Writing almost anything these days as a Christian about homosexuality is a fraught exercise. Each 'side' is looking for the 'right' thing to be said. And it can be 'woe betide' the one who does not say the right thing. To state the obvious, there is a divisiveness around Christian talk about homosexuality these days which is salutary. Sometimes there seems to be a lack of appreciation for all that is good in what 'the other' (i.e. counterpoint to 'me' or 'us') is saying. There is palpable evidence, for instance, that in a secular world in which church-going and open identification as a Christian are not compulsory, gay Christians are engaging seriously with what it means to be gay and to be Christian. The least appreciative analysis of their discipleship is to render it null and void on the grounds that they do not share a conservative interpretation of the Bible. More appreciative would be acknowledgement that they are our Christian brothers and sisters in human frailty and Christian faith. The evidence, however, is also palpable, that the Christian tradition has steadfastly affirmed marriage or singleness as blessed life situations for disciples of Christ, beginning from the earliest days when the apostles to the Greeks refused to sympathise with contemporary homosexuality (read Plato's Symposium before you tell me 'homosexuality' as a modern word has no bearing on those ancient days). Sometimes this tradition and commitment to it seems under-appreciated when progressive Christians comment on the internet.
It can be quite confusing, incidentally, to be told by 'catholic' Christians that the ancient ways are best and should be followed, except when it comes to sex! The conservative approach to homosexuality is actually quite catholic (respecting tradition) and quite evangelical (respecting Scripture). There is a theological strength to conservative Anglicanism which is better dealt with by corresponding theological strength in progressive counter-argument, but which all too often is dismissed with epithets of 'bigot' and explanations of 'but science says.'
Conversely, even as the Anglican slow train wreck of a schism is unfolding through these years, Western societies are making rapid changes, with civil legislation and social mores running well ahead of the church on committed same sex partnerships. Whether we agree with those changes or not, whether to accept them would be a cultural cave in or not, our societies are challenging us in ways that we seem poor in responding to: to threaten schism over sex (for instance) looks for all the world like an obsession taking over the church prior to dismembering it. In my view, we who identify ourselves as conservatives have as much responsibility as anyone for the perception that the church is weird on sex.
Does a Trinitarian hermeneutic help us as a Communion on the issue of homosexuality? In thinking about this I am inclined to conclude, 'only a little.' A Trinitarian hermeneutic seems to have an application in thinking about men and women relating together because in creation men and women are created in the image of God, in redemption we are one in Christ, and in marriage there is an intriguing analogy of diversity-in-unity with the Trinity as diversity-in-unity. I fail to see such a strong application to a same sex partnership. What has struck me more in my posts of late is that the basis for the doctrine of the Trinity, the dance between revelation and reason, is a reminder of the importance of all theological work doing the same: what has God disclosed to us, how do we understand that, what deeper insights are available to us as we use reason to think about what God has revealed?
In respect of homosexuality and the Communion can we say we have yet done all the work there is to be done on understanding Scripture as the vehicle for God's revelation to us?
To give an example of a question which I suggest is under-examined: suppose (for the sake of argument) that the homosexuality of today's world is a new phenomenon, unknown to Moses and Paul, thus rendering their (God's!) laws and ethics irrelevant. What does that mean, then? Are we theologically emboldened (as some seem to be) to move to acceptance of this new phenomenon when expressed in a monogamous partnership? Or should we stay a little while with the possibility (on the basis of the supposition above) that we do not know what God's will is for this new phenomenon? As a matter of fact, unless the Spirit of God reveals God's will for such a new phenomenon, we are ignorant. To the obvious rejoinder that the Spirit has so led us, it is right and proper that we pause and ask, How do we know, beyond individual conviction of mind, that the Spirit has led us to this truth? It is a basic recognition of the body of Christ to ask that question because so many in the body (actually, the vast majority of Christians in the world) have not heard what the Spirit, apparently, is saying to the church. There is also the question of whether the supposition made above for the sake of exploring the argument, in fact, holds good.
In a very recent comment on another post, Fr. Ron Smith gives as eloquent an expression of the case for accepting this new phenomenon as you could find anywhere. It may be interesting for readers to comment on whether this case is persuasive or not, and if not, why not. My own question would be where would we stop if we accepted experience as the key determinant for blessing a relationship. I imagine similar eloquence supporting the case for polygamy (the case is kind of there when Big Love screens!), or for men and women living together without life-long commitment. Would the church consider blessing such relationships also? Logically, on Ron's argument, we should. If we should not (but should bless same sex partnerships) what would be the theologically reasoning for distinguishing one relationship from another? (Please note that I am not wishing to argue 'thin end of the wedge' here, but, like for like, plausible dignified human relationships for plausible dignified human relationships, why stop with one in a series of possibilities?)
If I were the last Christian on earth resisting the acceptance of the blessing of same sex partnerships, the questions I am raising here might seem to be time-wasting before the inevitable falling in line ... but I am not the last conservative standing. Is it possible that the many Christians whether resisting such change or simply doing nothing to change the status quo - still the majority as far as I can tell in the church to which Ron and I belong - have a theological unease (e.g along the lines of the above paragraph) rather than corporate bigotry or phobia at the base of their continuing commitment to the status quo?
Can we Anglicans engage in theology, real theological discourse in these ways? That would be consistent with what made orthodoxy orthodoxy: a theology of revelation and reason which led to Chalcedonian Trinitarianism. Unfortunately, if the Primus of Scotland is any kind of benchmark of Anglican discourse (see post below) we will have our work cut out to get anywhere, given that, apparently contradictions contribute to our richness!
POSTSCRIPT: Here is one diocese broadening out its 'series' of blessable relationships. (H/T Christopher Johnson).