Thursday, January 06, 2005

On-going multi-point conversation

There is an on-going conversation among some of us in "blogdom" that is trying to weave together, while speaking meaningfully about, probably three different strands. The conversation focuses on issues of homosexuality -- should non-celibate people be ordained and ought the Church to bless same-sex unions -- and the "unity of the Church" -- i.e., what is it for the Church to act, how important is the received teaching of the Church, how free is any group or individual to buck the Church and act in its/his/her own way -- and what is the problem that the conversation seems so difficult to maintain -- i.e., why do we seem always to be talking past one another.

Here I wish simply to provide links to others engaged in this conversation (not in a general way, but engaged by referring to each other's thoughts). That means there won't be many blogs, because none of us -- with the exception of Camassia -- gets around much.

I have tried to address the issue a couple of times: here and here.

My sister Dash, whom I know personally and love dearly, has raised the issue here.

Her great friend Julesrud has posted to Dash's blog here. (By the way, we need to encourage Julesrud to set up her own blog, so she can get her thoughts out more spontaneously and quickly -- and share the vulnerability that some of us experience).

And, last but not least, Camassia has said these things, here.

Follow links, of course, to get to other discussions.

There is an amazing lot of stuff on the Pontificator's blog, but I won't cite particular posts because he hasn't really referenced this particular conversation. Still, I have to say that his blog is one of the most amazing sites I can name.

(Jim has been vocal in the conversation, but I don't know that he has a blog himself. If you do, Jim, give a reference and I'll visit regularly. I appreciate your involvement here.)

We all need input, so here is your golden opportunity.

I'm currently thinking about how to address the issue of why we speak past each other. I am convinced that the reason has to do with some fundamental split in Protestantism (which is, I think, the "tradition" of all the people I mention): We have so come under the spell of frontier evangelicalism. (Frank Senn is the one who really helped me identify this, because of its implications for the liturgical life of the modern church.) Frontier evangelicalism set aside much of the theological heritage of the Church -- many aspects of which Luther, Calvin, Wesley, the Anglican divines, and even Zwingli (I am told) would despair of losing. Among those aspects are several highlighted in the Creed -- specifically, the Church. From a "res" -- that is a living entity "outside of which there is no salvation" or "life within which is salvation," to paraphrase old constructions -- the church became a voluntary association of like-minded and -experienced "christians" who had worked out their individual salvation with the their individual God to their individual satisfaction. The result is that the notion of the "unity of the Church" -- i.e., of the universal oneness of the Body of Christ through all time (its "diachronic," or "through all time," dimension) and all over the globe (its "synchronic," or simultaneous in time," dimension) -- became psychologized and platonized. It ceased to have concrete form or content and became, instead, a matter of "getting along" and "respect."

To think that the universal Church has any ultimate authority over me or my group, then, became nonsense -- it simply didn't fit the scheme of things. (The Reformation, which understood itself as a reform movement within the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, came to be understood as establishing a new approach to religion -- denominationalism, in which one could "attend the church [sic] of his or her choice [sic]", as though religion were a matter of choosing a supermarket.

One of the consequences was the acceptance of the Enlightenment's great proposal that there is no authority over one that is located outside of oneself: We are our own authorities -- which, if you parse it carefully, means that we are our own gods (but I'm not going to go off on the Enlightenment today). That gives rein to all kind of individuals and groups' deciding for themselves how to live consistent with the gospel, as they determine it by "their own lights." Sure, we may read the Bible, but we read it in our own language, through our own filters, with our own worldview -- irrespective of the fact that the Bible is the Church's book and really can't be understood apart from the "institution" that settled its content in the first place.

Now, there I go again: assuming lots and explaining little. Let me unpack for a moment: Lutherans especially (because we claim it was Luther's principle) and protestants in general insist that every person can be his or her own interpreter of the Bible. But that is not, for some of us, correct. What we call "Bible" does not comprise everything ever written involving the Lord of Israel and his Son. Instead it is a rather carefully culled, (yeah, yeah: I know there is dispute about this -- not least from Luther on James) settled collection of those works that adequately and accurately "drove Christ." It was an edited collection; it was a pedagogical collection; it was a collection with an agenda determined by the then-powers-that-were, the bishops of the Church. And what was selected by the Church was to be interpreted by the Church. And as the great councils of the Church made clear, "interpretation" was not an individual matter; it was something subject to the veto of the Church meeting in assembly (and once again, that ecumenical council assembly represented both the diachronic and the synchronic consensus of the Church's teachers).

Note that when Luther, for example, attacked Rome and the papacy, he did so not by saying "it seems to me," but by saying, "the Church through its history has said, and now you're changing or damaging things." He understood, contrary to our popular understandings, that the Bible means what the Church says it means, not what Martin Luther or even -- gulp -- Dwight has to say about what it says. (This is the great failing of the Jesus Seminar: It fails to understand -- or it willfully ignores -- the Churchly context of the scriptures. It tries to deal with them as "literature" or "history" or as just another secular book. And that is fraudulent; it misreads the genre of the Bible. And it's probably not a surprise that most of the guiding lights in the Seminar are in secular universities -- where the Bible is often the object of "study" without any reverence.)

I hope I have made my point, because I don't want to belabor something obvious any more than I usually do.

But my point is that one reason the conversation about homosexuality -- or any sexuality -- is so difficult and so evasive is that the participants speak from different worldviews. Our epistemologies don't match. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.) We don't learn the same way (and this is more than the Mars/Venus thing, and it certainly is not analyzable according to some gender distinction). We understand the nature of faith differently. We understand the nature of our place in the cosmos differently. We don't agree on authorities -- or on authority.

For my party, obedience to the diachronic and synchronic, if not consensus then, majority teaching is imperative until those who question and challenge that teaching convince the Church that she has been wrong. It was so with other issues -- slavery, for example.

I admit that the Peter story in Acts, in which he expands the mission to Gentiles, raises the issue of "civil disobedience" as a means to effect change in the Church. And Sister Dash insists that Martin Luther King, Jr., encouraged its use in church as well as in society. And there certainly are other instances of people's doing the "wrong thing for the right reason," to put the most negative construction on the matter. And we must certainly talk about that.

But the conversation can only advance when we come to grips with the importance of the Church's tradition -- understood in its most expansive, concrete, and authoritative sense. Thus says my party. I'm not sure what the other party has to say about that. The people with whom my mind "hangs" insist that once we cede obedience to the Church (there's language bound to raise the hackles of most of the people reading this), we may reasonably discuss the forms of that obedience -- and even the faithful employment of disobedience. But my party really can't see beyond this beginning point -- and, frankly, we don't see that we share the same beginning point with the other party.

Now, I must interject that I use the word "party" as a collective for those on one side of a conversation who are engaged in dialogue with "partners," the other "party." So do not read more into the term than I intend. (Anyone who knows me knows that tact is not my prime virtue.)

And to come to terms with the fundamental problem in our conversation, I wonder whether the worldviews are so set that we will have trouble leaving our individual spheres in order to engage the other. I mean this as no insult to the faith, the good intentions, the good faith, the cooperative spirit, or anything else of either party. We must, of course, "come and reason together"; we are simply unable by virtue of the reality of the Church and the Holy Spirit to do anything else. (Those who simply pick up their marbles and go away are making a mistake.) The same has held true in the great ecumenical dialogues of the post-WWII era. The conversations have gone on and on, frustrating to both parties who earnestly desire to get on with the business of bringing the Church back together. It will take time; impatience will result in errors (witness the present conflicts within the ELCA, a direct result of moving too quickly toward merger while ignoring obvious differences in the ways the parties understood "church"), hard feelings, and schism (and, yes, I do fear that schism will grow out of ELCA's action on homosexuality -- whatever it is).

So we shall continue to discuss here, making every effort to overcome the "speaking past each other" of which Sister Julesrud speaks rightly. Be patient with me.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi - This is Jono, not realy anaonymous, just too lazy to set up an account right now.

I understand the concern about church unity; it's valid and any change in church policy or teaching should be considered against a "unity" criteria. But, unity is not the trump card in this discussion. Truth is.

The discussion about gay union, marriage, whatever you choose to call it, is going on in the public square as well as inside organizations such as the ELCA. I think it is part of an even larger issue about how we describe our faith, our vision of ourselves and our relationship to God.

Within my own church, RC, the discussion has taken a nasty turn with the highest Church authorities using terms such as "intrinsically disordered" and "intrinsically evil acts." I know, because of my theology study, that these are terms of art in the Catholic tradition. But, other gay Catholics read these terms and percieve these terms as aimed squarely at them. We feel the pain of personal attack and devaluation coming from those we look to for spiritual leadership within a Church most of us love deeply.

I suspect the feelings are not much different among gay members of the ELCA. Knowing a good number, I can attest it is not. One of the major differences between the RC and the ELCA is that you have a method of discussing these issues and maybe resolving it in some way. I understand that is going on now with some action being slated in the next year (?) regarding whether to to revise ELCA rules about blessing unions, ordinaition, etc.

All that aside, we must examine the role of tradition. There isn't much dispute, really, about what the church has taught for 2 millenia about gay orientation, indentity and particularly gay sexual activity. The RC tradition has been that gay orientation in itself is not sinful but gay sexual activity is for may reasons beyond the scope of this discussion. And for most of us, church teaching about sexual sin does not match our reality. We see and experience ourselves in loving relationship with one other. For us this means giving ourselves as a gift to our other - freely given and freely recieved. We rejoice in each other's joys and triumphs and we cry over each other's difficulties and defeats.

We don't see ourselves a different from anyone else in this regard. We certainly do not see it as disordered or evil. What our Church tells us about ourselves does not match the reality of our lives.

Gareth Moore, a RC theologian, suggests that we know the Church has a traditional stance on homosexuality which is constantly negative in its attitude toward gay sexual acts. But we ask, is the tradition correct? Is what it says true? Moore continues: "It is this question, rather than any historical question about what the church taught in such and such century, that is the fundamental one; ... we are in any case fundamentally called to live not according to any tradition but according to the truth." (Moore. A Question of Truth: Christianity and Homosexuality. London, Continuum Publishing, 2003. 25).

Any solution to these questions will come, we Christians believe, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If it impacts these human organizations we call "churches," so be it. Our job is to pray, meditate, think thoughtfully and discern whether the Spirit is truly moving us in a different direction. If so, we must have confidence that the end result will be in accordance with the truth.

God bless. John

Jim said...

It's http://blogs.salon.com/0003342/

Without being [probably incorrectly] pedantic, I perceiving a huge difference between church and Church. To me, Church is the Body of Christ, all of us who acknowledge him as the Son who died for us. The churches are the necessary but not sufficient fragments that compose much of the Church.

An I think I am in agreement with you when I say that although I have a pretty good idea of how to follow Jesus, I am not sure how to render "obedience to the Church."

I think rendering obedience to church is wrong. Little-c church is [mostly] men, all humans, who, like the bishops at Nicea, both succumbed to pressure from the politicians and thrived on national churches for years. Bigtime conflict of interest. The politicians have changed, but the dependence on them from church-men doesn't seem to have changed much.

As do the Lutherans, we Anglicans (despite what some Anglicans might say!) are called to understand scripture on our own terms. We haven't stoned many adulterers lately, as I understand it, so I'm not sure how "biblical" we really are. I also understand that we have accepted the Orthodox appreciation of filioque, so that means that the Nicene Creed we've claimed to hold as necessary all these years will be changing.

If nothing changes, nothing's interesting. Lawyers would certainly be out of business, right?

Dwight P. said...

John and Jim, thank you for your well-phrased and apt responses. I think on many points, we agree. John, I have no problem at all agreeing with you that truth must trump tradition, even Tradition (as my Orthodox and Orthodox-leaning friends write it). And of course, by "tradition," I don't mean simply "what we've always done and said"; I mean the heritage of teaching and practice that has come down to us "like an ever-flowing stream" through the Church in history from the time to the apostles to today.

Followers of Martin Luther recognized that and felt themselves driven into exile in order to preserve the preaching of the Gospel as grace. Of course, those followers grew rather too fond of their own voices and soon misunderstood their exile as re-establishment of the True Church, but that's a complaint for another day.

And I think there is certainly value, Jim, in your distinguishing "big-C Church" from "little-c church." The Church of Christ is indefectible, but heaven knows such cannot be said of any congregation or denomination (ghastly term) or "little-t tradition." Witness congregations that preach hatred for anyone -- homosexual persons or "Arabs" or what not. Or how about the deplorable witness of those nuns and priests in Rwanda during the genocidal outrage? (I threw that in to suggest that I'm in tune with modern culture, what with the new movie, "Hotel Rwanda" and the book "A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali," which perhaps not coincidentally, since both claim to based on actual events, center on the same hotel in Kigali during that period.)

The question, I think, with respect to both of you is how we go about testing our "own lights" or experience. A few posts back, I raised this question. My experience is mixed, but there is certainly nothing in my history of friendships with gay people to suggest that there is anything generically "unnatural" (depending on definition) about them. They happen to prefer -- no, I hate that term, even when I'm being glib: They happen to find themselves attracted to people of the same gender, rather than the opposite gender. So why is that attraction -- or more precisely, why is acting on that attraction -- an issue? Is it merely a matter of social construction? Does it root in the fundamental structures of life in this world as we have been given to understand them through revelation?

How do I test my experience and insight? How do I know whether I am acting as a prophet of the One True God or a voicebox for Baal?

The answer, for me the easy answer, is that I test my experience against what the Church teaches. Which Church? Well, my Church is one church, comprising -- as I've already indicated -- modern all-too-humanly-influenced congregations, earthly denominations, and all the Christians since Peter and Paul ran around. But yes, the Church does speak and has spoken "with forked tongue": We don't stone adulterers (instead, we make bishops of them); we charge interest; we don't celebrate jubilees; we make war (often with the blessing and encouragement of the vast majority of Christians); we kill each other, while our "other cheek" remains remarkably unslapped. So the Church's ministry is this odd mixture of human fraility and depravity AND

Dwight P. said...

John and Jim, thank you for your well-phrased and apt responses. I think on many points, we agree. John, I have no problem at all agreeing with you that truth must trump tradition, even Tradition (as my Orthodox and Orthodox-leaning friends write it). And of course, by "tradition," I don't mean simply "what we've always done and said"; I mean the heritage of teaching and practice that has come down to us "like an ever-flowing stream" through the Church in history from the time to the apostles to today.

Followers of Martin Luther recognized that and felt themselves driven into exile in order to preserve the preaching of the Gospel as grace. Of course, those followers grew rather too fond of their own voices and soon misunderstood their exile as re-establishment of the True Church, but that's a complaint for another day.

And I think there is certainly value, Jim, in your distinguishing "big-C Church" from "little-c church." The Church of Christ is indefectible, but heaven knows such cannot be said of any congregation or denomination (ghastly term) or "little-t tradition." Witness congregations that preach hatred for anyone -- homosexual persons or "Arabs" or what not. Or how about the deplorable witness of those nuns and priests in Rwanda during the genocidal outrage? (I threw that in to suggest that I'm in tune with modern culture, what with the new movie, "Hotel Rwanda" and the book "A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali," which perhaps not coincidentally, since both claim to based on actual events, center on the same hotel in Kigali during that period.)

The question, I think, with respect to both of you is how we go about testing our "own lights" or experience. A few posts back, I raised this question. My experience is mixed, but there is certainly nothing in my history of friendships with gay people to suggest that there is anything generically "unnatural" (depending on definition) about them. They happen to prefer -- no, I hate that term, even when I'm being glib: They happen to find themselves attracted to people of the same gender, rather than the opposite gender. So why is that attraction -- or more precisely, why is acting on that attraction -- an issue? Is it merely a matter of social construction? Does it root in the fundamental structures of life in this world as we have been given to understand them through revelation?

How do I test my experience and insight? How do I know whether I am acting as a prophet of the One True God or a voicebox for Baal? Please understand that I mean no challenge to any of your experience or your good faith, but many are deluded into thinking that theirs is the "prompting of the Holy Spirit." To cite one (perhaps unfair, but nevertheless cautionary) egregious example: I'm reading Bonhoeffer's "[Cost of] Discipleship" right now, and one of the great windmills with which he was tilting was the State Church of Germany, which felt that the call of God was to support the Nazis. Now, in hindsight (and at the time, to Bonhoeffer, Barth, and almost countless others) the Church was clearly mortgaging its soul. But to the Church then and there, it seemed the clear vox dei. (The "good faith" of the State Church, I will not malign. The incredible stupidity and faithlessness, I will decry without reservation.)

Another problem with discernment is the incredible pressure of culture. Dash has commented on a lecture she heard raising the issue of whether culture forms religion or religion forms culture (and, I'd, add the degree to which they interrelated). I think we are sorely tempted to interpret our Bibles through the mental lenses of cultural values. That is so because we spend more time with the general, secular culture than we do with the Church and her culture (to the extent that the Church any longer has a culture). Read Hauerwas and (not Bishop!) Willimon ("Resident Aliens," et. al.) on that.

The answer, for me the easy answer, is that I test my experience against what the Church teaches. Which Church? Well, my Church is one church, comprising -- as I've already indicated -- modern all-too-humanly-influenced congregations, earthly denominations, and all the Christians since Peter and Paul ran around.

Yes, the Church does speak and has almost spoken and acted "with forked tongue": We don't stone adulterers (instead, we ordain them); we charge interest on loans; we don't celebrate jubilees, but instead celebrate and admire greed; we make war (often with the blessing and encouragement of the vast majority of Christians); we kill each other, while our "other cheek" remains remarkably unslapped. So the Church's ministry is this odd mixture of human fraility and depravity AND divine perfection.

Julesrud (sorry, I don't know how to insert the link in the comments box) (http://dashgoestochurch.blogspot.com/2005/01/guest-post-can-unity-be-maintained.html)
cites Peter's turn toward the Gentiles. I, too, have remarked on that, below. She and our mutual friend Sister Dash (http://dashgoestochurch.blogspot.com) suggest that that both illustrates and authorizes "civil disobedience." I have to think about that.

But my chief point -- to come to it, finally, even though it is a mealy-mouthed one at that -- is that we cannot simply as individuals, as congregations, as denominations, as parties and "subsets," rush off to do our own things without very serious consideration of the consequences for our relationships with the rest of the Church catholic East and West. Lutherans and Anglicans have already undercut the bridge to the East (if not Rome) by their ordination of women. On that, I think our respective traditions, Lutheran and Anglican, have done the right thing. And in my Lutheran branch, we did it the right way, too, by carefully mining the scriptures and setting what we learned against the almost-two-thousand year practice of denying orders to women. Finally deciding that "it seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us", we ordained women. (And we once and for all, for better or worse, we settled the question of whether women are better or worse than, superior or inferior to, men: They are absolutely equal. There are as many nincompoops -- in numbers and percentages -- among women ordered as among men, and women have contributed brilliantly right alongside men. But I digress.) We established a kind of prophetic stance on solid ground. But it took time, cooperation, sensitivity, and agreement on the ground rules.

I think that's what needs to happen with the "homosexuality" thing. And I think it can be done. We can search the scriptures, think rationally and faithfully about the matter, consult (in more than a prooftexting way) the preaching of the Fathers and Mothers of the Church. But if, as I think we have, we go in as debate opponents and not as inquirers, then we're doomed to fail.

I'm losing my train of thought, so I'll back out for now. [I'm doing this at work, time, so I may be distracted by the mounds of paper on my desk, too. :)]

Brothers, keep reading and pushing me. You help clarify points that I either ignore or elide. Jim, you've been very good about staying in the conversation at both Dash's and my blog. This kind of kinship is gratifying. (Dash and I were discussing it just last evening, as a matter of fact.) and John, I don't know where you came from but as my southern friends really do say, "Y'll come back soon." Help keep our circle unbroken.

Salaam,
Dwight

Jim said...

My wife and I are fortunate to have two fine adult sons with wives and children. The elder's family are Orthodox and the younger's are Methodists. Poles apart in a lot of stuff. The elder tells the joke about "How many Orthodox metropolitans does it take to change a light bulb?" To which the answer is "CHANGE!?"

I think a lot of that can be seen in church leadership today.

As a native of LA (lower Alabama), I suffered through the sixties, when our parishes debated about letting "them" in. Finally, my home parish cordoned off two rows of pews in the back of the building as our response to any of our Negro brothers and sisters who might want to worship God with us. Turns out that "they" are real people like us.

I was in California in the seventies and eighties when "they" insisted on being ordained, and some of those women actually got ordained ("irregularly," it is claimed, of course). Turns out that "they" are great preachers and pastors.

And here I am in the nineties and the ciphers, and "they" also want to get ordained. And become BISHOPS! And get married, just like real people. Shouldn't "they" know better? Actually, it turns out that a lot of "them" have been hiding in the closet. It's only the honest ones that have been targeted!

And those guys in Iraq we tortured. "They" are just ragheads, right? Ignorant nonbelievers. The civilians in that country? "They" are so unimportant that we quit counting when the number flipped the dial at 100,000. "They" probably had moms and dads and siblings and children, just like us.

And I'm still shocked at how many anti-semitic people who go to Christian churches refute the idea that Mary's little boy was Jewish....

Dwight P. said...

To pick up on a minor point: A Roman Catholic, a Lutheran, and Greek Orthodox were discussing theology and the issue came up, "When Jesus comes back, will he come as a Catholic, a Lutheran, or an Orthodox?" Well, of course the Catholic insisted that he'd be Catholic; the Lutheran, that he'd be Lutheran. The Orthodox asked, "And why would he change?"

Camassia said...

Perhaps one thing that would be helpful about discussing church traditions is distinguishing between real traditions and things that people claim are traditions. If you're talking about global Christendom over the last 2,000 years, there is no real tradition of racial segregation. Some people in the European colonial era have claimed theological justifications for racism, but they were basically making s**t up. (One Southern judge ruled against interracial marriage on the basis that God meant the races to be separate because he put them on separate continents, failing to consider the fact that he was an ethnic European living in America.) So I think Dwight's exercise of discussing and mining scripture and tradition might educate people about what they actually say, rather than what people think they say. Simply rejecting "tradition" because conservatives claim it's on their side would be making it too easy for them.

(btw Jim, thanks for your nice comment on my post.)

Anonymous said...

Brother, I know that we are both ultimately on the side of justice, but that we just have two very different approaches. What keeps us in this discussion so congenially is that, in the end, we agree on what the result should be. If I knew you to be an opponent of the truth I know in my heart, I would not be able to commune with you as I do here. I would not be able to benefit from your tremendous patience, your zeal for the excitement of intellectual debate, or from your forgiveness of my single-minded soap-box rants. I would not be able to argue this point of "unity" if I believed we were ultimately going in opposite directions. But since we are going in the same way, I think we are not so much arguing past each other as we are arguing about whether we should walk the torturous Oregon Trail, or whether we should just hop on a plane to get there (because 1. we're tired of arguing, 2. we can see the goal, and 3. because we can).

So I'm going to try to pick out some things in your post and comments that I'm not sure I "get," and let you help me out with them.

"But my point is that one reason the conversation about homosexuality -- or any sexuality -- is so difficult and so evasive is that the participants speak from different worldviews."

- And our worldview today differs from
their worldview of 500 or even 2000 years
ago, in ways that we can only interpret and
never truly understand. But that does
not mean that they were right just because
they were first!

"Once we cede obedience to the Church we may reasonably discuss the forms of that obedience -- and even the faithful employment of disobedience."

- Do you mean that once we agree to obey,
that we have the right to decide what
that obedience will entail?

"[By 'tradition,'] I mean the heritage of teaching and practice that has come down to us 'like an ever-flowing stream' through the Church in history from the time to the apostles to today."

- And tradition is a living thing, which
changes and is changed by
every generation's contributions!

"Finally deciding that 'it seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us,' we ordained women.

- I wasn't there, Dwight, but My God! was it
really that simple? (Note: I don't equate
"easy" with "simple.") It sounds like they
shugged: "Eh, okay, in the end, it boils down
to this, so let's do it."

Thank you for the grace,
Sr. Dash

Anonymous said...

Whew! Brother (and commentators), you've laid out much more to consider. Now I shall have to think and stew some more. Yes, yes, it's a good thing. :)

Blessings,
Julesrud

Dwight P. said...

Oh, Dash, women's ordination was not an "easy" thing at all. As I recall the process (and keep in mind that we OKed women's ordination such a long time ago that EVEN I was young), it was difficult and not without its Dwight's saying, 'Yes, but the Church probably has never done this before. Can it be right to do it now?' And I don't recall what the vote was at the national convention of the ALC (my branch then). I have not really studied this to get all the facts. (Only the ones that serve my case. I'm a lawyer, after all.) But the point was that the conversation proceeded until there was at least a near consensus. And as a result, women's ordination did not really remain a big issue of contention for very long.

Oh, yes, I'm sure people left the Church and maybe even congregations did. And I know that people today still don't quite accept it for themselves, even if they think it's a good idea -- I have personal stories about that. But we moved into the situation with grace-filled dignity and were able to celebrate the ordination of the first woman, rather than debate it.

And it helped that women did not "push the envelope" and get ordained before the church had approved the policy. I know that sounds patronizing (and, Dash, at least you know that I can be condescending, but rarely patronizing), but it demonstrated to the wary that this was not a subversive movement, but rather one of service.

To tie that to my concern for tradition, I think I demonstrate that "first" does not trump "right." I think it true, too, that what seems right in one era becomes something of a scandal in later times.

I apply that to doctrine, to the chagrin of some of my friends. For example, I think the Anselmian model of the atonement has served its purposes and now does more to diminish the preaching of the Gospel than it helps. I think that even though a whole lot of that Tradition of which I speak -- with the notable exception of Eastern theology, so my point may be even more valid -- is built expressly and implicitly on that model. (We can pursue this thread, too. Or should I blog about that in order to keep things organized?)

There have been various understandings of homosexuality and homosexual behavior throughout history. In ancient Greece, at least the common opinion seems to be that it was considered a rather natural thing between member of the military (it built group morale) and between young boys and their mentors (where it was arguably an abusive relationship, but I don't think that that is a given). Of course, that is the same ancient Greece in which the situation of women was deplorable. Women's place was not even in the home; they had no place except as it pleased a man to give them one.

Homosexuality or gayness is a modern concept, if not reality. That someone might be "wired" differently from the older models simply didn't occur to many people before relatively recent times. And even psychologists didn't recognize the non-illness of being gay (as evidenced by its being listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) until barely a decade ago (wasn't it that recent, or has time flown again? At any rate that is a very recent development.)

Now, is that development (cultural and intellectual and scientific) meaningful to discussion. I'd say defintely yes. There are those who would say no, but I think the onus is on them to explain how we can then discard the insights. That doesn't ultimately settle matters, though.

Scripture must be interpreted as a whole and with an eye to faithfully and consistently reading it. To cite an extreme and therefore probably unfair analogy: If we discover that there is a "murder" gene, will there be grounds for the Church to re-write its teaching against killing, because it's "natural"?

What are the hermeneutical principles that serve us in critically evaluating our tradition, Tradition, and traditions.?

This is becoming a more urgent issue, because the ELCA task force on sexuality will issue its recommendations on Thursday. Watch out for fecal matter flying through the air after having hit a fan.

Dwight

Dwight P. said...

Thank you, too, Camassia, for your contribution. I think it a terrifically important reminder to distinguish "traditions of men" from "traditions from God." That is, after all, what theologians are supposed to do.

It is key to figuring out who "they" are and of what sort "they" are. There are certain "they's" who are rightly excluded from the communion of the Church. Bonhoeffer would, I think, have excommunicated Hitler (and about 99% of the Lutheran bishops) for being pagans. It is just plain right to speak out against those who stand against the Church's "genuine" Great Tradition.

As another distraction to illustrate my point: I'm very much against calling God "Mother" when naming the Trinity: We are not free to say "Mother, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is heresy and blasphemy, because the name of God has been revealed to be more than a metaphor. However, there is no similar stricture against using feminine imagery to speak of God: In fact, Jesus sort of does so, although he compares the reign of God to a woman and to a hen. "Mothering God" is different from "Mother God" or even "Mother." It is important for us to explore, with the help of poets and even Jungian analysts (I'm a little suspicious of Jungians, but I'm more suspicious of Freudians and other schools), the full measure of ways to paint God's picture. But that does not mean complete liberty to say what we want. That's what Hitler and the bishops did. Language is that important.

Right now, there is a lot of confusion about what is the genuine tradition and how to apply it to the modern issues. That is true, not just of sexuality, but also of violence, use of resources (earthly, monetary, human).

Another way to put the distinction is the way Dash likes to frame the issue: Is this a cultural value or a religious value (actually, religion is a culture, too, but we don't attend much to that under the present especially Protestant settlement). Religion and culture can mutually inform each other. But one may try to triumph over the other. Right now, in USAmerican society, a certain kind of culture-religion asserts its "truth" to trump civic culture and even any other relitious culture. From my perspective, it is a blatant effort to apply a religious veneer to a patently offensive political agenda that is wildly out of synch with the Gospels. (But millions disagree, witness November).

Indeed, is this from God or from men? (I deliberately recall the old "traditional" translation as "men," in order to underlie the way the hermeneutic works.)

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