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March 23, 2021

A Review of a Book I Did Not Write

Filed under: Theology,Women's Ordination — William Witt @ 10:34 pm
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Melancholy Around a month ago, Matthew Colvin, a minister of the Reformed Episcopal Church, provided a review of my recently published book Icons of Christ: A Biblical and Systematic Theology for Women’s Ordination. This is now the second time there has been a critique of my position from within the ACNA. About a year ago, there was a criticism of a short essay that Trinity Professor Grant LeMarquand and I had written entitled “Women in Holy Orders.” I had begun an initial series of responses to the Anglican Diocese of the Living Word, but work on another writing project (not about women’s ordination) has kept me away from my blog. I note at the beginning of this essay that Colvin’s review follows many of the same patterns as the original Diocese of the Living Word critique so there will be some repetition in my response.

1) Colvin makes no real attempt at understanding what my position actually is:

My book is largely a response to arguments against women’s ordination, but (as with all books) there is a positive thesis as well. My fundamental thesis would be something like the following:

There is a reciprocal relationship between Trinitarian personalism and the creation of humanity as male and female in Genesis 1 and 2. The creation of humanity as male and female mirrors the equality and relationality of the Triune persons. This means not only that men and women are equal (no more hierarchical subordination between men and women than between Father and Son in the immanent Trinity), but that men and women are fundamentally oriented toward one another and need one another. There are no men without women; there are no women without men. This model of the relationality between men and women provides the fundamental pattern for the relationships between all human beings. As it is not good for the man to “be alone” (Gen. 2:18), so it is not good for human beings in general to be alone.

This has at least two implications.

Our identity as men and women and the relationality toward one another that implies is fundamentally constitutive of what it means to be human. Even apart from the relationship to our spouse in marriage (if we are married) all of us are either sons or daughters, brothers or sisters, nieces or nephews, aunts or uncles, etc. There is then no getting around our fundamental sexuality. Even outside of marriage, the fundamental distinction between man and woman (and our mutual orientation toward one another as male or female) is fundamental to who we are. None of us can be alone. All of us are in relationship to other people. And, most important, neither men nor women can say to one another, “I have no need of you.” Even outside the context of marriage, men and women relate to one another as the primary paradigm of what it means to be human – to be in relationship to another who is both other than the self, but also equal to the self.

The church is not then fundamentally a group of individuals who each do their own thing. Neither however is it a hierarchy where those in leadership positions “rule over” those at the bottom. Rather, the church is a community of both equality and mutuality in which none of the members can say to one another “I have no need of you,” but it is also a community in which those in leadership positions lead primarily by being servants to those whom they lead

This means that Colvin’s criticisms that my position is “individualist” or “unable to oppose homosexuality,” or would lead to transgenderism, is not only fundamentally mistaken but is a radical misreading. A more plausible criticism would be that my position tends toward “communitarianism,” a critique leveled against people like Alasdair McIntyre and Michael Sandel. If that is the criticism, I plead “guilty as charged.”
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March 11, 2021

Official Denial

Filed under: Uncategorized — William Witt @ 8:34 pm
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Just to make it official:

I am not now nor have I ever been an advocate of critical theory. In fact, I didn’t even know what it was until last summer.

Just trying to find time to read Karl Barth, Thomas Aquinas, Richard Hooker, to write two books in the last couple of years, and even barely keep up with what’s happening in Systematic Theology, philosophical theology, historical theology, Anglican history, and Christian ethics just doesn’t leave me the time to get corrupted by the Frankfurt School.

March 5, 2021

What I Wish the Bishops Had Said

Filed under: Anglicanism,Ethics — William Witt @ 1:12 am
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I wish to preface the following as carefully as I can. I am a member of the ACNA; I know many of its bishops, and I have the highest respect for them. It pains me to find myself in disagreement with them. In light of recent heated controversy, I at first thought it would be best not to contribute further to the acrimony. However, I have reluctantly come to conclude that I need to clarify my own position because of misrepresentations, indeed outright lies, that have begun appearing on the internet. I would beg that none of what follows should be considered an “in your face” affront to those who wrote the College of Bishops statement.

My real concern with the ACNA College of Bishops statement on Sexuality and Identity is that difficult issues in the church need to be addressed through extended charitable public conversation, not simply through edicts delivered from on high. It is not helpful simply to lay down the law. If the bishops had released a pastoral letter saying the following, I think it would have been more helpful:

1) A conversation needs to take place and clarification is needed about how the church ministers to celibate Christians who “experience same-sex attraction.”
2) The adjective “gay” seems to be used with different understandings, and that is leading to confusion.
3) Those who use the adjective to describe themselves claim that it is simply an adjective, and has value in the pastoral context.
4) Some who do not use the adjective are concerned that it is defining an “identity” that is in competition with Christian identity.
5) Both sides need to be clear that our identity is in Christ, but also that Christian identity can be expressed using different vocabulary.
6) Orthodox Christians can and do disagree about many things, but when such issues are not church-dividing, we need to exercise charity and assume the integrity of those who view things differently.
7) Those who use the term “gay Christians” need to be aware that some are confused because of the way that the term is used in the secular culture. They need to be clear that their identity is in Christ and Christ alone, and they need to exercise caution in their use of language so as not to confuse or scandalize others.
8) Those who are uncomfortable with the term need to recognize that those who use it are committed to Christ above all and to being faithful Christian disciples. They are clear that their identity is in Christ alone, and they have affirmed repeatedly that they are committed to traditional Christian sexual morality and are trying to do the best they can to minister to sexually broken people. Those who use the term “gay Christian” are clear that they are using the term as a descriptor for Christians who experience same-sex attraction who are either committed to celibacy or are in opposite-sex marriages. While their vocabulary might not be that which others would prefer, the church needs to support them and to understand that they are members of Christ’s body about whom we must not say “We have no need of you.” We need to be clear that Christ died for sexually broken people, and that we are all sexually broken people. We need to preach the gospel in such a way that it will be heard as “good news” to all, whatever might be the particular sins and temptations with which we struggle. (more…)

Why I signed “Dear Gay Anglicans”

Filed under: Anglicanism,Ethics — William Witt @ 12:25 am
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I have hesitated to say anything public about the current discussion concerning the ACNA College of Bishops Statement on “Sexuality and Identity,” which has become acrimonious very quickly. However, in recent days I have become more concerned as cases of “false witness” have begun to appear in regard to those who signed the “Dear Gay Anglicans” response. To say nothing might seem to confirm the truth of the suspicions.

Before addressing the ACNA College of Bishops Statement on “Sexuality and Identity: A Pastoral Statement from the College of Bishops,” it is important to be clear that my position on sexuality and sexual ethics has not changed. I first came to teach at Trinity School for Ministry two years after my entire church was taken over by my bishop because of our challenging the bishop over the ordination of Gene Robinson, who became the first sexually-active gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. I often point out that I did not leave the Episcopal Church. I was kicked out.

On my blog I posted an essay in 2012 on “The Hermeneutics of Same-Sex Practice: A Summary and Evaluation.” I still stand by every word I wrote in that essay.

I teach the introductory course in Christian Ethics at TSM, and in that course I affirm and teach the church’s historic position on sexuality. TSM has a doctrinal statement which every faculty member has to affirm every two years, and I affirm it without hesitation.

I first began reading the ACNA College of Bishops Statement “Sexuality and Identity: A Pastoral Statement from the College of Bishops” with a certain amount of hope. The “Preamble” of the Document outlines a biblical theology of sexuality with which I am in fundamental agreement. I would want to add to the one-sentence statement that “God established marriage between male and female to fill the earth through procreation (Genesis 1:28).” The crucial theological account of the purpose of marriage occurs not in Genesis 1 but in Genesis 2 where it becomes clear that “man” and “woman” are created as complementary opposites whose primary purpose is to provide companionship for one another. Certainly the document is correct in its overall summary of the biblical account of marriage – that God intends marriage as a lifelong exclusive commitment between one man and one woman, that a key (not the exclusive) purpose of marriage is raising and caring for children, and that marriage between man and woman is parallel to the union between Christ and the Church. I am a member of ACNA (among other reasons) because it affirms the historical biblical, catholic, and evangelical understanding of marriage.

The document also correctly affirms that human sinfulness is universal and is manifested in a variety of ways, including sexual brokenness and temptation. Among personal friends and family members, I would say that adultery (inevitably accompanied by divorce) is one of the worst offenders – continuing to create ongoing trauma and pain even for the grown children of those who have had to live through it in their families. A quite serious related area of sexual sin not mentioned in the document would be that of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse within a marriage, and sexual harassment or abuse by those in positions of authority in work places, social organizations, and, even in the church. Certainly ACNA as well as other churches and church related organizations have begun to take steps to recognize and address these issues in recent years. The point here is that sexual sin is not limited to those who experience same-sex attraction, and heterosexuals need to recognize and acknowledge our own sexual brokenness if we hope to be heard when we address concerns related to same-sex orientation.

I especially appreciate that the document correctly acknowledges that there are Christians who experience same-sex attraction, and who intend to lead lives of Christian chastity, while also acknowledging that only a minority of such people change their orientation. A very important acknowledgment is that “conversion therapy” is unhelpful and indeed “distressing” and “traumatizing.” Throughout much of the 1990s, many traditional Christians placed their hopes in “conversion therapy” as a catchall solution to the problem of homosexuality, a solution based more on dubious principles of Freudian psychology than on either biblical or historically Christian understandings of spiritual formation. The failures of “conversion therapy” in recent years, including public exposure of abusive and bizarre “therapies,” has tended to discredit those in the churches who uncritically supported it. That it abused and traumatized so many should be a cause for repentance.

The first part of the document concludes by acknowledging that there are members of ACNA who experience same-sex attraction, who want to be faithful to a biblical ethic, who find themselves not belonging in “progressive” denominations, but who feel “alienated” by fellow orthodox Christians. The bishops acknowledge that there are those within ACNA who are “Christians with same-sex attraction,” who “experience same-sex attraction,” that some of these (an acknowledged minority) may experience a change of sexual orientation, that others will experience only a “change of will,” while others will face an “ongoing struggle” along with a hope for the resurrection. All three are told that they are “fighting the good fight to become more like Jesus,” and are advised: “Please hear this: we love you, respect you, and pray that this statement will encourage you.” The document concludes with a single paragraph calling for “care and sensitivity” for those struggling with same-sex attraction.

I want to be absolutely clear that I am in fundamental agreement with this first half of the COB document. Why then wouldn’t orthodox Christians within ACNA, whether “experiencing same-sex attraction” or not, be encouraged by this document? I confess that I was disappointed at the material that followed. This should have been the point for some discussion of what such pastoral care and sensitivity would look like. Instead, the document shifts to a fourteen-paragraph discussion about the term “gay Christian” and why this term should not be used because it causes “confusion.”
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