Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Archbishop Misses

Walking with Integrity has published the transcript of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s “Presidential Address” given today for the bishops of the Anglican Communion gathered at Lambeth in the UK.

As has been widely covered in the media, the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference has been closely monitored for signs of a rift in the global church over the issue of homosexuality, especially the consecration of openly-gay Bishop Gene Robinson of the Diocese of New Hampshire and the increasingly widespread pastoral practice of blessing same-sex unions throughout the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada.

This is not a new controversy. Resolutions in previous Lambeth meetings have repeatedly called for a “listening” process, in which the global community is supposed to open its ears and its hearts to each other as a means of finding the common ground, or at least mutual understanding, necessary for moving forward together.

In his address today, Abp. Rowan Williams notes that while there seems to be a lot of talking, he is unconvinced that much listening is going on – a criticism he levels squarely at both sides of the debate. In the course of his talk, he outlines what he imagines is the core message each side wants the other to take away.

It’s a gentle idea but is unfortunately premised on the notion that we in the more progressive camp are not properly sensitive to traditional church teachings or the authority of Scripture.

This is absurd on its face, because it presupposes that we have largely come from a tradition that embraces the ordination of gay people and the sanctification of same-sex relationships. Nothing could be further than the truth; nearly all of us have grown up with the traditional understanding that homosexuality is an aberrance and a sin. It is not accurate to say that we are casually ignoring inconvenient Scripture or altering practice merely to keep pace with popular, secular culture. Whether gay or straight, it is our faith and our abiding love and respect for the Bible that has caused us to engage this question, to go deeper into Scripture and examine the problematic passages and to seek to understand them.

I personally grew up with a quasi-literalist understanding of the Bible; in the Lutheran church where I attended Sunday school, no one was promoting the idea of a literal six-day creation, but I doubt you’d have found anyone – especially me – who claimed to detect any wiggle room in the twin verses in Leviticus that appear to condemn homosexuality as an “abomination.” That was not up for discussion, and in my early teens, as I became aware of my orientation, I can recall the abject terror those verses inspired in me, because I took them seriously.

For the Archbishop now to muse on behalf of the Africans that Episcopalians haven’t spent enough time appreciating where they’re coming from is an enormous failure to comprehend the painful and scary journey that many of us – both gay and straight – have undertaken to reconcile our faith in a loving God with passages of Scripture that simply contradict what we objectively know to be true about the spiritual gifts of God’s gay and lesbian children. The arguments and appeals we have made on behalf of greater inclusion for Christ’s church are based specifically on our profound regard for Scripture, a regard that inspires us to re-evaluate and re-assess the traditional understanding.

Indeed, he is so far off the mark that he actually manages to suggest that the progressives have not bothered to consider “what it is to be known as the 'gay church' in a context where that spells real contempt and danger.”

That’s the entire experience of “coming out” – the fear of what it will be to be known as the ‘gay person’ in an environment full of contempt and danger.

Oh, yes, Archbishop. We know all about that.


Joel said...

It's very disappointing.

Birdie said...

I'm aware of this situation only circumstantially, but it sounds as though you have a pretty thorough understanding. Do you see any chance of reconciliation of the two groups? Is there someone with a better understanding speaking on behalf of healing the rift?