I would like to respond to your private letter of concern, and I want to thank you for relating to me a variety of responses to the recent faculty statement, some very negative, from members of Queer Alliance, among others. Please consider this to be a public reply.
First, I have a principled objection to faculty statements of the sort issued by the Columbia Seminary faculty and now by the Austin Seminary faculty. Columbia issued a similar statement basically opposed to the Iraq war back in the day, and there was a move to do so here as
well. Despite the fact that I marched on the state capitol building on two different occasions in protest of that war (I did not object to action in Afghanistan), I objected to a faculty statement opposing the war. In brief, the reason is that I think it homogenizes the faculty into a political instrument in an inappropriate way, thereby disempowering individual faculty members (and it is
important to remember in this regard that there are very real power dynamics at play within all faculties); I think such statements also overtly politicize seminaries, which I think should be preserved as the sort of place where informed argument and the power of reason, not the collective weight of any body, is the coin of the realm. Since I am on sabbatical, I was not part of this process, but when I learned of it I let my concerns be known to a senior faculty
member. Subsequently, the decision was made that this could be declared a statement of the faculty without gaining individual faculty signatures. I understand (per the
Seminary announcement) that there was a meeting in which there was a unanimous vote of the faculty present. It should be made very clear that since I am on sabbatical it would be consistent for the President and faculty not to consult me over this process. I responded vigorously to the senior faculty member, however, when I saw that the announcement made it appear that I had signed the statement. I consider it my right, indeed, my duty as a faculty member to make clear that I disagree with the making of such statements – though I will have to take seriously and consider that I am evidently in disagreement with the Columbia faculty and all of my Austin colleagues, all of whom I respect, on this point. However, the instant an objection is made about a minority of one obstructing the action of the whole I believe my point about political co-opting of individual faculty members’ reasoning/voice is confirmed (again, because I am on sabbatical at present it would be inappropriate to say that I was excluded in this instance).
Second, with regard to the content of the letter. Here matters are complex and if, as I suspect the faculty believes, the full inclusion of queer folk, including ordination and marriage, is a foregone conclusion, there may be an argument for stressing unity in the face of powerful separatist efforts that could in the long run weaken what is historically one of the more progressive denominations in the country. I have little respect for the leaders of the separatist movement, but I have ears for
colleagues who are concerned about folks in churches who are confused in the face of separatist leadership. It is not clear to me exactly what the faculty statement is recommending, though it seems to tilt towards making no decisive new declarations at the next GA. This is a risky move, for it is arguably the sort of accommodationist position that history has judged harshly in similar contexts. However, I would need to chat at length with folks who hold this position before making a judgment about it, for I suspect that their reasoning may be complicated and politically nuanced, and that a justification for not speaking clearly and prophetically on this issue would come in the form of an argument for long-term effectiveness.
On the other hand, historically Christians are pretty affirming of clear and prophetic voices (your story about Ed Ramage was good, I remember that the main story I kept hearing in memoriam to K.C. Ptomey was about a similar time when he stood on principle in the early 60’s with regard to affirmation and inclusion of people who are black). At the least, individual faculty members (and this may include almost all of them) may want to be sure to make clear publicly that even while they support prudent, slower reformation in the institutional church, their professional theological and biblical reflection has convinced them that God loves and blesses folk who are queer, that God celebrates queer marriages as holy unions, and that God weeps over the exclusion of queers who are divinely gifted and called to ministry – God weeps for these just as God has wept for so long over the exclusion and oppression of so many women, which also continues.
Three decades ago now, several years of study and reflection led me from a conservative evangelical questioning of the fidelity of affirming women in ministry, let alone affirming folks who
are queer for being queer or for being fit for ministry or marriage, to the conviction that the essence of spiritual gifts that made folks fit for ministry, and the essence of the forms of love and commitment related to ideal marriages, allow for no critical distinction between male and female, straight and queer. Paradoxically, I later found my understanding confirmed when reading Diogenes Allen’s book on love, for while Allen explicitly objected to homosexual love and marriage, his argument about the character of love and marital love included no essential element that would preclude full affirmation of queer love and marriage. At this late date, I do not think a theological or biblical argument against queer love and marriage can be made that does not commit one hermeneutically to returning women to second-class status within church and within society (i.e., in my professional opinion we have moved beyond the point where respectable arguments against homosexuality can any longer be made – I would contend that on this issue and a few others official Catholic doctrine, which is philosophically consistent, needs finally to move past misplaced faith in Aristotle).
You will note that my affirmation of folks who are queer and queer marriage does not turn upon an appeal to rights, a predominant form of appeal within modern culture on a host of points, and one which I think neglects, and sometimes positively displaces, attention to love and justice, and the obligations to which they call us. While I will not develop a positive position here, I will note that my affirmation of ordaining and marrying folks who are queer turns upon traditional and celebrated understandings of love (above all agape but also eros), justice, and even, I would argue, marriage.
Though surely inadequate, I hope that this at least signifies a desire to offer a constructive response to your concerns. Please feel free to share this as a public response (directed especially to you and all the folks of Queer Alliance).
Associate Professor of Philosophical Theology Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary firstname.lastname@example.org