Friday, April 25, 2008

Goddamn this "Holy Scripture" Bullshit

This post is sponsored by the Sacrilegious Wire Service of the Church of the Orange Sky.

Five hundred years later, it still comes down to who gets to have righteous sex with whom, and whose gets "blessed" as a result. Watching the ongoing dissolution of the Anglican communion in Canada is like watching the last two seasons of Battlestar Galactica - it's hard to choose sides among stubborn reprobates.

I wrote some posts a few months back when the "Anglican Network in Canada" was taking its first steps to provoke a schism in Canadian Anglicanism. The issue has returned to the secular news, which is usually the only kind I read these days, as a result of South American archbishop Venables' visit to a conference here in Canada, put on by the "Network" schismatics. The schism, and particularly the firm opposition to gay marriage (and somewhat softer opposition to the ordination of women, who are almost as troublesome as gay people, and sometimes even are gay people!), is being justified on the grounds of "Holy Scripture," whatever that is.

(The latest twist has been covered by such major news sources as the CBC and the National Post.

On the one hand, we have Canadian archbishop Fred Hiltz, who demonstrated his opposition but also his impotence in demanding that Venables not make the trip - bluntly adding that the southern bishop should "stop interfering in the life of this province." Hiltz heads up a church hierarchy that managed, in true Canadian fashion, to thumb its nose at every principled position a couple years ago by ruling that gay marriage wasn't forbidden by the core doctrines of Anglicanism, but that Anglican churches wouldn't bless gay marriages anyway - somewhat like claiming that giving food to the hungry is a nice thing to do but that it's best left to someone else with more money to spare. The fact that Hiltz's best argument against the Network schism is that the church of the Southern Cone is violating the sovereignty of its Canadian sister is a sign of how weak the Canadian church's position has become. If the issue really was the hierarchy, then this issue would presumably require some sort of intervention from Rowan Williams of Canterbury, who is keeping deliberately aloof from the squabble. My experience has led me to believe that most Canadian Anglican churches strive for the faithful inclusion in communion of anyone who worships Christ - but this is rapidly going to get lost amidst accusations of border violations and exclusion of those who are part of the new "Network."

On the other hand, we have South American archbishop Greg Venables, who offers the dubious excuse that he wouldn't have supported the schism if the Canadian rebels weren't already causing trouble in the first place - a rationale approximately as morally justifiable, under the church's hierarchical traditions that both archbishops claim to accept, as claiming that it's okay to join in a bank robbery if you walk in while it's already underway. Venables, correctly in my opinion, insists that "truth" outranks "geography" - which in this case means that while claiming to stand up for true Anglicanism, he violates the traditional Anglican order for the sake of the new and novel problem of manning the walls and defending God from waves of gay and lesbian marauders. I normally wouldn't side with hierarchical institutions, but I have to say that Venables is behaving like a Baptist, arguing that any old separation is both legitimized and indeed necessitated by some relatively minor doctrinal differences. As another testament that his point is foolish, Venables even uses the notorious "some of my best friends are gay" argument.

To his credit, it seems Venables also disagrees with the activism of Anglican primate Peter Akinola of Nigeria, who at this very moment is campaigning in that country to have homosexuality declared a criminal offence. These shreds of integrity, however, are further undermined by his blatant hypocrisy over exactly how "literal" the Bible's teachings on sex and gender really might be: he is willing to permit his Canadian flocks to ordain women because this is not a "doctrinal" issue, rather a "secondary" one. What the fuck is this bullshit line of division between "doctrinal" and "secondary" morality?

I've said before, and I will say again, that the proper response from the Anglican Church of Canada should be to call the Networks' bluff, not mutter darkly about border violations and sovereign rights. The position of a church which stands for inclusion of all who have faith in Christ should and must be that those who wish communion with the Anglican Church of Canada may have it, and those who do not wish such communion are free not to share it - and to search for fellowship elsewhere, if they find it necessary, but to do so in the knowledge that the Anglican church will remain faithful and remain welcoming should they ever wish to return. Of course, Hiltz can't afford to take such a position, because he has to look out for the powers and privileges of his institution - which means he can't afford to dilute the traditional privileges of that institution (like sovereign borders and a monopolization of Anglicanism within Canada). So much for the Canadian church.

Now for some of my own biased feelings on this subject. The Southern notion that the Bible defines our "doctrinal" and "secondary" morailties, wherever the line between them may fall, is a transparent fiction worthy of prompt disposal. You can choose to keep all of the law of Moses or none of the law of Moses, but you can't pick and choose which part of "God's moral code" is good enough for you and which can be safely ignored - which also means you can't keep the Levitican ban on homosexuality unless you're willing to consider all of the other sexual rights, privileges and obligations of that law. Even without discussing the explicit issue of owning women (which I will take up later, and have already discussed at length in my Biblical commentaries), let's review some of the sexual morals which according to Venables's argument really ought to be reinstated at once: no sex during a woman's period (penalty: execution or banishment), the importance of female but not male sexual purity (penalty: death for one, nothing for the other), all nudity is evil (penalties vary), concubinage, polygamy, brothers' widows are inherited, sex makes one unclean, interracial marriage is wrong, and so on. Of most interest to unmarried Christians, perhaps, is the obvious point that this Old Testament sexual law doesn't explicitly prohibit unmarried heterosexual consenting men and women from having sex, provided the woman's value as a bride or wife is not endangered in the process.

Presumably, therefore, Venables is drawing on the New Testament for inspiration on the subject of homosexuality, but the sexual message of the New Testament is even sparser and less coherent. Jesus himself was notably unconcerned about sex - it's common to say he never mentioned homosexuality, but really, he hardly mentions sex at all, and only rarely talks about marriage, beyond exploitation (inappropriate divorces and mental "adultery"). So obviously the real meat of the issue must be found in the epistles, which return on several occasions to the very great concern about sex which the Jewish authors had, the early Christian writers also had, but Christ seemingly did not, his teachings more largely concerned with love and integrity, two things which are demonstrably lacking in the Anglican schism.

Even there, of course, it's tough to know what to do with what we find. Paul explicitly declares in Romans and Galatians that we now live beyond the Old Testament law, and that he's not trying to create a new law through his writings. But that doesn't stop Christians from looking for new laws in his writings, anyways. Trouble is, this usually requires much "harmonization" and "interpretation" and such even from those who claim to take the Bible most "literally." In Romans 1, for example, Paul certainly does appear to condemn homosexuality - though in the process he's engaging in some deliberately exaggerated sarcasm, something which would become immediately apparent if people erased that giant and idiotic chapter numeral that cuts Paul off in mid-argument. I guess you could take as binding all of his claims on gender, marriage and sex in Corinthians, Timothy, etc., if not for the fact that they're hopelessly, ridiculously confused: Should unmarried women get married quickly (1 Timothy), or not at all (1 Corinthians)? Can women speak in church, or must they be silent, or must they be silent unless veiled, or perhaps silent except when delivering prophecies? If you're not going to take Paul absolutely literally on those issues (even where he contradicts himself), you have no business claiming there's a "clear" moral teaching against homosexuality, since it would have to be derived from the same flawed books. I guess Jude mentions sexual immorality too, but then, Jude is a useless, paranoid rant, even less worthy of canonical status than the elitist reactionary babbling of 1 Timothy. Of course it doesn't talk about gay marriage, because there was no such thing as gay marriage at the time. Are we going to make moral decisions for today based on the social customs of 1st century Palestine?

The most telling moment, of course, is when Venables says that there is in fact a form of "holy" sex - specifically, heterosexual intra-marital sex. Never mind that the Old Testament said this sex was unclean and St. Paul said it was a "concession" to sinfulness. Holy indeed, which is why we don't have time to worry about "secondary" issues like global poverty, or the massive crisis of food shortages now occuring worldwide even while Western wheat is sold for "biofuel" in what may become one of the greatest crimes of humanity of the present time. No, we can't worry about those problems, because there is a much more severe problem, which is that there are unauthorized orgasms going on! When a man and his wife fuck, it is sacred, because their papers are signed and everything is in order. We cannot possibly worry about poverty, exploitation, or other injustices until we've made sure we won't be accidentally blessing the wrong orgasms.

In the past, the Church of the Orange Sky has always condemned efforts to reduce marriage to sex, most notably in the case of the ridiculous Christian Sex Challenge and its clearly superior successor, Dave's Relevant Christian Sex Challenge. I'd love to continue doing so, but in this case the church is working against me, because pretty much the only thing that can objectively separate heterosexual "marriage" from gay "marriage" is that the latter has greater potential for vaginal intercourse involving a penis, and for the various reproductive opportunities which follow therefrom.

I'm sure there are plenty of people who disagree with my feelings on sex and marriage here, but even granting that I might be wrong, it's hard to argue that there's a clear Biblical teaching on the subject which is so "central" to the Christian gospel that it would justify splitting a church.