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To Set our Hope on Christ: "It Stinks," says orthodox ECUSA theologian

To Set our Hope on Christ: "It Stinks," says orthodox ECUSA theologian

by Stephen Noll
June 2005

"To Set Our Hope on Christ" (TSOHOC), the document circulated by the ECUSA delegation at Nottingham, is condescending and pedantic: condescending in its assumption that the Episcopal Church's rationale represents advanced thinking on a subject where the rest of the Christian world needs to catch up, pedantic in its fatuous quotation of one-sided and dull official reports and statements to bolster its case. It is unworthy of the VTS scholars who are credited with writing it. I suppose they felt constrained, in the spirit of Marse Robert, to sacrifice their all for the Great Cause.

While noting the concern about conservatives not being politically savvy or involved, may I humbly suggest that many of us need to begin looking to the future rather than fighting rearguard actions. Conservatives inside the Episcopal Church need to be tough in upcoming political and legal battles, but honestly there is no point in further theological "dialogue."

The document at hand is proof of the fact that the 815 crowd will never give fair representation to us and our views. No doubt they felt they had to make an overwhelming case to the ACC (which failed, thank God), but the lopsided delegation and report in effect disenfranchised all the people and views opposing the drift of the past couple decades. They made it sound like the Episcopal Church had reached a consensus on the issue. There was not the slightest hint given that anyone on this side of the Atlantic was reconsidering the decisions of GC 2003. Look for more of the same at GC 2006.

As a biblical scholar who has been part of the fray for twenty-odd years, I must at least make this comment on the biblical exposition in TSOHOC: it stinks. It is regurgitated "Dirt, Greed and Sex" (William Countryman 1988). I think I am right in saying that TSOHOC deals with homosexuality only in Countryman's skewed paradigm of purity vs. property. I can find no references in the whole document to Genesis 1-3 as a foundational text, nor our Lord's appeal to God's plan for marriage "from the beginning." The whole argument is based on Countryman's extrapolation of Christian freedom from the ceremonial law to freedom from the moral law, i.e., the creation order. The historical Jesus declared all foods clean; now the Spirit of Jesus declares all [consensual] sex clean.

I was amused to see (in Fn. 23) they inadvertently quote my book Two Sexes One Flesh, out of context and without attribution:

While marriage may be preceded by erotic courtship and fulfilled in sexual delight, the union of man and woman brings about a new reality, a society.

What is omitted is my identification of the "biological purpose of marriage":

The first humble purpose of marriage is, simply, the survival and flourishing of the human race. This is the evolutionary success story the biologists tell of the human sperm uniting with an unlike egg, with XX and XY chromosomes coming together to reproduce distinct personalities within the immutable two-gender plan. It is the story of hormones and instincts that have led males for millennia to search out desirable females, and females to attach these males to themselves and their offspring. It is the origin of the hope of having descendants and the instinctive pride of mother and father in saying: "This is our own child."

It is also, I might add, God's stated design in creation for a man to leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife so that the two might become one flesh (Genesis 2:24).

In that same book, I come up with the phrase "proof-analogy," as a hermeneutical battle-axe wielded by revisionists against "proof-texters". Indeed the whole TSOHOC case rests on a single proof-analogy from Acts 10-15. As a nit-picking proof-texter, let me quote from the decree of the Jerusalem Council:

For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things [epanangkes ? "essentials"]: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity [porneia* - fornication]. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell. (Acts 15:28-29)

So how can it be that the Spirit-led Council was able simultaneously to open the door of the Gospel to the Gentiles but close it on the sexual libertines of the day? How is it that the Church was broadminded on ethnicity and narrow-minded on moral purity? According to TSOHOC 2.18,

It seems very likely there was no phenomenon at the time of the biblical writers directly akin to the phenomenon of Christians of the same gender living together in faithful and lifelong unions as we experience them today.

This assertion, which the PB makes wherever he goes, is totally unsupported by the historical evidence or by the generalizing thrust of Paul's argument in Rom 1:18ff. Indeed Robert Gagnon (www.robgagnon.net) has demolished this argument. But of course it would be inconvenient to let evidence to deter the moving of the spirit as s/he teaches new duties (the same spirit of Lowell's hymn "Once to Every Man and Nation" lives on: "New occasions teach new duties/ Time makes ancient good uncouth?").

I would like to make one practical political suggestion proceeding from the lesser ACC Resolution that was unanimously passed. It asks the Secretary General "to collate relevant research studies, statements, resolutions and other material on these matters from the various provinces." I think this should permit conservatives in the Episcopal Church to dust off all the pieces we wrote over the past couple decades that were deep-sixed by the powers-that-be and make sure through pressure from the Global South that they are not deep-sixed by the ACC staff. This will make it clear that the Anglicans in North America are not all of one mind ? indeed, that they have a mind!

--The Rev. Dr. Stephen Noll is Vice President of Uganda Christian University in Kampala, Uganda

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