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Friday, October 19, 2007

Anglo-Catholicism and Homosexuality

While perusing David Virtue’s website last night, I ran across this essay discussing the link between Anglo-Catholicism and homosexuality. It originally appeared in the journal Victorian Studies, which is published by Indiana University Press. While the connection between Catholic practice (whether of the Roman or the English variety) and a more effete sensibility has been apparent to me for some time, I was surprised upon reading this essay at how explicit a connection there has been historically since the founding of the Tractarian movement. Anglo-Catholics might not like it, but the essay is well documented, and I think the author argues his point quite well.

There are a couple of caveats I would like to offer, however. Upon reading the article, one might be left with the idea that any interest in aesthetic matters and ritual automatically leads one towards homosexuality. On the contrary, men are often drawn towards ritual, and this has nothing to do with any latent or explicit homosexual tendencies. Rather, it is because ritual, when done right, conveys a sense of honor, or of nobility, or of respect. This, in the church setting, is usually described with the word “reverence”, though the word is more vague than we often recognize, and is sometimes used to describe a type of worship that I would prefer to call “dead”. What men long for is a sense of honor, and they will be drawn towards ritual that has that ethos about it. This is often implicitly acknowledged in our culture. When, for instance, was the last time you saw a military recruitment commercial on TV that used a Barbara Streisand song as background music? Or, for that matter, a Vineyard worship-style song? Men find in military ritual a sense of honor symbolically conveyed. This is also demonstrated in the vast ritual practices of predominantly male groups such as the Freemasons.

Also, one could read the essay and come away with a sense that the rise of homosexuality in Western culture was solely the result of the rise of Anglo-Catholicism. But sin is simply more complicated than that. Wherever there is a failure in a culture, the blame falls as much on the family as anywhere else, and primarily that on the failure of fathers to rule their homes in love. Nonetheless, the connection is clear, and Anglo-Catholicism is no doubt to blame for part of the problem.

I found the following advice, cited in the essay on page 23, which was taken from “an influential guide for Anglican confessors” to be worthy of some comment. When instructing confessors on how to deal with those who struggle with homosexuality, the guide states that the “only treatment lies in the strengthening of the will to resist temptation.” But how does one strengthen his will? Unfortunately, we don’t have the context of the statement with which to clarify it. Nonetheless, I think it is telling. So often, in dealing with any sort of temptation, we think, on the basis of supposedly reliable counsel, that this is the way to go about it – just pull yourself together, and everything will be okay. Anyone who has tried to follow this advice knows how fruitless it is. And if what the manual means is that one must flee temptation, as Scripture puts it, then that is true enough. But there are a couple of other indispensable things one must do in order to flee temptation. One is simply the worship of the Triune God. When Paul, in Romans 1, discusses the descent of humanity into sin, he points out to us that it began with a failure to worship God and to give God the glory. All the other sins that Paul lists were merely derivative of these twin failures. So if one wishes to avoid any sin, he must begin by worshipping God and actively giving Him glory. The other solution to temptation is simply the right use of the thing we’ve been misusing. In the case of sexual temptation, the solution to sexual perversion is sexual activity as God intended it within the confines of marriage. While there are sins for which the solution is simply self-deprivation from the thing we are misusing (drug addiction, for instance), things don’t “not exist”, and neither can we. If we must remove something illicit from our lives, we have to replace it with something licit. If we don’t, we will inevitably replace it with another illicit thing. Both means of dealing with temptation are a latent admission of our non-independence, the admission of which John Donne made when he said, “no man is an island”. We are creatures of God, and as such are dependent primarily on Him. But we are also dependent on other of His creatures as vehicles of His grace, whether it be food for nourishment or spouses for procreation – or, for that matter, either one simply for the enjoyment of life. Such is idolatry only when they are enjoyed outside of the boundaries the Creator has set for them.

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