Some Thoughts on Sex, Marriage and Sin

On the list for the House of Bishops / House of Deputies, at the end of a string on the election of a new PB the argument turned to issues having to do with the possibility of support of sex outside Christian marriage...and in that context, a member wrote that he believed that anyone who porported to be Christian and supported sex outside "Christian marriage" was damned, or perhaps doomed.

This issue, namely the nature and theological importance of "Christian marriage" is a central one to the ongoing crisis faced by the Anglican Communion, and yet I have this strong sense that the issues are not well addressed by simply restating the piety of the opening sentences of the Book of Common Prayer service for the celebration of a marriage. To simply state that the bond an covenant of marriage was established by God in creation does not tell the whole story of the social, theological and political importance of the "institution" of marriage.

I wrote these thoughts the matter of the support of sex outside marriage:

(i) Almost all young adults- folks in their late teens and twenties - I know, including those in my own family, have had sexual relations "outside Christian marriage." I have to be honest and say that I am mostly relieved to know that for the most part these young people do not seem to confuse sex (which can be everything from incredibly healthy to perfectly terrible in or outside marriage) and the covenant of marriage itself. While I share all the concerns that sex not become a cursive activity, a hurtful one, or that it become an idol (and we have idols all around), I believe that sex particularly before Christian marriage can be an important part of the awareness, and even the joy, that one can bring to the covenant of marriage. I make these observations with no desire to enter into a protracted argument about moral rightness.

(ii) I do not "purport" to be a Christian. I am one. Yet as a follower of Jesus Christ I find it difficult to find the courage to respond to the sort of statement that says we are damned and not really Christian unless we believe sex outside Christian marriage is wrong. That I find it fearsome is perhaps an indication of my lack of courage. Such comments are intimidating, and I wrote the paragraph above wondering if things have come to such an impasse that harboring such thoughts brings into question my belief that I am a Christian. Still my being a Christian is not dependent on the writer's view of the matter, but, I suppose, on Jesus' view.

(iii) I am reading for the first time in thirty years William Stringfellow's book, INSTEAD OF DEATH, in which he speaks of Christian marriage, in its institutional (and Christendom driven) form, as a distortion of the life giving possibilities of relationships in Christ. Given the strange mix of high aspirations, true faith and profoundly idolatrous baggage we find in Christian marriage as actually practiced / preached and condoned, I am not convinced by argument that Christian (or any other form of) marriage is the only context in which sexual relations are for appropriate.

I posted these three points on the list, and another writer opined that I condone sin, a falling short, by suggeting that non-marital sex is some how OK. The writer suggest that all such sexual activity falls short of God's ideal, and that to approve of it in any way is to impoverish the Christian moral vision. In response I wrote the following:

Actually, my own experience is that every sexual act in which I have been a participant "falls short," not of attention and wiz bang delight and even care and love, but of God's ideal and for that matter even my own. That is true of long friendships some now of forty years or more, a marriage of 38 years, and children from 28 to 35. In all these unions I have indeed fallen short.

The union possible in sexual activity, in marriage, in any covenant, in every union, falls short of God's union with us in Jesus Christ. I am often conscious of the fact that I can be a shadow of that union but my union with others, temporary or enduring, has always fallen short of that presented in the union between Christ and his Church, or between God and humankind. In that falling short I am indeed in sin, but not remarkably so, since that sin is always before me in so many other ways (including verbal excess.)

I do not believe that condoning or blessing sex outside marriage impoverishes the Christian moral vision. Give what I know of the impoverishment of the Christian moral vision also available within marriage and its imperfect unions, I would suggest that condoning and blessing ought to be viewed not as a gate to be closed to keep the vision pure, but as a gate held open so that that which is most reflective of God's glory can shine through. So when persons come to be married and tell me of their relationship I am given to asking them what they have found in their sexual, personal, social, political, religious and every other union activity that is indeed of God's glory, writ small and imperfect in their own lives. As you know the stories and the revelations of self an faith are at times wonderful to hear.

I do not believe I am condoning sin in speaking this way. Rather I am talking about the rather small thing of body and body against the backdrop of great good and evil in the world, and in the face of the Great Love that God in Jesus Christ has for us in the union that is not particularly about sex, most certainly is about body, and very amazingly is about Resurrection. But when I think on the things of these very temporary instances of body love, I do not come away believing that I have condoned sin, but rather that I have condoned a voice of a greater love than I can have, spoken almost as a whisper.

I don't think, by the way, that "God's ideal" is bound up with the particulars of the institution of marriage. The bond and covenant of Marriage was instituted in Creation, but such union or marriage is a manner of life, and not an institution. The institution of marriage, particularly as expressed in that great idol, the "American family" with all its strange artifacts, persists in being mostly about social, economic and legal amenities, and about social structures that are almost impossible to maintain. The state does not give a damn about the bond and union, and I sometimes think the Church does not either, since it spends so much time in talking about it not as a mystery but as a matter of exclusive property and body rights, the myth of the "normal" family, etc. Whatever we may say about Jesus' engagement with marriage and family, it would appear that his own family was wonderfully abnormal, extended, and with almost no visible relationship to a pure vision of Christian marriage to be seen. But then again, He is Jesus.

Ah, the human condition is quite a mess, and yet, in this or that moment with another I remember, even though we fell short and the union is only the flesh and of the moment, the presence of a delight that is itself a reflected glory.

The following, from the Stringfellow Book referenced earlier, INSTEAD OF DEATH, gives a more powerful statement of some of the points I have raised here.

"There is really no such thing as "Christian marriage" as the term is commonly used. "Christian marriage" is a vain, romantic, unbiblical conception. "Christian marriage" is a fiction. There is no more an institution of "Christian marriage" than there is a "Christian nation" or a "Christian lawyer" or a "Christian athlete." Even where such terms are invoked as a matter of careless formulation and imprecise speech, they are symptoms of a desire to separate Christians from the common life of the world, whereas Christians are called into radical involvement in the common life of the world....But not of these or similar activities or institutions are in any respect essentially Christian, nor can the be changed or reconstituted in order to become Christian. They are, on the contrary, realities of the fallen life of the world. They are inherently secular and worldly; they are subject to the power of death; they are aspects of the present, transient, perishing existence of the world."

"...in marriage and all else the Christian is fully participant in secular life; but at the same time he is constantly engaged in offering his involvement in secular life for the glory of God. In such an offering, that which is ordinary is rendered extraordinary, that which is merely worldly is transfigured, that which is most common becomes the means of worship, and each act or event of everyday life becomes sacramental -- a sign and celebration of God's care for every act and event of everyday life in this world. "

(From INSTEAD OF DEATH, by William Stringfellow, published first by Seabury Press in 1963 and republished by Wipf and Stock Publishers 2004, pg 40)

The whole chapter on Sex and the Search for Self makes a good read, as does the whole book.


  1. Some very interesting thoughts. I thank you for them. I'm not sure that I can go as far as Stringfellow wants to go, because I think there is something definite and real and even institutional to Christian marriage particularly. But I think it's far more relational than churches like to make it out to be.

    What are your thoughts on marriage as sacrament?

  2. Priests and Civil Servants

    I have wrestled for a few years now with my developing sacramental theology, especially concerning marriage. In my contemplating about the human sexuality debates in our country and in our Church, and the conncommittant issue of civil unions and constitutional amendments, I have developed what I understand as a more sacramental understanding about marriage and my role in our society. This has led me to take the decision that I, as a priest of the Church, have nothing to do with the legalities of the state regarding marriage,and that by registerig with the state and/or signing any legal documents such as a marriage certificate crosses a line for me, making me a de facto servant of the state. My decision about signing state documents has led to a bit of bumpiness with two couples, neither couple were parishioners, who wished to get married. As the Rector of a parish, the combination of my requirement that anyone wishing to get married in my church must worship in the parish as members for a significant period of time before I would marry them and that they must have the civil/legal part done independently of me, did not go over well and they went shopping somewhere else. Much the same holds for those with divorces, requiring first extended counseling along with a writ of annullment from the Bishop before
    anything proceeds.

    I have read the ideas of several others on these subjects, and find
    myself wishing for deeper and continuing dialogue. I am a priest, and not a de facto civil servant, and do not intend to so become. Having said that, I have more priest friends than not arguing against my current sacramental theology and policy,
    often commenting that I have made the requirements too strict, or that I might run off folks who might never come to worship at a church except for marriage (implying that we might 'snag' a couple into the regular life of the parish as a result of the wedding).

    I wonder about all of this, in the background context of divorce statistics, including 'Christian marriages',at how the Church seems to have become, in some ways, not that different from drive through wedding chapels. I find it difficult to see any sacrament in that. I find it disingenuous to allow serial divorce and re-marriage, given scriptural prohibitions regarding such, given that we have adapted our Church's theology and practice to accomodate this civic practice,
    especially in light of the current civic and ecclesial debate about
    same-sex unions.

    I do not wish to draw a too close or identical parallel between divorce issues and same-sex unions, I should point out, except from the point-of-view of how we interpret Scripture in support of or against these two issues, and the irregular and internally incoherent/inconsistent manner in which we apply our hermeneutical principles. This brief blog does not present the opportunity to more fully discuss each individually as they deserve. I would suggest, in the most basic
    terms, that the Church has nothing to do with civil/legal state
    functions, and should have none, at least in national contexts of a non-established Church as we have in the USA. I would hope that the Church begin to revisit and consider more seriously its
    sacramental theology around marriage and divorce, as well as around same-sex unions, so that we can speak more clearly and coherently, with a greater degree
    of transparency and internal coherence about these issues.

    I think that we must also hold all
    relationships to the same standards of fidelity and holiness, with the same set of
    requirements concerning divorce or the dissolution of their union/marriage.

    Well, just some thoughts. I invite comment with the full understanding that we all, as the body of Christ, must discern these
    things together, and that I do not exist in a world of one.

    Christ's peace to us all.

  3. These thoughts seem to lead in a perilous direction--that chastity is not obligatory for us, perhaps even that the act of marriage is superfluous to the well full being of the sexually active, no?

  4. Wow. Mark, are you in any kind of dialogue w/ *Christopher at Bending the Rule? Because you two REALLY seem on the same page w/ this (both referencing Stringfellow, also).

    I really don't know. It's very difficult for me to wrap my head around this (as a queer person, I'm constantly arguing that we apply the same standards of "traditional sexual morality" to gay and straight---not throw out the old rules altogether). Plus, I'm just very old-fashioned, and monogamous, by nature.

    . . . but I'm interested in hearing more (you and *Christopher might consider collaborating on a book! :-D)

  5. Well, Jackie, interesting that you believe my raising a question about the notion of Christian Marriage assults the "basic tenents of our faith." And I find it quite odd that my writings "leave little doubt that the Bibile does not play a significant role" in my theology or my faith.

    Firstly, raising questions about the easy slide from commonly held expectations regarding marriage to a basic tenent of our faith is entirely appropriate for a person in ordained ministry, and for that matter for any person of faith.

    Secondly, I believe you have no idea just how great a role the Bible plays in my theology or faith, and am quite surprized that you have determine that it does not. I can only say that I am constantly holding what I thing, write, pray and do before the witness of the Bible, its peoples and the God disclosed in the writings.

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  7. Mark, you know what is going on with Jackie. If you diverge from a narrow and literal interpretation of a small portion of the Bible, you are completely unbiblical. If you adhere to justice, love, doing unto others as you would wish done to you, leaving final judgment to God, loving your neighbor, etc., but you raise questions about human sexuality that might cause anyone to re-think what minor portions of the Bible say about it, your theology has "nothing to do with the Bible" and you have grabbed the role of "stumbling block".

    I say again--before we spout off about which parts of the bible and which historic teachings of the church have been central to Christian faith, we should be looking at the actual place that any particular teaching has had throughout 2 millennia of theological reflection and worship. Look at the historic sermons, hymnody, lectionaries, Christian poetry and devotional literature as your measure. Things like the birth, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension and divinity of Jesus Christ are most central, if we use the historic worship and devotion of the church as our guide. Anything else is only central in proportion to these. Views on human sexuality are pretty peripheral if you use this as a measure.

    Why, then, are we allowing pretty marginal teachings to take center stage? It's like we're fighting like mad to save the flatware we bought at Wal-mart, but we're not paying attention that thieves are walking off with the heirloom furniture.....

  8. By the way, Mark, thanks for the Stringfellow reference. Did you see my article on him in Journal of Anglican Studies?

  9. Jackie, how about Biblical ideas of justice and love? I would say that Jesus saying that those who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the prisoners or healed the sick, are pretty central Christian ideas, and that our salvation does hinge on them. The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, speak overwhelmingly of these things--and relatively little about sex. But you make quite a big deal of sex, and not much at all about justice or love. So, the question becomes who is "biblical" and "dangerous," and who is closer to the "heart of the Lord"?

    Who is preaching new ideas? When in Christian history did issues of sexuality become deal-breakers the way you want to make them? A fair amount of study of Christian history tells me that the heresies of the church were about things like the divinity of Christ, the trinity, resurrection, and that. None of the classical heresies had to do with sexuality of any sort. Very little of the church's praise, prayer or preaching has to do with sexuality. Very little devotional literature throughout Christian history speaks of who can put which body parts near those of another person, and under what circumstances.

    My question to you is why are you elevating the issue of sexuality to a status it has never held in Christian history?

  10. Jackie, I'm still waiting for an answer to MY question to you. Why, and by whose authority, are you making something that has fairly minor mention in scripture into an issue that is a deal-breaker?

    You accuse me, and others, of a "cut and paste" approach to the bible. Your reference of two verses of scripture dumps that accusation firmly back in your lap--two verses, as opposed to chapters and books on what you call "worldly notions of justice and love." It seems my bible has a few more pages than yours. Or at least I have read a few more pages to which both of us have access.

    Remember, too, that the church defined scripture--not the other way around. The church decided what was and was not to be included, and which passages and ideas to emphasize. Therefore, I would say that the authority of scripture is subordinate to the authority of the church, and the church has historically placed little emphasis on the things that you are elevating to positions of centrality in Christian thought.

    Two thousand years of reading, praying and praising together does not bear out your over-emphasis. That is like saying someone's left nipple is a more important part of their identity than their brain...it doesn't make sense.

    On what authority are you spouting this codswallop?

  11. Jackie, I have read what you've said. The "message" is that you believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God, and unchangeable. Fine, but define "inspired." Who got the inspiration? Unfortunately, it was human beings, who have a marvelous capacity for screwing things up beyond recognition. So, what we've got is God's word, twisted beyond intelligibility, with confusions compounded through centuries of cultural difference and linguistic translations. So, we have to be somewhat humble and studious in terms of what we can say about what scripture says.

    I've read every word you've put down. You do not believe the Golden Rule to be part of the Gospel, but it is. You think justice and love are "worldly" rather than biblical, but those concepts are rooted deeply in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. You say all sins are equally heinous, but you harp (like far too many) on the sexual ones, because they're the most interesting and titillating, and the easiest ones about which to say, "Well, at least I am not like that publican."

    You're right, I'm not looking for a bible lesson. Had too many years of graduate theological study to look for one on a blog, even on a blog owned by a very learned priest.

    What say I to the varied theology coming from the pulpit? I don't know--I tend to tune out most preachers because most of them are pitiful theologians and worse public speakers. Who do I say He is? Some days, I'm not entirely sure, but that is what theological learning will do to some of us--it makes us think and evaluate, rather than just babble.

    I think all of this, by the way, is pretty laughable. I don't think I'm going to fare particularly well on the final day of judgment, but not particularly poorly, either--about the same as everyone else. I suppose what I'm looking forward to, whatever the outcome, is having a good laugh at how wrong everyone has gotten their priorities.

    I think the newly-appointed Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, got it right when he said that everyone involved in the debate should have their mouths washed out by God. The posturing and verbal aggression in all of this--forget the bad-faith actions of bishops intervening in provinces/diocese other than their own--is a major barrier to Christian credibility in the modern world. That's what's destructive, and that is what all of us will have to answer for.

    Oh, and again--why are you proposing such a major reorientation of the emphasis of two thousand years of Christian tradition? I've asked you three times now. Are you ever going to answer, or are you going to continue blabbering that you believe in the Bible as the inspired word of God, thereby implying that those who do not agree to the letter with you somehow do not?

  12. Oh Lord: "NAMBLA".

    I thought we were going to have a serious, informative and interesting discussion, and now this thread, through no fault of Mark's, has had NAMBLA inflicted upon it! >:-(

    Look, Jackie: see above re Mark doesn't purport to be a Christian . . . OR an Episcopal priest (or a blogger: it's his blog!). He IS one.

    I really want to have the interesting discussion suggested by Mark's entry, and not your "I demand you give me verses to prove you're not wrong!" cut-n-paste Bible Thump-a-thon, OK?


    OK, Mark, where were we?

    If "marriage" isn't all the Church has to say re sex, then what else? Surely something? (For example, how does what you're saying fit in w/ the baptismal covenant to "respect the dignity of every human being"? I'm thinking it extends BEYOND "Was it good for you, too?" *g*)

  13. J.C., yes, let's have that discussion about what the church might have to say about sex beyond "marriage." And I don't have a great deal of patience with Bible cut-and-pasteathons, either.

    I think it's important to bring up the "respect the dignity of every human being" issue here. Sex within the confines of marriage can fail miserably in that regard; I would imagine that sometimes sex outside of marriage has upheld it magnificently.

    The earliest Christians were suspected of sexual immorality at their meetings, possibly because of the practice of the "holy kiss"--is it entirely impossible that there was physical affection beyond what we would see as nice Episcopalians passing the peace, and that was found to be alarming to the keepers of public morals?

    As I understand it, there were a lot of baptisms of first babies registered in the mediaeval parish documents that were far sooner than nine months after the marriage of the parents. I'm not aware that evolution has increased the length of human gestation much in the last thousand years or so--so what has changed?

  14. Jackie, where did you say justice/love don't matter? A few posts back when you said you did not believe your salvation hinged on "worldly" love or justice. Well, it does seem that Jesus had a lot to say about such "worldly" things--feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner, heal the sick. You choose not to relate your salvation to those. Funny about that; the Hebrew prophets and the one you call Lord certainly thought they were much more important than you seem to.

    I did not avoid your question. I told you quite honestly that I am not sure. Have I ever had my cup filled to overflowing by God? No, I'm still waiting. Sometimes faith has not so much to do with not getting the good stuff, but with hanging around believing that it might happen someday.

    Can you have enough bible learning? No. Can you have enough bible lessons from those who do nothing except quote in highly selective ways, without any regard to the historical development of how scripture came to be, and with blatant disregard for the bulk of the content of scripture? Even one such "lesson" is far too much.

    I am not a shepherd--I'm a lay person with a doctorate in theology. I'm not sure I'm an observant Christian at this point, but an observer of Christianity. And my observation is that Christianity is discrediting itself very badly at this point, and no sane person who isn't already deeply committed to the church should get anyplace near it.

    Archbishop William Temple said it best (I can only paraphrase at the moment), when he said that the church claims to be the foretaste of heaven, and it frequently behaved badly enough that non-Christians would look at it and say if that's heaven, I don't want to go.

    Christians need not to yap about good news--they actually have to be good news. How is any of this excessive, prurient interest in sexuality good news to anyone?

  15. Jackie, I am not offended by your faith--what I find offensive is how you use it as a bludgeon to intimidate and ridicule those who do not believe exactly as you do.

    Even more offensive is how you turn it around to put yourself into the status of persecuted victim when you've been abusive to those who dare to think differently. That's one of the tricks the church has absorbed from our secular culture all too well.

    You ask for civility in posting, and yet you continue in some very un-civil behaviors. And then you play the piety card with "blessings" and a lot of yammer about your walk with your Savior that is supposed in some way to seal the deal that you are somehow more right than those with whom you disagree with.

    I'm with J.C. Fisher--could we please get back to the discussion at hand?

  16. Well friends...and everyone else tied together in this thread, JC Fisher asked, "If "marriage" isn't all the Church has to say re sex, then what else? Surely something? (For example, how does what you're saying fit in w/ the baptismal covenant to "respect the dignity of every human being"? I'm thinking it extends BEYOND "Was it good for you, too?" *g*)

    My sense is this: I get 8 references to marriage in the Gospels. Of those one is a translation of what the translators thought a reference to eunch real was about, 4 had to do with the trap question about whose spouse a person will be married to in heaven, and 2 had to do with second coming where as in the flood people were getting married. One is a reference to Anna who was a prophetess. Hardly a resounding word from Jesus about marriage.

    There are 8 reference to marry. They too are mostly about the puzzle Jesus is presented about marriage and the age to come.

    There are 7 reference to husband, and here Jesus is working on the issue of divorce, and in the case of the woman at the well, referencing her multiple partners. At least here he is defending both marriage and the marriage as a union.

    There are 35 references to wife, some of them concerning identification of a woman - as the wife of x. A number of others grew from the puzzles mentioned above, having to do with divorce, as in a man divorcing his wife.

    We get two references to joined... as in joined together in marriage. They are from the important passage in which Jesus says, (Matt 19:6)
    "Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

    All of these by the way are from the NIV version.

    There are other variations, no doubt, but the upshot is that Jesus had very little to say about marriage as either an institution or a "manner of life." That does not mean (and Jackie may be right here) that he didn't care or that he wasn't concerned. It simply means that the church doesn't remember him having a lot to say on the subject. A number of the references are to two or three specific occasions.

    Where does that leave us? With the rest of the New Testament, in which the beginning Christian community had to work its way in the world in faithful obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. It formed opinions about marriage that best reflected what it understood was an outgrowth of the confession (as we had in the reading today) that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

    Every human engagement, union, form of intercourse, etc becomes seen through the lens of Jesus as God present with us. No one else, not the emperor, not the state, not husband, wife, property, money, position, etc, can hold the position that Jesus now has. In that light, the best we can say about marriage is that it is reflective of the union between Christ and the Church.

    But what can we say about other forms of intercourse (and here don't go ballistic...I mean this in the wider sense of genuine connective engagement on a whole variety of levels)? What are we to say of friendships? Of bodies rubbing against other bodies (physical sensual / sexual stuff)? Of the bonding of two in a shared life, or a community in a shared life?

    They too, I hope, might be seen - if they are viable and true to the Gospel - as outward and visible signes of the inward and spiritual grace of union that is seen in its perfection in the relation between Christ and the Church.

    I don't want to overplay that image too much, since it too has a male slant (o well). So perhaps other images will come.

    In answer to J.C. Fisher's question then I would respond: What the Church has to say about sex, other than in marriage, is mostly don't do it, it is highly risky morally, it is doomed to wallow in lust and greed... all of which is often true.

    What the Church has to say about sex other than in marriage that is reflective of our confession that Jesus is Messiah is, sadly, almost nothing.

    What I think the Church might say about all efforts at union, on all levels of intercourse, is this: Remember dear friend in Christ - you are bound to no one except to Jesus as Messiah and Son of the living God. Therefore every union with another is to reflect your real union, which is with Jesus Christ.

    This does not satisfy, of course, for it neither supports the notion that what the Church says about marriage is in fact what Jesus can be assumed to hold, nor does it support the notion that sex outside, or inside, marriage has any real standing as the proper moral ground for a Christian.

    I think (although this needs work) that I probably come out with the sense that (as Augustine suggested I believe) we ought love God and (n that light) do as we please.

    Pleasing God (and Jesus the Messiah, etc) is no easy task. So we are left with the need to move beyond the pleasure of the moment to the joy in all the little unions that are something like "moments" in the great union we sometimes can sense between God's love for us and ours for God.

    It is too late at night for much more, and I have no idea if this is helpful, but my hope is that this thread (if it goes on any longer) will look at a wider issue growing from that of marriage - namely that marriage is an icon of some larger reality that people of all sorts and conditions take part in. What is that, and what does the Church have to say about that?

  17. Mark, as so often is the case, you present an important insight, as well as a challenge. Marriage should be iconic of something (but how often is it? and might other faithful relationships also be iconic of the same reality?), but we also run the risk of icon becoming idol.

    What can marriage be an icon--an image on which we gaze lovingly and contemplatively in the hope of being led to a greater reality? I would think that some of that greater reality is about faithfulness (not solely sexual exclusivity, but that may be a part of it), constancy of goodwill toward another, complimentarity that leads to a wholeness that allows us together to reach towards others in care and compassion, and to participate in bringing forth and nurturing life (whether in the literal biological sense or in a more metaphorical one).

    I had a long phone chat with my best college
    buddy today, my Anglo-Celtic Canadian Muslim friend. Her marriage was not (for her or for any bystander) iconic of the things I have listed. Rather, it was a blatant demonstration that there are many infidelities besides the obvious sexual ones. And so she has left it.

    Her ability to be a faithful, generous friend who is a source of humor and wisdom is at least as iconic of the good things I've listed as many (if not most) marriages.

    I think part of the problem with the icon of marriage slipping into the idol of marriage that you so eloquently described in your original post. We identify "marriage" in a way that leads us to see only the image and not look for a deeper reality behind it.

  18. ...marriage is an icon of some larger reality that people of all sorts and conditions take part in. What is that, and what does the Church have to say about that?

    This is an important question in American society where so much discussion is going on about the difference between marriage as sanctioned by a religious institution and marriage as sanctioned be the state. It is an area where the state and the religious have tended to bleed together, often with unfavorable consequences.

    Yet it is striking that marriage seems to be a common reality that cuts across ethnic and religious lines. It is not simply a Christian thing. It is a human thing, or so it would seem. It is an inherant part of our nature that has worked itself out in every generation, adapting in different places to different circumstances, but always being identifiably marriage nonetheless. I think the question the Church should ask is what the difference is between what we understand as the sacramental union of marriage, that which in some way exemplifies the love and the seamlessness between Christ and the Church, and marriage that is simply a legal contract. Are people with no religious conviction who get married civilly still sacramentally married? If so, then how do we understand the sacrament in those terms? If not, then why do we treat civilly married people as if they are sacramentally married when they come through the doors of our churches?

    My own feeling is that marriage as sacrament, as understood in the Christian west, has always been grounded in the exchange of permanent vows between two people. The sacrament is engaged in by the couple. The priest is present only to guide and bless, both of which are important but not absolutely necessary for the sacrament to take place. If this is true then we are truly obligated to demand more from our society in the way that it views marriage, which frankly is fairly poor. At the same time, it becomes unconscionable to me that we deny the sacramental union present in some gay and lesbian partnerships that include vows and have been going on for years, while we simultaneously approve of the sacramental value of a Vegas marriage between a man and a woman performed at three in the morning by a guy in an Elvis costume. Something here is entirely out of wack with reality and with Christianity.

    So my question for you, Mark, continues to be, where do you see the importance of marriage as sacrament?

  19. A wee adendum on lust and adultery. There is one reference to lust in the Gospels (Matt 5:28). There are 15 references to adultery in the Gospels. Not surprizingly Jesus is again' it. But again, not surprizingly Jesus brings new and broader issues into play.

    Lust, a matter of the heart, is as bad as the matter of adultery. Yet, as President Carter observed, honesty seems to require that we all admit to some of that lust in our hearts. Jesus refered to lust in relation to adultery, and the woman in question, who is lusted after, is a mature woman or a wife.

    But the wider sense of this passage, seen in the following lines, (Matt 5:29ff) is that the immediate issues about adultery are really about a wider problem, namely the offending senses and desires we have.

    So I would suggest that Jesus strongly cautions against the desires of the "flesh," and means by that not only what does not conform to the laws of Moses, but that which does not conform to the law of loving kindness.

    The Samaritan woman story (John 4:7-42) provides an interesting occasion in which the woman's obvious adultery, and certainly fornication, does not lead Jesus to condemnation but rather to future conversation and the admission on his part that he is Messiah. It is not a story the punch line of which is to proclaim any sort of dictum regarding marriage, sex, sexual activity, etc. Her sexual life is just a fact - one that she marvels that he knows.

    I'd be interested in any other GOSPEL references to sex, etc.

  20. Mark:

    You stated and asked:

    Where does that leave us? With the rest of the New Testament, in which the beginning Christian community had to work its way in the world in faithful obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. It formed opinions about marriage that best reflected what it understood was an outgrowth of the confession (as we had in the reading today) that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God."

    Might I suggest that your understanding of the early church and its formation of the idea and ideal of marriage forgets entirely the Old Testament. The early church, as I am sure you remember from your church history seminary days, drew upon the Old Testament as well as those books deemed canonical in the New Testament to formulate its theology and teachings. Expanding the scope of your search from outside the Gospel accounts might answer some of your questions.

    As to the Gospel accounts, do not forget John's account of Christ's first miracle in your list as you try to determine for yourself the importance of marriage to Jesus.


  21. j-tron asked, "So my question for you, Mark, continues to be, where do you see the importance of marriage as sacrament?"

    Pretty much where you have it. The sacrament (and always remembering that it is a sometimes engaed sacramental activity, rather than an essential one like baptism and communion) is very much an outward and visible unity -flaws and all- of the inward spiritual grace of unity that is, as you say, seamless, in the marriage / unity of Christ and the Church.

    I absolutely agree that we are on the wrong track when we honor civil marriage before the notary of the state (including the Elvis look alike) and consider such persons "in" and keep persons in committed union who see their union in a sacramental way out.

    friendfromafar said that "I have developed what I understand as a more sacramental understanding about marriage and my role in our society. This has led me to take the decision that I, as a priest of the Church, have nothing to do with the legalities of the state regarding marriage,and that by registerig with the state and/or signing any legal documents such as a marriage certificate crosses a line for me, making me a de facto servant of the state."

    I too, for very similar reasons, have made that decision (two years ago now). Now it is easier for me since I am not the rector of a parish, I grant. Still, there have been strange and interesting conversations that have arisen with the vestry that assumed that I would do things "as usual" regarding upcoming weddings at the church where I serve.

    What I have tried to suggest (with many to many words and not enought clarity) is that the sacrament of marriage is important in itself, and important as an icon of what we are really after, namely a union with God.

    Physical "good" is often confused for this sort of union - and thus the interesting use of God or Jesus words in the midst of sexual delight. But physical enjoyment, delight and even estacy is not (I believe) the way to this greater union. (I say this in spite of their being religious traditions that suppose it so.) Physical delight is what it is, and it is a gift. But the union we seek is of "heart, body and mind." The sacramental character of marriage is that it is concerned for the unity of whole person. The sacramental character of the church is, I think, the same.

    Anonymous said, "Might I suggest that your understanding of the early church and its formation of the idea and ideal of marriage forgets entirely the Old Testament."

    Ho, ho, ho.... well you are right, I did not address the OT concerns. But I didn't forget it either. What I was trying to do was to respond to the question what of the Church's understanding of marriage is based in the sayings of Jesus and what is a product of its own reflection on marriage in the light of Jesus' death and resurrection.

    My thought was that Jesus had little to say about marriage, but everything to say about union - as in "the Father and I are one."

    Of course the early christian community drew on the OT for its understanding of marriage... that is why Jesus is taken to task about divorce, comments on adultery, is "tested" about marriage in the after life, etc. But the early church worked with all sorts of prevailing marriage models as well as OT ideals of marriage, etc.

    That, however is another essay!

  22. I'm all for requiring civil marriage to be performed by a civil servant. Let the priest give the nuptial blessing and preside at the nuptial mass. Good sacramental theology holds that the couple are the ministers of the sacrament anyway.

    I think we could solve the whole thing, if we just separated it and let the couple say the vows and receive a blessing at the time of the peace during the Sunday parish Eucharist. This would also do away with the storybook wedding, which is an impossible financial burden for some families. Seeking the state's blessing, where it is available, is an optional thing. The Church is already obligated to seek equality for all persons in the civil sphere.

    As for marriage as sacrament, I recently said most of what I have to say on Father Jake's blog:

    We might ask ourselves what it means to say that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever."

    This gets used as a proof text that God doesn't do anything new. To me, it means that the covenant that is sealed in his blood cannot be broken. "You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ's own forever." Similarly, God's promises to Israel are irrevocable as Paul teaches. The text is about God's faithfulness and steadfast love.

    Within the context of that relationship, we discover that some things are permitted which we thought were forbidden and vice versa. But nothing changes God's love for absolutely everybody. With a partner like that, who wouldn't want to be faithful to her/him, to do everything possible to please her/him. But like all relationships, it is possible to grow in one's understanding of one's Lover. Unlike human friends and lovers, God's love and affection are not contingent. Perhaps we can reject relationship with God. God will not reject relationship with us, no matter what. At their best, human relationships can be sacraments of that.

    I admit being uncomfortable with polyamorous relationships and with serial monogamy. I wonder how these can be sacramental signs of God's faithfulness. (If we stretched the image of God as lover, one might point out that God is polyamorous. But I'm not sure most human beings are capable of doing that without jealousy and divided loyalties.) I am also uncomfortable dictating to the conscience of another, even though I have strong moral convictions that I'm not afraid to share. I do know that God can use even the most casual relationships, sexual and otherwise, even ones that fall short of the ideal, to form us into the partners that God wants, ones capable of loyalty and compassion.

    I do wonder sometimes whether the energy that we expend on these questions has to do with the kinds of brokenness and pain that many people experience in their sexual histories as well as their sexual lives in the present. This is an incredibly intimate area where many of us have considerable scars. Sex can be the venue where we can experience both deep joy and deep pain and sin. I see life-giving relationship with one's human partner and with God, which models God's faithfulness, as the principle goal of any human relationship that involves sex.

  23. Fr. Bill and J-Tron both makes points that resonate with my own. J.C. is correct in the pastoral sense that my thinking aligns with Fr. Mark's. I'm very careful not to beat someone out the door because they're having premarital sex. I want to look at the overall context and ask where this is going? My own sense is that as with early Christians moving in together and setting up house marries you, a common law approach perhaps, given my own context, that feels right somehow.

    I guess in my questioning at my blog, I haven't perhaps been clear that my own sexual ethics are grounded within the context of ascesis and friendship with a direction toward Christ. I tend to advise conservatively but also with an eye toward living life.

    I will say that partially for me what makes a marriage Christian and sacramental outwardly is that focus toward Christ with actualization potential in regular Eucharist. Baptism and Eucharist are the grounding for Christians in their various states of life, including marriage.

    Now of course, being in a same sex relationship, in the eyes of the Church and state I am having sex outside of marriage, and that has informed my pastoral sense and sensitivity quite more kindly, having been on the receiving end of others' judgments too many times.

    What these nay-sayers or even liberal idealists don't pay attention to at times is the messiness that attends relationship-formation (especially same sex ones where commitment happens in stages), the sacrifices made, the friendship grown, the commitment even when times are tough that shows just a glimmer of G-d's fidelity toward us, the ascesis and discipline that we take seriously as brothers in Christ together. No, we focus on two men or women having sex without a wit to context or potential for holiness of a relationship or the desire to live together with a direction toward Christ. Frustrating.

  24. I think that Philip Turner's old Forward Movement tract in response to the Newark Report gives a lot of sound advice about these questions. Turner would probably be shocked at what I take to be the obvious positive implications of his tract for same sex couples. I haven't read it in years, but I remember thinking that some of the arguments were quite convincing and pointed in a direction that he probably didn't intend. I was probably a bit more conservative than I am now when I read it though.

  25. Jackie, I don't see why you equate your theological position with the faith. I don't doubt your faith. Why do you doubt Wendy's and that of her teachers? Are you just trolling, or do you want to have a serious discussion with brothers and sisters who disagree with you about things that matter and which may yet divide the Church?

  26. Jackie, not that it's a stitch of your business, but it's not the training itself, or anything specific instructors have said, that has made maintaining faith difficult if not impossible. It is reflection on theology I've read, (including the Bible, by the way), and juxtaposing that with my own experience, that have brought me to the point of honest questioning whether I've dedicated my life to something that just isn't true. I'm hoping that isn't the case--and that takes more faith than happy-clappy experiences of God's overwhelming love.

    Yes, my instructors were/are Christian--faculty of an Episcopal seminary and a Jesuit university.

    But again, I find it deeply offensive that you belittle the Biblical basis of anyone's theology because it does not agree with yours (as your first post to Mark did), and that yes, you use your particular brand of faith as a bludgeon against others. Your right to disagree is one thing; your right to dictate and ridicule is another entirely.

  27. Bill, you are very kind. What I will say is that theological teachers, both at the seminary and university doctoral level, are not responsible for maintaining the received faith of their students--they are responsible for equipping their students for further reflection, research, writing. And especially at the doctoral level, their task is not to impose their own faith on their students, or to evaluate students on the basis of faith.

    Are the instructors with whom I've shared my own struggles somewhat alarmed with the turn things have taken for me? Yes, but not because I've deviated from their "teaching"--because they have become friends over the years, and they are distressed and sad because I've been put in a position to question deeply and sometimes feel, think and say things that fall outside what the average person in the pew might not consider completely "Christian."

    An instructor's job is to equip a graduate student with tools for further reflection. He or she is no more responsible for what happens with those tools than Home Depot is for what you do with the hammers and saws you buy there.

  28. Jackie,

    Since this thread has begun, it seems to me that you've been lashing out at both Mark and Wendy. This is just emotional violence, as far as I can tell. Hence the question about trolling.

    But I'll take you at your word. Perhaps you are trying to engage honestly, but you are coming from a very different place. A lot of us are very unhappy about the state of the Church right now, and I've certainly lashed out on occasion.

    My experience is that when we're not fighting about sex, evangelicals are among my favorite people in the Church. The Episcopal Church would be impoverished without their reminder of the centrality of Jesus Christ and the need for changed lives in response to the Gospel. (Not that Anglo-Catholics and liberals don't believe in these things. I've rarely met an exception.)

    Why does it matter so much to you what people are teaching. Is not faith a gift from the Holy Spirit? I couldn't take away my students' faith anymore than I could yours. Moreover, I wouldn't want to. I certainly would argue against anyone who denied a single article of the Creed. I do worry about those of us who are so busy Spong bashing and heresy hunting that they can't keep their eyes on the prize.

    The seminary where I teach is remarkably orthodox, even though we have a number of disagreements on peripheral matters like human sexuality. Nothing like my own seminary experience, where some professors used to ridicule the faith of students. I think that a seminary professor's responsibility is to push students within the context of supportive relationship. If it differs from Ph.d. program, it might tilt a little more toward the supportive relationship (at least in the ideal and as an aggregate). Seminaries that don't unsettle their students aren't doing their job. Formation is risky business. As Hymn 296 puts it, the Spirit shakes the Church of God.

    The seminary's task is not to indoctrinate students. That's the Church's job. They should arrive at seminary with a firm grasp of the orthodox faith, having already been Catechized and Confirmed. Anglican theology in general has resisted definitive statements and confessions of faith, preferring to view theology as a provisional thing, beyond certain key affirmations of the undivided Church, such as the Nicene Creed.

    When it works, we produce students who are faithful and principled but who can express disagreement in charitable, non-ideological speech. We also produce students who are self-critical and who engage others' arguments, rather than simply viewing their own opinion as God's own truth. All of us are tempted to do that sometimes, aren't we?

    I do think that your implied stance that correct faith is necessary to "get into heaven" is problematic. If I am saved, it is because God loves me and Christ died for me, and not because of anything I did. Call me a heretic, but I suspect that possibly God loves everyone enough to save us and that Christ died for all. Orthodoxy risks becoming a work that we offer to God, rather than a beautiful, comprehensive symphony of revealed truth.

  29. Not that I was the one asked, but I'm feeling saucy :)

    Hence, a brief response to Jackie's last post (meant to be received in a positive spirit)...

    I agree it is not the teachers job to indoctrinate the students.

    Me too.

    However, how can a non-Christian teach Christian theology without bringing some of their faith and/or lack thereof to the equation?

    Yes. And this is a problem. It's something I've run into in my own seminary experience, which has been mostly very positive. But there are a few atheist bible scholars flitting around who would have us see the entirety of scripture as nothing more than a fairytale. They produce students who think in the same vein and then attempt to minister. Thus, I share your concern.

    While indoctrination is not their job, isn't it every Christian's job to spread the Good News?

    Yes, although I'm not sure what this has to do with what you just said about non-Christian (or at the least non-orthodox) teachers.

    ECUSA considers marriage a Sacrament of the church - I consider Mark's analysis totally contrary to the current official teachings of the church.

    That's a fair thing to think, although I would say that I don't agree having read Mark's analysis. Nowhere yet has he said anything contradictory to the sacramental nature of marriage. He is pushing the boundaries on church teaching about sexuality in general, but not in an inappropriate way. This kind of conversation is, after all, how we figure out where we think the Spirit is leading us in the first place.

    As I asked Wendy - why is it thought provoking for Mark to bring his thoughts to the table but statements against such innovations are taken as shots fired!

    Perhaps it's not in the content but in the tone. Now, granted, the tone that you have heard back has been rough. But when you entered the discussion, you did not offer critique of Mark's position. You instead insisted that he "put down his collar." You suggested that he neither believes in the bible nor in the core tenets of the faith, none of which could be drawn from what he wrote without a lot more information. It became immediately personal and has stayed that way ever since. There's a difference between honest searching together with opposing viewpoints and vitriol. I suspect we cross that line all the time, but the goal should be to keep from doing that as often as possible.

    Are you not concerned that our PB has stated he does not believe Jesus is the only way to the Father?

    I have never heard him make such a statement. I have heard him make statements that might indicate, if questioned, that he believes in the appearance of wisdom of the Spirit in other traditions and in the possibility of salvation for non-Christians. But these are not the same thing as what you have said. Most Christians, indeed even most Evangelicals, leave open the possibility of redemption for non-Christians. But that redemption still comes, as Our Lord made clear, through Christ.

    Aren't you concerned about growing number of priests who no longer beieve in the divinity of Christ?

    This is sort of a statement out of nowhere. What leads you to believe this is a growing trend? Where are these priests? I ask in all seriousness, not out of a desire to prevoke. I really want to know. It does concern me that there are folks at all levels of ministry who break with orthodoxy on these most important premises, such as Christ's full divinity and full humanity. But I think the threat can be overstated. It is certainly not an automatic extension of liberalism, as the most often decried liberals in ECUSA today are +Griswold and +Robinson, both of whom I've heard make strong statements about the divine nature of Christ as well as about Trinitarian theology.

  30. The current doctrine of the Church is under dispute, as is the status of Lambeth I.10. I much prefer C051 and D039, which are binding in ways that Lambeth I.10 is not.

    I am concerned about any Christian who denies the full divinity of Christ. I am even more concerned by those who deny his full humanity. I am still more concerned about those who try to remake others into their own image. There is a difference between testimony and coercion.

    I used to want clearer lines of authority. Since 2003, I have begun to see what liberals have been objecting to. I am convinced that Jesus can take care of himself. The level of doctrinal pluralism that we have as Anglicans is frustrating at time, but it is worth the cost. By being open to difference and pluralism, we have been able to avoid forms of coercive Church government which are contrary to the express command of Jesus.

    If one cannot see that he is the Word of God incarnate, then why one would want to follow him as Savior and Lord is a mystery to me. Not everyone who claims to be protecting his divinity believes what the Church believes though. Too often, we have a overly spiritualized conception of what it means for Jesus to be fully divine. God becomes flesh in his very human, very particular life.

    With regard to Wendy, that's between you and her. As I read the thread, you came in at comment #5 blasting away at Mark. Wendy comes in somewhat later. I suggest that we all step back and look at what we might want to apologize for.

    I'll start. I apologize for suggesting that you might be a troll. You are clearly struggling with the divisions in the Church like most of us, and like most of us, including me, you are sometimes not able to separate people from the issues. I confess to that sin also, especially in my treatment of you and any other conservatives I've had dealings with in the past two years. I have honestly tried to model Christian behavior and sometimes I have failed. The reason these struggles are so maddening is that we all love the Church, and we all love the Lord Jesus.

    I am convinced that the fundamental questions have to do with authority. No one ought to have the authority to prevent me from blessing a same sex union. How come I can bless dogs but not people? At present, my bishop does have this authority and I've chosen to obey him in order to support his ministry as our chief pastor and apostle. There are circumstances under which I'd follow my conscience and do the union anyway and take my lumps with the bishop and diocese, but we're not there yet. A basic principle of moral theology is conscientia semper sequenda, conscience must always be followed.

  31. Jackie, you said:

    " Accusing one side of using their beliefs as a bludgeon and the other as being thought provoking is disingenious."

    That is not what I did at all--you have accused people of disregarding the Bible, of abandoning basic Christian tenets, and insisting that they "put down" their collars, for not agreeing with your stance. Had those things not been in your opening post, I might have found your comments thought provoking as well, even if I never agreed with them. Instead, I found them somewhat belligerent.

    You asked Bill, and me:

    "Why are both of you insistent on "reading between the lines." It is totally unnecessary. I have written what I intended to be conveyed."

    You've done a fair job of doing the same, and accusing people (me) of not reading what you wrote, which is equally unfair. There is no need to read between the lines--you've clearly said that anyone who does not hold your opinions about the sinfulness of various forms of human sexual behavior can quit the priesthood, or that they have abandoned the faith.

    You ask:

    "As I asked Wendy - why is it thought provoking for Mark to bring his thoughts to the table but statements against such innovations are taken as shots fired!"

    Perhaps because they are worded as shots fired. "Put down your collar" is certainly not inviting dialogue; it is a command to anyone who does not see things your way to get out of the church.

    And you have never answered my question, although I've posed it three or more times without the courtesy of a response: As this issue of human sexuality has not been a central element in the public worship of the church, or its devotional literature for two thousand years, on what authority do you make it one? It isn't on a par with the divinity/humanity of Christ, so I really do want to know why you are making it what it is not, and never has been?

    You also ask:
    " Are you not concerned that our PB has stated he does not believe Jesus is the only way to the Father? Aren't you concerned about growing number of priests who no longer beieve in the divinity of Christ? "

    Where are you getting this information? I would need a credible, publicly verifiable source to believe this. Please provide one.

    None of this is, as you claim, "disingenuous." Mark's thoughts, as well as my own, were put forth not as official church teaching, or attributed to anyone other than ourselves. You are putting a lot forward as "fact" that I find rather questionable, and I've asked you politely to substantiate your claims.

    If you can't do that, then there is no point in discussing much of anything with you.

  32. Wendy,
    here is the easiest example to find.
    Now it is possible to interpret this sermon more than one way.
    Bishop Griswold: '“Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there," said the Sufi poet Rumi. The field is the field of the divine compassion where all things are reconciled in ways that we can only dimly comprehend.'
    This is the sort of Statement that makes Jackie and othet conservatives wonder.
    Then Bishop Griswold goes on:
    "“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved,” Paul tells us in today’s first reading. What does it mean to be saved, but to be drawn out of our little worlds of self-preoccupation and placed in the open space of God’s transfiguring and all transforming love? And how does this happen? It happens because life accosts us; circumstances force themselves upon us and we are obliged to leave the security of our various Egypts, our states of certitude that are often forms of bondage – and launch out into the wilderness with no clear sense of destination. All we know is that we are being led by a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. And yet, in the wilderness, manna appears, a gift is given, love descends – supplying hope and giving courage, as well as the strength to journey on."

    Under the most generous interpretation Griswold is confusing soteriology and sanctification (from my point of view anyway), but I am not actually sure what he IS saying.

    I want to treat Griswold generously. It is important at this time that we treat all participantts in the discussion similarly.

    Is Griswold saying he expects to meet Rumi in heaven? Is he saying salvation is a process that happens as we are drawn into "open space"? And where is the cross in this?

    I just don't know and it saddens me that the PB didn't male this statement clearer. It was issued at th end of general convention when he had a great platform to proclaim Christ.

  33. . . . and it saddens me, obadiah, that you can bring such a "hermaneutic of suspicion" to +Frank's deeply moving, deeply faithful, and deeply Christian words.

    Is it because he (favorably) quotes a non-Christian, Rumi, that your suspicion becomes so inflamed? Again and again in the Biblical witness (OT and NT) the "People of God" were shocked, shocked! to see the Holy One working through (and for) those outside the boundaries. Why should that be any different today?

    Soteriology (studying God's Salvation, and its parameters) is something that Christians have never been of one mind on. I joyfully profess that I believe that Scripture, Tradition and Reason, taken together, agree on God's Universal Salvation, through Christ . . . but I am more than willing to "break bread" (i.e. Christ's Body) w/ other Christians who believe in a more limited version of salvation (not that I believe that you, for example obadiah, believe God to be in any way "limited": but that, I think, is a fair way to characterize the idea of "Confessing Christ" as some sort of ticket-punch on the Heaven Express. Christ's "draw all humankind to myself" is waaaaay more actively embracing than that! IMHO)

    Jackie, I don't know what to say to you, beyond "the Peace of the Lord be always with you."


    Back to the topic---


    If we stretched the image of God as lover, one might point out that God is polyamorous. But I'm not sure most human beings are capable of doing that without jealousy and divided loyalties.

    Agree and agree. I think it's our fallen-ness which makes us such possessive creatures . . . but that monogamy and celibacy, respectively, are the two ways in which we fallen humans "get ready for heaven"---when I expect our Resurrected Natures (and Bodies) will finally get beyond that! ;-p

    [However, I continue to listen, w/ an open mind, to Christians (e.g. Mark H and *C) who may have other ideas]


    Wendy: when you said

    It is reflection on theology I've read, (including the Bible, by the way), and juxtaposing that with my own experience, that have brought me to the point of honest questioning whether I've dedicated my life to something that just isn't true.

    . . . I was very moved by your honesty. Any mature Christian---if they are being honest with themselves---is going to go through such times of doubt. I certainly have!

    Living in a culture which is (for good or ill---mostly for good, IMO) such an "Empire of Empiricism", it's inevitable that faith is going to seem bizarrely out-of-place in it.

    I keep on keeping on, myself, more in the spirit of "Puddleglum's Confession" (see The Chronicles of Narnia, "The Silver Chair") than anything else: I want to believe---I choose to believe---in the Kingdom of God that Christ promised (and embodied), simply because the Vision of it can "lick the real world hollow" (Puddleglum).

    Keep the faith!

    and, in terms of Christ's Peace and Justice,

    !La Lucha Continua! Amen. :-D

  34. JCF,
    Well if I have a hermeutic of suspicion, its only fair. It's time you progressives shared the old h of s with evangelicals. But actually my view of Bishop Griswold's word isn't quite that grand; it's just that I don't understand him.
    I think you put your finger on a key question when you raise "universal salvation" by which I guess you differ from the Synod of Dort. They said sufficient for all, efficient for the elect...but if I read you and Bill right you believe all are saved, or have I got you wrong. Anyhow that's a question that goes to the heart of things, and as Wendy said many posts ago the other issues such as marriage are relatively marginal. She was certainly right about that.
    And I am glad you are a fellow traveller with puddleglum. That is important too.

  35. J.C. Fisher asked obadiahslope:
    "Is it because he (favorably) quotes a non-Christian, Rumi, that your suspicion becomes so inflamed? Again and again in the Biblical witness (OT and NT) the "People of God" were shocked, shocked! to see the Holy One working through (and for) those outside the boundaries. Why should that be any different today?"

    If it is out of bounds for a Christian preacher to favorably quote non-christians, or sources not explicitly christian, or to hope to see non-christians in heaven, then I join that group of gloriously guilty. When I was an active lay preacher, I quoted not only Rumi (wonderful stuff!) and the Koran, but Dr. Seuss and Miss Manners as well. And I most certainly hope that, if heaven is where I finally find myself, that I will see Gandhi and my dear departed Jewish mother.

    obadiahslope, I hope you will manage to treat Griswold generously--especially if you don't quite understand what he's getting at. Neither do I; half the time I don't think he's much of a preacher, but a good person who genuinely loves his Lord.

    I question whether he really had very much of a platform to proclaim the gospel at the end of GC. If we are honest, who outside ECUSA really gives a wad of wet tissue what is or is not said at GC? Of course a great fuss was made at the last one, over the Gene Robinson consecration. That overshadowed everything, again because of the over-emphasis on the sexual to the exclusion of all else. Same with the recent ACC meeting: who heard the really good stuff Rowan Williams said during it (or the very good lecture he gave on the media just before it)? Probably nobody cares, because we were too busy peeking into peoples' bedrooms.

    This is where Windsor is a piece of junk--it focuses our attention so hard on the sexual, gives blabby lip-service to the church's 'mission' (without giving more than a feel-good nebulous definition of it), and ignores that all the trash-talk going on around the sexuality debate completely undermines any credibility the church has in the wider world. Who would choose to be a part of this mess if they already were not?

  36. I believe in the possibility of universal salvation, in and through Christ, perhaps even its likelihood. I believe that because of the necessity of a free human response to grace, that some people may definitively exclude themselves from God's love. Not that God refuses to seek them out, perhaps even beyond the grave. This is standard Vatican II teaching, found in Karl Rahner. Not even Benedict will be able to take it completely. What I do believe is that God's salvation is a gift and none of us is owed it. "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." When salvation happens it is because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This kind of universalism is different from the easy universalism of those who say "there are many roads to God." There is one road, Jesus Christ, which may become available to those who do not join the visible Church in their lifetime. I do believe that there are positive contributions that non-Christian religions make. There is no reason to view them as 100% error or as demonic. Buddhists can teach us to be better Christians and I suspect we can teach them to be better Buddhists, when we are faithful to our own tradition. I am more than willing to share Jesus with everybody, to testify to what he has done in my life. I believe that people are hungry for the Good News. At the same time, I do so out of gratitude for the gift of salvation, rather than anxiety about their immortal soul. I believe that not everyone may be called to Christ's fellowship during this lifetime. Jesus seemed to believe that those who weren't against us are for us. I think that the 1979 Book of Common Prayer supports this teaching. I am prepared to defend it from Holy Scripture.

    If there is eternal punishment, it is as the Catechism teaches, exclusion from God's presence rather than sadistic torture and fire. I don't believe in that kind of God. Some of the ugliest aspects of this debate are driven by belief in that kind of God, who has nothing to do with the God we meet in the Gospel. I believe in accountability without "turn or burn." The outer darkness is much more like what the Catechism describes. There may be pain there, but only the pain of people's hate and selfishness that keeps them from accepting God's boundless mercy and love.

  37. Hi all:

    I'll wade in a bit as I have some time to kill.

    I think Wendy was right, insofar as Mark questioned the place of sex in Scriptures (at least as I read his comments). Mark is simply exploring whether sex outside marriage is ok. As a conservative, so long as Mark keeps those musings to mature Christians and out of the pulpit, I can live with it.

    Jackie was simply responding as if the comment were coming from the pulpit. If Mark is teaching that sex is ok outside marriage from the pulpit (or other position of clerical authority), then I think it is fair for us to be worried for those whom he may be leading astray. To use Wendy's criteria, 2000 years of church teaching support this, so give it the weight due. If Mark is just hypothesizing here among supposedly learned and mature Christians, I am not going to lose any sleep. It's not as if we have not heard the questions from our teenage boys in ministry. Jackie's pastoral sensibilities might seem to need some work, but the worry can still be there. Ultimately, all of us will have to answer for our misguidings and false teachings; hence Christ's admonition of the millstone for teachers. But that is His job and not mine.

    With respect to the comments about the PB's statement, I think his "pluriform truth" speakings do very little good for the church. I get the sense that his teachings cause more confusion than anything good. That a half dozen priests and 1 layperson can get a 8 different interpretations simply illustrates that point. The historic job of bishops has been to be defenders of the Apostolic faith once delivered to the saints, not theological innovators whose words are "going where no one has gone before." Can we use non-Christian's words? I sure hope so, because I have done it. But each of will have to answer to that misuse. Were I advising the PB, I would ask him to be clear and quit muddying the waters. Of course, I am not so called, so my opinion counts for nothing.

    I think Mark's questions have self-evident answers (he already listed them). Jesus tightens the noose with rspect to sex and relationships. Just thinking about another woman lustfully is now a sin. Before Him, I had to actually do it to get in trouble. But, to be fair, many of us on the conservative side of things have helped to muddy the waters by accepting divorce so readily. My suspicion is that if the church had taken a stand against divorced persons as bishops, priests or deacons, much of this would never have blown up. Yes, I know it's unfair and I understand that God's grace can be observed in second marriage. God can work through all our imperfections and despite us. I simply believe that He and the church is better served by those who serve by word and example.

    And, speaking only for me, Wendy, I consider the blessing of same sex relationships a deal-breaker because the church is attempting to bless that which God has deemed a sin. Is it unfair to gays? From my perspective, it sometimes seems harsh. Of course, I am old fahioned and would never consent to blessing adulterous affairs, stealing, hubris, gluttony and whatever else you want to toss out there that tempts me. Can I deal with my brothers and sisters who are tempted by that. Absolutely, as I assume they can deal with me and my sins. Do I want them to bless my sins? No, that too would be a terrible thing. Is it possible that the church is wrong? of course. I have yet to read or hear any convincing arguments in favor of such blessings, but I am always willing to read and to listen. But I do think that the social justice arguments have reminded many of us in the church that we need to quit treating homosexual sinners any differently from any other sinners.

    But this issue is only a deal breaker as a presenting issue. I think the real problem is a hermeneutical problem. Many conservatives, myself especially included, take the 2 Tim 3:16 seriously. Often, as evidenced by Bill's post above, there seems to be an idea that we can know more than what God revealed. And I am not picking on Bill. If less mature or uneducated Christians heard his statement about no burning, it would be equated with "Father Bill from wherever does not believe in Hell." Clearly he does, as his post about being excluded from the company of God illustrates, but the words too often get misconstrued. And Bill can point to Christ's prediction of the feast (weeping and gnashing of teeth) or the return of the bridgroom as examples and calm most. My question to him would be the weeds and the tares, the stinky fish and good fish and other parts of Scripture which seem to strongly point to torture and anguish and specifically fire. And we could have a fun and spirited debate whose winner would not be known until the second-coming. But I think it all boils down to differing views of who God is and His love. I think many in the church on the extreme left argue in favor of God's unconditional love, while many on the extreme right prefer to argue that God's love is not unconditional but covenantal. This leads to differing opinions like the one's on Mark's blog in which people talk past one another. The covenant has always included punishment for failure (see the exile, God's judgments on Israel in the wilderness, Saul, and finally the cross), but we all know that Christ died once for all. Those arguing for unconditional love seem to be arguing that there is no consequence for bad choices (ie sinful acts), and at their worst, deny even original sin. Again, it is just my reflection and the gross stereotypes are not meant to imply that anyone here exemplifies them. I do think that the different understandings of love would make an interesting study (ie Is hesed really agape?), but, as our host would say, that is a subject for another essay ;)

    My final rejoinder, and then I'll retire for the evening, would be to carefully consider what is written here. Thanks to the internet and sinful nature, we can speak in settings like this before we think. I'm sure everyone chooses their words carefully before preaching on the weekends (no slight intended to you Wendy), and we would all do well to do it here as well. We never know who may be reading nor what they think of our witness. If we appear no different than the world, then we do the Gospel and God a disservice. But polite and considered debate may be the seed for some kibitzer.


  38. obadiahslope, I've now had a chance to read and re-read the GC closing sermon by Frank Griswold. The Rumi quote is very weird--a total non-sequitur that is not commented on, and could have been left out entirely without damaging the content of the sermon.

    It's minor, a blip on the radar, perhaps thrown in to look/sound eclectic and erudite. But because it's minor, I have definite difficulties with anyone making it into a major issue, and extrapolating that the PB intends to say that he is denying central tenets of Christian belief by using it.

    Too bad, too--there's a lof of good stuff in Rumi and other Sufis, good words about the wisdom and compassion amd special place of Jesus in God's economy, about divine love and longing for union with God. Not awful stuff to admit into Christian preaching at all.

  39. Ananymously JB--

    "To use Wendy's criteria, 2000 years of church teaching support this, so give it the weight due."

    Actually, you've missed what I've said, because this is entirely backwards of what I've asserted: if the current ructions on same-sex relationships were truly central to the teachings of the Church, we would see a great deal of sermons, hymnody, devotional prose and poetry on the topic, spanning the 2 millennia of Christian tradition. My point is precisely that we don't have this "paper trail", and therefore I ask what is the motivation for moving this to a central position at this time?

    Everything in the scriptures does not carry equal weight. How many of us scrupulously follow Deuteronomy 23:13ff (aka the trowel and hole verses)? And yet, by violating this, the Bible clearly says that God will abandon his people. So are we all to give up our indoor plumbing so that God will not leave us? Or does this only count if we are literally camping? Are motor homes covered by this, or is there a special exemption?

    If every verse of the Bible counts equally as an inspired command which we must follow for fear of losing our eternal salvation, this is a question of more serious import than that of same sex relations. After all, just about every Christian in the western world is covered by this one, and all of us are guilty--yet who among us is ready to repent?

  40. Wendy,
    no not every verse of the Bible carries the same weight. Poetry, history, direct instructions fron God are all different.
    Sometimes reading the Bible is a bit like reading Griswold, but at other times it is much clearer!
    I think you are a bit hard on the WR. Have you read it? It was an attempt NOT to focus on the sexual, and many people criticised it for that reason.

    Its a bit naughty of you not to mention Dominus Iesus which appears to nuance the Rahner position somewhat.
    Hell is described as darkness as well as fire so we are entitled to take these words as metaphorical. The real question is is it empty? And then there is the annihilation theory as well...

  41. obadiahslope, I've not only read the WR, but I've been invited to make public comment on it in November. It may have intended not to focus on the sexual, but it fails badly in that regard. It is a highly questionable document, especially, as far as I'm concerned, in asserting that the Archbishop of Canterbury, in his teaching capacity, is an "instrument of unity"--especially when the report's method itself completely ignores everything that the present Archbishop has said regarding theological integrity.

    Yes, I'm hard on it--it deserves rather harsh criticism, because it is a document that, if adhered to, reduces the public credibility of the church enormously.

  42. Rahner's position is that of a theologian. A similar position is found in the documents of Vatican II. Dominus Iesus doesn't have quite the same level of authority as what (for Roman Catholics) is said by an ecumenical council. But I'm not a Roman Catholic and if the level of Roman Catholic teaching has gone down in the last 25 years or so, we all know which two people are most to blame.

    I'm not an annihiliationist. But I do take the Catechism's teaching on exclusion from God's presence seriously. Many people do envision a vindictive God, which is a denial of the Gospel. The only people exclued from God's embrace are those who exclude themselves. If this is ultimately possible, I'll wait to see. Nothing the Church can do can endanger anyone's salvation.

    I would be happy to contradict Lambeth I.10 from the pulpit or anywhere else, since this is not the teaching of the Church and cannot be proved from Holy Scripture. D039 has a much better claim, as does C051.

  43. Wendy:

    I understood your point exactly as you meant it. My point was that the Church has taught for 2000 years that sex takes place in the context of marriage and that marriage is between one man and one woman. If you want resources, you might check Origen or Augustine and even the Gregorys of the early church. Have there been deviations? Of course, sometimes the church has ignored polygamy, betrothal sex, and other forms, but until now it has always returned to that teaching. Certainly, I think much of the church would have never thought to argue and preach against homosexual sex acts because they simply were not accepted or even tolerated in the church. All the imagery, hymnodys, poetry and the like of the church speaks to the bride and the bridegroom. One might argue that the fact that the church does not write, speak, or teach "bride and bride" or "groom and groom" imagery is that evidence you are seeking. Of course, I can easily imagine some far right wingers arguing that the fall of Rome was due to the sexual immorality of the empire (straight and gay) and that God's judgment was upon Rome as it was in the days of Soddom and Gommorah, and I have no doubt that it has come up occassionally since then. But given how little we have from history, I cannot say I am overly surprised or worried about it. The church's teaching, in all its incorporations, have agreed on that position until now.

    As to your assertion about verses in Scripture carrying equal weight, I will simply have to disagree. Something does not have to be literal to be be true. Poetry certainly differs from historical accounts which differ from epistles and the like. I believe that all Scripture is profitable for learning, teaching, correction, and etc. I may not understand the why, but then again, as the psalmist said today "His ways are not our ways." Certainly, God seems to take His commandments seriously. Only one man lived a righteous life in accordance with the Torah. And that one man died for all our failures, whether it was trowls or thievery or murder or some other sin. Those that believe that God is not vindictive must have an interesting perspective on the cross. Nailing an innocent to a tree for the sins of others certainly seems cruel from my perspective. Thankfully, mercifully, because Jesus accepted that role, I do not have to be nailed to the tree over and over again for my transgressions. Because we live on this side of the cross, I do not have to worry about violating the law--that's my freedom and part of the Gospel. Neither, however, do I expect the church to bless my failures or shortcomings.

    I would end with the reminder that everyone, not just Christian, but every single person who has lived on the earth save Jesus, has violated at least one of God's commandments and that sin is certainly something which we should take seriously. God's demand for the cross certainly seems to back up that belief. And His promise that Christ died once, for all should leave no doubt in the minds of modern Christians that we do not have to fear the dark side of God's covenantal love--punishment. The penalty for all our sins has been paid. Do we accept His way or try to find another?


  44. ECUSA teaches it. Therefore both the Church and the Communion teach it. We are a fellowship within the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church. The problem comes when we decide that the Church at any level of its organization has to have consensus about anything, except for the commitment to follow Christ. Are there things that are terribly inconsistent with the Gospel? Sure. Take warfare or capital punishment or unequal distribution of wealth. But we don't exclude those who believe in these things from Christ's fellowship do we. If I were to take a sectarian option, it would be the conservatives that I would exclude, for sure. I haven't taken that option. Their option strikes me as a sectarian option aimed at excluding precisely the people I am most comfortable with. What I have argued for is an Anglican comprehensiveness. Those who are uncomfortable with ambiguity and paradox will often take refuge in a sectarianism which is inconsistent with this comprehensiveness. It doesn't mean I didn't try to include them. What I will do is steadfastly resist the attempt of some people to exert power over others. We need to have models of authority that preserve greater freedom.

    Discipleship is worked out in community. The community does not need to be empowered to enforce one conception of discipleship. People agree to disagree about things that matter all the time. Why not also about this?

  45. To Anonymous:

    You said:
    Many conservatives, myself especially included, take the 2 Tim 3:16 seriously.

    Yes, but.
    The "but" being that when this was written, there was absolutely no consensus, even from a Christian community in one town to the one in the next, as to what counted as "scripture." That wasn't to be decided definitively for quite some time, with lots of controversy over what was to be considered as canonical and what was not. I think it's careless to apply this to everything that appears in the Bible as we now know it--as, at the time of the original writing, there was much in dispute. What did the author intend? That, according to Bishop Tom Wright in his recent Scripture and the Authority of God, is what is meant by a "literal" reading. For me, that would be the standard of humility and responsibility with which reflection on sacred texts should be approached.

    The "truth" of poetry, etc--I am in full agreement. But again, it seems vital to me to know what the "truth" was that the author intended to convey.

    No, Jackie, I don't think it's plain that the "trowel and hole" verses are simply about sanitation, and therefore can be adapted. They are about causing offense to God, just as eating pork or shellfish were not about food safety or cholesterol levels, but about causing offense to God. Somehow, though, we have decided that human convenience trumps this--although, living on the Great Lakes, I'm perfectly willing to risk this offense to God by using indoor plumbing in the winter. Brr.

    But we are willing (and the early church was quite willing) to allow these offenses to God out of those who converted from other faiths than the household of Israel. So, I guess the question is why some offenses and not others have been made quite acceptable.

    I wonder, too, about the intention of the prohibitions on blood and fornication to Gentile converts in the early church. We certainly don't worry much about eating blood (anyone here like their steak rare, or make gravy with their roast beef--and how, on reflection, has that separated us from God?). The blood thing is certainly on a par with the fornication--why were the two paired that way? If it had to do with the possibility of meat offered to idols (or taking part in heathen sacrifice), then that concern is long gone.

    Concern about fornication would, I guess, have much to do with containment of promiscuity, which could muck up identity of who was whose child (on the part of the father, anyway--mothers tend to have been there!), and the welfare of women and children who might be left destitute on a man's whim, which is an issue of great concern in the prophetic literature. But how these are concerns in committed same-sex relations as we understand them in the early 21st century is rather beyond me.

  46. I've commented on the issue of polyamory above. I wouldn't support blessing any incestuous relationship. For the record, I'm against cannibalism too.

  47. Jackie asked:

    - What position will you take on blessings of unions when you are asked to bless 3 people or 6 or 12 seeking to marry? Will they form a group union or will one person marry the other 11?What about a father and daughter who wish to marry?

    Well, nobody except you seems to be raising the possibility of such things. As far as I can see, the debate amongst reasonable minds is about blessing relationships that are:

    a) between two people, and only two people;
    b) fall outside the prohibited degrees of biological relationship; and (although this is nowhere mentioned in scripture, so is apparently not germane, except for your raising of NAMBLA)
    c) between persons of the legal age of consent.

    As far as your comment on biblical interpretation--yes, we will interpret differently, largely because the first act of interpretation is selection. Just choosing to emphasize one aspect above, or to the exclusion of, others, is an act of interpretation. What is chosen will have a great impact on the subsequent interpretation.

  48. Jackie,

    I don't see any point in accusing each other of begging the question. From where I sit, the burden is firmly on you to justify exclusion. This is a symptom of how far the opposing traditions within Anglicanism (there are more than two) have diverged. Conservatives need to account for the many texts that speak of inclusion of outsiders in the biblical witness, which are far more central than the few texts that speak about sex. Truth is, the requests for unions emerged from within the Church. Most lgbtq folks have left the Church, if they ever were part of it. The fact that some stay in spite of the ways in which the Church has often treated them ought to give us pause. Why? I suspect because they love Jesus and are able to distinguish between him and the Church. I come from parts of the Church where this was pretty much a done deal. One former diocese invites clergy partners to the convention banquet and all other events where spouses are invited. (More subtle forms of inequality may continue, but the public statements are all in the direction of equality.) I now serve in part of the Church where it is very definitely not a done deal. I try to love everybody and call it as I see it. I am representing the faith of the Church as I received it from the parishes that baptized and confirmed me. I'm not making this stuff up on my own.

    I don't see any necessity of drawing lines in advance. I'd personally wait to see what gets offered for our discernment by actual people. I could see us blessing a stable group of 3. I have my doubts about it. The problem with this kind of slippery slope argument is that it plays to our fear of unknown territory. Blessing a couple made up of two men or two women is a completely different issue. I would always favor looking at the concrete history of any couple, including an opposite sex couple, before invoking the Church's blessing. Whether I invoke it or not, God may well be prepared to give it. We look for evidence of the Spirit's presence and do the hard work of discernment, which always concerns the concrete case. The Incarnation points us in the direction of concrete lives rather than abstract descriptions. As Frank Griswold observed, this is about people not an issue.

  49. You know, it seems to me that if the teachings against theft were truly central to the teachings of the Church, we would see a great deal of sermons, hymnody, devotional prose and poetry on the topic, spanning the 2 millennia of Christian tradition. We don't have this "paper trail", and therefore I ask what is the motivation for asserting this? Why can't we shoplift if we want to?

    We can't, of course, and no one here is arguing otherwise. But my point is that what is assumed by the early Christian community isn't going to show up in discussions and sermons over and over again, since these were not points of contention; you won't find much of a paper trail. I think you will actually find a much greater paper trail on fornication (which in times past included homosexual behavior) than you will on theft. (I did a word-search on the phrase "abusers of themselves with men" in the Early Church Fathers alone and came up with 51 references, so the paper trail does exist, even on homosexuality.)

    You know, the whole shellfish thing was answered thousands of years ago. Why do you folks keep bringing that up? Jesus himself addressed that one:

    Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. . . . Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.

    Clearly, the Jesus of the Gospels put sexual mores on a different and higher plane than dietary laws. Also, Jesus certainly did consider fornication to be a big deal. Even our own Articles of Religion distinguish between the ceremonial law and the moral law (Article VII):

    Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral.

    Just by doing a simple word search on "fornication," I find fornication specifically condemned in Matthew, Mark, Luke, Romans, Acts, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, Jude, and Revelation. How many times does the Trinity show up in the New Testament? How about the Eucharist?

    Regarding the failure of many to lead chaste lives, I grant that is true. But simply to disregard the teaching of Christ and the Apostles concerning chastity because it is difficult seems wrongheaded to me. I note that Episcopalians are presently failing miserably at loving each other -- as is obviously apparent in the blogs and in the news. Should we disregard this as well because we find it so difficult?

    It is certainly true that many marriages are unhealthy. Wouldn't a more appropriate answer be to work to make healthy marriages rather than blessing non-marital sexual relationships that appear to be healthy?

    I note that Mark notes many nonmarital sexual relationships that appear to be healthy, but I find this evaluation subjective, and wonder about the criteria that determines health in a relationship. The current results of nonmarital sexual relationships in our society -- a huge abortion rate, widespread STDs, many unwed pregnancies and the resultant impoverishment of many women -- are these to be regarded as healthy? Mark, are you so sure these young people would tell you if they found it necessary to get an abortion or if they contracted an STD?

    I frequently wonder in the Episcopal Church how so many promise to "continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship" at the baptismal covenant with such a straight face, and then advocate such views as what are being presented here.

  50. rb said

    "I note that Mark notes many nonmarital sexual relationships that appear to be healthy, but I find this evaluation subjective, and wonder about the criteria that determines health in a relationship. The current results of nonmarital sexual relationships in our society -- a huge abortion rate, widespread STDs, many unwed pregnancies and the resultant impoverishment of many women -- are these to be regarded as healthy? Mark, are you so sure these young people would tell you if they found it necessary to get an abortion or if they contracted an STD?"

    Well... RB, you are quite right there are many unhealth, difficult and damaging nonmarital sexual relationships and activities. And, I am not at all sure that young people in general would tell me about sexual problems. However, I can say that my own two children have. Have they told me everything? Probably not.

    There are many unhealthy, difficult and damaging martial sexual relationships and activities. And I am sure my parishoners have not told me much about those as well, except when they wanted my help. They want my help less, I think, than my children.

    The issue I raised, way back when, when this thread got started was this "I share all the concerns that sex not become a cursive activity, a hurtful one, or that it become an idol (and we have idols all around), I believe that sex particularly before Christian marriage can be an important part of the awareness, and even the joy, that one can bring to the covenant of marriage. I make these observations with no desire to enter into a protracted argument about moral rightness. "

    I was mostly concerned to say that sex outside or before marriage may not necessarily be wrong.

    Some on the thread seem to suggest that it is always wrong.

    No one much wants to use the word "situational" because that word now seems to be confused with an ethic of "do what you want."

    So perhaps what I am working toward is a way to call people to holy relationships (and marriage a high example of such relationships) and at the same time not use condemnation as part of the call. That is not because I don't ever believe condemnation is called for, but because I don't believe condemnation is called for all the time.

    I am quite interested in the fact that this thread has gone on at some length. I have found the discussion interesting, but I wonder if it is time to let it rest for a while. The thread has transformed itself into a variety of other commentaries and they seem less interesting.

    For those interested in knowing, I do preach and teach regularly, celebrate the Eucharist regularly, and have been until two weeks ago on the staff of a church, expect to be appointed to another position soon (making retirement - although a reality - a rather modest one), wear a collar, and speak as honestly as I can about all sorts of matters, but mostly preach about from the Gospel reading each Sunday.

    And still I wonder at absolutist statements that say "anyone who porported to be Christian and supported sex outside 'Christian marriage' was damned, or perhaps doomed."

    And that wonder is still there.

  51. RB--

    The real issue is what constitutes "fornication." Perhaps we have come to a different understanding of this admittedly apostolic requirement. Christians are called to live lives of holiness in every area of our lives, including sexuality. As for the "apostles' teaching and fellowship," one could make a far better case that this includes the collective ownership of goods (See Acts 4). It certainly has more to do with the words and deeds of Jesus and his bodily resurrection than it does with sex. But I do admit that we are called to abstain from fornication. If only we could come up with a single definition of what that word means.

    It is not a purely historical question, but as Rowan Williams observes, the problem with many liberals is that they don't expect to be questioned by history at all. The problem with many conservatives is that they don't expect to be surprised by what they find there. The question for us is, given what fornication meant then, say to Paul, what does it mean for us now? It means that we aim at sexual expression within the boundaries of relationships that are lifelong in intent, characterized by mutuality, fidelity, and charity, recognizing that we sometimes fall short. I don't see why premarital sex, which falls short of the ideal, can't provide some of the goods of marriage. I suspect that most traditionalists want firm boundaries with clear rules. Even a little pastoral experience would show just how much ambiguity there is here.

    Some buy the one man, one woman line. Others don't. Still others will attempt, no doubt, to press further, as the Newark statement did. Some will go beyond anything Newark envisioned. I've already remarked that one of the ablest responses to the Newark statement, Philip Turner's Forward Movement pamphlet, is perfectly consistent with D039 as far as I can tell. I honestly can't see what the fuss is about. Except in cases that involve violence or degradation, God has more important things to worry about than sex.

    Bush and Blair continue to wage a criminal war against the Iraqi people. AG Gonzalez continues to head the Department of "Justice" in spite of his open advocacy of torture. And the poor get poorer, while the rich get richer, climbing to power on the backs of women, poor folk, queer folk, and people of color. The Bible has a lot more to say about that, for sure.

  52. Sorry, Mark. We've cross posted. I'm more than willing to give it a rest too.

  53. Wendy:

    I believe if you spent some time in a church history class, you might well be surprised at the amount of consensus. By the time of the Muratorian canon, around 200 AD, the church in Rome had recognized many of the same books as we now recognize. What shocked me more in my sojourn through the formation of the canon was the fact that Origen, Eusebius, and others, in different parts of the world and without the benefits of e-mail, had recognized the same works. When one expands the study to include each church's list of "disputed works," the results are nearly identical. That churches in different parts of the world discerned the exact same thing nearly simultaneously makes it all the more impressive to me. Were supporters of the Shepherd of Hermas or the Revelation of Peter disappointed? Most likely. Ironically, the parts of Scripture that we are throwing at one another or ignoring, depending on one's perspective, were well received and their inspiration seldom questioned.

    At least we can agree on one thing ;) I very much agree with Tom's and your claim that we need to know what the author intended. To many of us on the conservative side, the arguments regarding the presenting issue have ignored just that. What did Paul mean by "malakoi" and "arsenokotai," since those passages are most of the NT's prohibition against such behavior (I think both sides agree on that)? I have heard/read very few arguments which sound plausible that we just cannot be sure of what they meant because the words are dubious or uncertain in meaning, as if Paul woke up one day and forgot his septuigent. But these are debates that ought to be worked out in seminary and forums like this (much as Mark's original post which stirred everyone up--congrats on 60+ posts Mark!), and not in our pulpits.

    One last thing until my off day for Bill. And please do not take this as offensive or demeaning in any way. I am truly trying to understand your perspective. So if it offends, I apologize in advance and ignore the question. Integrity's focus is for the blessing and inclusion of G/L/B/T's in the life of the church. How do you, theologically and pastorally, draw the distinction between committed gay and lesbian relationships, and committed transgendered and bi-sexual relationships as someone fully cognizant of all the pressures involved? From my caveman perspective, I have heard social justice arguments in favor, ontological arguments which demand inclusion, and analagous arguments for the relationships. None have bothered to make a distinction between the four (they may not champion one of the other three positions, but one can simply substitute another and the argument sounds the same). As I stated in another thread, I have found them to be unconvincing, but I am still willing to listen. And, frankly, I found your willingness to deny them interesting. Again, I apologize if I offended you or got too personal.


  54. Mark and Bill:

    I recognize that you folks are wearing out on this subject. I don't blame you. Yet I believe this discussion actually gets at the heart of the matter dividing us. Usually the issue dividing Episcopalians is presented in terms of homophobia, or issues of power and control. I don't believe that is the case, and presenting it in these terms is a failure to authentically hear the other side. For instance, Bill seems to indicate in an earlier note that the issue is the inclusion or exclusion of GLBT folks. There may be a few conservative Episcopalians who do think that way, but I think most would recognize that if we start excluding certain classes of "sinners," we would ultimately all need to be excluded. I think there is a tendency to paint all reasserters in the image of Fred Phelps, just as there is a tendency to paint all reappraisers in the image of Jack Spong. (And on this point I do acknowledge Bill's affirmation of the bodily resurrection of Christ.) The issue is not inclusion or exclusion of gays and lesbians, but whether same-sex blessings and actively homosexual clergy are appropriate; or, to put it more broadly, whether or not sexual expression outside the bounds of matrimony inveighs against the Christian faith.

    I agree with you, Mark, that the statement, "Anyone who purported to be Christian and supported sex outside 'Christian marriage' was damned, or perhaps doomed," is wrong and disturbing. I believe in a God of grace and forgiveness, and I believe He fully understands the confusion of our present culture and present age. However, this does not answer the question of whether or not sexual expression outside the bounds of matrimony inveighs against the Christian faith.

    Bill, I agree with you that poverty, the distribution of wealth, and the Iraqi war are all important issues that Christians need to address based on the Gospel. I do not agree that human sexuality is not an important issue. My reasons, besides all the things mentioned in my previous post, is, for one thing, that our sexuality is a vital part of who we are. For another, its expression can have such a tremendous impact for good or ill. It can give expression to Christ in his relationship to his Church; it can, especially in its exploitative and dehumanizing forms, give expression to the demonic. It seems to me that the incarnation of the Word and the bodily resurrection of Christ make a strong statement about the importance of the human body and its use. I call to mind the words of Paul, spoken concerning this very issue, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body." As Christians who emphasize the sacraments, we of all people must recognize the vital connection between the spiritual and physical. I again agree with you that the larger issues of the world must be addressed, but they should not be used to evade the personal issues of our lives, or the integrity of the witness of the Church to what it has received. Also, I believe the loss of these traditional sexual boundaries have had a devastating impact especially upon the poor (again for many of the reasons addressed in my previous post), where the breakdown of the family has been far more prominent. I have read that a number of African American clergy have come to the same conclusion. I don't believe your ambiguous sexual mores prove particularly helpful for those who lack education, resources, solid communal support, and good health care. Perhaps this is one more reason why the Episcopal Church, while being very concerned for the poor, has never succeeded in being a church of the poor.

    I realize that a significant segment in our culture wish to redefine fornication. But should not this kind of obfuscation (for surely that's what it is) be resisted?

    I fully understand why you are all tired of this issue. But I must regret that its discussion will end. Again, this is at the heart of the division. Not the many things we seem to think.

  55. Forgive me. One more observation.

    Since this is a blog about Anglican Futures (according to its URL), I can't help but note that this discussion may relate to what is perhaps the most important factor affecting ECUSA's future -- its declining birthrate (see the important article by Kirk Hadaway). Is it possible that part of this is due to our all-too-easy separation of sex and child-bearing, now made possible by medical technology? The bearing and raising of children, after all, require a man and a woman in all long-term commitment. Children born in a non-marital sexual relationship (excepting perhaps an artificially-contrived birth long-term lesbian relationship) is often disastrous, thus avoided or aborted. One commentator unhappily quoted the statement, "the future of the world belongs to illiberal religions," since they still bear children, even in this country.

    More grist for the mill.

  56. I sure wish this thread would have continued. Some of the vitriol and mean-spiritedness seemed lost and you were each beginning to engage one another and the heart of the matters. Please reconsider. Some of us lurkers enjoy the good arguing.


  57. It is interesting to me how many times we (all) appeal to the historic beliefs of the faithful without checking to see what they were. Our concept of, "Christian marrige" as a monogamous, life long, volentary relationship between one male and one female is relativly modern. We appeal to Paul who knew nothing of it, to ancients who lived in a world which held females to be property, to history we cannot document or that never existed.

    Marrige was generally not available to peasants from about 400 to 1500 AD because they owned no property and that was what marrige did -- it used the transaction still echoed in our liturgy "Who gives this woman in marrige?" to cement property relationships!

    We now choose to hear the Epistle of Timothy as a call to faithful monogamy by all (well all straights.) But in fact, the author was writing at a time of general acceptance of polygamy, and did not discuss his reasoning. It is at least as reasonable to suggest that he thought one woman was about all a bishop could care for given his other obligations. It is also likely that the passage has nothing to do with remarrige. Remember a male could have four wives in Jewish culture and as many as he could afford in much of the contemporary world.

    It seems to me that we ask the wrong question. Rather than, what does the Bible permit based on history, we should ask what the Spirit is calling us to do now as we live into Jesus' kingdom.


  58. Jim:

    I thought this thread had died. I am glad to see it not quite dead as this thread was actually fun and polite and engaging.

    Interesting comments, too bad most were not true.

    Paul knew nothing about marriage? Have you actually read the New Testament or the Septuigent? Both seem to have a great deal to say about marriage, both monogomous and polygamy. As an expert on the Septuigent, he certainly knew what it had to say, and much of that is reflected in his epistles. Of course, there are times where Paul admits that he does not have a word from the Lord, but only opinion.

    Marriage was not available to the peasant world for 1100 years? True, the upper classes used it to transfer property and cement family alliances, but records also show that numerous other marriages occurred. In fact, I can remember church historians arguing that the betrothal ceremonies came right out of the peasant class' attempt to uphold Paul's teachings. I am not a sociologist, but the trothing did allow the couple to begin living as man and wife until a priest made it to the region to finalize (cement) the marriage. I assume that is why a marriage ceremony was part of the regular Eucharist service and not its own "set apart" service as it is today.

    My guess is that Timothy knew precisely what he was writing. After all, he heard all the teachings firsthand, and Jesus certainly taught that divorce/remarriage were not at all acceptable. Indeed, He tightened the noose with respect to adultery.

    The better question is whether the Holy Spirit can/does act counter to the revealed will of God (Father and Son)? Those of us that believe that Hegel, Schleiermacher et al described the Spirit's work accurately hold that the Spirit can and does? Those of us who hold to the early church fathers' teachings (particularly John of Damascus, the Gregorys, and other Cappadocians)hold that the "dance" of the Trinity prohibits one of the Persons from acting against the other two.



OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.