Lovely to hear our Bishop, Richard Ellena - yes, he of 'Lambeth most expensive exercise in futility' fame - reporting back to his clergy last night. Some fleshing out of the reasons for feeling extremely frustrated were given in Bishop Richard's wonderful warm, humourous, and passionate manner.
Some citations of Archbishop Rowan's presidential addresses prompted me to a reflection or two. Particularly I want to underline here the challenge given in the last address to those seeking innovation:
"And this is not by any means to say that a traditional understanding and a new one are just two equal options, like items on the supermarket shelf : the practice and public language of the Church act always as a reminder that the onus of proof is on those who seek a new understanding."
In my mind I connected this with my previous posting on Jeremiah: the new covenent of God involves a new method (so to speak) of receiving God's revelation but does not involve a new content. It was good to check the comments on that post for moderation and to find a reminder of Jeremiah 6:16, "look to the ancient paths"!
It has been said by people such as Graham Kings and Kendall Harmon that (in my words) the tragic flaw in TEC's position is that it has pushed for innovation without offering theologically coherent reason for doing so. (At best it has offered, 'our canon law does not forbid it').
But here in ACANZP we have a related flaw in some thinking among our leadership. We have embarked on a seven year series of hermeneutical hui ('conferences') in an endeavour to find a common mind in our church. But I am now thinking that the presupposition here seems to be, "a traditional understanding and a new one are just two equal options, like items on the supermarket shelf". Archbishop Rowan has exposed the inadequacy of this. The onus in the seven years is on the innovators to advance for examination the case for theological justification of innovation.
As I understand some thinking going on re the blessing of same sex relationships (and the consequent possibility that a person in such a relationship may therefore be deemed 'chaste' and thus satisfy our canons on ministry standards if accepted for ordination) there are pragmatic, pastoral reasons being advanced: compassion demands we do not withhold such blessing ... with such blessing partnerships are strengthened ... acceptance of committed partnerships provides a better 'option' than a forced singleness which may find expression in promiscuity.
But the quest for theological coherency in the case is a quest for something more from a church which normally acts with, and not against, the grain of Scripture and its interpretation worked out and received as the church's tradition. Questions I do not see being answered, in TEC or in ACANZP, include:
- what Scriptural basis authorises the church to bless a sexual relationship apart from a marriage between a man and a woman?
- where, in the long history of Israel and the church, both as written down in Scripture, and recorded through Christian history, does the tension between faithful marriage and committed singleness of leaders of Israel and of the church extend to the possibility that God calls leaders who are in committed same sex partnerships?
- given the fact that the situation in Western society now is such that the quest for 'acceptance' of homosexuality includes a growing agenda (gay, lesbian and bisexual and transgender; same sex couples rearing children with the aid of a third person as biological father or mother), where is the 'positive' basis in Scripture and the tradition of the church for acceptance of the whole agenda being advanced?
- how is the church to theologically sustain either of the following situations: being a church in which ministers may teach that the blessing of same sex partnerships is wrong and ministers may live in a blessed same sex partnership OR being a church in which both ministers may live in a blessed same sex partnership and ministers may not teach that such blessings are wrong?
If it is doubtful that Scripture authorises the blessing of same sex partnerships, it is incomprehensible that Scripture forbids ministers of the Word from teaching that such blessings are wrong! That is, the onus is on the innovators to demonstrate that the previous sentence is wrong!!