Friday, May 09, 2014

Excerpts From Bishop Waldo's Pastoral and Theological Reflections on Same Sex Blessings

In my last brief post, I noted that Bishop Waldo of the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina (my Bishop) released his Pastoral and Theological Reflections on Same Sex Blessings this week. We all knew what the conclusion was going to be, but how he was going to word it was the question. I am providing excerpts, but if anyone really wants to read the whole thing, it is on-line here.

Bishop Waldo begins with an appeal,
"So Jesus’ commandment that we love one another sacrificially—even to the point of giving our life for our friends—is where I start as I address the place of same-sex blessings in our common life because loving one another is and always has been the greatest challenge for human relationships."
Love in this instance meaning that lovers do not leave the Episcopal church.
He continues,
"In the course of this refection, I offer a way forward for us in the Diocese of Upper South Carolina and for the larger Church catholic in whose leadership I have been called to share."
I guess he thinks his way will be the way the Church catholic should go as well. This is either grandiose, delusional, or simply, wishful thinking.

"I make this offering with special awareness of and attentiveness to the spiritual dangers of 'deceiving others and being deceived' (2 Timothy 3:13) about matters on any and all points in the current debates."
As we shall see, insufficient attention has been paid to 2 Timothy 3.

So how effective will this theological reflection be in changing people's minds?
"As far as I know, not one member of the group has changed his or her basic sense of what we should or shouldn’t do in this matter, and yet all of us have richer understandings of and appreciation for our own and each other’s perspectives."
So why should the rest of us read the next twenty six pages if the decision has been made in the absence of a convincing argument?
"THE DECISION: In response to Resolution A049 from the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 2012. I have decided that use of the provisional rite, 'The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant' for the blessing of same-sex relationships approved in that resolution will be permitted in some congregations according to conditions provided in detail in the document “Process, Application and Policies” accompanying this refection."
But don't worry because we aren't talking about marriage,
"I have no authority nor intent to change the church’s doctrine of Christian marriage—“a solemn and public covenant between a man and a woman in the presence of God”—as contained in the Canons of Episcopal Church and in The Book of Common Prayer..."
But Bishop Waldo, our parish doesn't really want to have "the talk".
"All congregations will be urged to offer the Task Force on Unity and Faithfulness curriculum prior to General Convention 2015."
I guess it all depends on the meaning of the word "urge".
"As I have prepared my response to A049 and the provisional rite for blessing same-sex relationships, it has been my discipline to avoid working from concepts that have represented stumbling blocks to dialog For those of more traditional perspectives, words such as 'inclusivity,' 'diversity,' 'justice' and 'equality' used by supporters of same-sex blessings and marriages have become negative jargon. For those of more progressive perspectives, words and phrases often used by traditionalists, such as 'the influence of secular culture,' 'orthodox,' 'redefinition of marriage,' 'traditional marriage' and 'clear meaning of scripture,' have come to be seen as dismissive when wielded in a combative or rigid spirit."
Note that in spite of trying to avoid using labels and catch phrases, Bishop Waldo does just that when he subtly slants the emotional content of this paragraph so that  readers learn that expressing the orthodox viewpoint is seen by progressives as being "combative" or "rigid" spirited and traditionalists who use progressive talking points usually do so in a negative sense.

So let's see if he can soften the blow to those of us who might be inclined to believe that only through a muddied meaning of scripture, redefinition of marriage, and listening to secular culture can we get to where the Bishop wants to go.
"If our Church’s reassessment of human sexuality is to be more than a rationalization of a self-willed purpose, it must be rooted in or grafted onto the received tradition."
There is no way it can be rooted in the received tradition (although he will try), so it will have to be grafted onto it.

"From this most basic outline of the Christian story of salvation, the received tradition has taught that how we live must not be contrary to human nature. Because, the tradition argues, same-sex relationships are contrary to human nature, and because same-sex behaviors are specifically rejected in scripture, the Church cannot bless covenanted same-sex relationships in any form. As a result, many traditionalists argue that one cannot be orthodox in Christian belief and at the same time support or participate in sexually active same-sex relationships. Within the past half century, that conclusion has come under active examination. There is no question that some movements relating to the acceptance of gay and lesbian persons are more civil and secular than religious—even within the Church. Other movements claim deep roots in orthodox Christian faith and practice. Recognizing that there is deep disagreement about this, I will argue that there is a firm biblical basis from which to shape a common life in which lifelong, monogamous same-sex relationships can receive the blessing of the Church."

Note: This is a key paragraph. The rest of Bishop's work is based on the hypothesis is that there is a firm Biblical basis for SSBs, and his stated goal is to prove that hypothesis. As you read on, decide for yourself if he has done so.

"The question posed to the Church by lifelong, monogamous, Christ-centered same-sex relationships is, Where on the trajectory of salvation do such relationships fit?"
I don't think that he is posing the right question. Does anyone else think that the words "conjugal" and "celibate" might enter into the question?
"Since the traditional view of male-female relationships is rooted in the biological complementarity of the two sexes from the beginning of creation, I start the conversation there.In the Bible, lifelong monogamous marriage between one man and one woman is presented not only as a norm and reality but as a symbol. However, the concrete, day-in, day-out, lived model of marriage as an exclusive relationship gets challenged by instances of polygamy, divorce and adultery—sometimes without moral comment (King Solomon) and sometimes with profound and direct moral comment (David and Bathsheba)."
I believe King Solomon's polygamy did not pass without moral comment. Solomon did  anger God by marrying foreign wives (1 Kings 11:9), but also he went against God's will, "Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away" (Deuteronomy 17:17)

In any case, Bishop Waldo will deal with tradition by trying to have it both ways,
"The global sensus fidelium remains unpersuaded that the Church can proclaim God’s blessing on same-sex relationships. Yet many Christians believe same-sex relationships grounded in a relationship with Christ are deeply worthy of God’s blessing."
So much for old fashioned tradition, lets get some good old revisionism,
"In my judgment, and in the eyes of many Episcopalians, the fruits of righteousness can be as manifestly evident in the lives of partnered Christian gay and lesbian couples as they can in the lives of married heterosexual couples. Paul is concrete in his description of the fruits of the Spirit made manifest: The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. —Galatians 5:22-23"

I don't think anal-genital intercourse was what Paul had in mind when he described the fruits of the Spirit. (Romans 1:26-32)

Any good theological discussion striving to justify homo-sex acts has to dismiss Leviticus too,
"Leviticus 18 and 20: At a minimum, these passages address an idolatrous desire for 'sex any way a person can get it.' They remain a viable commentary on the sins and temptations of modern life and point to the offense as being rooted in idolatry of the flesh. Though the passages are silent on the matter of sexual orientation vs. lifestyle as many understand the difference today, they do point to sexual willfulness."
In case you didn't follow that, he is tossing out the old "They didn't understand sexual orientation" gambit.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 There can be little question that this passage at least includes a condemnation of idolatrous promiscuity and licentiousness, behaviors that were widespread in Corinth in Paul’s time. And there is little question that the passage has supported a traditional understanding of homosexual behaviors as intrinsically wrong. The same can be said of 1 Timothy 1:8-11, which covers a larger list of behaviors laid down for the “lawless and disobedient,” including “fornicators and sodomites.”And yet Paul’s intent in offering his list of what the community’s behaviors 'used to be' in 1 Corinthians 6 is emphatically not primarily about sexual sins: it is more like, “Look, here are the things you did before you believed, and of all these divisive behaviors—suing each other is among the most destructive and least worthy of your new identity in Christ.”
I am blown away.
Romans 1:18-32
"The first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans contains the only sustained development of an argument in which what Paul calls unnatural sexual relations figure prominently.Robert Gagnon describes Romans 1:24-27 as 'the central text for the issue of homosexual conduct on which Christians must base their moral doctrine.' Likewise, John E. Goldingay, Grant R. LeMarquand, George R. Sumner, and Daniel A. Westberg, in presenting one of two views on this issue to the March, 2010 House of Bishops meeting, emphasized the importance of this passage for Christian doctrine on human sexuality. Strangely, neither discusses the list of the fruits of idolatry in Romans 1:28-32. Each seems to assume, as does Paul, that these evil fruits are and will be the inevitable result of all homosexual behavior because all homosexual behavior is idolatrous. The assumption is a critical basis for the received tradition’s conclusion that homosexual behavior is intrinsically disordered. This severe conclusion is however deeply dissonant in the manifest evidence and presence of the fruits of the Holy Spirit in the relationship of a monogamous, lifelong, Christian same-sex couple."
I am totally blow away by this classic "attack the witness" strategy. Paul's "assumption"? I think Bishop Waldo is going after the wrong witness. I would like to see him try that one on St. Paul and get away with it.

The theological machinations keep getting deeper,
"There is little question that we are in a time of permissiveness. There is no doubt that desires of the flesh motivate people into unhealthy and idolatrous homosexual and heterosexual relationships. It is clear that secular media encourage this. And scripture speaks with clarity against these developments. Would our interpretation therefore be different if we considered two persons whose lifelong, covenanted same-sex intimacy took place in the context of knowing God, not ignoring God, and not making or worshiping graven images? What if the fruits of faithful, monogamous, Christian same-sex couples were nowhere to be seen on Paul’s list in Romans 1, but rather in Paul’s list in Galatians 5: 'love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control'? It is hard, even under the most ordinary of encounters with other people, to 'seek and serve Christ in others' by seeing beyond our assumptions and the personal 'rules' we each inherit and form as we grow up and according to which we live our adult lives. Our discernment of the fruits of the Spirit in others—especially when we begin with negative assumptions about them—can only occur if we let go of the metaphorical tug-of-war rope. Paul reminds us in Philippians 2:5-11 that Jesus himself did this, refusing to grasp or exploit his divinity and emptying himself instead, taking the form of a servant."
Poor Paul, he has been "what iffed" into going along with Bishop Waldo.
What follows is about as deep as the theological revisionism gets,

"Article XX of the Articles of Religion (“Of the Authority of the Church”) declares that “it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.” Therefore, if a same-sex relationship manifestly bears the fruits of the Spirit, it is incumbent upon the Church to consider if that relationship is intrinsically different from the relationships so negatively presented in scripture. How can a relationship that manifests God’s Holy Spirit be repugnant to any part of scripture? As is true with both heterosexual and homosexual relationships, some will bear few fruits of the Spirit and bear instead the manifestly evident fruits of sin and death. Our task is to listen to the relationships that do bear the fruits of the Spirit. The Church has often refused to discern that fruits of the Spirit can come from a same-sex relationship. And yet, however chaotic and divisive our entry into this subject has been these last decades, the faith and witness of our Lord in the lives of partnered gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in Christ have manifestly included fruits of righteousness. Jesus is clear that evil intentions and desires of the flesh defile (Mark 7:21-23). The tradition has held that all same-sex sexual behaviors are intrinsically the result of such intentions and desires. However, same-sex relationships that bear the fruits of the Spirit cannot be placed in the same category. What the tradition has declared to be “intrinsically disordered”—especially via Leviticus 18 and 20, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, and Romans 1—must be carefully reevaluated in light of relationships that are discerned by the community as “manifestly good,” bearing the fruits of the Spirit."
I would conclude that this means whatever a community discerns to be good is the fruit of the Spirit whether or not it contradicts scripture. This is of course a dangerous conclusion for it can lead to a lot of things that might not be all that pleasing to God. Of course most of those things can be found in all those "Thou shalt nots" and negative passages that are so rarely heard on Sunday mornings.

I am not sure that there are any readers left, but you should read what Bishop Waldo does to "Complementarity".

"...many theologians, philosophers, and psychologists speak about marriage as a powerful metaphor for the journey of uniting the masculine and feminine aspects within ourselves, having been made in the image of God, who has both masculine and feminine characteristics.Biologically, we each have both male and female hormones within us, in proportions that are not the same from person to person. Emotionally, we act in ways both masculine and feminine, and our life journeys are deeply impacted by how well we come to terms with each dimension within us—in an important sense, how well these two aspects of our person-hood are “married” within us. In this understanding, complementarity is not exclusively limited to the biological order of creation, but includes the emotional and psychological order of creation. It can fairly be argued that it is our inner self that most especially makes us human—made in God’s image, worthy of God’s love, and reflected in God’s incarnation in Jesus. That being said, our bodiesmatter. Indeed, our humanness is expressed through our bodies, minds, and spirits. The challenge in understanding true complementarity must involve refection on all three, mind, body, and spirit—who we are and how we act, male and female."
Deep down, we are all hermaphrodites.

So much for the Bible. Let's drag down some of that received tradition too,

"St. Augustine wrote that marriage is a union of friendship, a natural companionship. While it is clear that he refers to marriage being between a man and a woman and that he rejects sexual relationships outside of marriage, he, like Paul, understands sex as being necessary for procreation and a remedy for lust. One is ultimately “better” without it, and indeed, the City of God will fill up sooner without sex. (He even suggests that married couples should get sex out of the way early in their marriage to get procreation over with so that they can focus on their companionship and life in Christ.) For Augustine, fidelity is a fundamental characteristic of a Christian marriage, and is required even in the event of a divorce, in which neither party should remarry, even for the sake of having children.
On many counts, Augustine’s views of marriage and divorce have been reassessed in our time, but at a minimum he has identified three profound goods that are shared by believers regardless of their position on same-sex relationships: companionship, fidelity and lifelong commitment. These goods are at the heart of what the Church has proposed blessing with regard to same-sex relationships."

Poor St. Aug, I bet he never thought his writings would be used to justify same-sex blessings, but in just a few lines, our Bishop did just that!

In his conclusion, Bishop Waldo thanks the members of what I have called Task Force 10 to Gomorrah, but he omitted any mention of the one team member who left the fleet and who, after being deposed (lite), is now sailing under another Admiral.

"I am most deeply grateful to the members of my Task Force on Unity and Faithfulness—Ms. Caroline Avinger, Mr. Frank Ballard, Ms. Jennifer Bull, The Rev. Jordan Hylden, The Very Rev. Timothy Jones, The Rev. Alan Leonard, Ms. Sally McKay, The Rev. James Neuburger, The Rev. Ellen Francis Poisson, OSH, and The Rev. David Wagner"
So, does Bishop Waldo's hypothesis, based on his presentation, stand, or should it be rejected?


  1. So our judgment of the "fruits" of what the Bible and earlier generations regarded as sinful can override both Scripture and tradition? Then what Bishop Waldo is espousing is justification by works, i.e., man himself is capable of deciding whether or not he shall be saved -- God's only function is to accept man's sincere judgment of his "works."

    The gnat has swallowed a camel -- and wants us to pretend it is still just a humble gnat.

    1. I think there are a lot of folks out there with fruits that they sincerely believe are quite tasty. I seem to recall a tale that cautions us about swallowing that fruit. I guess I am to ignore the old story, take their word for it, and taste it for myself.

  2. I will grant that the church was given the keys to the kingdom. The church decides what is sinful and what is not sinful. This is a double edged sword however. For the church to call something that is sinful to be blessed is an action that eliminates that community as a church. That is the cost of going against Tradition and Scripture. The word "Traditionalists" makes it sound like those who believe what has always been believed by the church are really a faction who only have one side of the truth.

  3. Wow, Waldo does not even understand basic human physiology and nature, never mind theology, the Queen of scientific endeavor.

    1. His paper suggests that neither physiology or theology are taught in seminary these days.