Straddling the Divide
Parliament in the UK is currently considering a government proposal to legalize same sex marriage. You may have read some of the debate coming from members of the Church of England. What you may not realize is the debate by the bishops is just not banter back and forth among clergy. They are actually members of Parliament. Here’s how the CoE describes their duties:
Their presence in the Lords is an extension of their general vocation as bishops to preach God’s word and to lead people in prayer. Bishops provide an important independent voice and spiritual insight to the work of the Upper House and, while they make no claims to direct representation, they seek to be a voice for all people of faith, not just Christians.[ Emphasis added]
The newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury recently gave a speech on the proposed legislation. Here is an excerpt from his speech:
It is clearly essential that stable and faithful same sex relationships should, where those involved want it, be recognised and supported with as much dignity and the same legal effect as marriage. Although the majority of Bishops who voted during the whole passage of the Civil Partnerships Act through your Lordships’ House were in favour of civil partnerships a few years ago, it is also absolutely true that the church has often not served the LGBT communities in the way it should. I must express my sadness and sorrow for that considerable failure. There have been notable exceptions, such as my predecessor Archbishop Ramsey who vigorously supported decriminalisation in the 1960s. [Emphasis added.]
My struggle begins with the concept of the ABC declaring it as essential for same sex relationships to be recognized and supported. He is not arguing against same sex marriage simply that it needs be have its own path. Equal yet separate. The ABC did not say, “Despite the fact that non-celibate same sex relationships are contrary to Scripture, the secular world has elected to embrace them and we must therefore find a way to protect traditional marriage.” Instead, he called them worthy of recognition and support. Possibly he means this in a secular context but that is not what he said or ardently advocated.
We on the orthodox side of this argument are not here because we like being called ugly names or because we have some deep seated dislike of homosexuals. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are here solely because we believe that Scripture is our foundation. Scripture is the sole basis for our Christology. If it fails, all fails. We have begged for years for theology to support the position that same sex relationships are blessed by God. None has been forthcoming although many liberal theologians have done mighty acts of verbal gymnastics to wish away the words of Scripture. When pressed, most of the pro-LGBT crowd will admit that it was emotions that brought them to support the change in their thinking. Human feelings. The oh so fallible and changing emotions of mankind.
Supporters of the ABC are adamant that his words are being misconstrued. We are urged to read carefully and not project into what he is saying. Unfortunately, the only way his statements can be construed to fall within the orthodox position is if one misconstrues them. The ABC is clearly arguing that same sex relationships are (1) good (2) something worthy of recognition and support and (3) the church was in error in its handling of non-celibate same sex relationships in the past. Even if he meant this as only in a secular context, how can the church declare a relationship as good and worthy of recognition and support in the secular world and still be outside the acceptance of the church?
Peter Ould (twin brother of our very own David Ould) recently defended the ABC’s comments in a friendly debate over at T19. Peter is someone I respect and find myself in agreement with most of the time. Unfortunately, we do not agree on this issue. He seems to sum up the issue as Gay relationships are here - deal with it. Minimize the damage and work toward a solution that doesn’t “marry” it to traditional marriage. That’s a great argument from a secular point of view. Unfortunately, this is not a secular debate. It is one that will impact not just the Anglican Church but the Church Universal. The primary duty of bishops is to be shepherds of the flock of God - not mediators brought in to reconcile God’s Word to the secular world.
Peter Ould defended the ABC’s position by positing that good can come of same sex relationships because the parties within them are capable of doing good things. His example was the sacrificial caring for a dying partner. Does that make the relationship good and worthy? Does an act or a million good acts of kindness redeem a relationship that falls outside the parameters of God’s laws? No, it means that even the most debased among us are capable of decent acts. An axe murderer can pull an elderly woman from in front of a bus. A thief can donate money to the poor. All decent acts - even worthy acts. Does it, however, have anything to do with the core issue? If all pedophiles suddenly ban together and open shelters that provide warm beds, nourishing food and good education for children, do we then consider it essential to consider the practice of their sexual preference as worthy of recognition and support?
You seem to both be living in a fantasy world where with a snap of our fingers we can turn back time to the point where homosexuality was illegal and we could just all tell derogatory jokes about “poofs”. Life isn’t that simple - we live with the complexities of the modern world and the best way to defend traditional marriage isn’t to wish away the assault on it but rather to establish Civil Partnerships and then to address why they are fundamentally different to marriage.
Peter’s perspective is quite understandable. He wants to limit the damage to marriage. Don’t we all? The problem is that the
Communion chose to avoid taking the necessary steps of discipline when its liberal counterparts in the US and Canada encouraged the secular world to move the line and embrace that which God did not. They chose Anglican Fudge instead and we are all paying the price. Archbishop Welby cannot now think that he can straddle the divide and all will be well. We cannot “undo” this failure by further fudging If the CoE and the Anglican Communion are interested in saving traditional marriage, they need to do what should have been done a long time ago. We need to lovingly remind the world that Scripture is not made of modeling clay and is, in fact, our firm foundation. The Anglican Communion cannot continue to lay claim to holding Scripture as its foundation while ignoring it.
A second speech given by the Bishop of Leicester contained some excellent points that reiterated reasons why same sex marriage can never be the same as traditional marriage. Here he discusses complementarism:
I could not help noticing in the debate in this House on International Women’s Day the underlying assumption that women bring a special quality to the public square and that the complementarity of men and women is what enriches and stabilises society. Yet, in the realm of public discourse, assertion of sexual difference in relation to marriage has become practically unspeakable, in spite of the fact that it is implicitly assumed by most people in the course of everyday life. Equal marriage will bring to an end the one major social institution that enshrines that complementarity.
An excellent argument but it fails without the full theology behind it. It is only one aspect of why the bible is specific that non-celibate same sex relationships are not blessed. Piecemealing the theology is a trap waiting to spring. Where will the good bishop go when the issue of blessing incest comes to the forefront? It is a good analogy for this discussion because one of Peter’s questions was to ask if we want to go back to the days of making a relationship illegal. Just for the record Incest is illegal in the UK. Enforcement includes incarceration.
If the goal is “equality” based on sexual preference, why would the church seek to punish certain groups? Is it because the secular world is lagging behind in recognizing certain sexual preferences? How long do you think that will last?
Using human reasoning, it is difficult to defend discriminating against certain relationships. Aren’t the people in relationships like the ones linked above capable of doing good deeds and exhibiting good qualities? Does that make their sexual relationship good and worthy of recognition and support? It makes one wonder if advocates have really thought through the slippery slope argument. Nothing good ever comes of substituting man’s judgment for God’s. Worst yet, what damage is being done to those who are being given pat answers and encouraged to continue in a relationship that Scripture does not condone? What advice are these clergy giving to those who come to them for issues involving other, currently taboo, sexual relationships?
The time for debate is over. The last General Convention for the American branch made this a huge issue for us in the states. We are already seeing bishops who gave lip service to their dioceses now implement these ceremonies. The Diocese of Upper South Carolina immediately comes to mind. How long will these bishops protect the orthodox within their dioceses? Reliable sources in the Diocese of Louisiana have confided that the meeting the bishop called to discuss same sex blessings had little to do with discussion and a lot to do with shut up, sit down and listen to how it is going to be. Now that they have the draconian Title IV disciplinary procedures, exactly how long do you give orthodox clergy?
It is really not complicated. The Archbishop of Canterbury needs to quit acting like a politician. Speak clearly and plainly. If he believes Scripture allows non-celibate same sex relationships, he needs to clearly say so. There should be no doubt in the minds of the membership as to where he, the Anglican Communion and the Church of England stand on the issue. There is no Solomonic decision to be made here. The ABC cannot straddle the divide. He needs to let his yes be yes and his no be no. And so do we Anglicans as well as the leadership in the Communion. We must not stand silently by or condone prevarication or sidestepping as we did with his predecessor. Should we choose that path, then the Anglican Communion will soon join the Episcopal Church on its way to total insignificance.
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