Practices and the Conversion of the Social Imaginary: On Marriage

Below is an excerpt from the American Deacon Keith Fournier of Catholic Online. The article, quoted in full, provides a response to the announcement by Bishop Gene Robinson of the Episcopal Church to participate in a civil same-sex union with his partner. The Bishop’s decision raises many key concerns, such as the acceptance of state authority over the ecclesial (explored in the previous post). But what the reader should pay attention to in Fournier’s response is the undercurrent that provides a key to how the Church must respond in the face of such cultural onslaughts like these.

If Graham Ward’s analysis in Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice is correct, the Church must provide more than a platform for the dispensing of reactionary rhetoric. The Church must also be a site of relational practices that give flesh to that rhetoric. For the Church’s ability to resist lies not in the disciplining of its members’ minds, at least not at first. Conversion of the culture (what Ward calls a “social imaginary”) surrounding the Church must stem from its own practices which constitute an ecclesial counter-culture, which are constituted in, among other things, the sacraments and especially the Eucharistic Liturgy. Flowing from that, a true sociality, an ecclesial imaginary, can be generated to provide a site of resistance to the prevailing culture, if not the site for the transformation of that culture, which is more effective than any orator or tract. Whilst Fournier’s commentary below would bear out the applicability of this strategy on the issue of marriage, it can also apply to a whole host of issues plaguing contemporary society. This is why Francis of Assisi said “Spread the Gospel, and if necessary, use words”.
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COMMENTARY: Male Episcopal Bishop Wants to be a ‘June Bride’
By Deacon Keith Fournier 12/11/2007
Catholic Online

LOS ANGELES (Catholic Online) – Bishop Gene Robinson, the Nation’s openly practicing homosexual Episcopal Bishop, spoke to a crowd of over 200 people on November 27, 2007 at Nova Southeastern University’s Shephard Law Center. He told them of his upcoming planned ‘marriage’ to his paramour saying with pride, “I always wanted to be a June bride.”

The activist Bishop continued:

“It may take many years for religious institutions to add their blessing for same-sex marriages and no church, mosque or synagogue should be forced to do so. But that should not slow down progress for the full civil right to marry,” Robinson said. “Because New Hampshire will have legal unions beginning in January, my partner of 20 years and I will enter into such a legal union next June.”

Dressed in his clerical collar and wearing his pectoral cross, the symbol of his ecclesial office in the Episcopal church, he castigated the “religious right”, a term by which he refers to all orthodox Christians who support the unbroken teaching of Christianity on the sanctity of authentic marriage:

“The greatest single hindrance to achievement of full rights for gays and lesbians can be laid at the doorstep of the three Abrahamic faiths– Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It’s going to take people of faith to end discrimination,” said Robinson, who was invested as the ninth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire in 2004…. [emphasis added]

The Bishop is on the forefront of the ongoing schism within the Anglican Communion. He is also a part of a cultural revolution being led by activist, practicing homosexuals who not only want to live their lifestyle but force the State and the Church to give them equal status to marriage.

I remember the day that Gene Robinson was consecrated as a bishop in the Episcopal Church in Durham, New Hampshire. With the eyes of the whole world watching, a married Episcopal priest, he divorced his wife and abandoned his children. Later, he chose to engage in an active homosexual relationship and was consecrated as a Bishop of the Episcopal Church. So many Christians grieved, for him, his wife and children and, for the Church.

It was clear then, and it is even clearer now, that this man thinks he is a revolutionary, somehow bringing about a new day when Christianity will be re-fashioned in his perceived new version. He claimed that his “consecration” was a sign that, in his own words, “God is doing something new.” In short, he claims that God has changed his mind. He is wrong. Robinson simply rejects the unbroken teaching of the Christian Church for two thousand years. He seeks to substitute a new interpretation of the plan of God in “creating them male and female” and calling human persons, created for love as the gift of self to another for life, to the communion of marriage.

It was the ancient Prophet Isaiah who warned: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who change darkness into light and light into darkness, who change bitter into sweet, and sweet into bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own sight, and prudent in their own esteem” (Isaiah 5: 20 and 21). Robinsons’ message does just that. He calls “evil good, and good evil”. However, the facts and the unbroken witness of revelation, tradition and history still remain. Christianity has always proclaimed that marriage is a special state, reserved only for a man and a woman, ordered toward both the communion of persons and the gift of new life in children.

Robinson proclaims to the world not only that God has changed His mind, but further, that so should the Christian Church. By his open and active homosexual lifestyle he rejects the clear Christian teaching concerning human sexuality and its purposes. For two thousand years the Christian Church has taught with uniformity that conjugal love is to be sexually expressed only within a monogamous marriage between a man and a woman, open to new life.

Robinson wants to substitute his “new thing” for the classical, orthodox Christian claim that sexual expression is a gift reserved only for spouses within authentic marriage. He wants to do so by redefining words in some kind of misguided new effort at alchemy. He will not succeed. There is an ‘ontology’ to marriage, it simply is what it is. He rejects the unbroken teaching of two millennia, confirmed by all social science, human reason and experience, that the two parent heterosexual family is the safest place for children to be raised and where they can best flourish as human persons. He wants to replace it all now with a new revolutionary ideology.

He presents his claims in pseudo-theological sounding language, contexts them in errant appeals to revisionist history and frames them in pop psychology. He then projects them with a countenance that is apparently kind and even endearing. That is what makes it all even more disturbing and dangerous. However, let’s be clear, Robinson broke his marriage vows and rejected a substantial foundation upon which the whole Christian faith is built. Worse yet, he is attempting to persuade other Christians to do the same as he participates in a cultural revolution.

This sadly deluded Christian, who in another age would have been called to repentance for apostasy, immorality and heresy, is now being held out as some new champion to the public. In this new Cultural Revolution, non-conjugal sexual acts between men are now to be viewed as equal to the marriage bed if they occur for a protracted period of time. Quite simply, this is not Christianity. It is not a “new thing”, it is actually quite old. Yet, faithful Christians who opposed his “consecration”, and who will now oppose his purported ‘marriage’ are presented as the ones who are narrow and not liberated.

The fact is that the Christian way concerning faithful, monogamous marriage as the only proper place for sexual intimacy, within the communion of authentic married love and for the begetting and rearing of healthy, happy children was and still IS the authentically “new” way.

The new revolutionaries who claim that “God is doing a new thing”, like Robinson, maintain that the witness of the early Christians and the clear biblical texts cannot now be used to oppose homosexual practice as sin. They also argue that living an actively homosexual lifestyle should not disqualify anyone from elevation to the Office of Bishop. They maintain that insistence on fidelity and chastity within ones’ state in life is antiquated. So, how do they deal with the clear witness of Christian history? The same way so many deluded revolutionaries do, they insist that Christians in the past did not know what we know now and that they were somehow unenlightened.

This claim is utter nonsense.

Much of the world into which the early Church was sent was engaged in sexual licentiousness and was often homo-sexualized. All early Christian sources are uniform in the rejection of homosexual practices. All Church Councils are as well.

Many of the early missionary journeys of the nascent Christian Church brought the gospel to what were called “pagan” cultures. In the process, many of the sexual practices of these cultures were strongly opposed by the Christian Church. However, these practices sometimes seduced even Christian priests and leaders. When that did happen, these priests and leaders were considered to be apostate and called to serious repentance.

When they actually taught that their errors were “new ways” and held them out for others to emulate, they were called heretics and they were put outside of communion with the Church. This was done to both bring these leaders to repentance and to protect the members of the Church from the dangers they practiced and proclaimed.

The word “pagan” was not used as a disparaging term in referring to these pre-Christian practices. It actually referred to a pseudo-“religious” world view which often accompanied the practices. I use it the same way in referring to our contemporary age as increasingly “pagan”. Many of the “gods” and goddesses” of this old world view promoted these lives of selfish excess, including homosexual practice and hedonism masquerading as freedom. In fact, the myths concerning them had them acting in much the same way. These “pagan” practices have been reintroduced today, only the myths and statues are different.

Robinson is not proclaiming something new. Rather, he is proclaiming something old. He has given himself over to the “old way” and wants to call it new.

The early Christians did not simply point the finger and rail against the “pagans” of their age. They did not present a “negative” message. They proclaimed the freedom found in Jesus Christ to all who would listen and demonstrated it in their compelling witness of life. They lived in monogamous marriages, raised their children to be faithful Christians and good citizens, and went into the world of their age, offering a new way to live.

This new “way” (which is what they first called the early Church) presented a very different world view than the one that the pagans embraced. Their clergy (deacons, priests and Bishops) lived and proclaimed the truth regarding human sexuality and God’s plan for monogamous, chaste marriage and family. Those who broke from that clear witness, or preached anything different, were not allowed to exercise their office of leadership.

With joy and integrity, these early Christians spoke and lived this new way in the midst of the pagan culture. As a result, they sometimes stirred up hostility. Some of them were martyred in the red martyrdom of shed blood. Countless more joined the train of what use to be called “white martyrdom”, by living lives of sacrificial witness and service in the culture, working hard and staying faithful to the end of a long life spent in missionary toil.

Slowly, not only were small numbers of “pagans” converted and baptized, but eventually their leaders and entire Nations followed suit. Resultantly, the Christian worldview began to influence the social order. The “clash of freedoms” continued, but the climate changed significantly. It was the Christian faith and the sexual practices of the Christians that began to win the hearts of men and women. The cultures once enshrined to pagan practices, such as plural marriage, homosexuality, exposure and abortion, began to change dramatically and this continued for centuries.

In the face of pagan societies of the past, it was Christianity that taught such novel concepts as the dignity of every person and their equality before the One God. The Christians proclaimed the dignity of women and the goodness of chaste marriage between a man and a woman and the sanctity of the family. It was Christianity that introduced the understanding of freedom not simply as a freedom from, but as a freedom for living responsibly and with moral integrity; a freedom to choose to live chastely both in Marriage and in the consecrated celibate life.

The Christians insisted that freedom must be exercised with reference to a moral code, a law higher than the emperor, or the sifting sands of public opinion or wandering sexual appetites. It was the Christians who understood that choice, rightly exercised, meant always choosing what was right and that the freedom to exercise that choice brought with it an obligation and a concern for the other. It was the Christians who proclaimed the virtue of self control, asceticism as a tool to curb wayward sexual appetites and fidelity to marriage and clerical vows.

Their faith presented a coherent and compelling answer to the existential questions that plagued the ancient pagans; such as why we existed and how we got here? What was the purpose of life? What is God’s design for our sexual identity and for procreation? How evil entered into the world and why we could not easily always make right choices? What force seemed to move us toward evil and how we could be set free from its power?

Christian philosophy and the arts began to flourish this new way and under the Christian worldview. Philosophies of government and economic theory began to be influenced by these principles derived from a Christian worldview. The institutions of the civil order protected such institutions as monogamous marriage between one man and one woman because they promoted the common good.

Throughout the history of the Christian Church, when deacons, priests, Bishops or other leaders succumbed to sin (wrong choices) and fell, they were rightly corrected and removed from leadership by Church authorities. When they insisted and taught that their error was “a new way”, they were put outside of the communion of the Church in order to secure their return to fidelity and to protect the faithful from their error.

What happened in Durham, New Hampshire years ago was not “new” at all. It was quite old. A member of the Clergy of a Christian Church broke his vows, divorced his wife, abandoned his family, took up with a male paramour and, then rejected the historic, clear teaching of Christianity. He also propelled a growing schism in the Episcopal Church forward.

Sadly, rather than being called to repentance, he was presented for consecration as a Bishop. That is what was new. Now Gene Robinson wants to be a “June Bride.”

How will what is left of the Episcopal Church in America deal with this turn of events?

Stay tuned.

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