Over the weekend, philosopher and Calvin College professor James K. A. Smith went on the record arguing that the recent usage of the words orthodoxy and heresy in debates surrounding same-sex marriage are illegitimate. Smith argues that Christian’s are flippantly using the words orthodoxy and heresy by applying it to things such as homosexual mirage and that Christian’s should reserve the language of orthodoxy and heresy for those beliefs which are measured by the ecumenical councils and creeds of the Church. Arguing this point, Smith states:
“I note this only to observe that this deployment of the term ‘Orthodox’ is recent, innovative, and narrow. Ironically, it reflects a trait of modernity that those who use it would abhor: a tendency to reduce Christianity to a morality (see: Kant). . . . If the adjective ‘orthodox’ is untethered from such ecumenical standards, it quickly becomes a cheap epithet we idiosyncratically attach to views and positions in order to write off those we disagree with as ‘heretics’ and unbelievers. If ‘orthodox’ becomes an adjective that is unhooked from these conciliar canons, then it becomes a word we use to make sacrosanct the things that matter to ‘us’ in order to exclude ‘them.'”
Smith’s point could be summed up like this. When Christian’s refer to homosexual marriage as “unorthodox” and “heretical”, they’re using the terms in a “recent, innovative, and narrow way.” According to Smith, those who use these terms this way are “untethering” or “unhooking” those terms from the ecumenical creeds, which only discuss matters such as “the creator-hood of God; the divine/human nature of the Incarnate Son; the virgin birth; the historicity of Jesus’ life and death; the affirmation of his bodily resurrection and ascension; the hope of the second coming; the triune affirmation of Father, Son, and Spirit; the affirmation of “one holy catholic and apostolic church”; one baptism; and the hope of our own bodily resurrection.”
Therefore, according to Smith, applying the terms “orthodox” or “heresy” to anything other than the affirmation or denial of these particular topics are illegitimate.
Here’s where we get down to brass tax. Smith is presupposing that the Ecumenical Creeds don’t speak to the issue of sexual ethics. That’s why calling homo-sex “unorthodox” and “heretical,” in Smith’s view, is “recent, innovative, and narrow.”
However, here’s the problem: Smith’s presupposition is dead wrong. The Creed’s do implicitly speak to sexual ethics.
The Apostles Creed states:
“I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.”
If one confesses with the Creed that they believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, is he not simultaneously confessing that when God created the earth, He also created the first heterosexual marriage between male and female? This was a part of the creation week, after all, right (Gen. 1:26-32, Gen. 5:2)?
Just to also prove to the critics that this view of the Creed isn’t novel, James Dodds in his exposition of the Creed states this:
“Belief in the Almighty power of God is further declared by a confession of faith in Him as the Maker of heaven and earth, and this is but a repetition of the statement contained in the first chapter of Genesis—the only account of Creation which is fitted to solve all difficulties and to meet all objections. “Maker” in this article is used in the sense of Creator, implying that heaven and earth were called into existence out of nothing by the word of Divine power; and by “heaven and earth” are meant all creatures, visible and invisible, that have existed or do exist. Those who object to the Scripture statements regarding Creation have maintained views as to the origin of the material universe differing largely from those held by persons who accept this article of the Creed, and differing also greatly from one another.” – James Dodds, Exposition of the Creed
The Nicene Creed states:
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
The same thing applies here. When we confess this, are we not simultaneously confessing that when God created the earth, He also created the first heterosexual marriage between male and female?
The Athanasian Creed is built upon the same foundation. That there is only one God, He is Triune, equal in substance, uncreated, co-eternal, incomprehensible, and He is the Maker of heaven and earth. And, at the end of that Creed, it states, “this is the catholic faith; which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.”
So, regardless of how much Smith wants readers to believe that the Creeds don’t mention sexual ethics, they do. The only way to argue that they don’t is to assert that the phrase, “Maker of heaven and earth” is void of any kind of meaning or content. So, ehrm, who’s really reading the Creeds with a narrow view? I contend that it’s Smith.
One last problem with all of this big ugly kerfuffle is that it is, without a doubt, a slippery slope. If the Creeds don’t address sexual ethics, then that would also mean that they also don’t address men pretending to be women or women pretending to be men (because the Creeds don’t explicitly mention such things). Is that the where Smith wants to go with this thing? Because, I promise when taken to its logical conclusion, that’s where it leads. Smith’s narrow readings of the Creeds opens up a whole Can of Worms. When that Can has been opened, Prince Albert and all of his cohorts will all surely be parading claiming to be “totally orthodox.”