Tuesday, 7 September 2004

Los Angeles: week 3 begins

Doug LeBlanc has reflections on the Los Angeles Times coverage by Larry Stammer in this post on GetReligion: Qualifying a bishop’s words

More coverage:

5 Sep Associated Press via LA Daily News Breakaway parishes meet

5 Sep Long Beach Press-Telegram For All Saints, another Sunday worship

6 Sep Daily Pilot St. James receives a Texas-size boost
Maurice Benitez, former bishop of the Diocese of Texas, encourages nondenominational path.

7 Sep Los Angeles Times Priest Steers O.C. Parish Through Rough Waters
Leader of a church that left Episcopal diocese has had a long journey to the center of schism.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Tuesday, 7 September 2004 at 3:28 PM GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: ECUSA
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From the LA Times story:

“But Bunyan says homosexuality is not the main issue in the split. He says the issue is what he calls biblical orthodoxy. “The bishops are saying we can no longer say Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior,” Bunyan said. “They deny his divinity, that he didn’t rise from the dead.”

With nonsense like this, how am I supposed to take a single word this man says seriously? It’s like he’s saying “Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior . . . and He hates homosexuality! If you deny the latter, you thereby deny the former!”

Poppycock.

[Maybe Fr. Bunyan’s earlier drug-abuse (also cited in the story) left permanent mental damage?]

Posted by: J. Collins Fisher at September 8, 2004 06:43 AM

Mr. Fisher

1. Fr. Bunyan is responding to more than one issue here. Bp Bruno recently commented in an article published in the LA times that he does not believe that faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation. All three chruches have mentioned this comment by Bp. Bruno in their press releases as one key to their decision.

2. Even if he were specifically referring to homosexuality his point holds up quite well. How on earth can you or anyone claim to take Jesus as Lord if you are not willing to obey and accept what he says in his Word? If you are not willing to do this then, necessarily, you are not willing to have Jesus as your Lord. Pretty simple actually.

Matt Kennedy+

Posted by: Matt Kennedy+ at September 8, 2004 10:30 AM

By the way Mr. Fisher,

you said:

“[Maybe Fr. Bunyan’s earlier drug-abuse (also cited in the story) left permanent mental damage?]”

What sensitive, inclusive, tolerant and compassionate sentiments.

Thank you for your kind thoughts.

Posted by: Matt Kennedy+ at September 8, 2004 10:45 AM

The point made by Matt Kennedy is a serious one: the whole tolerance/inclusivity thing regularly turns out to be self-contradictory and self-refuting, since those who claim to be tolerant are generally intolerant of those who do not believe that tolerance is central to Christianity.

Name a single Bible passage where tolerance as opposed to love is named as a central virtue.

Is there always much difference between tolerance and apathy or laissez-faire?

What would we prefer to be said to us? - ‘I tolerate you’ or ‘I love you’? No wonder Christianity prefers love to tolerance.

Tolerance can be passive; love is always active.

Where did anyone get the idea that tolerance and inclusivity were central Christian virtues? Not from the New Testament. From western society, which is then read into and imposed upon the NT.

Passages cited in favour of inclusivity (e.g. Gal. 3.28) refer to the glorious diversity of those who are already Christians, with all the change of lifestyle which that entails.

If one does not feel passionately about anything (which one must if one is truly alive) then it is possible to be tolerant of almost anything. Becasue we are so closed in on ourselves that we are dead to feeling, bad things no longer affect us, hence we can be ‘tolerant’ of them.

To say that tolerance is a bit of a bland, neutral, lily-livered virtue is not to deny that intolerance is a fully-blown evil.

Posted by: Dr Christopher Shell at September 8, 2004 03:56 PM

“Tolerance is a bit of a bland, neutral, lily-livered virtue”? What on earth gives you that idea?

Thankfully, British society is far more tolerant towards homosexuality than it was thirty years ago. But this has not come about because people have lapsed into apathy. On the contrary, it has been a hard-fought fight against a great deal of active prejudice.

Posted by: Andrew Conway at September 8, 2004 07:10 PM

Dr. Shell wrote:
…the whole tolerance/inclusivity thing regularly turns out to be self-contradictory and self-refuting, since those who claim to be tolerant are generally intolerant of those who do not believe that tolerance is central to Christianity.

Yes, I would say that most progressives do not tolerate the utterly intolerant. Why is this a problem for you ? To be tolerant of everything would indeed be a sign of “a bland, neutral, lily-livered virtue”. We have strong moral precepts, they just don’t always express themselves the way yours do.

And to claim that, because we do not tolerate the utterly intolerant, we are self-contradictory and self-refuting is pure sophistry. Truly sir, do you never tire of trolling here ?

Posted by: David Huff at September 8, 2004 07:14 PM

Mr. Huff,

Dr. Shell is by no means a troll. He has posted numerous times on this site and has engaged thoughtfully and honestly on a good number of issues.

As for progressives being “intolerant of the intolerant”?….well, I think that line pretty much proves Dr. Shell’s point about inherent inconsistencies. Don’t you?

Perhaps a more honest way to express this would be to say that progressives are intolerant of those who hold to the classic Christian principle of biblical authority?

Posted by: Matt Kennedy+ at September 8, 2004 09:09 PM

Ecce straw homo.

First I’m (sarcastically) described by Mr. Kennedy as “tolerant” and then Dr. Shell chimes in with a torturous exposition of the “intolerance of the tolerant.”

I don’t know of anyone who claims that abstract “toleration of anything and everything” is a virtue. However, the toleration of innate traits—-God-given diversity—-such as race, ethnicity, gender, national origin and gender has usually at least been claimed to be a sign of human progress.

At the same time, social pathologies like violence, theft, lying, and substance-abuse continue to be non-tolerated (w/ only the method of the intolerance varying from the humane to the Sharia).

Instead of setting up straw men (and setting off sarcasm), can we not at least name our area of disagreement here? Some faithful Anglicans locate homosexual orientation (lovingly expressed) with the former God-given innate traits, and other faithful Anglicans with the latter, not God-given, pathological ones.

Mr. Kennedy- I read what I read in the newspaper article, and responded accordingly: Fr. Bunyan’s reported statements were nonsensical, and a possible source (of this mental failing) was suggested. If the article was in error, employ your cutting comments in the direction of the reporter, who pointed me to my logical conclusion.

In the area of “faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation,” may I suggest Christians and Religious Pluralism by Alan Race (Orbis, 1982), for its description of the range of debate among various Christians on this question?

Finally, there is NO citation from “Jesus’ Word” on homosexuality: whether the word/concept is mentioned anywhere in Scripture is, again, the subject of Christians’ debate.

[Why is it, so often, that when there is debate among Christians, one side simply says “There is no debate: those who argue x just aren’t Christians”? How can we ever talk to each other—-see the Image of God in each other—-if I greet someone “Peace be with you, my brother/sister in Christ” and they respond “No peace but the sword for you, apostate heathen”?]

Posted by: J. Collins Fisher at September 8, 2004 11:21 PM

Yes, I think there’s substantial agreement here. We agree that tolerance of everything and anything is self-refuting. Progress against discrimination has been made precisely by not being tolerant of prejudice. Prejudice is coming to conclusions before one has debated, whereas we on this weblog know that it is better to debate first.

But this makes it all the more strange that ‘tolerance’ tout simple is ever held up as a virtue without further clarification.

Posted by: Dr Christopher Shell at September 9, 2004 10:36 AM

I think it is because we’ve moved beyond seeking toleration to seeking affirmation.

Toleration was what was on the table during the mandated human sexuality dialogues in ECUSA during the early 90s. The issue today is affirmation.

It seems to me the issue is not the authority of scripture, since arguments can be made either way using various texts. The question before us today is if we will affirm long-term, committed same sex unions.

Posted by: Jake at September 9, 2004 01:04 PM

Fr. Kennedy,

Please note that I referred to Dr. Shell’s actions as trolling and not to him as a “troll.” There is a perhaps subtle but still clear distinction to be made between labeling a person’s actions and labeling the person himself. Please see the linked page and scroll down to the “Usage” section if this is not clear.

That being said, he is indeed “trolling” here. He may have engaged “honestly” but hardly “thoughtfully.” This site, after all, “proclaims a tolerant, progressive and compassionate Christian spirituality” as stated on their About TA page linked from their homepage. That being said, I refer you once again to the page on trolling linked above…

Posted by: David Huff at September 9, 2004 01:48 PM

That’s a relief - I thought I was going to have to creep back under my bridge and frighten the three billy goats gruff, whereas it turns out that I only need to troll a few ancient Yuletide carols to keep up my reputation.

My points were on tolerance in general, rather than tolerance (let alone toleration - which no-one could possibly desire) of homosexuals. Affirmation is a more positive word, and love (the traditional Christian option) is stronger still.

‘There is a…distinction to be made between labelling a person’s actions and labelling the person himself’:
That is why for so many years the point has been being made about hating the sin and loving the sinner. The present context is a good example.

Posted by: Dr Christopher Shell at September 9, 2004 02:13 PM

“That is why for so many years the point has been being made about hating the sin and loving the sinner. The present context is a good example.”

Ah yes, this one. My take is that this excuse is trotted out mostly by people who want to use the word “hate” and still feel clean afterwards…

For those who have a great desire to confess the sins of others, might I suggest a reading of Matthew 13:36b-43 followed by the Sept. 7 entry in the weblog Father Jake Stops the World entitled The Reapers are the Angels.

Posted by: David Huff at September 9, 2004 04:15 PM

Mr. Huff

What a strange thing for a Christian to say?

Gosh. The Bible seems to say that Jesus hates my sin precisely because he loves me; that he sees my sin as something harmful to my body and soul and therefor wants to destroy it(see Matt 5:27-30 for example).

But maybe Jesus is just like one of those people who, “who want to use the word ‘hate’ and still feel clean afterwards”?

Matt Kennedy+

Posted by: Matt Kennedy+ at September 9, 2004 04:40 PM

Yes, I do hate sins, and with a passion. I hate it when gunmen break into a school and kill children. I hate it when injustice is done in court. I hate it when I see young people being sold drugs. As an academic I hate it when truth is debased.

It is so much better (yes, and cleaner) to hate these things 100% than to feel mildly negative towards them.

Equally it is not our business (and in any case a waste of time, and jolly distasteful) to hate human beings.

Posted by: Dr Christopher Shell at September 9, 2004 04:51 PM

The more you love someone, the more you hate whatever might harm them. The snake (or the drugs) that might harm one’s own child is more hateful than any other. Strong love and strong hatred simply have to go together.

Posted by: Dr Christopher Shell at September 9, 2004 04:54 PM

Fr. Kennedy wrote:
“But maybe Jesus is just like one of those people who, “who want to use the word ‘hate’ and still feel clean afterwards”?”

I’m sure Our Lord was the only human who has ever walked the Earth who was able to clearly make this distinction between hate for the sin and love for the sinner. I don’t doubt that. What I doubt is the ability of any of the rest of us fallible humans to do so… Separating the weeds from the wheat is the Lord’s job, not yours and not mine.

Posted by: David Huff at September 9, 2004 05:52 PM

Mr. Huff

And, thankfully, Our Lord has taken care to do precisely that in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament in which He clearly provides us with His judgement on homosexual behavior (Mark 7:20-23, Romans 1:18-32; 1 Cor 6:9 for example). It is, according to Our Lord harmful to the body and soul and, therefore not to be tolerated.

Your problem seems not to be with me or Dr. Shell, but with the judegment of the Lord.

Posted by: Matt Kennedy+ at September 9, 2004 05:58 PM

The Greeks, famously, dismissed everything said in languages unintelligible to themselves, as being said by “barbarians” (since BAR-BAR-BAR-BAR is all it sounded like to them).

Reading this thread—-and I’m feeling that (figurative) blood-pressure thingy telling me I’d better bail soon—-feels like I’ve been reduced to “barbarian” status.

I say: “Some faithful Anglicans locate homosexual orientation (lovingly expressed) with the former God-given innate traits, and other faithful Anglicans with the latter, not God-given, pathological ones” and “there is NO citation from “Jesus’ Word” on homosexuality: whether the word/concept is mentioned anywhere in Scripture is, again, the subject of Christians’ debate.”

And yet here is Mr. Kennedy back, la-di-da, with “Our Lord has taken care to do precisely that in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament in which He clearly provides us with His judgement on homosexual behavior (Mark 7:20-23, Romans 1:18-32; 1 Cor 6:9 for example). It is, according to Our Lord harmful to the body and soul and, therefore not to be tolerated.”

. . . as if I’m completely unheard/uncomprehended! [My Bible, BTW, says nothing in the above passages about some undifferentiated “homosexual behavior” (if it’s an accurate, faithful translation, how could it?), but does condemn “degrading passions”: something I’m intolerant of, myself.]

What is it about “faithful, Bible-believing Christians are not agreed” that you can’t comprehend, Mr. Kennedy/Dr. Shell? Do my arguments not give you a moment’s cognitive dissonance? A “maybe I’m wrong”?

I’m not going to go the Paul of Tarsus route of boasting-denying-I’m-boasting: there are those wiser than I. More faithful. Far, far less sinful.

And yet—-probably because I am a frail, fallen, egotistical creature—-this “barbarian dismissal” grates nonetheless.

If we’re all to be “thinking Anglicans” here, please don’t waste my time with a simple repetition, ad nauseum, of contested arguments (or cite Biblical citations I can and have read plenty of times for myself).

Tell me something new: some new scholarship, some new insight, some new discovery. Or if you can’t do that, then tell me why in the world your Biblical interpretation is more to be trusted than my own (or that of other LGBT-affirming scholars a heck of lot more qualified than I)? Some sense that you have wrestled with contending arguments to arrive where you have? And, if I may be so bold, some evidence that you are not simply captive to prejudice, which is so widespread against LGBT people?

For the love of Christ, is that too much to ask?

[If you want to speak more personally and/or privately, you have my email]

Posted by: J. Collins Fisher at September 11, 2004 03:10 AM

Oops! I see that clicking on my name now redirects one to my blog. Well, feel free to comment on it, if you like, but if you scroll through to find a response by myself on a thread there, that will have my email address. Shalom!

Posted by: J. Collins Fisher at September 11, 2004 06:13 AM

A few times in different contexts I’ve given this challenge:

If the interpretation of Romans & 1 Corinthians &c that you refer to is valid, then what proportion of commentators on Romans, or of NT scholars in general (such as those recognised by membership of Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas, where religious affiliation is not an issue) agree?

You mentioned lgbt scholars taking such a view - but as Mandy Rice-Davies (or Christine Keeler?) once said, ‘They would, wouldn’t they?’. The real test is the views of those with no axe to grind.

On Romans 1:

It might at first seem odd that when Paul is attempting to show how humanity dishonours God, the way he demonstrates this is by speaking of homosexual practice. Why does he choose to speak of this topic here?

(1) He would obviously need to choose a particularly corrupt and depraved practice, since he is aiming to demonstrate the depths of godlessness to which people have sunk. So it can be taken for granted that he views homosexual practice in this way - as indeed would have been the unquestioning view of any Jew at the time, whether Jesus, Paul or any other.

The idea that either considers that there are some for whom homosexuality is natural, and that Paul is therefore criticising those who forsake heterosexuality for homosexuality founders on three rocks:
(a) it’s an argument from silence (and possibly convenience);
(b) Jewish culture of the time bears witness to no view even approaching this;
© this would be a strange group of people to criticise at all. The problem of heterosexuals forsaking heterosexuality for homosexuality has never been a major issue in that or any other culture. But when we consider that Paul is not merely criticising this group of people but actually using them as a paradigmatic example of disobedience, we realise that they must be some mainstream group. There’d be no point criticising so strongly a sin which was and is scarcely at all in evidence.

(2) But he doesn’t choose to speak of homosexuality because it is the worst sin of all (which it isn’t) but because it so graphically demonstrates how humanity has slipped from its original state: the image of God in 2 conplementary genders (with the associated command to increase and multiply by male-female intercourse). Paul is speaking on the topic of creation and the creation order, with Gen. 1-2 in mind.

We can also tell that this is Paul’s intention by comparing Romans 1 with Romans 4, where he speaks of Abraham. It was Abraham who set in motion the train of believing and acknowledging God that led eventually to the coming of the Messiah. Because he honoured God, believed God, and knew the power of God - the very same things that Paul ticks off sinful humanity for not doing in Romans 1. So, in biblical perspective, homosexual practice is a particularly clear demonstration of human rebellion against God - and indeed against our own true identity.

Support for this association of homosexual practice with lack of awe and reverence can be found in the nature of ‘camp’ humour (not that camp and gay are equivalents), which gets its laughs precisely through emphasis on shallow things and lack of awe and reverence.

Posted by: Dr Christopher Shell at September 11, 2004 11:19 AM

“A few times in different contexts I’ve given this challenge”

You’re giving me a challenge? Sorry, no. The oppressor bears the burden of proof, not the oppressed.

“You mentioned lgbt scholars”: no, I mentioned LGBT- affirming scholars (many, affirming precisely because their scholarship—-combined w/ the decisive proof of the worthy “fruits” of LGBT Christians’ lives—-overturned their {stereo}typical indoctrination re the “standard Biblical citations”). Hence, the rest of your (prejudicial) argument does not follow.

“Support for this association of homosexual practice with lack of awe and reverence can be found in the nature of ‘camp’ humour (not that camp and gay are equivalents), which gets its laughs precisely through emphasis on shallow things and lack of awe and reverence.”

Unfrickinbelievable (and beneath any further remark).

I’ll have to reconsider the characterization of your “trolling” Herr Doktor. I’m outta this thread.

“To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the market place and calling to one another, ‘We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.’
For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine; and you say ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of man has come eating and drinking; and you say, ‘Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.” Luke 7:31-35

Posted by: J. Collins Fisher at September 11, 2004 07:07 PM

Some relevant questions are: What proportion of NT scholars are lgbt-affirming? What proportion of Romans commentators would agree with the stance you are proposing?

I hope no-one is either oppressor or oppressed. Though those who are merely upholding the Christianity of the NT & a viewpoint that’s been more or less universally held are better correlated with oppressed than with oppressor.

It’s a new experience to engage in Christian debate with bad langugage involved: Jesus in Mk 7 says it is a manifestation of something bad inside. None of us is guiltless, but I’m sure that the vast majority of Christians would not want bad language in our debating. Bad language has come in as Christian norms in society have gone out - is there no connection?

Posted by: Dr Christopher Shell at September 12, 2004 11:10 AM

Ooooh, Chris darling, you are awful, you naughty, naughty girl! Teasing Miss Fisher like that .. it’s not kind. You know how sensitive she is.

“Camp is generous. It wants to enjoy .. Camp taste is a kind of love, a love for human nature.” (Susan Sontag)

“As in all of Auden’s theological camp, the joke simultaneously affirmed the absolute seriousness of the subject and the limited, artificial, therefore ultimately frivolous approach to it which was, he thought, the most that any individual could achieve.” (Edward Mendelson)

Posted by: Andrew Conway at September 12, 2004 01:01 PM

It’s also possible to find in camp humour trivialising and a refusal to take even serious things seriously.

What all schoolchildren respect in their teachers is an ability to treat humorous things humorously and serious things seriously, and not to confuse the two.

If nothing at all is taken seriously, that doesn’t match up with the world we live in. The world we live in is one that invites awe, wonder and reverence, and all the people we most admire are those who show awe, wonder and reverence where appropriate.

Posted by: Dr Christopher Shell at September 12, 2004 02:49 PM

Some people get the point of camp humour; others just don’t. You’re quite right, by the way, that it’s not a gay vs straight thing. I can think of some heterosexuals who are screamingly camp, and some homosexuals who find camp behaviour quite intolerable.

(In religious terms, I think it has something to do with one’s attitude to paradox. If you take a very systematic approach to religion, then you’ll probably be puzzled by camp. If, on the other hand, you take the line that religion is all about holding antinomies in tension, then camp will seem more congenial.)

But beware, Chris dear. Wasn’t it Warren Buffett who said that “if you can’t recognise the fool in the market, you probably are the fool in the market”? If you can’t see the point of camp humour, then it’s possible the joke may be on you.

Posted by: Andrew Conway at September 12, 2004 06:43 PM

I found your quotes fascinating.

Having never attempted a systematic analysis of camp humour there’s much there to ponder.

I only picked out one aspect of it: essential triviality / lack of reverence, as I was struck by the correlation with Romans 1.

It’s not that I can’t see the point of it, just that there is one thing about it (triviality / essential and innate lack of reverence, to the extent that nothing is serious) that is negative, not just to me, but to anyone.

There may be other things about it that I like - I was just concentrating on that particular facet.

Posted by: Dr Christopher Shell at September 18, 2004 01:59 PM
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