On the face of it, by challenging their bishop, +Ross Bay, along with our other bishops, to proceed full steam ahead to ordain gay persons who live in same sex partnerships, St Matt's is riding a white charger whose name is Right and Righteous Cause. How can the bishops of our church, including their direct target, +Ross Bay, withstand the thundering hooves and steaming nostrils of this valiant steed?
One rebuttal, a horse whisper that might calm the strident gallop of the charger, is to ask what St Matt's commitment to our church consists of. Is it a commitment to provoke, prod, and push us to change, whether we agree to it or not? Or is it a commitment to love us through the changing scenes of life?
If there is one thing I am sure of, it is that our bishops love their dioceses, and love this church. They can appreciate the prophetic mode St Matt's takes up and pushes towards them, but they know that their dioceses and this church are sums of many diverse parts. We have different theologies, ecclesiologies, missiologies and pneumatologies in our midst. We also have a range of challenges, not least of which is the fragile state of many parishes (literally as well as spiritually in Christchurch!). How do the bishops love their churches through these days, with a love which binds us together? Not, I suggest, by going with the agenda of one parish with a singular track record in annoying other Christians. Not, I suggest, by leading the church according to rhetoric around 'violation of human rights' rather than good Scriptural theology. And not, I suggest, by relying on challenges to polity via Title D machinations.
Our bishops are better than that.
They know, for instance, that if we Anglicans play out our future wrongly we will slowly but surely be ground into statistical dust. One possible future is being played out before our eyes in the shape of the ever declining, constantly selling off churches NZ Methodist Church. Booming along, thank you very much, are Pentecostal, Protestant, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Not one of which is contemplating moving away from traditional Christian sexual ethics. If we Anglicans disappear off the landscape, Christianity in Aotearoa NZ and Polynesia will be just fine. Do we want to be a footnote in future church histories written by Baptist or Apostolic scholars?
Perhaps we do. Perhaps that is the price we should pay according to our 'Matthean gospel' to avoid 'violations of human rights.' But could we please have a discussion about this before anyone goes to court to change us?
There is another error St Matthew's is making in its protest and in its confrontation with +Philip Richardson's wisdom on a way forward. They are acting as though the wrestling with Scripture on homosexuality is done and dusted. Nothing to see there, nothing to learn there. Sexual ethics for today is ours to determine without recourse to ancient spiritual truths. Only reckoning by the compass of 'human rights' matters.
Scripture is not done and dusted on homosexuality. At the heart of conservative responses to homosexuality, whether it is the caution of someone such as myself, or the outright opposition of others to change to the status quo, lies a simple anxiety about salvation. When St Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 that neither malakoi nor arsenokoites will inherit the kingdom of God, what do those two words mean? I understand that scholars debate the meaning of these words, and also debate whether these words, even if they mean what most English translations say they equate to in English, apply to faithful, monogamous, same sex partnerships. The key word in that sentence is debate. Nothing is settled. No bishop of our church can confidently say that same sex sexual activity is beyond the scope of these verses to speak to it. Whether we can ever settle that debate in our lifetimes, whether we can ever come to some agreeable compromise on how we might live in or with the debate and nevertheless bless same sex partnerships, I do not know. But I do know it is a huge presumption to speak and act as though that debate is over, as though 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 is easily set aside. The kingdom of God, let's face it, lies at the heart of the gospel on any understanding of what the gospel is, for it is unmistakeably central to Jesus' own teaching. It would be irresponsible of a gospel church to advocate for styles of living which exclude people from the kingdom of God.
Again, perhaps I speak as a lone-ish voice in this cautionary way, perhaps I am missing something about where our church is at. If so, I look forward to the bishops collectively telling me to remain in my corner of the wilderness, out of earshot! But I do not think I am missing anything. Our church is not at all in a settled place.
Our bishops know that. They are not fools. St. Matt's might take account of that. I hope they do.