The Michelson-Morley Experiment and the Experience of Gay and Lesbian Christians.

Current Affairs / Religion / Science

One of the most important events in 20th century Physics was Albert Einstein’s decision not to explain away the non-result produced by the Michelson-Morley experiment. (The experiment was an attempt to measure differences in the speed of light between an observer moving in the direction of the light’s emission and one moving away. There was no measurable difference even though the experiment was repeated again and again with increasing levels of accuracy and precision.)

Einstein started his thinking toward Special and General Relativity by postulating that each observer’s experience must be treated as valid. By so doing, he constructed a physics that would require that the speed of light was exactly the same for all observers, whether they were moving or not. Einstein then was able to suggest experiments that demonstrate that his ideas were correct.

But the key point in all this was that he accepted the experimental evidence of the Michelson-Morley experiment as valid, even though it seemed to make absolutely no sense within a Newtonian (and deterministic) framework. Einstein decided to trust in the report of the observer and by making that decision he was able to gain a radical new insight into the nature of reality. He did the same sort of thing when considering the Eotvos experiment. He began by taking at face value the experimental result that inertial and gravitational mass were exactly the same. And from that he reasoned his way through the Principle of Equivalence – that is the idea that underlies all of the mind-bending thinking of General Relativity.

Now – as to the experience of GLBT Christians:

  • I believe that people come into the Church by the graceful gift of faith and in entering the Church, the Holy Spirit begins a process of regeneration and transformation.
  • I believe that all Christians are being transformed into the people God wants us to become.
  • I believe that gay and lesbian people come into the Church as fully and as totally as I do through a relationship with the Risen Lord Jesus.

Gay and lesbian people report that they find themselves transformed by their encounters with the Risen Christ. But they do not uniformly find that their sexuality or sexual orientation is transformed.

  • If we believe this report, then what does this tell us about God’s desires for them?

To amplify these points: I have Gay and Lesbian friends and parishioners who I know are taking their faith very seriously. I am told by them that they find their lives being transformed. They are more honest, more compassionate, more loving, and more prayerful than they used to be. They show forth the gifts of the Spirit as listed by the Apostles Paul and Peter (1 Corinthians 12:8-11, Ephesians 4, Romans 12 and 1 Peter 4:11).

They remain gay and lesbian. They do now desire to express that orientation in a way accountable to the discipline of the Church (as do heterosexual couples). And no matter how many times people tell them that they are mistaken in their belief that God accepts them with their sexual orientation intact, they insist on following their own strong and informed conscience. By strong and informed conscience, I am using the terminology of Moral Theology. Another way to say this would be to say that the people who are having this experience are conscientiously and scrupulously presenting their whole selves to God, and are honestly asking that God’s will would be done in them and their lives. And that having done that, they are not experiencing a change in their sexuality.

I find myself wanting to take a page from Einstein’s book. What insights might we gain as a Church if we were to take their experience seriously and consider it theologically? Einstein discovered that his generation’s most cherished views were wrong and the most successful scientific method ever invented was wrong. But he was willing to go to a place that Science was initially unwilling to go because he stubbornly insisted on following after and seeking Truth.

There have been any number of calls for the Anglican Communion to enter into conversations with its Gay and Lesbian members in a way that does not presuppose the outcome of that conversation. To date that has not happened. It seems to me that if we are serious in our belief that the Holy Spirit acts within the Church to lead us into all truth, then we have no alternative but to listen to see what the Spirit is saying to us in the lives of Gay and Lesbian people. I have no doubt that there is great learning here. I do not presume to know what that learning is. I am, however, reminded of a quote I heard in a favorite sermon: “Listening conversation that starts with a predetermined outcome is neither conversation nor is it listening.”

Modern thought has been changed in fundamental ways because of Einstein’s (and other scientists’) service to truth, even though that truth might destroy what has always been believed. The Church, which has been given the gift of presence of the Spirit of Truth, has nothing to fear from the Truth no matter how surprising or unexpected it might be.

Lord Kelvin, speaking at the end of the nineteenth century, claimed that Physics, as an enterprise of discovery was drawing to a close. With the exception of two experiments (one of which was the Michelson-Morley experiment) everything in the Universe was thought to be well understood. Even as Lord Kelvin uttered those words, Einstein and Planck were at work, stubbornly motivated by a belief that truth, no matter how seemingly inconsequential or inconvenient was worth pursuing. Their subsequent work led directly to our present understanding of Relativity and Quantum Physics.

Our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters are much more valuable to God than electrons or photons. How much more seriously should we as a Church be listening to them and trying to make sense together of their experience of Jesus in their lives? Pray that the listening process called for by Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference can finally begin in earnest. There is much to be gained by listening and little that I can see to be lost.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...

48 Comments

  1. The Michelson-Morley Experiment and the Experience of Gay and Lesbian Christians – Fr. Nick Knisely

    Physicist-turned-priest Nick Knisely recalls that Einstein’s attitude toward the the Michelson-Morley experiment’s outlandish results was, in brief, to face the facts and deal with them. He suggests that Einstein’s example should inform the church’scur…

  2. That’s a great play, Simon. I saw it almost 30 years ago and I still think about it today from time to time. That, to me, is the mark of true art – of something that contains essential truth.
    Fr. Nick, I just want to reiterate how exactly right I think this essay is. Thanks for posting it.

  3. I second bls. I wish more were of your reasoned approach, myself included. Thank you for being one who listens, as I recognized myself in the stories of those you told in this post.

  4. Paul Martin says

    From time to time I see carefully reasoned arguments attempting to reconcile acceptance of GLBT people with Biblical passages which would argue otherwise. As valuable as these arguments may be, I think your essay illustrates a much better starting point. It is also more honest as it describes the story of our own journey. Our encounter with Gay and Lesbian friends came first; we then struggled to incorporate this new perspective into our faith.

  5. Thanks, I’ve been trying to say something like this for a while, but I haven’t been able to say it as well as you have.
    Jon

  6. obadiahslope says

    “Our encounter with Gay and Lesbian friends came first; we then struggled to incorporate this new perspective into our faith.”
    How would you tell you had succeeded? How do you deal with scrpture? It is still there after the listening provess is over.

  7. obadiah, you’re ignoring the main thrust of this argument. Quote: “There have been any number of calls for the Anglican Communion to enter into conversations with its Gay and Lesbian members in a way that does not presuppose the outcome of that conversation. To date that has not happened. It seems to me that if we are serious in our belief that the Holy Spirit acts within the Church to lead us into all truth, then we have no alternative but to listen to see what the Spirit is saying to us in the lives of Gay and Lesbian people.”

  8. ruidh says

    I believe that all Christians are being transformed into the people God wants us to become.

    Does that mean that God wants the self-styled “Orthodox Anglicans” to be part of the Province of Nigeria?
    I believe God offers us the opportunity to be transformed, but not all choose it. Neither you not I can tell for certain who is accepting the invitiation and who is rejecting it. But I suspect, with you, that our GLTB friends are.
    Einstein;s acceptance of M-M and the resulting Theory of Relativity ushered in the entire philosophical context of postmodernism. The experiment and the observer are unseperable. Each changes the other. The presence of the observer changes the outcome of the experiment. Truth is viewpoint dependant.
    People who have rejected modernism and it’s emphasis on reason completely balk when faced with postmodernism.

  9. obadiahslope says

    bls,
    I can’t see where I ignored that part of the argument. My comment made no claim as to what scripture might say, only asking how it might be factored into the process.
    I do find it hard to know how someone on the opposite side of the issue to me, who might be in a SS relationship can take part in a listening process “that does not presuppose the outcome of the conversation”.
    If you were to carry out this process you would surely be saying “I might be wrong about my sexuality” in the same manner that a conservative might say “I may have read scripture wrongly”.
    If this is not so then i wonder if Nick is setting up a conversation process that is destined to come out one way, in that only one group is being asked to affirm rather than question their position.
    This last condition is not implied in the Windsor process from what i can see.

  10. obadiah,
    Over a year ago I asked you if you were friends with any lgbt persons who identified as Christians. You responded no. I still recommend this as a place to begin for all of us, perhaps over a beer. I think so much of the Net cannot get us to that fraternal fleshly place just as discourse in books cannot get us there to even see one another and perhaps begin to appreciate one another in disagreements.
    I would hasten to guess that most queer folk live with a certain ambiguity around our sexuality anyway, a certain existential angst if your will, ramped up by a regular dose of condemnation by this or that media preacher and having our lives treated as an issue by the rest of the Body. That in itself leaves us with some sense of the possibility of being wrong, or of not having it all figured out.
    But I think in fact all of us whether SS or OS or BS have gotten something wrong about desire, in that we’ve promoted heterosexual marriage rather than desire for God which coincides very nicely with the wants of the state and market.
    That gay bound-friendships lead to a deepening of faith, hospitality, and a recognition that God relates to us as Friend and brother in Jesus is something of what I’ve come to find in being in a same sex relationship. I think in fact, the John passage on friendship needs to be applied to the marriage passage in Ephesians to get a full recognition of God’s magnificent condescension. If God relates as friends to us, which so many gay folks I know discover in our relationships, why is it domination metaphors and language mar heterosexual marriage in ways that seem not to aptly represent Christ’s relationship with his Church or of the Head to the Body?
    We might come to understand that we’ve all been wrong about sexuality and desire in many ways, for one dividing up so neatly and oppositionally between heterosexual and homosexual/good and bad.
    Scripture figures in this, but the meeting might open up Scipture in ways that simply quoting from it or exegeting from it cannot because the meeting is fleshly and incarnational and likely happening at Eucharist. After all the Gentiles (and that is both of us unless you are Jewish and I don’t know this) were not included by first coming to Scripture but by God taking Peter to the Gentiles and opening up the words anew. That we are both included contrary to or beyond nature in Israel by God’s graciousness beyond count should cause us both shared joy in our present disagreements.

  11. obadiahslope says

    Thank you for a detailed and considered reply. While I agree with you that the net is a poor substitute for learning about and from each other it is for now, the place that you and I encounter each other.
    As I go to church in the Diocese of Sydney, my opportunities to meet with gays who identify as christians is low. Perhaps about as likely as meeting an evangelical of my sort in the diocese of, say, California.
    A colleague of mine write a book “the High Price of Heaven” about his existential angst at how the church treats gays, and his journey away from faith. So I think I have some idea of what you describe in your second par.
    I agree that desire for God ranks above heterosexual marriage, and that like so much in western culture marriage has beem badly affected by consumerism. Further you make a very good point about “domination metaphors”. I believe that scripture teaches a headship of servanthood, that radically undermined the patriachal marriages both of the roman empire and today. Your challenge is one that needs to be heard by evangelicals, and is a good example of the need to read scripture humbly and with an open and humble mind.
    Which is to say i could be wrong. Which is the attitude that Nick would undoubtably want us to approach this topic with.
    I understand from your blog, which i regularly read (bearing in mind your rebuke of me) that you would want the church to be open not only to gay relationships for couples but for forms of polyandry
    and “parties”. I hope i have not misread you here. It would seem to me to be a consistent position. If we can discern christian growth in couple’s relationships, why not be open to other forms of the body’s grace?
    While i would want to be a listener, I would not wish to seperate scripture too radically from my praxis. I agree that scripture is aften illuminated by encounter with people rather than dry study. Yet sociology alone is not enough to discern God’s way.
    God is a God who speaks, and with great authority through scripture. It seems to me that in many respects what we are talking about is epistemology. Perhaps Alvin Plantings work should be considered.
    Returning to the OP: There is a third possibility that Nick seems to exclude. That there may be much that is noble and good in a relationship, and growth too, without it being conclusive that the sexual path that is taken is God’s will.

  12. Hi Obidiah – (and *Christopher, bls, ruidh etc.) Sorry for not responding quickly. There’s a number of things going on here in the parish that have been keeping me pretty busy the last day or so. (And my family and I are getting ready to go on vacation starting this weekend, so we’re busy running errands in preparation.)
    In response to your question:

    Returning to the OP: There is a third possibility that Nick seems to exclude. That there may be much that is noble and good in a relationship, and growth too, without it being conclusive that the sexual path that is taken is God’s will.

    It’s something that I’ve thought about. It’s certainly a possibility – and I think it’s what St. Paul had in mind for all couples when he speaks of marriage as being only an option for those who are burning up in lust.
    But I think the issue still is that GLBT christians have in fact prayed that their sexuality would be changed or their desires removed – and that has not happened, while other prayers for transformation in their lives have been. I’m taking that as a data point that should be considered – in the same way Einstein decided to take the M-M experimental result and see where it led him.
    And in response to your other question about a truly open-ended conversation… that’s what I have in mind. It may change the way we view scripture or it may change the way we view sexuality or it may change something else that we’re not thinking about at the moment. But what really matters is pursuing the Truth.
    I’m don’t know where the journey will take us, and I don’t even know exactly how to start. But I think we better get started – if nothing else simply because we owe it to our sisters and brothers who kneel beside us in prayer.

  13. Ugh. That should be “Obidiahslope” not “Obidiah” sorry – I hit post too soon.
    And “There are a number of things going on…” not “There’s a number…” – that’s a PA Dutch expression. I catch myself most of the time, but missed this one. Grin.

  14. obadiah,
    If the Net is the best we have for now, that is all the more reason to treat one another well, something, you, I might add, are prone to anyway, being quite gracious in my experience.
    I think you may be misreading me, or rather I may not say things as clearly as I should. You must understand I am quite conservative sexually speaking, and that makes me somewhat of an oddball, gay or straight, these days; however, in a period when questions are being asked, I think we must ask questions of sexuality all around, including of the polyamorous or of parties (which are not only happening among gay Christians, I might add). It also means I ask questions of my own experiences in past less solid relationships both in what I learned and what was sin. I have my own thoughts on these matters, but I am willing despite my discomfort and own sense of monogamous ethics to consider the matters at hand. Any young gay man who asks me, however, would be lovingly offered that one prayerfully ask what he is being called to and if called to celibacy, seek the appropriate ways of supporing this calling to express our ultimate marriage is to God and if called to partnership wait until he has found a man who will commit to offer their lives together to God and before the community.
    I think it is indeed one of epistemology, in which I understand that Scripture points to and participates in the Word, but is not itself the Word of God, meaning Jesus Christ. I do believe Scripture speaks, and best so in community and with persons together such that we are all undergoing discovery of what God is up to. This means that for me Scripture is rightly centered in the worshipping community and that is where we are most likely to hear what God might be up to because it is a relational context–this necessitates that if we are to have listening processes, for all of us are undergoing being listened to, then our Eucharistic communities must have humility enough to offer a seat to each of us. This isn’t sociology per se, though I don’t think that we can actually divorce the sciences, soft and hard, from theologizing, especially since in this case we are dealing with anthropology and not properly dogma. I think it is a question of how God actually works among us.
    I think it may also be a differing understanding of commandments and grace. Most evangelical Christians I know have a more Calvinist understanding while mine tends toward semi-Augustinian. In my take, commands are given that we might flourish, and that if a command actually inhibits flourishment for some part of the population, in this case gay people, we can ask if we’ve fully understand the command. Which means we may also be able to begin making distinctions between the radical inhospitality of rape in say the story of Sodom and the love between two men or women, just as we do between the rape of the concubine in Judges and the love between a man and a woman. And so forth.
    I am of the opinion of that of Alan Bray, a famed historian of friendship and homosexuality, and queer theologian Elizabeth Stuart, that sex itself is always an ambiguity and that we cannot draw conclusively from it about God’s will, homosexual or heterosexual, because it raises up a multitude of desires and passions including domination and possession alongside delight and hospitality. I have firm ground in the Fathers, some of whom were married and became celibate in marriage overtime as a greater expression that our interrelating to one another in the Eschaton is not sexual but in the Spirit, that we are not bound up by fate of sexual desires in procreation or sexual union as imperative or our salvation, and that our desires ultimately are to be oriented toward God, our ultimate spouse. Most folks would balk at this idea as anti-sex. I see it rather that any sex we engage in must be with examination, prayer, thanksgiving, and be understood in orientation toward God as our ultimate end. Again, I’m an oddball.
    It is the context of any sex I am most concerned with, and for many gay people thinking about Christian terminology and history, bound-friendship seems to be the context most find fitting. Again, were sex to pass away in C and my growing delight in God together as brothers in the Spirit, I would not find myself terribly troubled, having learned something of hospitality in the acts and of my own inner affection and desires and demons. I would be troubled if we weren’t seeking to put on Christ, meaning grow in the virtues and growing in the fruits of the Spirit whether we were sexually active or not.

  15. Actually, Ruidh, Einstien’s explanation of the M-M experiment demostrates the concreteness of reality, in other words reality is able to prove our pet theories wrong. The observer and the experiment being inseperable sounds more like quantum physics, but even there the equations seem like they are trying to describe something that realy exists and can stand as a measure for the equations.
    That is what I took to be the point of what Fr. Nick said. We, the church, need to make sure we remain tied to the reality that is the world at least as much as we are tied to the reality that is God (which the teaching of the church is supposed to reflect by its base in Scripture, Tradition, and Reason). If the two seem to disagree then we need to try to get both to agree somehow and until they are harmonized we live witht the tension of saying that both are true as far as we know.
    Jon

  16. obadaiahslope says

    *Christopher,
    I should have made it clear that I was aware you were advocating for others on your blog. Or rather for space to consider these things. And I know that a fault of evangelicals is that we are often shrill and hasty in talking about these things.
    I agree that our ultimate marriage – corporately which is interesting in itself and a challenge to western thinking – is to God. You are the first blogger i have read on this subject that has made that point. Well done.
    Perhaps I have a higher view of scripture than you, considering it spoken from God and guarded by him. Because of its perspicacity scripture can look after itself, so lets pass on.
    It may also be that I am on the Genevan side of that Calvinist/Augustininan divide. But without letting thngs get too pelagian, I do want to affirm the goodness of the world, and God’s blessings. I hold back from using what flourishes as an index of scantification though. I am not sure we can do that. Are the richest closest to God? I know you are not saying that, but I worry.
    So in talking about sex i think your Dr(?) Bray has it right. It is an ambiguity in the sense he says it is, and possibly others as well. It cannpot be read or exegeted.
    and ultimately I think that means nicks project will result in ambiguity.
    Yes,in the eschaton we won’t relate that way. There will be no gays there, but no straights either AFAIK.
    The former Archbishop of Perth, Dr Carnley, once said that friendship is the context in which to discuss gay relationships. I wondered what gay people might think about that – i find your response illuminating. I wonder if the trajectory you describe is a common one. It sounds rather like Dr Jeffrey John’s.

  17. The Michelson-Morley Experiment and the Experience of Gay and Lesbian Christians – Fr. Nick Knisely

    Physicist-turned-priest Nick Knisely recalls that Einstein’s attitude toward the the Michelson-Morley experiment’s outlandish results was, in brief, to face the facts and deal with them. He suggests that Einstein’s example should inform the church’scur…

  18. Paul Martin says

    Obadaiahslope raises a valid point about the listening process. If this is really to be a process that does not presuppose the outcome of that conversation, we need to let go of all of our expectations, and admit the possiblity that we will not persuade one another. Too much of what passes for conversation has really been posturing or attempts at conversion. What is needed is a conversation whose intent is to understand one another. Listening to one another is not just a line in a Lambeth resolution; it is our charge as Christians. It is a request that we see one another as fellow children of God, and not as caricatures drawn to make some rhetorical point.

  19. Fr. Nick,
    First I would like to thank you. This is the first space on the net in a long while where it seems to me at least that we could have conversation without impugning one another’s Christian faithfulness and allowing that we can disagree without that being damaging to unity. Were that our churches were such spaces, but to be very honest, our churches are not open spaces for conversation among sisters and brothers, but often places enacting various dominances, framing matters not as mutual conversation, but as “justify yourself”.
    Paul’s point is welltaken, so let’s see if I can be more successful in trying to explain how I understand my relationship (as inadequate as that will be), though I do not in fact think that Christian speech can be completely without a desire to persuade, that persuasion being exhortation of one another to “look East”. How we do so, however, is important given that much Christian speech has in fact led to violence of various sorts.
    I also think that underlying our disagreements about sexuality as Anglicans are deeper unresolved issues and radical differences on how grace works, how we use Scripture (not just how we interpret Scripture) and how we view Scripture, and perhaps most importantly, how we support one another in our disagreement. This are not tangential to this conversation, but frame much of how we approach one another and conversation at all.
    obadiah,
    You asked an important question: here is a third possibility that Nick seems to exclude. That there may be much that is noble and good in a relationship, and growth too, without it being conclusive that the sexual path that is taken is God’s will.
    This is the same question that was asked of marriage by the monastics in the llth century because for most of Christian history both sex and marriage have been questionable matters. They concluded letting marriage into the sanctuary by determining that love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter) The sexual path itself was not conclusively ressolved, nor do I think it should or can be (and here I disagree with the Reformation and much of modernity). Our modern complete blessing of marriage (and hence heterosexual sex/sexuality), rather than the Medieval recognition of ambiguity, has led to my mind to automatic assumptions of virtuousness around marriage and therefore heterosexuality, which has led to marriage not being understood as ascesis and discipline of living out one’s life Christianly toward becoming images of God. Maximos would say that our being is God’s will, and that will is that we have friendship and communion and desire for God, so that only to the degree that sex leads us through our lover to desire God with all our being, including our bodies, can we say that sex comes to its proper eschatological end.
    I think without looking at the history of marriage and the real ambiguities and mess of it in Christian tradition, we won’t be able to deal fairly with same sex relationships because there are so many assumptions made by heterosexuals about marriage that are modern rather than traditional. In fact, I would suggest our rites need to return to using the Presanctified Gifts rather than a full Eucharistic celebration to recognize the liminality of a marriage or a friendship relationships, which may or may not come to express something of Christ’s relationship to the Church or of the relationship amongst members of the Body.
    I think what I am careful about pre- or pro- scribing sex or no sex, rather than letting a relationship develop within a vowed context focused on ascesis and growth in virtues over time within the context of the Christain community. Overanxiety, such as that we find in St. Augustine, is likely to keep us focused on ourselves rather than God and God’s working in us.
    I take my starting point as the desert elders and monasticism, which I have lately discovered has some sharing with queer theory, though I maintain the Christian hope of Resurrection that prevents the nihilism found in this theory(ies) at times.
    In the elders and monasticism, I see Christian traditions of the body and sex and gender and sexuality that are always bent by eschatology and refigured consciously to our ultimate end in God, so that what is important is our becoming an image, showing something of the character of God in our lives. It isn’t body-hating, but rather God-loving which requires ascesis, discipline not just of our sexual appetite, but of all our appetites. This monastic bent colors how I understand my relationship, but I don’t think it’s unique to me, as even Foucault goes this way in his late writings, and when named, many gay Christians I know go “aha!”, now I understand myself/my relationship a bit better. This understanding, I think, is the first step toward being conscious and conscientious about these matters.
    It also colors how I understand marriage. Marriage for me begins in God’s relationship within Godself, an eternal Being-in-Relationship of desirous friendship. Marriage is given in our baptism, not simply corporately but also personally, because it is ultimately about our communion/union with God, of being brought into this Divine Lovelife. Given this, when thinking about male/female, we end up with an omnigendered, queer Body that is always more than our paltry identities, including sexual and gender, because our baptism is more than these other identities, reorienting our identity in God’s will.
    Monasticism and celibacy remind me that the ultimate end of my lovemaking, my relationship, my life is God. At the same time marriage/friendships remind monasticism that we come to God through others. A particular marriage participates in God’s life to the degree that it manifests the fruits of the Spirit, the virtues, in which headship and servanthood becomes in excess of nature, rather how Christ relates to us, friendship and communion. I’m terribly iconic in this regard, and draw a great deal on Platonic thinking in using “points to”, “participates in” to both recognize God working through, with, and in us and to preserve the infinity of God’s always more than any of us or our metaphors and analogies.
    This is all to say that we all get so anxious about sex (yes. no. maybe. arguments) that we may be failing one another in helping one another with what is truly important to our working out of salvation in our relationships by too quickly moving to pre- or pro- scribe sex rather than looking to foster a godward orientation in all we do or don’t do. Such a fostering, to my mind, requires public offering of oneself/relationship to God and promises before witnesses, especially the saints in Heaven and the Eucharist.
    I think Dr. Carnley’s essay was helpful, as was Canon John’s, though my reflection on my relationship as friendship using the Gospel of John came before I had actually read anything in terms of queer theology. Friendship has a venerable history in Christianity, and it is through my particular friend, C, that I have found that both of us are becoming more generous, hospitable, patient, courageous, and so forth over time. Again, Benedictine monasticism shaped our vows as did the monastic tradition of brotherhood and friendship.
    One of the things that a listening process raises for me is that there is an implicit and too often explicit understanding that heterosexuality is “natural”, which is actually a way to my mind of shortchanging mutual listening and scrutiny by claiming an a priori “okay” state.
    As far as I understand theology, our naturalness is to the degree that we are imaging God, meaning the fruits of the Spirit or virtues–this by the way is what I mean be flourishing, not simply wanting one’s own pleasure, though such flourishing may involve pleasure, but it often moreso involves kenotic self-giving/sacrifice as well recognizing that in giving of ourselves our fleshly/”natural” selfishness of desires are brought to their good end in friendship and communion.
    Heterosexuality in and of itself is good, but perverse and distorted as far as I understand. Nazianzus and Maximos both placed sex and gender and sexuality within the realm of the Fall, with an understanding that our Fall is measured–beginning, present, and end–from the Eschaton what we were meant to be/are becoming/shall be which should have all oriented in thanksgiving to God (they do this by positing two Creations). Nazianzus praises his sister Macrina for becoming in excess of nature/contrary to nature in becoming assertive and a courageous leader doing societally what was though as both male and female roles. We see the same in the elders.
    I think where there is a disagreement for me is that I understand that same and opposite sex desire are both fallen, both being good, but capable of virtue and much vice. Both are perverse and distorted and must be pruned to ends in communion and friendship both of the partners and of the community especially through hospitality. Others have decided that same sex desire cannot possibly lead to friendship/communion/virtues if expressed (this is the meaning of instrinsically disordered) and therefore must be thought as foreign to the person rather than the way some humans learn to desire God. This can be tested somewhat in terms of anthropological sciences, as to whether indeed, same sex desires expressed in relationships fail friendship/communion/virtues.
    At this time in a true listening process, in which we truly recognize that all of us are Church, I think that it is not only queer lives that are under scrutiny and in need of telling, but straight lives. It isn’t clear to me, for example, that heterosexuals take marriage seriously as ascesis, for example, but rather it seems to often be self-justification of one’s desires and a way of fitting in or going along with what everyone else is doing. I think this was heightened in the Reformation traditions because we eliminated the religious life until recently, but now ironically, even Rome sounds like a Wedding magazine.
    Questions I have for those who are heterosexual, is “do you live with an inner existential angst around your sexual orientation and sexuality and its expression be it celibate or married or…?” Have you found yourselve wrestling with your sexuality questioning your call to celibacy or to union or its “okayness”?”
    I am coming to understand that my having to wrestle with my sexuality and call is actually a gift as I couldn’t simply default to the norm and that angst many queer folk live with is actually an eschatological angst recognizing that God is always doing more and we are thus liminal in relationship to God–we are queered continuously by God’s Spirit in us. Such an angst is a gift that gives space for us to consciously consider how we will construct our lives godwardly just as the elders and monastics did/do.
    I wonder if the shrillness in so much speech around naturalizing heterosexuality in the Church isn’t actually due to not naming this angst among heterosexuals and rather finding relief by projecting it onto those who are predominantly same sex in their erotic/affectional desires as that is much easier than facing not being “okay” and in need of pruning and prayerful consideration of call in living out one’s sexuality. And then in turn we who are same sex affected getting trapped in justifying or seeking space at all in the Church. And so on. It produces much ideology guised as theology often with the clout of religous authority, and it shortchanges our mutual exploration and conversation together and doesn’t serve any of us very well.

  20. Old and gray-headed says

    I would like to second the comments which point to the openness and civility of this conversation. It is a rare thing, and Nick deserves gold stars!!
    That said, I would like to enter the discussion first with a lengthy quote from Rowan Williams:
    ” There is a saying ascribed to Isidore the Priest warning that “of all evil suggestions, the most terrible is the prompting to follow your own heart.”13 Once again, the modern reader will be taken aback. “Follow what your heart says” is part of the standard popular wisdom of our day, like “following your dream.” Are we being told to suspect our deepest emotions and longings, when surely we have learned that we have to listen to what’s deepest in us and accept and nurture our real feelings? But the desert monastics would reply that, left to ourselves, the search for what the heart prompts is like peeling an onion; we are not going to arrive at a pure and simple set of inclinations. In the matter of self-examination, as in others, “the truth” is rarely “pure” and never “simple. “The desert means a stepping back from the great system of collusive fantasy in which I try to decide who I am, sometimes try to persuade you to tell me who I am (in accord, of course, with my preferences), sometimes use God as a reinforcement for my picture of myself, and so on and on. The “burden” of self-accusation, the suspicion of what the heart prompts, this is not about an inhuman austerity or self-hatred but about the need for us all to be coaxed into honesty by the confidence that God can forgive and heal. Henri de Lubac, one of the most outstanding Roman Catholic theologians of the twentieth century, put it with a clarity and brevity very hard to improve upon: “It is not sincerity, it is truth which frees us…. To seek sincerity above all things is perhaps, at bottom, not to want to be transformed.” He has also observed that “psychology alone is not suited, at least in the most subtle cases, to discern the difference between the authentic and the sham.”14 Like the desert teachers, he warns us against easy assumptions about the natural wisdom of the human heart.
    If the heart contains the love of God, one may wonder where is the danger of being guided by it? It is confusing on the surface, but there is something intelligible behind this contradiction. It was Abba Isidore who expressed strong reservations about being guided by the heart.These reservations have to do with listening to what you think are the promptings of your feelings. He wants us to be clear that listening to these promptings is not a guarantee of getting it right. “How can I be wrong if I am so sincere?” is not a Christian principle.
    If we can get to the true depth of the heart, what we find there is the echo of God’s creative word. Each one of us is a unique kind of echo of God. This does not mean that if we uncovered our deepest consciousness, we would find the Ten Commandments written there. It is that we are, by the very nature of our humanity, naturally attuned to the reality of God. Our task in growing up in the life of the spirit is to try to recover that attunement. I think of that, for example, when I listen to Bach, who somehow does a great deal more theology in a few bars of music than most do in many words.
    Deep down we are attuned to God, but we have jarred the harmonies in various ways. We are out of tune. The trouble then is that what we often listen to is the outof-tuneness, the habits of self-protection and self-regard. If that is what listening to the heart means, forget it. That is just canonizing what we think is going on in us. We have a lot of self-knowledge to acquire before we can truly listen to the heart.
    God alone will tell me who I “really” am, and he will do so only in the lifelong process of bringing my thoughts and longings into his presence without fear and deception. The central importance in desert practice of “manifesting your thoughts” to an elder is only partly about receiving good advice, getting your problems sorted out; it is more deeply about how the elder “stands in” for a truth that is greater than any human presence. The novice’s fugues and chains of fantasy or obsession are poured out, sometimes receiving only the barest of acknowledgments and very little we would think of as counseling, but the job has been done, because the novice has been learning not to “follow” the heart in the sense of taking what he discovers inside himself for granted but to see the heart in all of its complex, yearning, frightened actuality and to find words for it. When there is no manifestation of thoughts, there is no progress, as so many of the narratives make plain: “Nothing makes the enemy happier,” says John the Dwarf, “than those who do not manifest their thoughts.”‘ Defenselessness before the elder who represents God: that is the key to growth for the monks and nuns of the desert. It is not simply a matter of submitting to the authority of an elder to be told what to do. When the novice approaches the elder and says, in the usual formula, “Give me a word,” he or she is not asking for either a command or a solution but for a communication that can be received as a stimulus to grow into fuller life. It is never a theoretical matter, and the elders are scathing about those who simply want something to discuss.’ “The desert produced healers, not thinkers,” in the fine formulation of John Chryssavgis.17 The novice, in approaching the elder, both to manifest thoughts and to ask for a saving word, is becoming vulnerable, and that is the heart of the transformation that, as Father de Lubac says, we are by no means sure we really want, if that is what it costs.
    Rowan Williams. _Where God Happens: Discovering Christ in One Another._
    New Seeds Books. 2005. ISBN 1590302311. pp. 48-51 (Also published in
    the UK as _Silence and Honey Cakes_)
    What this quote says to me is that we must be VERY cautious in our use of experience in
    making theological and ethical statements–and it seems that Nick’s argument is based on the experience of GLBT
    folks.
    Secondly, and I am not trained as a philosolpher, it seems to me that Nick’s analogy between certain currently accepted
    physics ideas and the theology of human relationship, is a category mistake. Experimental evidence is not the same thing as experiential evidence.
    FWIW, I think that James Alison is pointing
    in a ‘different’ direction, which also seems to be where Christopher is pointing.
    Now I’ll see if this gets any response.

  21. There is much to consider in this thread of commentary, and you (collectively) have given me much to consider. There is nothing that I can add at this point other than my gratitude for a clear example of what it is to listen.
    Thank you,
    Jeffrey

  22. obadiahslope says

    *Christopher,
    Do I (as a heterosexual) have an existential angst regarding my sexuality? First let me say that this is a very fair question, and you are right to ask it.
    The answer is yes, to varying degrees throughout my life. I married in my late twenties, so I had an unfashionably long period of celibacy. I would think that a lot of the issues – and angst – for celebates are similar despite our sexual orientations. Culture is probably a bigger factor.
    But issues surrounding sexuality continued after marriage especially those you allude to regarding “but rather it seems to often be self-justification of one’s desires and a way of fitting in or going along with what everyone else is doing”.
    The first continues to be a problem. i am a sinful man and selfishness is a big issue for me.
    As i get older “fitting in’ is less and less an issue – and i live in a very tolerant society.
    I think you a right to look to God as the author of marriage and all that is best in our relationships. I think he rediscovery of the relationships in the trinity as amodel for us has been very helpfull. Perhaps i would not express it as a consequence of baptism but as the outgrowth of faith and the indwelling of the holy spirit. While I am eager to to “respect the dignity of every human being” I wonder if TEC puts too much weight on baptism., and not enough on faith. But that is probably for a different post.
    While i would not reject the notion that there is a degree of projection and pathologising about gay sex by theological conservatives, I think the stronger point you make is that heterosexual lives should not be unexamined ones. Thankyou.
    I think there is little doubt that sexuality has been affected by the fall. For heterosexuals there is the added complication that gender relationships have been affected too.

  23. Hi Old-and-grey-haired. Welcome!
    You write:

    What this quote says to me is that we must be VERY cautious in our use of experience in making theological and ethical statements–and it seems that Nick’s argument is based on the experience of GLBTfolks.
    Secondly, and I am not trained as a philosolpher, it seems to me that Nick’s analogy between certain currently accepted
    physics ideas and the theology of human relationship, is a category mistake. Experimental evidence is not the same thing as experiential evidence.

    I think you are exactly right in your first paragraph – the whole point of what I’m trying to say is that we need to take the experience of GLBT christians seriously. Just as we who are heterosexual are asking them to take our experience of monogamy seriously. I’m not drawing a conclusion here, I’m pointing out a possible avenue of inquiry. Drawing a conclusion from just this experience could well be problematic as you note, but as I say, that’s not what I’m suggesting.
    As to your second paragraph – certainly human experience is a different sort of data type than an extrinisic measurment of something like temperature or pressure would be. But I would argue that there is a well understood way of using collective and individual experience in a scientific way – we call it sociology and psychology. Unless I’m really misunderstanding what you mean, I’d suggest that the concern isn’t something that would invalidate the argument that I’m making.
    Note to all – thank you for the kind words about the discusssion here. The credit really belongs to all of you rather than to me. So let me thank all of you instead for your thoughtful contributions and helpful critiques of what is being posted. Yes – I do think this is a way that a real listening process can work.

  24. Paul Martin says

    Christopher,
    I did not intend my comment as a criticism. It was more of a general comment as I realized that some conservatives view the listening process with some suspicion.
    Thank you all for your comments. This has been a wonderful conversation.

  25. What this quote says to me is that we must be VERY cautious in our use of experience in making theological and ethical statements–and it seems that Nick’s argument is based on the experience of GLBT folks.
    But of course, “experience” is the central reason for Nostra Aetate in 1965. The Holocaust forced the Catholic Church to examine its own past policies and practices in regards to people of other faiths. (The declaration was passed by a vote of 2221 to 88.)
    We ourselves in the English Church have in the past prayed on Good Friday for the “perfidious Jews.”
    “Never again” is based exclusively in “experience.” And “theology” had failed the Church for 2,000 years.

  26. (And really: shouldn’t “experience” actually carry far more weight, rather than less, given the above?
    It’s very easy for “theology,” which rests on unproved and unprovable axioms, to get completely out of reality. It’s happened time and time again, in fact.)

  27. Paul Martin says

    My conclusion is that we should be cautious in our use of any resource (scripture, tradition or reason) to make theological or ethical judgements. Any of these can be in error. Science insists on an open process of peer review and extensive publication so that experiments can be repeated and data validated. We still make mistakes. It’s a part of the process. When we realize the difficulty of theological discernment, we learn humility.
    Each of us will make our own choice, consciously or not, in the degree of emphasis between scripture, tradition and reason. Where possible, I try to err in the direction of both/and rather than either/or. This is what impressed me about Christopher’s contribution. In proposing a new understanding, he held on to as much of the tradition as he could, rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Each side of our three legged stool serves to counterbalance the others. I am deeply suspicious of arguments that claim that one or more legs are unnecessary.

  28. Fr. Nick,
    I think your distinction is crucial. It is one thing to listen to the experiences of queer folk, which are valuable to the degree that we find folks who really wrestle with faith and their lives and come to conscientious decisions, who often do have experiences of suffering because of a variety of factors in our Church cultures and societal cultures that involve scapegoating and marginalization (which is a contradiciton to Baptism), and who wish to offer their relationships and lives in blessing to God. What this suggests, is that given experiences, we must be willing to reconsider if we’ve gotten all of the data, so to speak, especially when faced with serious and faithful fellow baptized. However, in a situation in which same sex desire irrupted to being named, having been previously constructed differently or gone unnamed, at a moment when a, same sex desire has often been constructed in ways Christian culture finds troubling, meaning promiscuity or serial monogamy. Of course, these days I can say the same for much of opposite and both sex desire.
    I also, however, think that one cannot in fact begin theology from experience with regard to sexuality per se at all because of the fragmented, unfixed, and to some degree constructed ways sexuality is framed in every culture, which changes over time–I could say the same for gender and understandings of sex. That is to say we can speak of opposite/same/both sex desire, but how that has been shaped culturally can be quite various. This is the reason I find much more thoughtfulness in the monastic traditions and now some queer theologians. This also means that I am critical of the conflation of heterosexuality and heterosexual marriage with discipleship in toto, as this is the flipside of using sexuality and gender per se as theological criterion. Both are caught in modernity.
    It is another thing to examine using the tools we have in sociology and psychology to discover if we can find personal flourishing–meaning again virtues, as well as communally beneficial effects (that we look at both is crucial because psychology alone can , and sociology alone can. The fruits of the Spirit are data in some sense, indeed, it was these that led Peter into being led to reassessment of Gentiles by the Spirit. James Alison has in fact written a fair bit about this in essays at his website.
    I do think these days, however, that those who are ssa, osa, and bsa might consider the Christian tradition of monogamy, which is a Christian cultural shaping (in response to my second paragraph) as I’ve seen too little to suggest these days that monogamy among those osa is in fact taken seriously even when married as ascesis and discipleship, for all of the words otherwise. I rarely hear about the experiences of monogamy among those who are osa beyond the sickening romanticism of our culture, which the Church fosters and cooperates with.
    What is even more furstrating is when there are those like myself who in trying to adapt what I do consider a skillful means of the tradition, monogamy, find ourselves given lots of words of accountability with very little support–it comes across as hypocritical. It’s hard to take without some grain of salt exhortations or experiences of monogamy by those with a full range of supports when doing this oneself without such supports. The most I can say is that heterosexuals have within Christianity handed along the tradition of monogamy, but you are not its only bearers.
    So let me as a man in a relationship with another man speak of monogamy. For myself, monogamy is a context in which I cannot easily avoid facing my less than stellar moments, in which I wake up in the morning unable to escape facing if I sinned against my brother. Monogamy is a context overtime to work out what it means to be becoming more an image of God with another. Most days its quite well everyday, even boring, which is where the changes, Benedict, would say happen.
    And at the same time monogamy is terribly dangerous and risky for any of us, but moreso where support is lacking. What this has meant in practice has been that our support structure has been more our family than the Church (though they are Church being baptized), that our ceremony to bless God with our lives and exchange vows before the saints and in the Eucharist was outside of an institutional context though not outside of a Church context, and that I don’t overly rely on the Church at all for living out my life as a Christian in regard to my relationship. The elders are role models because neither did they.
    I could say the same thing and moreso for celibacy in Reformation traditions and these days in the Roman tradition as well.
    obadiah,
    I think that your thougths on Baptism illustrate one of those theological differences in starting point that frame so much of the present vitriol. I take Baptism to be that we undergo (emphasis on this being done to us) Baptism, because it is by God’s grace that we are being taken into this new way of being, and in that sense I think in terms of Aquinas’ “ex opere operato” or Luther’s promises because even our faith is first God’s work in us, and any justice we do one another is because our identity is first and foremost an heir and child of God, not gay and straight, or male and female. Living into Baptism is a process even as we are promised the End. Unions are one way of living into that process, which I would call discipleship.
    You are the first to ever seriously respond to my question about heterosexual angst. I also wonder though how usual either you or I are with regard to having had a longer period of celibacy, which requires some matter of reflection about such things in ways many folks never seem to do.
    It is not so much that I look to God as the author of marriage, as that God Is Marriage (as Being and Relationship are eternally arising as one in God), and any relationship we have that we would term marriage must in some way be being conformed to Trinitarian relating, which is Marriage–again my Platonism and my sense that God acts through, with, in and upon us because God is for us–many frame God in opposition to us, but where we are working to become more Trinitarian in our relating, God is in tandem with us–the East calls this synergism. In other words Marriage is first and foremost a way of describing God’s intrarelationship, which our own relationsihps can point to and participate, even image, but never finally be conflated with–to do so would be idolatry. To say God is the author of marriage would be to have set up something institutionalized complete and closed in the past, but I do not understand our fall that way but that our fall is from the side of the Eschaton, which leaves space open for continuing Creation (I draw mostly on the Eastern Fathers in my thinking on this matter), and necessitates that we now live in a liminal pilgrimage space on our way to becoming Marriage.
    That means the our blessing of God with our lives and making promises before the community are give the grace to live into our past/present/future glory, but not without our participation and ascesis which is itself God’s undertaking (all is by grace). I would say the same for gay friendships, which in the end show us another insight or aspect on that same intraTrinitarian relationship to the degree they participate in Trinitarian relating. In both cases, that relating is kenotic (self-giving/sacrificial), perichoretic (interpenetrating and mutually forming), and must show forth something of the character of God in what we call fruits or virtues.
    Our fallenness not only affects intergender relationships, but also intragender relationships. Look at the ways men treat one another, for example (and there are interesting psychological counseling works on the unique ways gay relationships have to work past cultural formations of manhood). The famed quote from Himmler I used in my first ponderings on gay friendship says a lot:
    “Anyone who thinks of homosexual ‚Äúlove‚Äù is our enemy. We reject anything which emasculates our people and makes it a plaything for our enemies, for we know that life is fight, and it is madness to think that men will ever embrace fraternally”
    I wrote about this on my first theological reflection on gay relationships: Friends With Benefits.
    I understand that same and opposite and both sex desire are a result of the Fall (meaning from this side of the Eschaton), since in the Resurrection all of our desire will pass through purely and wholly to God, and that all of these desires at present not so harnessed illustrate fractures and fragments in our being that only God can ultimately fill (they are good in that they were given to us to desire God, they are fallen in that we would rather orient ourselves toward only ourselves/one another). In some sense, Freud was correct in that we seek out “lost” pieces. In nowise can taking another person in fact fill these fragments and fractures, and that is in fact what it seems to me is too often suggested by heterosexual Christians, muchless the cultures we live in.
    What I will say is that in taking another as a mate/friend, one begins a process of “healing” that overtime through the other man or woman, one finds oneself being reoriented through him/her toward God and each potentially becomes more transparent, having more of God’s character in virtues. This is always God’s work for us and in us. All of us are in need of reorientation therapy around our sexuality, some do this in celibacy (which is also a participation in Marriage) others in sexual relationship–these are skillful means which our Church culture has generally recommended.
    Again, I would say similar things about gender in that gender itself is fallen.

  29. Oops, fragments, so corrections:
    However, in a situation in which same sex desire irrupted to being named, having been previously constructed differently or gone unnamed, at a moment when a clinical homosexual/heterosexual construction has framed our desires, same sex desire has often been constructed in ways Christian culture finds troubling, meaning promiscuity or serial monogamy. Of course, these days I can say the same for much of opposite and both sex desire.
    ….
    It is another thing to examine using the tools we have in sociology and psychology to discover if we can find personal flourishing–meaning again virtues, as well as communally beneficial effects (that we look at both is crucial because psychology alone can tell us only about intraexperiences, and sociology alone can only tell us about interexperiences. Both can deceive…after all it seems good for groups that some work themselves to death or be the marginalized. It seems good for individuals if a large number starve while he or she has much). The fruits of the Spirit are data in some sense, indeed, it was these that led Peter into being led to reassessment of Gentiles by the Spirit. James Alison has in fact written a fair bit about this in essays at his website.

  30. My conclusion is that we should be cautious in our use of any resource (scripture, tradition or reason) to make theological or ethical judgements. Any of these can be in error. Science insists on an open process of peer review and extensive publication so that experiments can be repeated and data validated. We still make mistakes. It’s a part of the process. When we realize the difficulty of theological discernment, we learn humility.
    You know, I disagree that Scripture and Tradition should play any sort of role when we’re tallking about the physical or psychological destruction of human beings. First, do no harm; that should be our aim.
    When Scripture and Tradition destroy people – as they did in the case of the Jewish people, via the actions of Church councils and the bigotry of individuals over the course of 2,000 years – it’s time to put them away. In this case, too; it’s time to put them both away.
    The world has destroyed gay people until very, very recently. Even when it stopped physically murdering us, it decimated us psychologically; it made us kill ourselves to save itself the trouble. It’s amazing to realize that many people don’t even know this any more – but shame and self-loathing and crushing depression and suicide were the central facts of gay life until very, very recently. This history should not be forgotten – but it is being forgotten.
    Thank God, at this point, most of that’s over. The secular world has more pity and good sense than religion seems to. But Scripture and Tradition are nothing when they destroy people. Worse than nothing, in fact: they become wrong things in themselves.
    “Experience” is very, very important. The Church has never understood this, to its own detriment.

  31. (That’s not to say that we shouldn’t work on theology, and it’s not to say that eventually we shouldn’t look at Scripture and Tradition with fresh eyes.
    But that comes later; in extremis, experience comes first. Jews know this; when lives are at stake, the Law can be broken. First, the Church needs to listen to the effects – on real, living individuals = of what it claims as Truth. Because needless to say, the destruction of human beings – of God’s own creatures – is not a Christian truth.)

  32. Old and gray-headed says

    Nick, you wrote
    “But I would argue that there is a well understood way of using collective and individual experience in a scientific way – we call it sociology and psychology. Unless I’m really misunderstanding what you mean, I’d suggest that the concern isn’t something that would invalidate the argument that I’m making.”
    I’m a Clinical Social Worker, as well as a priest (temporal order reversed!), and there is an enormous difference between the data source of the ‘soft’ sciences such as sociology, and the harder sciences. When questionaires are made up, interviews and longitudinal studies analyzed–the bias, often unknown, can very easily sway the interpretation. Perhaps that is why medicine is often termed ‘art, not science.’
    All that said, I agree that the experience of GLBT persons ought to listened to, but not only the self-affirming, but also the self-loathing, and all those inbetween.
    I continue to think that God IS doing a new
    thing, and it will set EVERYONE’S teeth on
    edge.
    Thanks for the welcome.

  33. Paul Martin says

    bls,
    OK, I’ll flesh out the argument a bit. My personal bias is very much in favor of reason. I agree that we have to take the witness of the gay and lesbian community seriously. Failing to do this does violence to the truth, as well as to GLBT persons.
    I also insist that there is more than one way to read scripture and tradition. Appeal to scripture does not always refer to the conservative, legalistic interpretation. The tradition is far richer than that.
    Scripture and tradition are not monolithic. They contain many voices, some of which are contradictory. As I read your post, I see the influence of the Gospels and of the the Hebrew prophetic tradition in your concern for the outcast. You are very much in tune with scripture; you are just rejecting the “clobber verses” in favor of the larger themes of the prophetic witness.

  34. All that said, I agree that the experience of GLBT persons ought to listened to, but not only the self-affirming, but also the self-loathing, and all those inbetween.
    I continue to think that God IS doing a new
    thing, and it will set EVERYONE’S teeth on
    edge.

    Yes, I agree with this. But it’s not happening, and that, I think, was the point of this discussion.

  35. I also insist that there is more than one way to read scripture and tradition. Appeal to scripture does not always refer to the conservative, legalistic interpretation. The tradition is far richer than that.
    Yes, Paul – you’re right. My point, really, was that we need to identify what the problems are, and put aside the things that cause them. That is, certain readings of Scripture, and the way that Tradition has been is being understood.
    It didn’t come out quite that way, I realize. But shouldn’t the Church take a lesson from its own past and its own errors? It never seems to – and then of course it never has a chance to repent of these errors, either, although it continually calls us as individuals to repentence. And I agree that that is correct; we must repent and return to the Lord.
    And so must the Church, or it stays in its sins. That’s where we fail.

  36. Old and gray-headed and Paul,
    I think we are dealing with an anthropological matter (this is why I stubbornly refuse to accept when some would conflate this with dogma, which is about God, and only in derivative about us, and finally only from that about how we might ask what our response might be given God and who we are to become–ethics/morals), so we have to use the best tools we have to bring to bear on the matter. These aren’t perfect tools, but in fact, I don’t think the tools of hard sciences are either–biases arise there as well all the time. Our understanding shifts, reforms, deepens. I might add, in your quote from the elders, that it is not only that queer hearts might be deceived, but straight hearts. So, all of us are in limbo, which is not how the institutions of our Church, nor our leaders tend to be acting in their pronouncements and sayings.
    I think as Christians we also have our own set of tools: the fruits of the Spirit. These are eschatological tools, asking rather who we were meant to be, are becoming, and shall be. These tools ask whether in our circumstances we are becoming images of God over time. Application of these tools and discernment has often been the gift of some within the Body, those whom we call confessors and spiritual directors and elders, and it is these, often contemplatives, who should be the ones at the center of a Communion-wide discernment process.
    ++Cantuar is a contemplative, but because of his power position, I would think it wise to bring in rather non-ordained monks and nuns and lay contemplatives with such gifts, as I see him battered by spirits all about that have led to a non-pastoral frame of mind and the ordained as Benedict warns are too easily tempted to misuse of power in the community, especially when dealing with sensitive matters. I trust our monastics and contemplatives the most in this area because they are left outside the self-affirmation discourse of heterosexual marriage.
    Both C and I regularly submit ourselves the direction of such as these, and it is quite fruitful. In pastoral terms, this does mean that not every priest is such as these, though some few are and all in their sacramental role in the confessional are given the grace to offer a healing word, not simply a moralizing judgment or easy grace. (though I’ve experienced some who are quite equipped to block out said grace. I’ve gotten up once or twice and walked out, telling him/her I’m going to look for a priest. One for being viciously anti-gay, the other for offering too easy words about only hurting myself, so of little consequence, without seeking the deeper sickness about certain auto-activities in which I’d indulged and found myself convicted of by the Spirit).
    And I think these tools/fruits must be applied across the board to every relationship, monastic, married, brother/sistermade, and otherwise. The present conflation of heterosexual marriage with holiness and discipleship without caveat has short-changed accountability and likely not offered the pastoral supports for living into marriage godwardly. For all of the lauding of heterosexual marriage in Church and society, I’ve known more virtuous gay relationships than heterosexual marriages, so I find the present finger pointing deeply hypocritical and self-serving, even self-worshipping but because those with heterosexual desires have been taught to think their desires natural, tend not to recognize that desire not first godward and showing forth virtues is not natural).
    I’m also not one to say that celibacy equals holiness, having known some quite vicious nuns, monks, and priests. In that sense, I find myself more comfortable with Obadiah because I know we will at least be exhorting one another as baptized brothers in the race even if we disagree or are unsure of one another’s circumstances.
    I do not think that God is per se doing a new thing, but rather making something new, or in the way we work with God in bringing creation to completion however always broken and imperfect (culture), in this case, revealing for one thing that how we socially and culturally construct outlets for desire are somewhat in flux. For centuries, monasticism and it seems through the discretion of sworn friendships, those who are same-sex attracted had ways of “expressing” their desires in a godward direction.
    I am hesitant to place sex at the center of either of these expressions, though read carefully, it is clear some touching (for sex is within the realm of touch not simply of reproduction, which itself arose from eating in unicellural organisms as best we can tell) happened within some friendships. But sex cannot save us, nor in and of themselves can our desires (and it does seem to me that many who claim to be “conservative” do suggest that if we become heterosexual we would have salvation. This is nonsense and idolatry in my understanding because heterosexual desire is also a result of the Fall, not simply fallen, though it is that. I say this because the Eschaton was at the beginning/present/end–in which our desires were always being drawn godwardly and we often did/do otherwise. That we desire one another before God reveals our desires fallen no matter who that other is. It becomes a matter of the redemption of desire in a process.) I don’t need to have opposite sex desire, which I have nigh nill, but God desire reorienting my same sex desire toward growth in the Spirit–the virtues, those things which show something of the character of God that I might be more and more an image and likeness. I considered monastic life seriously but because I burn terribly, to the point of considering promiscuity, a monogamous sexual relationship seemed the skillful means by which to come to love another as a brother and in doing so through him to circumcise my heart finally to celibacy: desire for God in all things. This is at the heart of the rite
    we underwent in June binding our joys and desires godwardly in vows.
    I do not affirm myself so much as a gay man anymore, but as a baptized heir–and that means my gender/sexual identities are non-ultimate, not even penultimate–ultimate being God, penultimate being my desire for God, gender/sexuality further down being of importance only in so much as they are shaped godwardly. We as a whole, however, are caught up both hetero- and homo- and bi- in self-affirming discourse. We are all caught in an idolatry of gender and sexuality and sex.
    In looking at gay cultures, I see bright moments and terrible excesses. Many I’ve known who are self-loathing, including myself at certain points in my life, despair because we take our Christianity seriously (often it seems to me, religious gay folks are placed in terrible quandries because we are often so drawn to faith) but gay cultures through releasing desire are like heterosexual society (and much of the Church) releasing not toward worship, but toward the self and one another sans God, and not in an iconic/sacramental way. My poem to Christ that I published this morning may shock, but it is clear that the desire (eros) for Christ should take up and reform our desires for one another. When pure, our desire for another will go wholly toward God and that in no way diminishes myself or my brother, but being completely toward God, builds us both up.
    I think we have to tread so very carefully with self-loathing, having been there, and knowing how close I came to killing myself more than once, and still struggle sometimes with these demons which I understand come from being within an essentially cultural nexus that as bls points out has generally wanted us dead or asked us to do it for the culture–which reveals something of how fallen our cultural constructions of same/both sex desire are if it demands our death physically/psychologically/spiritually for the sake of the group.
    The Good News is not that I am attracted to other men, though I smile at the thought, but that God is attracted to me, which makes me smile the more, and wishes through my attraction to men, to reshape my homoaffectional orientation to a Godaffectional orientation over time.
    I think too many want to either shape my desire to heterosexuality, making an idol of their own desires, or want to shortchange a process by insisting upon my celibacy when that way of ascesis may not come by instantaneous conversion (as if they are not in need of such themselves!), but through another over time. And I want to then turn this back on the heterosexually married: are you willing in time to consider celibacy–meaning desire completely toward God, as where marriage might bring you? After all, in the end, you will call one another sister and brother, not husband and wife, nor father and mother, just as my partner shall be my brother and a co-lover of Christ in eternity.
    At heart there has been an identification of the Church with heterosexual desire in modernity and with strict two-sex genderization unknown to our ancestors.
    This is perhaps telling of my conservatism, in that I speak about making something new rather than doing a new thing, in wishing to preserve the cream of the tradition, which I locate in the monastics because they upset this heterosexualizing of the Church. The true prophet does not overturn the tables to leave us with nothing (an iconoclast) or to innovate without pointing us deeper (an idolater), but brings something forward to take us deeper into the tradition–what is at the heart of our faith through the various layers (an iconophile). bls is in some way doing that be showing us something of the clearing away needed to sometimes see through–we call that the apophatic in Christian faith. In fact, it seems to me with regard to the Teaching (Law) Judaism has tended to be more compassionate than most of Christianity, long ago having exceptions for the hermaphrodite in the Talmud, for example.
    I don’t ignore the clobber passages. I want to understand that they are condemning same sex activity. I want to understand why they are doing so. I want to understand how we apply such passages to a radically different set of circumstances in which it seems to me, the Golden Rule comes first for it is at the heart of any natural law. I want to understand that equivalent condemnatory accounts of opposite sex desire are not conflated to opposite sex sexuality in toto though the brutality can be every bit as wicked as male-male rape. From here, it seems perfectly within the depth of the tradition to speak that a husband and wife can sodomize one another by having sex in the “usual way” (penile-vaginal) if lust (domination and possession) are at the heart of their sex even if they are open to procreation (for they may be thinking of producing only for themselves and their salvation which is the ultimate idolatry as we cannot save ourselves even through children, who after all are not ours to begin with but gifts of God to the Church). We might call that “f” rather than lovemaking.
    I also want to understand that at the depth of the tradition, every sex act, carries with it ambiguity even when opened with prayer and thanksgiving, because our appetites are a mixed lot (beginning with eating, hence the “reformation” of eating at the heart of our Divine Service). Only over time, and I would say with times of abstinence, prayer, thanksgiving, regular work with a confessor/spiritual director, and perhaps as the fire is reoriented mutual celibacy, would purification come. Again, our modernist Churchly blessing of heterosexuality without reserve has done away with this ambiguity to our detriment and to the detriment of discipleship.
    I can’t make anyone happy. I won’t admit in toto blessing of heterosexual desire, nor will I do the same for homosexual or bisexual desire. Rather let us bless God with our lives and in our desires. Straight is not holy, gay is not good: Only God is these things, so seek Him wholly. All our desires are a “result” of the Fall, meaning that from the Eschaton, all desire will be godward, and are therefore fallen, and our cultures of desire (the Church and larger society being heterosexual and the queer subcultures) are mostly self-focused and most dangerously in opposite sex desire with a nagging suspicion one can save oneself by procreation or affirmation of a two-sex model of self-formation both of which are not in the End.

  37. Old and Grey-headed:
    You wrote:

    I’m a Clinical Social Worker, as well as a priest (temporal order reversed!), and there is an enormous difference between the data source of the ‘soft’ sciences such as sociology, and the harder sciences. When questionaires are made up, interviews and longitudinal studies analyzed–the bias, often unknown, can very easily sway the interpretation. Perhaps that is why medicine is often termed ‘art, not science.’

    I think you have a much higher view of data in the hard sciences than is warranted. Grin.
    Seriously. In Astronomy at least we’re often delighted to be able to get a model and observation to be within an order of magnitude of each other. It’s a very rare astronomical phenomenon that can be explained any better than anything I’ve seen in the “soft” sciences.
    But the second part of your point about the bad experience of GLBT people is well taken. Of course correlation doesn’t imply causation, so we’ll have to try to tease out the cause of the self-loathing you describe. (And try to normalize that against the sort of self-loathing heterosexuals feel too.)

  38. some American opinions

    Here is a selection of recent items related to current debates: Nick Knisely The Michelson-Morley Experiment and the Experience of Gay and Lesbian Christians Teresa Mathes Don‚Äôt Call Them Conservatives Paul Zahl interviewed in the Church of Ireland Gaz…

  39. DaveW says

    I dont believe any heterosexual or straight people come into the church nor have I ever heard of anyone tell me they are straight and heterosexual and come into the church/ So why would anyone expect me to believe ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ people come into the church? Gos doesnt see people people as sexual He sees them as man and woman, as male and female.
    One of the key points was
    <>
    Then I dont think they are transformed by the renewing of their minds. Their sexual desires wont necessarily change but they will have to resist sexual temptation just like any other Christian if they have their minds transformed.
    The Holy Spirit cant speak against what Jesus taught otherwise it isnt the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised.
    This sounds more like a sexual desire based discussion than something of God’s will and purpose.
    Peace and blessings, God is Love.

  40. Dave,
    How do you know God doesn’t see the fullness of persons including their sexuality and desires? I would argue God uses not just our gender but our sexuality so as to lim us toward God’s own life. To say otherwise is to suggest that a part of the human being, the sexual, is outside of what God brings into the Church by Baptism.
    What you actually suggest here without being straightforward is that male and female is equated with heterosexuality, so there is no need to see anything else.
    That is part of the disputation and conversation and discernment, some are saying we need to step back and see and some are asking that we be seen, not by God, but in the community, and not for simple self-gratification, but that we have appropriate ways of ascesis to live our lives Christianly without pat resorts to celibacy without full examination. Paul lists a whole number of things God saw, beginning with Jew and Gentile as primary category, and God overturns these in every case, not so that Jews aren’t still Jews and Gentiles aren’t still Gentiles but that each is saved in their way.
    What is more troubling for me, is that I think here was one place where I could share how I frame my life, how I am trying to live as a faithful Christian in a same sex relationship drawing upon the faith once delivered. Where I could meet thoughtful others who spurred me on in the race even when we disagree about my choice, and we could find fellowship even though we’re not of one mind. You, however, drop in with assertions, share nothing about your own life, and leave us with a done deal. That isn’t conversation, rather it is designed to close the case.
    God is indeed Love and within that love, that includes eros, so speaking about these matters is important for its part of how God works through us to save us.

  41. DaveW says

    Dear Christopher,
    Thank you for your response and your questions.
    You wrote
    “How do you know God doesn’t see the fullness of persons including their sexuality and desires?”
    We know God knows we have sexual desires through Jesus teaching and the scriptures, but the fullness of people is found in Christ and our desires for Him and His teaching and His life.
    You wrote
    “What you actually suggest here without being straightforward is that male and female is equated with heterosexuality, so there is no need to see anything else.”
    Well I dont see heterosexuality or homosexuality as such, they are modern concepts, but we can recognise the desires for sex with the opposite sex and the same sex, this occurs through time and throughout the scriptures. A desire we have may be good or bad. Sex isn’t outside what God has created, God created woman for man so that the man and the woman would become one flesh Genesis 2, Matthew 19, Ephesians 5, 1 Corinthians 6 etc.
    I would also add that I have many many same sex relationships, in fact anyone I have fellowship or friendship with, just as Jesus did with His disciples, but I don’t have sex with them as same-sex sex is a sin and against God’s creation, Genesis 19, Leviticus 18 & 20, Judges 19, Matthew 15, Mark 7, 1 Corinthians 6, 1 Timothy 1, Romans 1.
    You wrote
    “You, however, drop in with assertions, share nothing about your own life, and leave us with a done deal. That isn’t conversation, rather it is designed to close the case. ”
    With respect and I say this in love and honesty, it looks like it closes the case between us as I think your case is plain wrong. Nor do I think God’s word and Jesus teaching is assertions so much as the truth the way and the life.
    You wrote
    “God is indeed Love and within that love, that includes eros, so speaking about these matters is important for its part of how God works through us to save us. ”
    Then I disagree with you as ‘eros’ isnt found in the New Testament. God is love and we know that because Jesus died for us as an atoning sacrifice for our sin; thats an ultimate agape love that is sacrificial and unconditional. Its also finished and done, Jesus has made the way for all, God has shown His love to us and made a way for our salvation. Our slavation is worked out by us loving God through Jesus teaching and the Holy Spirit
    God bless you Christopher

  42. You’re putting the cart before the horse a bit to conclude the discernment before the discussion even begins, especially since you ignore the experiences of your brothers and sisters. It is certainly true that experience is not definitive of how we ought to act, but ignoring experience can lead to requiring the genuinely impossible of our brothers and sisters. Likewise, simply saying this is what scripture says doesn’t give us any useful information about how we ought to behave because it rejects the neccesary tasks of exigesis and theologizing based upon the exigesis. Both of these are intelectual tasks so no one can legitimately claim to infallibly speak the will of God based upon their conclusions.
    IIRC Pope Benedict had some interesting reflections on Eros and Agape in his most recent encyclical Deus Caritas Est, one part of which (again IIRC) slightly blurred the line between Eros and Agape.
    Jon

  43. J. C. Fisher says

    same-sex sex is a sin and against God’s creation, Genesis 19, Leviticus 18 & 20, Judges 19, Matthew 15, Mark 7, 1 Corinthians 6, 1 Timothy 1, Romans 1.
    DaveW, you can list *every* Scripture passage between Genesis 1:1 and Revelation 22:21 if you want to, and that still won’t prove your (non-Biblical) opinion above!

  44. I do not see any connection between Einstein and sexual orientation. Everyone is free to choose his sexual behavior and to express his God faith.

  45. Craig Goodrich says

    I came across this very interesting long-dead thread in the course of a search.
    I have several problems with your syllogism:
    First, unlike the physical phenomena of Creation, God is not subject to experiment. We are specifically told not to test God, and in the Book of Job we learn that His ways are not our ways. So there is an important sense in which your reasoning is based on what is from the point of view of Vincentian Christianity a category error. The Anglican invocation of Reason is to assist in interpreting Scripture, not bowdlerizing it or supplanting it.
    Second, as to monogamous relationships, in a fallen world we often are faced with situations in which there do not appear to be any “perfect” alternatives, and if a man finds himself in a situation where he believes he must steal bread to feed his children, our moral intuition tells us that it is somehow preferable for him to steal a loaf from a wealthy baker rather than from a starving widow. But this does not mean that theft has become moral, or that the Church should stop condemning it, or even that this particular theft is moral.
    Third, the notion that the Church should listen to people’s experience and reevaluate its doctrine on that basis is 180 degrees backwards from the way believers have approached the Church for three millennia. The view has always been that people should listen to the Church and judge their behavior and perceptions accordingly. It isn’t at all clear why a special exception should be made for one particular form of temptation to sin, however strong that temptation may be.
    This is not to say that we should not pay close attention to what homosexuals say about their lives, perceptions, special temptations, and so on in devising and refining charitable and effective pastoral approaches; indeed, that’s what Lambeth I.10 unambiguously and wholeheartedly endorses. But we do not change the doctrine of the Church on that basis.
    Fourth, the syllogism seems to be based on a rather curious “Santa Claus” view of God, and I’m not sure what to make of it. Clearly innumerable sincere Christians have prayed all their lives for relief from one particular burden or another, only to have the burden remain with them to their graves. This has always been understood — what ever happened to “Take up your cross and follow Me”? Or have I misunderstood your point?
    At any rate, thanks for a very thought-provoking discussion.

  46. Craig – thanks for your response to my nattering.
    Just a brief sketch of a response – I’ve just gotten home from working on the Mexican-American border and I’m bone tired, so a more nuanced and thoughtful response to your post will have to wait…
    1. I’ve always been nervous with claiming that God’s truth is somehow different than all our other human truths. Human truth (scientific truth) must be verified before it become normative. While I’m very sympathetic to the idea that God’s truth is revealed and therefore exempt from needing to be verified, my real fear is that when we press that point too hard, we end up putting God’s truth into a ghetto. Witness the “know nothing” instance that dinosaurs never existed. In the attempt to protect a truth by revelation we end up insisting that God is asking us to believe something that goes against every other understanding of how reality works.
    2. Anglican moral theology has always insisted that “circumstances alter cases”. To insist on absolutes in moral theology in the way that you do here is to take us to a place that is very interesting, but is not demonstrably Anglican. And as an Anglican priest, I’m not sure I can go where you lead. (Grin.)
    3. I’m reminded of Acts 10 and Acts 11:1-18 here…
    4. This one needs a more careful response. Let me promise one after I’ve had a shower and a chance to catch up on sleep…

Comments are closed.