Friday, August 3, 2012

The Chick-Fil-A Controversy and How NOT to Approach It

To be honest, I'm tired of this Chick-Fil-A controversy.  What Chick-Fil-A's CEO said had NOTHING to do with gay marriage (if you doubt me, look up what he said.  There's not a word about gay marriage or homosexuality or anything like that.  Mr. Cathay did talk about "traditional marriage" but to imply that his words means he is anti-gay is argumentum ex silentio, which is no argument at all. He did, however, talk about being married to his first wife and that his staff were married to their first wives so if anyone should be calling for boycotts of Chick-Fil-A restaurants, the widowers, the widowed and the divorced should be screaming bloody murder about those remarks).  Unfortunately, like it or not, this has become the latest skirmish in the culture war about gay rights. And, naturally, Christian religion and beliefs come into this whole thing.

Throughout the debate, both sides, have claimed that the Bible is "on their side."  Opponents to gay marriage will routinely quote Leviticus and St. Paul while proponents say that since Jesus is silent on the issue of homosexuality, that's more important than what is actually said in Scripture (again, another example of argumentum ex silentio).  What's more is that proponents will say that Jesus' overall messages of tolerance and compassion suggest that any "sinfulness" of gay people should be off the table.

I won't get into the merits of the debate (though I will admit, by praeteritio, I already have).  But as both sides claim the Bible supports their respective stances, I am amazed that when Orthodox Christians are drawn into this debate, they will frequently argue using the same tools as the Evangelicals and the Mainline Protestants--i.e. appeal to the authority of the Bible.

Too many Orthodox Christians in this country have been coopted by the Protestant "appeals to Scripture."  Though we Orthodox Christians revere Holy Writ, hence is why we kiss the Evangelion (Gospel Book) at Orthros following the reading of the Resurrectional Eothinon of the week, Scripture is NOT our authority.  Our authority is Christ, which is what St. Peter confessed when Christ asked him who Peter thought He was.  And that truth is the exclusive guardianship of the Church (see 1 Tim 3:15). Before there was a canon of the Prophets and the Gospels and the Epistles, there was the Church.  I think most Orthodox Christians know this, but are frequently forced into religious arguments framed by Evangelicals and Mainline Protestants.

The problem with appeal to Scriptures is that, without the church, one's interpretation becomes the guide by which everyone else should read passages.  Proof texts are fired back and forth in the hopes that one sentence can cancel out another sentence.  Scripture, for us, is not simply what is referred to as the Bible;  it is the collection of the canons, liturgies, prayers, offices, icons, symbols of the Orthodox Church.  When asked why Orthodox Christians do not condone gay marriage or gay actions, we shouldn't respond with the knee jerk "Because Scripture says so."  We should respond, more accurately, that the Church has never, ever, taught such a thing.  St. Vincent of Lerins said that the definition of Catholic is that which has always been believed at all places and at all times, never altered, never subtracted from, never added to.

Of course, many won't like that appeal either because we're just substituting Scriptural authority for Church authority.  But, at least we're being honest.  Those who appeal to Scripture justifying a pro homosexual interpretation are then put on the spot to defend that if Scripture agrees with them, why has the church never taught similarly?  The usual response will be that the Church is bigoted, but that's an ad hominem which simply cannot be substantiated honestly.  It puts them on the spot to justify how an interpretation only 20 minutes old can successfully stand up to more than 2000 years of unbroken tradition and teaching.

Another common response is that the Church was a slave to the cultural norms of the time.  And are you not also a slave to the cultural norms of this time?  Why is one to be condemned and the other praised?  Then that brings up an argument about superiority of cultures, which is very interesting as progressives advocate for multiculturalism which states that no one culture is superior to another (with certain exceptions--i.e. Christians).

The Church has not altered her teachings. The Church is the bulwark of the Truth.  The Bible can be twisted and turned to support any reading.  Every major heresy in the church appealed to the Biblical writers, though the fathers said they were wrong.  They combatted those heresies not by applying Biblical proof texts (such is a modern innovation), but by defending what the church has always believed from the Scriptures, from the canons, from the writings of the fathers, from the icons, from the liturgies, from the prayers, etc.

This post is not about gay marriage.  This is a post about how and why Orthodox are different about how they (should) argue about theological matters.  Frankly, I don't care what two adults do between themselves.  I have to worry about my own numerous sins first and repent of those.   I will admit that I fear that if gay marriage is enshrined as a civil liberty in the USA, how long will it be before the state comes knocking on the doors of my parish and compel them to marry same sex individuals against its will?  Proponents say that will never happen and I hope they are right, but, if we look at what has happened in this country lately with regards to religious freedom, I don't think I'm far off.

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