Chuck Blanchard, a parishioner at Trinity Cathedral, has been bloggin’ up a storm this past week. He’s already landed in the thicket of questions surrounding human sexual orientation.
In one of his latest posts he talks about a bit about how he has tried to find his way through the tangle and explains a bit more about how human experience interacts with theological norms:
“In an earlier post I noted the fact that it was our personal experiences with gay and lesbians that led us to take a hard look at the theology of same sex relationships. Since I was criticized by Hansoniana (in a kind way) for arguing that theology should be developed by these personal experiences alone, let me be clear: my point was that these personal experience merely lead to the inquiry, they themselves do not answer the theological question. Nonetheless, these experiences offered us important empirical information that can inform the theological exploration in at least two instances. First, these personal experiences confirmed that sexual orientation is innate, and not chosen. Second, these experiences showed that same sex relationships can be filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”
I tried to leave a comment on his blog but for some reason wasn’t able to do so – I was probably messing something up – so I’ll have to respond here.
But there’s an implicit thinking in that essay that I really need to make more explicit. It has to do with the methodology of using human experience as a theological source or even as a norm. It is my understanding that one of the differences between the Methodist Church and the Episcopal Church is that Methodists explicitly allow human experience into the Episcopal triad of Scripture, Tradition and Reason as one of the sources of theological inquiry. If it’s not true for Methodists, it’s certainly true for some of the newer methods of doing theology (feminist, liberation, queer, etc.)
The standard critique of using human experience as a source for theology is that one of the tenets of the faith is that our human nature is ontologically flowed. If we can’t fully trust reason – which we supplement with other sources – then how much less can we trust our human experience.
But, as I argue in that paper, there is I believe a way to use human experience in theologically useful manner.
In a nutshell then, the way theological inquiry really works is that we begin by having an experience. Something about that experience seems holy or connected to God. We test that sense of the numinous by examining our triad of sources and norms to see if that sense can be validated. In other words, experience is the source of our theological inquiry in that it leads us to ask the questions in the first place.
(I really need to write this up in a more formal way, but hopefully you get the idea.)
This is a question I’ve been thinking about for years because it seems to me to be at the core of how science and religion need to interact when it comes to moral questions. (Science is not only the source of the experience but it is also strongly present in the use of Reason as a norm.)
NB: Some have argued that human experience is already included in the triad of Anglican norms as part of human reason. I think they’re right – but I would still insist that human experience has then a two-fold role.
Read the rest here: Another Priest’s View of Gays and Lesbians and Faith
(Via A Guy in the Pew.)