Friday, March 09, 2007

Bishop’s take on sexuality ignites debate

In view of the discussions in this blog, I though the article “Bishop’s take on sexuality ignites debate” (Michael Valpy, Globe and Mail, March 9, 2007) interesting. I have excerpted liberally from that article here.

The Anglican Church is currently in the middle of a crisis that threatens schism. The issue is that of sexuality, with liberal North American churches taking a progressive stand on homosexual marriage and other hot button issues, while the numerically superior and more vibrant, at least in terms of growth, third-world churches taking conservative positions and resisting what appears to them as the first-world churches’ arrogance.


One of the more vociferous spokesmen of the liberal position is Bishom Michael Ingham of New Westminster in British Columbia. Last week, at a church conference in Ottawa, he said that the church’s opposition to birth control, abortion, masturbation and homosexuality is morally groundless because its traditional teaching that sex is reserved for procreation is wrong.

“If we believe that we are created in the image of God, that we carry in our very selves the icon of God’s own self in our earthly existence, then we must be able to say that our sexuality is not an accident, not a mistake, and not simply a tool for the making of babies. Presumably God, in his infinite wisdom, could have devised a much less potent and complicated way of regenerating the species if the purpose of sex was simply that,” he said.

Conservative ministers of various congregations commented on the bishop’s statements as “whimsical, a passing fancy and a distortion of the Bible.” The president of Toronto’s evangelical Christian College, Charles McVety, said, ”Scripture is crystal clear: Sex is not a sport.”

Christopher Lind, former director of the Toronto School of Theology, supported the Bishop, adding, “Sexuality is a lot bigger than genital activity, and that’s hard for people to hear because they hear the word sex and immediately think intercourse…. Relationships [including homosexual ones] should be judged on the basis of fidelity, trust, values other than the regulation of genital activity... [Bishop Ingham] is starting to go into what is the meaning of patriarchy. Patriarchy is a distortion of the gospel, a social sin which the church has to confess. But to correct it is enormously hard to do. We’ve been living in a patriarchy for thousands of years.”

Bishop Victoria Matthews of Edmonton said Bishop Ingham was talking about more than patriarchy, which she called only “one chapter” in the need for a fuller theological understanding of the human person.”

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There is indeed food for thought in the above. I remember reading a Roman Catholic priest's criticism of The Da Vinci Code some time ago , in which he talked about the absence of a symbol system within Christianity that gave a place to the sacralization of sexuality. The mythology surrounding Mary Magdalene and Jesus, which has persisted since the time of the Gnostic Gospels and seems to be the source of Dan Brown's appeal.

The evangelical minister's comment that "sex is not a sport" is pretty revealing of the problem. It would seem to me that both sides of this debate are seeking a way of sacralizing sexuality. The evangelicals see it as possible only through the procreative function, whereas the others have a more expansive view. If Ingham had been a Krishna bhakta, he could not have better said the following, "If we believe that we are created in the image of God, that we carry in our very selves the icon of God’s own self in our earthly existence, then we must be able to say that our sexuality is not an accident, not a mistake, and not simply a tool for the making of babies."

Of course, for Krishna, lovemaking is indeed a sport, or lila. I would tend to be careful about adopting the "sport" image for human sexuality. Seeing an act as sacred means that it is treated with respect. There is, of course, no reason that play itself cannot be treated as sacred. Liberation also means being liberated from the need to take everything so seriously.


As far as the statement, "[People] hear the word sex and immediately think intercourse," is concerned, I hear the following: "People hear the word sex and immediately think negative." What could be truer of our own community? In our Vaishnava tradition, meditation on the question of sexuality has been centered on issues of fidelity, procreation, and sense gratification, without attempting to distinguish sexuality in the modes of nature, or without seeing its other, non-procreative and even spiritual functions. This seems almost totally aberrant in view of the symbol system that we have been given. If the Christians can come to this conclusion, how can we, whose deities are the Dhira Lalita Nayaka and his Parama Rasavati Nayika, not?

3 comments:

shiva said...

That's interesting. I have never come across Christians who preach that celibacy except for procreation as being the biblical teaching. I've only heard them teach that sex outside of marriage is wrong.

Jagat said...

In its origins it would have been this way. It has become watered down, I guess.

Lalan Das said...

Greatly admire your work !

I am a disciple of Crfan Shah Babu from Burdwan. We belong to what is called the Baul-religion. I play the citar and I play with many other things as well ;-)
And it is good that people get to know that playing with the deh'shadon is a good thing. It is basically a whole lot of fun. And in fun we meet. Tender loving fun.

I was initiated in 1983. I was actually on sankirtan (sooo boring !) in the rural areas of Bengal. We were sleeping in two tents. I couldn't sleep that night, so I went out alone for a nightly walk, and that night my life changed drastically. To say it bluntly..... I had my first spiritual orgasm. And there were after my initation many more to come.

Now though I am a bit older and my stamina doesn't allow me to have multiple orgasms anymore. But I still have the citar and that holds me erect in difficult times.