Tuesday, May 29, 2012

ecclesiology of exile

An amazingly insightful and thought provoking post by Michael Bird - My Solution to the Same-Sex Marriage Debate, with an Ecclesiology of Exile:


Okay, no surprises, I’m not a fan of gay marriage. I have two non-theological arguments against it:

(1) It reduces marriage to a legal fiction. Marriage has traditionally or historically been a union between man and woman for the purpose of preventing promiscuity and promoting procreation and life-long partnership. Marriage creates healthy families and healthy families creates healthy societies. Philosophers from Aristotle to Confucius have recognized the importance of the marriage-family bond for society. Same-sex marriage, however, supposes that marriage is simply a legal recognition of a citizen’s preferred relationship status, and marriage has no function, goal, or value for the state; marriage is something that just happens, and the state has no preferred policy whether marriages take place or who they take place among. Counter-response: Yes, indeed, marriage is nothing more than a legal contract; it has no inherent moral quality, it is no different from a business contract or a real estate lease. Thus govt. cannot prescribe some relationships to be more valid or more valuable than others (i.e., it cannot say that marriage is better than de facto relationships without prejudice to the latter) nor can it discriminate against types of relationships. Counter-counter response: Exactly my point. This debate is not about who I chose to love, this debate is about the nature and function of marriage in our society. I concede that if one abandons the Christian/historical definition of marriage, then you can redefine it how you like. We just need clarification on whether this abandonment is a conscious departure from the Christian heritage and are you prepared for the consequences.

(2) It paves the way for polygamy. The same arguments used for same sex marriage can be used to justify polygamy. Marriage is about love not law, get your Mormon religion out of my bedroom, it discriminates against bisexuals, it is a social justice issue, and blah blah blah. I blogged on this earlier, I think the argument stands. So why don’t advocate of same sex marriage advocate for polygamy? The only answer can be: we don’t like it (aesthetics) or we are not ready for it (popularity). But aesthetics and popularity are not legal or moral arguments. The logic of same sex marriage demands bisexual and polygamous marriage, even with the apocalyptic legal scenarios that it brings. Counter-response: Well, there is polygamy in the Bible, so what’s wrong with Polygamy. Counter-counter response: Polygamy in the Bible, well duh! It was part of ancient near eastern culture which the patriarchs and Israelites lived in, but it was not the intended creational norm in the beginning (Genesis 1 -2) and Jesus and the Apostles specifically endorse marriage as one man and one woman only (Matt 19:8-10; Tit 1:6). Any way, like I said, now you have no reason for not having polygamous marriages, let me know how that works out for you, will be a good time to be lawyer.

I also recognize that those objections will not persuade most non-Christians anymore than reading the Sermon on the Mount will persuade Lady Gaga to start wearing a chastity belt. So where do we go from here?


There are two problems as I see it here. (1) Christendom is over. We are no longer chaplains to a nominal Christian society in the West. You don’t have to like it, but build a bridge and get over it, its where we are. (2) We need to get government out of marriage and religion out of civil unions.

Here is what I propose:

I say we adopt a European model on civil unions and marriage. Basically, everyone gets a civil union. So on Friday, rock up to town hall with your fiance, see the magistrate, get licensed as a couple, so all the legal bases are covered. Then on Saturday, if you so chose, go to your Cathedral, Synagogue, or Mosque and get sacramentally married with divine blessings. This provides a base level of rights and benefits for everyone and gets government interference out of what has normally been a religious ceremony. As far as the state is concerned, there are only civil unions. Marriage, as a sacramental union, does not exist in the state’s eyes. They only recognize contracts between people … any people and as many people as you like. If you want to be in a civil union with a pretty girl, your biological brother, three Ukrainian women you met on-line, two pet monkeys, a racoon named “bongo,” and a box DVD set of Supertramp, go ahead. If it can physically sighted you can be civilly united. If marriage is just a legal fiction, then there is no legal argument why you cannot do this. You want to throw that bigoted Christian heritage away and discover your inner pagan sexuality, gratify your every lust with state approval, go ahead, fill your boots, throw off the shackles of those perverse Christian values. If you need me, I’ll be on a family picnic with my wife and kids while you’re in law court figuring out who gets the house and kids in the love dodecahedron you’ve made for yourself.

That might sound strange, but here’s my thinking.

Christianity is no longer the default setting in the West. Christian ethics are no longer mainstream, normal, or even make any sense. Yes, in some places we have remnants of this, esp. in parts of the UK and USA, but Christendom is over folks. We are no longer calling people back to values they nominally consent to. There is no silent moral majority; we are now the minority, we are the odd balls, we speak a different language, we inhabit a different symbolic universe, we are now regarded as enemies of the state’s values, we are the new villains, we are the greatest threat to what the secularists think is a fair, just, and inclusive society.We are subversive ideological terrorists because we order our lives according the story, symbols, and sovereignty of Jesus Christ, all of which stands in violent opposition to the values of the secular order. We Christians represent a clear and present danger to the very edifice of secular pluralism because we refuse to believe in it and we tell a story that undermines it – and some people believe us not the powers that be, that’s the problem. Ancient critics of Christians called them “haters of the human race,” which ironically justified inflicting the most hateful and hurtful of punishments upon Christians! That figures, since I’ve been accused of hating homosexuals with the most hateful and acidic language I’ve ever seen on the comments of this blog. Tacitus noted that Christians were convicted under Nero “not so much for the crime of burning the city, but for hatred of the human race“. Why were they accused of hating the human race? Because they believed in the Trinity? Because they believed in the imputation of righteousness? For holding to the doctrine of sublapsarianism? No, they were called human-haters because they failed to affirm the politics of Rome with Caesar at the top, they refused to embrace the pantheon of Roman gods, they refused to do their civic duty to honour the values of Rome, and they did not imitate the permissiveness of their society.When Christians are called “homophobes” for refusing to affirm and endorse gay marriage, it is just a variation of this theme. But how do we respond?

We need to develop an ecclesiology of exile. This best explains the situation we find ourselves in. This is why Peter exhorts the believers in Asia Minor: “They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you.” Christians are the new fruitcakes. We don’t belong here, we don’t fit in, that is why they hate us! People look at us with a mixture of disgust and confusion. Why don’t you abort your babies if they’ll inconvenience your life? Why do you stay faithful to your wife even you could keep your adultery a secret? Why don’t you abandon your husband and kids and go and “find yourself”? Why give up your disposal income to help kids in some god-forsaken country west of Timbuktu? Why don’t you divorce your spouse and find something better? Why ruin your career and risk your life in Africa to help out some half-evolved jungle bunnies who just got religion? Why don’t you hook up with cute boys or chug beer with the frat boys – is there something wrong with you? Why waste your Christmas mornings at a drop in centre for schizo’s and urban vermin – that’s what the government is supposed to do?

As we construct a Christian response to gay marriage, the evangelical and apostolic churches (not the liberals churches who are little more than chaplains for Nero) need to do from an ecclesiology of exile, not from an ecclesiology of christendom. We are on the periphery of society, not in its privileged position. We do it recognizing we are the outsiders, we not the respected authority we once were.


The same sex marriage debate is not about law, genitals, and marriage. Its about whether we are a Christian society. For secularists, the answer is no, we are thankfully not a Christian society. Their frustration, however, is due to the fact that faith communities continue to exist and even prosper when they should have faded into oblivion long ago. That’s the story they’ve been telling since the Humanist Manifesto in 1933. But Christians (and other faith communities too) are ruining the secular script simply by the fact of their persistent existence. They refuse to retreat into some dark corner, where they are neither seen nor heard, and just die off. The secular frustration with faith communities is very much like that of Agent Smith with Neo in The Matrix Revolutions. In one of the final scenes, Neo won’t give up in their battle even when the result of their conflict looks inevitably, and Smith is confused and enraged by Neo’s unwillingness to quit. After Smith has belted the snot out of Neo and Neo gets up yet again, Smith launches into a tirade against Neo which I’ve recorded with midrashic additions:
Why, Mr. Christian ? Why do you do it? Why get up? Why keep fighting? Do you believe you’re fighting for something? For more than your survival? Can you tell me what it is? Do you even know? Is it freedom of religion? Or ultimate truth? Perhaps inner peace? Could it be for the love of god? Illusions, Mr. Christian. Vagaries of perception. The temporary constructs of a feeble human intellect trying desperately to justify an existence that is without meaning or purpose. And all of them as artificial and pointless as life itself. Although, only a religious mind could invent something as insipid as love for a god. You must be able to see it, Mr. Christian. You must know it by now. You can’t win. It’s pointless to keep fighting. Why, Mr. Christian, Why? Why do you persist in this contest?
Neo’s response to Smith is, “Because I chose to.” To which I would amend to, “Because I’m called to.” We are not called to Christianize the state, there is no point prescribing Christian values for people who are not Christians. But we are in the industry of being a really, really annoying force of resistance in the world around us. We are fundamentally called to be witnesses to a new regal order (the kingdom of God) and a new way of being human (the new creation). We are establishing a state-within-the-state, setting up an underground network with a message so subversive that it would warrant instant arrest, a praxis that is virtual treason, a secret rebellion against the imperially sponsored secularism around us. When Christians are hated rightfully, i.e., for being different, not for calling for gays and lesbians to be locked up in some big paddock like one lunatic American preach said, then that is a good sign we are doing our job correctly.

We need to take a leaf out of the book of the Epistle to Diognetus:
For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.

In a nutshell:

- Gay marriage is inevitable, so we need to rethink how we relate to society.
- We can expect to be called human-haters (homophobes, biophobes, polyphobes, treasonous, anti-social, etc.) because of our refusal to endorse and affirm the culture around us.
- Gay marriage is about a larger trend in western society edging towards an aggressive secularization that permits religious communities to exist but only on the grounds of an unwritten non-interference clause (i.e., shut up, sit down, say nothing, and please die out quietly).
- Fidelity in this state of exile is not Christianizing, but witnessing to a different way of being authentically human, whispering across a table that “Aslan is on the move,” declaring that a new thing is happening in our midst, being proud of those things that makes us better than the pagans (i.e., we don’t kill our babies), reflecting love in the face of prejudicial hatred, blessing others when we are cursed, and pointing towards Jesus Christ who brings the redemption and transformation that we everybody in the world needs.

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