It seems that we are on the brink of another Lambeth Conference. I heard that it was coming up and vaguely noted to myself that I should mark the date and start paying attention. But it is all so deadly boring.
What a difference a decade makes. For Lambeth 2008, I was on the scene in Canterbury, fresh from the first Gafcon meeting in Jerusalem. Hopes that the Communion might still rally, that orthodoxy might somehow still win the day were sinking but had not yet been utterly smothered beneath the waves of good disagreement.
In the weeks leading up to the conference, I had taken up the argument that orthodox bishops ought not attend Lambeth since bishops from the Episcopal Church were also in attendance. Meeting with them as colleagues would communicate that the disagreement over sexuality, while serious, is an in-house dispute between brothers in Christ; that a bishop can promote, bless, and even engage in same-sex sexual relationships and still be a Christian brother and minister.
Setting aside briefly the question of biblical obedience, one of my greatest concerns was (and remains) the same-sex attracted Christians who would observe the discussions. When one is caught up in a particular sin, the desire to self justify is great. Consider, for example, the person who loves to drink more than he should, for whom moderation is a terrible struggle. If there were to arise a group of leaders within the church who questioned the biblical injunctions against drunkenness, who strongly argued that these proscriptions had to do only with drunkenness in the specific context of pagan worship and not inebriation in general and certainly not in the context of a caring Christian community, the lover of inebriation would find such arguments appealing. If leaders he respects and trusts were to treat those who make such arguments as “Christian leaders” or “believers who offer a different perspective”, he would be encouraged to believe that the matter is adiaphora, non-essential, a matter about which Christians might in good faith disagree. Why should I stop myself from getting drunk when all of my leaders, even those who oppose it, believe that this is a behavior that Christians in good standing can engage in and still be considered Christians in good standing?
Human sexuality is not an area of indifference. Sexual immorality is unique among sins since it represents the desecration of bodies designed to be tabernacles for the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:12-20). Homosexual sin, apart from repentance, will prevent entry into the Kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:9). To teach otherwise is to lead the Lord’s little ones into sin. Of such teachers, Jesus says that it would be better for them to drown themselves than to face the day of Judgement (Mark 9:42).
The way orthodox Christian leaders engage with teachers/leaders who promote such things can blur the line between essential and non-essential, heresy and orthodoxy, matters of freedom and destructive/divisive sin, the lies of hell and heavenly truth. This is why the New Testament is clear that when we are dealing with those who profess to be Christian leaders but who teach what is contrary to the scriptures, we cannot acquiesce to their desire/demand that we affirm their profession. Texts such as 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, Galatians 1:6-10, and 2 John 9-11 make this principle plain. The authorial intent behind these warnings is not narrow-minded meanness, but love for sinners and a desire to preserve the integrity of the Church and the Gospel.
Compromise on human sexuality has all but killed the orthodox witness in The Episcopal Church. Once the majority of Communion Partner bishops agreed to treat those who promote same-sex blessings/marriages as fellow Christian ministers, the game was up. That then left them no coherent basis upon which to refuse access to blessings and “marriage” for same-sex couples in their dioceses and no foundation for blocking the ordination and consecration of men and women in same-sex relationships. If you accept the assertion that it is possible for genuine Christian leaders to engage in and promote these things without departing from the Faith, then who are you to deny access to them based on your personal preference?
“For years I have claimed the mantle of a conservative evangelical. In the divisions over human sexuality in the 1990s and early 2000s, you would have found me in the ‘traditional’ camp. As a student of the Bible and the tradition of the Church, I could not (and still cannot) affirm the decisions to support same-sex marriage, or to ordain any person who is sexually active outside of traditional marriage, regardless of their orientation. From my more liberal and progressive friends (and they were friends), I got eye-rolls and patronizing patience, indicating that perhaps someday, with age and wisdom, I would ‘come around.’ Since those days, things have changed. I have gay friends. I have gay friends, some of whom are clergy. There are members of my parish who are gay and married and have brought their children along. While I still do not perform same-sex marriages, when I’m asked by gay members who desire one, I help them to find a priest and a parish who will. After their marriage, the couple are warmly recognized at our parish — for who they are, not for who they are not. I now believe that many of the gay couples I have come to know and love have found a life-partner who brings them companionship and intimacy. For those who seek — and find — the Church’s blessing in that, I can even support their decision as an alternative to my own.”
And there it is. The New Testament describes these relationships as damning to those who engage in them. But Fr. Levenson, who will not perform the ceremonies himself (yet), helps members of his flock find priests who will, and this under the guise of love and friendship.
Fr. Levenson has apparently come to his position without coercion. After the 2018’s General Convention and the passage of Resolution B012, otherwise orthodox bishops in The Episcopal Church must follow suit or face ecclesial discipline.
Resolved, That where diocesan canons or bishops exercising ecclesiastical authority do not authorize the use of these liturgies for persons of the same sex, congregations may request, and when requesting shall receive delegated episcopal pastoral oversight (DEPO) by a bishop of this Church who shall provide access to these liturgies, as permitted by civil law
Tellingly, only one, Bishop Love of Albany, has stood his ground and now faces censure or deposition for his courage. The Communion Partner bishops who you might expect to stand with him or at the least speak out boldly against his accusers and vigorously in his defense, bleat supinely that Bishop Love has been mistreated while compliantly assisting in the destruction of souls and bodies under their care, arranging their “marriages” and ordinations. It is all rather sordid. “Hireling”, I think, is the biblical appellation applicable to such men.
The Communion as a whole has, likewise, embraced a similar compromise under the leadership of Justin Welby who has used the influence of his office along with the wealth of deceased Episcopalians, to induce orthodox primates and bishops to participate in a drawn-out listening process (called “indaba”) with their heterodox opposites. The effect of which has been, whether orthodox participants acknowledge it, to legitimize the ministry of those who call evil good and to “adiaphorize” a teaching that damns.
In past years, I have looked with sympathy upon those bishops who, feeling the burden of Canterburian pressure and the dire need for money alongside, no doubt, genuine but misplaced desires for reconciliation, have buckled under the weight and decided to attend. My sympathy wanes. These are men under orders, whose Master has commanded them not to go and yet they go. These are men to whom many struggling with deadly temptation look for guidance and help. These are men to whom God has given the cure of souls. “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers,” James with good reason warns, “for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”
This plague bacillus has now lept from Anglican realms into the broader evangelical world. I thought at one time that the tumultuous defeat and tyrannical silencing of orthodoxy within the Episcopal Church and other Anglican Communion provinces might serve as a warning to the wider Christian world not to give an inch to those demanding “conversation.” That now seems to be a wildly optimistic thought. There are some even in the Anglican Church in North America who have not learned the lesson. I still hold out perhaps vain hope that evangelicals will recognize the horrible cost of compromise but it seems that the siren’s song is, for some, too great. It may be that this is one of those terrible but redemptive moments when the Lord sifts his Church, separating the wheat from the chaff, when numbers decline but faith increases.