Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Idol Food, Same-Sex Intercourse, and Tolerable Diversity within the Church

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Idol Food, Same-Sex Intercourse, and Tolerable Diversity within the Church

Article excerpt

Proposing that Paul permitted idol food and respected fallible conscience, Kathryn Reinhard has argued that homosexual practice constitutes tolerable diversity within the church. Reinhards vision of interdependence and embodied difference is laudable. Problematically, she omits Pauls disciplining of sin from her explication of toleration, and mischaracterizes the relationship of the "strong" and "weak. " Contesting assumptions about idol food, this essay argues that Paul never abandoned scripture or Judaism, and explores how Reinhards conclusions are based on four conditions, showing that if any one of them were to change, they would invalidate Reinhards argument.

Kathryn L. Reinhard has argued that the dispute within the Anglican Communion over homosexuality should be relocated from the realms of "sin" or "rights" to that of "conscience."1 To do this she intentionally prioritizes Paul's ecclesiology when discussing food offered to idols ( 1 Cor. 8-10) over his apparently different ecclesiology when discussing sexual behavior (1 Cor. 5).2 Here I examine her argument and what the implications might be if any of four of Reinhards assumptions were altered: (1) if syneidesis is translated "consciousness" instead of "conscience" in 1 Corinthians; (2) if the weak of 1 Corinthians 8-10 were polytheists instead of Christ-believers; (3) if Paul did not allow Christ-believers to knowingly consume idol food; and (4) if Paul taught and agreed with the apostolic decree. I first lay out Reinhards argument. Next I comment on her statements about embodied difference, interdependence, and homosexuality. Following, I argue for seeing Paul within Judaism. Then I discuss in turn why each of the four assumptions about idol food is questionable, the support for an alternative assumption, and what the change would imply for the church's response to homosexuality today.

Reinhard on Tolerating Idol Food and Homosexuality

Reinhard identifies three core principles of Paul's ecclesiology: conscience, interdependence, and embodied difference. She argues that, for Paul, ecclesial unity is not a concept that precludes difference in identity or in practice. Paul did not articulate a concept of sin in the abstract so much as examine sin in specific rhetorical and pastoral situations.3 The ecclesial principles that Reinhard discovers offer guidelines for the church today, but cannot of themselves be used to diagnose "acceptable diversity" and "transgressive sin."4 Following C. K. Barrett, she finds that Paul places idol meat within acceptable diversity because-against the apostolic decree-he distinguishes between eating idol meat and the actual practice of idolatry.5 Paul agrees with the "strong" of Corinth (who come from the upper class) that an idol has no real existence (1 Cor. 8:4). The higher-status Christians had difficulty avoiding idol meat because they wished to accept dinner invitations where idol meat would be served. The "weak" (who came mainly from the lower class) opposed eating such meat because they considered it participation in idolatry.6

Paul's concept of conscience differed from the modem one. Reinhard characterizes the Pauline conscience by reference to Stoic philosophy. For Paul, the conscience was part way between the modem "internal moral compass" and the ancient "internal conviction of past misdeeds." It is socially conditioned and fallible.7 However, Paul is committed to letting one follow the judgments of one's conscience, however incorrect they might be.8

Paul recognizes that both strong and weak are harming the Corinthian church. He advises the strong to refrain from eating idol meat in the presence of the weak (1 Cor. 10:28-29), and the weak not to inquire too deeply about the origins of the meat (1 Cor. 10:25-27).9

Interdependence in the church is, for Paul, like the interdependence of the human body parts. While Greeks used this image to solidify class hierarchies, Paul argues that interdependence makes all body members equal in status. …

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