Dogma and Doctrine in The Episcopal Church

In the pulpit, I rarely push the limits of what can be heard and digested in a ten-minute span unless I am certain of the risks involved in being misunderstood and misheard. In the classroom, I nearly always push the limits of what can be heard and digested in the span of the session. I also have a higher tolerance for being misunderstood. That can be a fairly dangerous thing.

Recently, I heard the content of one of my classes come back to me in summarized form: “The Episcopal Church does not have any firm, core beliefs.”

This came from a class that was intended to prove quite the opposite, a class necessary because the above statement is leveled at TEC with frequency and fervor. For the sake of clarity for all who might stumble upon a similar conversation:

Unlike many religious groups, The Episcopal Church has nothing that might properly be called Dogma. Dogma is held to be incontrovertibly true and becomes functionally unquestionable (in the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, irrevocable). Before any real examination happens, and well before a Communion attempts to adjust or nuance a core belief, those examining or adjusting would be labeled heretical or faithless. Dogma cannot be reinterpreted for the sake of context or new revelation.

That’s not how we roll, but that doesn’t mean we have no core belief.

Instead, we understand Doctrine to be set of core beliefs (more accurately convictions) that, if changed, would also change our identity. That used to be the way we understood the word Dogma, but the meaning of that term has shifted.

We understand the questioning and exploring of those convictions to be some of the most valuable work we do. We also understand that the changing of our identity is a process God constantly invites us to pursue. Often, we have found that asking the questions has been significantly more valuable than finding the answers, especially as it relates to God’s work in our lives.

As a test case, we understand the Doctrine of the Trinity to be so important that if we were to remove it, we would cease to exist in any recognizable form. But, we would not stop inviting people to explore, to ask questions, even to doubt. The Church ought to be relied upon to teach and to proclaim it. The Church ought to be relied upon to pattern life, worship, and ethics upon our Trinitarian conviction. The Church ought to teach it in such a way that heals the soul. But, to shield that conviction from scrutiny is to guarantee that we’ve also shielded ourselves from God’s ongoing revelation. I’m not so sure that protecting our convictions is worth that cost.

Burying Fred Phelps

I currently work for a parish that calls all of its services for the departed “A Celebration of the Life of X”. The same was true of my last parish. There have been plenty who have posted on what a terrible mistake that sort of language is, but today it is the death of Fred Phelps that has reminded me of what a mistake that language is.

When we die, it is not our life that allows us to celebrate, but the Resurrection of Jesus, i.e. his life. We have no right to such a celebration of our own life. When we gather for the burial of the dead, we do so “in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life” (BCP, 501). That hope does not come from our worthiness, but from the promise made through Christ’s Resurrection.

As Paul wrote,

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8)

Fred Phelps, to my mind, was a miserable sinner. So am I. The burial liturgy works just as well for him as it does for me. That is because it is not rooted is his goodness or mine, but rather the goodness of a God who has won victory over Death. Our burial liturgy makes no sense if any of it depends upon the goodness of the person being buried.

I could not, nor could most Christians, celebrate the life of Fred Phelps. However, I (and most priests I know) would still bury him. In that burial service, I’d say the same thing I would say in any other:

Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming (BCP, 499).


As I have noted in earlier posts, much has changed in the last year. Like many bloggers, the changes and chances of this life have disrupted my writing discipline. It seems that now might be an opportunity to return.

As an update, I have now moved to Florida to minister at a very large Episcopal parish. My daughter is nearly a year old, and I have learned how to handle better the predictably unpredictable life of parenthood.

I look forward to writing again, and I look forward to hearing again from those who read.



Happy Easter!

Happy Easter to you all. I’ve been off the grid a good bit lately to focus on my wife and newborn daughter. I’ll get back to blogging in the next few days.

I hope you have all had a blessed Easter thus far. Χριστός ἀνέστη!


Madeleine Elizabeth

How I Learned to Stop Reading the Bible Literally and Love the Text Part I: The Bible and Homosexuality

After my open support of LGBT equality at Diocesan Convention recently, I have had many great discussions about faith, the Bible, and my stance on relevant issues pertaining to Biblical interpretation. I have attempted to answer all of those as well as possible, but sometimes the context simply does not allow for thorough discussion. This post will be long, but it serves as attempt to get a handle on much of the Biblical text concerning homosexuality. Given more time, I will continue to edit and format this essay, but I cannot give it more time now. This is not intended to be exhaustive, but rather a conversation starter for those navigating the waters of Biblical interpretation.

The basic question is this: “How can you believe in the Bible and not believe that the Bible condemns homosexuality?” There are variations of that question, but that seems a reasonable paraphrase. This essay will attempt to show that there is no clear condemnation of homosexuality in the Bible and certainly not strong enough grounds on which to base discrimination within the Body of Christ. Later posts will deal with Biblical interpretation in general and the faith that springs forth from a less-literal approach to Biblical interpretation.

Let me start here: to say that homosexuality is condemned is scripture is quite simply either a myopic delusion or a blatant lie. Homosexuality is a term not coined until the 19th century (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). The Bible could not have possibly condemned homosexuality, because the concept of homosexuality did not exist. They Bible could no more condemn space travel or Lasik eye surgery. To put that in more plain terms: for someone like Paul, there was no understanding about categories of human sexuality. Instead there was an assumption that all people were born “naturally” to have sex with the opposite sex. Any sexual acts outside of this “natural” form of sexual activity was understood to be an aberration in activity, not an orientation or identity.

Still, various parts of the Bible have some tough things to say about male-male penetrative sex. So it would serve us to handle those.


You shall not lie with a male as with a female; it is an abomination. LEV 18:22, ESV

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood be upon them. Lev. 20:13, ESV

These two pericopae (“pericopes” just doesn’t seem right) fit in the context of Jewish laws about purity. Many know that, by one count, there are 613 “laws of Moses”. These are the ten commandments and the additional case laws concerning all sorts of matters from agriculture to xenophobia (as anachronistic a term as homosexuality when applied to Leviticus, but I needed to list something on the other end of the alphabet).

First, working under the assumption that the reader isn’t Jewish – these laws do not apply to you. These are purity laws for a particular people, not for the whole world. God made the ten commandments as a covenant for Israel after bringing them out of bondage in Egypt, and the other laws followed. If you were Egyptian, those rules didn’t apply to you. If you were Jewish, they did. Second, note that not even most Jews in the world take all of these seriously. How do we differentiate this prohibition of male-male penetrative sex from “Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard” (Lev.19:27).

So, for Christians, these two don’t get to play a role in the discussion any more than Christians should heed the warning not to eat the Rock Badger, for it is unclean (Lev. 11:5).

The Rock Badger

These are for snuggling (carefully) not for food.

It is much more understandable for very orthodox Jews to hold fast to these words, but again, that’s not really what we’re talking about here. That doesn’t mean that these verses disappear just because we aren’t Jewish, they just don’t apply as a binding legal commitment.

Furthermore, these two verses have a historical, religious background that is different from our interpretation above. Namely, these are about setting the cultural boundaries of Israel over-against other, surrounding cultures. Like the command not to eat shellfish, the rule is there to make Israel look different than others. In the process of setting those boundaries the priestly writers took to deify their prejudice. This isn’t holy, this is cultural anthropology. For me, this reveals more about who Israel was – not who God is. Other societies might have condoned male-male penetrative sex (scholars are pretty sure that they did), but Israel would be different. Other societies also ate shrimp, but Israelites didn’t.

A fun exercise is to read through Leviticus and see what the Israelites (or God, depending on your understanding) condemned or condoned. Most of those have no influence on how Christians live their lives, so why do some Christians insist on bringin Leviticus into the conversation?

Also, Bronze Age Israelites had often had a troublesome idea about what was “normal”. The notion that someone could be born with a different sexuality was simply not known. The fact that some people acted different was known, and different was considered dangerous. Again, that doesn’t tell me about God – that tells me about them.

Edit: Susan makes a good point in the comments below, drawing our attention to some other interpretations, and reminding us that the Israelites understood the purity codes as reflecting their relationship with God collectively as well as individually. She also touches on the notion that within Leviticus there were laws that pertained to ritual purity and those that revolved around moral purity. So for instance, if someone offers an improper sacrifice, that sin causes death for that person, not for the whole tribe. Moral purity, however, threatened the whole community with expulsion from the land (Lev. 18:28 and 20:22f). Whatever the root behind the “Do not lay another male as you do a female” line, the possible consequence for the community was to be removed from the land.

Those interested can read much more about some of these ideas in Jewish thought. I would highlight Mary Douglas’ work in Anthropological Approaches to the Old Testament and Implicit Meanings.

Next up:

Genesis 18:1-19:38 – the story of Abraham’s hospitality and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. It’s important to read the whole thing to get it all in, one-line quotes won’t quite work here.

Frankly, I think anyone who reads this story and isn’t disgusted is blindly ignorant. The story is not about sexuality at all, it is about rape. A gang of men standing outside someone’s door, threatening violence if two visitors are not handed over for gang-rape is not homosexuality (I hope I don’t have to explain that to any of my readers). What’s messed up to me is that people who really want to make this about God condemning homosexuality fail to notice that Lot’s alternative is to let his two daughters get gang-raped instead. These citizens of Sodom were depraved, and God had promised that if he couldn’t find ten righteous people in the city God would destroy them. So, there we go. But, there is no indication, at all, that God is punishing the gay men of Sodom, at best, that is a biased inference.

Secondly, I think it is important to place this in the context of the hospitality story from Gen. 18. Abraham did the right thing in his feeding and caring for a stranger. The sin of Sodom was that their version of hospitality was gang-rape instead. Even if someone were to argue that the text doesn’t say “gang-rape” it might be worth noting that this clearly has nothing to do with male-male consensual sex, much less life-long committed and loving partnerships by people of the same sex.

Worth noting: Much of the Bible commentary on this story refers to the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah as greed (see Ezekiel 16:49).

I’m also more than willing to pass on this one simply because the notion of righteousness displayed here includes allowing one’s own daughters to be gang-raped – something which I do not think God loves. So, my guess is that this, once again, shows us more about the people who wrote it than about God.

To my knowledge, that’s it for the Hebrew Scriptures. Next up, Romans:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. Romans 1:21-27

Now this is an interesting text. It’s the only place in the Bible where female – female sexual acts are referenced. This text has several important points of entry for conversation. First, Paul has generally not seen it as necessary for gentiles to follow the purity laws of Leviticus. Why doesn’t he extend that here? Is this a place where his own prejudice has gotten in the way of the Good News of Christ? That obviously wouldn’t be a helpful angle for discussion with those who hold to Biblical inerrancy, but for some that might just make sense.

Paul’s argument extends from an understanding about natural intercourse, but we have to ask ourselves what Paul thought was natural and whether it is the case that after 2,000 years we have the same understanding. Elsewhere, Paul talks about how unnatural it is for men to have long hair – it’s degrading (1 Cor. 11:14). Now, some religious fundamentalists think that it really is unnatural for men to have long hair – and, good for them for being consistent. I think Paul was a product of his times, and he thought it was unnatural at the time – and I don’t have to understand that as an actual condemnation of longhaired men. It would, of course, be interesting to survey the hair styles of this blog’s readers. If a male has long hair, he is likely fulfilling the law of Leviticus requiring long sideburns, but Paul would say that he’s a disgrace. Odd. Short hair and long sideburns, FTW?

But, for me, here’s the real kicker: I don’t think Paul was really talking about specific details of the world’s behavior in Romans 1. I think he was talking about general themes of human failure:

Romans 1:18-31 is a whole section that deals with humanity with regard to the story of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve knew God, ever since the creation of the world, but rather than glorify God they reached after God’s wisdom (knowledge of good and evil). They claimed to be wise but became fools. They, and many of the children of Adam and Eve since, gave up the glory of God for that of animals (i.e. they took up idolatry, worshipping golden-calves for instance).  And so, humans were given over to a spiral of idolatry in which they were consumed with passion – that line is the focus of the text – being consumed with passion for one-another is a form of idolatry. This isn’t a laundry list of bad behaviors, these are the result of idolatry. Evil, slander, wickedness, etc are the end result of idolatry. While Paul’s prejudice might have understood same-sex intercourse as unnatural, Paul wasn’t really concerned with intercourse – he was concerned with idolatry.

Perhaps the worst part about how people take this out of context is that they miss Paul’s larger point: Chapter 1 is about how the world has fallen into idolatry, Chapter 2 is about how God’s own chosen people have turned away from God, and Chapter 3 is designed to explain that, because we’ve all God baggage we can understand more clearly why God sent Jesus: “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23).

So, for me, strike out Genesis, Leviticus, and Romans as dealing with sexuality in a way that informs my opinion about 21st century Christian practice.

That leaves us with:1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and 1 Timothy 1:10

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind. Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11, KJV

Paul uses two Greek words in long lists of things that he thinks people are doing wrong; it’s a vice list. It’s important that there are two words here, so any translation (such as the ESV) that uses “homosexuality” to cover both terms is clearly not trying to accurately represent the Greek text. BTW, for anyone who thinks that the word of God is inerrant, please answer in the comments below how it is that we can trust the interpretations of those who have translated our Bibles into English. Even if the original authors were inerrant (which I don’t believe is the case) the transmission is through people who have to make decisions about how to transmit the information from one language into another, and they frequently fail to represent the original language. How do we trust them with such certainty as to condemn a fellow human being?

Anyway, the lines usually thought of to be about homosexuality hinge upon two words in Greek.

One is the adjectival form of malakos (μαλακός) possibly meaning “soft” (see Liddell-Scott). It’s the word used in Matt. 11:8 (Luke 7:25) to describe a man’s clothing. It might be fair to define this with an understanding about effeminacy, but the fact of the matter is, we really don’t know what it means. However, it is not fair to read this as having something to do with our modern understanding of human sexuality.

Further, malakos is so uncertain in its meaning that it’s probably not fair to make any solid argument about it. Translators have to make a decision about it, and so they interpret to the best of their ability. It should be of interest that the translations have varied wildly over the past few hundred years, which should indicate that it doesn’t have a clearly known meaning. All of these translations are really interpretations, no matter how faithfully produced.

If malakos does mean soft, then (again) it seems that this has something to do with illustrating prejudice, not God’s will. Really, though, if we’re honest – the Bible doesn’t define the term and our best guesses come from how the term was used in other Greek literature. It’s a mixed bag out there: sometimes “soft”, sometimes “effeminate”, sometimes referring to cowardice, sometimes the result of listening to music (in The Republic, 398e and following), etc. It’s not a clear enough term to base an argument about modern sexual identity or orientation.

The other word in this passage is arsenokoites (ἀρσενοκοίτης).  Some think this is a shorthand expression for the prohibition of a man lying with a man as with a woman from Leviticus: a man shall not lay/bed (koites) another man (arsen). This is, however, illogical:

This approach is linguistically invalid. It is highly precarious to try to ascertain the meaning of a word by taking it apart, getting the meanings of its component parts, and then assuming, with no supporting evidence, that the meaning of the longer word is a simple combination of its component parts. To “understand” does not mean to “stand under.” In fact, nothing about the basic meanings of either “stand” or “under” has any direct bearing on the meaning of “understand.” This phenomenon of language is sometimes even more obvious with terms that designate social roles, since the nature of the roles themselves often changes over time and becomes separated from any original reference. None of us, for example, takes the word “chairman” to have any necessary reference to a chair, even if it originally did. Thus, all definitions of arsenokoités that derive its meaning from its components are naive and indefensible. (Dale Martin,  Arsenkoites and Malakos)

Once again, we find that we don’t really know what arsenkoites meant in Greek, because it was not used very often in the ancient world and it hasn’t been clearly established what the word means ever since then. There are some decently compelling arguments out there that arsenkoites probably referred to temple prostitution. Jury is still out on those. Another theory is that it refers only to anal penetration, and so does not condemn other male-male sexual acts. If so, one might wonder if there was a Biblical injunction against male-female anal penetration as well; but again, we don’t know because we can’t be certain as to the meaning of this word.

More importantly, anyone who uses 1 Cor. 6 to talk about why homosexuals are going to hell is missing the point altogether.

Paul writes: Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor [malakoi] nor [aresenokoitai], nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. 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.

Much like in Romans – Paul’s point isn’t really about how men having sex with other men are sure to be left out of the kingdom (NB that he doesn’t use the word hell at all), but that none of us really deserve the grace that is given to us in Jesus. Some of us have done things that the Bible condemns (all of us if we’re honest) – we are not righteous, but we are justified (made righteous) in the name of Jesus. It would be foolish for me to argue that Paul did not understand male-male sexual activity as wrong. Of course he did, but that’s doesn’t mean I must enshrine his litany of sins as my own. Not any more than I must understand that men with long hair are disgraceful.

That’s a pretty sweet deal that Paul is getting at, about how we’re justified by Christ cause we’re in no shape to do it ourselves. Cool indeed despite his prejudice, and it seems like that would take the wind out of the sails for anyone who insist they love the sinner and hate the sin (which, BTW, isn’t Biblical – further proving the notion that some have a tendency to say that they follow every word in the Bible but usually follow lots of words that they think are in the Bible, even if they aren’t).

Almost there, and I’m over 3,000 words, so I’ll be brief:

1 Timothy 1:10 – This passage uses arsenkoites also, and we don’t know what it means here either. In any case, I’m not sure that I can read this as condemnation of homosexuality. Paul indicates in that certain actions go against the gospel that was entrusted to him. Note that very few of the things that he mentions are condemned in the Gospel texts that we have in the canon. This is the Gospel according to Paul, or at least according to someone writing in Paul’s name (Google “1 Timothy authorship” to see some of the debate, or check out earlyChristianwritings for a brief overview). This letter to a particular group of people at a particular time with a particular set of prejudices.

Other things worth considering in 1 Timothy:

That women should not be allowed to teach or have authority (1 Timothy 2:12, based on a poor understanding of the Adam and Eve story).

That women will be saved through childbearing. (1 Tim. 2:15)

Widows are a burden on the church (1 Tim. 5:16, not sure James would agree with that to say nothing of the Prophets: e.g. Isaiah 1:17)

Slaves are to consider their master as worthy of respect, especially if the master is a believer. (1 Tim. 6:1-2)

I do not highlight these as to say that the author of 1 Timothy is a backwoods Christian fundamentalist whose writing has no bearing on our lives today. I simply mean to point out that whatever the context of this letter, we must ask if the situation to which it is address is the same as ours today. In the case of slavery, the answer seems to be “no”. In the case of understanding the role of women, the answer seems to be “no” (though I realize some Christians hold fast to this as well). Whatever the sexual activity listed in chapter 1, I’m certain that the author of 1 Timothy could not have known of the same sort of loving, life-long, committed relationships between same-sex partners that we have in modernity.

So, I don’t see any condemnation of homosexuality in the Bible. I see plenty of places where there are words that are unclear, and I see plenty of places where male-male penetrative sex is depicted negatively in explanations of biased socio-cultural boundaries. I do not understand any of this as having as being necessary binding upon all Christians.

As I have stated elsewhere and will write again in further posts about this topic, at no time do I suggest that we remove these texts from the canon or treat them as something other than Scripture. But, to assume that all scripture necessarily informs our moral understanding or is a building block for ethics is naive. There are atrocities in the Bible, gang-rapes, genocides, the wholesale slaughter of men, and women (non-virgin women) and children in holy war, and all sorts of sexual relationship are condoned as long as they don’t cross the boundaries set by ancient Israelite culture. We don’t have to say that because God seemed to appreciate Jephthah’s child-sacrifice that we are also called to child-sacrifice.

There are moral mandates that are very clear in the Bible and those are worth talking about, such as the command to love and the imperative to forgive. I’ll address those in my next post. This post serves only to show that the argument “homosexuality is clearly condemned in the Bible” is simply false and serves the agenda of those who continue to repeat this as a slogan of prejudice.

Additionally, some will ask where I get off questioning the Biblical text at all. I’ll be sure to post about the in the future as well. I’ll link to it as soon as that post is written.

Thanks for reading, and please leave your comments below.

Sex and the Southern Diocese III: Voting Day

Old Diocesan SealThe 192nd Convention of the Diocese of Georgia ended this morning just before 11:00. The last item to be voted on was the resolution discussed in the first post and second post in this series.

However, the first action of in discussion of this resolution was a substitute resolution from the Rev. Sam Buice, rector of St. Peter’s in Savannah, GA (also known as: my boss). This is my best attempt at recreating the language of that resolution. I’ll update with exact language as soon as possible.

Whereas, the 192nd Convention of the Diocese of Georgia recognizes the language of its current ethics canon as problematic, and

Whereas, the national canons of this Church and the Book of Common Prayer include sufficient definitions of the ethical standards for deacons, priests, and bishops, and

Whereas, the 192nd Convention of the Diocese of Georgia has faith in its leadership to determine which persons qualify for the ordination process, therefore

Be it resolved that GA Title IV, Canon 1, be removed from the Constitutions and Canons of the Diocese of Georgia.

There was an attempt to table this amendment was was overturned by an overwhelming majority. It was quite clear that the people of the Church in Georgia were ready and willing to handle the matter of this canon at this convention.

Discussion was largely in support of the resolution. Some saw it as an opportunity to bring us in line with the national church (whose canon III.1.2 forbids discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation). Some saw this as simply ridding our diocese of a poorly written canon. Others were interested saw this as an opportunity to preempt further discussion around this topic in order to get back to the business of being missionaries for the Gospel of Christ.

After what was a rather brief discussion (in large part due to the Bishop’s rule that each address last 60 seconds or less – thank you, Bishop!) the question was called and the vote was almost fully in support of the resolution.

There is now no Title IV, canon 1 in the Diocese of Georgia, and there is no legislation in Georgia that keeps us from opening the ordination process to all who are so called. Thanks be to God.

It is true that I have been embarrassed of the diocesan history with regard to human sexuality. However, today I am proud. I am proud of the hard work that the Diocese of Georgia did to remove this canon. I am proud of the bravery of those who stood up to challenge the status quo. I am proud to be a member of this part of the body of Christ.

Sex and the Southern Diocese II: First Discussion

Today the 192nd Convention of the Episcopal Church in GA deliberated on the previously announced resolution to amend the ethics canon of the Diocese of Georgia. The resolution as it will come to the floor will have an amendment adding additional lines about the calling of God for some persons to enter into “chaste singlehood”, which is actually an improvement from the previous language. The previous language presupposed that all clergy were to be in marriages.

There was enough discussion about amending the resolution further, that we can hardly be certain what we will actually vote on tomorrow morning. I’ll post tomorrow and update with amendments as they are approved.

Discussion today was calmer than I had expected. On one side, there were some impassioned pleas to maintain the current canon for it’s fidelity to the Biblical (supposed) message about marriage and chastity. On the other hand, people made strong arguments about the Church’s call to be opening and accepting.

The vast majority of commentators approached the mic to argue that both the current canon and the proposed can present more problems than anything else. As hoped, we spent a great deal of time discussing the definition of monogamy. To sum up 45 minutes of deliberation: The current canon is bad. The new canon isn’t great. Why can’t we just scratch them both?

I pray that we do scratch them both, and I am hopeful that we will do that tomorrow. It turns out that the answer to yesterday’s post is that we do have enough bravery to scratch them, it will just take the hard work doing that in as a democratic body. Tomorrow may be the day that we put ourselves back in line with the national church, which promises that no person will be denied access to the discernment process on account of his or her sexual orientation (III.1.2).

Sex and the Southern Diocese

Thursday night, February 7, the Diocese of Georgia will officially kick off its 192nd Convention in Tifton, GA. I’ll be live tweeting from @FrRemington, but generally don’t expect anything too exciting to come out of this convention.Diocese of Georgia

That said, The Diocese can’t seem to help itself when it comes to conversations about sex. Back when the Bishop announced his approval of a heavily modified same-sex blessing rite, I also mentioned that we have an embarrassing blemish called an ethics canon in Georgia:

Aspirants, postulants, and those accepted to holy orders shall accept and conform to the following standard: “Marriage between a man and a woman or abstinence from sexual activity are the only acceptable forms of sexual behavior for a Deacon, Priest or Bishop in the Diocese of Georgia.” (GA, Title IV, Canon 1)

Looking past how poorly written and problematic the language is (e.g. Marriage between a man and a woman is a form of sexual behavior?) the canon was written simply for the purpose of excluding LGBT persons from access to Holy Orders in the Diocese of Georgia.To my knowledge, it has never been used to keep a heterosexual person engaging in sex outside of marriage from the ordination process.

At this convention this week, we will finally hear a resolution promising to replace this canon:

Deacons, Priests, and Bishops in the Diocese of Georgia are called to be wholesome examples to the Church exhibiting the teachings and virtues of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Their personal lives must manifest faithfulness, monogamy, life-long commitment, mutual caring, and the healthy care of themselves and their families. Their public lives must show financial honesty, confidentiality as required, respect of interpersonal and professional boundaries, and the avoidance of fraud, deceit, or deliberate misrepresentations.

To be sure, this is better language on the whole, and I appreciate that it deals with more than just sex. Part of my embarrassment over the current canon is that it is the only canon under the heading “Ethics”. So, in Georgia, we define ethics as having sex inside a straight marriage or being abstinent. By that definition, even masturbation is considered unethical.

This new ethics canon would be better by a long-shot. However, we might see this substitute as having been “acted on by a previous convention”, namely the conventions that voted to hold the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Constitutions and Canons of the Episcopal Church as our defining documents. I’m not sure how this ethics canon would strengthen our understanding of ethics beyond those formative documents. I’m not sure anyone has ever explained why we need to have an ethics canon at all (apart from the people who are honest about our attempts to withhold ordination from LGBT persons).

Hopefully, we’ll be brave enough to say that this canon is unnecessary, and then turn to the previous canon. Hopefully, we’ll be courageous enough to say that the previous canon is ridiculous. I wouldn’t count on that bravery shining through, in part, because I’m not altogether sure it exists.

Even if our bravery is not great enough to eliminate the entire “ethics” section of our Diocesan canons, we still have a problem. The language of the new resolution presents a reformulation of the status quo:

Deacons, priests, and bishops are called to monogamy. While the descriptive definition of monogamy could refer to two partners (of any sex) in a committed relationship, the prescriptive definition relates to one marriage: mono = one + gamos = marriage. While most people may lean toward the more modern understanding of monogamy without regard to the institution of marriage, I doubt that the intent of this resolution embodies that definition. If so, it would be unnecessary to include the following clauses about life-long commitment and fidelity. Unless, of course, the Diocese means monogamy as opposed to serial-monogamy, but knowing the remarriage rate among our clericus, I’m not sure this is the case either.

No, monogamy as defined by this Diocese can only refer to marriage between a man and a woman. Even if this state were to legalize civil unions (which may not happen in my lifetime), the Diocese of Georgia has put its episcopal foot down about the definition of marriage.

So, while there are many other problems with the resolution, this one is the most deceptive. The language of the resolution seems to maintain the status quo, only dressing it in a prettier package. That’s an old standard in the South. In Savannah, I see this every day. People know how to dress racism up in a bow seersucker, but at the end of the day it’s the same racism that it’s always been.

If we pass this resolution to replace the current ethics canon, we’ll look like we’re in better shape than we have been in a long time. But, I’m not convinced that we’ll have changed anything substantial. Not changing the important things is something Georgia’s been good at for a long time. We’ll call it genteel, but it’ll be what it has been for ages: discrimination.


Update: I’ve had the chance to speak with members of the committee that formed the language of this resolution. Some felt that this blog post implied that they intended to only make superficial changes to the status quo. I don’t think that was their intent; I think they attempted to bring forward better and passable language. I apologize if I implied otherwise.

The RCL Misses the Point – Epiphany Edition

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the RCL, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:

I can imagine this becoming a series. God knows we’ve all suffered through the Revised Common Lectionary poor or otherwise quizzical choice of lections for any given occasion. The next in the series would be the First Sunday after Epiphany. It’s the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Take a second look at the title: a feast of Jesus, a feast about the baptism of Jesus. That’s it. It may be that your local community has decided to add rites of Christian initiation to the day’s festivities, but that does not change the fact that this feast day is about Jesus, and has its context in the season of Epiphany.

Where does the RCL go wrong?

The Lectionary chooses Isaiah 43:1-7 instead of the 1979 BCP lectionary’s Isaiah 42:1-9 (Roman Catholic lectionary roughly matches BCP)

The RCL mistakenly believes that the Feast of the Baptism of OLJC is actually about the baptism in general. So they choose poorly:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.

I don’t think anyone who is not a heretic would claim that Jesus was redeemed at his baptism. Nor do I think the Church would like to say that God was not “with” Jesus until his baptism. We handled many of those issues early on in the Church.
Meanwhile, the BCP has Isaiah 42:-19, the second “Servant Song” of Isaiah. This text has a complicated interpretive history, but the Church has interpreted this in a Christocentric manner for thousands of years.

The Baptism of Christ, Joachim Patinir, c. 1510-1520


Applied to Jesus this is much more clear – Jesus is the beloved, with whom God is well pleased (imagine that, an OT lesson that matches the Gospel lesson). It references the spirit coming upon Jesus, as well as the way in which this action moves Jesus toward his messianic mission. This passage probably originally referred to someone else, maybe even many others, but the Church has at a minimum considered this a typological reference to Jesus.

But, it gets worse. The “old” lesson from Acts was 10:34-38 (BCP and RCC) in which Peter discusses the history of the beginnings of Jesus mission, how he was anointed with the Holy Spirit and then went off doing things that messiahs do. The RCL chose Acts 8:14-17 where the Apostles send Peter and John to re-baptize some folks in Samaria. Another choice to emphasize “us” rather than Jesus.

When the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

This rather seals the deal as far as the RCL’s misunderstanding on this occasion. The Baptism of Jesus is part of the Church’s observance of the Epiphany of Jesus to the Gentiles. It’s a story which, together with the first miracle at Cana and the transfiguration, illustrates who Christ is as Son of God and light to the world. The Baptism of Jesus is about Jesus’ divinity and mission not about our rituals. Once again, the RCL utterly fails to understand the point.