Saturday, December 22, 2007

A point of clarification on conscience

Tim said in a comment "both sides in the current dispute claim to be [following their conscience], and yet you seem to be saying that somehow the 'conservative' side isn't doing it right - or, they're drawing the wrong conclusion from what they're hearing. I'm just not sure on what basis you make that judgement, Sam - because make no mistake, it is a judgement."

I think I need to expand on this, because I don't want to argue that holding the conservative position is necessarily against conscience - I don't believe that it is - I just think that one form of the conservative stance (possibly the dominant and most vocal one) seems unsupportable (that is, those who use this argument are precisely 'not doing it right').

I think there is a difference between these two positions (both forms of the conservative perspective):
1) the expression of homosexual desire is sinful; it is destructive of the soul and pernicious; and Scripture and tradition have unanimously taught us this from the beginning;
2) the expression of homosexual desire is contrary to Scripture, and therefore it is sinful, destructive of the soul and pernicious.

The first recognises some reality beyond itself, to which Scripture is a revelatory witness, and therefore implicitly recognises that IF it could be established that the expression of homosexual desire (in the context of permanent life-long union etc) were not sinful, destructive, pernicious etc THEN we would need to reinterpret Scripture. This I think is a position which is tenable and responsible and 'on the same playing field' as those who precisely want to argue that such a re-interpretation is right and of God. The community both for and against the change can thereby discuss what is right and true about Scripture and the expression of homosexuality and seek an understanding of God's will. This, I think, is the position that Rowan is defending.

The second, however, does not recognise anything outside of "Scripture"; which then becomes reified and absolutised. There is no place from which it is possible to argue that - for example - Scripture is silent on the specific subject being argued about (which is a view I am sympathetic towards). It's not possible to interpret Scripture creatively or in a new way. I see this approach as a) a breach with traditional forms of interpretation in and of itself and b) highly prone to subordination to political objectives. This seems to me to be the position adopted by a great many people in the debate, and I don't recognise it as defensibly Anglican. (It may be defensibly Christian, but of a non-Anglican sort).

As I see it, the more thoughtful and reflective conservatives are arguing option 1), and Rowan in particular is arguing it from a position (assuming he hasn't changed his mind) which doesn't agree with option 1) but is 'in the same ballpark'. That is, Rowan personally believes that our view of Scripture needs to change and develop, but that this change needs to be done in the right way - and he's now embedded in an argument for that right way being established (and he sees the establishment of that right way as being more important than the public acceptance of LGBT ministry). I'm sure that what Rowan would like to see is a) an establishment of the Windsor Covenant, followed by b) an endorsement by that covenanted community - at some point down the line - of the acceptability of LGBT relationships etc.

My problem is with the advocates of option 2) which have, from my perspective, an anachronistic, Modernist and idolatrous understanding of Scripture, ie I think they're fundamentalists. That's why my longer post was about 'The authority of Scripture' as such - it's independent of what position is held on the current dispute. It's possible to hold both a conservative position and to hold that view of Scripture. It's also possible - of course - that I've got it wrong. But that's why the blog is so useful - I can rely on people pointing out errors of fact and logic in my position!!

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