Monday, March 26, 2012

Understanding Various Same Sex Unions Scriptural and Theological Camps ( Part 1 )

William Witt has produced a wonder post at The Hermeneutics of Same-Sex Practice: A Summary and Evaluation. I think it is a good thing to print out. There is also a PDF link.

The argument for same sex marriage, Same sex unions, and related matters does not operate in isolation from other teachings of the Church. It does not operate in isolation from how we engage scripture. I have always said HOW ONE GETS there is just as important as the underlying issue. If these hermeneutics are accepted as to same sex unions what else will be affected?

Therefore I think when engaging a person on this issue it's important to realize what viewpoint or "camp" they are in as to how they advance their argument. Mr Witt article here is rather long. SO I am dividing up hitting some bullet points he made today as to the "camps" . I will do another post on how he using Scripture, The Church Fathers, and others combats these claims.

This article is from an Anglican viewpoint , but most can applied to Catholic circles. I have made some comments in blue below .

The Camps:

Selectivism Camp -
-most prevalent position

-recognizes that Scripture condemns same-sex sexual activity , but that Scripture is wrong
-Subcamps in selectivism range from straightforward in their rejection of what Scripture teaches to a more nunaced stand.

- As to Radical Selectivism we see Michael Hopkins, former President of Integrity (a gay rights advocacy group in The Episcopal Church), stated: “The Bible and the Church have both been wrong. The Holy Spirit is teaching this to us.

-In the back ground is Feminist Theology. Advocates say that one must approach Scripture with a ‟hermeneutic of suspicion.”

-“[t]he Church has authority to set aside or ignore its own decisions, even when these decisions are recorded in Scripture, and based upon other Scriptures to which divine mandate is attached. It does this by deciding that the divine mandate was temporary, allowing the law to lapse through disuse, or by interpreting the law in a new light.”

-On the other hand nuanced Selectivism is distinguished by a more restrained rhetoric rather than a difference of methodological approach.

-Moderate Selectivism suggests that the Bible should be seen as a “foundational document” or a “religious classic” rather than a normative authority. The Bible sets the basic agenda for Christianity because of its relation to Christian origins. It asks the basic questions, and should be respected as a “serious statement” about what it means to be Christian. Nonetheless, the contemporary Christian may well find him- or herself in disagreement with biblical texts.

-It is acknowledged that certain biblical materials are accepted as authoritative and others are not because they “fit the experience” of the one doing the selecting.

-Selectivist has two step approach

(1) an identification of elements in the biblical text that can no longer be considered authoritative ( looking at cultural background and social values of the time during which it was written .

(2) countervailing positive themes that compensate for these undesirable limitations found in Scripture, and it is these themes that provide the legitimation for the Church’s approval of same-sex activity. Often this is the liberation from oppressive structures as being an important part of the biblical message.

-differences among Selectivists both as to what needs to be dispensed with in Scripture, and also as to which parts of the biblical message still have contemporary relevance

(1) Bishop Spong approach- writes that the heart of the Bible.... comes down to us wrapped in two thousand years of cultural baggage. To recover this experience for ourselves, we must get past the cultural baggage. Once we get past the baggage, we find an experience of love and self-acceptance—the courage to be one’s true self.

(2) A more sociological Selectivism suggests that there is a contrast between two ethics in the Bible, a holiness/purity ethic and a compassion/love ethic. Jesus rejected this purity ethic to advocate an ethic of love and compassion. Proscriptions against homosexual activity are part of a purity ethic, and have been superseded by this ethic of love.

Revisionist Camp -

- tries to revise the traditional interpretation of Scripture concerning homosexual activity

- What was condemned by the writers of Scripture was either exploitative same-sex activity, pederasty, or cult prostitution.

-two contradictory arguments appear

(1) biblical writers knew nothing about long-term committed same-sex relationships, and so could not have condemned them. Biblical writers were aware were the ritual homosexual prostitution characteristic of biblical Israel’s Canaanite contemporaries or the exploitative pederastic practices of pagan Hellenism.

(2) Conversely,biblical writers did know about long-term committed same-sex relationships, and did not condemn them. For example, Naomi and Ruth. Jonathan and David, Jesus and the disciple.

-A variation on this argument tries to split the difference between these two claims about the biblical writers’ knowledge of homosexuality

-Revisionist hermeneutic emphasizes that only a handful of biblical texts speak negatively about same-sex activity, and claims that even these have been misunderstood. The proscriptions in Leviticus 18:22, 20:13 condemn not committed loving same-sex activity, but perhaps homosexual cultic prostitution.

-Both the Selectivist and Revisionist approaches have serious problems

(1) first approach is politically untenable, and the second exegetically so. No church that hopes to keep the average worshiper in the pew can do so by embracing the arguments either that the Bible is a document of oppression or that it cannot be trusted in its moral assertions.

(2) The second approach fails as well because the vast majority of biblical scholars, both historically and recently, concede that the plain-sense reading of the biblical texts prohibits homosexual activity, and that Scripture endorses only one permissible model for sexual activity: exclusive life-long commitment within heterosexual marriage.

Which leads us a third and newer Camp

Ecclesial Dispensation-

-the Scriptures prohibit same-sex activity, nonetheless, the Church is free not to be bound by these proscriptions in the same way that it has recognized that it is not bound by other prohibitions in the Bible .

-Most superficial example is the “shellfish” argument . Bible prohibits the eating of shellfish or the wearing of mixed-weave fabrics, or some other prohibition usually found somewhere in the Mosaic law. Yet we all eat shellfish and wear mixed-blend clothing. Prohibition of homosexual activity, it is implied, falls into the same category as prohibition of eating seafood or wearing wool-polyester blends.

-A more sophisticated version of this third approach can be found in the New York Episcopal Diocese’s “Let the Reader Understand,”.appeal to the Biblical precedent found in Jesus’ setting aside the dietary laws of the Old Testament, and in the New Testament church’s decision to admit Gentiles into fellowship.

-conclusion drawn by the document is that the Church has the authority to set aside either positive biblical commandments or negative prohibitions that it considers no longer binding. In the document’s own words: “[I]t is insufficient simply to condemn those things that are condemned somewhere in Scripture, or to approve those things that are somewhere approved . . . [T]he Church has come to oppose or forbid acts mandated or tolerated in Scripture, and to allow acts or behaviors forbidden there.

the local (national) church that has the right to make these decisions about which biblical prohibitions are binding or may be set aside, claiming for a local church the authority to set aside the moral teaching of the universal Church, and the Scriptures.

-This hermeneutic creates a fundamental confusion by its ambiguous use of the word “Church.” Is it :

(1) Is the “Church” the apostolic church that wrote the Scriptures, the church of the second century that recognized the canon of Scripture along with the Rule of Faith, the historic episcopate, and the sacraments as marks of identity that distinguished Catholic Christians from gnostic heretics, the church of the ecumenical councils that drew up the Nicene Creed and the Chalcedonian formulation.....


(2) twenty-first century American Episcopal Church as a denomination? ( this argument of "Local Options "also comes up among some Catholics and other Protestants).

- If the “Church” is the church that understood Jesus to have set aside the dietary portions of the Old Testament law, then the “Church” must refer to the church of the apostles, since the reference is to Mark’s gospel (Mark 7:19).

- In the conclusion, however, “Church” clearly means the Episcopal Church as a local denomination. This last use is particularly idiosyncratic. In what sense can a small American denomination of less than 2 million members, and less than a million regular communicants, think of itself as “the Church”? Even as the “national church” in a country with numerous denominations that far outnumber the Episcopal Church in size? Why would the Episcopal Church be the “national church” and not the Roman Catholics or the Southern Baptists? ( Again we could perhaps see this dynamic in Catholic circles developing ) .

-The failure to distinguish between the apostolic church and the post-apostolic church is a genuine concern here.

-In the very act of acknowledging a canon, the second-century church placed itself under the Rule (canon) of the apostolic witness. The bishops (who recognized the canon) are successors to the apostles, but they are not themselves apostles. In recognizing the canon of Scripture, the Church “interprets” Scripture by submitting to its authority. It does not place itself over Scripture, or decide which portions of Scripture it will consider authoritative.

-the “Church” that discerned in Jesus’ statement recorded in Mk 7:19 that the dietary laws of the OT were no longer binding was the apostolic church that wrote the canonical Scriptures, not the post-apostolic church that received the canon.

-LTR’s approach makes a fundamental error in failing to distinguish between the apostolic and post-apostolic church, between the church that created the canon of Scripture, and the church that receives the canon of Scripture.

-hermeneutic fails to distinguish properly between the Catholic (or universal Church) and the local or national church, and in so doing, contradicts basic principles of Anglican theology. ( Again Double Ditto for Catholic )

-cannot help but wonder where this principle could lead. Would the local church be free to set aside doctrinal principles as well, for example, the Nicene affirmation that the Son is homoousios with the Father? Could a national church decide to add contemporary materials to the canon? Or omit material from the canon that did not conform to contemporary sensibilities?

Non-biblical Arguments Camps -

-Rather than addressing the biblical prohibitions, or reinterpreting them, these approaches base their case on some theological principle or argument arrived at completely independently of what the Bible actually says about the morality of sexuality, whether heterosexual or homosexual

- Enthusiast.” subcamp . The claim here is that God is doing a new thing in the Church. The Holy Spirit is leading the Church into a new understanding of what it means to be the Church. It is claimed that the inclusion of practicing homosexuals in the Church is parallel to Gentile inclusion in the early church in which at first only Jews had been members. ( In application this seems to be tied in often with the Ecclesial Dispensation discussed above often )

- Parallel to the above argument is an appeal to” inclusivity.” It is suggested that for the Church to forbid same-sex sexual activity is to deny the baptismal rights of homosexuals.

-appeal is often rooted in the rhetoric of civil rights, coupled with it is a characterization of the disagreement over church approval of same-sex sexual activity as a primarily political issue

-Denial of sexual diversity is the same kind of irrational prejudice that lies behind xenophobia or racism—an example of uncharitable intolerance.

-Implicit in the notion of same-sex orientation is what is sometimes called the “Politics of Identity.” People are said to derive their sense of worth and their moral standing from the groups with which they primarily identify—groupings of class, race, sex (male or female). Thus only those who know themselves to be homosexual can make moral judgments about the morality of same-sex activity.

-Those of homosexual orientation do not choose to be that way, and it is cruel and unjust to demand that they embrace celibacy as the only alternative to engaging in same-sex activity. The implicit assumption here is that all people have an inherent right to sexual fulfillment.

(Part II of this post on evaluating the claims of these camps and responses later )

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