Monday, September 06, 2004

The Archbishop’s Question: What can we learn from our enemies?

A few days ago I listened to the Archbishop of Canterbury answering questions about the Anglican Communion and its fragile unity. In this he invited us, amongst other things, to ask: What can we learn from our enemies/opponents in the Anglican world? He seemed to imply that facing and answering this question would help in some way to maintain the fragile unity, at least in the short term. I doubt that he is right but let us proceed.

“Enemies” is a dramatic word but this is what he said! I have reduced it to “opponents”.

I take it that at least he means (a) that those who support the rights of homosexual persons and the agenda of the LesBiGay lobby should ask: What can we learn from the African Bishops and the Evangelical Lobby in their relentless and fierce opposition to the blessing of homosexual partnerships and the ordaining of active homosexual persons? (b) And, on the other side: What can we, homosexual activists and the LesBiGay lobby, learn from the resolute stand of the Evangelical Lobby to protect sexual relations only between a male and a female and only in marriage?

Let us begin by observing that in war it is possible to admire aspects of the strategy, equipment, training, and courage of the armed forces of the enemy. And one can so admire even as one determines to oppose that which they aim to do – e.g., invade and conquer your country. Further, in war it is possible – sometimes necessary – to learn from the enemy so that one can do what they do or better. This learning can cover items from the whole spectrum of the waging of war, from strategy to the clothing worn. However, all this being said and freely admitted, it can still be the case that the cause of one side is just while the other is unjust.

What can homosexual activists and their supporters learn from the African bishops and the western opponents of “gay” marriage and the like? Here are a few suggestions as a starter to thinking and discussion.

First of all, they can have confirmed all kinds of things that they know already – e.g., that these people claim to be standing on the sure and clear teaching of Holy Scripture concerning sexual relations, sexuality and sexual sins; and that these people believe that common sense, basic biology, psychology and church tradition support their interpretation of the Bible.

But what can they learn from their opponents that is “new” or not commonly stated in the controversy? I suggest the following as a starter:

  • that while the Evangelicals have, like most church people, adopted the language and claims of modern civil and human rights, they are prepared to put some limits on the adoption of these rights in the churches and to claim to do so on the basis that a specific human right cannot negate a biblical command. Thus there is a limit to the extension of human rights in a people who are under the Lord of lords.

  • that most Evangelicals are passionate about their “relationship” with Jesus and the “Faith” and wish to share him/it with others, and thus their emphasis upon the Great Commission and on church planting and on experiential religion. However, they are not strong on adhering to “the classic Formularies” of the Anglican Way.

  • that Evangelicals seem blind to obvious historical and contextual connections between the present push for the claim for human rights and dignity expressed by the LesBiGay lobby and previous & recent innovations in the church doctrine, order and worship (e.g., the right to a second marriage if the first failed; the right of a woman to practical equality with a man in church polity; and the right of a woman to address Deity in names that she finds acceptable as a woman). That is, there is a kind of uniqueness for them in the particular claimed rights of LesBiGay persons and they do not see the earlier innovations arising from claimed human rights as containing principles which prepared the way for later ones.

  • that Evangelicals would be more dangerous opponents if they were consistent in their opposition to all innovations in the realm of sexual relations in the life of the Church and did not merely oppose those which they found repulsive. It is relatively easy to take on an enemy that does not have in-depth resources and a well-planned strategy.

Now, let us turn in the opposite direction and ask what the Evangelical lobby can learn from the LesBiGay lobby. Here are a few starters:

  • That the homosexual activists are using methods of translating the Bible and of interpreting the Bible which were pioneered by Evangelicals themselves in their
    desire to be relevant and to have the Bible ready by all kinds and types of people. That is, the post 1960s method of “Dynamic Equivalency”, rendering “thought for thought”, rather than “word for word” in translation into English from Hebrew and Greek, can provide any activist group with a claim to be “biblical” through the use of “dynamic equivalency”, wherein the original text supports what could never be supported by the “word for word”, the essentially literal rendering. The Biblical case of the Evangelicals for sexuality depends ultimately upon the “word for word” essentially literal method of translation!

  • That the homosexual lobby has developed and perfected methods of communication and advertising which appeal to a western society. It has learned how to gain entry to the hearts of a population that is easily swayed by certain images and sincere stories of personal privation and need.

  • That the homosexual lobby has developed ways of incorporating both traditional and semi-traditional liturgy, music, ceremonial and symbolism into its total offerings. Thus it is not seen as abandoning what is best and highest in the received Tradition but as using it virtually in full and placing within it, its own emphases and themes.

  • That the homosexual lobby is seeking to be consistent in its adapting of the received doctrines of God as The Trinity, Jesus as the Son of God Incarnate, sin, salvation and so on. It is taking seriously the task of providing a total theology, with a whole liturgy, that (on its premises) is consistent with their innovative doctrines of sexuality.

Now let us offer some concluding observations to encourage further thought.

First of all, as noted above, it is sometimes the case that in war one side has justice on its side. However, for it to have justice on its side in a general way does not mean that everything that it does is just and right. For example, some of its soldiers may commit atrocities and some of its plans may cause dreadful and unnecessary loss of life.

Secondly, therefore, it is possible (necessary) to say in this “war” within the Anglican (and other) Churches that the Evangelicals (and those who side with them) are substantially right, that the Christian position (based on Bible, Tradition and Theology) totally rejects the blessing of homosexual couples or the ordaining of homosexually active persons. And at the same time, it is possible (necessary) to say that the Evangelicals are not fighting the war as they ought to do. Why? Because certain basic inconsistencies in their defenses, thinking, strategy and attacks make it difficult for them to win and especially to gain general approval in the Churches (of the West).

Thirdly, put simply, it would appear that the Evangelicals would more obviously have a just cause if they would recognize that in their fight for Truth & Orthodoxy they must see that the enemy is not only the ideology of the LesBiGay agenda but, perhaps moreso, that which lies behind this agenda in the innovations introduced since the 1960s – innovations that made “Truth” to be a second order reality. Further, they need to remove from their own armies and weapons that which and those which actually betray their cause (by treating the homosexual innovation as the only real problem with the ECUSA and other liberal Churches).

Finally a few questions to answer: What is the relation between (a) the abandonment of the classic Formularies by ECUSA in 1976/79; (b) the failure of marital discipline in the ECUSA since the 1960s; (c) the ordination of women and the introduction of inclusive language for God and man by ECUSA; (d) the making of human rights language into the dominant moral language in ECUSA; (e) the cultivation in ECUSA of the self-worth, self-realization and self-fulfillment culture; (f) the use of Bible and Liturgies based on the theory of “dynamic equivalency” in translation; (g) the casual attitude to worship – in dress, in quality of words and music etc in ECUSA; --- to the advocacy and reception of the LesBiGay agenda in the ECUSA?

The Rev’d Dr. Peter Toon September 6 2004

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