Blessing Holy Things

Just want to highlight a comment made on the Glasgow same-sex blessings thread and my response to it.

Kimberly said:

The point is that blessing is what we do.

The church has been given the gift of pronouncing God’s blessing where we find it and where it is needed. We bless all sorts of things, all sorts of people, at all sorts of times. Blessings for people taking up a new job, blessing of new relationships, blessings of long faithfulness, blessings of those in hope, blessings for those who grieve. We bless rings, roads, houses, books, church ornaments, doors, meals, pets, boats. Why should the love and commitment of two gay people be the only ‘thing’ we can’t bless? …or indeed, the only thing we shouldn’t talk about blessing when we are filled with excitement at all that God has given us.

Kimberly,

The point is that blessing holy things is what we do.

For example, I’ve just come from a wedding where I blessed the couple, I blessed all the marriages in the church and I blessed the rings. All of these things (Eph 5) are signs of God’s holiness. Throughout church history however and across the vast majority of the one holy, catholic and apostolic church today, we have not and do not believe that same-sex unions are holy. In fact, those entering into active same-sex relationships are doing that which is clearly unholy.

That is why they cannot be blessed and furthermore that is why the refusal of Bishops to discipline those who conduct them is nothing short than an insult to Christ from whom all holiness comes.

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  • http://rmstar.blogspot.com/ robert

    Though a minority believe that such relationships may be holy and you seem to be proposing that no-one may recognise this. I would strongly object to blessing a fox hunt but I recognise that some clergy have done and I would not say that those who do should be disciplined!

  • http://n/a Blair

    Hello again,

    well, I’m not sure about the analogy with blessing a fox hunt, but as you say robert, “a minority believe that such relationships may be holy”. I was struck by Eph 5:10 in your link Peter – “and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord”. I would like to suggest that it’s through attempting such discernment, that some have concluded that gay relationships may be holy. Moreover, some of the reasons for that conclusion may be that the fruits of the Spirit are detectable in some such relationships, and that some have seen that within gay relationships, there can be the same mutual self-giving that a Christian marriage should exemplify. If this is so then it seems to me that there is a basis – or at least part of a basis – for saying that gay relationships may be holy.

    Peter, I’m aware that you’ve written about Ephesians 5 and the later part of the chapter about the husband and wife as Christ and the Church. As I understand it you’ve argued that only the husband can signify Christ, and only the wife the Church, so any other kind of coupling is outside of this and cannot signify Christ and Church. But I would like to question whether there is so rigid a link between gender and what is signified: if the church in this metaphor is feminine, is ‘she'( v27), that means women and men are grouped as ‘she’, after all, which seems to make that link rather less rigid and so could put a question mark against your interpretation. I’m not sure if the following is quite connected to this – but verses 22-24 are clear that this isn’t a mutual relationship (“Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife…”), yet isn’t it (in part) the mutual self-giving of each person that’s being blessed in a marriage?

    And of course, as I’ve said on here before, some do not believe that Scripture abominates or prohibits committed same-sex relationships…

    One thing I’d like to ask you, Peter: what do you think are the criteria for recognising something as holy? Be interested to know if you would consider the presence of the fruits of the Spirit and mutual self-giving as criteria, for example.

    in friendship, Blair

  • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

    Blair,

    Let me throw something connected to the first part of your comment back at you. If I could take you to meet a young man who was involved in a paedohilic relationship since aged 12 (with an older man) and claimed that in it he saw the fruits of the Spirit, would that be validation of such a relationship? If you say “no” because of extentuating ethical concerns (that such a relationship is ungodly in it’s essence), would you then concede that such a criticism of a gay relationship which showed “the fruits” might be equally valid?

    The problem with Eph 5 is that far too many people interpret it in a domineering way. The passage begins with the instruction to submit to one another. Paul then clarifies the way that husband and wife submit in similar and different ways. FWIW I’m of the opinion that the demands are much heavier on the husband than the wife, for he is called to love her as Christ loved the Church, giving himself up for her. All she then has to do is to follow – and if she has a husband who sacrifices everything for her then that is not too hard a task. For example, in my house I try to let Gayle have her way (and support her and join her in it) most of the time unless I think that what she is doing is fundamentally unethical or dangerous. So we try to live Eph 5 as we read it, and perhaps you should ask her and other similar wives whether they feel oppressed or restrained (in our household Gayle is the chief breadwinner).

    Oh, and I say, “I try”. Unfortunately though, most of us husbands are selfish, sinful fallen things who don’t do what Christ asks of us, so we use Eph 5 as an excuse for our wife to make us cups of tea when we want, and in doing so we spit in Jesus’ face by letting our lives signify a lie about him rather than a truth.

    Verse 27 is part of the comparison of husband/wife – Christ/Church so obviously when talking about the church it means all of us. But very clearly it is the wife NOT the husband who signifies the church in this regard and given that one needs a male husband and a female wife to do the signification here, a gay couple cannot be the same signifier.

  • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

    And just to open a hornets nest on fox hunting – As a country boy I am firmly in favour of fox hunting but I don’t think I can see a single reason why it should be blessed. Perhaps someone would like to put forward a case?

  • http://rmstar.blogspot.com/ robert

    though people do it, the blessing of hunts that is – googling gave lots of webpages (most American!) I suppose for the same reason that one might have a prayer of blessing over a house as you move in (there’s a Grove booklet somewhere with a sample service).

  • http://n/a Blair

    Hi again Peter and all,

    Peter, thanks for your candid wrestle with Ephesians 5. I was trying to raise questions about how you interpreted it, not to probe into how you live it out (not sure if I need to say that, but still…). I admit my thinking in that paragraph in my post was rather messy. Would just like to add that I can accept that “far too many people interpret it in a domineering way”, but that it seems to me that’s partly arising from a little tension within the text itself. As you say, it starts (at v21) “with the instruction to submit to one another” – which suggests mutual, equal relationship; but then the verses following that move to speaking of male headship. I’m not sure if this is a good reading of the text, but that seems slightly in tension with v21. I don’t want to push this too far – I think my only point is that if there is this tension within the text, maybe that’s how some have interpreted it in a domineering sense, as the male headship elements could be stressed to the exclusion of “submit to one another”.

    And having said all that, that wasn’t my main question about your view of Eph 5! My main qu was about interpreting it to exclude the possibility that a committed gay relationship could show forth something of God’s faithfulness – I think I was trying to suggest that what’s most important in the text is the self-giving of each to the other and that if both men and women as church can be referred to as ‘she’, perhaps gender within the passage isn’t so absolutely rigid.

    Just to comment on your first paragraph: I don’t think that the analogy of an adult in a sexual relationship with a 12-year old and a gay relationship between adults, is a valid one. So I’m hoping it’s possible to say ‘no’ (as you anticipated) to the scenario you present, but without conceding that the same criticism of a gay relationship would be valid. The fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control”. Given the power imbalance, so that it must be virtually impossible for equality, and therefore mutual self-giving in a sexual relationship, to exist between an adult and a 12-year old, I don’t think such a relationship could truly show forth all of those fruits. I’d like to suggest that a committed gay relationship could, as, like a straight relationship, it has the potential to be one of mutual self-giving. Also, I’d like to put to you that arguing against that, requires more than Biblical texts – one would surely have to give evidence that same-sex desire is of its nature pathological, such that the only possible maturing or growth for someone with such desire is to journey away from it: ie, that it’s impossible that same-sex desire can be humanised and integrated within one’s personality, and can develop and mature as same-sex desire. To misquote Father Jack – that would be an anthropological matter :)

    in friendship, Blair

  • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

    Blair,

    Let me take your last paragraph first. Straight away what you’ve done is introduce this issue of “power balance”. In my (not so) hypothetical example though, let’s assume there is no power balance issue. Do you still object?

    I understand where you’re coming from on how Eph 5 could speak for all committed relationships. The problem is though with that approach that Paul doesn’t framework his argument with that implicit openness. He uses the specific example of husband and wife. You would need to demonstrate a good hermeneutic to argue why that covers all relationships. If you’re going to import male/male on the text then why not male/child? Male/donkey? Pig/goose? You also need to handle how the headship signifier works in a relationship between two men (or women). It seems to me that you would need to throw one or two verses out in order to make male/male work. Who is kephale?

    As for talking about my marriage, well I always think that this kind of theology is impotent if we don’t talk about how it’s lived out.

  • http://wonderfulexchange.wordpress.com/ Kimberly

    It’s good to see such a varied conversation, though I wonder why people so often try to use paedophilia to try to prove something about homosexuality.

    The issue with paedophilia is precisely one of power, so I don’t thing we can remove it from the equation even hypothetically. It ‘fits’ more with other categories of abuse (physical, sexual, psychological) than with categories of loving relationships.

    As for fruits of the spirit — it is never simply a question of what the individual feels, but what the community discerns. So, an abused child might find a thousand ways to justify the abuse by claiming there is good in it, but that does not make it good. Alternately, someone may feel that an aspect of their life brings nothing but heartache, whereas those around them see the fruits of the spirit growing. Discerment is a collective process.

    And that is what the Anglican Communion is in the midst of now. No one blesses same sex relationships or chooses to elect a gay bishop because they think sin doesn’t matter, or the bible is unimportant. They do it because they believe that gay people’s lives can indeed be holy, point to and echo the holiness of God. Of course we don’t all agree on that. The question of what holiness means for a gay person is precisely what the communion is trying to discern. But we could at least try to credit that the people we think are wrong are equally committed to God, to Christianity and the truth — even if we believe that they (or we) may not have yet grasped its fullness.

  • http://seandoherty.blogs.com Sean Doherty

    Kimberley: I agree with you re. power and abuse in paedophilic relationships. It is not an exact analogy, of course. But the point is that such relationships may appear to be just as fruitful and divinely blessed as faithful same-sex relationships. Such fruitfulness is clearly therefore not in itself an indicator of divine sanction – as you recognise by your very desire to bring in other factors to assess such relationships. For me, one such factor is the complementarity of the sexes in creation.

  • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

    Kimberly,

    I want to press you on this because I think you’re starting to see my point (and Sean’s as well – Hi Sean!!). You said:

    an abused child might find a thousand ways to justify the abuse by claiming there is good in it, but that does not make it good

    This might seem a bizarre question but, on what basis are you judging that the child is abused?

    You see, I raise the issue of paedophilia not because I think that homosexuals are paedophiles (a ridiculous notion) but rather because it forces us to examine critically where our moral judgements are coming from. Paedophilia is a less than theoretical issue for many of us pastors and thinking seriously about why we believe it is wrong helps us understand what constructs our moral framework.

    Sean is absolutely right – if one could take the same things that some claim to see as fruit in homosexual unions and see them in paedophilic relationships, why is one moral and the other not? It’s answering these kind of questions (and once again, for those of who pastor in these areas these things are not just theoretical) that help us make proper ethical judgements.

    One might take your comments about

  • http://n/a Blair

    Hello all,

    well, I will try and be brief but daren’t promise :)

    First, Peter, on Ephesians 5 I admit that my argument in my last post was a little tenuous and that it’s true “that Paul doesn’t framework his argument with that implicit openness”. At the moment I don’t think I can demonstrate the good hermeneutic you call for, but would just say again that I had in mind committed adult relationships – I don’t think the “male/child? Male/donkey? Pig/goose” examples are relevant. Thinking about the headship thing, Jesus’s commandment in John, “that you love one another as I have loved you”, and his words about the least being the greatest (see Luke 9:46 – 50) came to mind – how does one read Paul’s words about headship in the light of these teachings of Jesus’s? (I’m not sure). As I say, I realise that raising that question doesn’t constitute a good hermeneutic.

    Particularly liked the last paragraph of your post Kimberly – seems to me both clear and charitable about where things are now.

    Peter, going back to the beginning of your post (#7 on this thread): you suggest we “assume there is no power balance issue”. But I’m not sure this assumption is possible – it’s very difficult to imagine circumstances in which there could be said to be no power imbalance in matters sexual (and indeed many other ways) between an adult and a 12-year old. It’s near-certain that there’d be some difference in sheer physical strength, for a start. Similarly, in the last post you ask: “if one could take the same things that some claim to see as fruit in homosexual unions and see them in paedophilic relationships, why is one moral and the other not?”. But again, I’m questioning whether this would truly be possible. Also, a key phrase there is “some claim to see” – that it seems to me takes us back to Kimberly’s point about the community discerning, testing, what “some claim”, to see if it is good / true (“test all things and hold fast to what is good”, and all that…).

    You rightly want “us to examine critically where our moral judgements are coming from”. I’m not sure I can give an adequate answer but would like to suggest these questions / criteria as a sketch toward a basis, given what we’re discussing: the presence of the fruits of the Spirit, discerned by a worshipping community, not accepted on self-report; the possibility of mutual self-giving; and whether the relationship reflects something of the costly faithfulness of God. Sorry if that last phrase sounds pompous or clunky coming from me… nor am I claiming to be remotely adequate at living out the criteria I’ve just put down.

    And so much for brevity…!

    in friendship, Blair

  • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

    Blair,

    If male/male isn’t in the text of Eph5 but you want to have it applied to it, then why not adult/child? That seems unreasonable.

  • http://wonderfulexchange.wordpress.com/ Kimberly

    Thanks, Blair. I started to write a similar response and just didn’t have the energy to go over the old ground again.

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