Sunday, February 22, 2009

Have We Made an Idol of the Anglican Communion?

This was written in 2005. I was prompted to post it because of a post and comments at Mark Harris's blog, Preludium, How important is it to belong to the Anglican Communion? Although some water has gone under the bridge since 2005 and I might put things differently now, this is still a good representation of my thought on this matter. I remain committed to staying within the Anglican Communion because I think we need one another, but I still see the danger of idolatry and the possibility that I might one day find that I could not in conscience and in good faith remain in the Communion.

F. D. Maurice, in a sermon preached on November 30, 1856, spoke of being preserved “from all idolatry of any outward things whatever, whether they be the elements of bread and wine, or anything else that is sacred because it is God’s creature, and accursed when it is made into a God.” The Anglican Communion is just such a creature, holy because it is God’s creature, but sadly in danger of being made into a god and, thus, accursed.

The communiqué from the February 2005 meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion confirmed for me what I had feared since reading the Windsor Report: the price of remaining in the Anglican Communion would be the repudiation of the action of General Convention in confirming the election of Gene Robinson.

There has always been some tension for me in being an Anglican. I disagree with the convictions of many prominent Anglicans in this country and elsewhere and remaining in communion with them has always been a challenge. Anglicans have held and continue to hold conflicting convictions on a number of important matters, e.g., abortion, capital punishment, remarriage after divorce, the use of military force, polygamy, and the ordination of women. Somehow we have managed to live with these disagreements, as Episcopalians did in the mid-nineteenth century in avoiding schism over the issue of slavery. But when the question at hand is the place of gays and lesbians in the Church it seems that it is no longer permissible for Anglicans to have differing convictions.

The Primates and others have taken the position that being an advocate for what Gray Temple in Gay Unions calls “sacramental equality for gays and lesbians” is not possible within the Anglican Communion. We either agree with their convictions about homosexuality or run the risk of expulsion from the Communion. The Primates’ request that “the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada voluntarily withdraw their members from the Anglican Consultative Council” for the next three years may not be a threat of expulsion, but it comes very close.

In pressing for uniformity on this issue, “traditionalists” have tried to frame the debate as one between those who accept the authority of Scripture and those who don’t. Ignoring the work of scholars such as Robin Scroggs (The New Testament and Homosexuality) and Victor Paul Furnish (The Moral Teaching of Paul), “traditionalists” have claimed that disagreement with their interpretation of Scripture is a rejection of the authority of Scripture. I grant that Christians are free to reject the interpretations laid out by Scroggs and Furnish and others, but I would argue against the contention that accepting these interpretations is a rejection of the authority of Scripture. As a pacifist I have always assumed that Christians with whom I disagree on the use of military force are as committed to the authority of Scripture as I am.

To remain in the Anglican Communion on the terms that I believe are being offered by the Primates is for me impossible and would, in my view, make an idol of the Communion. Unless a way can be found that allows for the same diversity of convictions on this issue as we have enjoyed on other issues, there seems to be little hope for those of us who support sacramental equality for gays and lesbians to remain within the Anglican Communion. Leaving would be painful. We have friends with whom we would no longer be in communion. Relationships that are already strained might well be broken. But those are costs that we may have to bear for the sake of our faithfulness to what we believe to have been the calling of God at the General Convention.

I hope that I am wrong and that I will be able to stay within a Communion that has been a gift and a blessing to me for nearly sixty years. I hope that I will not be forced out for believing in sacramental equality for gays and lesbians. But if that happens, I will accept expulsion, reluctantly and with sadness. But I know that I will not be alone.

1 comment:

Michael said...

You were 'right on' in 2005, and are still 'right on' today.

We have to live what we say we believe.

The Church will not implode because we believe in the full inclusion of all people, regardless of 'race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities or age.'

It will flourish.