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.