Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Reappraiser Method

Over at the Creedal Christian, Fr. Owen is having a discussion on the difference between "Living the Question" and "Living the Answers."

I suggested that we use the "tried and true" method of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason (correctly defined) to investigate whether God blesses homosexual unions.

Unfortunately, TEC doesn't seem to be willing to to that. I first became "politically aware" within TEC during the debate on ordaining women. After looking at how the reappraisers (those who wish to change our theology and practice on a number of fronts) do things, I offer the following synopsis of the Reappraiser Method:

  1. Pick a topic where society (or "our" society) and the Church are at odds (women in leadership, gender neutral language, homosexual sex).
  2. Start to question the long held practice and faith of the Church
  3. Since there are now those who question this aspect of the practice (minimize questioning the faith) of the Church, we are no longer of one mind on the issue.
  4. Since we are no longer of one mind on the issue, we should be free to explore alternative views (minimize practice here)
  5. We've explored many alternative views and believe that we should be free to, provisionally, allow for the practice of "x" (ordaining women, using inclusive language, blessing same sex unions). If the Church objects, do it anyway and dare the Church to discipline you.
  6. If the Church fails to discipline you, continue to do what you are doing.
  7. Point out that we, as Anglicans, believe that how we pray influences how we believe.
  8. Since we (or a large number of us) are now praying "X" it is an authentic expression of the Faith of the Church.
  9. Call those who will not go along with the innovation you propose "bigots" and point out that they are "old fashion" and not "keeping up with current thought." Minimize them and their influence.
  10. Legalize the desired change in the canons.
  11. Make the old practice (male only ordination) illegal in the Church.
  12. Go back to step 1

Right now, womens' ordination has completed all eleven cycles. "Inclusive language" is somewhere in step 10. Blessing same sex unions (and ordaining those involved in such) is somewhere in step 9 and will probably reach 10 at the next General Convention.

This is NOT reflecting on scripture. tradition, and reason before acting. This is acting first and then getting political support for your actions prior to doing the required reflection and getting the Church to buy into what you are selling.

Phil Snyder

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sacramental Marriage

In my last post I discussed civil marriage and how it has fallen in the eyes of society. I left off discssion of the religious aspects of marriage or the Sacrament of Marriage so as not to confuse the two issues.

Marriage is "the union of husband and wife in body, mind, and spirit." (BCP p. 423) It is not a partnership where each contributes 50% to the outcome. It is a union where each person surrenders to the other person completely (or as much as possible). As Holy Scripture says, the two become "one flesh." There are no longer two distinct people in a marriage - there is "one flesh."

I've heard some rather terrible marriage sermons in my time. The worst talk about a "partnership of equals" where "both need to work to make the marriage work." This makes marriage sound like a business plan, not a "union in body, mind, and spirit."

In the Church Catholic, Marriage is a "Sacrament" - "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as a sure and certain means by which we receive that grace." (BCP p. 857) In marriage, the minister of the sacrament is not the priest or clergy person officiating at the wedding ceremony. The ministers of the sacrament are husband and wife. The grace given is the grace to surrender your will to the combined will of the marriage - to seek your spouse's good above your own.

The Church blesses marriages, not because we like marriage or we like married people or because we want society ordered but because of these four reasons (BCP 423):
  1. God Ordained marriage in Creation
  2. Jesus adorned marriage by his presence and first miracle at the Wedding feast in Cana
  3. Paul stated that marriage symbolizes the union between Christ and the Church
  4. Holy Scripture commends marriage to be honored among all people.

Sacramental marriages work to conform to the images of marriage given in Holy Scripture. When it comes to blessing same sex unions, we have no biblical warrant for doing so. I have challenged many people who support the blessing of same sex unions (including our Presiding Bishop) and no one has been able to show me where any of the four reasons is true for same sex unions.

Until we can show, objectively, where God condones and blesses same sex unions, the Church lacks the authority to bless them, let alone call them "marriages."


Phil Snyder

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Marriage - what is it?

The comments on my previous post didn't really deal with the difference between fact (what we perceive to be) and truth (what does that mean). They dealt with marriage and what constitutes marriage.

For Christians living in the United States, there are two different kinds of "marriage." The first is legal marriage - marriage recognized by the state. This is where the state recognizes that the two (for now) people have entered into a special relationship where they share power of attorney and rights of survivorship. Spouses inherit without paying inheritance taxes (again, for now) and there are many legal benefits that a spouse enjoys (such as joint ownership of property aquired during the marriage, etc.)

There is also the religious marriage - or for you catholic types out there, the Sacrament of Marriage. I will discuss the religious aspects of marriage in another post. This post will be concerned simply with the secular institution of marriage.

Right now, both forms of marriage are under attack - primarily by heterosexuals who desire sexual freedom, but still want society's sanction for their lives.

So, what is marriage and why should the State give special priveleges to married couples
Marriage is supposed to be the life long union of husband and wife. Even civil marriages assume (or they used to assume) that the union was going to be life long. It was never designed to be "two people who love each other" or a temporary ("starter") union.

So why do I say that marriage is under attack? It is not under attack because of "gay marriage." Gay marriage is the result of downfall and failure of our culture to understand marriage, not the cause of the downfall of marriage.

Today almost 40% of all births occur outside of marriage and approx 50% of marriages end in divorce (this includes 2nd and 3rd marriages that have a much higher failure rate than 1st marriages).

We have changed marriage from a lifelong commitment to live together in sickness and health, till death do us part into a temporary commitment that we keep until a better offer comes along. We have changed the definition of "love" from caring for the other in good times and in bad times to an fleeting emotion of affection that affirms our personhood and contributes to our self-perceived psychological health. Anything that causes us to think less of ourselves can be (and should be) jetisoned from our lives like so much garbage.

We have turned marriage into a temporary partnership - much like a limited liability corporation where any party can leave the partnership at will - and, if you have a good enough lawyer - take the majority of the assets of the partnership with you!

I believe that it has been the unintended consequence of "no fault divorce" that led to the downfall of marriage as an institution. Our society now sees marriage as just another disposable item that can be discarded the moment it no longer meets our needs.

The natural consequence of marriage being disposable is that it is no longer really held in high regard. Too many in society simply don't care.

Into this culture comes the request of homosexual men and women to also have marriages where the state grants all the rights that they grant heterosexuals in marriage. With how our society now views "marriage" this is not unreasonable. In fact, it is perfectly reasonable.
So, why does the State give benefits to marriage? The State gives special privileges to married couples for two reasons. First, the family that starts out with husband and wife is (generally) the best place to raise children. Put in biological terms, the institution of marriage evolved as a trade off. The husband and wife promised mutual sexual fidelity to each other as a way of caring for the children and for the husband to insure that the children he provided for were his. This arrangement goes far back into time. The second reason is that stable partnerships are of great benefit to society. Health and wealth and happiness are all higher among married couples (especially long term married couples) than they are among similarly aged single or divorced persons. Society functions better when its members are happier, wealthier, and healthier. This alone should be a good reason for society to encourage (e.g. provide benefits for) marriage.

What I would like to see is for marriage to regain its place as a life long union - where it is difficult to get a divorce and where no-fault divorce is not allowed. Apart from this, the state could offer a "civil partnership" where any number (why should partners be restricted to two?) of adults can join in this partnership and gain some limited benefits - such as power of attorney, the right to inherit without taxes, the right to be covered by employer health insurance, etc. It should be rather easy to join into a CP and rather easy to get out of one.

Phil Snyder

Friday, May 15, 2009

Science and Religion and Blessing Same Sex Unions

Augustine is quoted as saying of God "our hearts are resltess until they rest in Thee." I believe that is true. Every person is created by God and searches for ultimate meaning in their lives. This is basically a good thing because ultimate meaning can only find its fulfillment in the Ultimate Truth - God.

As a Christian, and as an ordained deacon Christ's one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church; I find ultimate truth to be the Holy and Undivided Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I know this Trinity because of God's self-revelation through Holy Scripture and because of the Second Person of the Trnity's incarnation in Jesus Christ - who described himself as "the way, the truth, and the life." (John 14:6)

Also, in my academic training, I have concentrations in science and math with a degree in Information Systems. In mathematics, I was trained to "prove" postulates and theorems. I was also trained in logical thinking and algorithm development (an algorithm is a step by step process to solve a problem in a finite number of unambiguous steps).

One of the reasons given for offering blessings of same sex unions (and ordaining men or women involved in same sex unions) is that science has "proven" that sexual orientation (at least for men) is not something that is chosen by the person. It is something that is, often, determined prior to birth. Now, I don't know that science has conclusively proven that sexual orientation is something determined prior to birth or shortly there after or if sexual orientation is deterministic at all. However, let's assume it is for the sake of argument.

The argument runs thus: Since people do not seem to have a choice in their sexual orientation, it must follow that they are created this way by God and, since God does not create sin, sexual orientation must not be sinful. Since the orientation is not sinful, then the physical expression of that orientation (within perscribed limits such as mutual monogamy and life long) must not be sinful. Since heterosexual expression is not sinful within marriage, homosexual expression must not be sinful within its marriage analog (or within marriage).

There are at least two problems with that statement. First is the definition of marriage, but that is another post. The second, and the one I want to tackle here, is that the reappraisers confuse "fact" with "truth." Facts are things that are. Human beings have two ears and one mouth. That is a fact. The Truth, on the other hand, describes the meaning behind the facts. We were designed to listen twice as much as we speak. That is a truth statement.

The problem here is that science and religion ask and answer very different questions. Science asks "what" and "how." Religion asks "who" and "why." When it comes to sexual orientation, science can speak to what and it is beginning to explain the how of orientation. But it still cannot proclaim the expression of that sexual orientation to be "good" or even morally neutral. That is the job for faith and religion.

Too many of our clergy and leaders in TEC today have made the enlightenment error of confusing "fact" and "truth." They seem to believe that because something "is" it is "good." They forget that all of creation is fallen and almost all of the things that are, are twisted out of their original design - sexuality included.

So, how do we know the "truth" rather than just the facts? The truth is known through the One who is the Truth - Jesus Christ. We look at God's self revelation in Holy Scripture and in Holy Tradition and we look at the reasoning of the whole Church on an issue. On this issue, Scripture, Tradtion, and reason are all in agreement that sexual expression is to be limited to the insitution of marriage - which is one man and one woman for life.

Phil Snyder

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Another Update on Leila and Andrew

I'm sorry that it has been a while since I updated you all on Leila and Andrew.

Leila is still in the hospital. It seems that the diagnosis of brain death was premature and she has started taking breaths on her own. This is a very traumatic time for the family. Please keep Leila in your prayers that God's will will be made known to the family and to the doctors and medical team that care for her. Also pray for the family (Jesus, Elaine, John, and Andrew, specifically) that they be given the grace to come through this nightmare and be brought closer to God and to each other.

On Friday, May 8th, we buried Melissa. She is a wonderful woman who loved Jesus and we know that she is now with her Lord. While the Communion of Saints is not part of her tradition, I know that Melissa is praying for her family while she is with our Lord in Heaven.

Please continue to pray for this situation. I admit that I am torn between praying for a complete and miraculous healing and for God to bring Leila home so that the family can have closure to this situation. Since I cannot choose between them, I pray for both outcomes and, above all, that I will know how to pray and that my will will be made one with God's will.

Phil Snyder

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

What can you not do without

Over at his blog, The Creedal Christian, Fr. Bryan Owen submits that the only thing that is certain in this life is the Love of Jesus Christ. As a person who loves to quibble, I would say that it is the Love of God, made known by Jesus Christ - the incarnate Word of God.

That got me to thinking about an exercise I did as part of a Cursillo team a number of years ago. I don't remember the priest's name, but that is probably a good thing. Good priests (like good deacons) are memorable for what they teach and how they live, not for their name or fame.

I would ask that you try this at home as you read this post.

First mentally draw a circle around yourself. Put everything you like to have inside the circle and then everything you don't like about yourself or your life outside the circle.

Next, draw a smaller circle and included only the things you feel necessary to life and love - exclude everything else.

Finally, draw a still smaller circle and put into it the one thing you cannot do without.

My brothers and sisters. If that one thing in the smallest circle with you is your family or your spouse or your job or your home or your children or anything other than Jesus Christ (or the Holy Trinity), then you are guilty of idolatry. That may sound harsh, but it is the truth.

God does not want part of us and will not be satisified with 10% of our lives. God wants all of us. God wants us to surrender ourselves to Him completely and totally. This surrender takes time and effort. At times it is very joyous as we are relieved of a burden we didn't know we were carrying. At times it can seem like a little death as we surrender something that we love about ourselves. As Thomas Merton said, we tend to surrender to God last those things we love about ourselves most.

Ask yourself - what have you not yet surrendered to God?

Phil Snyder

Monday, May 04, 2009

Is it True vs Does it Work?

As Americans, we are often accused of "materialism." I believe that is a false accusation. Our art and architecture is simply too ugly to be materialist. Most of our large buildings are glass boxes with variations on a utilitarian shape and function. Our consumer goods are generally not ornate. Functional utilitarianism is the norm in our designs.

No, we are not materialists. Americans are functionalists consumers. We are concerned with what something does for or to us. We are generally very self focused.

Our approach to religion and faith is the same as our approach to consumer goods. We are always looking for "the better deal." Just as we want maximum reward for minimum input when purchasing a car or computer, we also want the maximum spiritual reward for minimum input. It seems that too many people want to be "spiritual" but are looking for the shortest path to spirituality.

The result of this functionalism and consumerism is that those who want to find a spiritual home often move from congregation to congregation or denomination to denomination looking for a church family that suits them. They look for a good music program or nice preaching or beautiful or simple liturgy. The look for a vibrant and fun youth group with "cool" youth ministers.

And, just as we have no problem owing both a Toyota and a GM at the same time, we also don't have a real problem with mixing and matching our religious doctrines to suit ourselves. It sounds so nice to say that everyone goes to heaven. It sounds so good to say that God wants us to be happy and rich. As a consumer, I can pick this part of Christianity and that part of Buddhism and this other part from society to form a "unified" whole that fits me. The question that we ask is not "is it true?" The question we ask all too often is "Does it work for me?"

One of Satan's greatest victories is to get us to stop focusing on eternal truth. This occurred because of the Eternal Truth that we each understand the Truth a little differently. So, there is a certain element of "my truth" and "your truth." Earlier people also believed that each person understood the Truth a little differently. But they still agreed that there was objective Truth and that the measure of a good argument was how close it came or how much better it showed the Truth.

Today, too many people don't believe in Objective Truth. They are only concerned with "how's that working for you?" Instead of Bishop Fulton Sheen or the Rev. Billy Graham speaking to us about sin and redemption and eternal life, we now have Dr. Phil and Oprah asking us to see how this works.

So, we devise our own religions that "work" for us. We don't ask anyone else to follow our religion or our spirituality. We even have religious leaders willing to tell us that we can do this because to do otherwise would be "inauthentic" to our "true selves."

This is American Religion. We no longer are concerned with Truth because functionality is so much easier to measure. It doesn't require a lot of skull sweat to determine if something works for us (defined as makes us feel better about ourselves). It doesn't require changing a lot in our lives and it certainly doesn't require that we die to self. In fact, consumerists spirituality is the ultimate celebration of the self!

Jesus did not come to make us feel better about ourselves. He did not come to increase our self-esteem or to bring us to self-actualization. Jesus Christ came to help us die to ourselves so that we can be raised to new life.

Phil Snyder