An autumn leaf, the evidence of the death whereby the grapevine lives and bears fruit
There are 31,102 verses in the Bible, or at least in the Protestant version of it which the conservative section of our church recognises. Of these, there are 6 verses which explicitly condemn homosexual practice. The best scholars in the Christian world have pointed out the ambiguity of even these scraps of scripture, but this does not prevent their becoming the basis of an antipathy to contemporary same gender sexuality which I was repeatedly told, during General Synod, was "First Order". I'm not sure what "First Order" means exactly, but I was told that this is a "Salvation Matter". So, presumably, holding a proper view on homosexuality is right up there in importance with belief in the doctrines I would consider foundational for the Christian faith: namely the Holy Trinity, Incarnation and Resurrection. In any event, antipathy to homosexuality has already led one of our congregations to defect and several others to threaten to do so. It has led to the formation of groups such as Confessing Anglicans and to at least two new, separate Anglican denominations in the USA. It has been the reason for splits in our world wide communion and for conferences drawing jet setting conservatives from all over the planet.
Of the 31,102 verses in the Bible there are more than 2,000 which refer to money. Of these, several hundred denounce economic exploitation. Jesus is not recorded as ever mentioning homosexuality, not once, not ever, although his views on money are repeated often, and follow the pattern, found in the whole body of scripture, of siding with the poor and denouncing economic oppression. Despite the overwhelming weight of scriptural witness, economic justice is, apparently, not a "First Order" doctrine. No one has left over it, and no one is threatening to. There have been no pre synod conferences with hundreds of people meeting to pray and strategise about our church's approach to money, in the way that there was over our church's approach to same gender blessings.
Our General synod, from which I am now in the process of travelling home, spent about 3 days of its week long agenda discussing sexuality. What conservatives were being asked for was that they allow, those of us that wished, to perform church blessings for same gender people who had been previously married in a civil ceremony. Performing such blessings would, in some small way, help LGBTI Anglicans who were in faithful committed relationships to have their relationship recognised and celebrated by the church they serve and love. Further, it would allow those LGBTI people who are ordained, and there are a number of them, to have a way of affirming a relationship as rightly ordered, for the purpose of issuing a bishop's license for ministry. The conservatives were not being asked to participate in such blessings. They were not being asked, even, to personally approve of them. But nevertheless the mere fact of their recognised existence somewhere in our church was so offensive that they said they would have no choice but to leave.
The Maori and Polynesian parts of our church, despite their general theological conservatism, were convinced of the need to move ahead on this issue. They recognised that the call of Jesus to unity, which is strongly scriptural, trumps any call to split over matters of sexuality, and despite the misgivings of some of their number, they unanimously and strongly opted for approving the recommendations of the A Way Ahead report; that is, the sanctioning of blessings of same sex marriages. We Pakeha were deeply divided and we were told, ominously, that up to 4,000 people were on the brink of leaving. Their departure would have been difficult for all the church, but especially for a diocese as small as ours or as traumatised as Christchurch, so in the end we agreed to give it a couple more years, and have another shot at it in 2018.
This whole debate has affected me deeply, but not, obviously, as much as those for whom this represents yet another instance of our church telling them that they are unacceptable. Once more our church makes an ass of itself over this matter. Once more we present ourselves as sex obsessed and small minded. I will write again in a few days when I have got my thoughts a little clearer, but now I apologise, unreservedly, to my LGBTI brothers and sisters for what my church has done, and for my own behaviour. I could have done more. I could have spoken louder. I could have stood stronger.
So, the LGBTI members of our church will suffer real world, measurable hardship, in order that these 4,000 people can maintain their sense of theological equilibrium. Brother sister, let me serve you. Let me be as Christ to you. Who is suffering here, that others may live? Who is being Christ to whom?There is first order stuff being shown alright but it's not in the place where those, for whom the phrase trips so lightly off their lips, is looking.
May I thank you, on behalf of all in our Church who looked forward so expectantly for the provision of a means to offer a Blessing of monogamous and faithful couples in Same-Sex relationships that have already been celebrated in the Civil Realm as legal Marriage.
As you have pointed out in your eirenic assessment of our Church's call to inclusion of ALL who believe in Christ; this provision could have been provided by GS 2016, with a minimum of inconvenience to all except those whose fear of homosexuality may have clouded their judgement of what might be acceptable to God in the Church.
I have longed for the Church to be as open as Jesus to all sinners like myself, whose faith and hope in Christ has formed the pattern of our lives and ministry for many years.
I agree with you about the inconsequentiality of the semantic squabble about First and Second Order differences - when the world is crying out for charity and love from the Church. Surely the Catholic Creeds and Faith in the Trinity are the real basics to which we in the Church must cling. All else is adiaphora when compared to the Essentials.
Some words from Father F.W. Faber's epic Hymn 461 (English Hymnal) come to mind here:
"For the Love of God is broader than the measure of man's mind. And the heart of the eternal is most wonderfully kind.
"But we make his Love too narrow by false limits of our own; And we magnify his strictness with a zeal he would not own!"
Kyrie eleison; Christe eleison; Kyrie eleison!
During a conversation this week I relayed to a friend of mine that it was a difficult week to be a Pro-Anglican with General Synod working their way through several difficult motions as to the future of the Anglican Church and ‘a way forward’ for its people.
It was at this time my friend merrily quoted a lyric from a famous stage show “The best of times is now, as for tomorrow, well, who knows? So hold this moment fast, and live and love as hard as you know how” and this is completely true! With the power of the Holy Spirit surrounding us, guiding us through many a difficult time, inspiring us to be better and act better, we need to look at ourselves and ask ‘are we making the most of our time now and more importantly are we really letting the Holy Spirit in?’
I had hoped as the weekend arrived and General Synod comes to its conclusion we in our Three Tikanga Church would be filled with the love and generosity of the Holy Spirit and all that Jesus gave and did for us to say: “we are Christian, we embrace everyone and we will unite to create a better future for all, for families, for men, women and children and for everyone around us, no matter of sexuality, gender or nationality thus following the ways of our Lord and Father”.
By giving in to the apparent 4000 I am reminded of the old saying “give an inch, take a mile” and that is what this small group have done, by putting our wonderful Church on the back foot yet again.
To all those LGBTI people who are part of our Three Tikanga Church, hold your head up high and be proud of who you are, what you have and what you can achieve. One day we will indeed be able to celebrate your union with you and in my heart that day will be very sweet.
Let’s get our Church back on track by talking about the major issues out there, which many are on our door steps of family violence, child abuse and poverty, not someone’s sexuality. I think if Jesus were here today he would well and truly be washing the feet of his LGBTI friends.
I leave you with a few lines from one of my favourite hymns on peace and unity:
Make me a channel of your peace. Where there is hatred let me bring your love. Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord And where there's doubt, true faith in you.
My thoughts are with you all, those who participated in General Synod and those who the outcome of this meeting will truly effect.
Yours in Christ,
Perhaps the issue is actually that of governance and lack thereof. The Anglican Church has mastered the art of conservativly massaging discontent so that it remains 'as is'. The trouble is it is but a semblance of that which actually lay beneath.
Perhaps the Anglican Church should consider something akin to a referendum of those on its electoral role and discern what the church actually thinks about this. Synod reps do not reglect this, and are largely appointed strategically to maintain the status quo - which of course is nothing more than economic injustice, inequality, prejudice, fear, decline and irrelevance.
Brothers, we are treading where we always trod...."
Thank you absolutely, Kelvin, for all that you have done and thought and spoken and prayed.
Grace, mercy and peace to you, nga tino manaakitanga o Te Atua.
A Commenter on my blog at kiwianglo raises this important possibility of further delays:
"I was just looking in a bit more depth at the report itself and I wonder what it is the self-titled conservatives want to happen in addition to the report. The recommendation of the report was to start a three year process to confirm the changes and bring back to the General Synod in 2018. Which would, I assume, have allowed for minor changes and clarifications. So it sounds like a demand for a total rethink of the approach, or else offering water-tight assurances that can’t be given.
"The thing that hasn’t been commented on so much is that this is in effect a delay until at least 2021, as the 2018 General Synod will only be able to approve in principle and it will still have to come back to the next one. And then diocesan synods will need to decide if they support the use of a same sex blessing (assuming that approach survives)."
Can you affirm that this is the reality of the process now brought into play by the decision of GS2016?
Rests on his belly in the mud;
Although he seems so firm to us
He is merely flesh and blood.
Flesh and blood is weak and frail,
Susceptible to nervous shock;
While the True Church can never fail
For it is based upon a rock. ...
The hippopotamus’s day
Is passed in sleep; at night he hunts;
God works in a mysterious way—
The Church can sleep and feed at once.
I saw the ’potamus take wing
Ascending from the damp savannas,
And quiring angels round him sing
The praise of God, in loud hosannas.
Blood of the Lamb shall wash him clean
And him shall heavenly arms enfold,
Among the saints he shall be seen
Performing on a harp of gold.
He shall be washed as white as snow,
By all the martyr’d virgins kist,
While the True Church remains below
Wrapt in the old miasmal mist.
- T. S. Eliot
Easter Season Blessings
I'm sure everyone leaving General Synod will be pondering 'Now what was steel and what was mere soil'.
This is, it seems to me, the type of proof-text method of interpreting Scripture which conservatives are so often accused. In truth "conservatives" are not only interested in what Scripture opposes, but also in what it affirms. The Bible prescribes, affirms and praises marriage, the union of a man and a woman, in addition to the condemnations you speak of. This positive affirmation is what guides our view on sexuality and marriage, and the condemnations speak only of deviations from that biblical norm. And so it is all very well to say, as loudly as you like, that Jesus did not explicitly speak of homosexuality. But why should he? He spoke of marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
There were not motivated groups of people trying to turn aside Judaism in its approach to sexuality and marriage in Jesus' day, but economic exploitation loomed large. It is quite wrong to go to the gospels looking for Jesus to speak to every issue that concerns us. That said, he affirmed marriage and its oppose sexed nature. In our day there are groups of motivated people seeking to capture the church's view of marriage and turn it aside.
It is all very well to complain that this is still an issue that occupies so much of the Church's time. That's a worthy concern to have. But please remember that it is only an issue occupying Synod's time because of those who wish to change the church, and to return every time when they fail to try again, consuming more, more, and more time and effort of the Church in doing so.
We unite to Christ through His Church in the hope of being changed by it, rather than seeking to reign it in and conform it more and more to our own image.
I see how deftly you are able to contectualise the scriptural approach to economic oppression. You seem unable unwilling to use the same exegetical method with the 6 verses on homosexuality. Can you understand why I might think that a little odd?
I do not see myself as changing the church but in extending the Gospel of Salvation in Jesus Christ, which is the centre of my faith, to some people whom we currently exclude. And yes, I will keep pushing for that until it is accomplished.
I think that to claim that the current Conservative push to separation is based on positive affirmation - of marriage or of anything else - is a bit disingenuous. No -one on the "liberal" side is disparaging marriage or denying its sanctity or importance. What is at stake is the repugnance of some of our number to the ability of some of us to pronounce a church blessing on people who according to the laws of our nation are already married. If the conservatives walk their new church will be defined not by what it stands for but what it stands against. That is, it will be founded on its exegesis of six ambiguous Bible verses.
The proposal before GS16 (and now held over to GS18)itself represented a major compromise. Those pressing for change had put aside any effort to re-think our theology of marriage, and hoped for agreement on proposals to allow blessings for marriages and unions conducted elsewhere. That attempt was unsuccessful. We therefore, as Ron Smith has outlined, find ourselves facing at least 4, but probably more years of struggle, to find some cobbled-together agreement on an issue that was accepted by our secular government about 10 years ago.
I wonder if a way forward may lie in abandoning that particular attempt at compromise, in favour of a more coherent approach,the acceptance of what has become called "equal marriage" - accepted as the law of our land for a few years now. It's a bit like what happened in the CofE General Synod on the question of ordaining women as bishops. A very complicated proposal full of measures to accommodate conservative sensitivities, failed. At the next session of General Synod, a clearer and less compromised proposal was accepted, so now a bout a dozen women are serving that church as bishops.
I have long believed that our understanding of marriage has been too narrow. It is because I have such a deep appreciation of marriage that I wish we could offer it to couples of the same gender. I am certain that such a change will come about, but it saddens me deeply that both you and I may have hung up our stoles by then.
My point about the number of verses devoted to homosexuality is related to this. I wanted to point out that the scriptural basis of those who think that it is necessary to hive off in a snit and form a new church in order to "defend the integrity of scripture" is very, very slender. But you make an excellent point about even these few verses. They must be read in the light of the deeper patterns of morality revealed in the Bible, and not merely by making a crude translation from first century circumstances to twenty first century ones.
And just by the by, the phrase first order is not one I would use myself. It was used extensively by people at General Synod. I'm not sure I even understand what they mean by it.