Posted on: April 8th, 2009 “The Body’s Grace:” ++Rowan on Human Sexuality

I just read Rowan’s article “The Body’s Grace.” I am glad I did. It is a wonderful article in almost every respect. I had already read — and profited from — Michel Foucault on human sexuality as always-already socially constructed, and so Rowan’s points about “the hermeneutics of sexual desire” (my term) made complete sense.

When built upon by Christian anthropology (specifically, our theological understanding of body), this is powerful stuff, and compellingly shows why (among other reasons) we don’t agree with (the supposed view of) Rome of procreation as sex’s sole purpose.

However, none of that theology actually challenged the “default posture” in my thinking about human sexuality (ie, same sex erotic desire).

The one sentence that did so challenge, me, however, was: “In a church that accepts the legitimacy of contraception, the absolute condemnation of same-sex relations of intimacy must rely … on an abstract fundamentalist deployment of a number of very ambiguous biblical texts….”

OK, I have blogged on Richard Hays’ (Duke Divinity School NT scholar) work on homosexuality here.

Hays addresses, very profoundly, the relevant Biblical material on homosexual relations, and I find it very compelling. He comes down at a place that is, I think, utterly responsible and charitable, and yet pretty “traditional,” especially by the standards of The Episcopal Church. (BTW, I am 99% sure that NT Wright basically agrees with Hays’ on this issue completely.)

Hays, who takes the authority of Scripture quite seriously (as does historic Anglicanism), ends up saying that, on the basis of Scripture, the church ought not to be ordaining practicing homosexuals to the presbyterate and the episcopate.

Apparently Rowan sees this as fundamentalist. I have spent many years thinking about fundamentalism, and it is not clear to me that this is the case.

I would love to discuss these biblical texts — and how and why they do or don’t matter — in greater depth.

Having said all this, however, here are three ways in which Rowan challenged me:

  • He forced me to go back to the three NT texts (other than Rom 1) which are regularly brought out for the traditional position (Acts 15:28-29;I Cor 6:9-11; I Tim 1:10). I can now see that the Acts passage (with its use of pornea) is probably irrelevant to this issue.
  • He forced me to think more deeply about our Reformed understanding that “Scripture interprets Scripture.” In this understanding, we elucidate relatively obscure passages by use of relatively clear ones. My question is now: “Which are the clear doctrines: the three passages listed above, or all the biblical contexts Rowan brings out in his article (what God’s instructions to Hosea imply about human sexual desire, risk, and reciprocity; Paul’s instructions on giving our bodies to the other; etc.)?
  • While it is pretty clear to me that Hays’ work in this area is not fundamentalist, I do need to consider whether it is abstract. His material on his friend Gary, however, strongly suggests to me that it is not. (But I want to make sure.)
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2 Responses to ““The Body’s Grace:” ++Rowan on Human Sexuality”

  1. Joel Says:
    April 9th, 2009 at 6:20 am

    Does the teaching of the Church (Old and New Covenant) for 4-6,000 years matter? Did we suddenly become wiser in the 20th century?

  2. matt Says:
    April 9th, 2009 at 9:05 am


    Thanks for your comment. I really like your blog by the way and will link to it soon.

    I am reading the new critical biography of Rowan Williams, _Rowan’s Rule_ by Rupert Smartt. In it he shows just how much of a deep, deep traditionalist Rowan is. His default posture on homosexual issues, like that of women, was completely in line with tradition.

    And yet, as you well know, we are Protestants for a reason.

    Rowan (before his enthronement) would argue that this issue is in some ways similar to women and slavery.

    Scripture and Reason are prior to tradition.

    I commend this biography to you.

    Of course having said all of this, Rowan’s current view (as ABC) is that regardless of one’s view or convictions on this issue, all of that is trumped by our communion (sobornost) in the Global Church. This of course is what the Windsor Process are all about.

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