Monday, May 29, 2006

Biblical Values for American Families

The Rev. Dr. Jay E. Johnson -- Episcopal priest and theologian -- reflects on Biblical Values for American Families:

...It is important to recognize, for example, that the most common marriage pattern in the Bible is polygamy; it is not a union of one man and one woman. Even in the New Testament, married life as we understand it is not presented as the model. The most prominent models of Christian life in the New Testament, Jesus and Saint Paul, were not married, and neither had children. Paul explicitly ranked being married below being single. And when Jesus was asked about his own family, his reply was radical: “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:48-50).

On this basis, the early church developed a model of family that broke totally with ancient kinship patterns, monogamous or polygamous. The family in the New Testament is religious and nonbiological; more than anything else, it is like what we might think of as the “church family.”

The Bible does not provide us with concrete examples that we can directly apply to marriage and family as we understand these relationships today. In fact, the examples of what some might refer to as “biblical family values” are deeply disturbing......Religious opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples frequently turns to the Bible for support. For example, one denomination has based its opposition to marriage equality on “the biblical teaching that God designed marriage as a lifetime union of one man and one woman.”

But, as we have seen, this claim hardly reflects what the Bible actually says or the ancient cultures in which the Bible was written. The structures of biblical families are rooted in cultural practices far removed from the values of Christians today......Societal definitions of marriage and family have changed, and will continue to change, over the course of history.

What the Bible presents as the abiding standard is not based on biology or specific forms of legal contract, but on the quality of love that is shared. That is why many Christians today believe that if same-sex relationships exhibit such spiritual values, they deserve the protection and recognition that marriage represents in our society.

If we have any intention of preserving marriage and building strong families, we must base our support on neither ancient practices nor those of secular modernity; instead, our basis must be values that are unchangeable—faith, hope, and love. These are the biblical standards for Christian marriage and Christian families today.


Anonymous said...

This is a colossal, apparently intentional misreading of specific passages and the Bible as a whole. Genesis establishes male-female monogamous marriage as the God-given pattern from the very beginning. Jesus restated it to the Pharisees and affirmed it in response to their question on divorce. The Mosaic Law gave detailed, specific regulations concerning marriage, and none concerning polygamous relationships. Every polygamous relationship in the Bible was marred by strife; they were given as negative examples, not as models to be emulated. Dr. Johnson flatly mis-states "the most common marriage pattern in the Bible is polygamy", seemingly counting on most people's ignorance of Scripture and their unwillingness to go to Scripture and see for themselves.

"Paul explicitly ranked being married below being single." Anyone can read for themselves that Paul said "in light of the present troubles" (persecution of Christians and the expectation of Jesus' imminent return) that remaining single was preferable than marrying. This same St. Paul gave many principles for husbands and wives to follow for a God-pleasing marriage (many of which are misinterpreted and wilfully twisted by literalists and revisionists alike). St. Peter and Jesus and Solomon (in Proverbs) did likewise, and none of them were describing polygamous relationships. One of the requirements of a bishop (overseer, deacon) in the NT was that he "be the husband of but one wife" (not requiring marriage but forbidding polygamy and likely remarriage after divorce, another issue that both sides of ECUSA's divide must confront)

How about this slam on marriage from St. Paul?
1 Corinthians 9: 5 Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas (Peter)?
Is the eminent Dr. Johnson as ignorant of this passage as the many, many others, he ignores?

But please don't just take my word for it (not likely on this blog :) ) or Dr. Johnson's word. Go straight to the text. Develop a daily, systematic habit of reading the Bible and ask the Holy Spirit to open your heart and mind to what He wishes you to hear from Him in its pages.

Hebrews 4: 12-13 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.

Mark Twain, certainly no Christian himself, once had a very appropros comment on Scripture. He said it wasn't the parts of the Bible that he didn't understand that bothered him. It was the parts he did understand and didn't like that bothered him. We would do well not to ignore or dispose of the parts we don't like but ask God to bring us into line with His will so that we agree with Him joyfully.

Anonymous said...

Sophistry by Jay Johnson, and not very clever sophistry at that. What about Jesus' words that 'from the beginning' God ordained marriage to be between 'male and female'? And, who can believe the claim that Paul 'ranked' marriage below singleness? Paul did no such 'ranking' but in 1 Cor 7 urged people to adopt, in light of eschatological realities, a single lifestyle, as a pragmatic judgement (which he said explicitly was not from 'the Lord') so they could devote themselves to God's work. Additionally, Johnson seems to read the Bible 'flat'--that is, with little sense of either a hierarchy of principles and with little sense of its diachronic development--when he says
'the most common marriage pattern in the Bible is polygamy.' It is as if he is tallying up verses (a fundamentalist move, really, tho' on the left here), saying 'Let's see . . . Solomon? That's 1 for polygamy.'And so on.

Very odd exegesis all in all. Did he ever pause to think about the difference between description and prescription? between is and ought? It doesn't seem so. What does he offer us about NT patterns of marriage? (Does he think Paul's reworking of household codes suggests polygamy when it says 'Husbands love your wives?' I hesistate to suggest it; it may end up in his next piece of work.

Admittedly, right-wing evangelicalism or fundamentalism is any easy target (I sometime wonder if the left wing of ECUSA would have any traction if it weren't for the likes of Falwell, etc.) but hardly anything in this piece commands intellectual assent.

Anonymous said...

And yet, when those of us on the "liberal" side of the argument say anything like, "When the Bible says this, it doesn't really mean this," then people jump down our throats for denying the plain sense of Scripture.

But you're perfectly willing to take Paul's assertion that it is better to remain single than to marry, put it in a particular situational context, and say, "Well, he didn't mean that to apply to us."

Once you're willing to admit that we can use historical context and "hierarchical principles" and "diachronic development" to evaluate whether the Bible really means what it says at any given moment, then I don't see how you can deny us the right to do likewise on the handful of instances where the Bible has anything to say about homosexuality. Sure, you can argue with our particular application of those principles; but that's not what I typically see in such discussions. I see people denouncing the very idea of trying to second-guess the Bible... even when they do it themselves.

Otherwise, you have to admit that the plain sense of Scripture is that polygamy is OK and owning slaves is just dandy, but that it is an offense against nature for a man to have long hair.

Anonymous said...

Show me where in the New Testament ... just one place even . . where it says polygamy is okay? If you cannot, then how in the world could I every be forced, as you say I am, to "say polygamy is okay?"

Moreover, I didn't include this in an earlier post b/c it would take more than a day to straighten out some of Johnson's logic: the fact that Paul urges singleness upon people actually supports marriage as the traditionalists understand in this way: to be single, unmarried, means to refrain from undertaking the project--marriage!--in which sexual activity is appropriate.

Anyhow, again, just show me where the NT, which is the basis for our understanding of Christ and the Christian life, promotes (a) polygamy and (b) sex outside of male-female marriage?

Anonymous said...

There is a gigantic incongruency happening now in the more conservative circles that is unresolved and causing extreme frustration, especially from those who are extremely conservative who are not getting any answers from those whom they consider theologically orthodox.

The incongruency is simply that they treat clergy who are divorced and remarried differently than they wish to treat clergy who are homosexual.

They ask for VGR to resign or retire as a sign of his repentance and for all non-celibate homosexuals to leave their partners and quit being non-celibate as a sign of their repentance.

And yet, when the question is raised how a divorced and remarried priest is supposed to repent, the answer seems to be that they are to say that they're sorry to God, are forgiven, and can therefore continue their merry life married to their second or third spouse, forgetting all the time that, according to Jesus, they are committing adultery.

When challenged on this incongruency, they become mighty defensive and talk a lot about the sanctity of marriage, biblical values, and their definition of what the American family is supposed to look like.

This, beyond a shadow of a doubt, has cemented my views on the conservative element of this church. Whereas some of them may truly be sincere in their faith, the vast majority, because of their response to this issue, are judgmental homophobics and are using the Bible to suit their whims, their hates, and their fears. Worse, they are proclaiming these values as Jesus' truth that fall from his lips while, using their own method of mad reasoning, they don't realize that their own lives are a living, preaching, falsehood.

May they find a fundamentalist church to feed them. Soon.

Anonymous said...

You raise a fine point, watcher. It's one that isn't lost on many people. What is interesting is the linguistic and exegetical gymnastics (eye of needle stuff) resulting from such clearly contradictory positions.

I'm pretty surprised at some of the comments claiming polygamy is roundly "condemned" in the Bible when in so much of the OT it is normative.

Chip Webb said...


It seems to me that you really are missing the difference between description and prescription. Those of us who are orthodox do not believe that something in the Bible that's there is automatically prescribed or presented as good, even if it apparently was "normative."

Something "normative" in the Scriptures is not necessarily good. Evidently, divorce was pretty common by the time of Jesus' day, but Jesus told us that God only allowed it because hearts were hard. As one of our collects says, "All Scriptures were written for our learning," but there are probably as many negative examples of what not to do as positive examples of what to do.

It's the husband and wife relationship that Scripture presents to us as a model of Christ and the church. That is an incredible comparison that we must not take lightly. Just as Christ was faithful to death for one bride, the church, so a husband is to be faithful to only one wife.


Regarding the acceptance of divorce: Many orthodox people agree today that the church has gone too far. Why are remarried people not to divorce again? Not to continue with their "merry life," but because it's never right to compound one sin with a second sin. A horrible sin was committed with a divorce. Another horrible sin should not be committed with another divorce.


Regarding Paul's comments on singleness: While Paul was clear about his advice to stay single rather than marry, he did provide an explanation: "in view of the present circumstances." He went on to comment, though, that it was not a sin to get married.

Regarding slavery: Was "owning slaves [really] just dandy" when Paul urged slaves to gain their freedom if they could, and in light of the year of jubilee?

Peace of Christ to all,

EpiscoWatcher said...

In regards to the argument, "We can't ask them to divorce again because that would just compound the sin" is a dog that won't hunt, Chip.

The sin in question is not so much divorce but REMARRYING after a divorce. Jesus didn't say that those who divorce are committing adultery. He said those who divorce and REMARRY while their former spouse are still living commit adultery. Thus, using the same standards that conservatives put against VGR, every day that these divorced and remarried priests live with their new spouses, they are guilty of adultery. Every day.

Now to your argument. Leaving their second or third spouse would be sinful, no doubt, because it was a relationship that should never have been, at least not according to the conservatives' rule book. However, they can repent of that sin and be forgiven and done with it. Not so with the adultery sin which happens every day that they live in this adulterous relationship. Again, I'm simply using the same criteria of judgement in this case as conservatives are known to use against homosexuals. Scripture. With the notable exception that, as Integrity says on their webpage, nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus talk about homosexuality but he does seem to say quite a bit about divorce.

What boggles my mind, Chip, is that those who are orthodox who think that this has gotten too far have not received any answers from the powers that wish to sell ECUSA to Akinola and his gang. They ask and their question falls on deaf ears. Could it be because many of them fall into the same group of divorced, remarried clergy and lay people? I wonder...

EpiscoWatcher said...

Chip, here's a shorter reponse to the question you raise, again from Scripture, again from Matthew:

"If your (whatever) causes you to sin, (get rid of it)." Thus, if being remarried to someone while a former spouse is still living causes a person to sin (adultery), it seems to me that right there is a person's biblical justification to divorce.

Chip Webb said...


Hold on here for a second. In the Old Testament prophets, we're told unequivocally that God desires faithfulness in marriage and hates divorce. (See Malachi 2.)Then, when Pharisees come to Jesus questioning him about divorce (see Matthew 19), he clearly tells them, "'Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but in the beginning it was not so.'" Just a few verses preceding that one, Jesus has restated the permanence of marriage as God's intention from the beginning. "'Therefore, what God has joined together, let no man separate.'" Jesus is saying that marriage was intended by God for life from the very beginning of creation. You can't get more of a basic principle than that.

But aren't Jesus' words about divorce and remarriage, not divorce per se? No. The initial question that the Pharisees ask Jesus is, "'Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?'" Jesus then states the permanence of marriage. The Pharisees' followup question is, "'Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?'" That's when Jesus talks about divorce only being allowed to accommodate peoples' hard hearts. Remarriage is mentioned only once in the passage, while divorce is mentioned many times. Divorce is so much against God's intention that Jesus only gives one exception for when divorce is permissible.

So it's the dog that ignores divorce and jumps straight to remarriage that won't hunt, episcowatcher. Divorce was never God's intent for humanity; he intended marriage as a lifelong union of a man and a woman. Again, we're given the imagery of Christ and the church as a further picture of God's desire. The spouse is to be as faithful and loving to the other as Christ was to the church. And as the Malachi passage shows, God treats marriage as a sacred covenant.

And since divorce is a sin, to remarry and then divorce again is another sin, and one that has had disastrous effects on two families to boot. The church doesn't encourage more sin in order to rectify a previous sin.

"'If your (whatever) causes you to sin, (get rid of it).' Thus, if being remarried to someone while a former spouse is still living causes a person to sin (adultery), it seems to me that right there is a person's biblical justification to divorce."

If we look at that passage in the entirety of Scripture, it doesn't mesh, episcowatcher. We know that God intends for a marriage to be permanent. The person who has divorced and has remarried is considered to be in a marriage with his or her second spouse by God. The first divorce probably was a sin, no question about it. (I say "probably" due to the exception given by Jesus.) But a second divorce would also be a sin.

Peace of Christ,

Chip Webb said...

A quick clarification, Episcowatcher:

When I said that your Matthew 5 passage didn't mesh in the entirety of Scripture, I didn't mean that it was an irrelevant Scripture, but that it didn't apply to a divorce and remarriage situation the way you defined it. Because divorce is against God's plan, it would better apply to a warning for someone to keep himself or herself from situations that would tempt him or her to either adultery or divorce.

Peace of Christ,

Anonymous said...

Well, Rev. Susan? Any comments you care to make on the comments this post has generated? I'm still stunned myself from reading Ronald G. Lee's article posted by Anon.


on divorce and re-marriage: a wise mentor of mine once said, "We absolutely believe that marriage is until death do us part -- but what the church has recognized is that sometimes what dies is not one of the partners but the marriage. And when that is the case the holy and life-giving thing to do is to grieve the death of the marriage, bury it and move on."

That's my theology of divorce and remarriage.

As for Mr. Lee's article, I've taken the liberty of deleting it as I figure anyone who wants to post articles of interest is free to get their own blog. If you want to comment on the articles posted here party on ... but get your own space if you want to post articles, reviews or other such items.

Anonymous said...


your point is not contingent on whether you consider yourself "orthodox" or not. it fact it seems to have been arrived at by some degree of exegesis, which was my point.

Anonymous said...

On divorce and remarriage -- According to my 1997 clerical directory, Rev Susan was married in 1979 to Anthony Russell, by whom she had two sons. She has been in a same-sex partnership for more than a few years now, and a few months ago, entered into a public covenant ceremony that she called a wedding.

So -- where does that leave her?

Anon 22

Anonymous said...

I have found all the comments interesting here, as I personally have struggled with the election of the bishop in N.CA, and what our reaction should be to it.

I guess that I feel that anyone who is called to the office of clergy in our church (or any other church) is called to a higher standard of living. Are they perfect? No, but they are to lead as examples and to live lives that do not lead others to stumble in their faith. So my question would be of this bishop, are you living that kind of life? Are you living by example the life that illustrates Christ's commitment to His Bride? The thing that I find disappointing is not that he was elected, but that he allowed himself to be in the running. That is not said with judgement, just sadness for the place that marriage has been placed in our society.

I can not claim to be an expert of exactly what Scripture teaches about remarriage, except that the diciples were shocked to hear Jesus' teaching on it. Living life as Christ taught isn't always easy. It isn't usually what we want to do in the flesh. When we say marriage vows, it says "what God has joined together, let no man put asunder." Just because the state (man) gives a piece of paper saying that two people ar seperated, does that really mean in God's eye's they are? Even in the bible, there are grounds for divorce, but none for remarrying except death of a spouse. (that I know of)

I do know that he said that remarrying if your ex-spouse is still alive is like commiting adultry. So as a Church, what do we teach? How do we minister to that? Marriage is hard work, and God can heal ANY marriage that is given to Him completely by both parties. I have personally seen evidence of that...where the worst that you could ever think of happening does, and yet forgiveness through the Power of the Holy Spirit still is possible. It was a beautiful, and valuable lesson to witness. But it was hard fought, and very painful, and healing as well.

Back to my biggest question...
How can we, who say we oppose VGR's election based on more than the issue of homosexuality (which is my opinion), do anything but oppose the election of this other bishop, who is also living out a lifestyle to which I oppose in the same fashion? The second part of this is, if Jesus says (which I plan to look up myself to verify and understand) that remarriage is equal to commiting adultry, than how can we allow that to continue to be blessed by the church? If we are ok with asking couples in same-sex relationships that if they repent of their sin (I know this is getting into an are that we don't agree on, but stay with me...this isn't my point) and leave that lifestyle, which would most likely mean leaving their partner, how can we not require the same thing of remarried hertosexuals?

I am truly troubled by this, and am seeking honest answers or reflections, not flip put-downs and name-calling.

EpiscoWatcher said...

Laura, to my knowledge, your questions have been asked by other conservatives but no answers have been given save for Scriptural gymnastics such as Chip's reply to me. What you have revealed is the same of that which I have revealed. There is a double-standard being taught and accepted yet when that standard is brought to light, conservatives start doing these kinds of gymnastics, they point to how their divorced clergy are doing great jobs and are so well loved, and they say that it's a completely different issue. In reality, they're not willing to admit that the Church has accepted a teaching that is not congruent with Scripture but is congruent with the mind of Christ (remarriage) while, at the same time, condemn homosexual behavior based solely on its incongruency with Scripture.

Lastly, I must disagree with you in the strongest terms that clergy are called to a higher degree of holiness then lay folk. We do not have levels of holiness and no Christian is better than any other. All have sinned, all fall short, all struggle together. To raise a clergy person to a point higher than a lay person gives the lay person an excuse not to strive at all.

Chip Webb said...


Please elaborate on what you conceive to be "Scriptural gymnastics." How do you take Jesus' words in Matthew 19 differently?


EpiscoWatcher said...

What I meant by the scripture gymnastics, Chip, is that you use how many times divorce is mentioned vs. how many times remarrying is mention to support the premise that divorce is a greater sin than adultery. Although on one level I believe that one sin is as bad as another, in this case I have to look at it as which is the lesser evil? To divorce is an evil but if it keeps a person from being guilty of adultery on a day in-day out basis, then it is the lesser evil of the two.

The gymnastics part is my own cynical (sorry) way of responding to those who would have me believe some things, like homosexuality, as sinful based on biblical literalism while not using the same biblical literalism to support other issues, i.e., the one you and I are discussing.

Anonymous said...

Divorce and remarriage are consistent with Episcopal/Anglican interpretation and pastoral experience. It has been this way for a long time and is arrived at through the typically Episcopalian Scripture/traidition/reason.

On the issue of lbgt some in our Church leave 2 of the 3 of these out and ascribe to the other, an interpretation arrived at through an approach stressing one part of it over another or indeed, leaving out parts of it entirely, or simply saying that their reading is the only possible one when clearly it isn't.

To reconcile posiitons on the two we see the sorts of mixed exegesis that we have on this thread where what is ascribed "plain meaning" in one part or clearly normative (and positively presented!) in another, is explained away by reference to other parts and to some interpretation of what is "good" or not and what we think today might be what was going on back then.

This is the gymnastics I see--one way of reading on one issue, a different way of reading to another, and all the while stressing that what is really core is that you read correctly and the same way for it all. (It reminds me of defenses of slavery where Christians said that people held their slaves out of love for the slave, becasue if they weren't slaves, then what would become of them all on their own, the discipline given them was also out of love, even though they couldn't see it themselves, and anyway St. Paul sent the escaped slave back, so you see, it is alright!)

You cannot elevate a few lines in Scripture about same sex people and ignore all the others that might affect these lines and leave out tradition and reason and ocnveniently ignore that the Lord Himself never said one word about it and that His Summary of the Law is His Summary of the Law (and if you trot out that in Greek/Hebrew what He means by porneia is of course same sex then you are telling me what the Lord really meant by saying what He didn't say it); but then on the issue of divorce which the Lord cites specifically and repeatedly, begin to approach this by recourse to the same process of intertexuality and tradition/reason that you refuse to do with same sex people because it appears in a few places and that is the end of it, case closed, on this issue we are strict literalists.

How many of the disaffected in our Church in order to maintain consistency of their approaches and emphases, would be ready and willing to change our canons so that divorce would be imperssibile? I bet many.

And then what would they do?

Anonymous said...

Episcowatcher writes: 'Lastly, I must disagree with you in the strongest terms that clergy are called to a higher degree of holiness then lay folk."

Well, hang on here. It is true that we are all called to the same high standards, or targets, or ideal practices, however you want to put it. So Episcowatcher is correct in resisting any bifurcation of calling. However, this does not rule out demanding a level of compliance to the calling, or many callings, across the spectrum of life, from those entrusted with leadership roles. We do this, in fact, when we ordain people and both verify that their lives are 'a godly and wholesome example' and challenge them to continue, and grow, in that. Too often, to my mind, we hear this 'there can't be two standards, one for clergy and one for laity.' That way of putting is descriptively mistaken: as Christian there is a high calling for which we strive. As people entrusted with leadership there is a threshold of compliance to receive--not acceptance by God--but the privilege of the public office (or the use of the charism, if you prefer that lingo).This is not so-called 'works righteousness' BTW, for we are not discussing the terms of one's acceptance by God.

Jeff Martinhauk said...

Anonymous of 11:45 -

If the sacrament of ordination is so specially suited for elevating clergy to a position of compliance, doesn't that eliminate the need for our Baptism and Confirmation to call us into service?

That doesn't hold any water to me. Rather, God has some different work that some folks are called to do. That doesn't mean they are any more perfect than anybody else.

EpiscoWatcher said...

Anonymous, I think you missed my point.

To say to a clergyperson, "I can divorce and remarry because the canons allow me to do so but you can't because you are a clergyperson and thus are held to a higher standard" is what I am against and was how I read Laura's comments when she wroate "I guess that I feel that anyone who is called to the office of clergy in our church (or any other church) is called to a higher standard of living. Are they perfect? No, but they are to lead as examples and to live lives that do not lead others to stumble in their faith. So my question would be of this bishop, are you living that kind of life? Are you living by example the life that illustrates Christ's commitment to His Bride?"

What is good for the laity is good for the clergy and there should be no double-standards. If we can celebrate remarriage, under the procedures that the canons call for and after the instropective work is accomplished as being positive while still affirming divorce as destructive then that should be able to be done for all and by all.

So, either bar remarriage for everyone or allow remarriage for everyone. This, I think, was my point. Or part of it.

Anonymous said...

Well, at the risk of the obvious, Anon 22, it leaves Rev. Susan remarried. Doesn't take rocket science to figure that out. And what spiritually filled and beautiful nuptials they were!

Anonymous said...

In terms of the "holding clergy to a higher standard" issue, I do not mean there are different standards, per se. All Christians are called to lead a lifestyle that leads people to Christ, rather than away from Him. And we are human, and all fall short. But, for example, why would a sheriff's officer be "let go" from his job if he was caught drinking and driving? (hopefully) Because that should be unacceptable for a person to do when he is given the responsibility of making sure others obey the law. Or a dr. who has his license taken away because he was caught on the job using drugs? Do many make that mistake? Yes. Can it be forgiven? Yes. Would you want to risk a major surgery of you or a loved one (your child) with a dr. that has been arrested and in treatment facilities 2 different times for using drugs while working in surgery? Not me. I am all for forgiving him, but the life of my loved one is more important than his 3rd chance. There are always consequences to our actions. He, as my sergeon, is held to a higher, and some would say unfair, standard. But that was his choice when he decided to choose that career.

The list could go on to include many areas, teachers, parents, (one would wish politicians, but sadly I think they are too far gone). I, as a parent, have a responsibility for my choices because I have chosen to have children who will look at my actions and behaviors and learn from them- good and bad.

That is the point I was trying to make about the bishop.

Chip Webb said...

Hi, Episcowatcher,

I don't believe that divorce is a worse sin than adultery. My point about divorce in Matthew 19 was simply to show that divorce goes against God's intention for marriage. Is it forgivable? Of course ... as is adultery.

With regard to divorce and remarriage, the position you outline is a new one for me: that the spouse who's married a second time should leave his or her second marriage to return to the first one. I see no evidence for it in either church history or Scripture (although you present it as "biblical literalism"). Regarding church history, I can't find evidence that the church has ever asked people who had remarried to abandon their second spouses. (I could very well be wrong.) I see that the early church did deny communion to spouses in a second marriage, however; the early church clearly viewed remarriage as adultery.

The belief that I mentioned in my previous post, that a second sin would only compound the first, is often held today by orthodox folk. Such a belief does not ignore what the Bible says about adultery, but is a result of taking marriage seriously —- the second marriage is no less of a covenant than the first, and once it has been made, the two are not to be separated. That's pretty much "biblical literalism" for you. And nowhere in the Scriptures (Old Testament or New Testament) does God instruct his people to divorce second husbands or wives.

Is this view just one of "Scriptural gymnastics" that conveniently protects Christians' right to divorce and remarry? Not at all. Theologian John Stott, who has never married though he's now in his eighties, argues for this understanding. Other Christians, however, admittedly take other points of view.

Episcowatcher, I'm not insensitive to this subject, particularly since I have two friends who probably will end up divorced (one wants a divorce while the other doesn't), and I know several other couples whose marriages are sailing on very difficult waters (even though divorce per se may not be in the picture). I'm reminded of the words of the late Christian singer/songwriter Rich Mullins: "It took the hand of God Almighty/To part the waters from the sea/But it only took one little lie/To separate you and me/Oh, we are not as strong as we think we are/ ... /We are frail/We are fearfully and wonderfully made/Forged in the fires of human passion/Choking on the fumes of selfish rage/And with these our hells and our heavens/So few inches apart/We must be awfully small/And not as strong as we think we are/ ... /When you love you walk on the waters/Just don’t stumble on the waves/We all want to go there something awful/But to stand there it takes some grace/Oh, we are not as strong as we think we are."

I also hear you in that your larger point concerns how orthodox people (at least seem to) apply Scripture inconsistently, at times being more literal than others. Due to the lateness of the hour, though, that's a topic for another post.

Peace of Christ,

EpiscoWatcher said...

Chip, for clarification:

You wrote, "With regard to divorce and remarriage, the position you outline is a new one for me: that the spouse who's married a second time should leave his or her second marriage to return to the first one."

Actually, I was thinking more along the lines that the person would remain single and celibate but will concede that going back to the first marriage would be preferrable if things could be reconciled.

And again, I'm simply paralleling what some orthodox people think non-celibate homosexuals should do, namely, leave their partners and live a single, celibate lifestyle as opposed to living a life of intentional sin. According to Matthew, people who remarry whose spouse is still living are guilty of the intentional sin of adultery. So what would repentance look like in that case?

I concede that I know of no place in church history where people have been asked to leave their spouse because of the scenario described above. Thus the double standard.

Thank you for your last paragraph and for engaging me in discussion!

Anonymous said...

The Rev. Dr. Jay E. Johnson -- Episcopal priest and theologian

Theologian == when he doesn't even cover the key texts.

You have got to be kidding

Anonymous said...

There's an interesting critique of this post at Stand Firm under the title of "Biblical Values for Gnostic Families"

Anonymous said...

Ross said: "But you're perfectly willing to take Paul's assertion that it is better to remain single than to marry, put it in a particular situational context, and say, "Well, he didn't mean that to apply to us."

No, I don't believe anyone asserts that "It doesn't apply to us." I think Paul meant what he said, and it is the truth. Since our purpose in even being born is to honor, praise, and glorify God, a single person has a lot more freedom and flexibility of life to accomplish this. His point was, if one can't remain celibate outside of marriage, then it is better to marry "than to burn".
As Milton so succintly suggested, let's all return to the original text, and discuss from there. There resides truth. Anything else is mere opinion.

Chip Webb said...

Episcowatcher and rmf,

Since y'all have similar concerns, I'll try to respond to both of you as best as I can. These topics require much more space than we have here and more time than I have to post. Consequently, I'll have to give most or even all issues short shrift (although I'm sure this will be a long post anyway).

First, with all due respect, episcowatcher, I'd caution you against jumping to the conclusion that there has been a double standard throughout church history. From the early church fathers to today, orthodox church leaders have been intent upon living a life that is in congruence with Scripture and apostolic teaching. If the church has never asked Christians in a second marriage to leave their current spouses for their former ones (I still haven't found anything to indicate the opposite; if anyone knows anything to the contrary, let me know), then we should assume that they had good reason to do so from a position of being faithful to Christ and not conclude that they were setting up a double standard to make life easier for either themselves or others. As I've said in a different context, we cannot know each other's motives, so let's take ourselves -- including our predecessors in the faith -- at face value!

To the larger question of how those of us who are orthodox approach and interpret Scripture:

*On perhaps the most basic level, we do view the Scriptures as having authority over us. We don't hold, as many progressives do, that in essence the Scriptures are a collection of Israel's and the early church's experiences of God. The Scriptures are a form of special revelation from God, even though they were not divinely dictated. Consequently, as Article XX states, the church can never command anyone to believe something that is not in Scripture.

*We do not take everything literally, as some progressives suppose we do. We recognize that there are different literary genres in the Scriptures, that the authors' intentions vary, that symbolism and metaphor abound, etc.

*We desire to be faithful to the "plain sense" of Scripture whenever possible. We also know, however, that not all Scripture is easy to interpret by any means.

*We subscribe to the importance of unity in Christian essentials, room for differences in non-essentials, and love in all cases.

*Many of us agree with United Methodist theologian Thomas Oden regarding the importance of St. Vincent of Lerins' maxim: The church is to hold fast to what has always been believed everywhere and by everyone. (This maxim deserves far more attention, but in the interest of time, I'll just recommend Oden's book The Rebirth of Orthodoxy.)

*When we face difficult passages of Scripture, we also look throughout the whole of Scripture to interpret Scripture. We agree with Article XX that the church can never set one Scripture against another, approving one while discarding the other, or treating different passages as if they were in opposition to each other.

*We do not assume that everything in Scripture is there as a positive example for us. We know just the opposite, that many things are included in the Scriptures as warnings or negative examples to us.

*We cannot approach Scripture as any other book, but must rely upon the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to God's truth in the Scriptures and to lead us in being obedient to God's will as revealed to us therein.

*We believe that the Scriptures, as God's revelation, contain a consistent message from beginning to end. The Scriptures collectively tell us of humanity's creation, fall from grace, our need for redemption, how we can be redeemed, and the movement in history toward God's original intention for humanity. They contain all things necessary for salvation and are essential for equipping Christians to love and serve God effectively.

*Not everything in the Scriptures applies directly to the Christian today. The Old Testament details God's covenant with Israel and points to Christ; the New Testament reveals Christ and a new covenant made with his bride, the church. The new covenant fulfills the old, but at the same time, the Mosaic law still is here to convict us of our sinfulness and need for a savior.

*Scripture ultimately, then, points us to Christ. Without the Scriptures, we would never know of Christ and our need for salvation.


OK, I've only covered general principles so far. Because of the length of this post, I'm going to make it part one of a two-parter. If this topic moves off of Susan's front page, I'll still finish here, even if it takes me a while.

Again, my summation of some of our general principles is woefully inadequate. I would recommend looking at John Stott's book The Contemporary Christian, chapters 10-13, for more information. I also invite other orthodox folk to jump in on these general principles if they so desire.

Peace of Christ!

Anonymous said...

Chip, Thank you for the post. I do however reject your use of the term "we orthodox" for you seem to be using it as meaning "we against the gay bishop" or "we for Scripture." Those who are not orthodox, you seem to view as being against Scripture. We are all interested in doing right by Scripture.

Chip Webb said...


I believe you misunderstood me. I've come to use "orthodox" and "progressive" as my most common terms for those on each side of the aisle in each case. (Episcowatcher used "orthodox" in the same sense, I believe.) Labels ususally have limitations, and, of course, even talking about two "sides" is an oversimplification in some respects. But we have to make things simpler in discussing a very complex issue. The labels do have some truth to them.

I've said in many previous posts that I believe that progressives care about Scripture. My previous post in no way was meant to suggest otherwise. I am trying to present an (as general as possible, which is difficult) orthodox POV, however, in response to episcowatcher and yourself. Progressives may agree or disagree with any of the points.

Peace of Christ,

Anonymous said...


Thank you for the reply. I appreciate your posts as they are thoughtful.

As to the bulk of the culled quote, I'd wager there is nothing in that (apart from perhaps reliance on UMC theologian, as we don't need to go far afield to find Episcopal/Anglican correlates) that separates.

Again, on the issue of the importance of Scripture there is no meaningful difference. The church is clear on the centrality of Scripture as the revelation of the means to salvation. The positions taken in that long quote are consistent with positions on every side of the specific issue of lbtg in our church. In fact, I daresay the impetus for the movement on this issue is the Lord's Summary of the Scripture.

As a statement of faith the quote you provided is not as fine as any of our Creeds and so I'd not point to it as a substitute or better statement than those, but it is useful.

As to the question of "orthodox,"at the risk of seeming uncharitable, sorry, chip, I don't buy the point about "orthodox." It might resonate with some but to my mind it just conflates "no gay bishop" with an essential of faith and all others as nonfaithful.

If it's shorthand we need why not use "NGBs" to describe those who want no honestly gay bishops? It's an even shorter shorthand than orthodox! :0


Chip Webb said...


In case there’s any confusion, I did not quote anyone two posts ago; those points were my own attempt at a summary of views on Scripture. They were also not meant to be a “statement of faith”; they present some of our views on Scripture, but are not broad enough in their scope to be anything approaching a statement of faith. We hold strongly to the creeds.

“On the issue of the importance of Scripture there is no meaningful difference. The church is clear on the centrality of Scripture as the revelation of the means to salvation.”

I’ll beg to differ with you here, rmf. I’ve dialogued with many progressives who believe that our “sides” have far different views on the authority of Scripture. I’m NOT saying that Scripture only is important for one of the two sides. I’ll agree with you that the church is clear that Scripture “containeth all things necessary to salvation,” but the question of authority is a “meaningful difference.” Our sides differ on the interrelationship of Scripture, tradition, and reason. We differ over what exactly it means for Scripture to be “sacred.” There have been many discussions here and over at Every Voice about these topics. There also have been books written about these issues; the one that most readily comes to mind is Marcus Borg’s The Heart of Christianity, in which he argues that there are two very different paradigms of Christianity in existence today. (I agree with Borg’s thesis, although I don’t think he understands the orthodox POV in some cases.)

If our differences really were fundamentally about Bishop Robinson, rmf, they would be much easier to address. They extend to a host of deep issues, however: our anthropology, Christology, and much more are all points of major difference. Again, I’m speaking in generalities (always a dangerous thing to do, and not a role that I relish); it’s of course possible that any individual orthodox person and any individual progressive may find themselves in agreement on most issues.

In the meantime, bear with me; I’ll try to finish part two of my post tonight.

Peace of Christ,

Chip Webb said...

Episcowatcher (and rmf),

Part one of this two parter (I think you have to count three posts up of my posts to get to part one) involved laying the groundwork to answer this larger issue of yours, Episcowatcher:

"I also hear you in that your larger point concerns how orthodox people (at least seem to) apply Scripture inconsistently, at times being more literal than others." (This quote is from my last post to Episcowatcher alone.)

I hope that from what I wrote in part one, the ways in which we orthodox (speaking in generalities again, even though I don't like speaking on behalf of a group) approach Scripture are at least a little clearer. More specifically, though, how does this apply to the issue du jour before us?

Rev. Susan helpfully bolded the most important part of Dr. Johnson's piece: "What the Bible presents as the abiding standard is not based on biology or specific forms of legal contract, but on the quality of love that is shared."

This is where our "sides" disagree, Episcowatcher. For us, it goes back to Jesus' words in two of the synoptic gospels, where he talks about lifelong marriage between a husband and wife as God's intention for humanity "in the beginning." This makes lifelong marriage between a husband and a wife something that was "established by God in creation," as our prayer book says. The church has never recognized any other relationship as having the same significance, no matter how much "quality of love" is present.

That's one reason why the orthodox essentially opposed resolution D039 at General Convention 2000. There may indeed be the presence of love and other "gospel values" in relationships between men and women outside of marriage, or in same-sex relationships. Furthermore, I don't know of anyone who favors exploitative relationships! But the church still is not to bless any union other than man and woman in holy matrimony. It is also that relationship that God gave us through Paul as correlating to Christ and the church.

This also explains why many of us orthodox see a slippery slope that many progressives consider groundless: future blessings of polygamy or polyandry. If love is the essential basis for relationships, then why can't three people who are in love and want to live together have their relationships blessed? (To prevent any misunderstanding, let me stress that I am NOT equating a same-sex relationship with polygamy or polyandry, but rather trying to explain the "slippery slope" that those of us on the orthodox end see.)

For these and other reasons, orthodox parishes emphasize sexual activity as only belonging within marriage, and marriage as being an institution established by God for man and woman.

Episcowatcher and rmf, my attempt here is to shed some more light (I hope!) on the orthodox POV. I recognize that both of you, and other progressives, disagree strongly, and I do not take our divisions (nor progressive views) lightly. It is my earnest hope and prayer that we can honestly discuss our differences, even though they are great, respectfully and in love.

Peace of Christ to all,