Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Love, Sex and the Bible, Part Deux
I've promised myself one hour to do this. I'm up to my armpits in pastoral work, but I've also promised to respond to the thoughtful and intelligent and uncomfortable comments posted below at the essay, "For the Bible Tells Me So." You've all be brave and wonderful and you deserve a response from me.
I'm going to go way out on a limb and say this first: As one who has been a devout practitioner of faithful, covenanted monogamy for the past 33 years, I think that it may well be true that monogamy is a social construct (clearly not a biblical one) which has its greatest value in supporting patriarchy.
As a spiritual discipline, however, it is not without merit. Indeed, I have found that in my own life, it has enormous merit.
Am I 'aping the cultural stigmata" (that was Tillich, I think. No footnotes here. I'm done with my doctoral paper)?
I would no doubt, be found guilty by a jury of my peers.
Here's the thing: As a priest, I am duty-bound to uphold the 'doctrine and discipline' - as well as the Constitution and Canons - of The Episcopal Church. The majority of the Anglican Communion not withstanding (well, the men in purple, anyway), the 'standard' which is upheld in The Episcopal Church is pretty clear.
Institutional memory being as short and as flawed as it is, I am going to remind everyone that in the year 2000 General Convention, meeting in Denver, passed Resolution D039 which said,
Resolved, That the members of the 73rd General Convention intend for this Church to provide a safe and just structure in which all can utilize their gifts and creative energies for mission; and be it further
Resolved, That we acknowledge that while the issues of human sexuality are not yet resolved, there are currently couples in the Body of Christ and in this Church who are living in marriage and couples in the Body of Christ and in this Church who are living in other life-long committed relationships; and be it further
Resolved, That we expect such relationships will be characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God; and be it further
Resolved, That we denounce promiscuity, exploitation, and abusiveness in the relationships of any of our members; and be it further
Resolved, That this Church intends to hold all its members accountable to these values, and will provide for them the prayerful support, encouragement, and pastoral care necessary to live faithfully by them; and be it further
Resolved, That we acknowledge that some, acting in good conscience, who disagree with the traditional teaching of the Church on human sexuality, will act in contradiction to that position; and be it further
Resolved, That in continuity with previous actions of the General Convention of this Church, and in response to the call for dialogue by the Lambeth Conference, we affirm that those on various sides of controversial issues have a place in the Church, and we reaffirm the imperative to promote conversation between persons of differing experiences and perspectives, while acknowledging the Church's teaching on the sanctity of marriage.
I voted for that resolution in 2000. I'd vote for it again. In fact, I think we ought to pay much closer attention to what we've done in the past so we don't have to reinvent the ecclesiastical wheel.
Does that mean that I do not think there is a place in the church for those who practice polyandry or who are promiscuous? By no means! Hell, if there's a place for a sinner like me, there's a place for absolutely everybody!
Yes, I even mean homophobes. Yup, bigots, too.
Ah, but you can't mean even the pains in the rump neo-Puritan, orthodox, conservative evangelical reasserters?
Yup, them too.
When I say 'absolutely everybody' I mean ABSOLUTELY everybody.
They don't, of course. And therein lies the problem. But that's another issue for another discussion.
Bottom line: I think the challenge to the status quo - even my comfortable niche in it - is critical to the integrity of the church. Jesus challenged the status quo of the Temple in his day. I think the Body of Christ should do no less in our own day and time. And, Jesus welcomed absolutely everyone. So should those of us who purport to follow His Way.
But, that's not the question I asked originally. My original question was whether or not Jesus or Moses had anything to say about celibacy outside of marriage. The answer is they did not. Neither did they have anything to say about abortion.
One old sour-pus wag reminded me that neither said anything about incest, either. You know, somethings are so obviously heinous, with such an instinctive sense of wrong, especially when it involves (as it most often does) an adult who is perpetrating this act against a child, they don't even need mention.
It's like rape - of any kind. Rape is not an act of sex. It's an act of violence that involves a sexual act. Incest and rape are abuses of power. Period. End of sentence. To try and equate them with the love shared by LGBT people doesn't even deserve the dignity of a response.
Besides, this is not about playing a game of 'theological gotcha' - which the neo-Puritans take such delight in.
While I'm at it, I want to mention that I got more than my fair share of hate mail on this. I just want to say to the anonymous coward who wrote that hateful post (which I obviously did not publish) who asked if my beautiful daughter, who many of you know died three years ago, didn't died of AIDS:
You may call yourself a Christian but you clearly don't know anything about Jesus. May God have mercy on your soul - and, as a tribute to the eternal mystery which is our God, S/he no doubt does.
I'm deeply grateful for the discussion - painfully honest and frank - which has gone on here. I don't profess to understand polyandry. I don't judge it. I just don't understand it, is all. That probably says more about the lack of my moral imagination than it does about the person who is able to love and be intimate with more than one person.
I've got another question - well, two, actually - to ask which I hope will also stir some imagination and provoke further intelligent conversation. I want to continue the discussion about polyandry.
I'm not asking for a refutation of the position. I know that most of you who read this blog probably share most of what I've written. I'm asking you - and I'll do the same thing - to use your religious imagination.
I'm asking you to consider what has been written in the comment section of the posting "For the Bible Tells Me So" and imagine that 'Firenel' is right. I'm asking you to consider that these three Christian people have come before the church, asking for a blessing on the covenant they have made. (Note: Not a blessing on their relationship(s). A blessing on their covenant to be faithful to each other. Yes. All three of them. One covenant between the three.)
Here are my questions:
First: How would you, the church, respond pastorally to their request?
Second, if you were a priest in the present climate of the church, might your response be any different?
I look forward to your remarks.