If you were, or indeed are a member of the Church of England, engaging with the question of women bishops, who are the 'weak' as we reflect on the application of Romans 14-15 to the process of making a decision? Are the 'weak' those women who feel powerless in the face of a bunch of men having the upper-hand in the process, a process which could yield a decision to maintain the house of bishops as a male only preserve? Are the 'weak' those parish priests and congregations who know that when women become bishops they will be a small minority quite possibly without power to self-determine that only male bishops will minister to them? Perspective matters!
Interestingly, 'perspective matters' has a bearing on most great human divisions. Consider the bitter battle in the USA over the future course of its economy, a matter of interest to all the world, not least NZ whose economy is so small it is easily battered by the big players getting things wrong (in our perspective). Today I see Paul Krugman has posted about this amazing graph:
Analogously, on matters of sexuality and the church in the 21st century, we have similar points being made in argument. "It's a major problem (and getting worse)." "No, it isn't. We are making a major fuss over a minor aspect of life." "This has gone on for years. It's about time we solved it once and for all." Also, analogously, we could observe that both Boehner and Krugman have 'weak' hands to play. The former with his House republicans is battling President, Senate and public opinion. The latter, as the graph reveals, is battling the unseen reality of spiralling debt - the facts are not on Krugman's side.
In our ACANZP debate, represented by the recent Hui, who are the weak?
Perhaps the answer does not matter. When Paul writes, 'Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions' (14:1) should we understand this to mean that when we think we are the strong ones, our attitude to those who (by contrast) are the weak ones is clear? Welcome them, Paul is saying, do not refuse them a place in the life of the church, and do not welcome them solely for the purpose of arguing with them.
Quite a lot is at stake in this approach. Some very sobering words are written by Paul in 14:20:
'Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.'
Within the Anglican Communion in the past decade or so, we have seen a lot of destruction of the work of God: churches divided, churches leaving national churches, individuals and congregations leaving churches, damage to reputation of churches as our debates have been played out in the media which, arguably, is damage to the gospel and our mission of proclamation. Has this damage been for the sake of the equivalent of 'food' or has it been for a higher cause than that?