Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The BBC, Sex and the Anglican Church

I just read this review on the BBC website trying to break down the issues at the heart the Anglican Church 'rift'.

The first thing I noticed: there is no section on "Approach to Scripture". This section appears to be subsumed into the section "The need for a shared universal doctrine". Methinks they are not the same thing. And, as most keep pointing out, approach to Scripture is the issue at the heart of the 'rift', and not sexuality.

But the other thing that astounded me was the very slippery description on the"Liberal" position on "Active Homosexuality":
LIBERAL: When we talk about human sexuality we are actually talking about questions of the goodness of the body, and the goodness of creation. Sexuality is part of a person's being. People are called to be in relationships, sometimes sexual relationships, and that's how we understand the goodness of creation. We are emerging from 1700 years in the West of a deeply distrustful stance toward creation and everything that creation contains, including the human body and sexual relationships (even those traditionally called "marriage"). A dominant view of the Church in that time period has been that a celibate life is closer to the angelic life than the married life, and that marriage was for those who could not successfully aspire to the celibate life. Such an attitude is based on a profound unease, or dis-ease, about creation. So ideas about "active homosexuality" - even framing the question that way - betray a view that is still being shaped by an uncertainty about whether the creation and the body are in fact good or not.
My response is:


Isn't this the bedrock conservative position? But with a sneaky Bait'n'Switch twist at the end? Isn't the conservative position that the Bible teaches in "the goodness of the body" and "the goodness of creation"? Isn't the conservative position that sex is good and healthy and to be expressed regularly in marriage? (A point made in the conservative entry). Don't the conservatives also distrust (and even 'condemn') historical positions that are distrustful of the goodness of creation?

We believe all that.

But we don't believe that a person in Christ then has a blank check on sexuality. By no means.

Have I misread this?

Pic on Flickr by Yley Coyote.


John said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said...

Perhaps the labels conservative and liberal are holding up more weight than they can bear in this discussion?

Mrs. W said...

dis-ease about creation? I think you're reading it the same way I'm reading it...

Have we, as a culture, so profoundly lost our handle on sexuality in its created purpose that we can bandy about the word marriage in quotation marks?

On this subject, I do agree with the point that protestants are skimpy in their theology of the body and human sexuality. I think the Catholics have things bang-on when they raise questions like "Wait, about birth control, doesn't that defeat the created purpose?" Now I know that's a bit controversial in protestant circles, but it is a question worth asking. I was revisiting Mere Christianity of late and the point that Lewis seems to be making in his chapter on sexuality is generally the same. Why are we so reticent to take stands on these issues? Or even to bring them up?

Bruce Yabsley said...

Justin do you think the evangelical church actually has a high view of creation, as opposed to knowing that it "should", and talking about it?

This is a criticism of your response, not a defence of the position that was quoted. I also think the quoted position was slippery, but this does not negate the fact that it's hard to defend against charges that one has a deficient doctrine of creation if one does, in fact, have a deficient doctrine of creation ...

Justin said...

BRuce -- Nice to hear from you.

What would be the indication that the evangelical church does not have a high view of creation?

(Administrator asks, knowing that he has just opened a very large door for Dr Yabsley to speak forth!)


Stan said...

The historical church has held some curious positions regarding sex and the body. I find these views quite common among many of the early church fathers, Augustine being the foremost. I believe he was the one that claimed that sex was holier when you enjoyed it less, thus you should throw a sheet up and poke a hole through it. Another church father, Origen, if I recall correctly, postulated that the real purpose of marriage was to bring more virgins into the world. I got that second part from a sermon of Mark Dever. I'll have to go back and check it again.

But anyways, the problem arises when we cannot separate 'biblical' and 'historical.' The church has been a long time sick with Platonism.

Nietzsche was the cure for my Platonic error. My Christianity has benefited much from his writings.

Bruce Yabsley said...

"... knowing that he has just opened a very large door for Dr Yabsley to speak forth!"

Well, it's better to be brief, but abbreviation will increase the risk of offence. I'll take courage, since we're all friends here, and go for medium length.

The evangelical church, at least in Sydney, is uncomfortable with the arts and uncomfortable with the sciences. Our local tradition does not cultivate any language of vocation, but is rather suspicious of any such (necessarily) subjective talk. Indeed in my day our radical element mounted a sustained pogrom against committed Christian involvement in the professions, in favour of "full-time ministry", for which they were never rebuked and of which they have never repented. I don't know at first hand what it's like at the moment, but testimonials from MTS grads at church, passing through on mission, echo language I remember from back in the day. So does other official talk that washes past.

[Note: I am well aware that I am tedious on this last point, as I have elsewhere confessed (see Feb 26th comment ad loc). This doesn't however mean that I'm wrong. Anyway, I mention the matter here only, I hope, because it's a propos.]

Our teaching on sexuality may be formally correct but it's shallow: I find it almost unbearably so, and I'm both conservative and straight. (It is a matter of wonder to me that we retain anyone of homosexual inclination at all.) This sort of thing was discussed on MPJ's blog about eighteen months ago, and if you want to know what I think on this subject I refer to that thread, where my views appear in context and in dialogue, and (to my surprise, rereading) more eirenically than I can manage in compressed form.

Homiletically we concentrate too much on the text itself, to the exclusion of the world behind the text (about which there is far too little intellectual curiosity) and engagement with the lived world of the layperson. I have elsewhere caricatured this style of preaching as taking place in ClergyBibleWorld (TM): the original discussion was on Mark Baddeley's blog, and followed up very extensively there. This cripples any conversation with the reasonable concerns of visitors or enquirers, if those concerns (as well they might) lie among areas we label secondary. Our agenda trumps the phenomena.

Eschatology/soteriology: You have yourself confessed, on this blog, to coming around to a renewal-of-all-things view only as a grownup and after much prior incomprehension. If others here have been taking this insight on board, they have been doing it very quietly: and this is not a quiet town. One is saved from the world here. For example, The Lifeboats On The Titanic made a prominent appearance in a sermon at the mission aforementioned, and they were not alone.

Finally: in the States the evangelical movement is making a belated engagement with environmental concerns; and its belatedness has not gone unnoticed. We are even further behind the curve here, and that is just the Anglicans. If you want to get more demotic, The Family First party, with whom Byron Smith was very generously attempting to build bridges around the time of the last election, proceeded to publicly anathematize a Christian couple because their adult son was a supporter of the Greens. I am not making this up.

In short, if it has feathers, webbed feet, and a bill; if it swims around on the water's surface; and if it quacks: well, it is a duck.

Do you take my point?

Justin said...

Dr Bruce -- Sorry for not getting back to you. There is so much to respond to here, which I am happy to do after my July 4 weekend!

Thanks mate.

Bruce Yabsley said...

Oh say, do you see
By the dawn's early light ...

Bruce Yabsley said...

Justin I tried sending the following by email on Tuesday, but it seems not to have gone through ... so I resort to posting it here:

'Just a note to say, I'd actually be interested to know your thoughts on what I wrote on the "The BBC, Sex and the Anglican Church" thread. At whatever length, and responding to only one of the many points made if need be. I know it's difficult to come back to something like this after a break, and my post was longer (and maybe more intimidating) than it needed to be. But I wrote it, I hope, in the spirit of making a point that I thought needed to be made, rather than a spirit of having a go; and I am interested to know what you think about it.'

Justin said...

Bruce -- thanks mate. I had forgotten about this post! And I didn't get the email.

But I just got your note. I've got church in a few hours. And then a full day ahead. Your comment requires a fair amount of care and reading, and I do want to do this properly.

Justin said...

Dr Bruce,

According to my promise, I am reading your material. But I have just spent 45 minutes reading and processing Byron's February post on 'Ecclesial dirt and reputational purity'.

I wonder if we should just talk on the telephone! Email me if you are keen to talk.