The Changing Character of the Debate

Tom Krattenmaker, a commentator on religion and public life based in Portland, Oregon, published an interesting piece this week arguing  that sooner or later, most Christians (in North America and Western Europe anyway) are going to have to adapt to a politics and society in which queer people bear and exercise more rights than they have before.  Our rapid political and social progress  on this issue over the last ten or twenty years should not of course be taken for granted—no change is guaranteed, or permanent—but Krattenmaker calls attention to the one and only fact which makes me (very cautiously) optimistic about our near-term prospects inside the Church: a new generation of faithful are coming of age, some of whom are beginning to be ordained, many of whom have quite consciously been formed and educated right alongside their openly queer brothers and sisters.  Pure, distilled, irrational hatred remains real enough, but own experience has been that even the most conservative elements in the Church, who are of my age and background, have substituted for that former hatred a kind of hypocritical and almost regretful condescension.  That may not seem like much just now, but I think it’s telling.  Krattenmaker:

It appears increasingly obvious that social acceptance of gay men and lesbians and insistence on  their equal rights are inexorable. If the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” weren’t enough to signal the turning point, or the classification of several gay-resisting Christian right organizations as “hate groups” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, there came news that [the ex-gay advocacy group] Exodus International was ending its involvement in the anti-homosexuality “Day of Truth” in U.S. high schools. “We need to equip kids to live out biblical tolerance and grace,” Exodus President Alan Chambers explained, “while treating their neighbors as they’d like to be treated, whether we agree with them or not.”

Add it up, and you see a decision point at hand for socially conservative Christian groups such as the Family Research Council that have led resistance to gay rights. Do they fight to the last ditch, continue shouting the anti-gay rhetoric that rings false and mean to the many Americans who live and work with gay people, or who themselves are gay? Or do they soften their tone and turn their attention to other fronts?

Prayerful discernment and simple Christian decency would strongly suggest the latter. The alternative looks worse by the day—a quixotic battle more likely to discredit its fighters and their fine religion than win any hearts and minds for Jesus. Christianity has far worthier causes than this.

"INEXORABLE"

Two points here re: Krattenmaker.  First, the public discouragement of homophobic groups like Exodus—and the private regret of individual priests who feel compelled to enforce church law on this matter, though they would really rather not—are evidence that the “conservative” party knows, on some level, that it has lost the argument, but does not yet know how to make the admission, or what then to do about it.  Fr. Hopko’s book strikes me as falling into this category, too. The honest conservatives are fearful, above all for Holy Tradition’s integrity.

But fear, by itself, cannot long sustain a belief system, or a policy.  It requires too strained an expenditure of energy, to hold it all together.  Or so I found, at least.  Sooner or later a critical mass of Christians are going to yield to the actual logic of natural law; and to the obvious implications of their otherwise positive and entirely harmonious relationships with actual queer people in their own families, schools, and work places.

Second, the institutional churches are, in the great sweep of history, ruthlessly pragmatic bodies.  (Which is a good thing.)  Christians have successfully lived under, and sometimes taken on the trappings of, a wide spectrum of political orders.  An institutional religion which can come to terms with Byzantine and Russian emperors, Germanic feudal kings and kinglets, Islamic caliphs, the commercial republics of the Renaissance and Reformation, the democracy in America, and even conclude concordats with the likes of a Napoleon, Hitler, or Stalin (however distasteful those concordats may have been), can surely come to terms with this one component of contemporary liberalism.

That is not to say that all those different political forms I have just named are equally just or unjust, or equally useful or unuseful for the preaching of the Gospel.  They are not.  But it is to say that prudent people, ecclesiasts included, do tend to know where their real interests lie, and where and when to compromise.

For Christians, the answer to the question of who Christ is, is (truly) a hill to die on.  (So is the question—pace my more radical Protestant friends—of what is the Church.)

Call me crazy, but sexual ethics is not.

vozradujemsja

Victor de Villa Lapidis

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Published in: on February 19, 2011 at 11:52 am  Comments (7)  
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Other Gay Conservative Groups? Really?

Cool!

I got linked to GayPatriot today, and it was a bit of a surreal experience: all sorts of statements supporting homosexuals, but advancing the conservative agenda – even an alternative to Pride called Homocon.  Now, when we say in our title that our blog is conservative, we mean, largely, religiously conservative.  Victor is politically to the right, and Eiluned is to the left, but both agree on more than they disagree.

I, the atheist-agnostic-white-straight-male, am quite fiscally and socially liberal and a lot of what I read on GayPatriot (really, Patriot? Because only conservatives are patriotic?  But I digress…) I found horrifying, wrong-headed, and at times, mildly offensive.  Ann Coulter, one of the most loathsome writers I’ve ever read, is going to SPEAK at HOMOCON!  Admittedly, she’s taking a beating for it, but still: what is happening to the world?

Gay Activist? Maybe not, but still...

But you know what my overall response is?

This is awesome.

It’s about time the Liberals lost their stranglehold on gay rights, and gay conservative organizations became prominent. It’s an indication that homosexuality and homosexual acts,  only decriminalized in Canada in 1969, finally decriminalized by the US Supreme Court in 2003, and still punishable by death in many countries (Saudi Arabia, Sudan, UAE, to name a few) are finally being accepted even by mainstream Republicans.  Is this bad for the Democrats?  Yes; it robs them of a useful demographic.  Is it bad, potentially, for the cause of gay marriage?  Probably, as these gay Republicans are arguing more for civil union than marriage.  Is it bad for liberalism as a movement? As it steals liberalism’s issues, it may drive progressives to be more and more extreme; and that’s a good thing.  Progress must always push the envelope, and conservatives must resist the change.

There is nothing inherently wrong with either conservatism or liberalism.  They are both vital drives: one is the desire to try new things and explore, and the other is the fear of what damage such exploration might inflict; the need to hold onto what we have already accomplished vs the imperative to change.  Both are valid.  It’s a dialectic… the two forces must clash, and a synthesis forms from the struggle.  Gay Republicans are part of that synthesis, and are a sign that times are changing. I may be wrong, but I doubt Anne Coulter would have spoken at a gay rally fifteen years ago, or even ten, or five.  Things are improving, and this shift on the part of the right is a perfect example.  Eventually, gay rights will have the same status as feminism… still an important struggle, still a real concern, still laughed at and ignored by those who are uninterested, but at least the largest part of the work will be done.

-Your Blogmaster, the Righteous Pagan

Published in: on August 21, 2010 at 1:25 am  Comments (7)  
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Disagreement Between Friends, I

An Orthodox reader of this blog has asked me about the “problem” of tradition, as it pertains to the queer question.  How do I reconcile my contention that homosexual unions may be ethical and holy, with the Tradition and traditions of the Church, seemingly so hostile?  This “problematization” of tradition arises in other contexts, too: in plans for reunion with the Oriental (Monophysitic) Orthodox churches, stalled over the thorny problem that their saints are our heretics, and our saints their heretics; likewise in dialogue with the Roman church, which recognizes, and is not about to stop recognizing, a full fourteen additional post-Schism councils, as ecumenical in status.  What, then, is to be done?

One approach has been for the “conservative” and “liberal” parties in the Church to throw caution to the winds, and to assert themselves in despite both of each other and of whatever elements within the Tradition (in the broadest sense) which might challenge them.  That seems to be pretty much what is now going on in the Anglican Communion; and the best conciliating efforts of Rowan Williams as archbishop of Canterbury aside, the Communion’s dissolution is to be expected.  At one extreme, the Anglican bishop of Karamoja in Uganda supports the death penalty bill for homosexuals.  At the other, the dean of the Anglican seminary in Cambridge, Mass., calls abortion a “blessing” and an “holy work.”  Violence proliferates.

Some of that violence is committed in the context of the Church’s pastoral and penitential disciplines.  I myself have, on more than one occasion, been threatened by an (Orthodox) priest with refusal of communion—for no other reason than that I happen both to be openly gay and also happen to disagree with a traditional but non-infallible moral teaching of the Church.  I expect that this may happen many times in my life.  Fr. Hopko says that a person in my condition may not receive the sacraments; Metropolitan Jonas (Paffhausen), archbishop of Washington, DC, and primate of the Orthodox Church in America, the night of his election to the primacy declared that if an ecclesial body “endorses gay marriage” (amongst other controversial political questions), it “abandon[s] … Jesus Christ and the Gospel.”

Never mind that the Gospel says not one word about gay marriage: many ordinarily faithful people are, almost without discussion, to be treated in the same way as would heretics and unbelievers.

And yet, Christ calls us “friends” (Jo. xv. 15).   And “by this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another” (Jo. xiii. 35).

One of the most politically resonant icons in the Church’s iconography is that of SS. Peter and Paul embracing.  They may have disagreed about important doctrinal questions, as the apostles and fathers generally have disagreed: “And some coming down from Judea, taught the brethren: That except you be circumcised after the manner of Moses, you cannot be saved.  And when Paul and Barnabas had no small contest with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain others of the other side, should go up to the apostles and priests to Jerusalem about this question” (Act. xv. 1-2).  Therefore the apostles are depicted as friends.

Disagreement Between Friends

If we (Orthodox and Roman Catholics) are to avoid some of the snares into which the Anglican Communion has fallen, we must take care to imitate Peter and Paul, preserving our unity where the dogmas of the Church are concerned, but permitting a legitimate diversity of theological opinion elsewhere.  We must take care to remember that we are friends.

This essay will constitute the first part of a series, “Disagreement Between Friends,” proposing some initial ideas for how to manage the problematization of tradition and, no less important, how to continue living in catholic love and reconciliation.

Part I: The Necessity of Dogma

When reasonable people call the Church “dogmatic,” they are not, usually, being complimentary.  As the Slovak church historian and Orthodox convert Jaroslav Pelikan noted shortly before his death in an NPR segment “The Need for Creeds,” this perception, right or wrong, can pose a tremendous obstacle to the Church’s evangelism.  Queers especially are often suspicious (and understandably so) of the Church’s dogmatic system.  I can well remember my feeing, just for example, on a certain winter night some years ago, listening to an outwardly very pious layman—oblivious of his audience, and alas only half in jest—as he expressed his wish he had a faggot to burn.  That is the sort of obviously negative encounter which does lead reasonable people to hold a negative assessment of dogma.  A fine example occurred recently in Andy Sullivan’s exchange with Ross Douthat about Judge Walker’s ruling on Proposition 8 in California:

[Ross] is not a homophobe as I can personally attest.  But if he cannot offer something for this part of our society except a sad lament that they are forever uniquely excluded, by their nature, from being a “microcosm of civilization” [and thus from participating in the institution of marriage], then this is not a serious contribution to the question at hand.  It is merely a restatement of abstract dogma….

When dogmas are reduced to the level of mere abstractions, they die, and those who cling to them are justly censured for their “dogmatism.”  On the other hand, as V.S. Soloviev wrote in an essay on “The Significance of Dogma”:

When Christian dogmas were taking shape at the general church councils, for the true representatives of the church they were neither that mind-game by which the last Byzantines were carried away nor that alien and forgotten word, which they pronounce for present-day hearing.  True dogma is the word of the church responding to the word of God when such a response is required by course of history and the development of religious consciousness. [1]

Dogma correctly understood is not abstract and dead, but historical and living.

Just as a philosopher might proceed by asking what must be true of the mind such that we are able to interpret the realities we experience, in the same way a theologian proceeds by asking what must be true of God (dogmatically speaking) such that we are able to interpret our experience of eternal salvation.

So it is that what the Church claims to teach dogmatically, infallibly, turns out to be relatively little.  There are the declarative, frequently paradoxical theses of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed, in the East, and those of the Apostles’ and Athanasian creeds, in the West, mostly having to do with the relations which subsist between the three persons of the Holy Trinity.  In the East in the eighth century, the appropriateness of venerating icons was made into dogma; so too, in the West, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, were the Marian doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption.   But to venture much beyond these few items with any certainty one would be hard-pressed.  Good reason for such dogmatic reticence was given first of all by S. Vincent of Lérins: “… all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all.  For that is truly and in the strictest sense ‘Catholic,’ which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universality.” [2]

The theological opinions which can meet this test are not numerous.  The theological opinions which, in course of time, have indeed met this test, then act as a groundwork on the basis of which all further inquiry is made possible.  They are, in other words, the indispensible core.  As the Apostle reasons: “For if the dead rise not again, neither is Christ risen again.  And if Christ be not risen again, your faith is vain, and you are yet in your sins” (I Cor. xv. 16-17).  For such reason is belief in the resurrection, as set forth in the Creed, properly called “dogmatic.”

Granted that, I cannot conceive how homosexual love or unions do any injury to dogmatic theology; nor can I conceive why the queer community need be suspicious of dogmatic theology.

On the contrary, the most striking political consequence of dogma is to set limits to all earthly authority.  An authentic dogmatism is thus also the aboriginal classical form of liberalism.  The Christian does not deny the dogmatic definitions of faith, even on pain of death; the sovereign conscience of the individual martyr in the arena is to be obeyed before corporation, class, or committee of public safety, is to be obeyed.  The Byzantine basileus or Russian tsar might aspire to reign together with Christ, but could never replace Christ, and buried in the recesses of the Church’s pre-imperial memory lies Tertullian’s old dictum about the blood of the martyrs.  As Jaroslav Pelikan states bluntly on the first page of the first volume of The Christian Tradition, “polity transcends organization because of the way the church defines itself and its structure in its dogma.” [3]

This is a justification of dogma, at once as deeply conservative as the early African church in which the likes of Tertullian could flourish, which can at the same time be embraced by the queer community, and likewise by any persecuted or marginalized group suffering at the hands of Pharisees and Caesars.  I have written about Orthodox seminarian Eric Iliff here, but the names and stories are without end.  The martyrial witness of the Church’s queers does not threaten the Church’s dogmatic system; it helps, like all martyrial witness, to support and explain it.

vozradujemsja

Victor de Villa Lapidis


[1] Politics, Law, Morality: Essays by V.S. Soloviev, trans. Vladimir Wozniuk (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), pp. 108-09.

 

[2] Commonitory ii. 6.

[3] Jaroslav Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600) (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1971), p. 1.

Published in: on August 20, 2010 at 7:45 pm  Comments (8)  
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