If the General Convention in August 2003 by a majority vote confirms the election of the "Gay Priest", Gene Robinson, as the Bishop of New Hampshire, will this be the worst example of an line of endorsements of bad innovations that it has yet approved?
1.Certainly some people think that it will be the worst innovation. They believe that God's will for sexual relations in humanity are to be confined to a couple who are joined together as one flesh in the covenant and sacrament of marriage. They hold that natural law and basic biology supports the ordering of a man towards a woman and a woman towards a man for procreation and companionship and for the nurture of children. Thus the ordering of a male to a male or a female to a female in sexual activity they see as an abomination. It matters not whether such activity is in stable partnerships or in random encounters, it is wickedness and invites God's wrath. (This position is held by people who approve of divorce and remarriage and by those who do not do so.)
2. Some people think that the innovation of a "gay bishop" in a relationship and thus of general approval for same-sex partnerships is before God and in the grand scheme of things no worse as a sin than is the general approval given by the General Convention over the years to the marriage of divorcees and the public ministry of divorced persons - that is the approval of the phenomenon of serial monogamy. There is general agreement that Jesus made little or no allowance for divorce and re-marriage in his ethics of the kingdom of God. Further, while serial monogamy is not so obviously against the natural ordering of the sexes as is homosexuality, it is against the natural order in that it does not usually or normally provide a stable home environment for children. Thus it is asserted that the innovations of the blessing of same-sex couples and the consecrating of a "gay man" as a bishop are not worse than the consecrating of a divorced man and the allowing of the marriage of the divorced. (This position is held by people who approve of divorce and remarriage and by those who do not do so.)
3. Some people think that the worst innovation was the decision to ordain women as priests and bishops and to mandate this doctrine and practice for all office bearers. They believe that the setting aside of the historic Ministry made up of men only brings into serious question the availability of the grace of God through what have been called "the means of grace" - sacraments etc. They hold that the Church ceases to be the Church of God, the Catholic Church, if her ministry is not valid. A "gay man" in holy orders remains a priest of God and the Sacraments he celebrates remain means of divine grace to worthy communicants. Likewise a divorced man in holy orders is a priest and a source of sacramental grace. Thus being divorced and being gay do not constitute barriers in the same way as does being an ordained women who cannot be by God's decree celebrants of true sacraments. (This position is held by those who approve of divorce and remarriage and those who do not do so.)
4. Some people think that the worst innovation was the decision to replace the classic, historic Book of Common Prayer (1662,1789,1891 & 1928) with a Book of Alternative and Varied Services and thereby set aside historic worship, doctrine and discipline. They trace all bad innovations to this primary and massive innovation which was passed by General Convention in 1976 & 1979, but was in preparation from the mid 1960s. However, there is not absolute agreement as to what are the bad innovations flowing from this change in Formulary.
And there are other positions that could be described.
How one evaluates the innovation of ordaining a "gay man" as a bishop will affect whether or not one sees it as a cause for separating from the ECUSA or for declaring a diocese or a parish out of communion with other dioceses or parishes. Those who see this innovation as the Church blessing depravity and judge it to be a sin of graver nature and consequences than other sins (innovations) they will face major questions and decisions.
The cynic will probably observe that the reality of the excellent pension fund of the ECUSA and the generally good stipends paid to clergy will weigh heavily not necessarily in how clergy and bishops talk but rather in what they finally do. This has been the story of clergy reaction to innovations since the 1960s. Only the few have departed. The majority has adjusted its theology and morality and made a new line in the sand of where orthodoxy ends and apostasy begins. Time will tell.
Meanwhile a once blessed Jurisdiction is increasingly submerged by the tides of secularism.
The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon M.A., D.Phil. (Oxon.)