I want to suggest, respectfully, to any lay or clerical officer of the church thinking in this way that there are, nevertheless, reasons for staying. For the sake of clarity about my own position re the compromising of General Synod's authority in this way, I am not so sure that that is so. But I will leave for another occasion the reasons for my doubts on that score. What are reasons for staying even if we believe we have sound reason for going?
In line with some thinking of colleagues whose acumen I admire, these reasons include missional, pastoral, moral, historical and ecclesiological considerations.
Missional: if our church splits over the matter of homosexuality, our wider society will not understand this. It views homosexuality as harmless and civil unions and, increasingly, gay 'marriage' as a good thing. In such a climate we make ourselves even harder to be heard when we seek to present the gospel which becomes inextricably linked with an uncaring, even hurtful attitude to gays and lesbians. Almost impossible is winning a hearing from gays and lesbians themselves. Our consciences may tell us to go; our missional strategy could, or should tell us to stay.
Pastoral: if our church splits over homosexuality, any aspect of it, many in the church will not understand this. If pastors leave congregations who both wish to remain and find themselves confused about splitting, who will pastor them? If we go, can we reasonably expect to be approached by gays and lesbians for pastoral care in our new churches if the critical reason for their existence is division over homosexuality? Further, the situation in our church is already pretty dire in overall perspective: aging congregations everywhere, new Christian churches and denominations are becoming the face of Christianity in our country, money problems loom re the post-quakes crises for our buildings (i.e. everywhere, not just in my Diocese). If GS passes the motions cited in the post below it will contribute to the perception that the Anglican church here is in lockstep with a slow ebbing tide of liberalism. But. The worse the situation, the more reason for evangelicals and other conservatives to stay, to bear witness to the truth, to fight for reading Scripture within the tradition of the church,* and to care for the progress of the gospel in the church we love. If some of us leave we will lose our voice completely, however marginalised we feel it is or will be if we stay.
Moral: if I go from my church because I think I am right about same sex partnerships being blessed on one level I am on moral high ground. But what does my going communicate? There is more than one message being communicated by such action. In report, whether in the press or in word of mouth explanations, I will be going because of homosexuals in the church. Protestations from me that I am going because of the presence of false teachers about homosexuality will cut no ice in the media and over the coffee cups: effectively, whether I intend to do so or not, I will be creating a 'scapegoat' grouping re my departure and the church splitting around me. That scapegoat grouping will include the tiny minority of self-identifying gays and lesbians in our church. Is it morally correct to create a scapegoat of this kind? I suggest not.
Historical: within the history of Christianity some splits in the church have been, so to speak, virtuous and fruitful. As Anglicans we have to believe that! As an evangelical I have been reminded recently of the importance of the Christian Union movement separating off from the Student Christian Movement (SCM) within the context of universities. But there have been many splitting moves which, in the end, have come to nothing. Donatism, the Non-Jurors proved in the end to be the hand withdrawn from the bucket of water: the water covered over where the hand had been and the water continued to be the church. Or, take some other splits: the Wee Frees in Scotland, who eventually reconciled with the Church of Scotland; or the several splits in Methodism which reconciled to become, again, the one Methodist Church. I even understand that here in NZ, many of the Wesleyan Methodist congregations (formed, incidentally, precisely over controversy re homosexuality) have now rejoined the Methodist Church of NZ. We might usefully ask ourselves whether any church split over an issue in the ethics of human sexuality has ever been 'successful'?
Ecclesiological: our constitution and canons matter, as do our vows and declarations to abide by them. It is a huge dilemma for the moral conscience of the licensed lay or clerical officer of the church if something is decided which cannot be squared with the theological conscience of that person (except, of course, if it pertains to liturgical matters on which many of us exercise some interesting amounts of freedom from conscientious restraint!!). But does that mean that the first step in resolving the dilemma is departure? Indulge me for a moment: suppose on some matter I am right and the remainder of the church is wrong (Article 21: the church can err!). Do I go or do I continue my ministry until such time as the church excommunicates me? If I am right, why not let the erring church determine by its own lights that I am wrong, rather than me determine by my lights that the church is wrong by making the decision to resign.
Food for thought.
*This morning I came across a lovely set of words from a Catholic source re reading Scripture:
"to get the accurate meaning of the scriptures we have to read them within the tradition of the Church. Otherwise we are just treating them like objects floating in outer space. We can make them mean anything."