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SALT LAKE CITY, UT: A036 - Throwing Out the Baptismal Baby with the Sacramental Bath Water

SALT LAKE CITY, UT: A036 - Throwing Out the Baptismal Baby with the Sacramental Bath Water
Bargaining away the Trinity for collegiality
The long fight to deregulate sex

By Gary L'Hommedieu in Salt Lake City
Special to Virtueonline
June 30, 2015

The long history of marriage as an agency for regulating and deregulating sex ended last night with the HOB's passage of A036 to amend the Church's marriage canons. In the Task Force's explanation it was clear that the purpose of the canon was to remove "creedal" obstacles that could obstruct the pastoral intent of the new canon to confer upon two individuals the capacity of each to confer blessing to the other.

The church has been in this business too long. Hitherto the so-called debate has been about which sexual behaviors are to be regulated, then between which partners. All the while marriage has been subsumed under sex (and I don't mean gender), with the marriage union as the medium for mutual benefit and fulfillment of two individuals. The General Convention bought into this decades ago, first with divorce and contraception, and has provided fodder for the the protracted soap opera that is now the Episcopal Church.

This year's Convention has simply demonstrated what was implicit in the debate all along, namely surrender to the primacy of the individual as the locus of theology, with the Church taking its cues from the consuming public in the design and marketing its product line -- love as it is understood in a society reared in the instant gratification of all desires, and most of all its loves.

For all its fashionable comments on capitalism the Episcopal Church remains the bastion of the free market with its supply and demand, and its God is defined accordingly. If the public demands this or that sexual expression, we will accommodate them with our sacralizing machine (the liturgy) and uphold them through the generous pastoral concern of our clergy.

There is no need for a theological basis for such an enterprise. Theology itself is subsumed under marketing, the Bishop's role adapted as CEO of a marketing corporation, a role suitable for America's premier business class. God Him/Herself is a metaphor, the subject of focus groups to be packaged and distributed. To meet the demand of a diverse public the market must be deregulated. The design, naturally, is as close to one-size-fits-all as is humanly possible to make it.

Ironic that the federal government had to intervene under the threat of arms to guarantee the free distribution of this product.

The vanishing union

The sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s shifted the focus of sexual behavior from a property of an exclusive lifelong bond union, to a happenstance of two individual partners. Sexual morality focused on the question of which behaviors were suitable to this union given the rights of the individuals' partners -- as to what sexual practices were acceptable within the marriage union to what were the grounds to end one union and form another. Behaviors in either case were placed on a continuum, and "debate" became essentially a matter of how far can we move the goal posts and still be playing the same game.

Hence the churches argued over contraception and divorce. In an age of motion picture romance, combined with women's suffrage and an expanding consumer economy, individual fulfillment became the focus for all human relations, and "choices" the means for the free individual to pursue happiness through human relations understood now as means to a greater end, no longer an end in itself. The marriage union was the medium through which individual "consumers" had access each to his or her individual happiness.

Sex itself was reconceived as a medium for happiness understood as pleasure. Not that this was something new, but after the pill sex could be logically separated from procreation once and for all, to the point that childrearing could be thought of as one of the many choices available to the two partners each in their quest for individual fulfillment. The unlimited availability of sex apart from the "risk" of children quickly became a preferred medium for personal satisfaction. It was argued that if this particular satisfaction changed, or the means thereof, if the goal posts could be moved to accomodate. Already there was no basis to refuse based on the understanding of what the marriage union was understood to be -- a means by which two private individuals join forces for their mutual satisfaction.

The concept of "union" had no basis apart from mythology. Union became a metaphor for romanticizing joint human aspirations. In the best of human unions, whether between individuals or nations, two individuals became as one. After all it is a logical impossibility for two of anything literally to be or even become one. This is the terrible truth that brought home to a bereaved spouse in the best of unions.

The bitter end of e pluribus unum

The Supreme Court, charged with guaranteeing free access of the individual to his or her constitutional rights, brought the myth of union to an ironic end this past Friday. The complexties of the law will be argued indefinitely, but the truth is plain that every union generated by human agency is a combination of two or more bound together either by force or mutual agreement. "One" is unarguably pure abstraction, a myth established in only in the fury of a shared romance.

Strangely enough this brutal fact was acknowledged by the Bishops in their approval of the new marriage canons. As I mentioned earlier, the individual "preference" of one biblical interpretation of marriage, such as St. Paul's "mystical union between Christ and his Church," might not be everybody's cup of tea. And, heaven forbid, in a marriage between one believer and a non believer, such poetic license might be offensive, thus obstructing the more prosaic truth of the marriage union as the shared (abstract) medium by which two solitaries achieve mutual satisfaction, or don't. (See Bluebook A036, Explanation.)

But what about that mystical union "betwixt Christ and his Church"? Have the Bishops disowned it as mythology, sweet icing on the proverbial marriage cake? Can our sentimental "conservative" Bishops be among the ones who advocate their partisan view of how far the goal posts of are to be moved? What gospel have they proclaimed, or purported to proclaim, until last night?

The Church's one gospel: Co-Union with the Triune God in union with the God-Man

For all of its impassioned advocacy for the social transformation and healing, and all its indignation at the thought of reducing the gospel to private personal religion, the Episcopal Church, along with all of Liberal Protestantism, has disowned the Church's historic, catholic proclamation of the Tri-unity of God in whom we have restored union by our co-unity that Jesus, the God-Man. That is the the patristic message of salvation enshrined in our creed, but because it is imponderable to our modern sensibilities, it can be dismissed out of hand. And it has been, except in name only to certify our credentials as part of the catholic church. We recite this creed as required on every Lord's Day, though we feel free to ignore it in our teaching (or to teach it badly), and we feel free to change its "metaphor" in keeping, ironically, with our primary concern for social justice and reconciliation.

Thus we throw out the baptismal baby with the sacramental bath water, leaving ourselves at the mercy of the consuming public with its shifting winds, until we find that all this while we have been preaching no gospel at all, grasping to keep up with the public demand. In other words, while there is a demand for something, we find that our supply is depleted. We constantly regroup to repackage the brand, but we never agree on the product, and we live in a society where brand loyalty is scorned as a relic of another time.

The Church's product is a real union with the real God. It is precisely this that was thrown out last night as the Bishops acknowledged the God who blesses imaginary "unions" contrived on drawing boards by church focus groups. In its frenzied zeal to provide clergy the means to conjure "blessings" for shared consumption by solitary individuals, the Church disowned the faith of its Creed, which exists now, and probably has for a long time, for ceremonial purposes only.

In other words, the Church denies the basis for its own product -- the sacramental union of two marriage partners, one man and one woman. The sacrament, insofar as it is something real, is a unity that no human can create or pretend into being. It is not the poetic bliss that proceeds from a "good relationship" but the participation in the one flesh ordained by God as completing his Image -- the Image of the Three-In-One. It is either that or it is a metaphor, a myth, an illusion -- benign, heartwarming, but an illusion nonetheless. No foundation can be built on the best of illusions.

The unity of the Godhead proclaims a different union from any that is encountered in creation. The creation points beyond itself to its Creator, who remains one with it in spite of the infinite and unimaginable distance between the two.

Modern interpreters call this magical thinking, but the real magic, the real mysticism, is in the minds of those who imagine they can "bless" anyone or anything from the resources of their own benevolence or "generosity." Magical thinking is believing there's something there that wasn't there before, apart from a social construction validated by due authority. Anyone know what that "really" is, apart from the confines of our imaginations?

The mystical union between Christ and his church

"Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness....So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." (Genesis 1:26a, 27 RSV)

Paul was speaking literally when he spoke of the Church as the body of Christ. Throughout the New Testament it is clear that "church" means something more than "institution," even when John and Paul speak of the churches in Asia or Galatia or in somebody's house. The Church of the creed is the same Church Christ declared would withstand the gates of hell, and anyone who eats of the eucharistic bread and cup without the discerning the body that is the lifebread of that church eats and drinks damnation. It is that Body which makes us all one, as Jesus and the Father are one, and in Whom there are non of the particularities of Jew, Greek, slave, free, male, female, the list goes on.

If the list includes gay and straight, so be it. What is certain is that we have no power to make that unity happen, and to claim such an ability based on some "need" we have discerned is to witness eternally against it. We cannot conjure it out of our imaginations as an expression of our concern and generosity.

Either that or it is nothing, a ridiculous deception, a pathetic diversion for grown men and women who like to argue, and a cruel hoax to offer others as making a real difference in their illusory search for an illusory happiness. The taste for it will fade, as does every new package promising something it can't deliver.

The union the Church has power to confer is the union of the one flesh formed by the Creator to complete his Image in the Creation. We cannot claim some new prerogative to extend that union to a mass market. At any rate, it is not the union that present legislation declaring marriage "equality" claims. The Episcopal Church has already witnessed against itself in preferring, and pretending, to confer some other type of union. Some conservative Bishops even knowingly have settled for unions suited to personal preference, and claim in sobs of self-pity that they must do so out of love for their LGBTQ parishioners because, after all, to vote against their own false witness would be to vote "against" them!

When will the so-called conservatives summon the nerve to say with quiet conviction that a vote for the exclusive union of one man and one is in very fact a vote for the manifestation of the restored union in Christ the God-Man with the Triune God, and through him -- and only through him -- are we reconciled, first with God, and thereby with every Greek, slave, man or woman.

At this point the real trouble comes to light, the real line in the sand for all Episcopalians, indeed all Chritians. Does this union, this sacramental reality brought about by a Power that eludes both our imaginations and our control -- embarrass us, either because it is too magical for thinking people, or because it is irrelevant to the battles and causes that place us (we think) on the right side of history.

The genie is out of the bottle now. The Episcopal Church has severed herself from her own Creed by witnessing to another god, one with an image that can be packaged to suit. The Church has witnessed against herself through "empowering" her clergy to confer romantic alliances between individuals in search of "true happiness" and calling them unions.

This from the ranks of clergy who equate the language of the "mystical union" as "magical thinking."

The Rev. Canon J. Gary L'Hommedieu is Canon for Pastoral Care at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Orlando, Florida, and completing a Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Central Florida

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