With the schism among Anglicans/Episcopalians in North America formally underlined by the installation of Archbishop Robert Duncan as primate of ACNA, the actual business of being the church in the world does not go away, and certainly not for the question of the welcome of the church to all people, including those committed to the GLBT agenda. Here in ACANZP we face this business, and many times I wonder if we are thinking hard enough about facing the world, engaging with it, and converting it to Christ. (I choose the word ‘thinking’ carefully – most colleagues and friends I know are working very hard – it’s in our Kiwi nature to do so – but taking time out to think, to reflect, to analyse, and to conceive solutions with an eye on the ‘big picture’ as well as the ‘long term future’ is something we are less prone to do!)
In thinking about where we are at with respect to the particular challenge of commitments to the GLBT agenda, a post from Ruth Gledhill is timely, reflecting on a Times poll/article by fellow journalist demonstrating “Nearly seven out of ten members of the public favour 'full equal rights' for gay men and women, suggesting that 'the Church, the final bastion of formal discrimination, is out of touch with public opinion’.” Of course there is an edge to such analysis in England which does not quite apply here where we do not have an established church, so I don’t want to shoot holes in the view which Ruth floats which has a particular take on the establishment factor for the C of E if, indeed, it is ‘the final bastion of formal discrimination’. Besides which plenty of commenters have lined her view up in their sights and let go with both barrels of ‘popularity ain’t the priority of the church’ shotgun! Out here in the former colonies it is not clear to me that the churches are seen as final bastions etc, but it is likely that a survey which asked, Is the church in touch with public opinion on the acceptability of a range of sexual partnerships beyond ‘traditional marriage’? would conclude with a resounding ‘no’.
Two matters are in my mind at the moment. One concerns being the church and responding to a challenge which is framed in a way which the church no longer has control over: the GLBT challenge, for example, seems today always to be framed in terms of justice/injustice, discrimination, prejudice, homophobia and bigotry. Almost any response other than ‘of course we will bless same sex partnerships in exactly the same way as marriages between men and women’ seems doomed to condemnation in the court of public opinion. In a sense, there is worse than ‘condemnation’, there is also ridicule to be faced, partly because every public admission of adultery by a right-wing politician who identifies himself (it’s always the men!) as a Christian, constitutes the foundation of a case for dismissal of any attempt by churches to articulate a moral distinction between marriage and same-sex partnerships. The church has a challenge on its hands, and must meet it, not only as a matter of its own ethical integrity, but also to forward its mission. It’s not much of a gospel of transformation which we are offering if it cannot get us men through our mid-life crises!
Another matter concerns the missing conversation partner in much talk about human sexuality and the church, God. It seems to me that the conversation goes like this in many instances: “life is complicated, particularly the sexual dimension of being, so whatever the biblical “ideal” is, it is trumped by actual reality, and so various accommodations need to be made by churches towards including in its membership people in various situations (unless, of course, a church wishes to become a very small, very pure sect); and just one more major accommodation needs to be made, the incorporation of the GLBT agenda.” Spoken thus, the conversation is solely between people and involves potential for negotiation, compromise, power shift, or not. It also involves potential, somewhat realised in experience, for people to be vilified, ridiculed, and condemned: homosexuals are particularly egregious sinners, traditionalists are homophobic hypocritical bigots … and that’s just the Christians commenting on blogs!
But what does God think about these matters? Has God spoken about the complexities of life? In particular, is God indifferent to the GLBT agenda? As I ‘listen in’ to this conversation in the Anglican blogosphere, it is clear that many Anglicans think God is indifferent to this agenda. Obviously many other Anglicans think God is not. But is the former group not obligated to persuade the latter group of theological grounds for proposing that God is indifferent? We are all Christians and not secular humanists! Unfortunately a lot of what passes for ‘theological grounds’ is a series of scornful, ridiculing remarks about the capacity of Leviticus and Romans to convey the voice of God to us. While there are many things churches need to address about bigotry, hypocrisy, inconsistency, and inadequacy in respect of hospitality to people different to us, the question remains, for Ruth Gledhill, for TEC, for my own church (ACANZP), is God indifferent to the GLBT agenda?