of Canterbury hath no more authority in The Episcopal Church than any other foreign bishop." That doesn't mean we do not listen to the opinions of both Lambeth and the Archbishop -- but we are not bound to follow them if we disagree with them.

WilliamK said...

Deacon Phil,
Judging by the number of places where you post on this issue it appears to me that you care a great deal about it. That noted, may I ask if you have gotten yourself a copy of Br. Haller's book and are making the time to read and think about it? I would think that, given the significance of this issue in and for the life of the Church, you would want to read the book carefully before debating Br. Haller.

David |Dah • veed| said...

William, from his posts in another thread I am not sure that Tobias' book meets Phil's preconceived requirements for such a book;

Can you give me an overview of your book (with scriptural citations) off line (snipped email address). If they show promise, I will consider ordering your book.

snip

Is there anyway you could point out the ones (scriptural citations) that talk about blessing same sex unions or that say the injunctions elsewhere in Holy Scripture do not apply to life long mutually monogamous unions between two men or two women? Just one or two will do.

BillyD said...

"We don't bless blood nor do we bless lending at interest. There is a big difference between allowing and blessing. How about we treat same sex unions with the same level of 'blessing' that we treat drinking blood or charging interest for loans."

Well, you don't have to drink blood to violate the scriptural prohibition, Deacon. Any time you eat meat that hasn't been drained of blood, or eat something like black pudding or blood sausage, you're doing something that Acts 15 says Gentiles shouldn't do. And last time I checked, we *do* ask God's blessing on these things when we do eat them.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks, BillyD for the reminder of the classic Irish Breakfast!

Seriously, though, there is one other blessing of blood which passes almost without notice in our churches every Sunday morning. We have utterly lost how very scandalous were Jesus' words of Institution to the Jewish disciples -- the notion that they should drink blood; and human blood at that!