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Reasonable&HolyAs I mentioned the other day, we just conducted a short forum discussion at our church on the issue of same-sex marriage. In light of the recent Iowa Supreme Court decision opening the way for same-sex civil marriage, our diocese is suddenly having to grapple with how we will handle it.

We had already been blessings such unions, but  now we must determine whether we as a Church will move forward into the actual marriage arena.

So this book could not come at a better time. I am deeply thankful to Church Publishing in allowing me this opportunity to review this singularly invaluable book on the subject.

Many of you are fans of Tobias Stanislas Haller already from his wonderful and engaging website, “In a Godward Direction.” It will be no surprise that he has written an extraordinary book in Reasonable and Holy.

Frankly I must admit that I was somewhat surprised as I read it. I have read a reasonable amount in this area, and was prepared to revisit the usual issues of what is authentic Paul, and so on, and the various arguments that certain portions of scripture, namely 1Timothy should be ignored. That is not what I found.

Tobias Haller is a good deal smarter than that. He wisely notes that there is plenty of evidence of redaction and so on, but that in the end, we must deal with the text as received by the Church. In this I think he is right. The entire discussion gets side tracked when we first have to convince that perhaps not all of scripture is “valid” in some way.

This of course, is not to say, that he doesn’t examine the text quite thoroughly and make a fine case that much of what we “think”  it says, is inaccurate. He does this by “unpacking” the text as it seems to relate to same-sex relationships. By the use of rabbinic writings, and those of Richard Hooker, as well as countless theologians and biblical experts, Haller unpeels the onion of meaning attached to the various words of scripture that we have come to believe mean homosexual behavior.

Tobias does this in excruciating detail. I don’t mean that to mean boring in any sense, but he essentially leaves no argument unanswered. From the most serious and large to the most silly and small, he responds in a gentle, reasonable, thoughtful manner. At no time is he dismissive of those he argues against. He looks for common ground.

Without doing violence to the text themselves, he makes a good case that marriage is about more than procreation and that this is supported by Genesis itself, particularly in the second creation story of Genesis 2. He shows how God means for humans to  love and support one another and that these are as valid a goal of marriage as procreation.

Haller points out, that we don’t have to ignore or reverse Church teaching, so much as we must and can grow past it, much as we have done with other issues down through the ages. We have adapted scripture to a changing world, and  we can recognize that there is an overriding concern expressed in the bible and by Jesus that we love and uphold good rather than remain tied to traditions that no longer serve that purpose.

There are several examples of what are rather clear directives in the law, yet even though they were held to apply in the early Christian communities, we have long since discarded them. For instance, the ban against eating the blood of animals was upheld in the Jerusalem Council in Acts, yet we have abandoned that practice largely, though the Eastern Orthodox still adhere to it.

Similarly, there is a clear ban on usury, the use of interest, yet our economy today is totally dependent on the concept and we now define that prohibition to mean only “unreasonable” interest.

Haller is by no means the first to claim that the so-called prohibitions against homosexual behavior are deeply tied to cultic idolatry, prostitution, and rape. It has been the considered opinion of many that this is the case, and that the case of loving, monogamous same-sex relationships were not even thought of in that time and place. Thus we do no real violence to scripture in declaring that gay and lesbian relationships that are mutually loving and supportive should be excluded from scriptural restriction.

The book itself is less than 200 pages, but it is literally bursting with excellent exegetical scholarship. It is most clear that Tobias Haller is an excellent mind, and has thoroughly, carefully, and with great insight examined the biblical field as it relates to this subject.

I suspect that it will go down as one of the “classics” in the field, and will be used by countless colleges and universities as a primary text for discussion. I know that it has served me well in deeply enlightening me on the nuances of argument to be made. I have always felt slightly unsatisfied by the arguments so far, and Tobias has given me a real sense of feeling grounded in truth here.

It can serve as well for a text in our various churches when and if we choose to address the issue. And I submit, that we must address it. We are faced with a deep unfairness here. Our lesbian and gay sisters and brothers are enormous assets to our ecclesial life, and we squander their gifts and talents at our peril. It is what Jesus would do I submit. This book helps us get where we need to be, and does so with gentle tenderness.

Let me close with Tobias’s own words:

But the body that matters most at this point is the body of Christ, the church, of which and in which we are individual members–and in that edifice we build with what we have and what we are. Do our actions build it up, or tear it down? Do we edify as building blocks and living stones, or serve as stumbling blocks and stones of scandal about which the builders are bewildered, as indeed Jesus said of himself? As organs in the body, do we contribute to its overall well-being, or spend our energy in attempts at ecclesiastical self-mutilation in removing portions deemed cancerous or malignant, but which may be vital to the health of the whole? Do we overly concern ourselves with outward appearances and forms, or seek the content and the values that lie within? Do we concern ourselves with what goes into the church, or what comes out of it? Do we love much, or little?

Tobias Haller shows us the way to a new maturity and lovingness in our faith. Let us pray that we are wise enough and loving enough to respond.

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