Thursday, July 16, 2009

Tom Wright on Episcopals and gay question

Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham and one of the foremost Biblical scholars, wrote the following piece on the Episcopal Church's decision to move forward in recognizing gay unions, despite warnings from the Anglican Communion not to do so: What do you think of his stance on sexuality?

Wright writes in his piece:

"The appeal to justice as a way of cutting the ethical knot in favour of including active homosexuals in Christian ministry simply begs the question. Nobody has a right to be ordained: it is always a gift of sheer and unmerited grace. The appeal also seriously misrepresents the notion of justice itself, not just in the Christian tradition of Augustine, Aquinas and others, but in the wider philosophical discussion from Aristotle to John Rawls. Justice never means “treating everybody the same way”, but “treating people appropriately”, which involves making distinctions between different people and situations. Justice has never meant “the right to give active expression to any and every sexual desire”."

What do you think of justice as "treating people appropriately" rather than "treating everybody the same?"


Anonymous said...

Hi Di,

I think this is a good distinction. I'm not sure what it means in the context of gay ordination, however.

You've had some great posts lately, btw. I challenge folks to respond!

Bill Samuel said...

I'm just going to respond to the second question, being somewhat muddled on the first one. He's absolutely right. Of course, it's much harder to do that treating everyone the same, but it recognizes the reality of different gifts, different calls, different experiences, etc.

Diane said...

Hi Bill,

There's something in me that agrees that justice and equality are not one size fits all proposition, and in an ideal world, does mean treating people appropriately rather than the same. The idea of equal justice leads the kinds of absurdities regularly reported the press--the five year expelled for having the "lethal" weapon of a pair of manicure scissors etc. In the disability community, too, treating students "equally" often means discriminating against those with special needs. We will allow a near-sighted child glasses and not see this as unfair but not want to allow a child with a reading disability to hear books on tape, etc. However, all that being said, "appropriate" justice has often been used to oppress groups of people, for example, women, and I tend to be leery of what is good for the goose not being good for the gander. Obviously, this is an issue that needs a great deal of discernment.

Diane said...

I hit the post button too soon and apologize for the unedited comment above--I hope you can amend it as you read!

Bill Samuel said...

It all depends on your understanding of what is "appropriate." The concept is sound. But some may have a conception of "appropriate" that might seem, well, inappropriate to me and thee.

AbiSomeone said...

Haven't been commenting much anywhere of late, but this really resonated with me because it is where I live with my boys: fair does not equal same.

Justice is seeing that persons receive what they need (although some push that to be what they "deserve" so that it can be spun as punitive rather than gracious)-- and are not overlooked or taken advantage of by others with more power (in whatever ways one measures power in their circumstance).

I am working on trying to get my boys to trust that I am always looking out for their best interest (cHesed) and will always do my best to make sure they have what they need, not necessarily everything they want.

Having moved so far away from the whole clergy/laity situation, I would say that I long for the day when this distinction goes away -- in favor of the priesthood of the believer....

Hystery said...

I think his comments mark him as a bigot. He is playing a fine game with words there. Of course justice does not mean treating everyone the same. "Equal" does not mean "the same" in social justice. Well I'd say that's pretty much a given. Few who have spent any time at all struggling for the rights of marginalized people already know this from experience. Others have already included some fine examples of this in their comments.

What the good bishop has done here is very clever. By referencing a concept that philosophers of social justice often use to explain why it is that some groups need special attention to gain equality, he makes a statement that by itself will resonate with liberals. We can get sucked into, "Yes! He's right. Justice does not mean treating everyone the same. I believe that too."

Let's not be fooled here, folks. We all know that justice does not mean treating everyone the same but it does mean that we have to treat people as human beings with equal rights to the responsibilities and privileges of our society. Now, I'm not an Episcopalian and so I don't have a say in how their religious interpretations. Because of a separation of church and state, they can use their religious views to justify all kinds of homophobia, sexism, or racism they want. It won't be the first time a religious organization has used its freedoms to do so. But I'm not going to pretend I like it or that I can agree that that what they do is just. Homosexuality is not a choice that someone makes. Homosexuality is a biological reality, a natural and normal variation of human sexuality. To deny a person's spiritual service and to insist that they are somehow unworthy in the eyes of their Creator is the opposite of justice and it is the opposite of Love.

nr davis said...

Amen, Hystery!

Diane said...

Hi Abi,

Yes, I agree that getting our children to understand justice as other than "sameness" is difficult--and I'm right with you on the priesthood of all believers.


I have some problems with how Wright formulates his argument--I have read and read the Bible over and over again on this issue and have talked and talked to lots of people on both sides of the fence and I can't seem to get clear on whether the Bible is favoring heterosexual monogamy or simply monogamy. Wright assumes heterosexual monogamy--but that's what the argument is about. It's not clear to me that we can assume the heterosexual part. Monogamy yes. That's extremely clear, On the other hand, I personally think the Episcopal church in North America is headed off the edge of the cliff --not because of the gay issue--but because of a fundamental identity crisis around Christianity. It's also clear to me that we as country are trying and will continue to try the experiment of gay marriage and gay equality and we will see what happens.