Wednesday 12 November 2008

Trust not Hierarchy

Rev. Martin Dudley has written this to the Church Times about the supposed 'apology' regarding the service of blessing of Peter Cowell and David Lloyd:

Bishop Broadbent stated that there was a "series of frank discussions" with me which led to my expression of regret. This is not the case. There were no discussions with the Bishop of London or anyone representing him.

I did not issue "a statement of apology to the Bishop of London"; I sent him a letter of regret on the 21st of July, drafted in consultation with my lawyers, to which he replied on 15 September requesting that it should be made public.

I wrote on 24 October:

Pete Broadbent has done his boss's duty and announced his boss's view that the matter is closed. After "frank discussions" with the Archdeacon of London, Rev. Dudley now thinks the service should not have happened and he won't do another; it was inconsistent with the House of Bishops' Pastoral Statement from 2005, and he should have given it far greater weight, even though he thinks this Pastoral Statement is subject to differing interpretations and he is profoundly uneasy with much of its content.

Bishop Broadbent keeps his own silence on whether there should have been disciplinary action, as he passes on another's view, but he does call it a "full and frank apology".

So, were there frank discussions with the Archdeacon or not? If there were not, Bishop Broadbent is lying or has been told a lie. Alternatively there were such discussions and the Archdeacon was not representing the Bishop of London (though the London diocese website says he was acting under the bishop's instructions). That would mean Martin Dudley was being crafty in his letter to the Church Times. Why should he be crafty, however, when the letter of regret has been made public? At the very least there has been a lack of clarity and misunderstanding.

Peter Ould reproduced the letter to the Church Times, and it is he who pursues his understanding of the theology of marriage and has just done so in an evangelical college, St. John's at Nottingham (the video of the lecture ground to a halt along the way). He uses Ephesians 5:22-33, though 1 Corinthians 7 puts a different angle on marriage.

It is debatable whether Paul wrote Ephesians at all, or whether it was an admirer with elements that may go back to Paul. Whatever, reading Paul is like reading a radical equalitarian revolutionary on the one had and a hierarch on the other. 1 Corinthians is Paul, and he is saying marry if you must (it's not relevant when the world is about to end) to avoid sexual immorality and if you do don't deny your body to the other except at fixed times. It is quite equalitarian. The material that comes from after Paul's death is hierarchical, and represents a different and later period in the Church. Ephesians fits into that, if not always so clearly. However, I don't think 'Paul' should be so privileged nor Paul for that matter, nor is this constant lifting off the text a means to proceed. Still, let's take Ephesians 5:22-33 for what it states:

[22] Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. [23] For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Saviour. [24] Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.

[25] Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, [26] in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, [27] so as to present the church to himself in splendour, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind-yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. [28] In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. [29] For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, [30] because we are members of his body. [31] 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' [32] This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. [33] Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband. [NRSV]

Peter Ould at his Nottingham lecture treats this not as analogy but as absolute comparison: one gives the basis to the other. In marriage the male husband stands in the place of Christ. In marriage the female wife stands in the place of the Church. They are theological equivalents to the relationship of Christ and Church (in these Ephesian texts).

Peter Ould states what marriage should involve.

Sex should be chaste - active within its proper permanent setting. So does this mean that Christ's attention for the Church and the Church's service is only within these contexts? What happens regarding any other arrangement: surely Christ is able to choose whatever arrangement Christ likes beyond the Church and individuals who are outside of the Church.

Marriage is permanent: as Christ to us is permanent. But is it - because Paul disagrees with the Creed in that Christ yields the Kingdom to the Father whereas in the Creed it has no end. Paul is not trinitarian, of course, and yet Peter Ould's diagram has Paul and the Trinity set together. So with Paul, and by correspondence with Paul, marriage may not be permanent at all.

Marriage must be monogamous too because it reflects the 100% commitment from Christ to his Church. But such is but one way - is this the only relevant direction?

Differentiation is vital: because we cannot do what Jesus did. Sex differences are thus crucial. But because he is making such a close correspondence, he is making the male sex actually able to be what Jesus was and the female sex unable. This is anti-incarnational in terms of incarnation being holistic and either male and female cannot be like Christ or both can be like Christ.

Then Peter Ould takes the negative approach.

Sex outside its permanent setting is to say something wrong about Jesus, and is therefore idolatry. But if there is an end time, it might say something about the ending of marriage.

Promiscuity divides the interest of Christ, in the sense of not getting 100% of Christ, and this is also idolatrous. Man and a man is like sex between Christ and Christ in the biblical picture - that Christ is not interested in Church but self absorbed. This suggests that Christ is self-absorbed and even promiscuous, and that Christ needs a Church. But presumably the permanent eternal Christ, prior to the earthly ministry and Church, was a promiscuous Christ without a focus of his promiscuity? Peter Ould says Men in relationships with men are more promiscuous and self-absorbed; that the Male and male means as if Christ is not interested in the Church. Indeed, as he was not, once.

This is all ridiculous anyway, analogy and metaphor pushed to even statements of generality about male-male relationships which have nothing to do with Christ and the Church. How silly does this stuff get?

If I could be bothered, I would point to the line that in Christ there is no male and female, and then relationships can be undifferentiated, in the same sense Peter Ould demands difference. I cannot make this argument because it is the same method. It misuses text, and it crosses cultural and time boundaries.

I can't, because although relationships between people are open to theological analysis, relationships have their own basis and their own integrity. The more one listens to people about relationships, the more one learns about the complexity of motivations and attachments, and how attachments arise, loosen and end. Covenants between people can end: their making and the blessing is an attempt to assist the depth and stability of a relationship.

It may be that the most significant relationships, anyway, are friendships: the deep, unattached by desire, loyal associations that last long after marriages come and go and where the covenant grows over time. Hierarchy has no place in these, because hierarchy would undermine the deep yet detached way true friendships endure. Yet we may find desire, and and we may need to express it and release it in different ways - which is sometimes sexual, and the sexual can enhance the bond. Whether a relationship involves a plug or a socket, or plugs or sockets, is only part of the matter. Adaptors are available.

I personally reject fully all hierarchical interpretations of marriage, and when faced with the offer of such interpretation made it clear it was not wanted. Anyway, we are not one flesh, and it is absolutely right that a husband and wife can be convicted of rape when there is no consent, including within marriage. We are all different: different by degrees with similarities. What matters is consent, and being faithful means having trust. Trust is precious.


Erika Baker said...

Bravo. And thank you.

Peter O said...

If I could be bothered, I would point to the line that in Christ there is no male and female, and then relationships can be undifferentiated, in the same sense Peter Ould demands difference. I cannot make this argument because it is the same method. It misuses text, and it crosses cultural and time boundaries.

Not so. The clear difference is that Eph 5 makes the specific Christ/Church, Husband/Wife connection. Gal 3:28 does not - in fact it talks about male/female NOT husband and wife. In order to make your argument work you either have to claim that the two passages are contradictory OR you need to make Eph 5 say something else when it compares Christ/Church to Husband/Wife.

Sloppy Bible reading Adrian.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

It's not sloppy Bible reading: one is specific and one is a general principle - and I am aware of that. But the specific one contradicts the general principle. The issue then becomes, first, and temporarily, who is the more authentic Paul, the equalitarian one that seems to be more his pen than the hierarchical one, and second, more than temporarily, what is the ethic being suggested by either, and which to choose. I am quite happy to reject Bible passages and the like where there is another Christian and ethical principle at work. My point then becomes trust over hierarchy.

I also think, as a matter of getting there, that your selective literalism and that close correlation you make beyond the metaphor of Christ/ Church husband/ wife has some strange side effects, such as the apparent difficulty of an eternal Christ with no subservient Church to which he can direct and limit his (spiritual?) promiscuity. It is quite bizarre in places.

Peter O said...


Once again you're not reading the Bible properly. If we didn't have passages such as Rev 13:8 and Eph 1:4 you might have a point, but actually those references and others indicate a Christ who has been eternally committed to the Church, not hanging around being promiscuous waiting for it to turn up (as you seem to be suggesting). That just strengthens the analogy, not weakens it.

It seems to me that when you raise issues of penis worship or aggressive patriarchy, you seem to be implying that ALL vaginal sex is by it's nature aggressive and domineering. If you yourself have vaginal sex and your partner doesn't view you as forcing yourself on her, why would you therefore imply that the only possible interpretation of this act of procreative sex as significatory for the union of Christ and the Church is of an aggressive forceful Christ?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I'm applying your hierarchical description of relationship and sex, but it is one I reject. And of course that means that if there are specific biblical texts that imply or more than imply a hierarchical description of relationship and sex then I reject them. I reject them because I regard them as cultural and limited, as indeed I regard either the Paul who did write various epistles or part, or the 'Paul' who is later on and hierarchical.

I think your view, and the selective literalism of the biblical view, does in the end imply a kind of violence. I am more than suspicious of these texts.

I'm also saying that your presentation has these side effects. Some may be covered by other texts, but given as given there are these side effects. The texts don't exactly improve the situation ethically, and so I reject them.

As for eternal Christ and all that, well I just take that as a form of myth - strong sense and weak sense.

Peter O said...

What can I say Adrian? Your argument seems to amount to, "I think you're wrong on the Bible texts, but the moment you try and draw more Scripture in to support your view, I'm just going to reject the Bible anyway as having anything authoritative to say". I can't argue against that.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

All I am saying is if you use these texts there is this kind of argument, but then there are other texts for that kind of argument. I have an interest in the two Pauls. But I never set out to prove a point via playing scriptural arguments against each other, or with each other, in that they are only consultative anyway and they do not, in my view, form some kind of unified whole. There is no proper way to read them - just these texts and those. All I've done is commented on those you used and what seem to be consequences. I'd do the same for texts in other books, other faiths and none. These biblical texts I regard as voluntary - and if they are unhelpful texts then I reject them.