Thursday, June 19, 2008

Truth and lies in the Anglican Communion (1 John 1)

In the neighbouring district to our city, a row is flaring between the District Council and some of its ratepayers because the Council is offering substantial funding to a local church which is building a new church building. The reason for the funding is that the church is offering a large building which will serve both as a venue for worship on Sundays and an arena capable of hosting concert performances and the like for the public on other occasions. Naturally some ratepayers are questioning whether this is the right use of funds, and whether the District Council's agreement with the church provides adequate guarantees concerning public access to the proposed auditorium. I have followed some of the correspondence about this in our regional newspaper and have noted that one of the sternest critics of the Council's involvement with this church is a Christian who worships in another church. I mention all this to remind ourselves that sharp disagreement among Christians is not confined to the matters of human sexuality which trouble the Anglican Communion at this time!

But this local conflict highlights an aspect of the Communion turmoil. One line in the newspaper correspondence has been about 'truth'. What has the Council actually agreed with the church? Has the public been properly notified about the plan to invest in the building? How come this decision or that was taken behind closed doors? The Council has been diligent in responding to all such questions. Behind the questions has been a whiff of accusation: we, the people, are being deceived!?

Turning to the Communion's troubles, I have noticed a theme of 'deceit' running through many discussions. The recent controversial service at St Bart's (see posts below) is a case in point: "This was a 'gay wedding'" ... "No, it was not, it was a service of blessing for a same sex partnership." Or, in another matter, the GAFCOn conference in Jerusalem, which gets underway about now, has raised questions about the "real" truth of its purpose(s), not so much because anyone has made a statement about them which has proved to be false, but because so little has been said. Thirdly, we can cite in this context the various moves in which bishops, particularly in North America, boldly claim they have not authorised services of blessing for same sex partnerships, while knowing such services frequently take place in their dioceses and having no intention of stopping them. (Note, in citing these examples I am not seeking to accuse any individuals of making deceitful statements; rather I am drawing attention to a feature of the situation whereby many statements are being made which raise serious questions about their service or lack of service for the process of discerning the true state of matters through knowledge of all relevant factors.)

Opening up 1 John 1 we find themes of light, life, truth, deceit, sin, fellowship, walking in darkness / light expounded in a binary manner:

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness we lie and do not practice the truth (v. 6; converse in v. 7).

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (v. 8; converse in v. 9; reiteration of v. 8 in v. 10).

There are no third ways here - the middle is excluded! Striking in the present Communion context is the possibility that Christians may deceive themselves about sin. At the heart of the turmoil is the question of whether certain actions are sin or not. 1 John 1 sharply reminds us that we have the potential to deceive ourselves concerning sin. In his original context of writing I presume the author was specifically responding to claims by some that they were now 'perfect' - there was no sin of any kind in their lives. But that does not change the fact that on specific actions deceit can take place: 'its not really stealing if I take just a little bit' or 'God won't mind if I stay in bed just this one Sunday morning' (as an old joke goes onto say, 'But you should be there, you're the Vicar').

To get a bit crunchy in conclusion: if the traditional, Scripture founded claim is that sexual intercourse between two people of the same sex is sin, 1 John 1 implies that the burden of proof lies on those who now claim otherwise to justify a change in teaching. The burden of proof is not only to justify the change, but also to establish that no 'deceit' is involved. I find the notion that two men who love each other should not be denied blessing for a public commitment of that love a plausible suggestion ... but when I ask, Is this justified by Scripture and the tradition of the church's teaching? its intriguing to find 'deceitful' arguments brought to bear. Scripture can be set aside on this matter (on what basis?) ... Science now supersedes Scripture on some matters (does it?)... Its love not law which counts (but Scripture never pits one against the other) ... Jesus never said anything against it (but he did say things which upheld Mosaic law).

Without here, in a very brief posting, attempting to draw up the last word on these matters, I find 1 John 1 challenging our Communion: are we living by truth or deceit? Can what was once walking in darkness, now be walking in the light? And where difference exists on matters concerning truth/falsehood, light/darkness, is fellowship possible?

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