Disappointing news from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where last week the primates of the Anglican Communion met to discuss the issues threatening to tear apart this global body of Christians: the bishops adopted a “communiqué” with a series of “recommendations” for the Episcopal Church, which is the American branch of Anglicanism.
To me a “recommendation” is a suggestion meant for serious consideration. However, the communiqué specifies that the Episcopal Church has seven months to comply with the “recommendations” or face a “reduced role” in the Communion. Recommendations don’t come with an “or else.” That’s an ultimatum.
The “recommendation” is that by September 2007, the Episcopal Church will agree to stop “authorizing” the blessing of same-sex unions and will no longer consecrate bishops who are not celibate outside of heterosexual marriage, i.e. gay bishops, even/especially those in committed relationships.
There are all manner of complicated issues in play here, regarding church structure and doctrine, as well as resistance by the more conservative bishops to our newly-elected presiding bishop, the first woman to hold that post. Father Jake opines that the fight isn’t really over issues of diversity; “That is the presenting issue; the canary in the coal mine. The foundational issue is about where the locus of authority will reside in the Anglicanism of the future. This proposal by the Primates is a direct challenge to our polity.”
Though it is an immensely complex issue, I wanted to offer a couple of thoughts on the “blessing” of unions, even as a step short of the full sacrament of marriage.
One of the passages we must consider regarding the compatibility of homosexuality with Christian life is Romans 1:24-28; many take this to be the final word on the subject. Paul writes of men and women who “exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural.” But Paul himself did not intend for us to take his letters unquestioningly at face value.
Twice (here and here) in 1 Corinthians, Paul exclaims “Judge for yourselves!” Significantly, the latter passage is one of Paul’s more controversial arguments. He says to us, “Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head unveiled? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?” Well…no, frankly. There aren’t many Christians today who worry over whether a woman must cover her head to pray; we took Paul at his word, judged this statement, and found it to be silly. (Jesus also asked “Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?”)
This is the only proper response to those who claim that in order to justify homosexuality using the Bible, we have to “pick and choose” our verses and ignore other passages. But we don’t just “pick and choose,” it’s called discernment, and it’s what Paul himself invited us to do. All Christians do it (especially the ones who claim they don’t).
We question Paul’s statement about “natural intercourse,” since the overwhelming majority of scientific knowledge on the subject points to biological causes for sexual orientation. Would Paul have made the same claim knowing what we know today? We question Paul’s statement in light of the radical welcome preached by Jesus. Paul and Jesus encouraged us to look around and judge for ourselves: what we see are committed same-sex couples of faith wanting to bring their relationship inside the church and be a part of it.