Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Practice of Discernment (Dutton-Gillett)

by the Rev. Matthew Dutton-Gillett

I have read with interest the comments that have been made on my original essay on The Episcopal Majority. I give thanks for all those who commented. I am always happy when something I write or preach produces further thought and discussion.

And, of course, it's always amusing when some declare me a heretic. After all, some of the greatest thinkers in Christian history (and I am certainly not a great thinker!) have been honored with that label. There were even those who found Jesus to be a heretic relative to the dominant religious ideas of his time. I hope, however, that the day may come when we avoid dismissing one another with such labels.

I want to address a few points that have been raised in some of the comments on that earlier essay. I hope I do not sound defensive, because that is not my intention. I want to contribute, as we all are, to this on-going conversation that is such an important part of our life together.


Faithfulness

The first point has to do with my own faithfulness to the vows I took when I was ordained, in which I affirmed my belief that the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God, and contain all things necessary to salvation. That is a vow I took seriously then, and continue to take seriously now.

However, I do not understand that vow to mean that the Word of God is to be found only in the pages of the Bible. After all, in John's Gospel we find Jesus assuring us that there are many more things that we need to know, but which will only be revealed to us when we are able to receive them.

We also find, at the opening of that same Gospel, that Jesus is declared to be the Word made flesh, who dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.

If we insist that the Word of God is to be found only in the Bible, then we deny the incarnation, because we make it impossible for the Word to have been enfleshed in Jesus. We confine the Word to the written text of the Bible.

That approach also would seem to deny Jesus' own counsel that there are things yet to be revealed to us, things that are not contained within the gospels. Unless, of course, we assume that the sum total of these things yet to be revealed was given to the church before the close of the New Testament canon – an assumption that I find unwarranted and difficult to substantiate. I agree completely that the Bible contains all things necessary to salvation – but clearly that does not mean that everything in the Bible is necessary to salvation. And never in Christian history (until recent days) has it been suggested that this is so.


Experience?

I am surprised by the suggestion that Christianity is not an experiential religion – that Jesus can only reliably be met in the pages of the gospels and not in the experience of the individual believer. To borrow a line from St. Paul, if that is true, then we of all people are most to be pitied. Do we not proclaim that Christ is risen, and therefore alive? Do we not say that Christians are called to a personal relationship with God through Christ? And do we not proclaim that it is through this very relationship that we receive the gift of salvation?

Nowhere in the Bible, nor in the tradition of the church, is it ever said that we are saved through our relationship with a written text. The Bible introduces us to God. It introduces us to the person of Jesus, and it shows us who Jesus is. The Bible is like a good and trusted friend who introduces us to the most important relationship we will ever have. It is the beginning. It is a constant point of reference. But it is not the end.

Through the Scriptures, through the sacramental life of the church, the Holy Spirit enters into our lives and pulls us into relationship with the living Christ. And that relationship is experiential. What else could it be?

After all, St. Paul himself was not converted to Christ by reading Scripture, though his knowledge of the Hebrew Bible was certainly an important preparation for his conversion. He was converted through a personal, experiential encounter with the Risen Christ, who reached into his life and transformed it completely.

St. Paul's own contributions to the New Testament are some of the fruits of that experience. Are we to say that such encounters are no longer possible? Are we to deny that Christ reaches into our lives today to bring about transformation?

To do so would be to deny that it is possible to have a personal relationship with God through Christ. And if that is so, then the proclamation of Christ as risen and alive becomes empty and meaningless.

Some people seem to think that acknowledging an active relationship with the living Christ opens the door to all manner of subjectivity. They seem concerned that we all might insist that our individual points of view are fruits of our own encounters with Christ. As we survey the variety of points of view that exist among Christian people, we could reach the conclusion that Christ is schizophrenic – that he can't seem to make up his mind.

There are two observations to be made about this problem.

First, there must assuredly be some continuity between our experience of the risen Christ and the Jesus who is proclaimed in the gospels. If we find a radical disconnect between the claims of individual believers based on their experience of Christ and the Jesus revealed in the gospels, then certainly we must question whether the individual believer is indeed "hearing" Christ authentically in his or her own life. This is, in part, why the church has always felt that the common decisions of councils are more reliable than those of individuals. Even the Roman church endorsed the idea of conciliarism until the establishment of papal infallibility (a relatively recent development in church history).

Second, we acknowledge that human beings are broken creatures. When Christ speaks to our souls, his voice must pass through our own brokenness; in that process, it is subject to distortion.

Acknowledging this reality means that we must practice careful discernment when we seek to understand the movement of the Spirit in our own lives, seeking to avoid confusing divine truth with our own personal opinions or prejudices. This, again, is why the church has stressed the importance of councils, believing that groups of believers have a better chance of avoiding these errors than do individuals. This does not mean, however, that councils are incapable of error. It simply means we have a better chance of discerning God's will together than we do on our own.


Discernment and the Bible

When it comes to the Bible, we can see the experiential relationship between Christ and his church at work. I trust we can all agree that the Bible did not fall out of heaven, written by the finger of God in the King James Version. The Bible was created over time, by human beings who wrote of their own personal experiences with God and with Jesus, as well as of the experiences of the communities to which they belonged. The Bible would have no value whatsoever if there were not real personal and communal experiences that lay behind the texts.

Many if not most of the biblical authors did not even set out to write "Holy Scripture." That status was conferred upon their writings by representatives of the communities to which they belonged.

This means that the Bible belongs to the people of God, and that we have the right and indeed the obligation to interpret its meaning.

Judaism has always appreciated this obligation with respect to its scriptural inheritance, which explains the multitude of (often conflicting) rabbinical commentaries on the Hebrew Bible that coexist side by side in the same volume.

When it comes to the issue of homosexuality, I am constantly intrigued by the argument that we must condemn homosexual behavior as sinful because there are biblical texts which seem to say that it is so. Why, then, does the church permit divorce, when Jesus makes it clear that divorce is permissible only when one party to the marriage has been sexually unfaithful? Why do we not keep kosher, when the Bible clearly says that we should? There are a host of biblically condemned behaviors that we have decided do not deserve condemnation, and there are things permitted in the Bible that we have decided should not be permitted. These have been catalogued by a number of people over the years.

Acknowledging this should be sufficient to demonstrate that it is never enough simply to say that the Bible forbids or permits something. We must take seriously what the Bible says about any given issue, but seldom is that sufficient to settle an issue. Why? Because our relationship as individuals and as a church with Christ continues to grow and mature. The Spirit still moves among us.

The early church accepted certain texts into the canon of Scripture and rejected others based on the faith experience of those entrusted with the task of discernment. Those early church leaders also took into account the faith experiences of the communities and people they represented. That is, those who established the canon took into account the texts that were being honored as sacred by early Christian people and communities. So, too, we must continue to grapple with the received sacred texts of our faith, seeking to understand where the voice of God sounds clearly and where that voice has been distorted by the broken humanity of the biblical authors.

We must exercise the same discernment with respect to our tradition, seeking to understand where the voice of God seems to be clearly speaking and where that voice has been distorted by the brokenness of the church. As Barbara Crafton pointed out in her essay, it is the ongoing practice of careful discernment applied to both the Bible and our tradition that has led to the ordination of women, the rehabilitation of the diaconate, and a host of other changes in the life of the church that have been broadly (if not universally) accepted.

This practice of discernment is indeed a messy thing. All of us wish it were a neat, clear process. But it is not. It never has been, and it never will be. It is, therefore, a process that all of us should approach in humility, realizing that as convinced as we are of our own interpretations, we can never be completely certain that the voice of Christ that we hear reverberating within our souls is free from the distortion that is surely a part of each of us as human beings.

We are bound to offer to our sisters and brothers the fruits of our own discernment. But those should never be offered in order to heap contempt and condemnation upon others. Rather, they should be offered as a contribution to a larger conversation, one that is bound to lead us together to greater – if not perfect – clarity. Unfortunately, if segments of the church choose to withdraw from this conversation or decline to engage with it constructively, then that greater clarity will be even harder to achieve.

To borrow yet another line from St. Paul, we continue to work out our own salvation in fear and trembling.

May God have mercy upon us all.


About the Author: The Rev. Matthew Dutton-Gillett is rector of St. Elizabeth's Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, and he served as an Alternate Deputy from East Tennessee in the 2006 General Convention. He is author of "It's Really Not about Sex," published earlier on this site.

21 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was going to drop out of this discussion, but this post while I think very wrong in some areas, make the points well.

If we insist that the Word of God is to be found only in the Bible, then we deny the incarnation,
because we make it impossible for the Word to have been enfleshed in Jesus. We confine the
Word to the written text of the Bible.


This is a rationalization against an argument that is not being made, at least not by conservative
Anglicans. You have established a strawman of you own construction. You have called it the
opposition. Then tear it down with reasonable good logic. Sometimes good politics but not
valid logic. You are thinking you are hearing the Word of God and in your own canon have
expanded it so that it conflicts with the written word. Your logic does not address the point that
your conclusion conflicts with the clear teaching of Holy Scripture.

Holy Scripture contains all that is necessary for salvation but it is does not contain all that it
means to be a Christian. Holy Tradition is a large part of Church life and a large part of being
Christian is but one example.

I have had over the years many Charismatic friends in the three Streams Movement. We have
often discussed the order of the Catholic and Charismatic. If in conflict, Catholic trumps
Charismatic. What can sometimes at first is seen as a prophetic gift, is not always from God.
Any times someone has a prophetic gift to share, it must be tested against Scripture and Holy
Tradition. If it does not pass, it should be rejected. This is in keeping with the teaching of Saint
Paul.

That approach also would seem to deny Jesus' own counsel that there are things yet to be
revealed to us, things that are not contained within the gospels. Unless, of course, we assume
that the sum total of these things yet to be revealed was given to the church before the close of
the New Testament canon – an assumption that I find unwarranted and difficult to substantiate. I
agree completely that the Bible contains all things necessary to salvation – but clearly that does
not mean that everything in the Bible is necessary to salvation. And never in Christian history
(until recent days) has it been suggested that this is so.


This is not what is being taught at all. That we are to grow in knowledge in faith is a true
statement. Again you are setting up a strawman that is not what those who oppose your position
are saying. The problem is not with what you are saying, but with the extension of that logic,
which you have taken.


You have taken the idea of a living God to create a changing God. This is where you logic
comes apart. There is much not addressed in Holy Scripture, but that which is forbidden is
forbidden. The Episcopal Church in the United States, seems to be saying that sodomy is no
longer a sin. This is to say that God is changing which is not true.

Experience?

I am surprised by the suggestion that Christianity is not an experiential religion – that Jesus can
only reliably be met in the pages of the gospels and not in the experience of the individual
believer. To borrow a line from St. Paul, if that is true, then we of all people are most to be
pitied. Do we not proclaim that Christ is risen, and therefore alive? Do we not say that
Christians are called to a personal relationship with God through Christ? And do we not
proclaim that it is through this very relationship that we receive the gift of salvation?


This again is the strawman approach. Christianity is not an experiential religion, is a true
statement. That is not to say that experience is not part of being Christian. Experience is part
of all learning including religion learning, to say otherwise is to be illogical. Nevertheless,
experience does not trump Scripture or Tradition. When I talk about experiential religion, I am
talking about where people look to there experience as being more important that Scripture and
Tradition.

I read here and elsewhere, that the ministry of this or that sodomite has blessed many. This
makes no difference on the status of sodomy as sin. I read where this or that couple who are
open in their sodomy are very loving people. Granting this to be true, how does this change
Holy Scripture calling the action as sin. If one were to accept the idea that what seems
successful active homosexual relationship is the measure of God’s blessing, then why not take
the logic all the way to Prosperity Theology?

Some people seem to think that acknowledging an active relationship with the living Christ opens
the door to all manner of subjectivity. They seem concerned that we all might insist that our
individual points of view are fruits of our own encounters with Christ. As we survey the variety
of points of view that exist among Christian people, we could reach the conclusion that Christ is
schizophrenic – that he can't seem to make up his mind.


There have been many over the years who have though they were hearing God. They were not.
This is why we have had the great heresies and why the Church has had to teach the truth against
them. We can have an active living relationship with Christ and yet still try to live within the
absolutes of what Holy Scriptures and Tradition tells us required of us. Saying that absolute
truth and a living relationship with Christ are in anyway in conflict is wrong.

If what you think is your living relationship with Christ is telling you to ignore the clear teaching
of Holy Scripture, it must be questioned if that relationship is with Christ. It really is that simple
at one level. It is not that Christ is schizophrenic, it is that the devil is alive and is confusing the
clear message.

I may comeback sometime to discuss the issue of revisionist biblical understanding which closes
the article. I might not.

Scott+

8/15/2007 10:00 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

Scott,
I found your constant references to "a straw man" irritating at first, but then remembered that what seems missing from your critique is any real mention of The Straw Man, Jesus of Nazareth who is the Christ and who was born into a bed of straw. Bypassing him, you focus, instead, on Holy Scripture as the Word of God. I'm sure you are aware that Holy Scripture does not denounce physical affection between people of the same gender (that you describe simply as "sodomy," following the example set by Hugh Hefner and others who can only deal with sexual relationships through objectification). There are specific writers of materials included in Holy Scripture that condemn a whole lot of things -- I latch on to some (Thou shalt not kill) while you latch on to others. Neither of us is consistent in the Biblical material we want to hold up as mandatory.
I am very concerned about your willingness to objectify human behavior when that is something Jesus consistently refused to do. If what was necessary to rescue the world from sin was a set of Biblical directives, I'm sure the Creator of the heavens and the earth and of all things visible and invisible would have provided such. Instead, we got a messy, earthy thing called the Incarnation.
I do have a question for you: are you clear with your congregation that anyone who practices oral or anal sex with husband or wife (important part of the definition of sodomy) will not enter the kingdom of heaven, will not be eligible for significant service in the church and is an abomination to God? Have you repented of such yourself?
You have been constantly critical in the comments section here -- and I do not want to discourage you from being part of the discernment process here, but I do want you to take responsibility for proof texting, for objectifying the parts of human interactions which are primarily human and personal, for neglecting the witness and teaching of Jesus as you talk about the Word of God. The Playboy Philosophy approach to human relationships, in my opinion, has no place in the Christian Church.

8/15/2007 2:37 PM  
Anonymous seamus said...

Sodomite? Has a nice archaic ring to it.Do people still talk like that?
Scripture also speaks with schizophrenic voices and it is far from the clarity of absolutes that Scott proffers.
There are more questions then answers emanating from the texts.
I also believe that discernment is "knowing something by its fruits". If so you cannot glibly ignore the blessing or blessedness of "sodomites". If you cannot find the negative effects of a sin then where is the sin? Just because the bible tells me so? That circular reasoning may work for a child but it's time to grow up, alas the century has already drawn to its close.

8/16/2007 8:08 AM  
Anonymous Matthew Dutton-Gillett said...

Dear Scott,

Thank you for your comment on my article. You and I are, indeed, very far apart in our perspectives.

But if I may, it seems to me that your comment serves to underscore my main point. You speak of the absolutes of Scripture and Tradition -- and, yet, you seem not to recognize that it is you yourself who is deciding what these absolutes are. You have, for example, found texts that you believe refer to homosexual behavior and have chosen to regard these as "absolutes", as biblical injunctions that must be obeyed. But let me ask you this: do you ever eat shrimp or lobster? How about pork? The Bible also contains very clear injunctions against eating these foods, yet most Christians (and even many Jews!) have decided that they no longer apply to us. And these are just a couple of examples among many, many others.

And, there are just as many examples within Christian tradition of behaviors that were once prohibited absolutely but which no longer are among the vast, vast majority of Christian churches and people.

The reality is that it is we, the people of God, who DECIDE what is absolute in Scripture and Tradition, and what is not. And we, the people of God, have changed our collective mind about these absolutes many times through the centuries. I cannot see how it is possible to proclaim the Bible as a book of absolutes unless you are obeying every single injunction it contains. The moment you let go of observing even one of those injunctions, then you have entered the murky waters of discernment, of deciding which biblical injuctions are to be enforced and which are not; of discerning where God's voice seems to sound in the text.

Remember that one of the great gifts and insights of Jesus and the Christian faith is a movement from law to grace. I think it is human nature when we are faced with something that shocks or horrifies us to take refuge in law. It does make things clearer. But we Christians are called to live by grace, and to resist the temptation to legalism as a solution.

It all comes back to our relationship with God through Christ, and our relationship with one another as fellow members of the body of Christ. Relationships invite grace, and when grace is present, they flourish and yield amazing fruit. But in my experience, relationships that are based in law tend to leave little space for grace, and lack abundance as a result.

I think this is true of our relationship with Scripture, as well. If we enter into a conversation with the Bible, then there is room for grace to enter in. But if we try to treat it as a legal document that demands obedience from us, then there is little room left for grace.

Peace to you,
Matthew

8/16/2007 9:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Discernment and the Bible

I will in the next days have little time to write a more reasoned response. I have therefore, done what in my secular profession is called a brain dump. It is a very quick reply, and not reasoned out in great detail.

I have tried to keep my response simple. I hope not so simple as to be wrong. Think of it as a detailed set of notes where I would begin a more detailed study if I had the time. Spelling and grammar are likely in keeping with the quickness of the response.

I also do not have an editor for the format used on this blog so getting format right has taken time, and I think I have it right, but might not.

I see in preview that others have comments since I checked before writing. I will look, pray, and consider a response. This comment was written before looking at those comments.

Yours in Christ,

Scott+

Many if not most of the biblical authors did not even set out to write "Holy Scripture." That status was conferred upon their writings by representatives of the communities to which they belonged.

This is to a good degree correct in terms of the New Testament and part of the Old Testament. Much of the Old Testament, was clearly written for then future generations and some seem to be a least a form of "official history".

I would agree that New Testament writer did not know they were going to be in a canon of scripture. But they did know that their writings were important and would be for the time widely read.

This means that the Bible belongs to the people of God, and that we have the right and indeed the obligation to interpret its meaning.

Judaism has always appreciated this obligation with respect to its scriptural inheritance, which explains the multitude of (often conflicting) rabbinical commentaries on the Hebrew Bible that coexist side by side in the same volume.

The Church has always held the responsibility to correct those who are reading and teaching Holy Scripture incorrectly. People do have the obligation to interpret the meaning of Holy Scripture. That is especially true in interpreting it as it applies to current events and their lives. Where you are going wrong is that people do not have the right to interpret Holy Scripture in a way which is against the teaching of the Church or is in conflict with the Church's traditional understanding of Holy Scripture.

When it comes to the issue of homosexuality, I am constantly intrigued by the argument that we must condemn homosexual behavior as sinful because there are biblical texts which seem to say that it is so. Why, then, does the church permit divorce, when Jesus makes it clear that divorce is permissible only when one party to the marriage has been sexually unfaithful?

Christ did set a standard in this respect. There are biblical grounds for divorce. Much of the Holy Catholic Church does not accept divorce on other than biblical grounds. That the Episcopal Church in the United States, has a more lax standard does not support your contention. If you want to say the Episcopal Church in the United States stance on divorce is support for sodomy, I can paraphrase that logic as "We do not uphold the biblical standard on divorce or marriage, therefore we cannot uphold the biblical standard on sodomy." Is that what you are trying to say?

Why do we not keep kosher, when the Bible clearly says that we should?

Saint Paul wrote on that topic and I think he is clear.

There are a host of biblically condemned behaviors that we have decided do not deserve condemnation, and there are things permitted in the Bible that we have decided should not be permitted. These have been catalogued by a number of people over the years.

Although the law given by God through Moses is not binding on Christians as far as its forms of worship and ritual are concerned and the civil regulations are not binding on any nation state, nevertheless no Christian is free to disobey those commandments which may be classified as moral.

Article 7 is not scripture and is only the tradition of the Anglican form of Christianity. It is a good answer to your statement. Sodomy is clearly part of that which may be classified as moral.

Acknowledging this should be sufficient to demonstrate that it is never enough simply to say that the Bible forbids or permits something. We must take seriously what the Bible says about any given issue, but seldom is that sufficient to settle an issue. Why? Because our relationship as individuals and as a church with Christ continues to grow and mature. The Spirit still moves among us.

But in approving sodomy you are going beyond that is reasonable. If something is clearly declared sin, it is sin. You are also forgetting the Churches responsibly to assure that improper teaching does not go forth. As said in article 20 " The church has authority to decree forms of worship and ceremonies and to decide in controversies concerning the faith. However, it is not lawful for the church to order anything contrary to God's written Word. Nor may it expound one passage of Scripture so that it contradicts another passage. So, although the church is a witness and guardian to holy Scripture, it must not decree anything contrary to Scripture, nor is it to enforce belief in anything additional to Scripture as essential to salvation."

In declaring sodomy as holy you are declaring something contrary to God's written Word.

The early church accepted certain texts into the canon of Scripture and rejected others based on the faith experience of those entrusted with the task of discernment. Those early church leaders also took into account the faith experiences of the communities and people they represented. That is, those who established the canon took into account the texts that were being honored as sacred by early Christian people and communities.

You are correct in the immediately above, but you go on.

So, too, we must continue to grapple with the received sacred texts of our faith, seeking to understand where the voice of God sounds clearly and where that voice has been distorted by the broken humanity of the biblical authors.

At one level of reading you are correct. But our grappling does not allow for going outside the established understanding of faith and morals. There is much about Holy Scripture we do not understand. There is much about Holy Scripture which can be seen a vague. But there is also much of Holy Scripture which is clear, and that Sodomy is sin is one such area.

We must exercise the same discernment with respect to our tradition, seeking to understand where the voice of God seems to be clearly speaking and where that voice has been distorted by the brokenness of the church.

In this case the matter should be clear.

As Barbara Crafton pointed out in her essay, it is the ongoing practice of careful discernment applied to both the Bible and our tradition that has led to the ordination of women,

I can here paraphase also. "The Episcopal Church in the United States has reversed the historic position of the Holy Catholic Church for its own purposes. It has reversed the position that it has held for many years. The Episcopal Church therefore can reverse at will anything thing it wants at will." That is what using the ordination women by the Episcopal Church in the United
States as support for sodomy is saying.

This practice of discernment is indeed a messy thing. All of us wish it were a neat, clear process. But it is not. It never has been, and it never will be. It is, therefore, a process that all of us should approach in humility, realizing that as convinced as we are of our own interpretations, we can never be completely certain that the voice of Christ that we hear reverberating within our souls is free from the distortion that is surely a part of each of us as human beings.

That is why we look to Holy Tradition. When Tradition conflicts with our personal or group discernment, we are to assume our discernment is wrong. Not that we should stop the discernment process, but rather that we should continue in study and pray until our understanding is in line with the teach of the Holy Catholic Church.

We are bound to offer to our sisters and brothers the fruits of our own discernment.

In one way you are right, our personal discernment is a factor in what we think. But our personal discernment when in conflict with Scripture or Tradition should not be part of what we do or what we teach.

Writing about personal discernment: But those should never be offered in order to heap contempt and condemnation upon others.

As it relates to personal discernment, rather than the established discernment of the Church you are correct.

Again talking about personal discernment: Rather, they should be offered as a contribution to a larger conversation, one that is bound to lead us together to greater – if not perfect
– clarity.


The Church has always in part accept what you are saying here, but it has also in part rejected what you are saying here. The Church has at time cut off discussion and declared certain
teaching to be heresy.


Unfortunately, if segments of the church choose to withdraw from this conversation or decline to engage with it constructively, then that greater clarity will be even harder to
achieve.


This is where Church history is being followed. When someone is teaching something which is so wrong as calling sodomy sin, there comes a time to just declare the heresy, remove them from the
church structure to which one belongs. Is the time now? I do not know, it is likely soon.

To borrow yet another line from St. Paul, we continue to work out our own salvation in fear and trembling.

But may we do it in line with Tradition and Holy Scripture.

8/16/2007 11:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


seamus said...

Sodomite? Has a nice archaic ring to it. Do people still talk like that?

There are times when the older terms are more correct. The modern movement called political correctness has done much to obscure meaningful conversation. Sodomy is the sin of homosexual actions. It conveys both the act and the fact that it is sin.

What I see a the willful confusion of homosexual proclivity and Sodomy does not add to the conversation. There are many ways to minister to those with homosexual proclivities, I know I have use a few. One of those ways is not to affirm as holy Sodomy.

I also believe that discernment is "knowing something by its fruits". If so you cannot glibly ignore the blessing or blessedness of "sodomites". If you cannot find the negative effects of a sin then where is the sin? Just because the bible tells me so? That circular reasoning may work for a child but it's time to grow up, alas the century has already drawn to its close.

First I will answer negative effects by reference to that which I have already written at
htttp://traditionalanglican.wordpress.com/2006/08/13/homosexuality-and-reason/ . To use the fruits idea here is the same logic as prosperity theology.

Just because the bible tells me so is in fact a good reason. If Holy Scripture is not to tell us how to live our lives, are we Christians? I would say not. You infer that it is like a child to accept the teaching of Holy Scripture. I think that Jesus had positive things to say about coming to him like a child.

8/16/2007 11:46 AM  
Anonymous seamus said...

No I infer as Paul has that circular reasoning is a childish arguement.
"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
Chapter 13, verse 11
Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.
Chapter 14, verse 20

The term sodomite adds nothing meaningful to the conversation but reduces it to ad hominem attack.

8/17/2007 12:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

seamus said...

The term sodomite adds nothing meaningful to the conversation but reduces it to ad hominem attack.



It has been said that those who control the terms control the debate. The sodomite community has taken on the term gay and destroyed its meaning. What was a term which said happy, merry, or having high spirits, now refers to a lifestyle of sin.

Those who self identify as gay are self identifying as living a life of sin. That is the plain fact. If I were using the term sodomite to refer to those with homosexual proclivities, then an ad hominem label might have some merit. However, I have not used the term sodomite to refer to those with homosexual proclivities but only to those who act willingly.

I think I have been very careful, not to apply the sodomite term to those with only a homosexual proclivity. I do not think I have used the sodomite term except to those who openly are engage in homosexual actions.

I have used the term proclivity that has a definition: “as strong inclination toward something objectionable.” There is no sin being tempted nor is there sin in inclination. There is sin in action (including at times action of thought only).

You can be inclined to all sorts of things. Some are good and some are not. You can be inclined to like certain foods. You can be inclined to like to watch baseball. But while it is an inclination, the proper term is a homosexual proclivity.

This is an area for the discussion of ideas. One idea that is clearly on the table is homosexual action. I use terms that convey the ideas which I am trying to make.

There are times when terms get abused. The sodomites have done so with the term gay. This to my mind is no different from those who abused what was a proper term for black people, namely Negro. The abuse of the term Negro has resulted in use of a term that while most understand it to mean black people which is not correct. There are a percentage of people from Africa who are not black.

I think, seamus, that you are calling the term sodomite ad hominem because of the implication of sin in use of the term. This implication of sin is part of the message I am bringing. I am not appealing to prejudices rather than intellect.

If I did not like a piece of art and I used the term sodomite toward the artist that might be ad hominen. However, to use the term, when homosexuality is the topic of discussion is not ad hominem at all. The alternative to the term sodomite is a person engaged in homosexual sin. Is that more acceptable?

I am inclined to feel that those who object to the term sodomite, are those who do not want to hear the message, that I and others are making. To use politically correct language is to confuse a homosexual proclivity with sodomy. To us politically correct language is to fuzzy the idea that homosexual acts are sin.

I think I have made my points. I do not want to take what appears to be a blog for reasoned though down the attack path. Did I use the term sodomite from shock value? The answer in mostly no I did not. The term is an old term and much Christian discussion uses these old terms. I will use the adultery term when it is proper, as it too is a good term to identify actions which are sin.

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
Scott+

8/17/2007 10:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another brain dump as I get a cup of tea. (How English of me)

Scott+

seamus said...

No I infer as Paul has that circular reasoning is a childish arguement.



I do not see Saint Paul discussing circular reasoning. I what am I missing?


"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
Chapter 13, verse 11
Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.
Chapter 14, verse 20


These passages do not say to put away that which they taught you as a child. It does say that you should grow in understanding, but it does not say that which you learned as a child was wrong.

That circular reasoning may work for a child but it's time to grow up, alas the century has already drawn to its close.

I think you are appealing for reason to be superior to Holy Scripture. That is not part of the Anglican tradition. Reason is to be used in understanding Holy Scripture. It is not to superior or a replacement for Holy Scripture.

To put your reason on a par with what God has said is to assume you have the same knowledge as God. I would suggest that there are few places for pure reason. Reason is a valuable tool when applied to other things. Reason does not stand alone in matters of faith or morals.

If you cannot find the negative effects of a sin then where is the sin? Just because the bible tells me so?

I infer that what you are saying is that if something has no negative effects upon other than those engaged in the act that it is not sin. To some degree I would support this argument in what government should or should not control. It does not apply to what is sin. Sin can be something known only to the person and to God. When Christ said about lusting after a woman not your wife is adultery, there is no qualification that it must involve others.

Do you really think sin only occurs when something negative happens to other people? I think you do. This is not the place to dissuade you of that error. So I disengage at this point.

8/17/2007 12:25 PM  
Anonymous seamus said...

Scott,
I commend you to the excellent speech on reason by Pope Benedict which with cruel irony unleashed such irrational violence and which is quoted below. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2006/september/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20060912_university-regensburg_en.html

"I believe that we can see the profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God. Modifying the first verse of the Book of Genesis, the first verse of the whole Bible, John began the prologue of his Gospel with the words: "In the beginning was the λόγος". This is the very word used by the emperor: God acts, σὺν λόγω, with logos. Logos means both reason and word - a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason. John thus spoke the final word on the biblical concept of God, and in this word all the often toilsome and tortuous threads of biblical faith find their culmination and synthesis. In the beginning was the logos, and the logos is God, says the Evangelist."

This is a brillant and simple synthesis of faith and reason and counters a false dichotomy between them. Reason is not a mere tool but surely as love it is analagous with God.

I do believe you are disingenuis in saying that using the term sodomite has no shock value and merely your own intent to seize the debate at the etymological level.

It is also an ontological equation of a person as sin itself and purposefully offensive to your interlocuters who do not accept any your premises of sinfullness in any event.
Your attempt to unrecognize the gay and lesbian civil rights movement is, as your choice of terms, archaic at best, standing firm in a faith that if living should be moving and growing and responsive to the incarnational moment in which one lives.

8/17/2007 5:33 PM  
Anonymous Matthew Dutton-Gillett said...

My dear Scott,

I appreciate your detailed response. Mine won't be nearly so. But you seem to be saying that as we seek to discern God's will for us today, and we reach a conclusion (even a collective conclusion) that is at odds with the Tradition of the Church, then our conclusion must be rejected.

If this is indeed what you are saying, then it is an argument that I certainly cannot except. Such an approach regards Tradition as static rather than dynamic. And there are plenty of examples of church teaching that has been changed in subsequent generations. Allowing clergy to marry is one. If that which is established as Tradition in previous centuries can never be altered, then there is much that needs to be undone (perhaps even Anglicanism itself!). It would also prevent us from ever being able to examine our Tradition critically.

The matter, it seems to me, comes down to whether Scripture and Tradition belong to the Church, or whether the Church belongs to Scripture and Tradition. It seems to me that the first answer is correct: that Scripture and Tradition belong to the Church. This is, I would argue, the position which both the Orthodox and Roman Catholic branches of Christiantiy take. Certainly, changing the teaching of the church is a serious matter, and should not be done lightly. And perhaps we have been too willing to take it lightly in recent years. But it cannot be the case that church teaching/tradition can never be changed, if it seems to the church that God is calling us to a deeper understanding of things.

Peace and blessings,
Matthew

8/17/2007 6:56 PM  
Anonymous Adoremus said...

One thing that is constantly overlooked by all Christians when these arguments are made with analogies to the "old law" in the New Testatment is that most of those ordinances - such as keeping Kosher- NEVER applied to gentiles period. Much of the recent Pauline scholarship now reads Paul's letters in this light. Thus, it is not so much that "Christianity" freed gentiles from the law - it is more of a question as to whether Chistianity in its original emergence out of a Jewish community created a "new" obligation on Gentiles - i.e. did they have to "convert" to normative Judaism to follow the Way of Jesus. The answer was NO.

So it is silly to make analogies to "kosher" etc. to say if we don't follow that we needn't observe other prohibitions that do apply to gentiles. Just read contemporary Jewish blogs/internet on what applies to Gentiles - pretty much what the Church has always taught - the moral precepts of the OT Torah.

8/18/2007 10:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

seamus said...

I do believe you are disingenuis in saying that using the term sodomite has no shock value and merely your own intent to seize the debate at the etymological level.


I am a believer in taking back the language from what is called the politically correct movement. It with intent that I inject the ideas that homosexual acts are sin. I have done this in part by use of the term sodomite. I am not sure that sodomite has any more shock value than the term sin.




It is also an ontological equation of a person as sin itself and purposefully offensive to your interlocuters who do not accept any your premises of sinfullness in any event.




I thought that this was an area for the discussion of ideas. The classical Christian view is that sodomy is sin. It is the historic Church’s position. It is my premise but it is not original to me, the Holy Catholic Church taught me this.



Your attempt to unrecognize the gay and lesbian civil rights movement is, as your choice of terms, archaic at best, standing firm in a faith that if living should be moving and growing and responsive to the incarnational moment in which one lives.



Doctor King said that people should be judged by their character. Unlike race, homosexual acts are a choice. Choice to sin is a part of character. I therefore do not equate homosexually and the true civil rights movement, which I grew-up with, the current attempt to suppress classical Christian views. Homosexual people have rights because they are people. They do not have rights because they are homosexual.

It is my thinking that it is my ideas are offensive to you more than my terms.


Scott+

8/18/2007 10:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...



Your attempt to unrecognize the gay and lesbian civil rights movement is, as your choice of terms, archaic at best, standing firm in a faith that if living should be moving and growing and responsive to the incarnational moment in which one lives.



It is my feeling that most here are in agreement with the above statement.

I say that sodomy is not an incarnational moment in which I lives. It is not of God but of the devil according to classical Christian teaching.

I think I have made my points. I think it is time to close my being part of this thread, and maybe this blog for a time.

Go with God

Scott+

8/18/2007 11:57 PM  
Anonymous seamus said...

"Homosexual people have rights because they are people. They do not have rights because they are homosexual."

A distinction without a difference.
But I too will withdraw from this arguement which strangely or perhaps not strangely at all,has touched upon what one was taught as a child and growing into one's own, with this observation from an internet synopsis of the great American coming of age story by Mark Twain.
Huck's and Jim's quest for freedom on a raft on the Mississippi River provides a panoramic view of Southern society, which Twain saw as beset by greed, violence, and coldhearted brutality in the guise of virtue. At the end of the book, Huck definitively abandons the hypocrisy and cant on which he has been raised when he makes the shocking decision to go to hell rather than betray his friend Jim and send him back to slavery.

I too would rather shake hands with the devil then send gay and lesbian people back to the oppression of the "historic" Holy Catholic Church.

8/19/2007 7:33 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Scott, we do not allow the reprinting of entire essays in the "comments" here. If people want to comment here, they can do so; if you want David Virtue's thoughts to appear here, ask him to post them.

8/19/2007 1:24 PM  
Blogger Scott+ said...

If you could check, which I think with blogspot you can not, you should see the Virtue posting was not from my IP. My IP does change but only about once a week.

Someone is up to dirty tricks. I hope you can get control of them. For now, getting accused of copyright violation is enough. Besides, I think I have said what needs saying. For now I leave you with the Limitations of Like Minds.
Yes to a degree I am letting the spoofer win, so be it.
Scott+

8/19/2007 7:52 PM  
Blogger Scott+ said...

Per email request I answer seamus. My thinking is the Mark Twain reference really is off the mark, but the emailer thing seamus has me in checkmate.

Except to take the discussion more into the secular and away from the Christian, there really is nothing new in the following. That is why I heretofore did not answer seamus.

Above brain dump disclaimer applies.

seamus said...

"Homosexual people have rights because they are people. They do not have rights because they are homosexual."

A distinction without a difference.



But there is a big difference and it goes to the heart of the true civil rights movement. People are not to be judged by what they are by birth, but what they do. Remember Doctor King’s great speech about strength of character, he never said we were not to judge people based upon what they did.

Homosexual proclivity should except in some unique cases be used to discriminate in secular terms. Even the private practice of Sodomy should not a big factor in secular discernment. Other would disagree, and I do not think secular law should force them not to use any act as factor in discernment.

I think the Armed Services in don’t ask don’t tell have it about right. A big part is the don’t tell, when someone’s Sodomy is generally known it becomes evil living to use the Prayer Book term, and discernment, both religious and secular is in order.

Now this short discussion is about secular government and not the Holy Catholic Church. I think it wrong that I or other should be forced not to put active Sodomy as a factor in judging a person’s character. To say that such is Christian is repeat the mistake of Pelagius.

. . . Huck definitively abandons the hypocrisy and cant on which he has been raised when he makes the shocking decision to go to hell rather than betray his friend Jim and send him back to slavery.

I too would rather shake hands with the devil then send gay and lesbian people back to the oppression of the "historic" Holy Catholic Church.


There is a big difference here. Slavery was something which was morally abhorrent. Those who told Huck he was going to hell were using bad theology.

The history of the church in dealing with those with homosexual proclivity has black spots. That does not make Sodomy right. Most conservative churches have corrected for past mistakes. Most will take a pastoral approach to those with homosexual proclivities. Nevertheless, being pastoral does not mean approving of the sin of Sodomy.

The difference is that Huck was doing the right thing. Those who actively promote Sodomy are likely making the choice to go to hell. If I remember, Huck would appear to have been reasonably read, but not the brightest bulb on the block. He did not discern bad theology as such, but went against bad theology. In his own way he used good theology. If Huck we real, I am certain he would be forgiven. Those who are well read in theology should know that Sodomy is sin, and if they shake hands with the devil they are doing it for real.

8/21/2007 10:00 AM  
Blogger Scott+ said...

is above
Homosexual proclivity should except in some unique cases be used to discriminate in secular terms

should be

Homosexual proclivity should, except in some unique cases, not be used to discriminate in secular terms

8/21/2007 10:03 AM  
Blogger Derek said...

There is much about Holy Scripture which can be seen a vague. But there is also much of Holy Scripture which is clear, and that Sodomy is sin is one such area.

It is? It most certainly is not. All of the accounts or examples referred to in either the OT or NT are from the perspective of people who only knew homosexuality as either rape, temple prostitution, adultery, or pederasty. None of which the church, in affirming gays' and lesbians' ministries, has said has anything to do with God's will for us. So the failure of inductive logic once again raises its ugly head and delivers prejudice.

Although the law given by God through Moses is not binding on Christians as far as its forms of worship and ritual are concerned and the civil regulations are not binding on any nation state, nevertheless no Christian is free to disobey those commandments which may be classified as moral.

... Sodomy is clearly part of that which may be classified as moral.


"Clearly"? Only insofar as you classify it as such! Show me where in the Ten Commandments you find "sodomy."


There are times when the older terms ["sodomy," "sodomite"] are more correct.

"Sodom" comes from the Hebrew, meaning "burnt," referring to the town's destruction. A "Sodomite" is someone from Sodom. Given how Ezekiel explained "the sin of Sodom" as one of greed, inhospitality, and self-concern -- and Jesus confirms this in Matthew 10:14-15 -- please quit equating "sodomy" with homosexuality, and use it instead only for its proper purpose: in describing arrogance, being overfed, and unconcerned about the poor and needy. After all, if there are times when the older terms are more correct, it's all the more important to use them correctly.

Scott refuses to admit any relationship with Scripture which might end up affirming a committed, sexual relationship between two men or two women. Homosexuality is the start and the end of his argument: Sex between two people of the same gender is always wrong because the church has always taught that the Bible says it is wrong. The church can't change its thinking here, because the Bible says it is wrong. Biblical interpretation can't be changed here, because the church has always taught that it is wrong. He conveniently ignores Matt's point that we, the church, established what is and isn't scripture and how to read it, and therefore we, the church, have a responsibility to continue to refine our understanding of our scriptures if they are to have any meaning. All that Scott has presented so far is an empty, legalistic faith that has substituted the Bible and historic interpretations of it for his God.

8/21/2007 6:17 PM  
Blogger seamus said...

Well you're right about one thing Scott, like Huck I'm not the brightest bulb but I think I can sure recognize and reject "bad" theology when I see it. I think it is particularly bad theology to not subscribe to the primacy of an informed conscience that can be divergent.


While I see so many inconsistencies in your argumentation regarding homosexuality I'm going to just attribute it to a brain dump and move onto the core disagreement.There is something "inelegant" in the present argumentation against homosexuality as a sexual orientation that cannot be expressed. It is akin to Parmenides’ proofs against motion presented to his opponents, their only rebuttal was to get up and walk away.For many, especially for gay and lesbians, the ontological question if not the struggle has long been settled and have walked away from Parmenides.
They know that their orientation is integral to their being and, as a categorial imperative, one acts according to one's being.


Evenso as Scott notes there are now pastoral approaches that address the "objective disorder toward sin" differently then the Audo da Fe or the concentration camps.
It is a well known pastoral approach and theologically sound(i.e. coherent) that given the choice between two errors, the choice of the lesser does not reject its objective evil, while tolerating its choice.Would it be that at the very least this approach be taken. As other so called pastoral approches "reparative therapies" or 12 step programs are questionable, to say the least.

I understand Scott's distinction between secular and religious in the public sphere while we both believe one informs the other, albeit differently for each of us as I am not too concerned about the distinction. Rather I have always admired Tillich's appreciation of how the secular is made sacred. Those who hold strongly to the catholic viewpoint understand the sacramentality of life that makes this so, where simple bread and wine become body and blood of Jesus Christ. The "evangelical" emphasizes more the action of the Word (even in the Eucharist) which defines the sacred and clears a path towards holiness apart.

This emphasis is fundamentally found and placed on the aspects of God as immanent and transcendent.
The immanent God of the Incarnation has always been a catholic emphasis which uses analogies that sees how God is like us. The protestant emphasis upon the transcendent sees the unfathomable mystery and difference where how God is not like us.

The catholic perspective is holistic, the protestant perspective is scientific.
The abuses of these perspectives are well known to each which leads to such things as nepotism for a catholic mentality or to impersonal compartmentalization for the protestant.
The positive aspects are also well known, separation of church and state, the growth of commerce and science from the protestant approach and with a pendulum swing towards ecology and interdependence more in keeping with a catholic understanding.

How each reads the bible is also fundamentally different. The evangelical approach cleanses the allegorical fantasies and as the sparseness of Zen art reflecting nirvana, reasserts the core and thrust of Christian theology. The catholic approach while acknowledging the excesses removed would say,there is in Zen art, no matter how spare, always something there which purports to be the nothingness of nirvana, but is in fact an excessive descriptive.
Or as one of my favorite observations of CS Lewis, that the problem with fundamentalism is that it espouses the mentality of a dog."You point at something and it looks at your finger!'


That said, this is again about emphasis and not a true either/or dichotomy.
In being aware of these strengths and weaknesses, perhaps a fuller understanding of our arguments can be achieved.

8/23/2007 9:41 AM  

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