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Chapter 7, “Good News for the Gay Christian”
Now at last I embark on a review of the last chapter in this book, the most important, and the reason why I began these reviews in the first place. You may perhaps remember that I decided to embark on this lengthy defense and analysis of O’Donovan’s book in response to Douglas Wilson’s very harsh dismissal of it, which you can read here (beware the comments at the bottom). Oh, and by the way, here’s the link to the online version of O’Donovan’s book, which I failed to supply earlier in this series) I shall address the specific quotes that Wilson criticizes as they come up in the course of the chapter, but suffice to note here that Wilson seems to completely misunderstand what O’Donovan is doing in this chapter.

This time around, I shall work very carefully through the text, even more so than previous chapters, to guard against the kinds of misunderstandings that Wilson falls into. But, since that will make this post extremely long, I shall provide a shorter summary first, and you can just read that if you don’t feel the need for the extended analysis and vindication.

In this chapter, O’Donovan takes the hypothetical (but a hypothetical that certainly has real-life examples) of a gay Christian who genuinely desires to live in obedience to Christ, but who has difficulty seeing how the condemnations of homosexuality in the Bible could really apply to his case. How does the Church address the good news of the gospel to this person? O’Donovan makes a couple of important points about this question. The first is that inasmuch as the gay Christian is to be addressed as a believer and a disciple, he should be addressed also as a potential evangelist, as someone who has a calling to not only be witnessed to about Christ, but to be a witness of Christ to the world. The second is that the good news is always a demanding good news, a gift that requires obedience. So the gay Christian cannot expect to hear a word of simple affirmation.

Then O’Donovan points out that, on the one hand, the good news as proclaimed to the gay will simply be the same as that proclaimed to anyone else--the promise and summons in Christ is, an important sense, the same for all men; on the other hand, the promise and summons of the gospel will take on a unique form in addressing gays with their unique struggles and challenges.
O’Donovan then fleshes out the nature of this unique address to gays, which he proposes will address the situation of the gay Christian as one of a vocation. This is perhaps the point at which most conservatives will balk, as we are used to using the word vocation to denote an entirely positive calling to be advanced, and are used to thinking of homosexuality as an entirely negative problem to be overcome. But if we listen patiently here, I think O’Donovan’s point is decisive and convincing; I will take extra time to go over the details at this point in the argument. If the gay Christian has a particular vocation, then our task in preaching the gospel to them is to help them see where in that vocation are strengths to be encouraged, and where are the temptations to be overcome, to help them see where their calling to follow Christ is one of burdens to be borne, and where it is one of opportunities to be pursued.

To make sense of the desires that homosexuals find themselves facing, O’Donovan reminds us that, in our state of fallenness, we must remember that not all desires can be taken at face value; they are always pointing vaguely towards some good that should be pursued, but usually in a disordered way that, if followed literally, will lead to evil. The Church must work together with gays to understand what homosexual desire really points to, so that it can sort out where is the good, and where is the evil. Moreover, it must work to understand what contemporary homosexuality means; instead of simply hastily saying, “Well, it’s just sin, so stop doing it,” we must, without necessarily denying that it is sin, understand the roots of it, the meaning of it, and in what ways a gay Christian might live out his or her hard vocation in a way that blesses the Church and the world. This will necessarily be a more patient and difficult process than either the liberal or the evangelical response to homosexuality.

Now, for those who want more detail, I will work through the text carefully, summarizing and questioning it, and responding to Wilson’s particular charges as they come up (note that I address every one of Wilson's charges in here--they are all in response to quotes from the chapter, and I take up each one as it arises. The only exception is the mockery Wilson indulges in about "fairies" and "probing" at the end, which I have omitted to address [though I think I might have mentioned it in an earlier post] since it is not a substantive objection and is in rather bad taste.)

O’Donovan begins by considering a hypothetical homosexual who “declares: (i) that he desires to live in obedience to Christ; (ii) he is unable to see himself reflected in the description of homosexuals in Romans 1, since he is not ‘rejecting something I know in the depths of my being’; (iii) that he conducts a life of moral struggle like other Christians; and (iv) that it is ‘hard to hear good news’ from a church which insists his condition is spiritually compromised.” Like it or not, we must accept that such struggling, well-intentioned gay Christians do exist, Christians who want to follow Christ, but who do not understand that this necessarily requires an abandonment of their homosexuality. As O’Donovan says “If there are homosexual Christians who see themselves in this way, then, precisely because they intend to take the disciplines of the Christian life with perfect seriousness, we may and must listen and speak to them with perfect seriousness about the good news in Jesus Christ.” So far, so good, right? Well, no, actually. Oddly, Wilson interjects an objection after just this quote, saying, “But of course, this is only the case if the true center of authority is to be found in the disciple's sentiments and self-justifications and not in the master's commands. We must take the homosexuals' self-assessments as authoritative only to the extent that any such self-justifications are authoritative, which of course they aren't.” I’m not really sure what to make of this objection, since O’Donovan said nothing about the homosexual’s self-assessment being “authoritative” but only as being something that we must address “with perfect seriousness.” Of course his self-assessment isn’t authoritative--O’Donovan has established that quite clearly earlier in the book.

In any case, O’Donovan goes on to say that we must ask not only how the gospel is to be proclaimed to this homosexual Christian, but “How does the homosexually inclined person show Christ to the world?” We may do a double-take here, but O’Donovan’s point is quite simple--every Christian believer, sinner or saint, has the task of both receiving the gospel and proclaiming the gospel; of receiving the witness of Christ and being a witness for Christ. If we are to address the homosexual Christian as truly a Christian, we must keep both of these in mind; moreover, note that he refers here to the “homosexually inclined” person, not the homosexually active. Throughout this chapter, O’Donovan is not calling upon us to cheerfully endorse homosexual practice, but to seriously engage the Christian who has homosexual desires, who wants to understand how he is called upon to live his Christian faith.

Before going any further, O’Donovan pauses to emphasize “an elementary point about Christian ethics”: “there is no Christian ethics that is not ‘evangelical,’ i.e. good news. There can be no change of voice, no shift of mood, between God's word of forgiveness and his word of demand, no obedience-without-gift, no gift-without-obedience. The gift and the obedience are in fact one and the same.” Therefore, whether addressing gays or non-gays, the Gospel will be both a word of promise and a word of demand; we must neither forget (as conservatives sometimes do) that the gospel addresses gays with comfort, or forget (as liberals usually do) that it addresses them with demands.

“The righteousness of Jesus Christ is not comfort without demand, any more than it is demand without comfort. It is never less than that demanding comfort by which God makes more of us than we thought it possible to become. And from this there seems to follow an important implication: the Gospel must be preached to the gay Christian on precisely the same terms that it is preached to any other person.”

We cannot, says O’Donovan, treat gays as some special kind of human, as the homophobic do in a judgmental way, or as the liberal gay-rights agenda does in an wrongfully affirming way. The gospel comes to them with the same words as it does for anyone else. The homosexual Christian must see Christianity, Christ, as the ground of his identity, not his homosexuality.
“Homosexuality is not the determining factor in any human being's existence; therefore it cannot be the determining factor in the way we treat a human being, and should not be the determining factor in the way a human being treats him- or herself. Gays are children of Adam and Eve, brothers and sisters of Christ. There is no other foundation laid than that. ‘He will feed his flock like a shepherd’; from which it follows, simpliciter and without adjustment, that he will feed gays like a shepherd, too.”

But then O’Donovan questions this line of reasoning--this may be so, and yet surely people possess specific subordinate identities, to which the Gospel should be addressed in a specific way. Should we not apply the Gospel differently to the different sectors of society, as Gregory the Great’s Pastoral Rule does? O’Donovan counters this question by asking,
“Why would there be a Gospel for the homosexual any more than a Gospel for the teacher of literature, for the civil magistrate, or for the successful merchant (to name just three categories that the early church viewed with the same narrowing of the eyes that a homosexual may encounter today.) It is for the church to address the good news, we may say; it is for the recipient - homosexual, pedagogue, politician or captain of industry - to hear it and to say how he or she hears it in and from this or that social position.”

At this point Wilson sharply objects,
“And, of course, in response the question should immediately arise whether the early Church was correct to view these persons with suspicion. If they were, then we should still be viewing them with suspicion. If they were not, then we should not be. And if the suspicion directed at sexually-active homosexual ‘Christians’ throughout the entire history of the Church has been correct, then let it continue. If incorrect, then let us abandon it now in repentance. But how about some exegesis first? O'Donovan tries to anticipate that clever trick by creating some hermeneutical wiggle-room early on in the book, which in these pomosexual times is not hard to do. Simple right? Clear wrong? All this deep theology is making my head hurt.”

Of course, in response the answer should immediately arise that O’Donovan never said here, or anywhere else, that homosexuals should not be viewed with “suspicion,” at least, in the same sense as civil magistrates, as those prone to be engaged in types of activity that the Church must oppose. Moreover, O’Donovan is not clearly talking about “sexually-active homosexuals” per se, but about prone-to-be-sexually-active homosexuals, and in any case, I find deeply troubling Wilson’s placing of quotation marks around “Christians” in referring to homosexuals. But, the biggest problem with this objection by Wilson is that O’Donovan goes on to object to his own question in the very next paragraph.

O’Donovan, having asked whether the Gospel has nothing special to say to the homosexual, replies, “Not so; it does!” I will quote: “The Gospel does have implications for the way we conduct ourselves in the world, and the way we conduct ourselves in the world is differentiated as the forms and circumstances that constitute the world are differentiated. There are special needs because there are special contexts within which the Christian life has to be lived out.” So, on the one hand we must beware of treating homosexual Christians like some special class that receives a different Gospel than the rest of us; on the other hand, we must recognize that they have unique struggles and tasks, to which a specific application of that Gospel must be made. Such a specific application, O’Donovan says, has traditionally fallen under the heading of “vocation”; just as the teacher, politician, or banker faces particular temptations in their station in life, that the Gospel must help them overcome, so does the homosexual. Now, as I mentioned above, it is here that we are likely to object--homosexuality isn’t a vocation; it’s a sin. But we must remember here that O’Donovan is speaking of those with “homosexual sensibility”; those who find themselves, for whatever reason, characterized by an attraction to the opposite sex, and for whom such desires cannot simply be swept under the rug and replaced with new desires; these are those who find themselves called to live lives confronted by this desire. In such cases, we can rightly speak of a vocation, and not merely of a vocation to suffer, because it would be harsh indeed to suppose that God had no special use to which he could put such Christians, no special gifts with which they were endowed amidst their weaknesses, no special service which they could do for the Church. If we truly believe that all members of the body are needed and valuable, then certainly we may speak of homosexual sensibility as a vocation within the body that some are called to live out.

As O’Donovan puts it,
“Of course, this pastoral train of thought does not entitle us to demand that the gay Christian (or the teacher, politician and banker) should repent without further ado. Theirs is a position of moral peril, but also a position of moral opportunity. In preaching the Gospel to a specific vocation we must aim to assist in discernment. Discernment means tracing the lines of the spiritual battle to be fought; it means awareness of the peculiar temptations of the situation; but it also means identifying the possibilities of service in a specific vocation. The Christian facing the perils and possibilities of a special position must be equipped, as a first step, with the moral wisdom of those who have taken that path before, the rules as have been distilled from their experience. A soldier needs to learn about "just war", a financier about "just price", and so on. Again, can it be any different in the realm of sexual sensibility?”

To these last two sentences, Wilson objects, “Sure it can. It is completely different. Scripture provides multiple examples of soldiers fighting the way soldiers ought to fight. Scripture provides multiple examples of merchants conducting their pricing operations in an honorable way. It contains no examples of "just sodomy." And by "no examples," just to be clear and precise, I mean nada, zilch, zip, zero.” Again, this entirely misses O’Donovan’s point. I don’t know about “just sodomy” but there is certainly “just homosexuality,” which would be celibate homosexuality. Now one may say object that this is a silly point to make, because it means that the only just way to fulfill the calling is just not to fulfill it. But this, to anticipate something O’Donovan says further on, would wrongly assume “that a homosexual is someone essentially characterised by an inevitable homoerotic desire. That would be to close down the exploration of the gay experience with a vengeance!” (Part of the point that I take O’Donovan to be making, in insisting on homosexuality as a “vocation” and on there being more to “gay experience” than “inevitable homoerotic desire,” is that homosexual sensibility is often associated with many great strengths of sensibility and mind. Many of the great artists and writers in the Christian tradition have struggled with homosexual desire, and it seems quite clear that such desire often goes hand-in-hand with great creative abilities or unique perceptiveness. We cannot treat this as a mere coincidence, but as one of the strengths and unique opportunities of service that belong to the homosexual vocation.) And in any case, it would hardly be the only vocation in which a Christian would find the obvious paths for action closed off to him. Christians in the Roman army (and in the American army today) would find that the just way of carrying out their calling would be to refrain from doing most of what they were called upon to do. Moreover, Wilson commits a fairly obvious fallacy here, since the fact that there are no examples of something in Scripture clearly does not necessarily mean that such a thing could not rightly exist--there are no examples of “just actors” in Scripture, but it would be wrong to therefore assume, as the Puritans seemed to, that such could not exist. (I say this not to contest Wilson’s point that there is no such thing as “just sodomy,” but only to say that this point was made very poorly, and this kind of poor argument is not likely to help the evangelical cause.)

Anyway, to move on...O’Donovan immediately points out that the homosexual’s task of discerning the right and wrong in his vocation is not his task to carry out on his own, but must be done by listening to the tradition, which, although it may not have the final word, must have a very important word, without which the final word may never be found. “No one who has not learned to be traditional can dare to innovate.”

But, what of the sincere gay Christian, who, having listened to the tradition, and accepted that “discipleship cannot be without a price in self-denial” yet wonders “whether that price may not be paid, pari passu with the married, in the ‘daily discipline of a shared life.’ And then he asks how that daily discipline can fit in with its two exclusive categories of ‘marriage’ and ‘singleness’.” (He is here referring to the text of the St. Andrews Day Statement, a 1996 statement by open-minded conservatives on the matter of homosexuality.) O’Donovan points out here that the Statement did not rule as an absolute final word that these were the only two possible categories, and that homosexuals could only choose the latter, but that it did say (and O’Donovan agrees) that such is the teaching of the tradition, which must not be lightly overturned. The Statement’s main purpose was not “merely to declare what its authors supposed to be the case. Its intention was to pose open questions to gay Christians which might elicit what they supposed to be the case. It was an invitation to dialogue within the basic terms set by Christian faith.” This invitation was not answered, he says, but was greeted with suspicion, and by liberals, with disdain. This is because liberalism “reckons it knows what gay Christians need, which is ‘stable relationships.’” But this, he points out, is the testimony of liberal Christians, not necessarily of gay Christians. Do gays see the primary fulfillment of their desires as a conjugal relationship, or not? It is dangerous, thinks O’Donovan, to abandon the tradition to offer a hasty solution for gay Christians before even determining if that is the solution that gay Christians need. We need, says O’Donovan, to have a much more serious discussion with gay Christians about how they understand their experience than liberalism has ever actually engaged in.

Now, having discussed all this time the vocation of those with “homosexual sensibility,” O’Donovan turns to address the question whether, if such sensibility is not sinful in itself (as I think we should all agree), a sexual expression of it need be sinful. This is, for many, the crux upon which all turns, and it must be addressed, although O’Donovan has been right to steer our attention to the larger contours of the issue. However, following his strategy throughout the book, O’Donovan does not offer a straightforward answer (he does not conceive this as his task in the book), but rather clarifies the framework within which a right answer can be given.

And the first thing to say in establishing this framework is that to ask the question this way is to turn it on its head--we cannot start from desire as from a given, and then move outward to expression as doubtful, but must start from given social norms of expression, and approach the desire as that which is doubtful. As O’Donovan puts it, “Wrapped up in this is a certain psychological positivism, an unbiddability characteristic of romantic, pre-Wittgensteinian psychology. Within, we have a self-interpreting mental state, "desire"; outside, we devise an action to "express" it, i.e. lead the mental state uncompromised from the inner expanses of the mind to the public world. Inner certainties demand untrammelled expression. But that approach can only invite a sceptical reply. What is this inner certainty certain of? How can we know what the desire is for?” Desires, he says, cannot be taken at face-value, especially in this fallen world:
“The language of ‘expression’ is treacherous. It lets us suppose that our desires are perspicuous, when they are not. Sexual desire in particular is notoriously difficult to interpret....It is characteristically surrounded by fantasy, and fantasies are never literal indicators of what the desire is really all about, but are symbolic revealer-concealers of an otherwise inarticulate sense of need. But the point holds also for many other kinds of desire - let us say, the desire for a quiet retirement to a cottage in the countryside, or the desire to own a fast racing-car. We cannot take any of them at their face value.” In other words, just because a homosexually inclined person understands himself to have same-sex sexual desires does not mean that the only, or even the best way, for him to respond to his desires is to have a same-sex sexual relationship. “To all desire is appropriate self-questioning: what wider, broader good does this desire serve? how does it spring out of our strengths, and how does it spring out of our weaknesses? where in relation to this desire does real fulfilment lie? It is in interpreting our desires that we need the wisdom of tradition, which teaches us to beware of the illusory character of immediate emotional data, helping us to sort through our desires and clarify them. The true term of any desire, whether heavily laden or merely banal, is teasingly different from the mental imagination that first aroused it. And gays have no infallible introspective certainties in relation to their desires that would put them outside the common human lot of self-questioning.”

In other words, we must not say, with the liberals, that the proper response to homosexual desire is simply to endorse the indiscriminate literal fulfillment of this desire; but nor must we say, as many evangelicals tend to, that the proper response is just to shut it down, write it off, turn away from it in horror. Rather, we must recognize that this desire, like every other desire of fallen man, is a desire for true goods, but a disordered desire, that is likely to lead away from them if we are not careful. Our task in addressing homosexuals is to help them discern what true goods their desires are distortedly aiming at, and to help train them to pursue those goods rightly, and avoid acting on their desires in the ways that do not lead toward the good.
“It is perfectly possible to think of desires as no matter for blame, and yet be persuaded that their literal enactment can never be their true fulfilment. Think of the desires we conceive in relation to our enemies when we are angry, or of the desires we conceive in relation to money and possessions! Desire is, however, one aspect of what Christian doctrine used to speak of as ‘concupiscence,’ a brokenness of the world reflected in a confusion of desire that our human society itself instils in us.”

And this, of course, as O’Donovan hastens to remind us, puts us again in the position of having to understand that gays are, fundamentally, in no different position from the rest of us sinners; we all find ourselves facing distorted desires, which we must overcome and re-orient, and this all the more so in the fractured post-Christian world of modernity.
“The gay Christian who complains that the good news is difficult to hear because his position is treated as compromised from the outset could learn that it is not his position, but the position of the human race, that is compromised from the outset....If the distinctiveness of gay experience reflects original sin in some way, it is because it also reflects the fractured quality of society and its loveless disorder, a disorder for which we all share common responsibility and all pay the common price, the fruit of our uneven social formation.”

Following this train of thought, O’Donovan says, leads us to consider the novelty of the gay phenomenon in modern society: “The world has never seen a phenomenon like the contemporary gay consciousness. There have been various patterns of homosexuality in various cultures, but none with the constellation of features and persistent self-assertion that this one presents.” I would’ve thought that this was one of the most uncontroversial sentences in the book; indeed, when I read it, my first reaction was that it was a rather pointlessly self-evident statement, since almost by definition, no pattern in a previous society could have exactly the same “constellation of features” as it does in today’s society. But, oddly enough, Wilson jumps on this sentence with a sharp objection:
“Let us assume this assertion correct, which it almost certainly isn't. But let's grant it for the sake of discussion. Why is this unique development assumed to be an ameliorating point in favor of some kind of softened judgment? Why isn't it assumed to be the most perverse development in the history of the human race? As in, this is ‘far worse than Sodom’? ‘This thing is unique -- it must be the mother of all perversions.’ Why don't we take that line?” I am mystified by Wilson’s suggestion that this assertion “almost certainly isn’t” correct, given that, as I just said, it seems rather to be by definition correct. Wilson also seems to again mis-read between the lines, since O’Donovan never said that this was supposed to be “an ameliorating point in favor of some kind of softened judgment.”
He never makes such a point here. Rather, his point is that this fact must force us to come to careful and comprehensive grips with the nature of the contemporary homosexual issue, so that we can offer a judgment that is not necessarily “softened” but which is balanced and informed. An approach like Wilson’s, which sees nothing in the contemporary gay phenomenon except “the mother of all perversions,” risks being an approach closed to new insight, unable to learn anything from the age in which we live, or from the homosexual Christians whom we encounter in the Church.

Having drawn attention to the uniqueness of today’s homosexual movement, O’Donovan insists that we must read the problem of homosexuality in our culture not as some isolated sin, that can be condemned and dealt with on its own, but as in many ways the product of late-modernity, and the chaos which our society has fallen into. When we read it this way, we will see another way in which we may benefit from attentiveness to the experience of gay Christians--we will be able to read therein a clearer picture of the society we inhabit, the disorder it engenders, and the ways in which the Gospel might be brought to bear upon it.
“From the place of special sensibility in which the homosexual Christian may find him- or herself we may hear a testimony to the way the world confronts our mission in our time, to its fragmented identities, its disjunctions of feeling, its cruelties, its dislocations and the peculiar possibilities of redemption that God has put at its heart. The rest of us cannot do without this torchlight shone through the fog of the late modern world in which we, too, must grope our way.”

When we approach gay Christians this way, we approach them as friends, as neighbors, as companions on the hard path of faith. Such an approach, suggests O’Donovan, is what gays need far more than liberal Christianity’s “managerial juridicalisation of the gay Christian's claim, by its ‘laws and peremptory dogmas,’ designed to settle questions without exploring them, to adjust relations without justifying them, to reassure the uncomforted without comforting them, in short, to manage the situation.” In this hasty liberal attempt to manage the situation, the actual experience, needs, and particular vocation of gay Christians has been largely ignored, and if conservatives are to offer a better answer to the situation, they must fill this void, and fill it with love and friendship.
“The role of attorney's client, the perpetual petitioner before the court of pleas, is open and inviting, and there are plenty to welcome the gay into it - for the time being. But the catalogue of candidates for emancipation will be extended further, and the gay cause will lose the interest it once had - irrespective of whether it has won the concessions it fought for. The role of friend among friends, on the other hand, questioned and self-questioning, joined with those in pilgrim search for the new name that no man knows except the one to whom it is given, is an altogether different role, and perpetually available to those who seek it. The gay Christian thus faces in a particular way the choice that constitutes the human situation universally: whether to follow the route of self-justification, or to cast oneself hopefully on the creative justification that God himself will work within a community of shared belief.”

O’Donovan approaches his conclusion by summarizing the questions that the gay issue confronts us with--for gays “how this form of sensibility and feeling is shaped by its social context, how it can be clothed in an appropriate pattern of life for the service of God and discipleship of Christ?” and for non-gays, “how and to what extent this form of sensibility and feeling has emerged in specific historical conditions, and how the conditions may require, as an aspect of the pastoral accommodation that changing historical conditions require, a form of public presence and acknowledgment not hitherto known?” Now, I will confess of course that I am not wholly comfortable with a “pastoral accommodation” that involves “a form of public presence and acknowledgement not hitherto known.” I will grant of course that we cannot a priori rule out the possibility of such an accommodation, and perhaps what O’Donovan is calling for here is nothing too radical, nothing that would involve a shift in the fundamental ethical requirements of the situation that the Church has insisted upon. Indeed, based on the rest of the book, I should expect that this is the case--that O’Donovan does not anticipate or desire any such fundamental shift; but I wish he’d be a little clearer here at the end.

O’Donovan ends by reminding us that if we are patient and faithful, we can hope for a real resolution of this crisis: “No disagreement refuses to be analysed, and its constituent elements sorted out according to size and shape. No disagreement does not lure us on with the hope, however distant, of a genuine resolution. Can we promise ourselves, then, that if the churches would only discuss homosexuality long and fully and widely enough, they would end up agreeing? Well, we are not entitled to rule out that possibility.” Even if such final agreement is not forthcoming, it is also possible that the disagreement may cease to evoke such “threatening resonances” which seem today to make it a communion-breaking issue, just as, for example, the formerly tense debate over whether divorce was ever appropriate now seems a manageable disagreement for Christians. I admit that I am not as sanguine (or perhaps my imagination is just not so expansive) as is O’Donovan here. I have trouble conceiving of how this could be a matter that the churches are able to “agree to disagree” on; yet I have no right to rule out this possibility; after all, it is certainly not a dispute over credal orthodoxy, as serious as it may seem.

“There are no guarantees. There never are in the Christian life. But that is not a reason not to try. And seriously trying means being seriously patient. Anyone who thinks that resolutions can be reached in one leap without long mutual exploration, probing, challenge and clarification, has not yet understood the nature of the riddle that the ironic fairy of history has posed for us in our time.”

So, is O’Donovan’s final chapter satisfactory? Is his book satisfactory? Certainly not for most liberals, probably not for most conservatives. We conservatives are left frustratedly asking, “OK, that’s all well and good, but what’s the upshot? We shouldn’t ordain gays, right? We shouldn’t let them get married, right? We should urge them to be celibate, right?” As far as I can tell (and this impression is confirmed by others who know the man better than I do), O’Donovan would answer “right” to all of these--certainly this is clearly implied by the principles he lays out in this book. But laying out these answers is not the task he sets for himself in this book; as I mentioned to Donny, I think he sees his task as a theologian differently than most Reformed theologians would. Although ordained, he is not currently serving as a churchman, and so it is not his task to throw his “vote” on the issue onto the table. He does not want to add his voice to the cacophonous shouting match on one side or the other, despite having stronger sympathies with one side, but he wants to calmly direct the attention of the shouters to the nature of the situation, the nature of the questions to be addressed, and the ramifications of the answers that may be given. In so doing, he performs, I think, a great service to the Church, and gives us a great deal of food for thought. I would hope that other conservatives like myself, would, instead of casually dismissing this book, see in it a source of blessing and illumination, as I have.

Pro Christi Ecclesia Testamentoque


"Now one may say object that this is a silly point to make, because it means that the only just way to fulfill the calling is just not to fulfill it."

Yep, and after reading the entire post (I just couldn't stop; it was riveting), I still think that part was definitely silly. Though I had some issues with some of the points that came later, this one really did it for me. It just looked one one heck of a failed juggling act. It was a nice show, but it all just ended up in a messy heap, and I have no idea what to make of it.

November 5, 2009 at 4:58 AM  

"A messy heap," eh? Dem's fightin' words, Donny.
You've got me wondering though, if I missed something, or would like to rethink something.
*Looks back over the whole post*
No, I still can't really see any problems. You're going to have to be a lot more specific.

As for the one quote you raise, part of the point I go on to make there is that it's not really true that "the only way to fulfill the calling is just not to fulfill it" unless you understand that sodomite activity is the only, or even the proper, fulfillment of the homosexual vocation. O'Donovan's point is that it's not. I take his point to be broadly this: 1) homosexual Christians obviously have something of a unique calling before God; 2) it does not seem that that calling can include their participation in a sexual relationship; 3) therefore we must come to understand that there's more to the homosexual identity than such a relationship, and we have to help gays figure out what that might be.

Now please be more specific about your objections if you may, instead of just telling me that it was a failed juggling act.

November 6, 2009 at 12:31 AM  

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