This picture hasn't got anything to do with anything. I took it when we were camped recently in Surat Bay.
This last weekend I was in Auckland for the last of the hermeneutical hui that the Anglican Church has been holding over the past 4 years to address issues of Biblical interpretation as they apply to matters of sexuality. I hadn't been to any of the others, so didn't know quite what to expect. We met in Auckland's Holy Trinity cathedral, a quite lovely building that is, oddly, designed so that the best view in the place is the one from behind the altar. In other words, it doesn't draw the eye in toward the altar so much as lead it out, through the stained glass to the city beyond, which is an interesting theo-architectural statement, and perhaps for the hui, a profound one.
The past hui had addressed themselves to the usual Biblical texts used by those seeking divine authority for their views on sexuality. The arguments over those passages have all been fairly well rehearsed, and I don't intend to add to the pile of ash already obscuring a fairly dimly glowing ember by saying here what has already been said by many others. After three hui, we in the Anglican church realised that we were at an impasse; and it was one we weren't going to find our way out of by exegesis. All of us bring to the Bible our own particular set of predispositions. We are culturally, familialy, biologically, genetically preprogrammed to see everything, the Bible included, according to our own particular lights; so while we all read the same book, we are going to find there quite incompatible messages and we will continue to do so for just as long as we continue to be human.
The question then becomes not one of refining and increasing our Biblical knowledge, but of recognising our differences and finding ways in which we might live together in one communion despite those differences. The hui did fairly well at that. We had several superb presentations, the two most outstanding, from my point of view, being that from Dr. James Harding Scripture and the Theology of Sexuality: A Question of Discipline and from Bishop Victoria Matthews, Marriage.
James' paper was 43 pages long, far too lengthy for the half hour slot he was allocated, so he gave us a Reader's Digest Condensed version. I had read the complete paper on the flight on the way North. I idly flicked through it, intending to browse enough to get the gist of his argument but found myself riveted, reading 40 pages on the plane and rushing to my hotel room as quickly as possible to finish it off. He argues that the key relationship for us Christians is not actually the one with our partner, but the one we have with God. We are disciples of Jesus Christ and all our behaviour should spring from that central reality. After a thorough examination of Old and New Testament passages relating to human relationships, he suggests Romans 14 and 15 (where Paul gives advice on how to deal with a controversy contemporary to him, that of eating meat offered as sacrifices in pagan temples) as a place to start looking for principles to guide us through our current controversy.
Bishop Matthews examined marriage as an act of worship (worth-ship) and again located the marriage relationship securely within the wider Christian context of our relationship with God. As, within a marriage the partners express the worth of each other, the life they are called to is also an expression of the worth of God. She acknowledged her work as a preliminary examination and begged the church to do its theology before making drastic changes.
The small group discussions and the informal conversations over meals reinforced to me the intractability of opinions on the many sides of the debate on sexuality; but gave me hope that the Anglican Church could live together with integrity despite the different and apparently mutually exclusive views of some of its members. As Bishop Jim White pointed out, we do this already on such issues as Pacifism, which could be argued to lie closer to the real heart of the Christian Gospel than the issue of ordination of people in same sex relationships.
We are usually pretty good at spotting the biases in worldview which lead others to hold the opinions that they do. What we are not so good at is recognising the biases in ourselves which lead us to formulate and cling tenaciously to our own versions of the truth. As in so many things, perhaps a little more self knowledge would go a long way towards helping us live together despite, or even because of, our differences.