Sunday, March 25, 2007

Gays, Lesbians and the Episcopal Church

Since I worship at an Episcopal Church, it seems apt to start this blog with a comment on the current battle occurring in the Episcopal Church over inclusion of gays and lesbians as full members of the church body. It appears that a schism--of the entire Anglican Communion and of the Episcopal Church itself--may be in the works as a result of this issue. I have views on this issue, and will comment on them at greater length in a later post, but it seems to me that the larger issue is why it is THIS issue that threatens to split the Anglican Communion. After all, the issue of the church's views of the morality of same sex relationships, as important as it may be, is hardly central to the Christian faith. It has nothing to do with the divinity of Christ, the reality of the resurrection, or the meaning of the Eucharist. Oddly, however, the Anglican Community has tolerated wildly divergent beliefs on each of these issues. And the Communion did not split over the decision to allow women to be ordained as priests in the Episcopal Church.

To put this more personally, I worship at a church with a tradition of full inclusion of gay and lesbian members whose priest is in line with the majority view within the Episcopal Church on these issues. Yet, when my wife and I recently worshiped at St. Mathews Cathedral in Dallas, a church in a diocese with a decidedly different point of view, we were struck with how "at home" we felt in this congregation. The liturgy was the same, the congregation was quite welcoming, and even the sermon was consistent with what my wife and I believe. Nothing essential was apparently lost by the difference of opinion over the morality of same gender relationships in these two congregations.

One of the strengths of the Episcopal Church, and the larger Anglican Communion, has always been the fact that it tolerated a wide variety of theological views and backgrounds. The result has been positive--the Anglo-Catholics among us had much to learn from the Evangelicals, and vice versa. In addition, much like the federal government system allows States to act as "laboratories of democracy" by allowing states to experiment with public policy ideas, the diversity in the Anglican Communion allows parts of the Church to test whether new ideas are indeed the works of the Holy Spirit. For example, the Episcopal Church was among the first in the Communion to ordain women as priests. I think that the fruits of this experiment have evidenced the work of the Holy Spirit, and other parts of the Communion have since begun the same practice.

The question, therefore, is why the Communion (and several Diocese within the Episcopal Church) are unwilling to tolerate diversity of beliefs on same sex relationships. After all, a congregation that does accept gays in the priesthood does not have to call one, and the Episcopal Church has learned to respect the decision of Bishops who decline to ordain women as priests.

I think several factors may be coming into play. Perhaps, the fact that homosexuality as a secular cultural issue, even apart from its religious doctrinal importance, is driving up the salience of homosexuality as a faith issue within the church. This is certainly true in several African Churches where abhorrence of homosexuality transcends religious boundaries, but I think this is true in the United States today as well. There is a larger culture war in this country (and the world at large) on the issue of same sex relationships, and the passions of the debate outside our church are sadly increasing the importance of this issue within our church.

I also think the theological issue of same sex relationships has become the issue too far for many conservatives within the Church. My wife and I have a friend who worships at Falls Church (which recently left the Church), and this is how she articulates her decision to support her congregation's decision. And this view was recently expressed by the author of this op-ed.

Digg!

13 comments:

Hansonius said...

"For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body." Eph. 5:23

Paul having written that, how can you claim "after all, the issue of the church's views of the morality of same sex relationships, as important as it may be, is hardly central to the Christian faith?"

Does the nature of the church and the way it is to be understood not count as central?

Chuck Blanchard said...

Hansonius:

Thanks for your comment on my blog. It was my first, and is deeply appreciated. I guess I have several responses to your question. First, in Eph. 5:23, Paul is offering a metaphor that his readers would understand to explain the nature of the church. He chose the marriage relationship between a man and a women because that was a relationship well understood by his readers. There is no evidence that either Paul or his readers were aware of long-term same sex committed relationships, and therefore it would make no sense for Paul to broaden this metaphor.

Second, just because Paul chose the marriage metaphor to explain the nature of the chuch implies nothiong about whether a modern same sex committed relationship might not also be an apt metaphor as well. Of course, given what Paul wrote elsewhere, it is highly doubtful that Paul would agree, but the important point is that our understanding of Christ's relationship to his Church is simply not affected by the separate understanding of the sinfulness of same sex relationships. On this point, it is worth pointing out that in Eph. 5:23, Paul is NOT focused on the sexual nature of the marriage relationship, and the sexual nature of marriage does not play a role in the metaphor. Finally, as I will ultimately explore in a latter posting, I think we need to explore the cultural context in which Paul discussed same sex relationships. In sum, I think that one can fully emrace Paul's discussion of the nature of the Church without forming an opinion about same sex relationships. It is thus not central to the more important claims of the christian faith. after all, if it were, why is it not discussed in either the Nicene or Apostles' Creed.

Hansonius said...

I appreciate your thoughtful response.

Let me quote further from Ephesians: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a profound mystery — but I am talking about Christ and the church. Eph. 5:31-32

You call the husband-wife relationship a "metaphor" for Christ and the church; Paul calls it a "mystery." If it's a metaphor then it's a rhetorical device meant to help the reader, as you say. Broadening the metaphor to include same-sex relationships would have confused the listeners of that illiberal culture.

If it's a "mystery," though, it must be more than a rhetorical device. It is a comparison that is meant to instruct his readers in the mysterious nature of the Church. Broadening the metaphor would distort the teaching.

You rightly point out that homosexual relationships are not mentioned in the major creeds. One of Christianity's "centers" that you mentioned, the Eucharist, is not mentioned either. Why? Because the creeds are historical documents and were produced to meet the theological needs of the moment. Homosexual relationships did not generate the controversy then that they do now.

Why? Perhaps they took the opening chapters of Genesis more seriously than we do now. Perhaps they realized the connection between the marriage bond and children in way we stubbornly deny.

I am no fundamentalist. Paul's word, though, is not "metaphor" and he seems to be taking the male-female nature of marriage as a given. No?

Chuck Blanchard said...

Hansonius:

Thanks for your thoughtful response to my comment. I hope the tone and quality of your comments reflect the other comments that I receive on this new blog.

I plan a larger posting sometime in the near future on the Pauline comments about same gender relationships, so I'll try to save most of my thoughts for that later posting. I think that Pauls views and comments on homosexuality must be taken in their cultural context--but that it a posting for another time.

I do accept your view that "mystery" is the more appropriate word to use to describe what Paul was trying to say about marrigage and the Church. In some sense, Paul was using marriage as a metaphor, but I agree with you that he seems to be saying more as well. Nonethless, however, even if you accept that the only traditional marriage can be compared to Christ-Church relationship, this does not mean that same sex relationships (again, monogonous, longterm and committed) are disordered and unworthy of recognition.

You are correct that the the Eurarist is not mentioned in the creeds, but it is undeniable that the Euraristic feast foes back to the earliest of early Christian traditions. Indeed, Paul discusses the Eurarist in far more detail than any of his comments on homosexuality.

I return to my main point. The issue of the recognition of same sex relationships in the manner that the Episcopal Church is moving toward is a very important issue, but it is not an essential core issue of Christianity. the Angligan Communion has accepted a broad range of views on atonement, which goes to the very heart of the faith, and I see no reason why diversity on this issue cannot be accpeted as well.

obadiahslope said...

It is not clear that diversity is what is being offered. The evangelicals in TEC can look at the progress of Women's ordination, which started as a "big tent" issue and is on the way to being mandatory in TEC. Would a candidate for bishop opposed to women's ordination be conformed today? (I am not a member of your province so must bow to your local knowledge.)
Their fear is that the same would happen with gay blessings.
The fact that the gay cause was advanced by electing a bishop was problematic, as a bishop is for the whole church and arguably the whole communion. So rather than tolerating a range of views the election of +NH forced the Anglican communion into an either/or situation. Without, as the Windsor Report points out much at all in the way of consultation.

Chuck Blanchard said...

Obadiaslope:

Thanks for your comment. You are my first international reader.

While I am no expert, I doubt that a Bishop selected by a Diocese in the TEC that opposed the ordination of women would have difficulty being approved by the House of Bishops and various Standing Committees. Rejection of Bishops has been quite rare--the most recent issues with Father Lawrence in South Carolina had far more to do with his intentions to remain in the TEC than his views on theological issues.

I take your point about the unique role of Bishops, but there are several women Bishops in the TEC and their slection did not threaten to divide the Communion despite the fact that most Provinces do not even recognize the ordination of women as priests. And at the most recent meeting of the Primates, our femail Presiding bishop was recognized as a Primate by her colleagues. To me, this is a good example how diversity of views on even important issues need not divide the Communion.

obadiahslope said...

Chuck, it may be helpful for you to read the windsor report or at lkeast the section on Women bishops. It describes how the communion agreed about women bishops before individual provinces went ahead. New Zealand appointed the first diocesan woman bishop. It looked like this issue, and one on polygamy were examples of the communion coming to a common mind. Many of the Liberal/progressive wing of TEC can see that consultation was lacking in 2003.
I agree that important issues need not divide the communion. but real work needs to be done to make sure this is so. TEC's own chronogy o contained in "To set our hope on chrisyt" illustrates the TEc held a long internal debate before 2003 but took little care to reach out to the communion.

Chuck Blanchard said...

obadiahslope:

I really don't disagree with what you have to say. It would have been far better if the recption model used with female clergy had taken place with the issue of gays and lesbians. And I agree that most of the diologue that occured on the issue occurred only within the TEC, and not the larger Communion

I think that the difficulty that faced those who attended the General Convention in 2003, was that they were faced with a yes or no decision much sooner than they expected. Do they approve +NH or not? There was no realistic third option available--such as a consultive period with the larger Communion. I know that many faced with the decision thought they had a difficult choice, buy decided that they had to vote with their understanding of God's will.

Of course, four years later, we remain in crisis over that decision--which cannot be made undone.

Tamara said...

I am not an Episcopalian, however, I have studied the current situation regarding LGBT, the Anglican Communion and, specifically, Archbishop Akinola's role in the current conflict. What I find lacking in a number of comments is the acceptance that TEC is an independent, sovereign body. It can do whatever it wants. It does not have to consult the other 37 member churches. Yes, as a matter of courtesy, it might have been nice--as fair warning, perhaps. But the Communion has no right to demand that TEC consult them and no right to complain that it didn't.

I believe that the Camp Allen meeting went as it did because Akinola and his cohorts over-reached. They, too, seemed to think that TEC owed them something when it did not. In particular, the primates seemed to feel that TEC owed them obedience and the right of oversight when, in fact, all 38 members of the Communion are sovereign entities. Did Akinola seek the Communion's counsel when he ardently supported the heinous Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, although its passage would effect each and every country in Western Europe, the U.S. and Canada? No. Yet, until two days ago, Canterbury said absolutely nothing about ++Akinola's actions--actions that have prompted anti-gay violence and forced people to flee the country in fear of their lives.

The break-away parishes and dioceses got Akinola to take them in with promises of money. These conservatives saw the full inclusion of lesbians and gays as their breaking point. Among them are people who don't even think that women should be ordained as priests. How can anyone take them seriously? And yet, some Episcopalians are upset that these reactionaries are leaving. Granted, their departure flies in the face of the "big tent," as someone termed it, but they would have found a reason to leave anyway, IMO.

My gut tells me that Akinola has his own ambitions in mind. He is not accepting these churches out of the goodness of his heart. (BTW, did he consult anyone before he decided to set up a mission in the U.S. against Anglican historical practice? No.) This is a power-grab pure and simple. I also suspect that he has political ambitions in his own country. The homosexual issue has brought him worldwide attention. He is in a great position to be highly influential in the next government and we may find him running for office himself. I wouldn't be at all surprised.

While Anglicans are upset about the potential schism, I suggest that they consider who is driving the discord. It isn't TEC. It is Akinola and company. They have some power and they seek more. Look at what the Tanzania Communique is asking of what is supposed to be a church on equal footing. They want dominion and obedience to their point of view. The entire argument is being framed and manipulated by a few people at the expense of millions of others. It's time TEC stopped being worried and started considering their situation analytically.

Chuck Blanchard said...

tamara:

Thanks for your comment. Your analysis of the situation is consistent with what occured in Tanzania last month. Given that the TEC was the target of the Communique, and not the CoE or Canada (despite the fact that same sex blessings are even more prevalent in those Provinces) certainly suggests that this is about power.

Nonetheless, there are sincere Anglicans (both in the TEC and in the larger Anglican community) such as obadiahslope for whom this is not about power. And, I think we owe them a theological dialogue even as we refuse to be dictated to by some of the Primates

Tamara said...

I appreciate that there are honestly some people who believe that lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people are something akin to the devil on earth. I know that there are honestly some people who believe that women have no right in leadership positions. I wish to heaven I didn't know these things because they challenge my very right to exist. As if life isn't difficult enough, I, and people like me, have to cope with the fact that there are people--many of whom claim they are on the right side of God--who would love to wipe me and people like me off the face of the planet. I am not of the opinion that they all mean me harm, just some of them. Unfortunately, some of those "some" met in Ibadan, first, then Tanzania. Still others are in the break-away parishes and dioceses.

It is all well and good for people who are not targeted to sit and have a theological conversation about the fate of those who are targeted. It is quite another to BE one of those who are the subject of those conversations. I would love to see the people who base their fears and hatred on various theologies put themselves in the shoes of those against whom their animus is directed. I'd like to see them live our lives and see the strength it takes at times just to get through a day--especially a Sunday. I do not mean that they should place themselves in the shoes of a self-hating gay man or lesbian, but one who lives an everyday life with a job, family, spiritual life and problems just like anyone else. But we aren't like anyone else because we've got this group of people who, as I said above, feel that we are akin to the devil on earth. Those feelings and beliefs are transmitted to their children, co-workers, friends, etc. SOME of those people react towards us with physical violence to go along with the spiritual violence that the original haters have spread. Although I have forgotten the exact statistic, a very large percentage of gay-bashers cite religion as a reason for their actions.

So many LGBT turn their backs on religion and God precisely because of the hate that is spewed. I am not a Christian because I just don't believe in the divinity of Jesus above and beyond the divinity of all human beings. However, if ever I needed another reason, a lot of the ugliness I've seen go on in TEC and the United Methodist Church (not to mention so many other denominations) would be ample. When those who deny the rights of people to full blessing, support and inclusion from a church where they have been raised, baptized, pledged their allegiance to Christianity and worked for the benefit of all simply because they love--not CHOOSE to love, but were born to love--they not only deny the divinity within the people they abhor, but the divinity within themselves.

So, to get back to the present subject, I have to disagree that the break-away parishes and dioceses were not doing so as a blatant grab for power. Indeed, it is because they felt powerless within the TEC as it currently composed that they turned to Akinola. Their view is the minority view and they are vehemently against the majority with no way to gain enough power to change things. Neither are they happy with the "big tent" approach that would have allowed them to stay within the Church while still holding their particular views of Scripture. They did not feel at home. I understand that. However, again, I truly believe that there would have been something else if not the homosexual issue that would have provided the impetus for their actions. That may not be true for all who are members of those break-away parishes and dioceses, but I would bet my life that it is true for the powers that be. I ask: How many years did LGBT not feel at home in TEC, yet stayed anyway? I think walking a mile in those shoes would provide a very different perspective.

Chuck Blanchard said...

tamara:

Thank you for such a moving and effective post. I think the most valuable point you make is that "It is all well and good for people who are not targeted to sit and have a theological conversation about the fate of those who are targeted." that is precisely what is occuring in many of the Anglican Provinces, and I think that it is critical that all of us (including straight men like me who beleive that GLBT folks should be welcomed as full members of our chuch) listen TO GLBT floks and just engage in theological discussions ABOUT them.

To that end, I hope you stick around onthis blog.

Tamara said...

Thanks, Chuck. I hope that I can add something to the discussion. I may not be able to talk theology as well as many, but I can be analytical and I can give at least one viewpoint about what it is to be LGBT.