Friday, April 21, 2023

Binary Reasoning Informs Christian Morality and Ethics


Alice C. Linsley

Thank you, Bishop Hewett and the reverend fathers who invited me to speak at this beautiful and historic All Saints Episcopal Church in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania.

I will try to keep my remarks brief. What a speaker really needs is a conclusion and I hope to get there before you stop listening.

The late Colorado oil magnate, Raymond Duncan, once said, "If the speaker won't boil it down, the audience must sweat it out."

For the most part my remarks will be directed to the choir, as they say, so feel free at any time to shout “Amen!” or “Hallelujah!”, in a seemly Anglican manner, of course.

A few of you may be aware that I lived in this area for 16 years. I lived for 5 years in Malvern in a small Mennonite community. The women of the community taught how to grow and preserve vegetables, how to sew, smoke hams, and repair a broken lawn mower using parts from their supplies of cannibalized machines. A strong bond of affection developed between us, and the year before I left to go to seminary, the women asked me to lead a one-day retreat at their church on the book of Ruth.

During those years my family and I worshipped at the Church of the Good Samaritan in Paoli. The rector at that time was the Rev. Daniel Kilmer Sullivan, a Canadian by birth and a good priest. As demonstrated by Fr. Rix, Canada has produced some very fine clergy!

Fr. Dan’s assistant was the Rev. Dr. Henry Lawrence Thompson III who became the Dean of Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge.

Looking back, I recognize that Fr. Sullivan was under pressure from the Diocese to put forward a woman for ordination from his parish. After a year of discernment, I met with Bishop Lyman Ogilby with whom I established immediate report when he learned that I had spent part of my childhood in the Philippines. Bishop Ogilby had been a missionary bishop in the Philippines when it was still a U.S. territory.

While I lived in this area, I saw radical developments in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania. In 1974, eleven women were irregularly admitted to the priesthood, including several lesbians. The late Louie Crew was promoting gay activism and in that same year he founded the first chapter of Integrity. In 1977, Bishop Paul Moore of New York ordained the lesbian Ellen Marie Barrett, who had served as Integrity's first co-president.

In 1983, I began my seminary studies at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Mount Airy. While there, I studied Anglican Polity under the Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Steenson who Pope Benedict XVI appointed as the first Ordinary of the Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter on January 1, 2012. Dr. Steenson was the first person to challenge me on the question of women and the priesthood.

I did my internship at All Hallows, Wyncote, and I served as a deacon for 9 months at Trinity Episcopal Church in Swarthmore. Then I served as the Chaplain at the Church Farm Church in Exton, Pennsylvania.

During those years I was having many significant dreams which I recorded in journals. One dream proved to be prophetic. In the dream, I was vested and standing in the procession of priests. We were preparing to process into the church. Suddenly, off to my right there appeared a gleaming white pearl and I knew that it was the “Pearl of Great Price”. The only way I could take hold of it was to leave the procession of priests and turn my back on my bishop. That is what I did on the Sunday of Gene Robinson’s consecration.

I left the Episcopal priesthood, turning my back on Bishop Stacy Sauls to take hold of something or rather Someone of infinitely greater value; the Son of God, who came into the world to save sinners like me. And to Him I offer my joyful praise and adoration. I can do no other.

I recount this personal history as a backdrop to the doubts that began to form in my mind about women and the priesthood. I was ordained to the priesthood by Allen Bartlett in June 1988. There was a disquieting smirk on his face when I turned to give the final blessing.

Honestly, I sometimes wonder if he would have approved this Bible-believing traditionist for ordination if it had been up to him. I did not aspire to break the glass ceiling like Barbara Harris, the first African American female bishop, or to defy the Church's teaching on marriage like the lesbian bishop Mary Glasspool, or to distinguish myself by breaking from my religious roots, as did Bishop Geralyn Wolfe, a convert from Judaism.

My doubts about women’s ordination launched me into a ten-year study of that dangerous innovation. In my investigation I drew on my background in anthropology, philosophy, and linguistics. I noted that no women served as priests among the biblical Hebrew. Likewise, men did not serve as midwives. This suggested that men and women have distinct types of blood work: the priests in the place of blood sacrifice where women were forbidden to enter, and the woman in the birthing chamber where men were forbidden to enter. Two types of blood work in two distinct places and the two were always maintained apart. I pondered that a great deal.

Among the biblical Hebrew who delivered to us the authoritative moral law, male and female are distinct physiologically, anatomically, emotionally, and in the work they were created to perform. This seems obvious even to those who minimize the distinction between males and females. Some realities cannot be denied.

Consider the recent news about University of Pittsburgh professor Gabby Yearwood. When he was asked by swimmer Riley Gaines if an archeologist can differentiate between two sets of 100-year bones as male and female, Professor Yearwood answered “no” to which the entire audience laughed. Yearwood responded, "I'm not sure why I'm being laughed at! I'm the expert... I have a Ph.D.!" Those college students recognize that someone can get a Ph.D. in anthropology and still be ignorant of basic facts about the difference between males and females. Forensic medicine has been identifying the sex of older human remains since the 16th century, and today we have the advantage of genetic testing as well.

Pondering the two distinct types of blood work took me deeper into consideration of the binary reasoning of the biblical Hebrew. That reasoning is based on empirical observation of the hierarchies in the order of creation. These hierarchies are expressed in a small number of binary sets: Creator-creature, life-death, heaven-earth, male-female, and sun-moon. The Apostle Paul uses this binary reasoning in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 when he contrasts the Creator and the creature, the sun and the moon, and the perishable and the imperishable.

The spiritual rot we are experiencing in some parts of our Anglican world is due to rejection of the authority of Scripture and the binary reasoning of the Bible. We have too few bishops like Bishop Hewett who will defend the Faith and uphold godly practices.

Too few Anglican priests proclaim our catholic Faith; many because they do not understand it, some because they do not believe it. Our divisions are the fruit of theological waffling by generations of leaders who have heeded the noise of our culture rather than the voice of the Spirit of God.

Many of our parishes do not focus on the study of Scripture. One is more likely to find a group studying a contemporary devotional or a popular spiritual self-help book. I hope each of your parishes makes the study of Scripture a high priority.

Do not neglect women’s Bible studies because wives have a profound influence on their husbands. Wives need to study the Bible so that they may recognize God’s truth and help to form their children in that truth. Your parish will prosper when the women become rooted in sound teaching and in the wisdom of God.

It is evident that when the Scriptures are neglected, people go astray, and wolves at the door gain access to the flock. The wolves seek to eviscerate the Gospel because they hate the Lord of Life.

We must remain vigilant against ideologies that promote rebellion against God’s order, and we must teach our children to recognize expressions of that rebellion such as radical feminism, gay activism, and Godless political ideologies. Rebellion is evident in the slogan of the 2019 American Socialist Party Convention that met in Chicago.

We must impress upon our children that the Christian Faith and the authority of Scripture remain unchanged and are unchangeable. Anglicans have not been as protective of the Faith as we should have been. Our confession is Christ crucified, risen, and coming again. Until His arrival, we make disciples, strengthen one another, and receive Him in the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist.

The kerygma and the Nicene Creed express Anglican dogma, and the Bible informs and shapes our doctrine and practice. We require nothing to be believed that is not attested by these our authorities. That is why we reject innovations, be they from Rome, the Episcopal Church, or the Church of England. That is why we refute falsehoods, be they ideological or theological.

The Church receives its Tradition concerning Jesus Messiah from the early Hebrew through the Apostles. That sacred Tradition builds a hedge around the observable order of creation. What the Creator has established is to be guarded. Life is greater than death. Thus, the Hebrew were never to boil a baby goat in its mother's milk (forbidden three places in Scripture). This blurs the distinction between life and death because the mother’s milk is to sustain the life of the offspring.

There is a binary distinction between humans and non-human animals. Bestiality is forbidden as it blurs the distinction between humans and animals.

Homosex is forbidden because it blurs the distinction between male and female, a binary set established by God in the beginning and by which humanity is to survive extinction.

The hedge extended even to the sowing of seed and to textiles. They were not to sow two types of seed in the same field or weave cloth of two different types of fiber.

To us moderns, such prohibitions sound strange because we have blurred the binary distinctions. In fact, some have rejected binary reasoning entirely though it is the logical outcome of empirical observations of the order of creation.

The spilling of human semen (onanism) was regarded as an unrighteous act because this violates the divinely established order in creation. The seed that should fall to the earth is the seed of the plants with roots in the earth. The seed of man should fall on his own type (the womb), from which man comes forth.

In 191 A.D., Clement of Alexandria wrote, “Because of its divine institution for the propagation of man, the seed is not to be vainly ejaculated, nor is it to be damaged, nor is it to be wasted.” (The Instruction of Children)

The prohibition against onanism reflects the ancient wisdom that was informed by observation of immutable (fixed) patterns in nature. It is based on reality, not imagined entities or moral relativism. Dr. David C. Innes of King’s College in New York City, recently wrote, “Living in reality also means living in principled awareness of who is in charge of all things and thus living in recognition of what is true.”

You may be wondering how this relates to the binary reasoning that informs Christian ethics and morality. Consider what Bishop Hewett wrote in his homily for the First Sunday after the Epiphany:

Ethics is man’s study about what is good and right and true. Morality is God’s revelation to man about what is good and right and true. Ethics come from man and morality comes from God. God reveals the moral law to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The Law comes from the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Ghost. The moral Law is the straight edge against which everything must be measured.


I am reminded of something C.S. Lewis wrote in his book Reflections on the Psalms. He wrote, “Some give morality a wholly new meaning which we cannot accept, some deny its possibility. Perhaps we shall all learn, sharply enough, to value the clean air and ‘sweet reasonableness’ of the Christian ethics which in a more Christian age we might have taken for granted.”

We daily encounter a general contempt for Christianity. May it teach us to value the sweetness and solidity of the moral path God has laid before us.

As Christ’s followers, we understand that Christian ethics cannot be separated from the moral law established by divine authority. The Scriptures and our catholic Faith inform us as to what is good and right and true. When we drift away from these authorities, we become complacent about the Gospel. Complacency leads to decadence, and decadence leads to corruption.

Attempts to revise Christianity come from those who reject divine authority. Rejection of divine authority expresses itself in the invention of identities that have no basis in the observable order of creation. A boy can declare himself a girl and his delusion must be accepted by school authorities, or they will face a lawsuit. Rather than affirm what is wholesome, the headlines promote the anomalous as normal. Such delusion is the product of senseless and darkened minds as Paul attests in the second chapter of Romans.

Anglicans are to meet the rejection of God’s authority in a reasoned and compassionate way. We must seek, as God does, to reason together using the authority of Scripture. We cannot claim Scripture as a primary authority if we reject the binary reasoning of the Bible.

This evening we will examine that binary reasoning in greater detail so that we may be understand how it informs our Christian morality and ethics, and that we may be better prepared to defend the Faith against seemingly overwhelming attacks.

What is “binary reasoning”?
The biblical Hebrew were very concrete thinkers. Their perceptions of God were based on their empirical observations of the order in Creation. They noticed that trees only reproduce trees, and birds only reproduce birds. The Book of Genesis speaks of how each reproduces according to its “kind”. They observed that humans only reproduce humans and that humans come in two sexes: male and female. They noticed that the loss of blood brings death and they logically associated blood with life.

In the Bible we find binary sets, that is sets of two entities that appear to be opposite yet complementary. The four basic sets for the biblical writers are:





Note that one of the entities of the set is greater than or superior to its opposite. The creature is dependent upon the infinitely greater Creator for all things. The Creator is greater than the creature. That is the very definition of God which even an atheist must admit. It is the greater that stoops to save the weaker. The Almighty condescends out of His compassion. "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich." (2 Cor. 8:9)

Life, or immortality, or the imperishable is superior to death, decay, and extinction. Anyone who has lost a loved one knows that life is greater than death. It can be argued based on 100,000 years of burial in red ocher, a symbolic blood covering, that humans hope to escape mortality. We yearn for the immortal nature for which we were first created. God told the Israelites to choose life rather than death. Life comes through loving obedience. Death comes through disobedience and spiritual rebellion.

The male of our species is larger and stronger than the female. The sun’s brightness surpasses the brightness of the moon.

Note the consistent logic here: Without the Creator there would be no creature. Eve comes after Adam as she is taken from his side. Without the sun, there would be no refulgent light from the moon.

The binary sets present hierarchies, and in our society the term “hierarchy”, like the term “binary”, has become a bad word.

The entities of the binary sets are not equal in function, strength, or glory. The binary reasoning of the biblical writers is diametrically opposed to the dualism of Eastern religions that arose in the Axial Age (900-200 B.C.). There is no Ying-Yan in the Bible because the sets observed by the biblical writers are not equal.

The binary sets of the Bible are not arbitrary and subjective. They are based on empirical observation and experience. The biblical binary sets are not subjective. The opposites of tall and short do not constitute a binary set because those descriptions are subjective. Were I standing next to a Watusi warrior I would appear short. However, were I standing next to a Pygmy, I would appear tall.

On the other hand, it is universally evident that males are anatomically larger and stronger than females. The larger and stronger is to protect the smaller and weaker.

When we come to the sun and moon, we recognize what is stated in Genesis, chapter 1: God created two great lights in the heavens. The sun is the greater light, and the moon is the lesser light that rules the night. Indeed, the moon does not shine at all. It reflects the light of the sun.

For the biblical Hebrew ultimate authority rests with the High God whose symbol was the sun. In Genesis 1:16, the sun is said to be the greater light that rules the day. The word “rule” speaks of what is above all and over all. That makes the sun a fitting symbol for the highest and ultimate authority.

Let us be clear that the Hebrew did not worship a Sun God. That is evident in Psalm 19 where we are told that God has set a tent for the sun which comes forth as a bridegroom from his chamber and rejoices to run his circuit.

Among archaic populations, the sun was perceived as inseminating the earth. One can imagine how this perception developed as people observed particles of light or sunbeams filtered through the forest canopy. The meteoritic iron found on the earth's surface was worn by chiefs and rulers because it represented power from on high. King Tut's dagger had a gold sheath and a tip made of meteoritic iron.

This binary reasoning poses ultimate authority with the God who is a king, not a queen. In his book on Women and the Priesthood (p. 240), the late Fr. Thomas Hopko wrote, "In his actions in and toward the world of his creation, the one God and Father reveals himself primarily and essentially in a 'masculine' way."

In the sun-moon set, the sun is regarded as having masculine qualities and the moon as having female qualities. This was expressed in the appearance of the king and queen. The king appeared with sun-darkened skin and his queen appeared with whitened skin.

In the Ancient Near East, the sun-moon binary set was expressed in the way royal couples presented themselves in public. The king appeared with skin darkened by the sun and the powdered queen appeared pale as the moon. The sun-moon binary set among the early Hebrew is often a reference for a royal couple. Joseph speaks of his father and mother as the sun and the moon (Gen. 37:9). This attests the high social rank of his Hebrew parents.

Two Wives Establish a Kingdom
It was common for high-ranking Hebrew rulers to have two wives. One was usually a half-sister as was Sarah to Abraham. The second wife was usually a cousin, as was Keturah to Abraham. Abraham’s father had two wives. The Hebrew priest Elkanah had two wives: Peninnah and Hannah. Other Hebrew rulers with two wives include Lamech, Jacob, Amram, Moses, Jesse, and Joash.

In 1 Chronicles 4:5, we read that "Ashur, the father of Tekoa, had two wives, Helah and Naarah."

In 1 Chronicles 4:17-18, we read that Mered had two wives and one was "Pharaoh’s daughter Bithiah, whom Mered had married."

The two wives in the Song of Solomon represent the two horizons or dusk and dawn. One of Solomon’s wives is described as having sun-darkened skin ("dark as the tents of Kedar") and the other is described as having skin as pale as the moon (S. of S. 6:10). For the rulers of the Ancient Near East, the two wives represent a claim to a vast territory that extends from horizon to horizon. 

The two wives’ settlements were at the extreme boundaries of the ruler’s territory. Abraham's north-south territorial boundaries were marked by the separate settlement of his two wives. Sarah resided in Hebron and his cousin wife Keturah resided in Beersheba to the south.

Consider the story of Lamech’s two wives in Genesis, chapter 4. Their names, Adah and Tzillah, are derived from the words for dawn and dusk.

This narrative suggests that Lamech ruled over a vast territory. The sun-moon binary set and the east-west solar arc are used in the Bible to speak of the authority and sovereignty of divinely appointed Hebrew rulers. They expected a woman of their ruler-priest caste to conceive the Son of God by divine overshadowing, just as happened with the Virgin Mary (Lk. 1:35).

The Virgin Mary was a descendant of the early Hebrew ruler-priests. Even the Talmud recognizes that. Sanhedrin 106a says Jesus' mother was a whore: “She who was the descendant of princes and governors played the harlot with carpenters.”

The divine appointment of the Theotokos is an example of the binary balance of authority among the biblical Hebrew.

Binary Balance of Authority and Narrative Representation

The social structure of the biblical Hebrew reflects that binary balance. It was neither matriarchal nor patriarchal. It was characterized by a balance of authority between males and females that is extraordinary in any age.

Binary balance is expressed in many features of the Hebrew social structure. There were male rulers and female rulers; male prophets and female prophets. Both males and females could inherit property and wealth. Consider the distinct duties and responsibilities of the mother's house (Ru. 1) versus the father's house (Gen. 38:11). Some Hebrew names honor a male ancestor and some honor a female ancestor.

In the Hebrew double unilineal descent pattern, both the patrilineage and the matrilineage are recognized and honored, but in different ways.

There is binary balance in the biblical narratives also. The blood symbolism of the Passover associated with Moses has a parallel in the blood symbolism of the scarlet cord associated with Rahab. Consider the two occasions when death passed over. Moses' people were saved when they put the blood of the lamb on the doors. Rahab's household was saved when she hung a scarlet cord from her window.

The abusive behavior of drunken Noah toward his sons has a parallel in the abusive behavior of drunken Lot toward his daughters. Their behavior causes trouble for their children. Noah curses his son and/or grandson. Lot impregnates his daughters.

Consider the gender distinction expressed between the oak and the palm. The male prophet at Mamre sat under a firm and upright oak, representing the masculine principle. Deborah sat under a date nut palm, representing the feminine principle.

In the stories of the Moreh’s oak and Deborah’s palm, we also find directional distinctions of a binary nature. The Moreh’s oak is located on an east-west axis between Ai and Bethel. Deborah’s palm is located on a north-south axis between Bethel and Ramah.

There is binary balance in the New Testament narratives also. At the presentation of Jesus in the Temple His identity as Messiah is affirmed by the priest Simeon and by the prophetess Anna. Jesus restored the widow of Nain's deceased son to his mother (Lk. 7:11-17). Jesus restored Jairus' deceased daughter to her father (Mk. 5:21-43).

The binary reasoning of the Bible involves recognition of fixed sets and the distinction between the entities in the set. In his commentary on the book of Genesis, Leon Kass notes, “Opposition is the key to the discovery of the distinction between error and truth.” (The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis, p. 238.)

In the Johannine writings the Church and the world are a binary set comprised of unequal entities. Because the Church belongs to the One who has overcome the world, the Church is the stronger entity of the set. 1 John 4:4 reminds us that, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”

Consider the implications of that reality. Persecution does not defeat the Church. Censorship does not silence the Church. His resurrection power is invincibly at work in us.

Now with a clearer understanding of the binary reasoning of the biblical writers, we may take up the implications for Christian morality.

Family life

Speaking of family life, the Anglican Divine Jeremy Taylor says that marriage is the seminary of the church which “daily brings forth sons and daughters unto God…Marriage is the mother of the world, and preserves kingdoms, and fills cities, and churches, and heaven itself!"

The Church opposes homosexuality and adultery equally because they destabilize families and societies. These have destabilized many local churches as well.

Gregory of Nyssa minimized the distinction between males and females, believing that we were created to become sexless angelic beings. However, most of the Church Fathers held the institution of marriage in high esteem and encouraged it for the procreation of children to be brought up in the Faith.

St. John Chrysostom observed a binary hierarchy in both family and church. He wrote, “Were there is equal authority, there never is peace. A household cannot be a democracy, ruled by everyone, but the authority must necessarily rest in one person. The same is true for the Church: when men are led by the Spirit of Christ, then there is peace. There were five thousand men in the Jerusalem church, and they were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they were subject to one another; this surely is an illustration of wisdom and godly fear. Notice, however, that Paul explains love in detail, comparing it to Christ’s love for the church and our love for our own flesh.”

Church life

Paul’s chain of command in 1 Corinthians chapter 11 reflects the biblical hierarchies. He explains, “the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” He also says that the head of the Church is Christ (Col. 1:18). Paul is not imposing hierarchy upon the Church. Rather, he wants the Church to reflect the divine order of creation.

Homosexuality, transvestism, and gender and species confusion oppose the order of creation and deny divine authority. The Triune God has a purpose for each person. Rebellion against His purpose brings gradual loss of the divine image. Therefore, those who oppose His authority are to be pitied and we are to humbly pray for them.

Christian Ethics

How does the binary reasoning of the Bible inform Christian ethics? Remember that biblical binary sets are comprised of two entities that are not equal. The Church and the world are not equal in power and glory. As we are joined by grace to the glory of the Almighty through our baptism, we become part of the stronger entity, the Church.

The weak of the world need our voices to defend them, our hands to help them, and our witness to give them hope.

In reference to abortion, we are to defend the defenseless and advocate for the unborn.

In reference to euthanasia, we seek to maintain space for God to work to the natural end.

In reference to the poor who Jesus declared the “least among us”, we are to provide their basic needs, encourage them, and treat them with dignity.

In reference to the sick whose weakness makes them vulnerable, we are to visit, offer prayer, anoint with oil, and encourage.

In reference to prisoners who can be set free by the Gospel, we are to visit, lead Bible studies, proclaim salvation, and encourage through counsel and prayer.

In reference to orphans and widows, we are to be their family, and the local parish is to be their home and a place of protection.

I conclusion, the binary reasoning of the Bible presents us with a clear picture of the Creator’s immutable authority to which the humble bow and against which the arrogant rail. The lawlessness and spiritual rebellion of our day is not a new development. The Apostles Paul, Peter, and John offer us appropriate warnings.

Writing in the second century, Irenaeus said we are to avoid heretics, “while cherishing with the utmost diligence the things pertaining to the Church, and to lay hold of the tradition of truth. . .. What if the apostles had not in fact left writings to us? Would it not be necessary to follow the order of tradition, which was handed down to those to whom they entrusted the churches?”

In 372, Bishop Basil of Caesarea wrote, “The teachings of the fathers are despised, the apostolic traditions are ignored, and the churches are filled with the inventions of innovators. The shepherds have been driven out, and in their place, they bring in ravening wolves to tear apart the flock of Christ.” (Epistula 9:2)

We should not be surprised that there is a crisis of authority in Anglicanism. Nor should we be discouraged that the world considers us weak. God exchanges our weakness for strength. We are regarded as foolish, but our wisdom is of God.

We hold fast the faith proclaimed by the Apostles and we uphold the authority of Scripture. When discouraged, we remember our Lord’s assurance: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Mt. 16:18)

He is the Lord of Life who was with God in the beginning. In him was life, and that life is the light of the world (Jn. 1:4). He said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Jn. 16:33)

Related reading: "What Does it Mean to Be Contrary to Nature?" by Dr. David Bradshaw

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