A series of essays towards General Convention in 2003
by The Rev. Tobias S. Haller firstname.lastname@example.org
The Primates' Meeting stated
Because at this time we are nowhere near consensus in the Church regarding the blessing of homosexual relationships, we cannot recommend authorizing the development of new rites for such blessings.
This very artfully worded statement has somehow been transformed in the minds of some (the primatial signatories of the recent critique of New Westminster, for example) into "the refusal to authorize rites for same-sex blessings," and in the minds of others an express prohibition of such rites. So it has always been with the Spin Doctors of the Church.
No one was asking the Primates to make such an authorization, and they were careful to phrase their opinion in the form of a recommendation, not a prohibition. (If the statement had been more forceful it would not have been unanimously assented to, but that is just a reflection of the larger lack of consensus: some of the primates are resolutely against same-sex blessings, other are not, a few in favor. The point is they can only agree that they disagree: i.e., there is no consensus.)
In this respect the Primates' statement (and reaction to it) echoes the 1979 General Convention resolution on the ordination of non-celibate gay and lesbian people, recommending that Bishops, Standing Committees, and Commissions on Ministry (in the exercise of their canonical authority) take into consideration the fact that the Convention felt such ordinations to be "inappropriate." This was quickly spun by those opposed to such ordinations into a strict prohibition. Which it was anything but. All efforts in succeeding Conventions to make this a clear matter of canon law (remember the "Frey Amendment"?) failed. The same sort of thing may have happened in the community of Galatians whom Saint Paul was at such pains to set on the path of liberation from the Law. The Apostolic Council made its decision, but some were apparently not happy that it wasn't stricter than it actually was, and kept insisting on circumcision and other disciplines. Similar patterns can be found throughout church history. And the "standing wave" seems to persist at present, rather like annoying feedback. Some people want Anglicanism to be more authoritarian than it actually is.
Communion, it seems to me, cannot in a still culturally diverse world be based on unanimity of opinion on issues of moral theology (we have a good bit of diversity in that regard already in the Anglican Communion, as in the question of remarriage after divorce, or the requirement of virginity before marriage promulgated last November in the Anglican Church in Nigeria). Rather it is unity in essential matters of dogmatic theology that we hold to. (Even the Church of Rome, which purports a unanimity of opinion in moral theology, would collapse in disarray if any effort were made actually to enforce a uniform observance on matters such as birth control or homosexuality.)
If we cannot accept that in some matters, even important though less than dogmatic matters, there will be diversity of practice and custom around the world, then it is those who are insistent on uniformity who will explicitly be shattering the communion. The fact is, we do not have consensus, let alone unanimity. Those who cannot accept the diversity of opinion intrinsic in that reality must make their choice, as indeed the signatories of this recent letter appear ready to do. But let us be clear: it is they who are dividing the communion, not the people of New Westminster. Meanwhile, efforts to raise same-sex (or even different-sex) sexuality to the level of doctrine (such as the terribly flawed section III.4 of Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics, which ends up by considering celibacy imperfect and celibacy-in-community as a doorway to perversion!) ultimately run aground on the pure Truth of the Gospel, and rest upon a defective anthropology which fails to respect the dignity of each and every human being. (Obviously every person comes to full realization in relationship with others, in the gift of the self to the other and to God, but Barth's insistence that the "other" be a member of the opposite sex just doesn't hold up to the Gospel, nor is it in keeping with orthodox teaching and tradition.) Jesus said that sex is a part of the created order, but that it has no place in the new creation. That doesn't mean it isn't important here and now, but that its importance is not ultimate. Sexuality is not a virtue; fidelity, self-sacrifice, charity, fortitude, compassion -- these are virtues, and they can be part of any human relationship, whether celibate or sexual. It is a great disservice to the church to think otherwise, and worse, to divide the church because of it.
Tobias S Haller
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