Eternity remembers Max Champion – a leader of the Confessing Movement within the Uniting Church in Australia, who died last month – by reprinting an extract from his discussion of same-sex marriage and Gnosticism. The original, which described “Sacred Union Ceremonies”, is here. This paper from 2011 is an early examination of “deconstruction” of faith, a topic that has become increasingly prominent. John Sandeman
From Christian Orthodoxy to Gnostic Spirituality
Champion begins by posing the question of why same-sex marriage “so recently regarded as inimical to human flourishing is now strongly supported and promoted as a positive good and an inalienable right?”
The answer is to be found in the shift from Christian patterns of thought to those based on new forms of Gnostic spirituality – an abstract, otherworldly philosophy that was parasitic on orthodox Christian belief and focussed on esoteric knowledge (gnosis) of the spiritual world that is accessible to people when they look deep within themselves.
Until recently considered to be a relic of a bygone age and an escape from a robust secular faith, the resurgence of Gnostic spirituality within and beyond the churches is remarkable. Bookshops testify to this explosion of interest. Churches create “sacred spaces” in which to meditate. The simultaneous collapse of Christianity and modernity – which had competed with and complemented each other in shaping Western patterns of reality – has led to an interest in older spiritual resources found deep within the self.
A new paradigm, centred on spiritual self-knowledge and impatient with Christian and humanist claims to know the truth, began to evolve. Looking for other sources to provide a framework for meaning, the deconstructionists found inspiration in reappraising Gnostic spirituality. There they discovered what they hated in their oppressive, patriarchal, heterosexist, credal and institutionalized beliefs and practices. They sought special spiritual knowledge not bound by restrictions, immediately accessible and connected to the ‘divine.’
Although Gnostic systems of belief are not easy to pin down, their key tenets are clear:
1. Belief in the superiority of mind or consciousness over matter. The physical, material, bodily world is inferior to the life of the psyche. To think that God’s creation, as affirmed in Scripture, is essentially good is to live in ignorance. Special knowledge is required to open our eyes to the truth –that the ‘divine spark’ is within us, enabling us to realise who we are without reality being mediated by events, physical realities, customs, Scripture, commandments, creeds or institutions. We can experience the divine within.
2. The rejection of the Judeo-Christian duality between God and the world. ‘God’ and humanity are not separate but part of each other. Therefore, we don’t have to look outside ourselves for healing, enlightenment or redemption. Salvation comes when ignorance about the true nature of reality is overcome by recognising that divinity is within us or that we are divine. Gnostic belief that “All is One” (i.e. monism) replaces faith in God’s redemptive love mediated through Christ to those who, unlike God, are neither righteous nor divine.
Naturally, therefore, Gnostics rejected the Christian affirmation that, in order to redeem sinful humanity to God, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.’ The incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, and the created bodiliness of human beings, are barriers to spiritual insight and personal liberation.
3. The non-literal interpretation of Scripture and historical events. Finding the deep symbolic meaning of texts, which are viewed through the prism of the divinely indwelt psyche, is a sign of spiritual wisdom. The meaning of events is to be found in what they say about the ‘God or divinity within. For example, Jesus’ resurrection is not to be understood as God’s action defeating the power of sin and death but as the renewal of our personality and the ability to recognise our own inner capacity for divinity.
4. Spiritual elitism. As knowledge of the divine within is not obvious to our senses and requires special illumination, Gnosticism is elitist. Our ignorant minds must be trained by the enlightened to see the spiritual meaning of things beyond the mere appearances of the material, physical, bodily, sensual world so that we can discover the truth about our own inherent divinity.
These characteristics are evident in the Gnostic approach to “sexuality,” The unambiguous witness of Scripture to God’s purposes for humanity in the complementary humanity of male and female, and their sexual union in marriage is ‘transformed’ from its ‘literal’ to the deeper spiritual meaning. No longer is sex to be understood so ignorantly. The enlightened person will see that, in place of the rigid differentiation of male and female and the restriction of marriage to men and women, we should celebrate the inner spirituality that we share. Sacred psychic unity, a spiritual meeting of minds, is the vital thing in sexual unions!
In Against Protestant Gnostics Philip Lee shows how this way of thinking allows Gnostics to be flexible on sex. ‘Although gnostics were divided in their attitudes toward sexual practice, some being very puritanical, others libertine, all gnostics were united in their ingrained suspicion of procreation.’ (p201) This Gnostic commitment to spiritual and sexual androgyny is typical of supporters of The Jesus Seminar (1993) and ‘Progressive Christianity’ who regard the Gospel of Thomas as the ‘Fifth Gospel.’ If that is true, what is to be made of these texts that contradict Scripture’s clear testimony?
“Jesus said to them, ‘Shall you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and the female one and the same, so that the male not be male nor the female female, … then you will enter the kingdom.’” (Saying 22)
‘Jesus said to Peter, “I myself shall lead her (Mary) in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.”’ (Final Saying 114; my italics)
However distasteful to us is the sexism of saying 114, Gnosticism’s distaste for sexual differentiation is very clear. The distinction between male and female is to be overcome in a spiritual unity found in the depths of our self-consciousness. Our psyches or minds are superior to the body! We must get beyond the bondage of sexual distinctions – and reject the creational sexuality of Genesis 1-2, Romans 1:18-32 and Galatians 3:28 in favour of androgyny, which is ‘the sexual expression of a deeply religious agenda, that of pagan monism.’ (P. Jones, Pagans in the Pews, p185) Human beings do not need to be redeemed from improper sexual or other behaviour in such a schema. They must simply follow the leading of their own inner spirituality.
Therefore, despite current attempts by ‘progressive Christians’ to align Gnosticism with biblical Christianity, it is clear that we are dealing with “different Gospels.” The “new faith” of Dr Macnab [a former UCA Minister of St Michael’s in Melbourne CBD] treats historic Christian faith in the incarnate, crucified and risen Lord as unbelievable and primitive literalism, thus refashioning the old Gnosticism. Spiritual knowledge and psychological well-being are to be found by releasing the divine energies within. As long as we are doing that, our preferred sexual unions will be appropriately “sacred.”
The incompatibility of Gnostic spirituality and orthodox Christianity must first be noted if we are to engage in a serious theological debate about the merits of same-sex ‘marriage,’ civil unions or blessing services. It is increasingly the case that, in our post-modern age, a person’s essence isn’t thought of primarily as a physical, biological and spiritual unity but as the “consciousness” that resides in a suit of flesh. What I choose to do in my body – as a chaste, hetero, homo or bisexual person isn’t thought to affect my essential identity. Therefore, it is considered right if, in good faith, I choose to take part in a consensual sexual relationship with a person of the same sex. My essential identity – my mind, psyche or consciousness – is not affected.
One of the effects of locating a person’s essential being in the mind is to treat biological differences as psychological differences! In the new androgynous humanity, ‘each partner in relationships, both hetero- and homosexual, are encouraged to recognize the validity of both masculine and feminine, the yang and the yin, in himself or herself.’ (P. Jones, The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back, p60) Theological, physiological and social differences between men and women are turned into ‘states of mind’ within all individuals, thus deconstructing the Christian understanding of sex and marriage in line with Gnostic spirituality.2
It has been a triumph of the militant homosexual lobby to change the terms of debate from “sex” to “gender” – a move that corresponds to Gnostic fascination with blurring the boundaries between God and the world, men and women, truth and falsehood, Scripture and faith so typical of our post-modern, post-Christian age. Once this shift was effected, the old “rigidities” could be demonised, clearing the way for the promotion and endorsement of more “flexible” sexual unions.
In the light of these considerations, it would be naïve to think that the push for same-sex “marriage” is actually driven by the desire [simply] for equal recognition with marriages between men and women. Gnostic thinking inevitably leads to the refashioning of marriage between a man and a woman in the image of the androgynous person. Marriage is being subverted so that the sanctity of sexual unions are determined, not by the complementarity physiology and relationality of male and female, but by the compatibility of their inner- spirituality.
Marriage between a man and a woman thus becomes one form of ‘sacred union’ – a term derived from pagan rites against which Christianity previously protested. Make no mistake! The promotion of ‘Gay Marriage’ in the community and the Church is not a call to make marriage more ‘inclusive.’ Marriage between a man and a woman will become one form – an inferior and rigid form – of androgynous marriage. Homosexual unions, emphasising individuality, equality and consent will be the benchmark for true “marriage” – thus undermining the special relationship created by God for human flourishing. The “de-gendering” of the vows in the sacred union ceremony (“partner”) is intended to de-construct marriage and transform it into an ‘institution’ based on androgynous egalitarianism.
In remarks that foreshadow the deconstruction of Christian marriage and orthodoxy, [radical theologian and an expelled Catholic turned Episcopalian ] Matthew Fox says that, in some respects, homosexuality is superior to heterosexuality because it is not productive but playful (cited in Peter Jones, Pagans in the Pews p170 footnote 52); Bishop Spong says that ‘feminism and homosexuality lie at the heart and soul of what the Gospel is about.’ (Ibid footnote 53) This is pure Gnosticism! The structured God-given relationships that have been created for human flourishing and fidelity, and the dangers of moving outside these liberating parameters, are dismissed out of hand. In their place, a false ‘Gospel’ is proclaimed – promoting new pagan ethics that is built on recognising the spirituality that dwells within our individual consciousnesses.
1. See Philip Lee, Against Protestant Gnosticism (1987: Oxford University Press, Oxford); Harold Bloom, The American Religion (); Peter Jones, The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back (1992: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company; Phillipsburg, New Jersey); Pagans in the Pews (2001: Regal Books, Ventura, California)
*Eternity has retained the language of the original text with some slight editing for clarity; some useage may be outdated. Reprinted with permission.