Anglican Church shaken by gay debate

Posted by Kendall Harmon

For traditionalists, the real problem is how these liberals see the Bible: man-made, sometimes helpful. But to traditionalists the Bible is divinely inspired; it is God communicating with humanity. To them the homosexuality debate, though important, is just a symptom; the disease is a misunderstanding about the authority of Scripture.

While the traditionalists see it as a matter of truth and fidelity, for liberals it is a matter of justice and human rights. God loves all alike, they say, and quote Paul's letter to Galatians that for Christians "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus".

Each side would rather go its own way than compromise and keep the Anglican Church together. The topic goes to the core of how churches relate to the wider culture in which they live. The sexuality debate pits the African Anglicans, now the biggest group in the church, against the Americans, who are the richest.

American culture is deeply concerned with individual rights, which shape how even churches deal with moral questions. African culture is more communitarian, shaped by tribal structures, and more authoritarian.

After the Americans appointed a gay man, Gene Robinson, bishop of New Hampshire in 2004 many African churches broke off relations.

That really made it a political problem for church leaders, such as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams: how could they keep the church together?

As with any global political dispute, it's a mixture of principle, posturing and pragmatic politics on all sides, of complex motivations, divided loyalties and shifting agendas.

For example, the Africans who led the opposition to the American liberals have been influenced not only by theological conviction but by cultural misunderstandings and colonial resentment. It's rather a thrill to tell the Americans where to get off.

So there have been international meetings and committees, and the US church has agreed to partly withdraw. Dr Williams has probably bought enough time to stop the church self-destructing before the 10-yearly meeting of the world's bishops in London next year, which will reassess the situation.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal- Anglican: AnalysisAnglican ProvincesAnglican Church of AustraliaSexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion)* TheologyTheology: Scripture

5 Comments
Posted May 29, 2007 at 4:02 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Timothy Fountain wrote:

In some ways, it’s a storm in a teacup. The Nigerian church and the Ugandan church may refuse to talk to the American church or the Canadian church, and that saddens all Christians. But in all those countries, Anglican life will continue much as before. People will still go to church on Sundays, worship God and try to be faithful Christians.

He doesn’t seemed to have looked at any markers of church attendance, aging or anything else.  Things will not go on as before in the dying provinces.

May 29, 5:14 pm | [comment link]
2. Jon wrote:

Very good point from Timothy (#1).  In a similar vein, the article is weak (especially in its closing paragraph) by failing to explore the depth of the theological divide.  It isn’t just about how one reads scripture, but about bishops and priests and prominent Episcopalian authors (Borg, etc.) who (quite apart from sexual morality) no longer believe the basic faith : no original sin, no atonement, no Empty Tomb, no Devil, no afterlife.  It is true that there are reappraisers who are deeply orthodox on every issue of traditional Christian belief except gay sexuality—but they are a small minority in that camp.

May 29, 5:27 pm | [comment link]
3. Jon wrote:

The thing I found most striking is this journalist’s characterization of traditional Christianity as one in which our inner disposition is free from sin and does not stand under judgement—that only our exterior actions are condemned by God.  He describes traditionalists as:

“... those Christians who say homosexual acts are always wrong - and it is the act, not the orientation, they condemn….”

He’s right in a way.  That view—that what matters to God is a man’s actions, not his inner state—is very common.  It is part of most people’s religion.  It just doesn’t have anything with Christianity.  It certainly has nothing to do with the Sermon on the Mount, in which our Lord explicitly rejects it, or with Paul’s diagnosis of the human condition in Romans. 

I’d be happier with this piece if the author exhibited some familiarity with the very thing we had a Reformation over: the idea that it is our very inner selves (all of us) that need saving; that our outward works “advance us not but rather hinder us” (Luther) and that (amazing grace!) this Jesus loves even such a sinner as me and died so that I might be His.

The problem we Reformation types have with the gay lobby in TEC is not they are bound in some particular sin, since the church was made precisely for sinners; nor is our problem that a particular gay person might be continuing to sin, since we are all continuing recidivistic sinners and where would we be if not for the blood of Christ?  Our problem is that the gay lobby is dealing with this by asking the church to revise the Law itself.  Jesus manifestly loved whores and tax collectors and all sorts of people—what there is zero evidence he did is teach that prostitution or extortion or graft were things for which we needed special ceremonies of blessing.

May 29, 6:00 pm | [comment link]
4. Tom Roberts wrote:

#3 The Age, and I recall this particular reporter doing so before, has tried to obfusticate this issue repeatedly in the past. The last time I recollect The Age writing up a puff piece on one of the out-of-the-closet fellows in Melbourne and how the local church found it so charming, despite the bishop not being particularly happy. So Swartz can depict the Aus Anglicans as one big happy family, and ignore the actual differences in leadership between Aus, the US, and the Global South. I found his depiction of African motives as being anticolonial, in this particular instance, intellectually feeble.

May 29, 8:01 pm | [comment link]
5. Deja Vu wrote:

As with any global political dispute, it’s a mixture of principle, posturing and pragmatic politics on all sides, of complex motivations, divided loyalties and shifting agendas.

For example, the Africans who led the opposition to the American liberals have been influenced not only by theological conviction but by cultural misunderstandings and colonial resentment. It’s rather a thrill to tell the Americans where to get off.

Why this example? Why not:
For example, the LGBT lobby who led the opposition to the Orthodox have been influenced not only by theological conviction but by cultural misunderstandings and elitist resentment. It’s rather a thrill to tell those that they percieve are less educated and culturally backward where to get off.

In fact, many priests are gay, and a couple have been brave enough to come out.

Why “brave”? Why not:
In fact, many priests are gay, and a couple have been insensitve enough of the feelings of the wider communion to come out.

In some ways, it’s a storm in a teacup. The Nigerian church and the Ugandan church may refuse to talk to the American church or the Canadian church, and that saddens all Christians.

Why “saddens all”? Why not:
The Nigerian church and the Ugandan church may refuse to talk to the American church or the Canadian church, and the LGBT lobby proclaims their hurt feelings while Orthodox Christians give thanks for strong leadership.

May 29, 8:30 pm | [comment link]
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