On Friday, the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, Henry Luke Orombi, published an Op-Ed in the London Times attempting to explain why he and the other Ugandan bishops boycotted this year’s Lambeth Conference.
The issue, as Archbishop Orombi sees it, is the Episcopal Church’s consecration of an openly gay bishop and the blessing of same-sex unions. “The American decision disregarded biblical authority by violating clear biblical teaching against homosexual behaviour,” he says.
“Even though some scholars have tried to explain away specific biblical passages that refer to homosexual practice,” he continues, “the fact remains that nowhere in Scripture is homosexual practice affirmed or presented as a legitimate alternative to heterosexual relationships.”
This is cowardice; he accuses the Episcopal Church of blithely ignoring “biblical authority” and yet declines to engage the scholarship he acknowledges, the scholarship that shows plainly that biblical teaching on homosexuality is anything but “clear.”
Let’s take a look at Orombi’s own approach to Scripture. As justification for shirking his responsibility to the global communion by refusing to engage the subject in person with other professing Christians, he writes, “The Bible says: ‘Can two walk together unless they are agreed?’”
“The Bible” says no such thing.
Anytime anyone cites a solitary verse free of any context – known as “proof texting” – mental red flags should go up. I was unfamiliar with this one, so I had to do an internet search. It turns out that’s Amos 3:3, in the New King James Version. Other translations render it differently. The New International Version has it as “Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?” and the more academic NRSV puts it, “Do two walk together unless they have made an appointment?” The English Standard says, “Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?”
Orombi clearly intends for us to take away that the Bible “says” that people are forbidden or at least discouraged from meeting for any purpose unless they are in total agreement about everything; at least, that’s his defense for playing hooky from Lambeth. But that’s not even how the cited verse (in one variation) reads. Amos is asking, albeit perhaps rhetorically. But there is an answer to the question, and it’s clearly “yes.”
Just today – and I am not making this up – I chanced upon a co-worker as I was heading back to the office from lunch. We hadn’t planned to meet, and yet we walked together probably a quarter of a mile or so across the corporate campus to our building. He’s a Mormon, and I’m a gay Episcopalian, so clearly our theologies aren’t going to be in total agreement. Yet we walked together amiably enough.
What else does Amos ask in this passage? “Does a lion roar in the forest, when it has no prey?” Umm…it might. Why not? “Does disaster befall a city, unless the Lord has done it?” (Jesus had a different take on urban disasters.)
Instead of smacking millions of prayerful, conscientious (and biblically literate) Episcopalians across the face with a single (questionably translated) verse ripped from its context and misrepresented as a commandment rather than an open question, perhaps Archbishop Orombi would want to sit with the 14th chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans for a while and get back to us.