Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Christian Right Bashes Gays with Trinitarian Language: An Analogy That Falls Flat on Its Face

And just when I think I've read the damn' stupidest observation about religion and morality imaginable, along comes something like this: Jim Burroway notes, at Box Turtle Bulletin, that Focus on the Family's director for family formation studies Glenn Stanton recently held forth on the theme of the Trinity, marriage, and homosexuality.  Stanton's essay is on Focus on the Family's Marriage and Relationships webpage.

And here's the gist of Stanton's argument: all sexual behavior must be modeled on what he calls the "Trinitarian reality."  Homosexuality is especially heinous in moral terms, because it does not "uniquely reflect the image and likeness of the persons of the Trinity in creation" as the union of a male and a female does.  "Only the sexual embrace within marriage mirrors the nature of the Trinitarian relationship in creation."  And marriage can only be between a man and a woman, since only the sexual embrace of a male and a female rightly "mirrors the nature of the Trinitarian relationship."

And as Stanton spouts all of this glib rhetoric, does he have any clue that the Trinity to which he is pointing as the ground and model of male-female complementarity, as the norm by which Christians are to judge that marriage can be only between a man and a woman, has been regarded throughout the entire course of Christian history as an all-male construct?  Father, Son, and Holy Ghost . . . .

The total, self-giving love of Father for Son issues in the Holy Spirit, so that the circle of total-self-abnegating love is complete: a model for the self-abnegating love of Christians for everyone in the world . . . . Certainly, many theologians today are seeking to correct the overweening patriarchal assumptions in many traditional understandings of the Trinity by nothing that 1) all language and images we use to talk about God are analogical, and therefore these images are not a precise description of a God who is beyond language and who may (who must) be described according to many analogies reflecting a multiplicity of experiences; 2) there are strong images of God as female in the Judaeo-Christian tradition that have tended to be ignored over the centuries and need now to be retrieved; and 3) the Holy Spirit, in particular, has often been imaged in scripture and tradition as Sophia, Divine Wisdom, a female image.

But the weight of Christian tradition has always been heavily on the side of viewing the Trinity as all-male.  Which is precisely why we need the corrective of the female images of the divine in our tradition that have been ignored, and new female images arising out of the experience of women today. 

But the very same sectors of Christianity that resolutely oppose the inclusion of gay and lesbian persons in the divine scheme of things and in the churches also stoutly oppose the attempt to broaden our God-talk to include female images of God.  And so Glenn Stanton is addressing a Christian audience that both regards the Trinity as all-male and works against the full inclusion of gay and lesbian persons in church and society, as he argues that the "Trinitarian reality" is the ground of an exclusively male-female understanding of marriage.

I'd suggest that Stanton has probably not given anywhere near enough thought to the places in which his analogy not merely limps, but falls flat on its face--to the places in which the analogy to which he points as the center of everything actually sustains the very opposite of the conclusion he wishes to reach: a normative homosexual and not a normative heterosexual understanding of relationship.  As our discussion several days ago of gays and lesbians and hammers and nails ended up concluding, analogies can be dangerous, when we don't think carefully through all the implications of the images we're choosing to use in analogous ways.

And when we don't recognize the limitations of all analogous language, which illuminates our understanding of things precisely insofar as we refuse to regard an analogy as an exact overlay of the reality it's seeking to illuminate for us.  When we absolutize an analogy--as Stanton is doing in talking about the "Trinitarian reality" in this discussion of why homosexuality is morally wrong--we both lose the metaphorical power analogies have to open doors of understanding in our mind, and we lock ourselves into conclusions that can be downright embarrassing.  And which may subvert the very argument we're seeking to make, if anyone pays close attention to the details of the analogy on which it's based . . . .

I can understand why those who think the Trinity is the end-all and be-all of creation would like to imagine they themselves perfectly mirror the inner life of the Holy Trinity, while those they disdain fall, poor misbegotten things, outside the charmed circle of Trinitarian reality.  But simply saying one is Trinitarian doesn't really cut it.

You need to make an argument for why that's the case, if you want to convince folks with a brain in their heads.  And Glenn Stanton fails to make such an argument, just as those espousing the new Catholic buzz lingo of the theology of the body, which is where Stanton is getting this nonsense, do.

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