Saturday, 22 November 2008

William Stringfellow: theology at the circus

Some time ago, a reader here at F&T recommended the work of William Stringfellow – a writer I had never really come across till then. And when Kim Fabricius came to visit recently, he told me that he had also started reading Stringfellow. So this week I finally started reading him too, beginning with the excellent Eerdmans anthology. This is astonishing stuff – Stringfellow’s analysis of the principalities is especially good. I’m also intrigued by his love for the circus (he and his partner Anthony Towne once spent the summer traveling with a circus!). Here’s an excerpt of Stringfellow’s theological reflection on the circus:

“The circus is among the few coherent images of the eschatological realm to which people still have ready access and ... the circus thereby affords some elementary insights into the idea of society as a consummate event. This principality, this art, this veritable liturgy, this common enterprise of multifarious creatures called the circus enacts a hope, in an immediate and historic sense, and simultaneously embodies an ecumenical foresight of radical and wondrous splendour, encompassing, as it does both empirically and symbolically, the scope and diversity of creation. I suppose some ... may deem the association of the circus and the Kingdom scandalous or facetious or bizarre, and scoff quickly at the thought that the circus is relevant to the ethics of society.... To [these people] I only respond that the connection seems to me to be at once suggested when one recalls that biblical people, like circus folk, live typically as sojourners, interrupting time, with few possessions, and in tents, in this world. The church would likely be more faithful if the church were similarly nomadic.”

—William Stringfellow, A Keeper of the Word: Selected Writings of William Stringfellow (Eerdmans, 1994), p. 53.

50 Comments:

BT said...

Stringfellow is great, and has only become more & more relevant politically. (_The Politics of Spirituality_ from 1984 has some great barbs against all the "prosperity gospel" BS.)

There's a read-only PDF version of a recent pamphlet reprint of his 1966 circus essay available at:
http://www.archive.org/details/WilliamStringfellowsCircus

A pretty thorough recent PhD text on Stringfellow is also available online now:
https://beardocs.baylor.edu/bitstream/2104/5068/1/marshall_johnston_phd.pdf

...Interestingly, Henri Nouwen (the popular Catholic writer, also 'gay' basically) also got very enthused about circuses before he died, and was also planning to write a book devoted to the circus (never finished). H. N. seemed to be more intrigued with the symbolism of the tightrope act and the spot-supporter, whereas Stringfellow was more into the idea of the circus as a parable/parody of the world, but would be interesting to try tracing the history or genealogy of circuses alongside theological trends re: "God and world," etc.!

Geoff Smith said...

I was going to recommend that anthology until I noticed that you quoted it. Then I was going to recommend that you email a local pastor that teaches adjunctly at my seminary and buys coffee from my coffee stop about Stringfellow...and then a commenter recommended reading something by him. Go figure. Anyhow, Stringfellow was very helpful for me in understanding that the bible is the means by which God scrutinizes me, which is exactly why I should study it in a scholarly way.

saint egregious said...

Ben, Glad to know my recommendation bore some fruit. Have you discovered the Ashgate volume with the short piece on Stringfellow by Rowan Williams? Its a very good piece, and the volume itself is quite good.

Ben Myers said...

Yes, thanks again for the recommendation, St Egregious. I think Kim had also gotten a copy of the book based on your recommendation, and then he read me a few passages, which immediately persuaded me to get a copy. So thanks!

Eric Lee said...

There was an eschatologically blind period of the Church of the Nazarene where going to the circus was forbidden. I think they removed that line from the manual a while back, though.

bobby grow said...

Just to clarify, Stringfellow was a homosexual? I suppose his works can have an ex opere operato sense to them . . . but personally it would pose problems for me to "sit" under someone living in a lifestyle that is clearly at odds with the Gospel (I would have the same problem if I knew that x theologian was sleeping around with y female students in his class).

I'm just saying . . .

Not to detract, too much, from his brilliance.

BT said...

"bobby grow": Hmm, by "lifestyle" do you mean a monogamous, committed relationship? You don't seem to have your facts straight.

bobby grow said...

BT,

that's what I was trying to do, get my "facts straight." Is he "gay," or not?

I'm sure Ben does not want this thread to go this way, I'm assuming he is gay [Stringfellow that is] (but not totally sure as of yet, so just assuming). Since I take scripture as my primary source of "authority" (instrumental of course of Christ's authority) I was thinking of a passage like Hebrews 13:4---

Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.

Being monogamous isn't really a "moral" equivalent of marriage, in scripture anyway. And I'm sure there is a pretty strong case to be made, from scripture, for restricting marriage to be between a "man" and a "woman;" in fact I'm sure of it!

Given the stature of Ben's site, he attracts all kinds . . . even conservatives like myself ;-).

dan said...

I'm surprised to learn that Kim only recently began reading Stringfellow. For some reason I was assuming that he has spent many years reading, and rereading, Stringfellow's complete works (but, then again, I also assume that Kim has spent years reflecting on everything written by everybody).

A wonderful thing about Ben's blog is that it can introduce a person like Stringfellow to a whole new audience (and even to conservatives like Bobby Grow!).

As for Stringfellow's homosexuality, I fail to see how this is a factor.

On the one hand, those who affirm that homosexuality is simply a part of God's ongoing creative activity within the world (as I do) see it as a non-issue.

On the other hand, those who see homosexuality as a sin, but who also affirm the sinfulness of all of us, should also see it as a non-issue. Does the fact that Martin Luther King Jr. engaged in extra-marital affairs take away from the prophetic power of his speeches? Not in my opinion. Does the fact that John and Matthew abandoned Jesus to die alone take away from the power of their gospels? Again, not in my opinion. Thus, even those who believe that homosexuality is a sin (or whatever) should be able to affirm the prophetic power contained in the writings of a Stringfellow or a Nouwen.

BT said...

"bobby grow": In your first comment you casually equate being homosexual with being promiscuous (re: your female student analogy), or adhering to a prefabricated "lifestyle," which is about as meaningful as grouping straight strip clubs and religious marriage into the same "lifestyle" of heterosexuality.

I can only second Dan's comment above.

bobby grow said...

Dan,

like I said, there could be an ex opere operato sense to Stringfellow's writings . . . then, for the reader it simply becomes a matter of conscious.

BT,

you're right I did equate homosexuality (whether monogamous or not) with another porneia, immorality, "sex" outside of marriage. I didn't make up the "rules," God did! If marriage in the scriptures is a prerequisite for sexual intercourse, then I don't know how one can justify any kind of sex; absent this sacred union (see Eph. 5).

Listen, I realize I could provide all kinds of scripture and exegesis to support my case; and I'm thinking it wouldn't really move you away from your position (you would just counter with other kinds of exegesis, i.e. relegate relevant scriptures to "cultural" particularist exegesis---or maybe you just don't accept scripture as a Primary, and even the "Church's" tradition, witness on issues surrounding "holiness." I do, and thus our disagreement.

peace.

Ben Myers said...

Hi Bobby: "I'm sure Ben does not want this thread to go this way, I'm assuming he is gay" — Yeah, you're right, but don't anyone tell my wife!

(Sorry, I couldn't resist that one...)

;-)

bobby grow said...

;-), yeah, I know Ben, that's why I [bracketed Stringfellow] . . . my syntax certainly is not "straight." hehe

Daniel said...

Interesting that Stringfellow assigns some resonance between the church and circus. Mikhail Bahktin sets the circus (carnival) as an 'inversion' to the church.

“Carnivals were times and places of inversions, sanctioned deviance and reversals of
norms. It stood opposed to the official feasts and tournaments that celebrated the
power of the elites, who were instead parodied, mocked, hectored, and ridiculed.
Moral boundaries from the political to the erotic were transgressed.”

I reckon there is some dialogical resonance betwixt the two of them. Perhaps for Bahktin the 'state' as he experienced it in the Soviet Union functioned as the foil for the church of the middle ages. (I don't know if he was gay or not, is that a requirement for posting here?) Daniel

BT said...

"bobby grow": Yes, you're of course free to put him in your "homosexual lifestyle" or "homosexual intercourse" or "scriptural deviance" file & move along (never mind the life Stringfellow actually lived). Surely it's a service and help to God, your classification effort.

roger flyer said...

I just heard that Ben and Kim have run away from home together to join the circus!

Tightrope walkers! Lion tamers! Clowns!

kim fabricius said...

Close, Roger - except that Ben is the bearded lady and I'm the sword-swallower (which should be a cinch after all the words I've eaten in my time!).

But how's this for another splendid Stringfellow quote:
"The circus performer is the image of the eschatological person - emancipated from frailty and inhibition, exhilarant, militant, transcendent over death - neither confined nor conformed by the fear of death any more."

And as a parable for the church - "the circus as a community in which calamity seems to be always impending."

Anonymous said...

circuses creep me out...

dan said...

Daniel,

Interesting Bakhtin quote. All of this reminds me of a thread I'm pursuing in my own research -- the ways in which Paul's eschatological Christology and practice of table fellowship compares to the Roman festival of Saturnalia, wherein social boundaries are overturned, food is given out in abundance, wine flows freely for all, and masters wait upon their slaves. Now that's a circus!

bobby grow,

Last comment. It seems to me that your remark regarding 'ex opere operato' still singles out homosexuality as some sort of especially bad sin or something. I'll only grant the point that Stringfellow's writings have that sense if you will grant that everything all of us write (including that which as been written by the people I mentioned earlier) functions in that way. Indeed, if that is the case, then your comment strikes me as redundant (or it confirms what I fear -- that you persist in making homosexuality into some especially terrible sin).

Halden said...

Bobby, I also am a bit disappointed and annoyed by the direction you have taken this thread. I think that even though you aren't going to agree with Dan, you need to let his word rest with you a bit about how you're letting your position on homosexuality inform who you are and aren't willing to really give purchase to in terms of open, honest theological reading. The gist of your comments communicates something like the following:

"Well, maybe a gay person could say something true or helpful, but that is only an unlikely possibility that really isn't reflective of anything virtuous or important about them as a person, in fact, if they do say anything right its only because God somehow made them do it in spite of their perverse self."

Now, that is actually a fine thing to say, but it is not something that applies simply to gay people but to every damn one of us.

Embedded in your attitude toward Stringfellow is a very clear emotive differentiation between who gays are morally and who the rest of us are. Whether you see it or not, it might be well for you to consider whether or not you are in fact operating with a hermeneutic that renders homosexuality as categorically worse than other sins.

Let me just introduce one piece of evidence here. You love Barth, or at least respect him greatly as a theologian from whom you seek to learn much and enter into mutually constructive theological engagement with. Barth carried on an extremely long-term affair with his secretary, Charlotte von Kirschbaum who is, in all likelihood significantly responsible for portions of the Church Dogmatics. This is common knowledge.

So, you viscerally react against Stringfellow, of whose personal life and relationships you know little or nothing other than that they were homosexual, but I've never seen you get riled about Barth in any thread about his theology, even though Barth engaged in marital unfaithfulness -- adultery. Why does Barth get a pass just because he is heterosexual? Those of us that still feel bound by Scripture to uphold the traditional Christian theology of marriage and sexuality are not well served by these sorts of all-too-common double standards and forms of speech that drip with emotive revulsion against gays.

I really think you should give some time to thinking about how the Lord would have you engage these issues.

roger flyer said...

Halden said:

"...if they (gay people) do say anything right its only because God somehow made them do it in spite of their perverse self."

Now, that is actually a fine thing to say, (?really?)
but it is not something that applies simply to gay people but to every damn one of us."

Halden--Could you elaborate on what you mean by this and do you really mean it is a 'fine thing to say'?

I don't know enough of where you're at theologically, but this sounds loaded
(and yikes! a bit scary)...

You are a well nuanced and thoughtful theologian--could you give a little context? Or am I the only person on the blog with 'personalist' leanings?

bobby grow said...

Dan said earlier:

On the one hand, those who affirm that homosexuality is simply a part of God's ongoing creative activity within the world (as I do) see it as a non-issue.

and then said:

. . . I'll only grant the point that Stringfellow's writings have that sense if you will grant that everything all of us write (including that which as been written by the people I mentioned earlier) functions in that way.

On this logic, homosexuality is not even "sinful," for you . . . so I'm afraid this last comment by you really makes no sense. Of course we're all sinful and sinners, but since neither you, nor apparently Stringfellow believe[d] this is sinful then you and I aren't really thinking about this in the same terms whatsoever.

Halden,

great to hear from you. You play to the crowd well, your rhetorical ability becomes you. Of course I just made a judgment call, on your motives . . . as you've done with me. I know you don't like that, and neither do I!!

I originally said:

Being monogamous isn't really a "moral" equivalent of marriage, in scripture anyway. And I'm sure there is a pretty strong case to be made, from scripture, for restricting marriage to be between a "man" and a "woman;" in fact I'm sure of it!

and:

If marriage in the scriptures is a prerequisite for sexual intercourse, then I don't know how one can justify any kind of sex; absent this sacred union (see Eph. 5).

and:

. . . but personally it would pose problems for me to "sit" under someone living in a lifestyle that is clearly at odds with the Gospel (I would have the same problem if I knew that x theologian was sleeping around with y female students in his class).

So given this, how is your statement true (unless again your presuming something about me, that I haven't stated, nor EVER stated about homosexuality)[from Halden]:

. . . Whether you see it or not, it might be well for you to consider whether or not you are in fact operating with a hermeneutic that renders homosexuality as categorically worse than other sins.

Given what I have said in this thread, there is absolutely nothing to base this rather un-careful, accusatory statement on. In fact what I have said, is exactly the opposite . . . and thus presumes something more about me; i.e. that I am being disingenuous.

As far as Barth and Stringfellow, yes I knew that Barth had potentially had an affair; but categorically I don't see how his "sin" and Stringfellow's would be univocal. I would imagine that Barth did not "openly" engage in this activity, as if it was "okay." As far as I can gather, Stringfellow "openly" and "unrepentantly" lived this way: he knowingly assumed an identity that is indeed at odds with the morality reflected in scripture. I see a substantial difference between someone who calls "evil, good" (Stringfellow, in regards to his lifestyle), and someone who does not (Barth, and his supposed affair); don't you?

So to answer your question, I don't think Barth "gets a pass," its just that I don't believe he thought this was okay; while it seems that Stringfellow, apparently (and I could be wrong), thought his "sin" was okay (i.e. not sin). And this is what causes my "weak" conscious problems (for example I have read other writings by "former" homosexuals, but who have recognized it for what it is; and my conscious has no problem with this).

Actually I have thought long and hard on this issue (seriously), Halden!

Don't worry, you have impugned any association between me and yourself (given the fact that we we have the same edu. in common---Mult.). Everybody now knows that you're not a bigot, and that any association we might have is only local/spatial, and not theological/ethical (but in fact I do think we agree on this, apart from your presumption about my motives, or what "you think you know of me" given my background).

Halden said...

Roger, what I meant to say in that statement was simply that there is no category of people who occupy some uber-sinful class that renders the stuff they would write as categorically more suspect than my own. Any statements we make of truth, especially the truth of God, have their power and meaning not in relation to my own moral performance, but solely in relation to the gift of God which comes from outside myself. I hope that clarifies it a bit.

Bobby, I think you're waxing a bit dramatic here, so let me try to bring it down a little bit. Your comments about Barth and Stringfellow and the "difference" over their moral conduct actually betrays the point I am making. You adopt an extremely gracious hermeneutic of generosity with Barth, assuming that you know what he "thought" about what he was doing, and assuming that he, in some inner recess of his being, deplored his own actions. How could you possibly know this? Barth's relationship with Kirschbaum was extremely well-known for the duration of it. Its not like it was a secret that came out later.

Likewise how can you know that Stringfellow "knowingly assumed an identity"? Have you read his writings? You already admit to not having so done. I can tell you most certainly that we know far more about Barth and Kirschbaum's relationship than about Stringfellow's and Towne's. I also want to insist that any portrait of Stringfellow that paints him as some sort of brash gay activist is just misinformed. He struggled greatly to come to terms with his sexuality, which included great wrestling with the Bible which he always took with absolute seriousness, writing some of the best critical and prophetic theology in the America during the 20th century. I don't expect you to know this, as you haven't read him, but I think its unfair for you to assume a portrait of him as "unrepentant" and simply adopting some sort of putative gay identity that is knowingly at odds with "the morality reflected in scripture" in advance of any actual attempt to come to a knowledge about who Stringfellow really ways. This all simply betrays a leaping to conclusions that seems to be on the basis of the fact that homosexuality is part of the equation.

In regard to Barth and Stringfellow you assume knowledge about the dispositions of the people involved, assuming that the heterosexual sin of Barth is in some sense less damning than the homosexual sin of Stringfellow. In neither case do you have sufficient warrant to form judgments about their dispositions, the only difference (as far as information upon which you could judge between them is concerned) is that one is heterosexual and the other homosexual. That is why your comments seem to betray a view that sees homosexual sin, as in some sense more serious (for all practical purposes) than other such sins like adultery.

This is not to say that you explicitly claim this, I know that you have denied it. I am just saying that it appears to be the internal logic of your comments and your emotive responses to those that have dialoged with you this far bear this out. My intention was not to be accusatory, only to point this out as a possible point on which you could reflect. If you don't wish to do that, that's your choice of course.

roger flyer said...

Thanks Halden for the clarification-

"...there is no category of people who occupy some uber-sinful class that renders the stuff they would write as categorically more suspect than my own."

Besides mimes and all circus performers of course...


; )

bobby grow said...

That's fair, Halden.

Although, I thought you were "waxing" a bit eloquent yourself; in your first comment to me.

And I agree with you, I really don't have a way to discern either person's disposition, as you say. But I don't think this reflects on "my inner logic;" necessarily. If Stringfellow struggled through this, then good . . . but unfortunately he concluded the wrong way. Do you know if Barth believed that his "relationship" was okay? Apparently he didn't, since he ended it (but then again maybe he ended it because he believed it was "wrong"---like Yoder, and his was a result of "church discipline," right?).

Since you seem to know more about both of these fellows personal lives; then you tell me, did Stringfellow call evil, good---in re. to his sexuality? And did Barth, call his sexual deviance/immorality good? I'm assuming Stringfellow, although he struggled, according to you, concluded that homosexuality was "good" (maybe in the terms Dan, above, highlighted---i.e. as God's continued "creative" activity).

bobby grow said...

I'm sorry, I just have a problem listening to "prophets" who indeed call evil, good---and I think there is great precedence for this approach (the one I am advocating)! And that includes ANY sexual or immoral deviancy.

Halden said...

I'm not an expert on their personal lives, nor do I have my Stringfellow books to hand at the moment. Perhaps I'll have something to say on that matter later depending on what I can discover.

Two final comments. First, about Stringfellow and Towne. Much of Stringfellow's life was spent dealing with sickness. He spent much of his life in severe physical pain, especially in the latter years of his life. Whatever sustained and defined the relationship between him and Towne was clearly not about sex, as, frankly a person in Stringfellow's health was not likely to have been having it all that often, certainly not for the duration of his relationship with Towne. Whatever kept their companionship together, it was not their sexual orientation, but their love for one another precisely as Christians who sought to do God's work in impoverished tenements in Harlem. We may think that they discerned some things wrongly with regard to sexual morality, and that brings me to my last point.

You say that Stringfellow "concluded the wrong way" about sexual morality and that, ostensibly this wrong conclusion renders a desire to read and learn from him as questionable (i.e. your comment that you wouldn't "sit" under someone who was living in a manner at odds with biblical morality). I just want to again try to inject into this construction. We all conclude the wrong way all the time. Sincere, loving Christians concluded the wrong way about slavery, about whether women were fully human, about whether the sword should be used to spread the gospel, and many other things. They concluded the wrong way, and believed that their wrong conclusions were serving the gospel and God's work in the world. They were wrong. Does that mean we do not listen to their voices? Should we refuse to sit under Augustine because he endorsed the execution of the Donatists? Or to Luther for his insistence of on the slaughter of peasants? Or Abraham for being an unrepentant polygamist?

I'll leave it at that, I trust my point is clear. Really, I'm just sorry that you may end up forcing yourself to miss out on the power and importance of Stringfellow's works on the basis of questions about his sexuality. His Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land is an incredible book, as are his many other works.

roger flyer said...

For we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Bobby-
All our theological fathers have clay feet--even the self-proclaimed super-heroes of the evangelical sort.

...and I don't really want to know about their sexual identities or activities but I suppose someday I'll have to.

bobby grow said...

Roger,

I hear ya. I guess I'm not adequately communicating the nuance I want to. But I do want to clarify, I am not endorsing any kind of "super-evangelicals;" I'm much too self-critical for that ;-).

Halden,

I'll respond back later, I'm late for work.

BT said...

Re: Halden's comments, this is exactly right. Stringfellow was critical of any and every "identity" as soon as it becomes its own image or power, apart from striving to live in Christ alone. Heterosexuals just by default happen to benefit from the presumption that their lust is somehow automatically "holy" -- by bobby-grow's moral logic, in fact, an adulterous married man is automatically more virtuous than a (for all we know) largely celibate gay man. I have no desire, nor the ability, to police Stringfellow's life, but he himself in his writings referred to his partnership with Towne as "monastic." Granted, this is likely, to some extent, closeted language, to avoid some degree of scandal among his readership at the time, yet (horror or horrors) what if we were to take Stringfellow at his word? By b-g's logic, just Stringfellow's commitment to be the loving companion of another male is "evil," yet the basest, most carnal heterosexual sex is somehow automatically more holy than that love? Gimme a break.

This may come as a shock to folks like b-g, but sometimes couples form out of something called love, not just to have scripture-sanctioned sex (or to really throw one at God and have "evil" sex -- after all, we're not talking about bestiality here for Christ's sake, we're talking about two adult Christians in a committed relationship, probably mostly celibate, regardless of how one defines "marriage").

Anyone who reads through Stringfellow's _A Simplicity of Faith: My Experience in Mourning_ and concludes that his partnership with Towne is "evil" has a serious, perhaps even pathological, lack of empathy (but no doubt could well be married and be having "good" sex). God help us.

Yet, as I commented earlier, surely b-g is concerned to categorize, classify, and judge Stringfellow's life, without reading his works, out of b-g's own great love for God, and not at all simply to assuage his scripture-based regime of "good, wholesome, married" heterosexual sex -- couldn't be, because there's not a Bible verse against *that*, is there?

Daniel said...

first off, the "word verification" in order to post this is "prite" perhaps a neologism for the 'pride of being right'? Anyway, i am new to this site but this kind of discussion seems very commonplace (but not un-important). How do y'all feel about Heidegger's nazism in relation to his philosophy (or his boffing Hannah Arentd when she was his student?). Every now and then someone digs up a letter or college essay by some notable supporting Hitler and all heck breaks out (DeMann, Adorno, et.al.). As one that 'rightly passes' (to borrow a phrase from our French friend) to be a Catholic, we are always holding our breath waiting for the next altar-boy to access some repressed memories, and our sainted parish priest to be hauled away in handcuffs. Seems like mostly in philosophy or theology does this become a decisive issue, no one seemed to have had a problem with nazi scientists building rockets for the USA, but if they had a "wide stance" in a bathroom stall seems like it somehow affected their ability to translate Greek into Latin or explicate a parable about goats and sheep. Well, i hashed this all out back in the late 80's with the French and German philo's and i was a bit surprised to find such agitation still percolating. l look fwd to seeing how all this turns out for you'all. And for you theological celebrities who publish and what not, watch your posts and keep your feet no wider than than shoulders (or heads) or our children will be asking these questions about you someday! obliged, Daniel

Ben Myers said...

Bravo, Daniel! Thanks for that excellent intervention!

BT said...

"bobby grow" wrote:

. . . tell me, did Stringfellow call evil, good---in re. to his sexuality? . . . I'm assuming Stringfellow, although he struggled, according to you, concluded that homosexuality was "good" (maybe in the terms Dan, above, highlighted---i.e. as God's continued "creative" activity).

"bobby grow": If you really have an interest in anything Stringfellow actually thought, see especially his "An Exhortation to Integrity" address from 1979. (I'm afraid that the text may be a *tad* less scandalous than you may be hoping for?)

roger flyer said...

Not exactly sure what Daniel is talking about, but I think it might be 'pritely' patronizing to the poor suckers (sorry) who don't get it. But the bit I think I might be getting, I think I agree with.

But Daniel, if you're surprised that people are still wrestling with the idea that homosexuality is ethically problematic within Christendom I have to wonder where you are living!

kim fabricius said...

Bobby has a problem with teachers who call evil good. There is, however, another problem - Jesus of Nazareth had it: it is with people who call good evil. Jesus called this sinning against the Holy Spirit.

bobby grow said...

BT said:

. . . By b-g's logic, just Stringfellow's commitment to be the loving companion of another male is "evil," yet the basest, most carnal heterosexual sex is somehow automatically more holy than that love? Gimme a break.

How so? My "logic" doesn't lead this direction whatsoever. It's your presumption, of "my logic," which leads this way (you've caricatured me).

But let me clarify, one more time, I'll do that by re-posting my first comment on this thread:

Just to clarify, Stringfellow was a homosexual? I suppose his works can have an ex opere operato sense to them . . . but personally it would pose problems for me to "sit" under someone living in a lifestyle that is clearly at odds with the Gospel (I would have the same problem if I knew that x theologian was sleeping around with y female students in his class). . . .

1.) I never said that Stringfellow didn't say anything Christ-honoring.

2.) I never said that there couldn't be any "witness" to Christ in Stringfellow's writings.

3.) In fact what I did say was that because of the witness to Christ, in Stringfellow's writings (presumably), apart from any "moral" or "immoral" proclivity in his life, that it would be possible for fruitful interaction with Him.

4.) And then what I said was that, I "personally" would struggle with sitting under his teaching knowing that he was gay (because this seems blatantly incompatible with the gospel; i.e. disqualifies him as a "teacher"---just go see I Tim 3).

Do you see the tension, for me, between 3 and 4?

And by the way, how did Paul deal with immorality in the church in Corinth (see I Cor 5 & and II Cor 2)? If there was unrepentant, ongoing sin in someone's life they were to be excommunicated; until a time of repentance and brokenness was produced (also see Mt 18). Whether the person's name is Barth, Stringfellow, Luther, etc., no matter, if they don't submit to this kind of "loving" discipline then they should be treated as "unbelievers," until they recognize the problem. And if they don't, and they are to be treated as unbelievers, and "separated" from the church (for a season); then how is it that they can be teachers "within" the church?

This is the tension I have here. How does this apply to the writings of "sinners?" I suppose it depends on the person's attitude toward their "sin." David certainly was a sinner of sinners, but his response to sin (cf. Ps 51) was of brokenness.

Maybe the real "sin," was that the "Church" never confronted Stringfellow, or Barth (and others), for these explicit sins . . . and so the "sin" would be the church's as well (see Rom 2; I Cor 5). Just because we're all sinners, doesn't mean we can't call sin, sin. In fact if we don't, then we, as a people, are in trouble . . . and we aren't being the church.

Kim,

I totally agree with you! I don't think Stringfellow was any more "evil," than anyone else is, or will be; just that his choice of "evil" (as an unrepentant way of life) should've disqualified him as a teacher . . . at least for awhile.

My intention here was never to come off as an "bigot," or some kind of "holier than thou." I know we are, indeed, all sinners . . . but that doesn't mean we shouldn't call sin what it is.

As far as my "personal" struggle with "sitting under" someone like Stringfellow, maybe I do see "this particular sin" with more disdain (graded)than others. So I will take heed to this (esp. Halden's challenge), and reflect on this further.

I know I have posed some questions in this particular comment; but I'm out . . . peace in Christ!

saint egregious said...

Egads and little fishes. A thread on Stringfellow has gone to the dogs. Time to send in the clowns. Here's one little floppy-shoed stumble:
“What I found out—what I found out theologically—from my stay in Harlem is, of course, that all men are outcasts in one sense or another. It is only more vivid that men are outcasts in a place like Harlem.” (My People is the Enemy)

BT said...

b-g wrote:

...Do you see the tension, for me, between 3 and 4?

Yes, and as I commented, you're free to move along. (I'm not a Stringfellow ideologue who feels a need to justify him to you, or to make him your "teacher.") I'd just suggest in the future you actually study a figure, or at the very least read their works, before you even bother to build up such tension over their "evil lifestyle." Just a thought.

Kim wrote:

Bobby has a problem with teachers who call evil good. There is, however, another problem - Jesus of Nazareth had it: it is with people who call good evil. Jesus called this sinning against the Holy Spirit.

So is the phenomenon of someone defaulting to assuming a figure is preaching evil, without even reading them, "Holy-Spirit-neutral," just be taken as a matter of course? What's actually amusing in this case is the burden this puts on any ostensible "teacher," the requirement to somehow prove one's sexual purity prior to even simply pointing out anyone's default starting presuppositions.

roger flyer said...

I think Bobby Grow has taken quite a pounding on this Stringfellow thing.

Just because we (as a virtual community of circus wannabes) have taken the (again virtual) high road of gracious acceptance of all sinners, (which I highly doubt) is no reason to walk by and taunt him as the bearded lady.

Though I disagree with his moralizing (and his messing up of the high art of Faith and Theology blog) he appears to be sincere and teachable person.

May his teachers be kind, patient, insightful--and at the end of the day--loving. I don't think it's prudent for any of us to play Christ writing in the dirt. He's on the road to find out, as all we are.

Daniel said...

Just a quick reply to Roger, oh and the 'word verification' for this post is "blerate" sort of a combo of berate and blather!! who comes up with these? I think every post should have to start with an explication of the validating word. Sort of like 'fictionary' for bloggers. And who's to say G-d is not somehow speaking here, thru binary code? In fact, perhaps we should think about using computer generated homilies!! Just get this darn flesh with its sensuos bulbous regions out of the picture! Anyway, to answer Roger, i live on Whidbey Island and i reckon we'all here are pretty much wrestling with the same things y'all are. I am interested to see how all this pans out on this site, obliged, daniel.

BT said...

Roger,

Just to be clear, I have never claimed to be personally accepting of all sins, nor even to "teach" anyone anything (God does that, not me). I'm responding to the mischaracterization of Stringfellow as advocating "evil" by someone who has admittedly never even read his work.

Yet, while I'm at it, if I'm going to be categorically dismissed as "evil" as well, then I have no qualms about (virtually) fighting back. If that offends the Holy Spirit, then so be it, although I seriously doubt it's any more offensive to the Holy Spirit than off-handedly relegating an entire percentage of the population as "evil" just because their lust (or, hopefully, love!) doesn't default to the opposite sex, as it does for another population (it’s all-too-common to presume that "straight lust" is somehow less of an issue, spiritually speaking, than "gay lust"--there's is no uniform "lifestyle" for either population). It's easy to shell-out feel-good platitudes about being loving and kind, but a bit more demanding when you're casually branded an "evil one" from the beginning. False peaces are worthless, ultimately.

But again, God gives peace, not human judgments. However, I don't feel any obligation to have patience toward someone branding-about "evil" accusations on such a casual and uninformed basis, that's all. If that’s a “pounding,” then so be it.

roger flyer said...

My blerate for what it's worth.

I think BG means well and is trying to understand.
Sorry if my feel good platitudes are off-putting, but I don't hear him branding anyone as 'evil'...

I do hear him speaking from a theological perspective that seems like backwaters to some of the prominent commenters, but I don't think the thread has gone to the dogs--but we've definitely left the circus.

It is very possible that God may be speaking
in this thread coded and uncoded.

BT said...

Roger,

I appreciate your comments, but b-g is clearly branding homosexuals as "evil." When I read (from b-g):

...[Stringfellow's] choice of "evil" (as an unrepentant way of life) should've disqualified him...

Well, that to me is clearly characterizing Stringfellow as "choosing evil," which to me is ridiculous (firstly, because in the vast majority of cases sexual orientation is not a choice; secondly, because, and as others have said here, it's not as if Stringfellow was a "gay activist" of the secular variety that Christians are usually reacting against; and, thirdly, because b-g clearly has no knowledge of Stringfellow's actual "way of life" whatsoever). But I'll leave it at that, I've commented enough.

roger flyer said...

BT-
I get your points 123.
I agree.

I hope we shall blog together again.

saint egregious said...

Speaking of dogs, if you haven't read Anthony Towne's book Excerpts from the Diaries of a Late God, its well worth the effort to get it. A wonderful send-up of the death of God movement of the sixties, which both Towne and Stringfellow thought wholly ridiculous, it is told from God's point of view as he laments his fate. It's a howl and a half, if you ask this mutt mutt.
Shatorch,
St. E

roger flyer said...

St E-
You started this bit with your recommendation of the String thing!

bobby grow said...

Okay, let me interject one more time!

@BT:

Actually I think we are ALL EVIL, thus our need for Christ. I have limited my statements to scripture, which you haven't engaged whatsoever; nor has anyone on this thread. I obviously have offended you, but you haven't offered anything constructive in response to anything I have said (see Halden for an example of how to do this). Anyway, I want to ask for forgiveness for offending you. We sincerely disagree on this issue, on many levels, i.e. the "holiness" of homosexuality.

Roger,

thanks for the words. I guess scripture pretty much doesn't get any play here . . . at least as something that is reflective of Yahweh's holy life, and the principles of holiness that he expects (not legalistically, or in a moralizing way, but in a way that is indeed framed by His liberating love, and holy presence). That's too bad . . .

Bobby, from the "backwaters" ya'll . . . okay I'm truly out (won't be back, don't worry)!

roger flyer said...

Bobby-I hope you'll peek in one more time on the blog here.

Bobby said:
"...Actually I think we are ALL EVIL, thus our need for Christ. I have limited my statements to scripture..."

Aha!!! I knew lurking in the circus tent was the most vexing theological problem of all.

The little matter of 'original sin' and how our 'interpretations' of scripture re: the atonement knock each of us high wire walkers off the tightrope.

Bobby-forgive my condescending tone with the backwaters phrase. I didn't mean it to shun you--more to alert some of the other thoughtful posters that their biases were showing.

I, for one, think we'd all benefit if you came back to this site. Unlike most 'conservative' (I hope you're not offended by that word) bloggers, you bring honest questions and humility to this virtual circus of heavyweight lion tamers.

I love coming to Ben's blog because I find him and his cyberspace commenters some of the most creative and thoughtful people on the planet. I don't get half of what they are saying, have read little of the writers they reference, but I am thrilled and challenged (and maybe a bit corrupted) by many of the posts!

Thanks for speaking 'your' truth (which you've gotten from scripture), and for engaging.
I do think some more reflection might be helpful for you around your views on homosexuality as a particularly evil sin (which I know you've taken from the Leviticus and Romans passages). I think BT's points are very well taken.

Anyway, I'm just a clown in this circus, but I have a role to play--writing one liners to keep the dogs at bay!

Jorge said...

I too was recently introduced to Stringfellow; a professor of mine assigned one of his books for class: An Ethic For Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land. Long title; good stuff.

I just finished posting a review of the book over at my blog.

roger flyer said...

If anybody is still checking this thread...

Did you see the latest addition to circus lovers?

The one and only Britney Spears is on tour with her 'Circus'. Tom Waits opening.

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