Remarriage, homosexual "marriage", and burning passion

The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

Now to the unmarried [footnote: Or widowers] and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. 9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

1 Corinthians 7:8-9 (TNIV)

Does this passage have anything to say to us about the issues of remarriage and homosexual practice which I have been discussing? I think it does.

Now I am sure that you will say to me that these verses are not about remarriage or homosexual “marriage”. And no doubt you would be right about the latter. As for the former, I would not be so sure, especially because in verse 15 Paul writes that a brother or sister deserted by their unbelieving spouse is “not bound”, more literally “not enslaved” (ou dedoulotai), presumably meaning that they are free to marry again, as they would be if the spouse had died (verse 39). So Paul would have held that a deserted partner like that should remarry rather than “burn with passion”. Nevertheless, Paul teaches that the best thing for them, as for all unmarried people, is “to stay unmarried, as I do”.

Paul would not of course accept that a Christian person could simply choose to divorce and remarry. He makes this clear in verses 10 to 13. So this is a serious restriction on divorce and remarriage among Christians, one which should continue to be respected. He does not deal explicitly with the issue of those who are divorced, or divorced and remarried, before they become Christians. But the principle of 6:11 suggests that in such cases Paul would let bygones be bygones.

So let’s look back to 6:11 in context:

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor practising homosexuals 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (TNIV)

So, some of the Corinthian believers were “adulterers [or] male prostitutes [or] practising homosexuals” before they became Christians. (Yes, there is some dispute about the exact meanings of the words for “male prostitutes” and “practising homosexuals” here, but the latter word certainly included in its meaning practising homosexuals even if its full sense was wider.) Among these people were surely some who were remarried after divorce and so living in technically adulterous relationships. It may well also have included some people living in stable long term gay or lesbian partnerships, even if these were not the commonest forms of homosexuality in Corinth.

Let’s look next at Paul’s instructions to new Christians in Corinth. Here there is a bit of a surprise. These people were living in a city notorious for its sinful ways. So one might expect Paul to tell new believers to flee from their old evil entanglements and as far as possible cut themselves off from the world. No, he writes this to them:

Each of you should remain in the situation you were in when God called you.

1 Corinthians 7:20 (TNIV)

As examples of this principle he mentions not only circumcision (verses 18-19) and slavery (verses 21-22), but also engagement to be married (verse 27), and, apparently from the broader context, marriage itself (verses 10-13). He makes no exception for technically adulterous second marriages, nor for homosexual partnerships. So one can easily argue from this chapter that Paul expected gay and lesbian couples who became Christians, as well as divorced and remarried couples, to continue their relationships. He could, of course, have insisted that they split up. But if he had done, they would very likely have been in the position he outlined in verse 9.

On this basis I would suggest that Paul, while not approving of homosexual relationships or of remarriage after divorce, would have considered that, for couples who “cannot control themselves” and remain single as he himself did, either of these is better “than to burn with passion”.

I do NOT applaud divorce and remarriage

I wish people would read my posts properly before commenting on them.

Mark Olson linked to one of my posts on his Stones Cry Out blog, post dated Tuesday, April 29th, 2008 at 8:30 am:

Homosexual practice and divorce compared. One problem, not confronted in that essay is that the contention “Divorce and remarriage has become generally acceptable even in socially conservative circles in western countries” is itself not by any means good or to be applauded but instead vehemently countered (if true).

In response I commented, at 9:37 am in the same time zone:

But I did confront that problem. I thought I had made it very clear that I did not consider this contention “by any means good or to be applauded”. Surely my intention was clear enough from my words “to meet their congregations’ expectations”. But, if not, I explicitly proposed “a less permissive attitude to remarriage”, and commended the Church of England position that “remarriage requires a bishop’s special permission”.

Mark has so far made no response to my comment. But I discovered another post linking to my post, also dated Tuesday, April 29th, 2008 at 8:30 am, with the following:

Homosexual practice and divorce compared. One problem, not confronted in that essay, is that the contention “Divorce and remarriage has become generally acceptable even in socially conservative circles in western countries” is itself not by any means good or to be applauded but instead should be vehemently countered (if true).

Well, he has corrected his grammar by adding “should be”, but still has not read my post properly.

Let me reiterate my point. I do NOT applaud divorce and remarriage. I do not consider it good. And I made that point very clear in the original post. I was simply reporting, in by no means positive terms, a regrettable social trend. I should clarify that I was comparing the present position with that of perhaps 50 years ago; the most recent changes may not be in the same direction.

As for how this trend should be countered: I’m not sure that vehemence is the right approach, but I think that churches should make it very clear that this, like homosexual activity, is not generally acceptable behaviour.

Two Cheers for the New Calvinists

The Calvinist blogger Justin Taylor has graciously allowed Thomas McCall to post on his blog from a Wesleyan Arminian perspective. The resulting post, Two Cheers for the Resurgence of Calvinism in Evangelicalism: A Wesleyan-Arminian Perspective, was brought to my attention by McCall’s fellow Wesleyan Arminian Ben Witherington.

McCall describes similar phenomena that I have done in various posts on Calvinism on this blog. And I must say he has shown more gentle wisdom than I have done in some of those posts. He does what I have failed to do, but perhaps should have done, in first affirming the good things about this resurgence of Calvinism. It is indeed good that young Christians are passionate about theology and about holiness.

But McCall also makes some important criticisms of these New Calvinists, which I think are right on the ball concerning the ones I have had contact with, mainly but not only through my blogging.

First, he accuses them of misunderstanding Calvinism by taking it as implying determinism. As I am sure my commenter and fellow blogger Jeremy Pierce would be quick to point out, Calvinism properly formulated is by no means incompatible with human free will. But the teaching of the New Calvinists often seems to rule out any human free will in its insistence on the absolute sovereignty of God, a doctrine which is usually considered more Islamic than Christian.

Then McCall criticises

the unhealthy reliance of some of these New Calvinists on what might be called the “Neo-Reformed Magisterium” (the small group of theologians and conference speakers who are sometimes quoted as the final word on any theological topic at issue …)

– a group among whom he names John Piper. This ties up precisely with what I have observed among so many Calvinist bloggers and commenters on blogs.

McCall’s third charge is arrogance:

No theological tradition has cornered the market on arrogance. I have been accused of it (sometimes, I fear, with very good reason). Yet there seems to be – though I’m sure that what I say here is highly fallible – an amazing quantity of it among the New Calvinists.

Indeed. Like McCall, I am certainly not completely innocent of arrogance. But the amount of it so often seen and even boasted of among these New Calvinists is highly disturbing. They, and I, need to remember these verses:

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,
“God opposes the proud
but shows favour to the humble and oppressed.”
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

1 Peter 5:5-6 (TNIV)

Gene Robinson's Gay Rite

Controversial gay bishop Gene Robinson has responded to my post about him being a June Bride, in his new book, of which The Times has published an extract. Well, he hasn’t responded explicitly to me, but he has referred to how, after he said “I always wanted to be a June bride”,

Within hours, those eight words had made it around the world, thanks to conservative bloggers and the magic of the internet. …

I’ll be the first to admit that it would have been better if I’d never uttered those eight words – not because they aren’t true, but simply because they gave the conservative forces something else to use against me.

I was one of those bloggers who reacted quickly to those words, and I admit that I used them against him. But I also wrote at the time:

if he will not give up his gay union, it is best that he formally acknowledges it and pledges himself to being faithful to his partner.

And I reiterated this as a general principle earlier today. So I agreed then and still agree with Robinson’s main point in this article in The Times, that it is a positive step for him and Mark to contract a civil union, now that this option is available to them

But I am concerned that Bishop Robinson sees his intended union as an example to

a gay boy or a lesbian girl who will read about it and know that they, too, can aspire to a healthy, whole life with a person of the same sex – and that they don’t have to give up their faith along the way.

It is one thing for Gene and Mark to do what they do between consenting adults. It is quite another for them to promote their practices among impressionable boys and girls whose sexual orientation is still in flux.

My attitude to this of course shows there is still a huge gulf between Robinson’s position, apparently that homosexual relationships are morally equivalent to heterosexual ones, and mine, which is that homosexual practice within a committed relationship should be tolerated only as “the lesser of two evils”, that is as preferable to the greater evil of homosexual or heterosexual promiscuity.

Is there a moral difference between homosexual practice and remarriage after divorce?

John Meunier is, with good reason, Frustrated by gay debate within his own United Methodist denomination, which mirrors that within the Anglican Communion. John’s frustration is firstly that those “On the pro-inclusion side” are arguing from experience, not from proper biblical principles, and secondly that there is a mismatch between attitudes to remarriage after divorce and to homosexual practice. In a comment I pointed John to an older post of mine which suggests a way of treating these last two matters consistently.

Craig L. Adams left a comment on John’s post linking to an interesting post of his own, on a blog which I have not seen before, in which he takes up the same issue. He writes:

Yes, the relationship of the issues of homosexuality and divorce is interesting — and raises troubling issues and (at the very least) apparent inconsistencies for those of us on SideB. If the church prohibits same-gender sex — even between committed partners — why are Christians so permissive about divorce and re-marriage?

… And, given human “hardness of heart” and the circumstances of violent abuse, unfaithfulness and alcoholism, etc. I can see why — for the physical and emotional health of both partners — [some] marriages must sometimes end.

But, in these instances, divorce is “accepted” (so to speak) not as a positive good, but on the basis of an Exception Argument. Yes, marriage should be forever. But, there are circumstances where divorce is preferable to the alternative. As they say, it’s “the lesser of two evils.”

From this grows the commonly-permissive attitude toward remarriage, as well.

But, when we get to same-gender relationships, conservatively-inclined Christians run into a wall. Here deploying an Exception Argument would justify the very thing that is prohibited: same-gender sex!

Thus, the strange inconsistency.

Yes, there is a strange inconsistency. But it seems to me that the inconsistency is not in the argument but in the conclusions which those arguing wish to draw from it.

Divorce and remarriage has become generally acceptable even in socially conservative circles in western countries. So, to meet their congregations’ expectations, the leaders even of conservative churches have often stretched Craig’s “Exception Argument” to the extent that divorced people are remarried almost as a matter of course, and continue to play a full part in church life.

However, homosexual behaviour is still looked down on as unacceptable deviance by socially conservative people in the West, often for reasons not really connected to any religious beliefs. So their church leaders tend to meet the culturally based expectations of their congregations by taking a hard line against homosexuality, not allowing any kind of “Exception Argument” in this case, with the result that homosexuals are alienated from the church.

As Craig suggests, a consistent approach here requires both a less permissive attitude to remarriage and a more permissive one to homosexuality. But of course the analogy with remarriage must be to a long-term committed and formalised “monogamous” homosexual relationship. Unconstrained homosexual practise must be treated like heterosexual promiscuity: the church should declare consistently that both are unacceptable.

I suspect that here in the Church of England the rules on remarriage after divorce are less permissive than they are in some American denominations. At least in my own diocese remarriage requires a bishop’s special permission, and the bishop needs to be satisfied that the relationship between the prospective couple did not cause the breakup of a previous marriage. This is a proper application of the “Exception Argument”. Stricter rules apply to clergy, and rightly so. There are I think no bishops in the Church of England who are remarried after divorce; there is one in the Church of Wales, but another Church of Wales bishop has just been forced to resign over allegations, which he has denied, linking the breakdown of his marriage with a rumoured relationship between him and his (female) chaplain.

I would not be unhappy if the Anglican Communion were to move, with general agreement, to a situation where (at least in some provinces) formalised homosexual partnerships (civil partnerships and gay “marriages”) were treated in the same way as remarriage after divorce, “not as a positive good, but on the basis of an Exception Argument”. Thus clergy might be allowed to perform or bless gay weddings under certain carefully defined circumstances.

But individual provinces or dioceses should not go it alone in such matters. And there should be proper safeguards for clergy and congregations who do not accept these practices.

We should also remember that the Bible expects higher standards of those in church leadership. Thus it might well be right to restrict people both in homosexual partnerships and in remarriages from some areas of Christian ministry, such as being bishops. The details of course need further consideration – and will doubtless cause huge controversy if any proposal like this is ever put forward within the Anglican Communion.

To quote Craig again (his emphasis) with my complete agreement:

To me the teaching of Jesus is a radical call to repentance and commitment and faithfulness. The making and keeping of commitments is a part of our spiritual formation. Accepting ourselves as beings created in the image of God entails a desire to seek God’s will and purpose in all things — including the expressions of my sexuality.

This is not so much a Natural Law / common-sense good as a call to commitment and obedience and discipleship. We are called to seek God’s will in all things.

Possibly another hopeful moment in the Church of England, and the Anglican Communion

Not long ago I wrote about A hopeful moment in the Church of England, hopeful because

the church is beginning to realise part of what I wrote last December, that the parish system is a historical relic which is not helpful in the 21st century and needs to be abolished, or at least radically modified.

Today may be another hopeful moment because of the publication of the Manchester report into women bishops in the Church of England, reported by Ruth Gledhill in The Times. It seems hopeful to me not because it is a step towards the acceptance of women bishops in the church. My welcome for this step is somewhat muted because the path on which the step is being taken is so long and convoluted. But today is hopeful for me because the report fundamentally undermines the principle of geographical dioceses, the other anachronism which I wrote about last December.

Of course this principle has already been seriously, but unofficially, undermined in North America, first in the United States, and more recently in Canada with the defection of several Anglican Church of Canada congregations, and clergy, to the Province of the Southern Cone. But today for the first time there has been acceptance in an official report of the Church of England of the principle that, in effect, a congregation or parish may choose to separate from the diocese in which it is geographically located and join one of, in Ruth Gledhill’s words,

A series of new dioceses that would transcend geographical boundaries.

As Ruth continues, adoption of these proposals

would also set a new precedent in altering for the first time the centuries old principal of dioceses being determined by geographical boundaries. As a precedent adopted by the Church of England, the mother church of the entire Anglican Communion, it could even offer a way forward to a body in the throes of schism over how to accommodate those in favour and against gay ordination.

Indeed. In fact the mixed messages coming from those close to Archbishop Rowan Williams on the situation in North America, as well as the publication of the Manchester report, suggest that at least serious thought is being given to officially accepting this kind of breakup of the diocese and province system internationally. The reason why this idea is perhaps being taken seriously is because, at least as I see things, it is the only way to preserve some semblance of a united Anglican Communion.

But of course this could be seen as the start of a slippery slope towards a situation in which each congregation chooses for itself which bishop to put itself under. That prospect may be seen as too radical and divisive for the Church of England and the Anglican Communion.

Packer leaves the Anglican Church of Canada

It was perhaps inevitable considering the action being taken against him, and indeed many may have thought it had happened months ago. But, according to a report from today’s Vancouver Sun posted by Suzanne, it is only this week that J.I. Packer has officially announced that he is leaving the Anglican Church of Canada and joining the Province of the Southern Cone, under Bishop Gregory Venables. Packer’s church, St John’s Shaughnessy, voted in February to affiliate to the Southern Cone. Now Packer is personally making the same move.

Michael Daley’s Lambeth Conference Canada blog has more background on this story. The announcement seems to have been first made on Monday in a press release which Daley apparently posts in full. The press release quotes from a response by Packer and ten other priests and deacons to their former bishop Michael Ingham, in which they deny the charges made against them, and write:

We have… determined that in order to uphold our ordination vows, we must leave your jurisdiction, and by this letter, we hereby relinquish the licences we hold from the Bishop of New Westminster. Each of us will receive a licence to continue our present parish ministries from Bishop Donald Harvey, who, as you know, is under the jurisdiction of the Primate of the Southern Cone. In this way, we will be able to continue our Anglican ministry within the Anglican Church, under the jurisdiction of and in communion with those who remain faithful to historic, orthodox Anglicanism and as part of the Anglican Communion worldwide.

Oddly, Daley mentioned neither Packer nor leaving the Anglican Church of Canada in his post title, and did not post this on his main Lambeth Conference blog. Anglican Mainstream reports the same story with more detail, noting that David Short is also among the clergy who resigned, but again without naming Packer or referring to resignations in a post title; in another post reporting the resignation of the eleven clergy, Packer is not named at all.

So, bizarrely, it seems to have taken Suzanne and a secular newspaper to make this internationally important news break outside Canada. Well, Hugh Bourne here in England did pick up the story on Wednesday, but has received (or allowed) no comments or pingbacks on it. And already on Tuesday Babyblue in Washington D.C. had clearly reported the story. But strangely it didn’t get into the corner of the blogosphere which I inhabit.

Decisions on Earth Ratified in Heaven, and $3 worth of God!

Two great posts from Ben Witherington.

First, Decisions on Earth Ratified in Heaven- the Opposite of Predestination, in which he explains how Matthew 18:18-19 shows that

decisions taken on earth, have eternal consequences. … human decisions matter tremendously, … God is said to respond to the human decision making process.

This biblical teaching shows how wrong is the doctrine of some Calvinists that everything, including human salvation, is predetermined by God.

Then, on a lighter note, read Ben’s post Quote of the Day– $3 dollars worth of God. This is far too true of too many so-called Christians today.

The Christian Horse

I alluded to this joke in a comment at Better Bibles Blog. It seems that it is known even in California. I think I had better tell my version of it before someone else steals my thunder. I hope it is new at least to some of my readers.

A country pastor, in the old days before cars, went into town to buy a new horse. The horse dealer said to him, “I’ve got just the horse for you, Reverend. It’s an excellent horse, and what’s more, it’s a Christian.”

“A Christian horse? What do you mean?” asked the pastor.

“Well, it was brought up in a good Christian home, and it will really love you. Also it has learned Christian commands. To get it to start, you need to say ‘Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!’, and it will only stop if you say ‘Amen!'”

The pastor had a good look at the horse and decided to buy it. The dealer reminded him of the special commands it needed. Then the pastor jumped on the horse, and at his cry of “Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!” the horse shot off and the pastor started on his way home.

It was a beautiful day, and the horse was so good to ride that the pastor started to canter across the open countryside. The horse broke into a gallop as they sped across the hills.

Suddenly the pastor realised that they were coming towards the top of a cliff. He tried to stop the horse, tugging on the reins and shouting “Whoa! Stop!” But the horse kept going. At the last minute the pastor remembered what the horse dealer had told him. “Amen!” he shouted. The horse immediately stopped and skidded to a halt right on the brink of the cliff.

The pastor exclaimed, “Whew! Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!” …