September 4, 2008
There is something about Richard Norris’s Notes on the Current Debate regarding Homosexuality and the Place of Homosexuals in the
Church that seems a little unreal to me, helpful though I believe the piece to be. This unfinished work (Published in the Anglican Theological Review) is an extended essay on the moral question of homosexuality (If it is wrong, what exactly is wrong with it and how would we know?) He draws on Scripture, Aristotle, Aquinas and Kant as he makes his way through a complex argument that appears to allow for some measure of choice (at least in the sense that we cannot know for sure that a homosexual orientation is entirely due to some genetic or other predetermined factor) and at the same time seems to be moving toward finding that being homosexual is a morally viable option. One of his respondents, Thomas Breidenthal believes that he allows some measure of choice (rather than fate) in order to allow a genuinely moral conversation and the possibility that making choices as a homosexual can be a moral ‘good’.
What is unreal or at least unaddressed is the fear and hatred that homosexuality engenders in some people. On Sunday August 24, 2008 someone left a placard tacked onto the main door of St. John’s in College Park for everyone to find as they arrived for worship saying ”homosexual priest in the pulpit of this church are an abomination! 666” (grammar as reported in the press). A blogger responding to a news report that Jeffrey John, Dean of St. Albans and a man forced to resign a nomination to be a suffragan bishop in England by the Archbishop of Canterbury and his advisors is a candidate for election in a diocese of the Welsh Church opined that he and his ilk were all “going straight to hell.” The existence, let alone affirmation of GLBT people, is profoundly upsetting to the world view of many and all the logical debate in the world does not seem to touch that part of humanity, however useful the debate may be.
Norris deals with the interpretation of Scripture right off the bat dismissing, among other things any notion that we can understand and evaluate scripture based on its ‘plain meaning’. We know that some (perhaps especially in the Global South?) either have not grasped or are unpersuaded and choose not to respond to such critiques (See entry for May 26, 2008.) Victoria Matthews opines in response to Norris that his conclusions are unlikely to be embraced by evangelicals until a door is opened to them in Scripture. The argument that many moral questions are neither addressed directly, nor answered definitively in Scripture she believes will fall on deaf ears. I’m not clear why the whole sweep of the story of scripture as the story of God’s love and our ever expanding understanding of it (with the Council of Jerusalem by which gentiles were included in the new dispensation offered as ‘exhibit A) is not that window.
Ellen Davis of Duke and the incomparable Margaret Farley of Yale (see her Just Love: a Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics (Continuum, 2006) both have helpful and accessible responses on the larger questions of scripture and ethics in this regard. Others also seek a broader context such as the reality of the church or the status of men in black communities. It is really an interesting read (available in our parish library) and useful contribution, but unlikely to satisfy those who have staked their careers on becoming Ugandan and Nigerian Bishops and the like in the