In thinking about the battle over LGBT equality threatening the worldwide Anglican Communion, I looked back at my Blogathon 2003 postings. At that time, the newspapers were filled with stories about the appointment of the Anglican Church’s first openly gay bishop — and his subsequent stepping-down (done in order to maintain denominational peace). That’, of course, was followed the very next year, by the consecration of The Communion’s first openly gay bishop who refused to step down. The US Episcopal Church’s promotion of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson to the post of Bishop of New Hampshire set off explosions that continue to this day. The story fills me still with great sadness and worry for the future of so-called representatives of Christ who loudly speak against GLBT people and their status before the Creator. Here is a fine analysis of the sad story from the UK’sGuardian dated July 12, 2003 that, reminds us of the cost of bigotry within religious denominations:
Call off the canon fire by Martyn Percy
Canon Jeffrey John’s withdrawal as Bishop of Reading is a major setback for the Church of England, and for the Anglican communion as a whole. He was, by any standards, an able and suited person for the appointment. He was, moreover, living within the guidelines laid down by the (arguably flawed) 1991 document, Issues In Human Sexuality.
But for some, his sexual abstinence was not enough. And in a series of unprecedented manoeuvres, Anglican bishops in England and from abroad united to scupper his consecration. At a stroke, powerful conservative forces have emasculated the historic power of appointment vested in a diocesan bishop, and set back the cause of inclusiveness and tolerance by decades.
I suspect that the victory conservative Christians feel they have
chalked up will be pyrrhic. For in pressurising Dr John to withdraw, the Church of England has failed to take note of the cultural change that has been gathering pace for several years. Instead of presenting a national church able to accommodate gay and lesbian people, it has shown a face of fear, ignorance and prejudice. Such a stance will not woo a nation back to church; it will alienate the young, and baffle all but the most hard-hearted.
To be sure, the “gay issue” argument is divisive. But it will not ever be settled by one side being vindicated as orthodox, and the other condemned as heretical. Every form of Christianity is an incarnate accommodation of culture; a creature of eternity – but living in time. There is no version of Christianity that is absolutely “pure”, nor has there ever been. Every type and expression of faith has its own local accent and customs. Thus was it always so – even in the New Testament. There have always been Christians who have been homosexual. They have been a small but significant part of the church since the beginning.
What conservative Christians find problematic is that many more people today want to be more open about their faith and sexuality they want to be in the church for who they are, not locked in the vestry closet.
Conservative Christians are also fighting against the world. The
tectonic plates of culture have shifted in the postwar era, and
homosexuality has moved from being a private vice – for which one could be imprisoned – to being an alternative lifestyle largely accepted in the public sphere. Conservative Christians want to resist culture at this very point, and by taking a stand in the church, they hope to teach the world a lesson.
But the current climate of tolerance, openness and hospitality is not something that Christians should be trying to reject. Of course, the Bible does encourage the church to be discerning – Christians are to turn away from sin and error. But the only absolute division that the New Testament ever calls for is between believers and non-believers. And as gay Christians are clearly believers, their sexuality is very much a second-order issue.
Conservative Christians who try to make it a key test of orthodoxy are on dangerous ground. Where will it all end? Going back to excluding remarried divorcees from communion? Ostracising anyone involved in money-lending? Stoning gay people, as Leviticus demands?
Plainly, the Bible does not speak evenly or unambiguously about sexuality. The few references that may refer to homosexuality – and it is a “may” – are opaque and problematic. And the texts themselves have a long history of not being consistently interpreted and applied. The church, too, has a long history of embodying this, mostly by adopting covert double standards.
It is surely time to relocate the debate within more central gospel themes – any who is without sin may cast the first stone; judge not, lest you be judged. These might do for starters. And in the period of quiet reflection that Rowan Williams has rightly called for, Christians may begin to learn to live with their differences.
. The Rev Canon Dr Martyn Percy is director of the Lincoln Theological Institute at the University of Manchester.
What a shame Anglicans and their conservative American bretheren did not heed Rev. Percy’s words. Darkness may be having a field day, but never forget that hope lives. Remember, Jesus said to love. Seems that’s the place to start — and love does not mean discrimination or diminishment.
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