Tuesday, 8 January 2013

The Sexual-Doctrinal Connection

Most of the time I don't have any interest in what the anonymous blogger Cranmer thinks, with its unwanted combination of irrelevant doctrinal purity and Conservative politics. I am only interested now via Changing Attitude and what has been set down as a challenge. I share the intentions of Changing Attitude but not the setting.

The position held by Cramner isn't absolutely clear. On the one hand there is an offering of moderation:

...homosexuality is not an issue worthy of schism: it is simply not of the order of the sort of debate that used to divide the Church: the divinity of Christ, for example, or the nature of his humanity – the great controversy at the Council of Nicea in AD325 – or even over liturgy or the transforming nature of infant baptism. The issue of homosexuality affects only a tiny minority of its adherents: it is of distinctly secondary, even peripheral, scriptural importance.

On the other hand, it could well be a first order issue after all:

Hooker not Cranmer!
That God established an objective, moral order in creation, and continues a work of re-creation through Jesus, is a source and standard of all that it beautiful, good and true. If such a moral order means anything, there may be no via media on the issue of homosexuality. Accepting theological diversity is not the same as tolerating all beliefs and practices, because ultimately the Church is calledto be holy because God is holy (Lev 19:2; Mt 5:48).

Furthermore, Jesus spoke in large-scale terms and not in small details, so his thoughts on marriage excludes homosexual relationships. St Paul allowed no compromise either.

There is a connection from a different perspective between gay relationships and all this biblical doctrine. The big doctrinal issues, like the doctrine of the Trinity, are not finalised in the Bible. The Christian New Testament contains various views of Jesus and divinity from the perspective of the early Christians who wrote it. The one view not in there is the expressed doctrine of the Trinity. It may be implied as potential, but there are given unitarian and arian views (John's Gospel is easiest, simplest, as an Arian document - in the beginning was the Word, thus the first of creation, through which creation was made; Mark makes a few hints at Jesus's divinity, but with the other synoptics is mainly unitarian where Jesus is chosen and special).

The fundies insist on the Bible as the last word on homosexuality, but not on doctrine, though they delude themselves about the Bible and actual ecumenical doctrine. Perhaps what really matters is what Churches have thought and decided, but then what Churches have decided can be undecided.

The Unitarian stream of thinking eventually took the view that that Bible offered no final answers. We do not have the historical method to know what Jesus thought on this issue or the next. There are only themes, such as reverse ethics and ethical integrity. In the end what matters is your own experience, with some outlook provided by tradition, some from modernity and beyond, and much by ethical discussion amongst the gathered.

This is why, against Cranmer, accepting theological diversity is about a sincere debate on a 'you believe this, I believe that' approach to being together, or moving apart, in the Church. It is not cheap to have 'reconciled diversity', meaning benign tolerance, because that is the tolerance that makes society. It is more accurate regarding broad movements in faith.

There are two main movements in Unitarianism from the nineteenth century onwards. There is the rational and the non-rational, though each has a little of the other. The non-rational was transcendentalism and romanticism: dangerous in Germany but about literature, the rural and the imaginative in Britain and America. The rational was the early liberal outbreak, the biblical Unitarians (really, 'Reformation Arian'), later on the biblical criticism taken from the rational Germans but actually within our Romantics, and then religious humanism. So in the rational side there is the liberal Christian (becoming postliberal - standards of recognition and performance in an identifiable church service) and then to humanism (some Western Buddhism) and on the non-rational side the growing Pagan element and the interfaith/ Hindu/ Buddhist perspectives.

None of these are restrictive about gay relationships, or indeed others. But sexuality is important because it is the core of our identity and drives, and of course the basis of reproduction or otherwise. It is the core of our collective diversity and evolutionary flexibility (to populate, to care - we have lived to grandparent age which has evolutionary advantages and not to over-populate so have 'spares' who are within the creative, collective mix) that has made the last human species so successful. And through language it understands itself and its limits, even its own end.

Faith has sexuality shot through it: it is not for nothing that today's Pagans stress the feminine and the relationship within and across the feminine and masculine and make descriptive deities. Hindus had a highly sophisticated view of sexuality before some Muslim rulers and the British Empire introduced loin cloths. Evolution is all about sexuality and death, after all. It is out of these that we draw spiritual concepts and experience, out of these that some even regard the world as magical (magical rather than supernatural, though it can be both).

Church of England theologians might know all this, as do social anthropologists, but they cannot apply these ideas because they are stuck within the realm of Church councils and biblical writings. The late nineteenth century saw the limits of the Churches, and the late 1970s was the end-point of myth using liberal Christian theology until it turned postmodern (either conservative or liberal in form).

It is no surprise, then, that in parallel the Churches have become so sclerotic about human sexuality. The link between forms of religion and the diversity of expression of sexuality is made: Christianity needs a wopping change to accommodate the actual sexuality of people who trust others, receive trust and make relationships.

Perhaps one reason adherence to Christianity dropped by 10% in ten years in Britain (other than an over-favourable previous question) is because it has come up against a newly widespread and accepted understanding of sexual diversity as part of social cohesion, and Christianity is understood as representing a narrower view. The schism is a product of the mainline institutions creaking and splitting on these questions of the day thrown up by the newer tolerance.

Many gays and lesbians simply say to hell with all your religion, but just a few have noticed the Quakers, libral Jews and Unitarians saying differently, and thus make their enquiries about what it is religiously that makes them different. The Quakers, with a strong social and independence reputation, should benefit the most, though have a peculiar strict kind of practice, but the Unitarians are accessible, and a practice that is more understood and full of words and music that can express the connections between experience in faith and authority and experience in sexality.

Cranmer can keep talking to the few that want to be tied in knots. It's not a schism issue but there may be no via media. Well, if there is no via media there is hardly the flexibility available to avoid schism. But as his institution strains and stresses, Unitarians are pleased to receive those who want to seek differently.


rick allen said...

"sexuality is important because it is the core of our identity and drives"

This is as good an illustration as any of the modern creed. Until recently almost all Christian churches taught that one's drives, impulses and passions were distinct from identity, that we each had a true self that was different from our appetites.

Kenneth Robertson said...

In the light of the fact that Unitarians in the UK have been training gay ministers since 1977 , yet the denomination continues to decline year on year, it is certain that it will need to become more than just an inclusive meeting place for gays if is to gain from the present turmoil in the C of E.

Dwight said...

admittedly when I see a gay or lesbian couple married and together over the last number of decades, the word that doesn't come to mind is "impulses" but something much more, commitment, maybe even the divine.