Sunday, April 23, 2006

'The logic of all purity movements is to exclude'

by Andrew Linzey in the Times Online

"SHALL the fundamentalists win?" That was the title of Harry Emerson Fosdick's sermon in 1922, which argued for an open-minded, intellectual, and tolerant Church. The sermon cost him his job at the First Presbyterian Church, New York, but it drew a line in the sand, and fundamentalism began to wane.

A similar sermon needs to be preached to the Anglican Communion. The labels today are different: "conservatives" or "progressives', "reasserters" or "revisionists", and the issues are not the same. In Fosdick's day, the wedges were biblical inerrancy, the Virgin Birth, the literal Second Coming and a theory of the atonement called "penal substitution".

Although the labels and the issues are different, the same fundamentalist drive to create a "pure" Church remains. During the previous century Anglicanism was largely untouched by these debates, because its "broad tent" tradition discouraged any one party in the Church from gaining ascendancy. But with the growth of conservative evangelicalism, that consensus is now threatened. The victims this time are not those who disagree about doctrine, but Christian gays.
In previous decades disagreements about sexuality bothered Anglicans, but the idea that they merited schism would have been regarded as preposterous. That we are now at this point indicates the neartriumph of the exclusivist tendency.

The response of the hierarchy has been typically Anglican: set up a committee and produce a report. But the Windsor report failed Anglicanism. Instead of embracing comprehensiveness and diversity, it pursued fictions like "unity" (interpreted as uniformity), "interdependence" (meaning "not giving offence"), and championed "instruments of unity" (fostering centralised control), and proposed a future "covenant" (to implement canon law worldwide). The Episcopal Church of the United States and the Anglican Church in Canada were called upon to obey the "standard" of Christian teaching on sexuality (a Lambeth resolution that has only advisory authority).

All the manoeuvring that followed has been nothing less than a farrago based on voids. The hierarchy has set about implementing the inherently schismatic logic of the Windsor report — dubbed inaccurately "the only game in town" — with the result that the Communion stands precariously close to splitting. What was set up to be a loose association of autonomous churches "bound together by ties of loyalty and affection" is being rent asunder by an un-Anglican attempt at centralised control — ironically in the name of achieving the "highest degree of communion".

Contrary theological voices have been cast aside. No fewer than 22 UK and US theologians produced detailed critiques of Windsor, explaining how it devalues diversity, inflicts curial-style centralism and departs from classical Anglicanism. Never heard of them? I’m not surprised. The essays are part of a book I co-edited called Gays and the Future of Anglicanism, which was mischaracterised immediately after publication, and then buried.

That is a pity, because theology actually holds the key to resolving competing claims. "Conservatives" are seen as preserving "historic truth" and "progressives" as wilfully discarding it. So long as the debate is cast in those terms, no resolution is possible. The way forward is to grasp the dynamic of God: as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the teaching God, which, we are promised, will guide believers into all truth (John xvi, 13).

Not all truth is given in the past; the Spirit has something to teach us in the present. It is untrinitarian consistently to oppose God’s work in the past to what we may learn here and now. All innovations should be tested, but it is a mistake to assume that all development is infidelity.
As Fosdick and his generation had to wrestle with new knowledge about the origins of creation, so Anglicans have to grapple with new knowledge about the sheer diversity of human sexuality. Contrary to what is supposed by Windsor, developments in the US and Canada have been heralded by 40 years of scholarship, which has revealed the inadequacy of traditional theology. “Sex inside marriage is holy, sex outside marriage is unholy” now strains credulity.

Fosdick quotes the remark of General Armstrong that "Cantankerousness is worse than heterodoxy" — to which we should add "and homophobic persecution". There is something unsavoury about a situation in which the Archbishop of Canterbury calls on Americans to repent of ordaining an openly gay bishop, yet says nothing about the imposition of another anti-gay law in Nigeria (actively supported by Anglican Archbishop Akinola) which makes any public support of gays an offence punishable by five years in prison. Supposedly "authoritative" Lambeth Conference resolutions about respecting the human rights of homosexuals are being ignored.
There is one sure way of testing the Spirit: do our beliefs lead to an increase in injustice, bigotry and suffering? If they do, they simply cannot be reconciled with the workings of the creative, compassionate Spirit promised to us.

So far, a policy of appeasement has prevailed. Even a Special Commission of the Episcopal Church has wrong-headedly recommended "repentance", "extreme caution" in selecting bishops, and following the Windsor "process", but even that has been rejected by the leading conservative grouping, the American Anglican Council. That is because the agenda of conservatives is a rolling one: today it is gays, but biblical inerrancy, interfaith worship, women bishops, remarriage after divorce will surely follow. The logic of all purity movements is to exclude.

The only test of whether a church is Anglican is whether it is invited to the Lambeth Conference. With the next Conference in 2008, the Archbishop of Canterbury faces a Rubicon. If he fails to invite all Anglican bishops, or invites them on unequal terms, he will make schism concrete, with incalculable consequences worldwide for every Anglican church, diocese, even every parish. By this one act, his office will become an enduring source of disunity.

The assumption that progressives will swallow the situation should be questioned. When realignment becomes a fact, UK progressives will have to do what the conservatives have done: become effectively a church within a church, and insist on alternative episcopal oversight. Above all, we will not be excommunicated from US and Canada. We shall fight and fight and fight again to save the Church we love.

The Rev Professor Andrew Linzey is Senior Research Fellow, Blackfriars Hall, Oxford University, and co-editor of Gays and the Future of Anglicanism.


Anonymous said...

So what makes a church Christian? What do we have in common? Why stay together?

Anonymous said...

At the heart of the argument which you lay down is the on going debate regarding the integrity of scripture. The challenge for the next millenium is not gay or straight but rather what do we as Anglicans believe the Bible to be? A loosely bound book of wisdom sayings which have their foundation in a Middle Eastern country and belief system that is antiquated and archaic or the inspired word of God that provides us with the framework upon which to base our lives and nurture us in our faith.

As an Anglican who is also Evangelical, I do struggle with attempting to place a theology of inclusion in my own personal theology. Yet in my study, prayer and attempts to make sense of scripture I come back to the same fact over and over again - that there is a moral code of righteousness that we are to live by - and that for many matters regarding sexual integrity are what we struggle with the most. Just as I a single, straight individual am called to live a pure and chaste life, those who by orientation or choice homosexual also are called to abide by the same exhortation to live a pure and chaste life.

Scripture asks us at times to hold a standard that is higher than or different than the world - my prayer is that as we attempt to wrestle with this subject that we can still be recognized as people who hold great love for one another. Unfortunately at the moment neither community can honestly say this of themselves. And for that I am most disappointed.

Unknown said...

Thank you for your comments, and if I may, I would like to engage some of them. First, as to the "integrity of scripture," you set the choice to be between the Bible as a "loosely bound book of wisdom sayings" or "the inspired word of God that provides us with the framework upon which to base our lives and nurture us in our faith." While I do not doubt there are those who hold the former position, I would argue that the current debate lies more within the latter. What does it mean that Scripture is inspired? What kind of framework does it provide? What kind of faith is to be nurtured? While Scripture might be the word of God, we must still remember that Christ alone is the Word of God. On one hand, the Bible is a text, but to say so is to say more than that it is just ink on paper. It is an encounter, an engagement with the history of God's work of salvation. We have the words, but then there is our response to them as a world unfolds before us. I am willing to say that for most of us in this debate, on all sides, there is a great love for God and for Scripture and a most serious yearning to live accordingly, yet for each of us, it is so easy to declare our love as we see it that we fail to listen to the love as others proclaim it. That's not to say we're all right, by no means, but my horizon is limited, as is the horizon of each and every person. The question is not "Whose horizon is the correct one?" but "Can I learn from the horzion that the other sees, and what lies beyond our horzions that perhaps one day we might see together?" (cont.)

Unknown said...

Again in reply to anonymous:
You are correct to say that "Scriptures asks us at times to hold a standard that his higher than or different than the world" and that all people whatever the orientation are called to a pure and chaste life. Some are called to marriage, others are not. As someone who is gay, however, I wonder where this leaves me. Sometimes, it seems as if people say that if I have sex (hypothetically speaking) with a man I love, it is wrong because it is not within the bonds of marriage; but we cannot marry because the sex between us is wrong (as if the physical act were all that defined such a union). Therefore, because my sexual orientation is toward other men, I must remain celibate. Mind you, I know not the proximate or ultimate cause of my orientation any more than I know of any other, but I do know that I did not choose it but that it is part of who I am, a flawed though loved human being as any other. Does it follow logically that one who is gay necessarily has a call to celibacy, for celibacy is a call and a gift from God, as testified by St. Paul. If marriage is indeed not for those with same-sex attraction, is celibacy indeed the logical conclusion? If so, how are we to live that out? Mind you, though, if celibacy is a gift, the very definition of a gift involves the capability to choose to accept it. For one who is heterosexual who is called to celibacy, one can accept it or not yet still have an option for holy expression of sexuality. For the homosexual, there is not that option. If celibacy is not the logical conclusion, then again how are we to live if the option of sexual relationships is to be considered sinful? To be created with this orientation toward someone of the same sex yet not to have an option to express it in a holy manner, would this not be considered a cruel trick? Thus, would it not lead one to wonder if one truly is loved by God? How am I to live out my sexuality? I do not know if celibacy my calling or one day a loving relationship with another man, but where is the help from my community of faith in discerning that and where is the help in knowing what is a holy expression of sexuality? I frankly haven't found much of either. Please forgive my long discussion of these topics, but I have had so few forums lately to bring out my thoughts. Thank you for your post, and as I pray for you in your struggles during this dark time, please pray for me in mine.

In Christ,

Anonymous said...

"What do we have in common?"

How about the Nicene Creed? Or better yet, how about,
(1) you shall love the Lord your god with all your heart and with all your mind, and with all your strength and (2) you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

I could sign on to both of those. Oh wait, I have! Have you?

Catherine said...

I completely agree with jg6544, and the beauty of it is the simplicity of the two great commandments:

(1) "you shall love the Lord your god with all your heart and with all your mind, and with all your strength and" (2) "you shall love your neighbor as yourself."

Regardless of sexual preference, if we love God, then we do; it is not for mortals to decide our salvation as that has been determined by Christ and in our Baptismal Vowes. And loving our neighbor as ourselves? I don't see the word "straight" in there anywhere. We are to love all regardless of differences, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself for us. Short and sweet, pure and simple.

Anonymous said...

Kevin's questions are important. The dissenters who do not want openly lbgt people in oru church--what positive aswers do they offer to these quesitons? What positive, life affirming roles and/or solutions do they offer lbgt people?

So far, we have heard not one, every response they offer is a negation--do not do this, do not do that, you will not do this, etc.

This points to the fact many do not see any role in the church for lbgt people besides suffering in silence.

Anonymous said...

"many do not see any role in the church for lbgt people besides suffering in silence."

They're o.k. with it if we pledge and/or sing in the choir.

Anonymous said...

I can see the logic of the essay, but I am left with a question, what exactly is the writer arguing for, an impurity movement?

As to Catherine's comment, Jesus says clearly that to love God is to be obedient to what God has spoken. Jesus is also clear through His own teaching that God spoke through prophets and others who were inspired to issue revelation in God's name. And it is not a question of sexual preference; it is a question of sexual practice.

Anonymous said...

"what exactly is the writer arguing for"

A traditionally Anglican approach, perhaps?

"it is not a question of sexual preference"

Neither is being homosexual.

Anonymous said...


How is it that you know or can detect what God is doing? What role does Scripture have in your discernment process? In terms of the continuing crisis, how is it that less than 3% of the Anglican Communion gets to declare what God is doing despite what the rest of the Communion believes?

Anonymous said...

jg6544: If you are writing in support of the controversial decisions of General Convention 2003, you have a very strange view of what is a traditional Anglican approach.

Anonymous said...

And Tony, if you think one province or more provinces bullying another province into accepting it own view of scripture is in the Anglican tradition, then you must make a great Roman!

Remember, we don't demand that they accept our view, we simply insist that we have the right to view matters differently from the way they do.

Anonymous said...

What is wrong with a split?

We are worshiping the structure more than Christ.

Anonymous said...

"What is wrong with a split?"

Nothing at all that I can see.

Anonymous said...

"Perhaps, like divorce, it is a tragic but sometimes necessary."

Very well-put!