anthills–Episcopalians & the Anglican Communion

March 22, 2006


Filed under: ECUSA, Uncategorized — anthill @ 6:26 am

Richard Kew has done it again with a superb essay on the claim by same-sex advocates that God is doing “a new thing.” I made a link to a previous Kew essay. That one has a very important quote by a noted historian — Diarmaid MacCulloch.

One excerpt from the current essay:

I have raised the issue [of same-sex blessings, etc.] with one or two 'progressive' friends, and it would appear that the only approach they can come up with that gives them permission to move forward is that God is doing a new thing. That is, to assert that God is doing something that is above and beyond anything that has ever happened before in the history of monotheism, outside the canon of Scripture, and having little to do with the on going tradition and life of the church.

What this allows for is an end run on the last 4,000 years or so, and seems to obviate any need for a response to careful historical analysis, and the mindset of the church catholic through the ages. It also obviates any need to respond to careful and disciplined theological analysis that makes it very clear that a revisionist understanding of sexuality has no place in the Christian story.

If you are open to people in the debate, read this essay.



  1. […] – RICHARD KEW has done it again with a superb essay on the claim by same-sex advocates that God is doing “a new thing.” … (anthill) […]

    Pingback by CaNN :: We started it. — March 23, 2006 @ 11:55 am

  2. Actually, Kew’s essay is pretty full of holes. It relys on turn of phrase for it’s impact because the logic is repeatedly fallacious. I think you probably saw my nit picking on another blog you read.

    Comment by Bill — March 27, 2006 @ 12:30 pm

  3. Bill: You are going to have to bring some specifics in here. I can't expect readers to chase down your points elsewhere. A general critique–"full of holes" … "repeatedly fallacious" doesn't help me much. I wish I knew the name of the fallacy you just engaged in.

    Comment by anthill — March 27, 2006 @ 12:52 pm

  4. Just some minor nits to pick then. 🙂 The quotes from his article.

    "… some of those leading this charge away from received biblical
    values." A charge away from biblical or scriptural values isn't
    necessarily bad. Jesus led a charge away from received Torah values,
    because it wasn't what they said or meant that was bad, but how they
    were being interpreted and lived.

    What is there about "the mindset of the church catholic through the
    ages" that exempts it from the same kind of criticism given to the
    mindset of the Jewish temple establishment through the ages by the
    prophets and to the pharisees by Jesus?

    "… it is essential that we accept that this deity is eternal,
    almighty, and immutable." Really? So all the times documented in
    scripture when God changed God's mind are not really there? But isn't
    the Bible inerrant?

    "… this solution to a profound theological dilemma is actually no
    solution at all, unless you want to abandon all that the church
    believes about God, and start again from scratch." Why is it when faced
    with a question to one part of an argument that certain minds insist on
    seeing the whole thing as flawed. E=m(c squared) doesn't entirely
    invalidate f=ma, only at certain, hard to achieve (for us) extremes.
    This is called the bifurcation fallacy.

    "… there has been a steady stream of those who have pronounced
    that God is doing a new thing going back as far as Montanus …" What
    about Isaiah et al?

    These are enough to document that this article does not prove his
    thesis. Mind you, they don't prove the contrary either. But they do
    establish that his article is not the last word.

    I'll give you more examples if you want. The article is rife with
    them. And, BTW, what I did wasn't a fallacy. I will confess to bad
    manners, but I thought you had seen my comment elsewhere since you
    posted right under it.

    Comment by Bill — March 27, 2006 @ 1:00 pm

  5. Bill: I’ve printed off your details and will read them at supper.

    My request for details was for the sake of other readers (the few that there are so far). I read your details on Susan’s site, but readers here only saw your general charges.

    Comment by anthill — March 27, 2006 @ 1:07 pm

  6. This has been an interesting afternoon. I never even knew that Susan
    had a site until I started reading some absolutely foul comments on
    titusonenine that led me there. They were comments that sometimes give
    me pause to say that I'm a Christian because that associates me with
    these people. Then I have to remember that the admission associates me
    with Christ first.

    Then someone posted Richard Kew's whole article there as a comment.
    I was in such a dyspeptic mood by then that I posted my snippy remark
    here. I have discovered three blogs today that I hadn't known existed.
    Except for yours, I'm not sure I wanted to about them either. I'm
    really not interested in being political. I'm more interested in the
    reign of God than in the reign of reasserters or reappraisers. But
    being seriously interested in the reign of God makes me have to pay
    attention to the rest.

    So if, after your supper, you want to have a polite discussion about
    Kew's article, I'm open to it. If you want to fight (and from the tone
    of your other posts and comments, I don't think you do), I'm gone. I
    think it's apparent that we disagree over some things (although I'm not
    even sure about the details yet), but I get the feeling you are sincere
    and civil.

    I've had enough of nasty people to last me a lifetime. I'm like the
    paratrooper recruit who didn't hook up his lifeline very well at the
    top of the 30-foot tower. When he jumped, he fell the whole way and
    smashed into the ground. Everyone came running up thinking that he must
    be dead. He got up, shook his head, and said, "Sarge, if this gets any
    tougher, I'm going to quit."

    You see, I think Christ really meant it when he said, "The first and
    great commandment is love the Lord your God (you know the rest), and
    the second is like unto it, love your neighbor as your self." And I
    think he meant it when he told us to leave the wheat and tares alone —
    God would handle that.

    I see precious little evidence that a majority of Christians feel that way today.

    Have a wonderful supper. We may talk later.

    Comment by Bill — March 27, 2006 @ 1:38 pm

  7. Bill–I’m working on a reply.

    For now, I have to say that the comments on titusonenine seemed fairly moderate. I looked over them again. Yes, there is sharp, pointed critique, but nothing approaching the vile comments on Russell’s blog. I’ve never seen anything like that on T1:9 at any time on any subject.

    Comment by anthill — March 27, 2006 @ 4:43 pm

  8. Bill—I have written a long reply, not to defend Richard Kew’s essay
    or my positive evaluation of it, but because of your questions about
    the same-sex blessing debate. Before I respond to some of your
    particulars about Kew, let me address your general thoughts.

    Some of the comments on titusonenine threw you. They didn’t measure
    up to your expectations for Christian conversation. I sympathize. But,
    of course, this isn’t a one-sided problem. Some American bishops have
    referred to conservative African Anglicans in very racist terms. I
    think Kendall’s elves do a pretty good job of keeping things under

    But all sharp disagreement will not go away. Advocates on both
    “sides” speak strongly and from their guts because all are touching
    issues that go to the core of their understanding of being Christian.
    Richard Kew is probing foundational theological implications of the
    “new thing” approach. He doesn’t pull his punches. Susan Russell has
    let fly on occasion also.

    No reputable church leader would disagree with you that “Christ
    really meant it when he said, "The first and great commandment is love
    the Lord your God … and the second is like unto it, love your neighbor
    as your self." But there are deep differences over how to carry out
    that love for neighbor.

    On Richard Kew’s essay, I don’t deny that he has some logical leaps
    in his piece. I wouldn’t have taken his line on God’s immutability.

    But I believe his thesis is solid: Those who seek a change of
    biblical teaching, interpreted by two thousand years of Christian
    tradition have to do way more work defending that change, than a
    citation of God “doing a new thing,” bolstered by several decades of

    You fault Kew for criticizing "… a charge away from received
    biblical values" and you cite Jesus leading just such “a charge away
    from received Torah values.” You could have pointed to the Sabbath
    dispute. The problem you have to face is that liberal biblical
    scholars, like Walter Wink, grant that the Bible is consistently
    negative about same-sex sex and consistently positive about God’s offer
    of blessing on the union of man and woman.

    The fallacy here would be to extend the validity of the Sabbath
    dispute to marriage when the Bible gives no ground for a change there.
    Jesus justified his reinterpretation of Sabbath; no comparable biblical
    work has been accomplished by same-sex advocates.

    Please see my “page” on “stance” for the position of the Archbishop
    of Canterbury on the adequacy of ECUSA’s defense of its actions.
    On another point of yours, Kew would agree that “the church catholic
    through the ages” is open to criticism. The Protestant Reformation is
    our prime example, but that was accomplished with major biblical
    exposition and argument.

    You also ask, “Why is it when faced with a question to one part of
    an argument that certain minds insist on seeing the whole thing as
    flawed?” While we are all inconsistent, there is a certain coherence in
    the total packages of the same-sex advocates and those holding the
    traditional position.

    An example is the Claiming The Blessing platform that was met with
    such nasty comments on Susan Russell’s blog. The lead theological
    affirmation is: “the celebration of the goodness of all creatures and
    creation as given to us by God.” There is not a word about the strong
    thread throughout Scripture about our fallenness and the disorder in
    creation as a result. This is a consistent part of a larger package of
    beliefs and practices.

    Finally, Kew certainly knows the meaning of Isaiah 43:19 and
    Jeremiah 31:21 about “God doing a new thing.” In both cases, the
    Scriptures point to the future era when Messiah would bring God’s
    salvation to the world. The context of the Jeremiah passage has verse
    31, "Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a
    new covenant…,” including writing God’s law on our hearts.

    I hope we can continue this discussion. I’ll be interested to hear back from you.

    Comment by anthill — March 27, 2006 @ 9:11 pm

  9. Before I get started, I need to make it clear that I’m not pointing any of this specifically at you. Nor am I pointing any of it specifically away from me. So …

    I am going to quit reading titusonenine. It often infuriates me. That is not spiritually healthy. In my more uncharitable moments, I think titusonenine is a way for Mr. Harmon to get other people to do his dirty work for him. I think he puts stories on there that need and deserve serious and constructive discussion. But he plays the part of a troll and gets all these genuinely nasty people to trade insults while staying above the fray himself. He only steps in when someone goes far enough over the line that it might reflect on him personally. It’s an attitude I used to see in junior high school where there were people who were emotional bullies but didn’t have the physical gifts to be physical bullies. They gratified themselves by playing the “let’s you and him fight” game. It’s a game for cowards and those who are morally bankrupt.

    In my more charitable moments I confess to the fallacy of transferring my opinion of the quality and content of the comments on titusonenine to Mr. Harmon himself. I’ve never met the man and don’t know anything about him except for what he says about himself. So I’m probably wrong about him. Nevertheless I think a tree is known by the fruit it bears and I confess to having very few charitable moments regarding titusonenine and Mr. Harmon.

    I did finally have to repent of doing the same thing with Mr. Kew. I had never read anything by him except the article we have been talking about. Last night I read his latest posting and it makes him seem like he actually might be a sincere person motivated by a love for Christianity, the Anglican Communion and the ECUSA. I still think he is often wrong, but for the right reasons.

    The current debate in the church is one of the handful of most distressing things I’ve experienced in my lifetime. “Debate” is the wrong word. It’s a civil war. And make no mistake, if we didn’t have such strong civil control in our society, this civil war would be bloodier than the one we fought in the middle of the 19th century.

    OK, that rant is over.

    I don’t really want to engage with you in the same old theological wrangling that’s been going on between the two extremes involved in this civil war, although I will be happy to tell you how I feel and to listen to how you feel. We both know the arguments by heart now and we both accept certain ones as true and certain ones as false. I doubt very much that I will convince you to believe that the Episcopal Church’s best way forward is to welcome our GLBT siblings into full participation in the life of the church REGARDLESS of whether their behavior is sinful or not. I don’t think we need to make that judgment. I guarantee you that I won’t be convinced that treating them as second class citizens and condescendingly inferring that their sin is somehow worse than mine reflects the mind of Christ. I know you’re saying, “I don’t do that,” and maybe YOU don’t, but that is what is happening to them. Obviously I will never convince you that God is doing a new thing, and you will never convince me that the mindset of the church catholic through the ages is acceptable authority. I’m not really sure whether God is starting to do a new thing or whether we have never let God get started or whether God ever quit doing a new thing. Also the mindset of the church catholic through the ages has been demonstrably wrong before. How do I know it isn’t wrong now?

    So there is our impasse. My hope is that we can move around it (yes, it will still be there) and still minister together. The real problem is that too many folks who are in the same position as you and I are feel that there must be a personal victory in this. If that happens, the victor will demand submission from the vanquished, or else will figuratively hang, draw and quarter those heathen bastards. Once victory is decided, someone will need to leave. To avoid the spilling of blood and the doing of murder by one side or the other, I offer now to be the one to leave.

    Now for a question and comment. You say, “You fault Kew for criticizing ‘… a charge away from received Biblical values’ and you cite Jesus leading just such ‘a charge away from received Torah values.’ You could have pointed to the Sabbath dispute.”

    The question is do you think I meant Jesus’ charge away from received Torah values was just about the Sabbath? If so, I need to make it clear that I think Jesus’ criticism of the Temple establishment was MUCH deeper and far-reaching than that. It had to do with the whole way the religious leadership saw the reign of God. And it had to do with the pervasive legalism that got on Jesus’ last nerve.

    Without making this much longer (this is your blog after all), I only want to point to a few of Jesus’ parables to support my contention. The parable of the Good Samaritan makes it abundantly clear that we don’t understand who our neighbor is and what loving that neighbor requires. The parable of the Prodigal Son makes it clear that there are many older sons who just can’t accept the fact that their father shows grace to all and they stay outside pouting instead of joining the feast. The parable of the workers shows much the same thing, but also makes it clear that God will show grace to whomever God wills. Finally, the so-called Judgment of the Nations makes it clear that service to others is the real test. And there are no limits on whom it is we must serve.

    These understandings are fundamental. My assertion is that the nasty folks on the extremes of this civil war just don’t get it. And that peace is more important to God than the victory of one side or the other. Victory will be God’s and what “victory” will mean will surprise most of us.

    I truly hope that the extremists on both sides are not the folks Jesus was thinking about when he said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.'”

    Comment by Bill — March 28, 2006 @ 8:49 am

  10. Bill,

    First, I think your critique of titusonenine is interesting. To the extent that "the medium is the message," you have a point. I must admit I will read it differently now (but I will keep reading and commenting).

    On your follow-up question about "Jesus’ criticism of the Temple establishment," I agree completely that it was a systemic criticism related to the reign/kingdom of God.

    But that doesn't relate so much to Torah/scripture. Judaism's development of the Temple "establishment" was not following Torah. I mentioned Sabbath as an example of Jesus' challenge to parts of the Bible.

    I agree with you that one of us will not convince the other on the same-sex blessing question. My drive here is to put into coherent words my walk through this battle-zone (your correct analogy). I have critiqued my received position as best I can and I can't let go of the traditional understanding of God's blessing of sex. I may be wrong, but I don't see it yet.

    I get asked many questions about the sexuality conflict as a rector. I'm still trying to find my way of teaching and practice that will be grace-filled, but it will reflect what I understand at this point.

    This isn't a debate I can walk away from. If a partnered gay or lesbian person in my church approached me with a testimony of call to ordained ministry, I can't be neutral at this point. For one thing, my bishop doesn't allow such ordinations. And personally, the position articulated by Rowan Williams ("not free to bless or ordain") seems right to me. That's just where I am.

    Your further insights on my postings are most welcome. I hope you will drop by occasionally. The Open Thread page is wide open for thoughts.

    Comment by anthill — March 28, 2006 @ 4:52 pm

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