The Lay of the Land
It is now beyond question that the Church has assumed as its charism within the Apostolic churches, leadership in proclaiming the theological and ecclesial equality of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered persons.
The implications of this fact for the Body of Christ, the Anglican Communion, and the Church itself, are not clear.
Because as the Archbishop of Canterbury recently wrote, “very serious anxieties have already been expressed” about our Church’s decisions, and our recent decisions, will not ease these.
These anxieties have erupted and continue to affect our relationships, because the Church’s charism is viewed as misguided or as apostasy by many others.
Several other Apostolic churches have to some degree or another travelled on this path, by broaching and debating the issue. But none to the extent of our Church, which has brought the matter to the level of the episcopate, and therefore, to the forefront or background of nearly every Church- and Communion-wide meeting and discussion.
For nearly six years, the merest fraction of Church time but a sustained period in human terms, the Church has been consumed with this issue, to the clear detriment of others. It seems that we have not been able to walk and chew gum at the same time.
The 20/20 Initiative is but a memory. Church planting is pitiful. The state of our seminaries and our theological educational structures and principles is a C- at best.
At this past General Convention, the national church leaders and bodies ceded—no, rejected—responsibility for evangelism and the Great Commission, insisting that it was better done by the diffuse, smaller and more limited confines of our localities. This rejection of stewardship of the Great Commission by our national Church offices may be nothing less than a national abdication of our mission and responsibility as a Church. It is hard to see church planting and successful evangelism taking place within such confines.
It may be no surprise then, that into this vacuum of regular and renewed missional purpose has poured the round-robins of sexuality, affecting our relations with one another—within our parishes, our dioceses, our Church, our provinces, our Communion, and with our ecumenical partners. We often talk about and do nothing else, because this is all we are up to.
For the vast majority of individual gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered persons in our Church, or who consider themselves faithful or otherwise interested in this matter, the implications of this consummate attention are very clear and essential—a recognition by the wider Church of the fruits of the Holy Spirit that they experience on a regular and sustained basis. It is in fact these very incarnate realities that have forced the matter despite all difficulties because these realities are inescapable and irreducible.
Yet at the same time, these realities clearly conflict with the vast repository of Christian teaching, tradition, Scriptural interpretation, and the plain meanings of the Scriptures themselves. As the Archbishop pointed out, this has not changed since the earliest days of the Church. This reality is also inescapable and irreducible.
Other churches, most notably the Roman Catholic Church, have introduced aspects of worship, tradition, interpretation, and theology, into their own understanding of Christianity that do not rely on Scripture and that are in fact, rejected by wide parts of the greater Body for not being supported by Scripture.
The differences between these churches and our own have contributed to the problems in our churches: the lack of a central theological authority, our apostolic nature, and the very short time frame--in Church terms--of how we have addressed the sexuality issue.
Analogies to the issue of women’s ordination and election to the episcopate are therefore distinct for at least this one reason—time.
The Church and the Scriptures have clear images and realities of women serving in key roles, since the days of the Lord. We have scores of women saints we pray with and for and venerate. We have the example of the Holy Mother. We have thousands of years of women serving the Lord and our churches in various capacities to the extent that, for many of us, having them serve as deacons, priests, and bishops, was a natural progression.
This took 2000 years. In the meantime, we have learned to live side by side with complementarians and female priests and bishops.
Christendom’s first openly gay bishop, on the other hand, preceded any wider agreement or example of what it meant to have openly gay persons not only serving and worshipping by our sides, but any theological constructs carving out an exception to the general prohibition, outside of a generally Arminianist impulse that too often has been relied upon when objections arise.
Another difference is the lack of clear theological authority attached to many General Convention resolutions and committees, panels, and bodies issuing findings on the sexuality matter within our Church.
The conclusions of these bodies that have impact for the entire Church Catholic are regularly dismissed for not being based on theology. This may be not because they do not contain theology within them, but because they do not issue from a consistent and unified body responsible for preserving, interpreting, and transmitting our theology.
What they do issue from is the General Convention and various standing and ad hoc bodies whose constitutions, bylaws, and approaches vary over time, even from meeting to meeting—and which in any event have no authority beyond our own borders.
This per se is not detrimental but is indeed, the great gift of the Spirt to our Church.
But, but—along with this diffusion has always been, the belief and practice that movement in some areas but especially in the area of human sexuality, would be slow, consultatory, and desirous of the widest possible consensus. Slow not in human terms, but in Church terms.
This has not occurred. That it has not, may very well be a gift of the Spirit. It has been six years, or 30, depending on your point of view—a sustained period in human terms either way, but not much in Church terms, and less than a speck in God’s.
All around, for six years, we have regularly failed to live up to our better natures, and have attacked and derided, in clear and certain terms; and approached with hostility and animosity, those who disagree and who have been inflamed by our actions.
The speed of the conversation has magnified the best and worst impulses of our natures and forced our Church to drop and allow to wither on the vine, other important measures.
At least for the Church of this province, we have witnessed a weakening of our national structures as they have turned away from the Great Commission, intellectual study and educational theology, in order to address this issue.
If we examine our history, perhaps we might find that a slower pace had the virtue at least, of smoothing out the extremes of human behaviors and allowing us to disagree and plant churches at the same time.
But, this is not where find ourselves, and perhaps this is not where we are supposed to be just yet.
We are traveling through uncharted waters but we have placed our hope in Christ to get us through and all around us we signs of the Spirit.
As we proceed our Church is going to need us properly discerning the Holy Spirit and living into our discernment and charism, without at the same time being unwilling or unable to do what we have also done up to this season.
This applies to each of us individually but also to us corporately.
Right now, especially if you take a look at the pages of Episcopal Life, we are not precisely up to the task.
We are going to have to do double duty to fix this.
*This is not meant to be glib or facetious, merely to recognize, that what is discussed and examined in our Church as an issue of the Gospel or inclusiveness or rights or fairness or the Spirit, is outside of the Church, reported nearly always, especially in the press, as the gay church issue.