Sunday, 30 May 2010

Anglicans cling to biblical fig leaf in same-sex marriage struggle

Ken Cauthen, writes in his blog, Liberal to Left Musings: Politics, Religion, Ethics, Justice, Humorthat Exegesis Follows Belief.  For those who have not had to learn such arcane terms in a theological education, exegesis simply refers to a critical reading of a text, and particularly of scripture. [I do love how every speciality creates special language to keep the riff-raff off of their intellectual turff!]

Cauthen was reacting to a statement from Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, against Anglican recognition of same-sex marriage. Williams declared
Changing the Anglican theological position on homosexuality would have to be based on the most painstaking biblical exegesis and on a wide acceptance of the results within the Communion
Cauthen points out that, contrary to Williams' implication, religionists do not in fact make their moral decisions based on interpretation of scripture. Rather, they do their scriptural interpretation based on prevailing moral stances.

Were this not the case, we would certainly see Christian preachers routinely urging members of their flocks to stone their neighbours who wear clothing made of mixed fibres and extolling the virtues of slavery (so long as the slaves come from a nation other than their own, of course).

The Archbishop then only pretends that the intellectual work must come before a change in Anglican ethics, but this is merely another attempt to avoid having to make a move toward justice - a move that would be terribly divisive within the Anglican Communion.

Our moral stances do not - even for true believers - come directly from an interpretation of scripture. They come from our own sense of the world - a sense that is deeply and inextricably influenced by the culture of our times. In the 19th century, Theodore Parker told us that the moral arc of the universe is long, but that it bends toward justice. That ongoing change in the cultural ethics is influenced by religion, but it is a product of so many more influences that - in practice - our exegesis follows our moral choices and not the other way around.

Cauthen concludes,
[Those religionists] who approve of same-sex love need most is not more and better exegesis but to find non-exegetical ways to change hearts and minds. When that happens, the foundational and sustaining exegesis will be forthcoming.
My hope is that the Anglican Communion's 'bending toward justice' for same-sex couples does not take too terribly long and that - despite the very present risk of schism - it will recognize that an exegesis incompatible with the culturally recognized demands of justice is unsustainable.


  1. What you have said here is very true, but the exegesis has already been done, by John Spong, Gene Robinson, Marcus Borg, Marcella Althaus-Reid, and many other LGBTQ theologians. Not to mention the fact that same-sex marriages (adelphopoiesis) were performed quite happily by early Christians. So Williams doesn't even have the fig-leaf of exegesis, or indeed custom, to cover his embarrassment.