Ah, so much to comment on here. Trust me when I say that I’m limiting my comments to one major topic here, simply to keep from sitting at my computer and writing for a couple hours, not because what I leave unaddressed is unimportant.
I think we need to examine this crucial point which continues to crop up: creation. Particularly, I hope we could not only consider the givenness of the material order, in light of Genesis, which many of us (including myself) and many traditionalists or conservatives writing on the topic of sexual difference, gender roles, and marriage (from JP II to the authors of the conservative paper to the HoB), believe is a crucial point in addressing these topics. What I want to ask is whether could we also give ourselves to the task of trying to consider a stronger version of the sort of theology of creation that might rest behind progressive discussions of these same topics?
I say this because I remain unconvinced that it is entirely a kind of Gnosticism, though it certainly resembles it at times, and I take the argument from the First Things article quite seriously. In some cases, I think it is quite correct. Some progressives are Gnostic on these issues (or agnostic about them, really). But, among the more theologically articulate progressive voices I have encountered, Gnosticism is not the whole story. Both Rogers, and a number of progressives I encounter in the Diocese of MA and in school, would point to a rather different understanding of creation, which is not simply identifiable as Gnostic and which is worth our consideration here. It is somewhat similar to what I have been speaking about before, which is no accident. What they might be concerned with is how we understand the original creation in light of its renewal in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is, what are the continuities and discontinuities between 1) the original creation or original purpose of creation, 2) the renewal and/or transformation of creation in Christ’s resurrection, 3) the future resurrection life of the redeemed, and 4) the current role of sexual difference and embodiment in the Christian community? Are there sharp discontinuities between any of these, what are they, and why are they there? In contrast, are there continuities, actually or potentially, and how do these impact current practice? And, in the end, does discontinuity or continuity, so to speak, “win the day?”
While I think that many of us would agree there are some key discontinuities between these different areas, the place where I think a lot of progressives might put it is between 1 and 2, which impacts their understanding of 3 and 4. I have not seen many of them do so explicitly in writing, but several personal dialogues I have engaged in with particular progressives always seem to shape up along those points, and I think that it would make Rogers’s arguments (and many others) much more coherent if we assumed that the following sort of statements lie behind their thinking:
“The division of humanity into male and female had a particular creational role for the purposes of bearing children. However, when Jesus Christ assumed human nature and renewed it in the resurrection, his perfected humanity was neither male nor female. It had no sexual difference and stood in radical discontinuity with the original creation. This lack of sexual difference is a characteristic of all resurrection bodies and will be that of our own when we become ‘equal to the angels.’ One participates in this resurrection body even today through baptism into Christ. By undoing the signs of sexual difference amongst ourselves, we may participate in the resurrection and in Christ more and more. Since such participation is clearly a good thing, we not only have the option of undoing sexual difference, but the imperative to do so at an ever exceeding rate.”
By thinking in this way, a “strong” (or at least more theologically articulate) progressive argument could take stock of Genesis 1-3, Gal. 3:28, Matt 22:30, as well as advocate for a certain kind of inaugurated eschatology. By talking about overcoming “sexual difference” rather than gender or sex, the progressive argument can speak about both. Hence, it can attempt to address same-sex marriage, all sexual acts, gender roles, and transsexual or transgender issues all in light of this question around the continuity and discontinuity between creation and new creation.
I’m not saying that such an argument doesn’t face difficulties (I think it faces massive problems), but it shows that the fault lines, or the focuses of the discussion between progressives and traditionalists, will have to deal not only with Genesis, but eventually with Genesis-in-light-of-Christ. A counter to these arguments has to take into account a lot more material, arguing not only that the original humanity was split into male and female, but also arguing whether and how that the division endures into the present, whether and how it is to be overcome in the eschaton, and how the overcoming of that division both is and is not realized in the present day through ascetical activity. And, of course, two of those ascetical activities, identified in the progressive paper to the HoB, are marriage and monasticism.
Again, some thoughts. Respond as needed. I’m taking these points head on in my Diocese of residence, so I’m practically fishing for aid in thinking through them.
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