Summary of the Law (said at every Sunday Mass)

Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

An Open Letter to Douglas Wilson

Professor Wilson,

Peace be with you in our Lord Jesus Christ.

I have little reason to think you’ll read this letter—that is the way of open letters published on blogs, and if you write in a chimney then I write in a flue—but I write nonetheless: partly in the hope that you may after all stumble upon it somehow, and partly to address sentiments you expressed, which have had a good many other advocates in Reformed circles. The inner politics of the Reformed are no longer of grave importance to me, since I left the PCA ten years ago to become a Roman Catholic; all the same, I retain an irrational fondness for the Presbyterian tradition: my mother is still PCA, and the Reformed were the first to teach me the love of God and reverence for sacred Scripture. Moreover, my topic is your remarks on the upcoming Revoice Conference, which is being hosted at a Reformed church, and that gathering has garnered criticism principally from Presbyterian sources (that I’m aware of).

Now then, to brass tacks. You invite the reader to read your collation of quotes from Eve Tushnet, Ron Belgau, Greg Coles, and Nate Collins, ‘and try to tell me there isn’t a whole world of compromise nestled in some of those words and phrases. If this isn’t the thin end of the wedge, then I’m a Hottentot.’ I feel obliged to inform you that you are, in hunc effectum, a Hottentot. We mean precisely what we say; that’s why we say it. If we wanted a church with more compromises, they can be got two a penny at CVS, so why would we waste our energy and time with all this? This, aside from the fact that assuming bad intent on the part of an opponent is an ad hominem, which, as I’m sure you know, thanks to your admirable championing of classical learning, is a fallacy—an assault on motive worthier of Ezekiel Bulver than of yourself. And all this is without touching on St Paul’s dictum that charity thinketh no evil and hopeth all things.

But linger with me, please, over one of the images you’ve chosen as an analogue for Revoice.
There is absolutely no way that this is the whole program. … To change the image, the PCA is pregnant with some bastard children, and is only three months along, barely starting to pooch out a bit, and is busy arguing that her confessional standards don’t say anything about pooching out a bit. So we’re all good.
Well, if the PCA, or any church, is pregnant with bastard children, am I to gather from your analogy that you believe they should be aborted? That, taking one of your key-words, is as obvious from your words as our mauvaise foi is from ours. As for that, it is your ill opinion of bastards rather than of Revoice that principally troubles me, insofar as neither hath this man sinned, that he was born blind. But I feel sure that is not quite what you meant. In any case, we can return to the topic at hand, which is this.

I claim the title of God’s bastard child. I am no heretic; a sinner, yes, but Catholic; and that divine Love which elected Rahab, Ruth, Tamar, and Bathsheba as his foremothers has embraced this bastard too. Or art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?

Nothus Dei Natus

Your accent on shame seems to me profoundly misguided. One thing that I absorbed during my time as a Reformed Christian was the utmost importance of letting the Scriptures speak, on the grounds that all human interpreters are fallible; and without prejudice to the Biblical passages you cite, I shall venture to point out that of those texts, only one addresses homosexuality per se, and it is (I dare to say) reasonably plain that it is a summary of the human condition apart from divine grace, since there were plenty of people in the ancient Mediterranean who didn’t exhibit the behaviors St Paul here condemns. Or, if we insist that the Apostle is making a categorical and logical statement here, rather than a homiletic and rhetorical one, are we not bound to assert that all people other than Christians are secretly homosexual? In any case, I should have thought that the doctrinal statement ‘homosexual intercourse is wrong’ was a more important area of agreement among Christians than the severity of the adjectives chosen to describe it.

I speak from experience when I say that shaming people—that is, scolding and humiliating them (or what else do you mean? by all means tell me)—is not a healthy or productive technique even when it is combined with others. I was raised in Reformed circles where the practice of shame and the doctrine of grace were both standard currency, and I hated and despised myself so much that I cut up my skin and considered suicide for years. That is what being shamed naturally does to a person.

Nor does your enthusiasm for it seem to me to reflect the actual practice of the Lord Jesus or his Apostles. A bruised reed shall He not break, and smoking flax shall He not quench; He is meek and lowly in heart; the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, and against such there is no law. Or, you might simply recall that the title 'Accuser' is not an epithet of our Lord.

You pass from here to complaints that, in your collection of quotes, no one is told ‘simply to repent, simply to stop being that way’. Well, given that Revoice is primarily about how believers gay or straight can support their LGBT brethren in Christ, we tend rather to take repentance of sin as a given. I would also add that a collation of quotes, however extensive, is not the same thing as reading our words in their full context: you might pick up a copy of Eve Tushnet’s Gay and Catholic, Melinda Selmys’ Sexual Authenticity, or Greg Coles’ Single, Gay, Christian (that is, in toto) for a more complete picture. As for the advice to ‘stop being that way,’ has that ever worked for you? Have you heeded the Bible’s constant warnings against slander and gossip in your decision to believe the worst about us? Or tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither your fathers nor ye were able to bear?

Moreover, do you mean ‘stop surrendering to gay lust,’ or ‘stop feeling gay attractions’? In your own book Fidelity, if I recall accurately, you point out quite correctly that some scrupulous men fear that they are guilty of lust merely because they notice that a woman is attractive. Surely that means that the simple experience of attraction is not in itself a sin—which would likewise mean that (as you also said in Fidelity) there is no obligation to be attracted to the opposite sex, and accordingly no imperative to stop feeling gay attractions, which as it happens we can’t do anyway?

Of course, if you mean ‘Stop surrendering to gay lust,’ then the command remains theologically sound if rather oddly worded. In that case, I would only present myself as a far more suitable target for censure than women like Eve Tushnet or men like Ron Belgau, who unlike me actually practice the chastity they profess. I cling to my orthodoxy not out of moral consistency, but because I have little else.

Image result for hey fancy boy

Passing to your patriarchal halakhah on communication and on the gentleman in the photo you selected, who is (as far as I can tell) being judged effeminate because he wears a suit, combs his hair, and jumps, I have this to say. You are of course perfectly correct that gestures, clothing, facial expressions, and mannerisms are elements of communication. However, they are also gestures, clothing, facial expressions, and mannerisms. (I would apologize for the implication that you do not understand the obvious, save that you show by your article that you don't mind stating that those who disagree with you, even on a point as trivial and changeful as proper dress, do not understand the obvious; and, as I’m sure you’ll agree, with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.) Persons sometimes adopt all these things not because they wish to convey a message, but because they happen to like them. The flaw in the shrewd cartoon you mention is that neither the mother nor the reader can say with justice that they know whether the extravagantly dressed person wants to be stared at, or merely has unusual tastes and is not afraid of being stared at. Given that fear of being stared at does not seem like a common motive among Reformed theologians, and was not a recognizably common trait among the Reformers, I would not have assumed you thought so highly of it.

That aside, given your confident condemnation of the picture, would you indulge us by stating what about it is effeminate? If this people who knoweth not the law are cursed, a patriarch, author, and professor should be ready to teach. And, more important (given the sole infallible authority you profess), on what Biblical texts you base this conviction? Not the conviction that effeminacy in men is wrong, you understand; but that the picture in question is effeminate. That it offends the Lord. For surely you would not issue moral censure based on your own likings or mislikings; and I certainly hope you have a better basis for your conviction than the ‘Obvious’ Fallacy.

I ask, because I am bold to consider myself traveled, having lived on three continents, spent time in nine countries, and visited twenty-five states (my attendance at Revoice will make twenty-six); and I can count on the fingers of no hands the number of people I’ve met who say or even think that that gentlemen is obviously effeminate, whether in gesture, clothing, facial expression, mannerism, or anything else. Since social conventions change over time and the culture of ancient Rome, Greece, Asia, and Palestine was radically different from our own, I trust you are not claiming that the social standards and conventional signals of the Idaho chimney represent God’s final say on matters of human, or even merely masculine, style. Regardless, since we’ve apparently gone full Footloose here, I’d remind you that He does not despise dancing in his heart.

I'd point out also that the archetypes of masculinity you cite with approval, ‘lumberjack’ and ‘long-haul trucker,’ are conspicuous by their absence when one peruses Scripture—even using the extended edition employed by Catholic and Orthodox Christians. Given the Reformed principles of Total Depravity and semper reformanda, I don’t think it’s presumptuous to advance, as a possibility at least, that your idea of masculinity is unduly influenced by your culture; or, in Scriptural terminology, by the World. And given that your mode of defending it is evidently to insult those who don’t see it the same way, calling them culturally illiterate or willfully stupid—rather than explain what precisely you are objecting to (is it the posture? the hairstyle? the colors? in all seriousness, what is it?) and why—I am the less convinced that your standard is a love that vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, is not easily provoked, and thinketh no evil.

All joking aside, Professor Wilson, please stop and take thought. If something other than stated fidelity to the teaching of Scripture and the constant tradition of the Church is to be required of us (a hedge around the law, as it were?) to be in your good books, say what and say why. I have no plans to bother about your good books myself, though as Edmund Pevensie said, ‘If there’s a wasp in the room I like to be able to see it.’ But there are fellow believers in your own tradition, striving after godliness on an often lonely and difficult path, who endure mockery and misunderstanding from Christians and non-Christians alike; have you considered the effect your words are likely to have on them? I tell you plainly that it is not one of joyful encouragement in virtue. I know that from my own scars. Have you really nothing better to do with your time than insult and shame fellow believers who have the temerity to profess orthodoxy, attempt chastity, and differ with you on points that are not mentioned in Scripture at all?

I hope that, in spite of my anger, I have maintained justice and charity in writing this; if I have sinned, I beg the Lord’s pardon and yours. May the grace of God, the love of Christ Jesus, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost be with you and with all who read this.

Gabriel Blanchard, NDN

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