Friday, July 1, 2011

Hostage to Fortune: St Matt's and the Bishop (II)

A little while ago I drew attention to a campaign by St Matthew's to force our bishops to give way to their arguments re alleged discrimination against gay candidates for the ordained ministry. At the time Bishop Philip Richardson wrote a letter setting out the reasons for the bishops maintaining the status quo, as well as the kind of steps that would be needed to take things forward if change is to be sought by our church. While I agreed with and commended the general thrust of the letter, it contained some phrasing (noted here by commenters) which, arguably, frames the main issue our church would need to engage with in an unfortunate way. Here, here, and here.

St Matt's next step is to take for them the original step of putting up a billboard. You can read about it here on Stuff and also see a photo of the billboard. You may have some thoughts about the billboard and its accuracy as a description of how our church makes decisions.

But I see in the report that this is said:

"Bishop Philip Richardson of Taranaki says until the Anglican Church can agree whether homosexuality is a consequence of "willful human sinfulness" or an "expression of God-given diversity" sexual orientation will continue to be a deciding factor in determining potential priests."
At this point the considered and considerable wisdom of +Philip is set to one side, and one element is highlighted as summing up the whole debate our church apparently faces. I suggest the debate we in fact face, in similar simple terms, is this:

Whether homosexuality as a human sexual orientation is an "expression of God-given diversity" or a part of the diversity of human sexuality with no implied mandate to change Christian tradition based in Scripture that disciples of Christ should live as single people or as married people.

Until our church accepts the former as true, the bishops are faithful ministers of God's Word by sticking to the latter.

However, the framing of the debate by +Philip may turn out to be a hostage to fortune. The debate will follow that lead, not the alternative proposed above.

Incidentally, the English bishops have been speaking in the same area of interest.

ADDENDUM (SATURDAY) Finally the NZH has an item re St Matt's and the billboard on its site. Apparently the billboard has been defaced, with the cross-gauge being removed. Duh! Obviously St. Matt's got the position of the cross-gauge wrong :)

Following on from my observation above about unfortunate framing of the issues, here is another, from within the NZH article:

"[Archdeacon Glynn] Cardy said some bishops in New Zealand had in the past ordained gay and lesbian candidates.

``However, following the international furore around the 2004 consecration of Gene Robinson -- an American priest who is gay and in a committed relationship -- New Zealand's bishops have seemed more concerned to promote unity with the majority rather than uphold justice for a minority.'' "

I assume that here "unity with the majority" is at least "unity of our church with the Anglican Communion" but could also be "unity within our church". It is that latter bit which I think is important to get in the framing of the debate St Matt's are trying to push along. Our bishops have a duty of care for the unity and good order of our church. They also have duty of care for the teaching of our church. I am unaware of any teaching in our church, accepted by our General Synod which has concluded that the ordination of partnered gay people is solely about "justice".

I also note an irony in what Glynn Cardy says: there were gay people ordained in NZ before Gene Robinson was ordained a bishop. That ordination has actually led to a reversal of fortune for gay people seeking ordination in our church.


James said...

Thanks for publishing this, Peter. This false dichotomy the bishop has unfortunately delineated does need to be put into better, more truthful terms. I don't think the bishop made this mistake purposefully; it's an easy trap to fall into. But it is most certainly worthy of correction; and I do hope that this improved question is the one which is debated amongst NZ Anglicans.

Suem said...

I know a few English bishops for whom it is a great- er- area of interest!