Friday, October 2, 2009

Review from the Episcopal New Yorker


Reviewed by the Rev. Gawain de Leeuw
Episcopal New Yorker Vol 85 No 3 September/October 2009
(pdf version of issue)

In Reasonable and Holy: Engaging Same-Sexuality, the Rev. Tobias Haller has written a theologically grounded, scriptural defense of same-sex marriage.

Initially a series of blog posts, this book addresses the principles that undergird the most quoted credible objections. Haller charitably assumes that objectors do so because there are important conceptual issues at stake.

The defense of same-sex marriage has generally been located in the vocabulary of justice. The argument is, briefly, as follows. As both straight and LGBT people become baptized, it is implicitly wrong to withhold other sacraments from any who are faithful Christians. The rejoinder is that marriage is not a right, but a representation of what matters to the church and God: fidelity to scripture, families, law, holiness.

Few scholars are strong in both theology and scripture. Yet armed with powerful philosophical skills and rigorous biblical scholarship, Haller offers a convincing defense for opening Christian marriage to same-sex couples. He investigates the consequences of prioritizing complementarity (the idea that fit between men and women is intrinsic to God’s favor of marriage) and the importance of procreation to the traditional description of marriage. He also clarifies how the words “to’evah” (abomination) and “porneia” (sexual immorality) are used, examining the confusing taxonomical issues around their definitions. He explains the conditions by which laws and customs change throughout church history, and how the presenting issue is similar.

Haller explains, for example, that the Genesis story of sexual differentiation is a story about beginnings, not about purposes. We do not return to the Garden but are marching to the heavenly city. He successfully argues that mutual joy, companionship, and other fruits of the spirit are prior to procreation. He shatters the “prongs and holes” theory explaining that men and women are each individually— and not together as a unit—made in the image of God. It is not, then, our sex that makes us in the image of God, but our agency, our ability to choose.

The book has many useful sidebars that illuminate its arguments, and each chapter ends with questions for discussion. The chapter “WWJD” discusses how Jesus read scripture, while the last chapter comprises an excellent question and answer section. It is suitable for church study groups.

Reasonable and Holy may not convince those who intuitively find the varieties of sexual attraction sinful. It may, however, help individuals who are willing to examine their own conceptual presuppositions. Haller has written a book that honors the Word of God, the faith once delivered, and moves it into our cultural context. He shows how the church can continue to maintain a high standard for faithful relationships. This is no small feat.

Haller does not discuss the relationship between property, sex and imperialism. Homosexuality is sometimes portrayed as a sign of American greed and empire. It becomes linked, for example, to violating third world countries, rather than being bourgeois, Victorian idyll of a pair gardening in the twilight. More work revealing how media and capital have framed the current debate might illuminate how we got here, and how we might move forward.

Furthermore, that the discussion reached a feverish pitch in cyberspace is, I believe, a relevant element of the issue. Perhaps the problem itself is that we do not always discuss this in person, with real faces and real lives before us, but as disembodied entities, without commitment, in the non-existent location of cyberspace, where actions have few consequences.

de Leeuw is the rector of St. Bartholomew’s, White Plains.

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