Saturday, 6 January 2007

A Response to The St Michael Report

My comments in italics...

1) Please evaluate the conclusion of the report: do you agree, disagree, or wish to comment further on the conclusion ‘that the blessing of same-sex unions is a matter of doctrine’.

It is, indeed, a matter of doctrine for all the reasons put forward in the report.

2) Discuss the level of doctrinal importance you assign to the issue of same sex blessings. Is it a ‘confessional’ issue (cf. Paragraph 9 & 10)? Where does it lie in the spectrum of doctrine between ‘core’ and ‘adiaphora’?

This issue is closer to core than adiaphora. To bless same-sex couples is to put the whole Biblical scheme of the Creation and the purpose of maleness and femaleness in question by modifying it so that it lines up with contemporary, politically-correct, cultural mores.
3) Paragraph 16: If the two questions in this paragraph are on a continuum where, for you, should the Anglican Church of Canada be in 2007?

My preference is for the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC) to be in full, unimpaired communion with Canterbury and the majority worldwide Anglican Communion. This, for me, is a crucial issue. If the ACC decides, as the Primate has put it, to “walk apart” then it will be leaving me behind. I wish to remain in communion with and under the authority of Canterbury and the Primates.

Some observations on the questions:


• Is it theologically and doctrinally responsible for one member church of the Communion to approve a course of action which it has reason to believe may be destructive of the unity of the Communion?

New Westminister, the ACC and ECUSA are doing, not just proposing, something new; something which goes beyond present orthodox Christian belief and practice. This was done unilaterally and, as such, was deeply disrespectful of the majority of Anglicans, seriously violating the Communion bonds of affection.

• Is it theologically and doctrinally responsible to accept unity as the value which transcends all others, and therefore for a member church of the Communion to refrain from making a decision when it believes it has an urgent gospel mandate to proceed?

Unity is not the value which transcends all others. It must be held in balance with many others such as loving God and neighbour, speaking the truth in love, joy, peace, kindness and so on. As a church, it is not our values which define us. It is what we believe. To bless same sex couples requires a change in what we believe about God and humanity.

If a group feels constrained to make such a move, and are honestly concerned about unity, they ought, first, to make a clear statement of intent complete with biblical rationale for consideration by the wider body (something I have yet to see in our present situation). Then, after consultation and decision, if the decision goes against them, they ought either to accept that decision and go no further, or withdraw themselves from the parent body. It is wrong for a group to try and impose their innovation on the wider body.


4) What are the implications of the cultural context of Canadian life for ministry and doctrine?

I see two implications of the cultural context of Canadian life for our ministry and doctrine. We can either succumb to that context or we can lovingly confront it.

The pressure to normalize the homosexual lifestyle in Canada and in the rest of the First World has become very powerful. To bless same sex couples is to give in to that pressure. It is the easy option. In doing that the Church puts our homosexual brothers and sisters at risk spiritually and (in the case of homosexual men) physically.

This is an Emporer’s-New-Set-of-Clothes situation. If one dares question the morality of homosexual behaviour, the insinuation is that one is bigoted, unsophisticated and behind the times. Often one is also accused of being homophobic. There is great pressure to “see” the set of clothes.

I see this in CS Lewis terms. This effort is one involving all the allure and power of the world, the flesh and the devil. That is not to say I believe the church people who are in favour of this as in league with the devil. I see them as well-meaning, wanting to do the loving thing, but sadly misguided.

To lovingly confront this cultural context is what the Church must do. This is the harder way.


5) Re: paragraph 12 It is commonly assumed that doctrinal certainty is required before pastoral actions can be taken, but history also demonstrates that clarity emerges when thought and action occur simultaneously. (Eg. the ordination of women & children receiving communion).

The same sex blessing issue is of a different order from these. The issues in paragraph 12 do not involve clear, consistent and unequivocal Biblical prohibitions. They are, perhaps, doubtfully Biblical. On the other hand, to bless same sex couples is blatantly unbiblical and completely contrary to Christian morality.

a) In light of all of the above, how should the church respond to the pastoral issues we are facing?

We have to figure out how to love and serve our brothers and sisters who struggle with their sexual identity. This is what all the intentional, deep and prayerful listening, to which the report refers, must be about. This is what being “a community of inclusion that reflects God’s transformative holiness” (Paragraph 7) is about. A Church which is faithfully and lovingly resisting the pressure to conform to the culture is one which welcomes all, no matter what their sinfulness and brokenness, their race, gender or sexual orientation, but which does not betray those welcomed by teaching that their sin is not sin. On the contrary, such a community reflects God’s transformative holiness by helping folk to experience the healing power of God which can deliver people from destructive and addictive behaviour.

b) Are there actions that need to occur simultaneously with our ongoing discernment?

Yes.

c) What might such actions be and what would be an appropriate way of commencing and proceeding with them and assessing them?

We have gone so far in trying to be relevant to the present world we have fallen in. The leadership of the ACC should repent and apologize to the rest of the Anglican Communion fully and without reserve as requested in the Windsor Report. It should also apologize to our homosexual brothers and sisters for leading them astray and to the thousands of faithful, grass-roots Anglicans who have been ignored and marginalized by an Anglican leadership which continues to be run by the Michael Peers “Class of ’86,” a group which was joked about at the 2004 General Synod Peers farewell dinner, but which were very much in evidence at that synod and which still seems to be running our church.

Other comments: Please add any additional comments you wish to make.

Please find a more detailed response to points in the report below.
PREFACE:
In particular, we ask that constituencies refrain from trying to score rhetorical points, or gain influence for the positions they may have already decided are right. We all have much to learn from each other, and in order for that to happen we need to enter into intentional, deep, prayerful listening.

This suggests never-ending dialogue with no resolution. The purpose of the dialogue ought to be to bring about a clear statement of doctrine.
Our intentional, deep and prayerful listening must first be directed to the words of Holy Scripture and tradition. Human experience is important and those who speak of it must be heard with courtesy and respect, but it must be evaluated in the light of Scripture.


1. The Commission has concluded that the blessing of same-sex unions is a matter of doctrine.

I agree.

2. Thus, insofar as a monogamous, intended life-long, committed same-sex union will be a relationship that will either enable or impair our participation in the life of God through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, it is inextricably linked to the core mystery of the triune God, and how we experience God’s saving mercy. More categorically, it seems to us that this issue is fundamentally related to the doctrines of salvation (soteriology), incarnation, the work of the Holy Spirit (pneumatology), our creation in the image of God (theological anthropology), sanctification, and holy matrimony.

I wonder whether it is possible to arrive at a compromise between those who believe homosexual relationships enable or impair our participation in the life of God through Christ. I’m of the latter opinion. I can’t imagine what would convince me that the biblical prohibition of homosexual sexual activity is invalid. The arguments I’ve read so far depend on stretching meanings a great deal further than I am comfortable going. The interpreters are trying to impose meaning on the text rather than letting the text convey its own meaning. Richard Hooker wrote, “I hold it as a most infallible rule in the exposition of Scripture, that when a literal construction will stand, the furthest from the literal is commonly the worst.” I agree.

7. The question of the blessing of same-sex relationships requires us to explore and balance genuine tensions among biblical strands of teaching about the purpose of human sexuality and partnership… and the witness to a community of inclusion that is also a reflection of God’s transformative holiness.

I have yet to see a convincing, Biblically supported, case for sexual activity between persons of the same gender. A community of inclusion that reflects God’s transformative holiness is one that welcomes all, no matter what their sinfulness and brokenness, their race, gender or sexual orientation, but which does not betray those welcomed by teaching that their sin is not sin. On the contrary, such a community reflects God’s transformative holiness by helping folk to experience the healing power of God which can deliver people from destructive and addictive behaviour.


8. Core doctrine or adiaphora?

This issue is closer to core than adiaphora. To bless same-sex couples is to de-value the Biblical scheme of the Creation and the purpose of maleness and femaleness by modifying it so that it lines up with contemporary, politically-correct, cultural mores.

10. The Commission does not believe that this should be a communion-breaking issue.

It would not be a communion-breaking issue if the ACC does not go ahead with it. Should the ACC decide to go ahead with this and “walk apart,” it will break my communion with Canterbury and the majority of the worldwide Anglican Communion unless arrangements are made to prevent that for me and my parish and others like us.

11 & 12. Slavery and civil rights.

In neither case were the issues to do with clear, consistent and unequivocal Biblical prohibitions. These and such matters of the ordination of women are merely doubtfully Biblical. To bless same sex couples is blatantly unbiblical and completely contrary to Christian morality.

15. …it is wrong to think that there is no place for originality in the consideration of revealed truth. As new situations and human problems arise, creativity in the rearticulation of traditional doctrine can be part of the voice of divine wisdom.

It is not wrong when that originality goes against a clear, consistent and unequivocal Biblical prohibition. This is not a “new situation.”

18. …the Biblical depictions of marriage are not uniform.

Except that they, without exception, refer to a union between a man and a woman.

13. Christians know that doctrine can and does change, but the Church also affirms that such development may never contradict the heart of the gospel. When true development occurs, it ultimately has healthy consequences for the life of the Church.

The primary “heart of the gospel” argument I hear in support of blessing same-sex couples is that it is congruent with the gospel imperative to love. Although to love means accepting people in their sin, it does not mean accepting the sin in people, which is what we’re being asked to do.
It seems to me that encouraging young homosexual men to engage in sexual activity which is harmful to their health—some estimates say young homosexually active men have 30% higher premature death-rate than heterosexual men because of the problems arising from anal intercourse—will not have healthy consequences for them, the life of the Church, or for the vulnerable young who will be influenced by such a so-called “true development” of doctrine.

19. …gays and lesbians have been subject to imprisonment, and private and public violence. For these the discussion is about justice, both politically and theologically. As has been recognised by successive Lambeth Conferences and recent Primates’ meetings, the challenge facing the Church is to see our cultural norms through the eyes of Christ and then, out of allegiance to him, to promote those norms that honour him and renounce those that do not.

That gays and lesbians have been subject to imprisonment and violence is tragic and wrong. The Church must be clear in its condemnation of such injustice. To pronounce homosexual behaviour as good and right and part of God’s plan for creation out of sympathy and to try and to somehow make up for what homosexual men and women have suffered is not an appropriate response.

21. …seek a broader consensus on the relationship of sexuality to our full humanity in Christ

The church is not a democracy. At present, parts of the Church seem to be intent on saying, democratically, that God was wrong in His condemnation of homosexual behaviour. Consensus does not necessarily result in truth. It was a consensus that resulted in forty years in the wilderness for the Children of Israel after they had spied out the Promised Land.

22. …the world persists in its pursuit of death in many forms. The idolizing of human appetites or of certain unexamined cultural norms is ultimately destructive of our relationships with God and with one another.

Pope John Paul II referred to our culture as one of death. I’ve already referred to the premature deaths of many young men because of their homosexual lifestyle.

23. Some Anglicans believe that the blessing of same-sex unions strikes at the root of the Church’s being and gospel message because they interpret these relationships as contradicting the teaching of Scripture, and thus putting the salvation of people in such relationships in jeopardy (e.g., Rom 1.18-32; I Cor 6.9). On the other hand, other Anglicans maintain that a faithful biblical theology calls for same-sex blessings (i.e., that the biblical passages usually cited as prohibiting same-sex relationships do not contemplate the contemporary ideal of lifelong committed same-sex unions). They would argue that we fail the gospel mandate when we uphold social taboos and systems that serve to keep people who seek such from fellowship with God (Rom 3:21-25; II Cor 5:16-21). We therefore believe that there is an urgent necessity for a dialogue where participants agree to pay full, careful and transparent attention to the authority of the whole witness of Holy Scripture and its claim upon the Church.

I’m one of the Anglicans in the first sentence.

I’ve yet to see a convincing systematic, biblical rationale for homosexual behaviour let alone same-sex blessings.

Social taboos are not necessarily bad. Consider the taboo against sex with children.

I agree with the urgent necessity and not just regarding homosexuality, but also on stewardship, salvation and the unique claims of Jesus Christ.


32. The longing for relationship (“This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” (Gen 2:23a)) compels the person to leave the family of origin and to cleave to another, where a new community is established (Gen 2:24).

The context here is men and women.

37 it is particularly important for the church to support those whose experience of single or married life is one of loneliness or isolation.

The Church needs to get much better providing pastoral care and support to the single, especially those who are single and don’t want to be, both homo and heterosexual.

44 It is now for the Church to decide whether or not the blessing of same-sex unions is a faithful, Spirit-led development of Christian doctrine.

In my considered opinion; as one who has read relatively widely on the subject, both pro and con, who has worked with and enjoyed knowing homosexual people; I still have to say and would be prepared to say to those friends—lovingly and acknowledging their pain—same sex blessings cannot be a faithful, Spirit-led development of Christian doctrine. On the contrary, such a move constitutes a radical departure from orthodox Christian faith and practice.