Saturday, March 15, 1997

TWO SEXES, ONE FLESH: Introductory Sections

The following sections are excerpted from Stephen Noll, Two Sexes, One Flesh: Why the Church Cannot Bless Same-Sex Marriage (Solon, Oh: Latimer Press, 1997). Used with permission.

The Right Reverend William C. Frey

As the old saying has it, the first casualty in any war is truth. In the Episcopal Church’s battles over human sexuality in general, and homosexuality in particular, “truth” has become a bit of merchandise to be modified and deceptively packaged for popular consumption. Why? In a remarkable “sermon” on the Ten Commandments, television commentator Ted Koppel pointed out that, “Our society finds Truth too strong a medicine to digest undiluted.”

In our current debates, too often complex biblical and scientific issues have been reduced to sound bites while slogans and code words have replaced rational deliberation. Epithet and caricature tend to make us believe that thinking is unnecessary. When one side of the controversy can be characterized as “courageous, compassionate, and caring,” while the other is dismissed as “fearful, pharisaical, and fundamentalist,” who needs to think? Perhaps equally mindless is the attempt by some to view the very existence of controversy as an argument in favor of Anglicanism’s famed comprehensiveness and “pastoral sensitivity.” But as Koppel says, “In its purest form Truth is not a polite tap on the shoulder; it is a howling reproach.”

Stephen Noll may not howl, but he does speak the truth. He has given us a brilliant and, may I say it, compassionate, examination of the current controversy, and of the reasons which support his findings. His scholarship illuminates the issues which must be dealt with in any honest pursuit of truth. His analysis is not so much “conservative” as radical, in the true sense of that word. It penetrates to the very radix, the root of the problems and the source of the answers. Many will probably disagree with him before listening to what he has to say, but if they do listen, they will discover that his work is not to be lightly dismissed, nor are his conclusions easily refuted.

All of us – young and old, male and female, married and single, “gay” and “straight” – have an interest in the outcome of the current battles about sexuality. In commenting on the crisis of sexual identity in our culture, a Columbia University psychiatrist, Robert Hendin, said that “Anything goes” may be “a legitimate attitude for consenting adults toward each other... but for a culture to declare it as a credo is to miss entirely the stake all of us have in the harmony between the sexes and in the family as the irreplaceable necessity of society, whether we as individuals want to form one or not.”

Today’s controversies are the logical and inevitable outcome of something that began over a generation ago, the so-called “sexual revolution.” That revolution has not been bloodless nor painless. It has left a large number of wounded veterans. Who can count the broken marriages, the countless teen-age pregnancies, and the millions of convenience-motivated abortions? And what of the AIDS epidemic, so daunting that fellow sufferers attempt to comfort one another with the illusion that its victims are somehow to be counted among the martyrs?

If that is true for our culture, how much more true for the Church, a part of whose mission it is to inform and to transform the culture in which it finds itself? The biblical pattern, as Dr. Noll shows, is neither arbitrary nor outdated. A stable, monogamous, healthy family, based on heterosexual marriage, is perhaps the most important foundation stone in any society. And when that foundation is undermined, whether by infidelity, abuse, or neglect inside the family, or by the sanctioning of false alternatives such as same-sex marriages, that culture finds itself in danger of collapsing.

But, let us be clear, that foundation is vulnerable for very good reasons. In T.S. Eliot’s play, Murder in the Cathedral, Thomas à Beckett, wrestling with his conscience, cries, “The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason.” The current debate about homosexuality presents an even more dangerous seduction, “to do the wrong deed for the right reasons.”

The “right reasons” would be a desire to alleviate the suffering experienced by many people whose sexual behavior has often made them the object of covert ridicule and overt persecution, to correct past injustices perpetrated in the name of religion against homosexual people, and to bring into a loving and inclusive community those so frequently marginalized by both church and society. The “wrong deed” would be for the Christian Church to capitulate to the current pressure to normalize or bless same-sex marriages.

I know very few Christians who would not wish to be identified with the reasons, for they are compelling ones. Indeed, they reflect the spirit of the Gospel. Our differences should arise only in the answers. Would the proposed remedy succeed in doing what it proposes? Or is it a well-intentioned mistake which will actually make things worse rather than better? Is it “short-term mercy and long-term cruelty”? Is it, indeed, the “wrong deed for the right reasons”?

Sympathy for those in pain of any sort comes naturally to all Christians. Dr. Noll offers us something better than sympathy. True love and compassion demand that we speak the truth, and offer to others the best we’ve been given. How sad it would be for people to say to the Church in years to come, “Why did you give us what we wanted – mere acceptance – and not what we needed – healing and forgiveness? We asked for bread and you gave us a stone.”

For reasons God alone knows, I have found myself over the past decade called on to express an orthodox, evangelical Anglican position on certain contentious issues afflicting the Episcopal Church U.S.A. It began in 1987-89 with two faculty position papers I wrote on the trial “inclusive language” liturgies [unpublished]. Then I was asked to offer a defense of the “literal” or plain sense of Scripture for the House of Bishops in 1992-93.[1] Once again, in early 1996, I wrote two position papers for the Presenters in the trial of Bishop Walter Righter, titled “The Righter Trial and Christian Doctrine,” and “The Righter Trial and Church Discipline.”[2]

Looking back over all these writings, I can discern one common aim. I have been trying to prevent the Episcopal Church from making false doctrine official. Anyone familiar with the Church today is aware of the outrageous departures from the “faith once delivered to the saints” that one can find among bishops, priests, and theologians. And yet, on paper, in its public formularies and Prayer Book, the Episcopal Church is still a discernible catholic, apostolic, and Reformation Church. After the General Conventions in 1997 and 2000, this may no longer be the case.[3]

For decades, some Episcopal clergy have uttered the words – “I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary for salvation” – sine animo, hedging their ordination vow with a set of mental escape clauses learned in seminary. Such hypocrisy is deplorable, but it is far graver when a whole Church moves from hypocrisy to overt contradiction. A Church that is lacking conviction may be revived; a Church that has formally departed from the biblical and catholic faith must be reformed, root and branch. The history of the Reformation reminds us that reform is a very costly process that may lead to the fragmentation of the visible Church, a process that is already happening in Anglicanism.

This book began as a position paper from the faculty of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry as part of the evaluation of Resolution C042s of the Episcopal General Convention. My thanks to colleagues – Peter Moore, John Rodgers, Leslie Fairfield, J. Douglas McGlynn, and Stephen Smith – who critiqued the paper in this initial stage. After its submission in early September 1996, I sent it to a group of theologians and church leaders for further comment. Many thanks to John Howe, FitzSimons Allison, David Scott, Russell Reno, George Sumner, and Ephraim Radner for sending me their views, causing me to modify some of my statements. Special thanks also to David Mills and Doug LeBlanc, who gave valuable editorial advice along the way, and my wife Peggy for tireless proofreading. Needless to say, I alone am responsible for the contents of the book.

This is a book about marriage, not about homosexuality. I do not pretend to be an expert on homosexuality. In fact, because of the politicization of the issue, it is very hard to distinguish between experts and advocates.[4] Homosexuality is an ancient and complex phenomenon accompanied by different cultural rationales and a vast variety of behaviors. I am working from certain basic perceptions and convictions about it that I believe to be reasonable.[5]

1. Genetic and hormonal factors may be necessary but are not sufficient conditions for a person becoming homosexual.
2. Homosexual “orientation” in many cases is formed psychologically in the response of children to disordered, broken, and abusive families.
3. Homosexual behavior often displays the same interaction between choice and habituation as is found in addictions to food, drugs, and alcohol.
4. Homosexuality is rooted in fallen human nature, but its prevalence and particular character are also “socially constructed” in different cultures.[6] In late modernity, it is sometimes chosen as a lifestyle and defended as a protest against the perceived injustice of the traditional family and bourgeois society.
5. Like all people, homosexuals are children of God who live under the power and guilt of sin and look to God for grace and renewal. The Lord Jesus’ compassion and call to repentance is the same for them as for all his flock.
6. Many homosexuals can change their orientation if they turn to God and seek healing and counsel from those caregivers and ministries who are willing to help. Other homosexuals may engage in a heroic struggle for chastity all their lives.

By stating these convictions, I will undoubtedly lose those readers who consider them and me “homophobic.” This saddens me, because it is a sign of the ideological polarization and absence of real dialogue that characterizes Church and society today. I have read extensively what homosexual advocates are saying. I have no desire to make the lives of homosexuals harder by withholding marriage from them, if that marriage were possible. But I am convinced from Scripture and from theological reflection and experience that same-sex marriage is not possible in God’s eyes. Finding true happiness and holiness is often hard, sometimes seemingly impossible. Nevertheless, I have seen lives of all sorts and conditions changed in churches where the Gospel is preached, biblical standards are upheld, and prayer and patience is offered by brothers and sisters in Christ.

Some readers may find this book unnecessarily abstract and argumentative. I do not intend it so. Indeed, it is a work of love. Thirty years ago I was converted to Christ, baptized in the Episcopal Church, and married to my wife Peggy, all in one year. I would wish for others the joys and the education that I have received in the bond of Christian marriage and family. But as I look at the moral wasteland my generation has created, I fear for my children that they will not find love in lifelong marriage; and if they do, it may be in spite of their Church and their culture.

When I was ordained a Priest, I took another vow to be a “watchman” and, in the weighty words of the 1928 Prayer Book, to

consider with yourselves the end of the Ministry towards the children of God, towards the Spouse and Body of Christ; and see that ye never cease your labour, your care and diligence, until ye have done all that lieth in you, according to your bounden duty, to bring all such as are committed to your charge, unto that agreement in the faith and knowledge of God, and to that ripeness and perfectness of age in Christ, that there be no place left among you, either for error in religion, or for viciousness in life.
I am writing under the burden of this charge. This book is dedicated to those faithful members of the Episcopal Church who pray and work for that day when our sore oppress’t branch of Christ’s Body will appear before him “in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27).

I hope the book may also be useful to members of the wider Anglican Communion and other Christian communions who wish to inform themselves of issues that will surely affect them in the years to come.

Particular thanks go to Todd Wetzel of Episcopalians United and Latimer Press for seeing this manuscript to swift publication.

Lent, 1997

INTRODUCTION: Revising Marriage in the Episcopal Church
Great love stories end with a wedding. The recent Jane Austen revival on TV and screen attests to the enduring attraction of the story of love moving toward its culmination in marriage. This culmination is particularly vivid in the final scene of the 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice.

The setting is an English parish church. The liturgy is the traditional Prayer Book service. The event is a double wedding between two virtuous sisters, Elizabeth and Jane Bennet, and their hard-won lovers, Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley. As the officiating minister intones the purposes of marriage over the two happy couples, the camera pans all the other couples attending, some of whom we know to be far from happy. It then jumps to the one couple whose licentiousness led to a forced marriage and to the widow whose selfishness has turned her daughter into a loveless spinster. All these configurations of fallen and foolish people are held together by a common understanding that in holy matrimony “a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.”
Now let’s stop the videotape and revise the scenario.

It’s still an Anglican Church and still a Prayer Book service, but it is now the year 2000. It’s still a double wedding, but now Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley stand together holding hands, so also Elizabeth and Jane.[7] The congregation now contains a variety of couples, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and straight, all of whom have received the Church’s blessing of their state of life.
Is this latter scenario possible? “It can’t happen here,” some Episcopalians will say incredulously, imagining such an unlikely scene at their parish church. Same-sex marriage can happen here by 2000, if “here” means the Episcopal Church, U.S.A. Indeed it is already happening unofficially in some parishes, often with the tacit approval of the bishop.[8] By 2010, when a new Prayer Book has been adopted, same-sex marriage may be required in every Episcopal parish. If the 1997 General Convention authorizes the development of same-sex rites or condones by intentional inaction the current use of illegal ceremonies, the Convention will set the Church on course to make it happen here.

Isn’t same-sex marriage the fantasy of a tiny fringe group? Only if you think of the Presiding Bishop as “fringe.” Addressing the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church in the summer of 1996, Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning stated his conviction “that it is possible for gay men and women in committed relationships to be wholesome examples.” Bishop Browning’s position is perfectly in line with the seventy or more bishops who have signed the 1994 “Koinonia Statement,” which calls for recognition of “monogamous” homosexual relationships.[9] The only question for many Episcopal leaders is whether they call such relationships “unions” or “marriage.”

Can such a thing happen so soon, without revising the Prayer Book? Without revising the Prayer Book, the Church may supply “supplemental” marriage rites by the year 2000. The “inclusive language” liturgies were developed in three years and passed despite grave theological objections of conservatives. Why not same-sex marriage rites? An even faster method is simply to allow “local option” services to go on with the Church’s tacit approval (see pages 92-93 for discussion of “local option”).

Won’t there be a lot of debate about this momentous step? There’s no time. The official committees will not come out with their recommendations until spring. What with other issues like the Lutheran-Episcopal Concordat and the election of a Presiding Bishop, the matter of mere experimental rites and local options will likely be neglected.

This book was written to call for an open debate within the Episcopal Church before it takes official steps toward adopting a practice that is without precedent in history and that will lead to a revolution in the meaning of marriage. I hope the book and any responses to it will be helpful to churches of the Anglican Communion and other mainline churches wrestling with sexuality issues, and may contribute to the wider discussion of this issue in the public square.

The Revision Process

The specific origin of this debate is Resolution C042s of the 1994 Episcopal General Convention. This Resolution charged the House of Bishops’ Theology Committee and the Church’s Standing Liturgical Commission to

prepare and present to the 72nd General Convention [in 1997], as part of the Church’s ongoing dialogue on human sexuality, a report addressing the theological foundations and pastoral considerations involved in the development of rites honoring love and commitment between persons of the same sex.
At the 1994 General Convention in Indianapolis, conservatives won a technical victory as the bishops committed themselves to “continue in trust and koinonia ordaining only persons we believe to be a wholesome example to their people, according to the standards and norms set forth by the Church’s [traditional] teaching.”[10] They also stymied proposals to begin writing and using same-sex blessing rites in the Church: Resolution C042s explicitly prohibits authorization of any such rites. (No official rites have been produced to date. Nevertheless, a group of theologians and bishops produced an “Illustration Rite” for same-sex unions, and individual priests, with the tacit consent of their bishops, have performed their own same-sex services for homosexual couples.)

Resolution C042s did not, however, prohibit same-sex rites permanently or as a matter of principle. By authorizing a study of the theological and pastoral foundations of same-sex unions, it left open the possibility that some future Convention might authorize them. In March 1996, the two bodies charged with this task appointed an ad hoc committee to do the groundwork on this subject.[11] This ad hoc committee circulated a request to seminary faculties that they provide major input.

As one of the eleven Episcopal seminaries, Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry was invited to engage in this process (see Appendix).[12] The Trinity faculty immediately accepted the offer, while objecting to the slant of the questions and to the confidentiality offered to the seminary responses. Because of the short time given to reply, the faculty appointed me to draft its report and submitted the resulting essay to the national church committee on September 10, 1996, the same day the United States Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act, clarifying its definition of marriage as applying only to opposite-sex couples. Trinity’s official report forms the core of the current book, although it has been thoroughly revised and adapted as the author’s own statement.

In November 1996, the ad hoc committee submitted its report to the two official Church committees. The ad hoc committee report reflected the arguments made by the Trinity faculty but concluded that our position could not be justified. The two official committees are still deliberating, as this book goes to press, what to do with this draft report. It seems likely that they will soften the conclusion and mention a “just say No” option in order to make the final report more “representative.” This outcome will be no vindication of the position taken in this book, however. Official acceptance of pluralism or “local option” is one step further down the road that will lead to the mandated acceptance of same-sex marriage in the Episcopal Church (see Chapter 6).

The Argument of This Book

This book is organized to address the issue posed in Resolution C042s logically and theologically, making use of the classic Anglican appeal to Scripture, tradition, and reason.

First of all, what are we talking about? The first chapter of this book makes the point that the issue before the Church is the authorization of same-sex marriage, whether it is called by that name or not. If a redefinition of marriage is at stake, proponents of new rites must justify such an historic and radical change by rigorous theological demonstration, which they have not even begun to do. By locating the roots of this redefinition in the liberationist “ethic of intimacy,” I conclude that the idea of same-sex marriage involves not an extension of traditional marriage to homosexuals but a change in the fundamental character of marriage for everyone.

What does the Bible say? And what if the Bible does not say anything about same-sex marriage? In the second chapter, I argue that the “silence” of the Bible on the specific issue of same-sex marriage does not provide a license to do what you will any more than it would authorize a number of other unthinkable practices. In fact, the Bible, when it is reasonably interpreted, is not silent on this subject. Its foundational teaching on the nature of marriage and its prohibitions of homosexual practice rule out same-sex marriage as a moral option. This being the case, the Church has no authority to innovate a new form of marriage; indeed, it is obligated to oppose any such innovation in its own ranks and in society at large.

What is the nature of marriage, and can its character be changed? In the next three chapters, I lay out in some detail the Christian doctrine of marriage as it is revealed in Scripture, universally received by the branches of the Christian Church, and established in secular law. Specifically, we examine the natural design of marriage, its legal status, and its sacramental character. Creation, law, and sacrament all agree with the truth that marriage is by God’s eternal determination a two-sexes-in-one-flesh union of a man and a woman. Attempts to undermine or circumvent this reality will lead to personal unhappiness and social collapse, and finally will stand under the judgment of God.

What effect will the debate over marriage have on the Episcopal Church? In the final chapter, I review 25 years of sexual politics in the Episcopal Church, which will reach a new stage at the 1997 General Convention. There the Church will have four options. Two of them – development of official same-sex rites or acceptance of “local option” ceremonies – ensconce a new sexual ethic in the Church. The third option – a moratorium on change – is a proposal for 21 years of genuine dialogue on sexuality, during which all partners agree to uphold publicly the Church’s traditional teaching. The final option – to “say No now and forever” to any development of same-sex rites – is the position most forthrightly consistent with Scripture and Christian moral teaching. Since it is likely that none of these options will be generally accepted, the Episcopal Church will be left as a “house divided.” Tragic though this is, honest admission of this fact may compel leaders to consider some sort of ecclesiastical separation or divorce that will allow each side to consolidate its identity and to enter into more honest dialogue about the nature and discipline of marriage.

[1] “Reading the Bible as the Word of God,” in Frederick H. Borsch, ed., The Bible’s Authority in Today’s Church (Valley Forge, Pa.: Trinity Press International, 1993) 133-167.
[2] The doctrine paper appeared in A Time of Trial: A Resource for Understanding the Presentment against Bishop Walter C. Righter (CCLEC, 1996). Both papers have been published in England by Churchman 110 (1996) 198-216, 295-324.
[3] I find it a great irony that at the very moment it may put its departure from the faith on record, the Episcopal Church is seeking to join itself to the church of Martin Luther. What a hollow achievement this ecumenical event will be if it is accompanied by an act that will put the Episcopal Church out of communion with all catholic Christendom.
[4] Cf., e.g., the one-sided presentation of data and analysis in Continuing the Dialogue: A Pastoral Study Document of the House of Bishops to the Church as the Church Considers Issues of Human Sexuality (Cincinnati: Forward Movement, 1995) 55-89.
[5] These conclusions are generally compatible with those of Jeffrey Satinover, Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996).
[6] For the debate between “essentialists” and “social constructionists,” see Edward Stein, ed., Forms of Desire: Sexual Orientation and the Social Constructionist Controversy (New York: Routledge, 1990).
[7] Same-sister marriage? Unusual perhaps, but not unthinkable. If the taboo against same-sex marriage is obsolete, why not the incest taboo as well? No Episcopal canon bars it. If the Episcopal Church approves same-sex marriage, many of these marriages will be extra-legal, and thus state laws against incest will not apply.
[8] As this book went to press, two such unofficial rites made the national news. ABC TV’s “Turning Point” (Nov. 7, 1996) featured a same-sex marriage service at Trinity Episcopal Church in San Francisco. About the same time, Penthouse magazine (Dec. 1996) reported a grotesque same-sex marriage service between an Episcopal priest, Fr. William Andries, and a young Brazilian man.
[9] In his public response to the Penthouse affair, Bishop Browning deplored Fr. Andries’s behavior in terms of “sexual exploitation and abuse,” but he did not condemn the central event, an illicit same-sex marriage ceremony.
[10] Guideline 8b, Continuing the Dialogue, 94. The word “traditional” is added for clarification on the basis of Guideline 2.
[11] Members of the ad hoc committee included three bishops – Joe Morris Doss, Chris Epting, and Charles Duvall – and two priests – Joseph Russell and Bruce Jenneker.
[12] While all seminaries were invited in theory, Virginia Theological Seminary did not acknowledge receipt of the invitation and did not submit a response.

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