Tuesday, August 09, 2005

My present thoughts on the pressing issue

On the question of homosexual clergy, same-sex blessings etc, my mind is not fully made up. I tend to be influenced by the most recent thing I have read, but slowly some things are tending to solidify. So I thought I’d set out some propositions, which represent my present thoughts – all of which are more or less subject to modification as time goes on.

1. The Anglican tradition does not accept sola scriptura. Scripture is the supreme authority, but mediated by the tradition of the church and our own reason. The church has the authority to amend the teaching of Scripture. The prototype for this is Acts 11, but modern examples would be the abolition of slavery and the acceptance of women’s ministry. Therefore it seems to me that the church has the capacity to change the inherited tradition on this question.

2. Whilst there is room for a little ambiguity with particular passages, the uniform voice of the tradition taken as a whole is that a) sexual behaviour should be restricted to the context of marriage between a man and a woman; b) that rectal intercourse is a sin.

3. Covenants between members of the same sex have a Scriptural basis (1 Sam 20 16+17) and have been frequently practiced in the Christian tradition, eg in medieval monasteries. I think it is a live question whether it is permissible for such covenants to be sexual.

4. I think that much discussion of this issue is bedevilled by an equation of, firstly, a person with the label ‘homosexual’, and secondly an identification of ‘homosexual’ with ‘one who practices rectal intercourse’. The first of those I see as anti-Christian, the second I think is a simple mistake. I think it coherent to maintain 2b) above, yet not see that as a knock-down objection to widening 2a) to include the ‘faithful, committed, long-term, covenant partnerships between members of the same sex’. I am assured by medical colleagues that in fact 2b) is more common in heterosexual relationships than homosexual. I also wonder, at the end of the day, just how important a sin is it? On a par with smoking?

5. ECUSA have moved forward in accordance with their statutes etc, as accepted by the Windsor report. What they have not done is respect the wishes of the wider communion. There is therefore a legitimate question of authority, which we are presently working through. Yet those who seem most vocal in attacking ECUSA’s stance seem also to reject 1. above. Despite their disregard for their fellowship in the communion, therefore, ECUSA seem more recognisably Anglican than the more extreme voices ranged against them.

6. I expect the Communion to split. I expect there to be a new conservative evangelical (Anglican-derived) communion centred with +Akinola. I expect the CofE as a whole to remain in communion with ECUSA.

7. I’d rather be in a church which welcomed gay people than one that didn’t. I have worked alongside many gay people, clerical and lay, and enjoyed working with them. I don’t see this as an issue on which communion should be broken.

8. I may well be wrong on all of this. Fortunately I believe in a God of Grace, so I don’t have to earn my way to heaven.

The best books I have read on the topic are:
A Question of Truth, Gareth Moore OP
Strangers and Friends, Michael Vasey
Faith Beyond Resentment, James Alison

- in other words, the testimonies of three gay priests. I think, most of all, the church must take seriously the command to listen, and their voices would be a good place to start.

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