Sexuality & Divorce in the Contemporary Church

Many people who keep up with me will know that, in my new role as candidate for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, I am in the process (it will surely be a life long process) of trying to think more deeply about issues surrounding human sexuality.

Talking about this recently with a fellow seminarian (actually, a friend in the Lutheran program here at my seminary) I was confronted with a really good point.

Many conservative types (such as myself) who perhaps have a more “traditional” opinion regarding homosexuality become quite silent when the topic of divorce comes up. My friend suggested (though I don’t think I agree with him) that the Scriptures are more clear on this issue than on homosexuality.

What is true, however, is that Jesus explicitly addresses divorce, and not homosexuality, in the gospel narratives (Matt 19). Why is this important? Because, as another friend pointed out, Anglicanism has always followed “the catholic tradition” of seeing the Gospels as having a certain priority over other parts of the Christian Bible, and this view is embodied in our liturgy. For the classic statement of this by Origen, see here.

Joel at Living Text has a post on divorce which I find quite compelling.

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Matt,

I mentioned this issue in the sermon today – that is, the matter of divorce. If, says I, you wish to be strongly one man-one woman, etc., then please don’t be a hypocrite – stand for ALL the Bible teaches on marriage, including the teaching on divorce. I think that this was so shocking to some people that I blogged about it as well in a somewhat lengthy piece over at IHS. Anyway, thanks for raising this issue as well.

I would however take issue with you on Jesus’ teaching not ‘mentioning’ homosexual relations. Jesus was not ‘weaker’ on morality as revealed in the Law, but rather stronger. His entire approach presupposes the man-woman imago dei. Suggesting (as some do) that he might be OK with it since he didn’t say anything specific about it is a little like saying Mack Brown doesn’t care about beating OU because in a conversation on going undefeated he never mentioned the word ‘sooner’. No, beating OU is presupposed by the discussion whether he mentions them or not.

David,

Yes, I agree with what you say about Jesus being more rigorous on the law than Moses. However, as the church grapples with this, my liturgical theology as well as my understanding of the ongoing process of tradition suggests to me that it _is_ telling and significant that the places in the NT where this issue is mentioned is _not_ in the Gopsels, which Origen (with Augustine agreeing with him) calls “the first fruits of the Scriptures.”

There are all sorts of things which of course do _not_ follow from this (ie, I’m not saying that we just throw out Paul), but as I work toward a biblical theology about these matters (and same sex practice in particular: I am prayerfully considering the possibility of working on this as a doctoral student in a couple of years), I do think that this is an important factor to keep in mind.

Thanks for your words: on what Jesus thought about gay issues, you and I agree.

Where we _might_ (not sure yet) disagree is how the tradition should deal with this today. Although my “default position” is the same as Richard Hays’ and NT Wrights’, blogged about here.

Hermeneutical priority, but not inspirational or authoritative priority.

The gospels are “sensus literalis” par excellence.

There is no spiritual sense of the gospels because the gospels are what is meant by “spiritual.”

The epistles help us to elucidate this primary sense.

The old covenant scriptures have their own sensus literalis and the (new) spiritual meaning made possible by their becoming incarnate as Jesus Christ.

So the epistles reflect on the (as yet) unwritten record of Jesus’ teaching, right? The apostolic tradition is both written and oral, and includes then the Gospel, prior to its final written form. Gospel is over the epistles, under the epistles, and through the epistles making the epistles pastoral instruction based in the Gospel.

So the Gospels, rightly heard and applied, do not contradict the Apostolic instruction in the Epistles.

That said, the Gospels themselves take issue with same sex issue unions by pre-supposing the hetero-sexual distinction and union as the image of Christ and his bride – see John the Baptist’s words in John 3.

There is also the matter of Jesus’ first sign being at the wedding of Cana. I don;t need to tell you guys how important that scene is with regard to wedding liturgies.

There is also the entire body of Jesus’ instruction about marriage, divorce, re-marriage, etc. To suggest that such teaching could encompass same sex marriage is to stretch the passages to the point of incredulity.

So the epistles reflect on the (as yet) unwritten record of Jesus’ teaching, right? The apostolic tradition is both written and oral, and includes then the Gospel, prior to its final written form. Gospel is over the epistles, under the epistles, and through the epistles making the epistles pastoral instruction based in the Gospel.

So the Gospels, rightly heard and applied, do not contradict the Apostolic instruction in the Epistles.

That said, the Gospels themselves take issue with same sex issue unions by pre-supposing the hetero-sexual distinction and union as the image of Christ and his bride – see John the Baptist’s words in John 3.

There is also the matter of Jesus’ first sign being at the wedding of Cana. I don;t need to tell you guys how important that scene is with regard to wedding liturgies.

There is also the entire body of Jesus’ instruction about marriage, divorce, re-marriage, etc. To suggest that such teaching could encompass same sex marriage is to stretch the passages to the point of incredulity.

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