Sunday, 25 September 2016
Bishops' Reflection Group: Church Times leader
The Church Times has a leader this week which discusses the Bishops’ Reflection Group on Human Sexuality. This is titled An unenviable task.
Do please read it in full.
The two concluding paragraphs:
Posted by Simon Sarmiento on
Sunday, 25 September 2016 at 6:58pm BST
…It is always dangerous to underestimate the ability of the C of E to avoid resolving an issue, but it does seem clear that many of the Bishops, and possibly both of the Archbishops, are determined to halt the Church’s endless wrangling about sexuality, on the obvious grounds that it undermines mission, brings the Church into disrepute, and causes real harm to many individuals. The direction of travel is towards liberalisation. The sticking-point is how to accomplish this without compromising the consciences of conservatives or triggering an exodus — or, at least, too much of one. The lesson learnt by most during the Shared Conversations was that it is possible to respect the opinions of another without relinquishing one’s own views. But the growth of what has been, in essence, a greater sense of perspective exposed the few who cannot see sexuality as anything other than a communion-breaking matter.
The remarks from GAFCON after the revelation that the Bishop of Grantham was in a celibate same-sex relationship marked a new low: “We remain opposed to the guidelines for clergy and bishops, permitting them to be in same-sex relationships as long as they publicly declare that the relationship is not sexual. This creates confusion in terms of the Church’s teaching on the nature of sex and marriage, and it is not modelling a helpful way to live.” This has rarely been said so boldly, and conservatives of this stripe cannot expect the bishops to come up with any measures that satisfy them. The C of E is a broad Church with able bishops, but it is beyond their ability to accommodate a view that rejects even the existing compromise.
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Church of England
It strikes me that the warnings directed towards the Church of England, on the dangers faced by allowing subversive elements to thrive within its own jurisdiction (AMiE & Gafcon. U.K.) by TEC and The Anglican Church of Canada; having finally come to roost.
My own view, after discussing this matter endlessly here on New Zealand conservative blog sites, has come down to thinking that, in order to preserve its own integrity, the Church of England (and ACANZP in New Zealand), needs to go forward in the only direction indicated by the Gospel imperative.
The Church will not expel those who think differently; if they decide to go,they will be excommunicating themselves – a matter for their own private consciences – something sacred to each one of us.
Would that the Church could model what it is to conduct political processes with pastoral sensitivity.
What the recent communique regarding the Reflections Group (and indeed many of the subsequent comments relating to it) completely failed to recognise was the significant pastoral implications on a group of individuals who yet again are being talked "about" and not "with".
As a church which looks to champion the pastoral needs of the most vulnerable, we should have tried to go an extra mile to ensure we conducted ourselves as a role model for others to follow. I fear we have yet to even start this journey, and should look to other major institutions for best practice (the Police Federation, the NHS and the Armed Forces to name but a few)!
We will always have proposed "processes", indeed we cannot look to resolve our difficulties without it. What is needed now more than ever is pastoral insights to ensure that we aren't steeped in heterosexual normative thinking.
"I fear we have yet to even start this journey, and should look to other major institutions for best practice (the Police Federation, the NHS and the Armed Forces to name but a few)!"
Absolutely Jayne, but the crucial difference is that they're not burdened by biblical authority. I doubt any but a tiny handful of people in the CoE like discriminating against LGBT people; but so long as they believe that the Bible both condemns homosexuality and dictates their actions, much as they dislike it, they'll consider their hands tied.
As usual, James absolutely nails it.
Most decent bible-believing Christians hate discrimination between gay and heterosexual people, but feel they have to, because the Bible says so.
The authority of the Bible trumps their own subjective sensitivities, and ineffect anaesthetises any conscience they have on the issue.
The perceived need to submit to the infallible authority of the Bible overrules the tide of social change and consciousness of which, external to the Bible, they are a part.
I think it is really important to recognise that many evangelicals with deeply conservative views on sexuality are driven, not by hatred or fear of LGBT people, but by fear of disobeying God and a desire to be faithful to biblical authority (as they understand it).
I have belonged to evangelical churches for over 35 years, and although they attract hard-liners who writhe even at the presence of gay couples at their services, most church members have shown far more (subjective) openness and kindness to LGBT people - out of an instinct of love - while maintaining an (objective) intransigence on grounds of defending the Bible and its overruling authority.
In the end, it is probably 'encounter' with actual LGBT individuals that leads people to reassess their parameters (or interpretation of the Bible)... because of children, or relatives, or workmates, or friends, who happen to be LGBT... and the idea that their lives are an abomination, at some point, just doesn't compute.
That point, I suggest, is the awakening of conscience. And conscience is a God-given gift. It is the point where love trumps legalism, and rigidity crumbles, and God's spirit touches the human heart.
I know, because it happened to me. I was once an extreme fundamentalist. When the defences broke, that had hemmed my thinking in, the world did not collapse, nor my faith, but a new and more open life started to flourish, less tense, less driven by intense conformity to bible verses and rules, and more full of potential to explore, to widen horizons, to include, to open, open, open to the touch of God in other people in all their diversity, brilliance, and original beauty.
I learnt that God’s authority and love operates through conscience as well as scriptures, and that we are made to think… to feel… to respond… and to open ourselves not only to others but to potential for growth beyond our own self-imposed boundaries.
Most have forgotten that back in the 19th century, the world's Anglican mission fields were divided up between the Church Missionary Society (strong evangelical) and the Oxford and other missionary groups. So today, more than a hundred years after that "apartheid" missionary strategy, the evangelical chickens are coming home to roost. And there is no one more responsible for this contretemps than those 19th century evangelicals who promoted their own cultural and societal prejudices to their innocent African followers (who,as the anthropologists tell us) already had healthy, inclusive cultural boundaries before they were side-tracked by Christian perversion.
We saw the same kind of thing here in the US when the Episcopal missionaries carried with them the Euro-American ideals of individualism, competition, and capitalism and almost completely destroyed the communal, inclusive, creative cultures of the Native Americans (which, thank God, are beginning to be reclaimed).
There WILL be a break—that's virtually a given at this point—and it had better come now before the schismatic groups grow larger and stronger.Sadly,.it COULD have been faced in England 20 years ago with much less bloodshed.very
I completely understand the evangelical mindset, James and Susannah, as that's the stable I come from.
My point was slightly more nuanced than I think you picked up - independent of what we believe the Bible teaches on the issue, we are still called to show compassion and concern to people. Hence the 'love your enemies' imperative.
The institutions I've cited have learnt how to do this and model it far better than the Church, which is a disgrace. We should be the place where we show love and compassion to all above any other organisation. At the moment we are bottom of the table!
It's ironic that human fear, exceptionalism and mishandling of Scripture - a great gift to humanity - has made the Bible a poison to the faith, and shut down revelation.
Compassion and concern will take different forms depending on whether it's believed that same-sex relationships are sinful or normal. They're no substitute for equality and affirmation, which remains the crucial difference between the church, and other institutions.
John-Julian makes a very valid point. A lot of the current problems on gender and sexuality in the Anglican Churches around the world stem from the ideology of moral rectitude that seemed to be the pivotal virtue of the teaching and preaching of the first CMS missionaries.
Perfectly acceptable customs that were present in native culture - especially in the countries of Africa - were often discouraged by the Evangelical fervour of the Sola Scriptura missionaries. This is probably one reason why countries like South Africa - missionised by the more Catholic Mission Societies - are more open to the new understanding of the authenticity of the LGBTI community.
"We saw the same kind of thing here in the US when the Episcopal missionaries carried with them the Euro-American ideals of individualism, competition, and capitalism and almost completely destroyed the communal, inclusive, creative cultures of the Native Americans (which, thank God, are beginning to be reclaimed)."
Where do you get your information from? Disney cartoons? You do know that the communal, inclusive, creative cultures of the native Americans included what most people today would regard as genocidal policies towards those unlucky enough to be born into a weaker tribe. You do realise that the general attitudes towards the environment people like you if you took the time to find out what these attitudes were, and I say this as a strong supporter of Native American culture and a student of their history.
"Most decent bible-believing Christians hate discrimination between gay and heterosexual people"
Hmm. Or does the bigotry come first, the justification rather later? After all, it's not as though anti-gay prejudice is unique to bible-believing Christians, and it defies belief that they were all accepting and loving people who were only turned into homophobes by the influence of their church. An equally plausible argument would be that evangelical churches attract social conservatives with some pretty harsh things to say about everything that's happened since 1963 (when, as Philip Larkin so memorably said, sexual intercourse began) and they find in the bible justification for views that they hold anyway, and which in other environments might be challenged rather than supported.
Interested Observer, I think it's a bit of both.
It is pretty obvious in the USA that the conservative right is anti-trans and any religious objections are layered on top of inherent prejudice. It would be too much of a stretch to believe that doesn't also happen with homophobia. GAFCON Africans are surprisingly honest on the issue too, saying proudly that their culture and traditions are against homosexuality so, if the Bible was totally silent on same sex relationships, then they would still be against homosexuality.
Does the same apply in England. Probably less so - but it would be unreasonable not to think that at least in some cases the prejudice came first. but I suspect the majority of conservatives would reconsider their position if it was demonstrated that their understanding of the Bible was wrong.
Kate, agreed, it's a mix.
Some people undoubtedly use religion as a vehicle and excuse to broadcast preexisting bigotry.
Others, however, are shaped by religion. The English bishop Pete Broadbent's a standout example: passionately left-wing, and strikingly, he fought for (secular) gay rights in the '80s, at the time a marginal and despised position outside tiny circles of progressives. He's clearly not homophobic, and if he weren't an evangelical, it's overwhelmingly likely that he be able to affirm lesbian and gay relationships.
The tragedy in England is that change is blocked not by homophobes, but by the second group: decent people, often left-wing in their politics, but who consider themselves bound by the Bible.
"the second group: decent people, often left-wing in their politics, but who consider themselves bound by the Bible"
I beg to differ.
Left wing people? Perhaps, though I've certainly met left wing homophobes.
Decent? In many things, in most things perhaps, but not in this.
Here is why:
Why do they feel bound by the Bible in this instance, but not in others? This is Thinking Anglicans so I don't need to rehearse all the things that 'the Bible' proscribes or prescribes that are routinely ignored, or Christians believe they have a get-out clause from.
If people truly believed themselves bound by the Bible, they would keep everything that the Bible apparently says. But they don't.
You don't see this sort of Christian campaigning against pubs or all you can eat buffets even though Paul thinks drunkards and the greedy will not inherit the kingdom of God. But you do find them campaigning against gays because of their (mis) reading of the same verse in 1 Corinthians.
You don't see this sort of Chrsitian keeping the Torah laws, but they seem to want to insist that gay people keep the one that refers to them.
Generally these 'decent' people feel bound by the Bible when it affects somebody else, and not when it affects them.
There is no objective reason for this selectivity, so conscious or not, deliberate or not, however else they may be decent, that makes them homophobic in my book. If you are happy to acquiesce with Biblical homophobia, (even if it's in the Bible, it's still homophobia) then you are homophobic. Full stop.
They may not think they are and that prevents them from taking the action they should. Stop making excuses for these people.
James, I agree with the tragedy but, dare I say it, liberals are much to blame for the tragedy. Evangelicals tend to promote Bible study much more than liberals who seem inclined towards personal revelation instead. As a result I think the reading of Scripture has tended to be drawn towards a conservative outlook.
I think though that there's another difference in mindset between liberals and conservatives. Liberals look for some sort of compromise on same sex issues in isolation but I think, subconsciously at least, conservatives think the compromise has been to give way on female ordination and remarriage after divorce and that the compromise for those concessions is to hold firm on one issue - and the one left in the bag is same sex relationships. It's why I think liberals are far too optimistic about how many conservative evangelicals might leave the church. While the church retains traditional teaching on same sex relationships, it is possible to still see the church as conservative in part. If the teaching changes, then the church will be liberal on all the contentious issues at which point it won't offer a comfortable home to conservatives. If this was politics or commerce there would be horse trading going on. "We'll accept that openly gay bishops if lady and gay bishops are barred from offering confirmation." Within the church that is not possible - at least openly - so emotionally it is easy to see why conservatives are being intransigent - they are being asked to give you up something important to them but are being offered nothing in return. It's not a compelling deal.
Thank you, Fr. Andrew. It was nice to read something so affirming amidst of so much awful news.
"Why do they feel bound by the Bible in this instance, but not in others? This is Thinking Anglicans so I don't need to rehearse all the things that 'the Bible' proscribes or prescribes that are routinely ignored, or Christians believe they have a get-out clause from."
There is a difference, though. Given the sheer number of Bible passages emphasise differences between men and women it's not surprising if many Christians have a faith which is also strongly gendered.
"it's not surprising if many Christians have a faith which is also strongly gendered"
I've been talking about sexual orientation not gender. God made them male and female, yes. And?
When was the last time you saw a woman in a 'Bible-based' church covering her head? Despite what St Paul said. Or being silent? It's that selectivity again. One Bible-based rule for us, one for them. It's fine to draw lines in the sand with your Bible, but it's curious that they're always in front of someone else's feet.
Why should LGBTIQ Christians wait a single second longer for conservatives to give them the rights that already belong to them as God's children?