Thursday, June 26, 2008


I have just been reading come of the papers submitted to the Primate's Theological Commission dealing with the request from General Synod for more about the blessing of same-sex relationships. First, I will confess that I am biased and most people know in what direction (and if you don't already know, it will rapidly become clear.) I will agree on at least one thing though. I do believe, especially in Canada where same-sex couples can be married, that we need to look at this through the lens of marriage. If we were to bless same-sex relationships outside of marriage, we would, in all fairness, have to look at blessing opposite-sex relationships outside of marriage (with which I will also admit to not having a problem as long as they qualify under the criteria of adult, healthy, committed etc.)

My beef for awhile has been a falling back on the early church fathers and tradition. I have done a fair amount of reading by feminist authors (I know - quel surprise first, that I actually read anything through to the end and second, that I would read feminist authors.) It has become clear how shaky the ground was behind many of strictures against the feminine and women. To large extent it was based on Plato's understandings and the resulting world-view that the feminine is inferior to the masculine. This created structures and mind-sets of fear of being considered feminine or having traits of the feminine. I could go into this in way more depth, but unlike usual, I am not feeling particularly verbose today - too much time spent doing research on church programs.

Suffice it to say that many prohibitions were placed on women because of an assumption of the inferiority of the feminine (decided by a man or men) and a tradition of exlusion and, at various times, oppression ensued. Today, we have a better understanding of sexuality and have made a fair amount of headway - although we still have a long way to go before we embrace a wholistic understanding of human sexuality.

I have respect for the writers of these papers as academics and learned men. I struggle to interact on an academic level for I willingly acknowledge that I am more intuitive and experiential. I have only read two of the papers so far and will probably have to read them a few more times before I fully understand what they are presenting. However, there are a couple of points that come to mind, in general, as I am reading.

The first paper I read was "What Would John Henry Newman Do?" by Dr. George Sumner. (First of all, until I went to seminary I had never heard of John Henry Newman so I guess even knowing who he is now is a sign that something sunk in at Emmanuel.) Dr. Sumner speaks of Newman's proofs "that a particular proposal is in fact a true develpment of doctrine." One of these proofs is that of "chronic endurance". The saving facet of this proof is that Newman appears to have seen endurance as past, present, and future.

However, if we just concentrate on the past and present as the reasserters would have us do, we would run into the problem that I have as a feminist with the church's more traditional understanding of the role and capabilities of women. The traditons were based on a world view and understanding that has since been shown as being in severe error. As more and more information comes to light about human sexuality in general, and homosexuality in specific, we can see where what has been held in the past is no longer valid in the present. I guess time in the future will tell if endurance reaches into the future but gazing into my crystal ball I would suggest that the future will show that same-sex blessings are a true development of doctrine.

The problem being that most of us don't look to the future. We state that because the past has not allowed for it, neither should we, after all it is tradition. There isn't even an openess to the idea that the future might prove that same-sex blessings are consistent with established doctrines.

Dr. Sumner writes:

"With respect to chronic endurance, we should recall that, while the traditional view has only been found among a relatively small number of Christians for almost twenty centuries, the revised view has only been found among a relatively small number of Christians for two generations. Does this mean that the proposal could never pass the tests? No, but it does mean that it manifestly has not done so yet."

Ah, he does allow for the future changing. But it becomes clear that he is very doubtful that this is possible. I would say that he is a bit premature in this. Many things that we now accept have had a slow acceptance initially as they so often challenge the status quo and mind set. We may have twenty centuries and a majority of Christians who believe that same-sex blessings are not consistent with scripture or doctrine but those twenty centuries did not have the information or understandings that are available today. Are we to ignore new studies and information? Are we not to act because there has been a negative mind set for twenty centuries? (I will allow that same-sex blessings may not pass the endurance test but I am fairly confident that it will do so which makes me as set in my views as those who do not share them are in theirs. I just don't find it a valid arguement that past centuries have held a view as wrong when they did not have the information we have today, including even an concept of homosexuality.)

I should also state that I don't believe that just because something is new that we should embrace it full tilt. I do think that tradition is generally good and a solid criteria for judging something valid. In this particular case, I find that current studies and findings of human sexuality do not, in the main, support the foundations underlying the traditional view. And so we come full circle.

So, I see two things wrong with the arguement - 1. That the present traditions and doctrines are, at best, based on incomplete understandings of human sexuality and, at worst, downright false assumptions. 2. That we seem to forget that apsect of "chronic endurance" that reaches into the future, and focus on the past and present as the data on which we base our judgement of enduring.

Love and Prayers,
Ann Marie

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