Sunday, July 04, 2004

Credibility & The Anglican Mainstream worldwide & The Network (and affiliates) in USA Anglicanism

A Discussion Starter

It is well known that opposition on biblical & biological principles to the treating of same-sex partnerships as unions approved and blessed by God was a major factor in the formation of both the Anglican Mainstream and The Network.

Let us assume that this opposition rightly reads Holy Scripture and Christian tradition on this matter and proceed to ask whether anything more is required to make the case credible in western culture as we experience it.

The argument made by bishops, theologians and philosophers in support of the acceptance as same-sex relationships as normal and therefore to be accepted in the church and blessed by her ministers, is complex and many layered. What I focus on here is that part of it which directly affects those within the churches who oppose the innovation.

I think we can agree that the call for the acceptance of same-sex partnerships had to follow after the absorption by the churches of most of the principles underlying the modern civil and human rights agenda, together with its emphasis upon the freedom, autonomy and dignity of each human person. Because of the influence of this agenda, many churches in the USA have since the 1950s revised their attitude on racial segregation, admitted women as office-bearers and clergy, modified their “God-language” to make it more acceptable to women, made it possible for the blessing of second and third marriages (serial monogamy) in church, and generally made the human rights agenda to be effectively a greater authority for morality and order than the commandments within the Bible.

If we remain within the realm of sexual relations, we have to admit that because of this walking together of churches & the human rights movement, even Christians of a generally conservative mindset, and with a desire to be true to biblical morality, have been deeply affected by it. The acceptance of women on vestries, as office-bearers and particularly as clergy, including bishops, could not have occurred without the context of the civil and human rights movements. Likewise the dramatic change in the form of language used in the many versions of the Bible now available and also in the many new liturgies used in services of worship could not have occurred without the context of this liberation movement. Then, the acceptance of “the divorce culture” within churches, even to include the right of clergy to divorce and remarry and continue in pastoral ministry, is a fruit of the rights movement and agenda in society.

The Church has to be IN the world and FOR the world but not OF the world. However, NOT to be so is most difficult in western societies which have a tradition of Christianity intermingled with their history and culture.

The CREDIBILITY of The Anglican Mainstream and The Network [and affiliates] in western society will in the long term be related to whether they are seen as consistent, that is whether they are ready to reject or modify the rights agenda in areas where to date they have tended to accept it – and to be ready not only to stand up but to face the pastoral consequences of that opposition.

A criticism made daily against the position of these groupings is:

They do not work [despite their protestations on behalf of “the ideal” of Christian marriage] for the traditional doctrine and practice of Christian marriage with the same energy as they oppose homosexual practices. This is because in their midst, especially in North America [and often in leadership], are many divorced and remarried persons, whose place in the churches and even in the Ministry, has been made possible by the rules of the ECUSA, which rules have been put in place due to the heavy influence of the human rights movement in this Church. Thus they are not consistent. If they were consistent, then they would agree that if they are to continue their practice of allowing second and third marriages in church, then they would also agree to the blessing of faithful same-sex partnerships, based on the same agenda of human rights. Further, while it may be argued that the approval of same-sex partnerships as if they were marriages is a direct threat to the institution of marriage in society, it may also be argued that thousand of divorces and remarriages each month are threats not only to individual marriages but also to the stability of marriage in western society.

And parallel arguments can be and are made in terms of the concessions made by these groups in terms of the ordination of women, the use of “God-language”, and the use of a variety of versions of the Bible based upon the “dynamic equivalency” theory of thought for thought rather than the traditional word for word approach. All these concessions can be shown to be based on principles that can also be used to justify the acceptance of certain – i.e., faithful – same sex unions.

In other words, the credibility of The Anglican Mainstream and The Network depends not only on their fervor in showing that theologically and biologically same-sex relations are against God’s honor and the laws of nature. It also as much depends on their showing in apologetic and teaching, in church life and administration, in how the Bible is interpreted and preached, and in how marriage (“what God has joined let no man put asunder”) and ordination (“headship”) are treated, that they are following the Bible and the best Christian tradition rather than allowing contemporary cultural movements when it is convenient to decide what is right.

The Revd Dr Peter Toon July 4th, 2004.