Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Why This Particular Line in the Sand?

That's the question Fr. Tim Chesterton asks in a posting with the same title over at his blog.

An opponent of same-sex blessings and the ordination of partnered homosexual persons, Chesterton is concerned by the Archbishop of Canterbury's recent statement in the wake of the 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. And although he deeply admires his scholarship (as I do, too), he is sharply critical of Bishop of Durham N. T. Wright's involvement in ecclesiastical politics and his scathing article about General Convention, especially inasmuch as Wright reduces the lives, hopes, and dreams of real flesh-and-blood persons to abstract issues.

It all leads Chesterton to wonder why homosexuality should prove to be the make-it-or-break-it issue when, as he notes, there are "a couple of other issues, on both of which the Bible is every bit as clear (more so in my view), and which are every bit as relevant to the struggles of people in the modern world." Those issues are war and usury. On both of these issues, Chesterton argues, the Church later changed its position from what the early Church taught and practiced and what the scriptures clearly teach. Noting the acceptance of these changes in doctrine and practice, Chesterton asks: "if we allow one 'revisionist reinterpretation' ... [then] why not another"?

He then speculates about the reasons why Anglicans who take a "traditionalist" position on sexual ethics back away from doing so on issues like war and usury:

I have a nasty suspicion about the reasons why the Communion is not going to take a stand on these two issues of war and usury. I suspect that the reason has a lot to do with the fact that taking this stand would have an enormous cost for huge numbers of us. Many Anglicans are in fact investment bankers, or stockbrokers, and many, many more take advantage of the modern capitalist system (which is based on usury through and through) to get loans to buy houses and cars and to start businesses and so on. Dissenting from this all-pervasive system would have enormous economic and social consequences for us. And in a similar way, we all depend (or at least, we think we do) on our armies to keep us safe from international rogue states and terrorists and so on. Making a decision to follow Jesus in loving our enemies and refusing to strike back against them would inevitably have deadly consequences: after all, it led Jesus to the Cross, and he assured us it would do the same for us ('take up your cross and follow me').

Sadly, for the vast majority of Anglicans the issue of homosexuality does not carry that personal price-tag. Most of us are straight; we aren't the ones who would be bearing the cross if the church as a whole agreed that same-sex unions are not a legitimate part of a life of following Jesus. Gays and lesbians are an easy target, because there aren't many of them (tho' more, perhaps, than some Christians would like to think).

Personally, I think it's a tragedy that we're drawing these lines in the sand at all. Historically, it's not been our way as Anglicans. On the (equally clear) biblical teachings about war and peace and about usury, we've allowed for a variety of biblical interpretation. Why is homosexuality so despicable that we don't make similar allowances?

Good questions and a fine posting.

Read it all.


DavidB said...

I never gotten a good answer (from an Orthodox believer, conservative Anglican, or anybody else) about how our churches can condone and bless remarriage after divorce without regard to whether it violates Jesus' adminition against divorce in the Gospel of Matthew, and still be dead-set against any formal blessing of same-sex unions. As the article indicates, it just doesn't carry the same personal price-tag. We've reached the decision on remarriage because we feel it's unjust to consider someone as "living in sin" because they aren't called to celibacy and don't want to live the rest of their life w/o a partner. Obviously, this has no relevance at all to our current debates on homosexuality :)

I think in both of these cases (remarriage and same sex unions), however, there should be a recognition of the traditional Christian sexual ethic and the fact that these fall short of that, which probably wouldn't make the Integrity crowd too happy. Sex within marriage and celibacy are the preferred modes of Christian sexual conduct, but a failure to live up to this difficult ideal shouldn't separate a person from the Church as much as it does for gay people today.

Anonymous said...

To my thinking there is a difference. The OT allows for divorce. It was given to us humans for a purpose. I am not here going to make defense of the modern divorce. Christ provided for divorce albeit he did raise the bar.

Sexual acts may be sin or not depending on status of the persons when the act is between a woman and a man. There is no question that there is much sexual activity which is sin.

The homosexual act according to Scripture is always sin. To bless that which is sin is line much clearer than the other lines discussed in the post.


DavidB said...

Last time I checked, masturbation is still considered a sin by Roman Catholics, the Orthodox, and many other Christians including many Anglicans (How's this for an awkward conversation topic?). It is always considered a sin among these Christians. Hypothetically, would you oppose ordination for someone who admitted they continue to engage in this behavior occasionally, either because they don't believe it's wrong or they aren't strong enough to completely abstain? This is a classic "don't ask, don't tell" scenario- no one wants to talk about it because it affects far more people than homosexuality and it's much easier to be inconspicuous. I don't think gay people should be singled out because of their conspicousness when we are all guilty of sexual sin.