26 March 2010

The HOB report on same-gender relationships

The Same-Sex Relationship in the Church, the report presented at the spring meeting of the college of bishops of The Episcopal Church has been released.

The "report" is actually two reports - not exactly what was requested by the bishops. There is the "conservative" report and the "liberal" report. Both contain the same tired information.

The conservatives have tackled the issue using the usual clobber verses. But their report is not all exactly what one would expect it to be. They surprise me at times. Consider the following.
We realize that many leaders of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada see [same-gender relationships] as the kind of litmus test of moral sensitivity and courage. Slavery was such an issue in the early nineteenth century in the England of Wilberforce, and remained an issue much longer for leaders in the United States. And there have been social and reform movements, such as women’s rights, the rights of workers to safety and minimum wages, not to mention the civil rights movement of the 1960s, when many in the Episcopal Church were socially conservative, protective of the prerogatives of the establishment and of men in power, and thus hesitant to join a movement which seemed to have unwelcome social and political features, and where it seemed easier and more “prudent” to wait.

We believe that there are a number of Episcopal bishops in 2009 who may well have some conservative reservations about moving ahead with same-sex marriage, and are sensitive to the considerations listed above; and yet they lend their support to revisionism, perhaps because they are afraid of being like the two Episcopal bishops in Alabama in 1963 who joined with six other local churchmen in writing an open letter to Martin Luther King, Jr., criticizing him for disobeying established laws and for not having patience to wait for change in civil rights to develop gradually and naturally. We believe that many of our leaders would have done well to be more hesitant on moving forward on the issue of same-sex marriage, however. At the heart of our position is the conviction that the issue of same-sex marriage simply cannot be put in the same category as other social issues on which Anglicans and Christians in general have changed their mind. We do not believe that acceptance of gay and lesbian marriage fits neatly into some narrative of successive liberation movements that emancipated serfs, slaves, child laborers, blacks, and now homosexual couples.

When we consider some of the moral issues on which the Church (speaking broadly) has changed its thinking and practices over the centuries, what emerges is not so much a general pattern as the more difficult requirement to consider the rationale for change in an issue-by-issue fashion, and not on the basis of some template of “progress.” Such issues as slavery, capital punishment, usury, divorce, just war, the role of women in society, and (more particularly) the ordination of women to office in the church, as well as others, need to be analyzed and thought through on both biblical and philosophical lines. This takes some careful work, as each issue has its own rationale, pattern of biblical material and its interpretation, and its own distinctive relationship to science and philosophy. When this is done, the case for same-sex marriage does not have the same kind of biblical support and philosophical rationale as women’s ordination and a moderate divorce policy have, for example p.7 [All emphasis added]
I found that quote interesting for a number of reasons. They must acknowledge that the church does change its teaching and not only ignores tradition and scripture (and provide examples of such change). But by doing so, they prove that they ignore both tradition and scripture in doing so. And, frankly, there is far less "justification" for women's ordination in scripture than for prohibiting same-gender marriage. To "moderate divorce policy" requires blatantly and flagrantly disregarding not just scripture as a whole, but Jesus' own explicit statement on the subject.

Yes, the Anglican Communion is still protective of the prerogatives of the establishment and of men in power. The report goes on to blame liberals for diluting the gospel (which gospel, one must wonder):
Conservatives also share the scepticism voiced by non-western church leaders about the agenda of modern liberals, because so often the attitudes toward a revision of traditional views of sex and marriage are linked with liberal views of biblical authority, theological heterodoxy, and a general tendency to water down the basis and nature of Christian attitudes and way of life. This would generate a Christianity that, by not being counter-cultural enough, becomes unfaithful to the Gospel. p 8
It was liberals who gave those men in power the permission to divorce wives even while the wives were in hospital with catastrophic illnesses. But, that benefited the men in power, therefore, that liberal watering down of the gospel was praiseworthy.

The one argument against same-gender relationships that is the most ludicrous is this:
The testimony of a homosexual Anglican in England who is not at all convinced that homosexual relationships are pleasing to God, writes candidly, “I know many Anglicans (including leaders) with a homosexual orientation, but seeking celibacy, who have said privately they will feel betrayed if the Church of England changes its traditional viewpoint on homosexuality. Some say they already feel tempted to leave the Church of England. p 38
Using this logic, it was wrong to abolish slavery because some slaves accepted the "accepted biblical teaching" that slavery was their "cross to bear" - abolition betrayed them. It was wrong to allow divorce because some married people accepted the traditional teaching as their "cross to bear" - allowing divorce betray them.

On the other hand, it is perfectly acceptable, yea morally correct to betray the millions (yes, there are millions) of homosexual members of the Anglican Communion to avoid betraying the few who accept an unscientific view that homosexuality is a "disorder" or accept the medieval teaching that same-gender contact is the worst possible sin.

The report makes much of the genetics of same-gender attraction. I refer you to Gay Married Californians which began a series on the genetics of homosexuality by our blog friend, IT, who knows the subject far better than those who presented the conservative report to the HOB.

One interesting observation about the genetics is this: If homosexuality is a disorder, then it is not a choice, and, therefore, cannot be a sin any more than acne, arthritis, or asthma is a sin.

But the "liberals" do not win, either. Their report is sadly lacking in both theology and biblical exegesis. The "liberal" report takes as its basis the Marriage Rite from the Book of Common Prayer. They do use biblical passages to support their position, but their arguments are not as strong as the former group's arguments.

The real heart of the matter, as the report acknowledges is this:
In order to understand the church’s mission to same-sex couples, we must understand the church’s mission to those with whom Paul (or his rival) associated same-sex desire: the Gentiles.

This procedure enjoys several advantages. It reminds us that the passages in Hebrew Scripture that refer to same-sex sexual activity (Gen 19:5; Lev 18:22 and 20:13 of which the Genesis passage does not refer to desire but to rape) have the same shape as those that Romans treats: they characterize Gentiles. It helps to restore all these passages to the canon of Scripture, from which contemporary embarrassment had banished them. It does that by restoring these passages to their place in a larger and more important topic: the salvation of many nations worked by God. p 62 [Emphasis added]
I've been saying this for decades: as far as the biblical authors were concerned, same-gender contact was "a Gentile thing" to be avoided at all costs because those people did it and we are not those people. That's the same as a mother prohibiting her children from playing with or eating the ethnic food of a neighbour because "we are not like those people."

According to the Rt. Rev'd Henry Parsley, Jr., chair of the theology committee,
The purpose of this project is not to create a new consensus or make a recommendation to the church. It is rather to express as fully as possible two contrasting theological views, both rooted in the teaching of the church and in Holy Scripture, in order that we might listen to and learn from both sides of the debate.
We killed the evangelism budget and funded a report to tell us what we have known for at least ten years - that there are two opinions and never the twain shall meet. There isn't one word in this report that any of us could not have written. It's much ado about nothing and a waste of time, ink and money. OCICBW.

Episcopal Life has an article that's worth reading as does The Lead. The Christan Post has an interesting article, too.