Saturday, February 17, 2007

False Dichotomies

What is or isn't happening, what may or may not happen, at this week's meeting of Anglican Communion primates in Tanzania is anybody's guess. Religion journalists from the Anglican world who are following the meeting first hand are loathe to draw any conclusions, so far be it from me to attempt to do so.

It can be said with certainty, however, that a fundamental question being treated by the primates is this: to what extent can an institution defining itself as Church interpret the Gospel in such a way that the Gospel ceases to be recognisable as such and the institution in question can no longer be considered as Church?

The Rev. Canon J. Gary L'Hommedieu is Canon for Pastoral Care at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke, Orlando, Florida, and a regular columnist for VirtueOnline.

In the following article, he describes in some detail the process used by those who would twist and distort the Gospel, either out of benign ignorance, or out of wilful intent to undermine it. It is a process that we should not only be aware of, but also be prepared to oppose.

The following is the full text, published on VirtueOnline :

Liberals around the globe have latched onto a technique for reducing what used to be primary to the nether regions of irrelevance. It's a familiar technique, but conservatives continue being flummoxed by it in their fear of being portrayed as hateful or extreme.

It is the simple technique of the false dichotomy.

Here again the issue that has captivated the Church east and west, north and south, homosexuality -- the issue everyone claims to be sick to death of - is a perfect illustration of the technique. In fact homosexuality has been brokered into the Church entirely on the basis of false dichotomies.

Here's just one example: if you don't agree with the homosexual that his lifestyle is good and right in the eyes of God, then you hate him. Since people of good will do not wish to be seen as hateful, they will acquiesce to the idea that the homosexual lifestyle is good and right in the eyes of God. They may never believe it, but they will not dare oppose it. They will retreat from a conservative biblical understanding and begin calling themselves "moderates".

No one knows what a moderate is. This should not be surprising. A moderate is recognized not by his or her views so much as by his or her single objective. The objective of a moderate is to avoid confrontation - period. A moderate wishes to be invisible. By doing so he thinks he looks respectful and compassionate, but this is granted him by the mere fact that he has not incurred the wrath of those who care enough about what they believe to confront those who disagree.

But suppose the Bible were true, and that the homosexual lifestyle is not as good and right in the eyes of God after all. If that is the case then the "extremist" who insists upon preaching the text of scripture, whether in season or out of season, is the only friend the homosexual has. If the Bible is true after all, then those who claim to love homosexuals may just be willing to write them off to perdition, rather than risk confrontation. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

Back to false dichotomy as method. In recent weeks several dignitaries within the Anglican Communion have echoed the hackneyed notion that the gay issue is not fundamental to Christian doctrine.

"We need to make a distinction between issues that are fundamental to the faith and second-order issues. This is not a church-dividing issue." (Njongonkulu Ndungane, Archbishop for Southern Africa, quoted in the New York Times, South Africa Bureau, February 9, 2007)

The implication is that conservatives, whether in the West or in the Global South, have been so preoccupied with the issue of homosexuality that they clearly regard it as a "fundamental issue." Liberals would say that the "fundamental issues" facing the Church are the same ones facing the rest of the world: war, hunger, AIDS, sickness, the underdevelopment or enslavement of whole peoples. Clearly these are more important, and thus more "fundamental".

Notice the false dichotomy: If you actively oppose the gay agenda in the Church, you are deliberately overlooking the other pressing concerns listed above. You are saying that defending the claim of scripture regarding gays is to undermine the claim of scripture in terms of justice.

By this logic the message of the radical prophets of the Old Testament would have been, "never mind idolatry and fornication, just feed the hungry and set the captives free." Thus anyone who preaches against false religion and morality is in favor of starving the hungry and oppressing the captive.

In the present argument over sexuality, we are invited to choose liberating the captive over living a life of biblical sexual morality. As if this weren't a strange enough dichotomy, it leads to another even more strange: if we are intent on liberating the captive, then our fornication becomes good and right in the eyes of God.

One of the greatest displays of the false dichotomy is that of Millennium Goals. You've probably guessed the logic by now: Millennium Goals (and all the good they stand for) is more "fundamental" to the needs of the suffering people than biblical morality. Therefore anyone who argues against the church's innovations in sexual morality seeks to minimize, if not oppose, the intentions implied by Millennium Goals.

This particular point was neatly handled by the CAPA Primates a year ago:

"We recognize the strategy employed by Episcopal Church and certain Communion bodies to substitute talk of Millennium Development Goals for the truth of Scripture. These choices are false alternatives...." ("The Road to Lambeth"; Primates of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA), February 2006).

For the sake of my present argument, what the CAPA Primates reacted to was the attempt by the Episcopal Church to swindle the rest of the Communion through the clever use of a false dichotomy. They rejected such a bogus formulation of Christian truth: it's NOT either practice biblical morality OR feed the poor. In the Bible it's BOTH AND.

Perhaps the greatest illustration of the false dichotomy is one of the most recent. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, said in a recent interview in USA Today that she saw "two strands of faith", one "concerned with atonement, that Jesus died for our sins and our most important task is to repent... The more gracious strand is to talk about life, to claim the joy and the blessings for good that it offers, to look forward."

There's a mouthful for you; the new Lady Primate is "more gracious" than the Christ who died for our sins.

Once again, by this logic those who preach Christ "and him crucified" avoid looking forward, reject joy and blessings, etc. etc. Like a Chinese menu, choose from column A or column B: either Jesus' atonement for sin or joy, blessings, a way forward, etc. As for me and my house, says the good Lady, we choose Millennium Goals...

These are false alternatives. No one was more forward looking than St. Paul, who was made a "new creature" by Christ, who sought to "know nothing at all but Jesus Christ and him crucified." Thus he could "do all things through him who loved me." There is column A and B together, as they always are when orthodox Christianity is practiced faithfully.

There is only one reason to reduce Christianity to a series of false dichotomies: because we want to con someone. Maybe it's only ourselves that we want to con. When I am battered into submission by the Via Media and their quest for a "middle way", I will acquiesce to the claims of, say, the gay liberation agenda. As a colleague of mine said recently in an email, "there are other issues besides this one." Yes of course, there other issues "more fundamental" than this one. Therefore it doesn't matter how we handle this one. We can choose to be faithful in some other area, and that will cancel out all the areas of life in which we are unfaithful.

Why would someone, in the name of Christian faith, want to lure me into "selective faithlessness" with the promise of an eased conscience?

As the Primates continue in the present marathon of "listening", let us all brace ourselves for the spin. If we see false dichotomies, particularly on the side of the Left, look for a con. There is no other reason to pose a false dichotomy than to deceive and justify wrong.

Let's hear the Liberals preach the full text of the prophets: repent of BOTH your idolatry/immorality, AND your neglect of the poor. No captives will be liberated by a con.


Anonymous said...

Unfortunately the good Canon (who has had several commendably eloquent pieces posted over the last two years on these subjects) forgets that his cultus banished Our Lord and Saviour by refusing to acknowledge Him as necessary for salvation at the last General Convention of "TEC". It seems rather a dichotomy to remain in a non-confessing denomination. TEC has put itself on the same level as any other social/political service organisation such as the UnitedWay or Sierra Club. I suspect health insurance, pension plans, "carving a safe little, 'orthodox' corner out" are compelling reasons not to vote one's conscious with one's feet. It would seem continuing to hold as public a position as canon in as decadent an institution as TEC has become only supports the false-hood. Let us pray that the Canon will see fit to live into his professed faith and join others who have had the courage of their consciences.

poetreader said...

As I just pointed out on another board, homosexuality (though a serious issue) is not the central issue here, but rather a symptom of the willful abandonment of the central message of the Christian Faith. If Jesus is not Lord, if the Cross is not our salvation, then it is pointless even to attempt to go on as a Church. It's time for believers to wipe the dust from theur feet and walk away from the apostacy of ECUSA/TEC


Anonymous said...

Precisely, Poetreader.

I stayed too long in a traditional TEC parish--'28 BCP most Sundays BUT--and this was the big BUT that finally shook me out of the comfortable environment to reality--the lectionary was from the 1979 book and the Hymnal 1979 with its bowlderised texts. The result was a more and more comfortable relationship with sin. When the lections are edited to avoid references to sinful practices, the people forget the need to repent and to seek grace. It was only when the readings were such awful renderings of favourite, familiar texts that I started reading the Authorised Versions of the passages AND the passages which would have been read had the '28's 1943 lectionary been followed for the services. What spiritual blindness this "sanitised" modern three year lectionary produces!!! The call to holy living is expunged; the striking similarity of the Roman world's immorality to this consumer age which might encourage us to chaste living fades as critical verses are lopped off the lesson.

Indeed, St. Paul makes it clear that we are to spread the Gospel message but we are also called to avoid associations which might trouble the faith of others and which might tempt us. Hence, the need leave the old leaven of the Global North's Anglican innovations behind.

May we all pray for those in the TEC and may we all be reminded that these "thorns in the flesh" can serve to spur us to greater witness.

Albion Land said...

D Bunker,

I have not deleted your first comment because it contains material germaine to the post.

However, I would ask taht you and all other readers refrain from comments that border on the ad hominem.

I know nothing about Canon L'Hommedieu's spiritual state of mind, and would suggest that this is not the appropriate forum to discuss it. I have an enormous amount of respect and sympathy for conservatives who have "stuck it out" in TEC and fought what has, ultimately, proved to be a losing rearguard action. The pain and disillusionment they must be suffering is almost palpable.

For all we know, he is "packing his bags" as we speak. If we are to rebuke, let us rebuke those to whom he refers in his piece, rather than kill the messenger.

Furthermore, in the weeks and months to come, it behooves us in the continuing movement to make people such as Canon L'Hommedieu feel welcome, as more and more Episcopalian come to realize that they have lost the war. Comments such as this are not helpful in that respect.

Anonymous said...

The mainstream media news in Oz says that a group of African primates refused to participate in Holy Communion because Dr Schori was there and because of her views re homosexuality. I'm not sure of the details beyond that, but it saddens me that a moral issue (and that's not to discount the importance of moral issues at all) has become the be-all and end-all of the Anglican Communion. The Africans have, unfortunately, exposed their low doctrine of the sacraments by not objecting to Dr Schori's presence (presumably in the sanctuary) because she was a woman purporting to be a bishop. Ed's right, the root cause of the Anglican malaise is the abandonment of the Lordship of Christ and (if I may put words in Ed's mouth), the loss of orthodoxy of belief and teaching. The ordination of women was the most damaging fruit of this, because it damaged and broke the sacramental structure. I see the rest as just a side-show. Further, how many 'it's o.k. to be gay' bishops preach 'but if you're straight you wait until you're married'? I'd hazard a guess at none, but it is not the liberals' tolerance of the sins that tempt most people that is now defined as the communion-breaking issue, but their tolerance of a sinful lifestyle that only tempts a minority. I fully expect that the African primates have orthodox views as to the heterosexual behaviour, but if they really want to tackle the sexual morality issue head on, they need to tackle the liberals' tolerance of immorality head on, and not just the form of immorality which the heterosexual majority finds distasteful. Even then, until they develop a higher doctrine of the sacraments, they won't provide the kind of Anglican alternative that is provided in the best branches of the Continuum.

Alice C. Linsley said...

It is my experience that those who want to distract, obfuscate and otherwise cause confusion, do indeed create false dichotomies. They do as their father who poses as an angel of light.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your gentle correction. Indeed I did not intend the second post as anything but an explanation of how insidious the changing culture of ECUSA had been personally. Having lived it until recently I, too, feel for those who are fighting this battle. They are foremost in my prayers and providing them a safe spiritual home in which to worship Our Lord is the point of our new mission.