Saturday, November 2, 2013

Same-Sex Marriage: A Christian Ethical Analysis by Marvin Ellison- a review- reposted

Because I have been reading the tweets coming from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s Covenant Network's Conference entitled "Marriage Matters" and have seen the book Same-Sex Marriage: a Christian Ethical Analysis" by Marvin M. Ellison mentioned as a reference book I am reposting this review of Ellison's book:

Same-Sex Marriage: A Christian Ethical Analysis by Marvin Ellison- a review

The apple in the Presbyterian garden is already partially eaten; when the whole apple is consumed marriage will not be marriage and the denomination will certainly not be Christian. More Light Presbyterian’s recently touted author Marvin M. Ellison and his book Same-Sex Marriage: a Christian Ethical Analysis in their posting “Marriage Equality Honors the Humanity of All.” MLP offers the book on their 220 General Assembly resource page. The book calls for changes that will ‘decenter’ marriage allowing for many different types of relationships to share the central position. In fact, no marriage, a plurality of marriage partners and marriage moved from the constraints of civil government are all options lifted up in the book. [1]

Ellison a Christian ethics professor at Bangor Theological Seminary, an ordained teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and a gay man does not approach the subject of marriage from the biblical text. He does not use the word of God at all. Rather he looks at marriage from what he calls a justice lens and from the view of feminist liberation theology. Because of his starting point his assumptions are simple and his solutions are essentially pagan. That is, his view of the ideal society as far as sexual relationships are concerned is not about Christ and the Church but about mutual pleasure and humanistic ideals of freedom shackled simply to a poorly defined view of justice.

Ellison’s assumptions include his belief that society constructs the definition of marriage. Another is that the church promotes an understanding that sex is not good, and for this he uses the tired feminist assessment that, “… sex-negativity is pervasive in Western culture, largely influenced by patriarchal Christianity’s discomfort with body, women, and nature.” Ellison’s most overused assumption is that, “Normative heterosexuality as culturally scripted requires male dominance and female subordination.” (53)

Ellison calls for a justice that is based on knowing the experiences of others. Using Karen Lebacqz’s “historical, experimental” approach he posits the LGBT community as those who experience “political disenfranchisement,” “economic disadvantage, and cultural marginality.” And then Ellison explains that what is at “the heart of every justice struggle is conflict over how to interpret the world and whose authority counts in that naming.” (48) In this he is right.

The great battle in the church is over the authority of the word of God. Ellison keeps his arguments from even touching the text of the Bible. Even when explaining the objections of the “religious right” in the chapter, “Marriage Traditionalist” he does not mention their objections that are based on Biblical teaching. He instead keeps pushing the theme that men are afraid they will lose their right to dominate women. In the chapter, “Contested Christian Teaching” he once again ignores the Bible and goes so far as to condemn the Church because, “no Christian saints are revered for attaining the vision of God through disciplined erotic refinement.” (133)

While Ellison does allow those in the LGBT community who advocate for marriage and those who advocate for no marriage to speak, he critiques their thoughts suggesting that at this time marriage rights are probably needed in order to bring LGBT people out of their marginalization. However, in his final conclusions he offers multiple choices with the thought that diversity is important for justice to be real. Calling this justice love he writes of the four things needed for justice love or a reformulation of Christian sexual ethics:

"1. A decentering of marriage as the “exclusive mode of human intimacy.”

2. “A plurality of benign sexualities should be affirmed.”

3. “... mutual pleasure should be seen as a morally worthy pursuit within intimate relationships.” This is based on the feminist idea that there is no mutual pleasure in heterosexual marriage.

4. “... sex also should be decentered as the defining criterion for partnerships, marriage, and families of any sort.” [While this last one may sound right what it does is totally devalue marriage as the only place where sexual union is permitted between a man and a woman. It is not unlike the first idea.]"

In the chapter “Queer Notions,” Ellison speaks of what he feels is the relevant image of God for the issues he is writing about. Although he writes that there are other acceptable versions of God, Ellison believes that the God who is both unmarried and promiscuous is ideal for the time. He writes:
The image of God as unmarried, promiscuous lover, while not the only God image to retain, has relevance in our context as a reminder not to invest overly in marriage as an identity-defining category. From a progressive Christian perspective, far less attention should be given to culturally prescribed identities and far more to socially liberatory practices. What matters most ethically, religiously is not who or what we are, but the quality of our actions toward self and others. (167)
Ellison believes he is standing against injustice; however, he is actually standing against biblical justice. His ethics is grounded not in God but in human desires which are often in conflict with God’s demands. When one looks at Old Testament pronouncements against injustice they not only call for care of the needy and oppressed they also call for a right relationship with God.

Micah 6: 8 if properly contextualized can be placed among a people who not only have rejected kindness and justice but have also worshiped strange gods giving themselves over to a sexualized worship. In chapter six among all the sins God accuses the people of is this, “The statues of Omri and all the works of the house of Ahab are observed; and in their devices you walk.” And this is true of almost every biblical pronouncement against injustice: false gods, sexual worship on the high places and disregard for the needy. Biblical justice includes a sexual union that is confined to a man and woman in marriage.

Moreover, the Christian’s vision of God occurs, not because of any disciplined erotic refinement, but because of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ the living word and the word of God written. The Christian has experienced the kindness, righteousness and justice of God because of the cross. Ellison and those who follow his ethics, standing on the sand of human based morality, will eventually fall before the storms of cultural relativism. Without the biblical text, without the justice of the cross, without the Lord of the cross we dare not talk of justice or love. We are only safe and in true community in the costly grace of Christ.

[1] Ellison does argue rightly that the vulnerable do need civil protection in sexual relationships, but he fails to understand that when the whole concept of marriage is cut loose from its Judeo-Christian heritage—its sacred texts—all  are vulnerable and in need of protection


Jim said...

For years I have considered Ellison a mal-ethicist. He is not even worth considering, and those who do give him authority do so by denying Scripture. Pay no attention to the man reading his own mind.

Viola Larson said...

There are a lot of those mal-ethicists out there; some, like Singer even want to kill babies.

I also noticed from the tweets that several speakers were trying to return to Scripture, but it all sounded rather unsuccessful. But we will have to wait for the Covenant Network to post the sermons if they do.