Tuesday, January 20, 2009


A fair number of evangelical Episcopalians seem to be hoping that the Primates will discipline the “revisionist” leadership of The Episcopal Church and establish once and for all that the only acceptable Anglican position on same-sex intimacy is to be against it. That is, of course, the position of the Roman Catholic Church and of many other Churches. From time to time we hear “slippery slope” or “domino theory” assertions that accepting same-sex intimacy will lead to acceptance of sexual abuse of children and bestiality.

While I find those “slippery slope” assertions absurd, there is a real “slippery slope” and we need to beware of it. This time the Primates are being asked to make an authoritative statement about the interpretation of certain passages of Scripture with Reason and with reflection on Tradition. Once we have granted the Primates that authority, what will be the next ethical or theological question upon which they will decide to speak authoritatively? There are plenty of proscriptions and prescriptions in Hebrew Scripture that they can choose. Perhaps they would choose one of my favorites, Exodus 22:25, “If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them.” Would that mean that we can longer take interest from any money that we might lend, directly or indirectly, to “the poor among” us? Or perhaps they would choose Leviticus 19:19, “You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your animals breed with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; nor shall you put on a garment made of two different materials.”

Of course, these two examples would be considered by most of us to be rather silly, but there are serious theological and ethical issues that the Primates might choose to address. Many of those issues are ones about which Episcopalians and other Christians have disagreed with one another in good faith. The Primates might decide to address the issue of Christian participation in war and make an authoritative statement that such participation is not allowed or an authoritative statement that conscientious objection to participation is not allowed.

I think that we need to careful about what we ask for. It is my experience that once a person or a group of people have been given authority to act it is well-nigh impossible to rescind that authority. The Primates, as sinners like the rest of us, might just come to enjoy speaking authoritatively and might find ways to enforce their Primatial Bulls. If that is what some Episcopalians want, they are welcome to it. However, if the Primates are ever granted that authority, it would be a betrayal of Anglican tradition.

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