Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Every Christian’s Bounden Duty: Betrayed By the Members of the Task Force on Marriage

The Episcopal church's recent report from its Task Force on marriage is out, and recommendations for the upcoming General Convention of the Episcopal church are contained therein (a thorough analysis by A.S. Haley may be found here). My Bishop Waldo is a member of this Task Force, and the question for Upper South Carolinians is whether or not he upheld his Christian duty. Which duty is that?
"Though it is the quintessence of Enthusiasm to pretend to be guided by the Spirit without the written Word, yet it is every Christian’s bounden duty to be guided by the Spirit in conjunction with the written Word of God. Watch, therefore, I pray you, O believers, the motions of God’s blessed Spirit in your souls, and always try the suggestions or impressions that you may at any time feel, by the unerring rule of God’s most Holy Word." George Whitefield, Six Sermons, 3rd ed. (London, 1750), 92, cited in Iain H. Murray, Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1987), 248. h/t C.S. Lewis Institute
It does not take a theologian to tell that the attempt to reconcile homosexual marriage with Christian marriage is far outside Whitefield's idea of Christian duty. In fact it stretches the very idea of Christian theological reasoning.

In fact, the Task Force knew it was in trouble from the get go. Early on in the report, Bishop Waldo et al revise the very meaning of theology itself,
A second word on “theology”
However, before going further, it is also important at the outset to be clear about what is meant by “theology” — and what sort of theology we are addressing. Marriage is not a subject of dogmatic theology, but of moral or pastoral theology. This means that there is no core dogmatic doctrine concerning marriage,
Revisionism is an amazing tool.
… The scope of doctrinal or dogmatic theology, particularly as formed in the Anglican tradition, is limited.  Doctrine (“believed as an article of the Faith”) is constrained by that which can be proved by Scripture (Article VI of the Articles of Religion, BCP, 868). This way of looking at doctrine affirms sufficiency rather than detailed elaboration and is focused on, but not confined by, the Creeds (in particular the Nicene Creed, which is described as a “sufficient statement of the Christian Faith” in the Lambeth Quadrilateral). As with the understanding of “the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for salvation” (Article VI), the concept is that not every theological issue need be addressed in detail, and that a set of basic guiding principles can set the ground rules within which the Church has authority to act. The Creeds, of course, say nothing of matrimony; moreover, the classical Anglican catechisms are also silent on it, while the 1979 BCP catechism gives only a brief description of it on page 861.

It is interesting that the Task Force mentions the 39 Articles but they ignore the gist of Article XX which I quote below,
XX. Of the Authority of the Church.
The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: and yet 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. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation. 
In order to try to prove that what they are about to do is not "contrary to God's Word written", the Task force will have to rely on twisting the clear language of scripture to mean what they want it to mean.
While a simple reading of scripture is always possible, a simple reading of the task force's work is impossible as the following section on "Complementarity" demonstrates,

Complementarity considered:
Jesus’ juxtaposed reading of the Genesis creation accounts has contributed to a relatively recent thread that sees in Christian marriage the fulfillment of the created meaning of male and female. And although Jesus’ comments on marriage do not address procreation (again, he declines to cite Genesis 1:28: “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it”), the above referenced passage (and its Markan parallel) has been paired with other key texts to ground the meaning and significance of marriage in binary sexual difference as well as in the human capacity to procreate. In this way, the unitive quality of marriage has at times been coflated with the procreative capacity that many, though not all, couples possess.
 The question of how the vocation of marriage takes up and expresses the wider Christian call to growth and generativity will be addressed more fully below, in section 6. Here, however, the question is whether the vocation of Christian marriage must center on the binary sexual difference of male and female.
Christian theology has a long tradition of reading marriage through the mystery of the relationship between Christ and the Church. Indeed, Christian “nuptial theology” tends to unfold the mystical interface of our Christology and our ecclesiology through the lens of marriage, dwelling in particular on the imagery of Ephesians 5, as well as on Christological readings of the Song of Songs. The task force paper exploring marriage within a wider theological arc treats the Ephesians passage at some length. The analogies between Christ and the Church, husband and wife, male and female have long been interpreted in ways that limit marriage to heterosexual couples and that instantiate an asymmetry between husband and wife. In recent decades, some Christian theologians have framed this line of thought as “sexual complementarity” or simply “complementarity.”
This is an instance where the Greek term anthropos, often translated as “human being,” when paired with gyne, “woman” or “wife,” becomes gender specific “man.” Further, unlike in English, in both Greek and Hebrew the terms for “man” and “woman” can also be translated as “husband” and “wife.”
As Adrian Thatcher has noted, while this idea can be nuanced in different ways, including in egalitarian modes, complementarity is usually used to argue that “God has planned and ordained heterosexualmarriage as the sole framework for legitimate, holy, sexual relations.”  In different ways and with distinct emphases, this idea has emerged in some Roman Catholic and evangelical Christian writings. It has also begun to appear in some Anglican contexts. These contributions reveal how our conversation about marriage interfaces with and activates our broader understanding of the human person. Should the basic organization of Christian marriage privilege sexual difference — more specifically  a strictly dual understanding of sexual difference as male and female — over other sorts of human difference?
Should marriage work to contain or channel human differences into a basic nuptial binary of male and female?
Mystery of new humanity
Here, from the fifth chapter of Ephesians, the mystery that characterizes Christ’s relationship with the Church may offer a further way in which to understand the significance of difference in the union of marriage. After a call to “be subject to one another” in marriage (as also addressed in “A Biblical and Theological Framework for Marriage”), the author of Ephesians concludes with a quotation of Genesis 2:24, the same one cited by Jesus in Matthew 19: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” The letter then continues: “This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the Church.” The heart of marriage, that is, is a mysterion.
The concept of mystery expresses several key linked ideas in Ephesians. In its first chapter, the author uses the term to speak of the Good News itself: “With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery [to mysterion] of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” In chapter three, the author proclaims that “this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:8-10).
The content of the Ephesians' proclamation is “the boundless riches of Christ” and “the wisdom of God in its rich variety.” This wisdom is instantiated in Jesus Christ who, in chapter two, is described as having broken down the dividing wall, “creating one new humanity [kainon anthropon] in place of the two” — that is, eradicating the divisions between Jews and Gentiles (2:14-16). Marriage, then, comes to reƪect this mystery in chapter five as it symbolizes the relationship between Christ and the Church.
The mystery in which marriage participates, which it images forth or typifies is of a new humanity, a union that simultaneously upholds and uplifts differences that extend beyond the sexual binary. Indeed, this mystery stretches across the rich and wise variety of creation itself. Read through this lens, marriage reflects in a distinctive manner the new humanity inaugurated by and in Christ. And in this way, once more, marriage evokes our baptism: the vocation of marriage in its own way reflects and activates the new Christic humanity into which we were baptized. We are said to have “put on Christ” in our baptism (Galatians 3:27), an act through which the  Genesis specified binary of “male and female,” as well as that of Jew and Greek, slave and free, is in some sense “no longer.” In “The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage,” Christ is said to have “adorned this manner of life by his presence and miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee” (1979 BCP, 423).
The union of affinity and difference at the heart of marriage might be understood most fruitfully as a mystery at the heart of humanity and, indeed, of creation itself. In marriage, our vocation is not to erase our distinctions, even as we become “one flesh” Difference is neither eradicated nor “overcome” or transcended, but it is transformed. Our unique humanity is creatively activated, that the couple may be united one with another, becoming a new creation while simultaneously remaining two, distinct. This interplay of difference and unity in Christian marriage need not be limited to male and female, but it can be activated by all manner of human differences.
Indeed, as the Task Force paper, “Marriage as a Rite of Passage” explains, the union of difference in Christian marriages can serve as a prophetic crucible in contexts of communal strife and division. Adrian Thatcher has further asserted that “it is helpful to see the author [of Ephesians] beginning a trajectory towards a real Christian theology of marriage, which for its completion needed further time … Being ‘subject to one another out of reverence for Christ’ (Eph. 5:21) is starting to change everything.” Marriages of same-sex couples can also play an important role in dispelling any notion that one spouse could ever represent Christ, or the Church, more than the other. The “Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage” liturgy also signals the full equality of the couple as they carry out their role as “co-ministers.”
Therefore, although the vocation of Christian marriage has historically been limited to heterosexual couples, the mystery it illumines arguably need not require this. Marriage’s unambiguous and unambivalent embrace of the full spectrum of human differences including that of sexual orientation, can enable it to image forth the rich variety of creation more fully that it has been able to in centuries past. 

"Image forth?"

A lot of words wasted before reaching the preordained conclusion.

This work of the Task Force on marriage should be preserved as evidence for future historians studying the decline of the Episcopal church. Tack the names of the members of this Task Force upon the Episcopal wall of shame.


  1. "Marriage is not a subject of dogmatic theology, but of moral or pastoral theology. This means that there is no core dogmatic doctrine concerning marriage.."
    'What is truth' Pontius Pilate.

    1. Having successfully argued that the enemy does not exist, the Task Force returned to port without having to fire a shot.