Monday, December 10, 2007

Episcopal Fundamentalists Take Their Toys and Run

Michael Hamer has written an insightful commentary in response to the news that the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin voted on Saturday to secede from the Episcopal Church, citing the Episcopal Church’s ordination of Bishop Gene Robinson as the “latest and most galling proof of Episcopal Church’s rejection of biblical authority.” As is typical, observes Michael, the “conservative faction” base their action on the fact that “the Bible describes homosexuality as an abomination.”

Interestingly, Roman Catholic Coadjutor Archbishop John Nienstedt, in a recent letter-to-the-editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, cited biblical rather than doctrinal reasons for the Catholic Church’s “teaching” on homosexuality. I say “interestingly” because although some, including Archbishop Nienstedt, often argue that the church’s doctrinal stance is based on the “witness of scripture,” the Catholic Church tends to emphasize and rely more on “tradition” rather than “scripture” in justifying its prohibition on “homosexual acts.”

Why? Well, I think part of the reason is that most Catholics, including those within the hierarchy, know that the vast majority of scripture scholars question the appropriateness and validity of using ancient biblical texts to condemn our modern-day understanding and acceptance of homosexuality. On a range of issues, people realize that the Bible can’t be taken literally. Accordingly, even the Catholic Church has come to condemn biblical fundamentalism. Put another way, it no longer teaches that the Bible is the inerrant word of God.

Yet what the Catholic Church claims, instead, as inerrant (and thus unchangeable) is its “tradition,” by which is generally meant its teaching on faith and morals. As a result of this claim, dialogue on any number of important issues is effectively shut down. Of course, what’s happened is that one form of fundamentalism has been replaced by another: biblical by doctrinal. The end result is the same: the Spirit, present and active in the lives of all – yes, even gay people – is denied, and the church’s living tradition becomes mired in hubris, intellectual dishonesty, and the fear of change.

I appreciate Catholic theologian
Daniel Helminiak’s perspective on Roman Catholic fundamentalism. In the September 28, 2007 issue of The National Catholic Reporter, Helminiak wrote: “The Vatican’s insistence on unthinking obedience, its policing of official teaching, and its determined disregard for all opposing evidence - regarding women, sex, medical procedures, liturgy, hierarchical institution, response to abuses - not only violate Vatican I’s teaching that reason and faith cannot be in true opposition but also, perforce, evince nothing other than fundamentalism.”

Fundamentalists, I’ve discovered, are incredibly insecure. The mere thought of development, growth, and change can send them into a frenzy. They have forgotten that
religion should point to God, not be God. Yet sadly, aspects of their religious lives have become their god. Any threat to these idols is met with hostility fueled by both arrogance and fear.

In some ways, fundamentalists remind me of children who can only cry and scream when you take their toy horse away so as to lead them to see and feel the beauty of the real thing.

In Catholicism’s case, the fundamentalists are not, to use different imagery, “jumping ship.” Rather, they’re very much in control. Indeed, they’ve barricaded themselves on the ship’s bridge - all the while declaring that such an arrangement is God’s will.

Digging in or running off, the problem with fundamentalists is that, though they are yet to put away “childish things,” they are nevertheless seen as adults and, as has been noted, are often in positions of ecclesial power. They thus have the ability to inflict great harm, damage and suffering onto individuals and communities. For centuries, LGBT people, and thus the Body of Christ, have experienced such
harm and suffering as a result of the words and actions of religious fundamentalists of various stripes.

Anyway, Michael Hamer was asked to write about this latest development within the Episcopal Church for Virginia New Source. Following are excerpts from the excellent
column he wrote.


The problem . . . is that if one is to claim that the Bible is the inerrant word of God and to be taken literally, one should not be allowed to selectively pick and choose which Bible passages are deemed inerrant and which ones can be conveniently ignored. Most of the anti-gay rhetoric used by those seeking to split within the Episcopal Church or by anti-gay elements in general is based on passages in the Book of Leviticus where a large number of things are described as abominations.

Please do not get me wrong, I believe in the Bible; however, I am among those who do not believe that the Bible is literally true in all instances, and, although I believe that it is the inspired word of God, I believe that not everything it in should be taken literally. Unfortunately, if ALL passages are given the inerrant treatment used by those who oppose ordaining gays or acceptance of homosexuality, for example, then questions such as these need to be answered:

1. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination - Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Who is correct?

2. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

3. Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Who is correct?

4. Lev. 19:19 states that thou shall not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind; thou shall not sow thy field with mingled seed; neither shall a garment mingled of linen and wool come upon thy body. Must I stop buying poly-wool blend clothing?

5. Lev. 11:12 says anything living in the water that does not have fins and scales is to be detestable to you. Must I give up eating shrimp and scallops?

6. Matt 5:32 says that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery. Likewise, Luke 16:18 says that anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Why are Episcopalians and members of other Christian denominations allowed to divorce and remarry?

While these questions are somewhat tongue in cheek, they highlight the obvious ridiculousness that a strict literal application of every Bible passage yields. Even the most rabid opponents to gay ordination or gay rights do not apply all of the foregoing passages – and many others – literally. Only in one area – homosexuality – is this mindless literalism still regularly applied today. If the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin is willing to break from the Episcopal Church over the issue of gay ordination, it needs to immediately ban divorce and remarriage and a host of other things banned by a literal reading of the Bible. Otherwise, their action is not in fact based on unswerving loyalty to the Bible but rather plain bigotry against those who are different.

[Another] reason I believe the Diocese of San Joaquin is in error is that these people who are so afraid of gays in general refuse to recognize that modern day scientific knowledge of human sexuality and its inherent nature were unknown and not understood by the ignorant (by today’s standards), nomadic, tribal writers of the Old Testament. Passages in Paul’s epistles condemning homosexual conduct pick up directly from these same Old Testament passages. These same authors thought the earth was flat and the center of the universe and that the sun revolved around the earth. Isn’t it just possible, they were likewise mistaken about their condemnations of same sex relations? I truly cannot envision the mind set/world view of fundamentalists who refuse to ever admit that the Bible is NOT 100% accurate on all kinds of factual/historical matters that can be demonstrably shown to be inaccurate by modern science and knowledge. Their religion is a religion of fear and hate of others. This is decidedly NOT what Jesus preached.

For previous Wild Reed posts that discuss fundamentalism (of one form or another), visit:
The Bible and Homosexuality
When Unity Trumps Truth
For the Bible Tells Me So: A Must-See Film
The Stumbling Block of Fundamentalism
Beyond Papalism
Catholic Teaching on Homosexuality: “Complex and Nuanced”
When Quackery Goes Mainstream
Listen Up, Papa!
The Blood-soaked Thread
It’s Time We Evolved Beyond Theological Imperialism
Uncle Vince Is At It Again!
Authentic Catholicism: The Antidote to Clericalism
Bishop Spong in Australia
In the Garden of Spirituality: Joan Chittister
Praying for George W. Bush
An Unholy Alliance in Iraq
Keeping the Spark Alive: An Interview with Chuck Lofy

Image 1: Boy Playing with Toy Horse (lithograph, 1871).
Image 2: BLTC.


Anonymous said...

Since the Diocese of San Joaquin is the diocese of my birthplace and parents, perhaps I can speak to the diocese's moves.

In the Seventies and Eighties, two parishes thrived with multiple services. Within the last five years, one parish folded, the other is minimally attended. The Religious Right is infecting and affecting even traditional Christianity -- largely by atrophy.

Since Episcopalians elect their bishops, the San Joaquin Diocese is threatened for its existence by Roman Catholicism on one end and Evangelicalism on the other. Mainstream Protestant parishes no longer exist, save for a small Congregational parish -- with the lesbian minister.

One thing Episcopalians are noted for is their latitudinarianism. They are not a "confessional" body, like most Protestants, and their minimal structures, such as the prayer book, episcopacy, and . . . , allow for flexibility.

For many people looking for "jazzed faith" with rock services, the Episcopal service is too complicated for the naive (imagine the reaction to a Catholic Mass). It is thoroughly impotent by a need to "learn" first. It's RC appearances often give a hint of clericalism.

Many of my early mentors were affiliated with the two Episcopal parishes. Like them, death strikes when life is over. The Diocese of San Joaquin is set in a largely rural agri-belt with no special value toward education, and as the staid Episcopal mindset goes against the popular grain, it is dying too. In many ways, it resembles the Deep South more than California of the Sixties (allowing for rock, drugs, and sex, of course).

For the record, the rector of Saint Paul's was the first priest I heard espouse "legalization" of same-sex relations from the pulpit in the Sixties (it was then criminalized). But the days when WASPs did the Episcopal Church for social connections and political ambitions without any further obligations is taking its toll. The effort to expand religious consciousness taxes the mind. Partying for god seems like more fun, and it divides sheep from goats -- the all important task of religion, which Episcopalians have begun to stop separating. The Country Club Church is no longer for "us," so the migration is to other divides -- and Catholicism and Evangelicalism welcomes both.

Anonymous said...

An important distinction: Except for the Diocese of San Joaquin, the ECUSA on the West Coast tends toward "high church," unlike the East Coast which tends toward "low church."

Dan said...

Mr. Bayly,

I think your dichotomy between Scripture and Tradition in Catholic teaching is false. Specifically, the Church does not shy away from referencing the Bible when reaffirming its moral teachings. The Catechism is FILLED with scripture. The article on the moral law is just one example. Page either direction and you will find scripture on every page.

By "fundamentalism" you seem to mean the belief in enduring moral truths. In that case, the Catholic Church is certainly fundamentalist. Mr. Hamer states that orthodox Episcopalians "refuse to recognize that modern day scientific knowledge of human sexuality and its inherent nature were unknown and not understood by the ignorant (by today’s standards), nomadic, tribal writers of the Old Testament." I've never understood this argument. If God repeatedly condemns homosexual sex, and Christians have always understood it to be sinful, then what does learning about the scientific reasons for homosexual feelings have to do with the morality of the behavior? Doesn't God have sufficient knowledge of the topic to condemn it universally? I have a degree in physics and teach science, and I don't know of any scientific principle which abrogates moral laws revealed by God.

I'm sorry to tell you, but Micheal Hamer's "excellent column" is little more than plagarized material that's been sweeping around the net for years. Check Google for another 21,800 versions. The response is tiresome, as anyone with a basic understanding of Christianity has learned about the difference between OT Law (Torah) and the enduring moral law written on our hearts (Rom 2:12-16). When Christians make this kind of argument it's clear they just don't believe in the Scriptures.

crystal said...

Those questions asked reminded me of an episode of The West Wing in which Presiden Bartlett asked similar ones of a homophobic talk radio host :-) .....

Chapter and verse. I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I had
you here.
I'm interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned
in Exodus 21:7.
(small chuckles from the guests) She's a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent
Italian, and
always clears the table when it was her turn. What would a good price for
her be? While
thinking about that, can I ask another? My Chief of Staff, LeoO McGarry,
insists on working
on the Sabbath, Exodus 35:2, clearly says he should be put to death. Am I
morally obligated
to kill him myself or is it okay to call the police? Here's one that's really
'cause we've got a lot of sports fans in this town. Touching the skin of a
dead pig makes
us unclean, Leviticus 11:7. If they promise to wear gloves, can the Washington
still play football? Can Notre Dame? Can West Point? Does the whole town
really have to be
together to stone my brother, John, for planting different crops side by
side? Can I burn
my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two
different threads?

Anonymous said...

I rather like Dan's response. Once one enters the realm of the subjectively metaphysical and invests it with authority, what can anyone else do?

Dan is apparently unaware of the Catholic tradition that insists faith and reason can never conflict, since both ensue from the same Logos.

But if all the Logos claims are immaterial and without physical evidence, and if all the "reasons" are from the a priori, without benefit of experience (a posteriori), then reason and faith do not need to conflict, are are quite capable of mutually supporting each other's claims.

But ONCE deductive logic and evidence of a physical kind are both required for a claim -- which is the principal foundation of modern epistemology, then these conflicts can only be reconciled with a posteriori deductive logic, not by appeals to the a priori.

Thus, when an individual retorts, "well, it's what I believe," it matters not how irrational it is. And if I believe the Bible, and the Bible tells me virgins conceive, suns stand still, and dead people resurrect, who are you to tell me otherwise? It's what I believe!

Not since the 14th century has this type of thought prevailed. In today's America, it is dominate. So when one "believes" tooth fairies are divine messengers that rape little girls for a deity, apparently that has credibility by simply insisting, "it's what I believe."

Michael-in-Norfolk said...

First, by way of background, I am a former Catholic, altar boy for 10 years, 4th Degree Knight of Columbus, and one time faithful daily mass attendant. My leaving the Catholic Church for the initially the Episcopal Church was a function of my disgust with the Church’s denigration of gays and more importantly, the utter moral bankruptcy of the Church hierarchy that was displayed in the world wide sex abuse scandal. To date, no bishop, cardinal or Pope (John XXIII issued a statement as far back as 1962 calling for secrecy backed by the threat of excommunication to protect the Church’s reputation) who knew of the abuse and fostered the cover up has been de-frocked. The Dallas Morning News calculated that at least 1/3 to ½ of the U. S. Bishops had assisted in cover ups. In virtually any other organization, high officials involved in such a cover would have been fired or demoted. Not so in the Catholic Church.

As for Dan's comment that my views are:

"... tiresome, as anyone with a basic understanding of Christianity has learned about the difference between OT Law (Torah) and the enduring moral law written on our hearts (Rom 2:12-16).

Such statements are typical of those who do not want to have to give serious thought and analysis to issues like that of gays, including the possibility that God made us this way on purpose as part of his divine design o the universe and all things in it. Denigrate the speaker of opposing view rather than seriously debate it.

As for the snide remark that my comments are “plagiarized material," I am sorry to tell him, but these are my own thoughts and analysis after much reading, studying and contemplation. I would venture to say that many gays going through the “coming out” process spend more time and reflection on religion, scripture and church tradition than do most straight individuals who are not forced to have to reconcile their faith with the condemnation put out by those who prefer to mindlessly recite what they have been spoon fed. I stand by my analysis.

As for Dan’s remark “If God repeatedly condemns homosexual sex,” in point of fact we are talking about a few passages out of the Bible (a few in the Old Testament and a few passages from Paul), I hardly define that as “repeatedly.” Moreover, with all due respect Paul’s epistles were written by a former Pharisee who could never wholly let go of the holiness Code of Leviticus.

In short, Dan’s mindset is exactly that described in Mr. Bayly’s post.

Anonymous said...

Michael-in-Norfolk gives us his background, which thus raises the question of his experience from which to comment on an Episcopal diocese in the great San Joaquin Valley of California. Has Michael set foot in the San Joaquin Valley? Has he been an Episcopalian? If so, low, broad, or high church? Does he know the by-laws of the church about which he writes from 3,000 miles away? I've been to Virginia. I grew up in San Joaquin Valley. I have direct experience with both. Including Episocpal Churches in both jurisdictions. My experience does not comport with his, but I suppose we have to accept what "he believes," because he believes it.

As far as Dan's comments are concerned, I reiterate that within the Catholic tradition they are indisputable. I refer to my post on J. H. Newman and the pillars of Catholic orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Introduce an empirical and deductively a posteriori logic, and Dan's comments are beyond silly. But, he's absolutely right that the moral law is co-determined in Catholicism by the Church's Natural Law Theory, in which Aquinas's theory in the S.T., I-II, 94, i-v is articulated. Within that context, Dan's comments are as valid as any other "believers," since it is all outside experience. All Christian, Jewish, and Islamic "faith" claims are so situated.

It's an odd juxtaposition to how we "experience" the world. Dan choses to experience it through the church's a priori, despite the inherent contradictions and impossibility, but which is fully endorsed by his church. Michael chooses to interpret a news story from afar through his childnood lens in which to vilify his Catholicism, as if Anglicans submit to Catholic tradition and ontology.

My point is more basic. Before we spout about things we "believe" and about which we have little or no direct acquaintance, it behooves all of us to try and understand issues from the perspective from which they evolve. I can attest to my direct and indirect experience, but I also know my limits in critiquing subjects I have minimal understanding of. Once acquainted, we all possess the capability to evaluate critically the claims of others. The paradigm of such efforts can be found in many places, not the least of which is David Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Unlike others, Hume accepts the description of faith claims by the claimants, and then evaluates those claims against the modern epistemological criteria for understanding. J. L. Mackie does the same with his Miracle of Theism. But unless one understands and presumes the standards of the "other's" claims on it's terms, I daresay we should not be critiquing what we do not understand ourselves.

I am not a Christian, but I do try to understand Christians' claim from within their various ontological and epistemological presumptions. I am not persuaded by any religious claims, but I believe it is my responsibility to be "open" to every possibility, without prejudging it all by standards that do not apply. That is the requirement of a "provisional epistemology," which philosophers like Karl Popper insist we take, rather than the rigid dogmas of "scientism" or "metaphysics."

But metaphysics and scientism are not on par from any perspective. Even Popper recognizes "evidence" independent of one's claims counts for more than simply "believing."

The harsh reality that many refuse to accept, despite the evidence, and notwithstanding their casuistry to try and explain it away, is that Judeo-Christo-Islamic propositions are all "faith" statements, not a single one of which can be validated. And among those propositions are a bevy of condemnations of homophiles and homophilia. Queer Theory and Queer Religionists will not make those textual claims "go away," however one might dispute their claims today.

Saint Paul and Jude, echoing Leviticus, condemn "unnatural lusts," clearly more accurate than the words "homosexual." For their linguistic accuracy, neither is given credit, but two males and two females do not engage in "sex," and no biblical author claims they do. Only a homophile and the psychological industry created that "myth," which the latter insisted it knew the aetiology and cures for. Religion never made those preposterous claims; it simply claimed they were "unnatural," and against a divine plan, which psychologist up through the Seventies promoted as a "disease."

Homophilia is not "unnatural," and it is not a "disease." Those myths science and philosophy force the Psyche Folks to abandon in 1973. Whether or not it is a "sin" I defer to those who "believe" in sins, and gods who determine them, to establish. I can quarrel with the Bible's empirical claims, insofar as they are empirical and rational. The point ignored is that NONE of the biblical claims are empirical or rational. So arguing for or against them is itself irrational.

Michael-in-Norfolk said...

For clarification, my background also includes my formally joinging the Episcopal Church after attending numreous classes and exclusively attending that denomination's services for several years.

I still occasionally attend Episcopal Church services even though I have formally joined the ELCA. The ELCA is in full communion with the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ and the Presbyterian Church USA.


Anonymous said...

Update from the Bay Area Reporter:

Anonymous said...

Did anyone mention that the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin is a "cured homosexual?" It does not seem to appear in the comments, which I thought were well-known. Apparently not. Yes, God cured him.