Monday, July 27, 2009

Unequivocal meets Episcopal

Writing in the Washington Times, Bishop Michael Nazir-ali, is unequivocal in his statement of biblical teaching on marriage, sexuality, and discipleship for those whose same sex attractions do not lead to marriage. I notice that he eschews the word 'repent' which led to many headlines recently after +Michael spoke on these matters recently. H/t to Baby Blue Online. Here are some paragraphs, with the whole article here.

The unequivocal opening statement

"The Episcopal Church in the United States has done it again. Having marched out of step with the majority of the worldwide Anglican Communion, American Episcopalians have declared their intention to walk even further apart."

The unequivocal dismissal of the issues being adiaphora or a matter of indifference

"Let it be said, straightaway, that this issue is not a second- or lower-order one on which Christians can agree to disagree. It profoundly has to do with how men and women are created together in God's image and together given a common mission in the world. This mission they fulfill in ways that are both distinctive and complementary."

The unequivocal declaration of biblical teaching on sexuality

"No Bible-believing Christian can say that "men are from Mars and women from Venus." They are not distinct species but have been made for each other in their distinctiveness and complement each other. This is the burden of the earliest chapters of Genesis that are strongly and unambiguously affirmed in the teaching of Jesus himself. As a whole, the Bible's teaching on human sexuality clearly affirms that the proper expression of our sexual nature is within the context of married love. The alternative, for those who have this gift, is dedicated singleness in the fulfillment of God's purposes.

In the pagan world, in which the Bible was written, such a view was vigorously countercultural. Many of Israel's neighbors tolerated both heterosexual and homosexual practices that are rejected by the Bible because they violate the holiness of God, the order of creation and respect for persons."

The unequivocal summary of pastoral care and guidance for gay and lesbian Anglicans

"As to same-sex attraction, there may be a predisposition toward it, even if we do not know all the reasons for it. That does not mean it must be gratified. Not every desire can or should be given active expression.

There may be relationship issues with a parent or a seeking of the man or the woman "I want to be" in others of the same sex. Those in such situations need to be cared for and to know that God loves them. They need to be helped so they can conform their lives to the stature of the fullness of Christ.

As they are welcomed to church and hear God's word, they will meet with Christ and be transformed by the renewal of their minds, spirits and bodies. They will be nurtured by word and sacrament but also by friendship.

Again and again, people say it is the affirmation of Christian friends, the role model of a wise, perhaps older Christian and the fellowship of the church family that have brought them to a new place in their discipleship."

The unequivocal hope that one day, all will be well in the Communion

"In all this, those who remain orthodox in faith and morals will need to remember that any disruption of fellowship is for the sake of discipline and the eventual restoration of those who have chosen to go their own way to the common faith and life of the church. It is for this that we must work and pray."

I am always intrigued how these articles get to be written. Does +Michael have an inspiration one day along the 'What if I take it to the Episcopalians in their own territory' line'? Does the Washington Times editor think, 'How can I squeeze some more juice out of this particular sour lemon of a controversy? I know, I'll wind the Episcopalians up by asking Darth Vader to get his sabre pen out'?

+Michael's article presents at least two significant challenges for all Anglican churches to consider, not least Down Here, where the Washington Times plops on no driveways:

Is it possible to be equivocal about the issues in human sexuality that are wedging our Communion and individual member churches within apart?

+Michael does not seem to think so. Many bishops, clergy and lay people in TEC would agree with him on that point even as they disagree with him on nearly everything he has written in this article. ++Rowan's difficulty (many would presume at this time) is that an equivocal strategy to resolving the schismatic tendencies at work in these times is fast coming to an end. Almost certainly he has to be unequivocal about the immediate future for TEC in the working day life of the Communion. +Michael's approach is such that being unequivocal about what the Bible teaches about sexuality he can be more readily unequivocal about the Communion's response to TEC after GC. ++Rowan's approach is such that being equivocal about what the Bible teaches about sexuality makes it (in my view, but also in the view of many who actually know him) that much harder to be unequivocal about the Communion's response to TEC folowing the GC.

Is +Michael's summation of the Bible's teaching on human sexuality correct?

If +Michael is incorrect in what he says, if the Bible permits more 'wriggle room' for affirming the possibility of the blessedness of same sex partnerships in God's great plan for the world and for the new creation being established through the Spirit's renewing work, or even simply permits such blessedness period (e.g. because it is plain wrong on homosexuality), then he should be roundly condemned for publishing such untruths.

The difficulty for those who would wish to condemn +Michael as wrong is that they are a very small minority within world Christianity, indeed within the orbit of all religious thinking. As he also says in this article,

"The moves [by TEC at GC 2009] also will further damage ecumenical relations with other churches, such as the Roman Catholic, the Orthodox and various evangelical and Pentecostal bodies. Interfaith dialogue, especially with Muslims, also has been adversely affected, with dialogue partners asking how what they have hitherto regarded as a "heavenly religion" can sanction a practice that most religions do not permit."

A further difficulty for Anglican critics of +Michael is that the only guide to the mind of the whole Anglican Communion on the correctness or incorrectness of what he states in regard to the Bible's teaching on sexuality remains Lambeth 1:10 (1998). I imagine he would have a ready response to those who stress that no resolution of Lambeth is binding on member churches, that the process of arriving at this resolution was flawed and what was being voted for was misunderstood: would the Anglican Communion meeting today in some widely representational way (i.e. much better than the shambles that is the ACC) arrive at a different understanding to Lambeth 1:10?

In a way the Episcopal church has done the Communion a great favour through D025 and C056. Notwithstanding some equivocal wording, it has fooled no one, least of all itself, about the unequivocal direction it wishes to take in respect to its understanding of human sexuality and the application of that understanding to it's liturgies and ordering of ministry. Thus it has renewed its criticism of Lambeth 1.10 which has percolated through the last eleven years. TEC may be correct and +Michael incorrect, or vice versa. The Communion's challenge includes working out how it confirms which is which, and whether or not it can walk inclusively with views which go beyond diversity to outright incompatibility.

ADDENDUM: OK, slight correction to the last paragraph. Bishop Pierre Whalon is "fooled" by what happened at the GC. I wonder what readers will make of his reflection on the GC? Is this article disingenuous? One possible example: a triumphant note is struck about the agreed statement on religious dialogue as evidence of TEC's orthodoxy. To a point it is, but this statement which affirms 'Jesus is Lord' cannot bring itself to affirm the corollary of 'Jesus is Lord', that our missionary task is to convert people to this Lord. Is the latter not a concomitant part of orthodoxy? Another possible example: Bishop Whalon says in one sentence that there is nothing new in C056 and then in another that there is something new there, because there is now a new situation in the United States (i.e. some states have legalised civil same sex unions/marriages) which needs addressing. But why does it need addressing with pastoral responses? I think my feeling that this sort of thing may be disingenuous must have something to do with being Kiwi grappling with American culture! I find a similar thing going on in the debates over Obamacare. His brilliant, inexpensive solution to America's health woes is another politician's disaster in which a tsunami of funds flows from the government into a black hole! Where does the truth lie?


Anonymous said...

Here's another account similar to previous ones posted here in comments. Again from someone who was ACTUALLY there and is quoting from what was actually passed - not making up stuff with a vehement divisiveness

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
Your comment with it's link to Bishop Pierre Whalon's article came after I noticed it in an Addendum to the post (but posted by you before the Addendum was visible). You will see I have raised some questions about it, and that I am not particularly convinced by it! Not, I assure you, on the basis of Michael Nazir-ali's article, but on the basis of my continued reading and reflecting on reports emerging from the GC.