A series of essays towards General Convention in 2003
This essay is scheduled for publication in Diakoneo, the newsletter of the North American Association for the Diaconate, at the end of July and is used here with the permission of the author and of the editor of Diakoneo, Dutton Morehouse. --LC
In my part of the world, much celebrated by Flannery O'Connor for the violence and grim symbolism of its religious observance, gay people give us the jitters. We suspect they're all practicing sodomy, a horrible sin. In the Episcopal Church this suspicion translates into political and financial pressure on our poor bishops. When gays and lesbians apply to become deacons or priests--if they get that far--the bishop may require them to put away their long-term partners and to abstain from sex. Sodomy no, celibacy yes! I am amazed that an Anglican church, four and a half centuries after the Reformation, has reinstituted the discipline of celibacy for those in holy orders. What we really need is the discipline of community, including our lives with partners. (Outside the Magnolia Belt, with a few notable exceptions, dioceses express little concern over gay deacons and priests, asking only that their unions be stable and loving. It sounds too sensible to be true!)
But to be fair to all, let's look at one of the scriptural passages often cited in support of sexual abstinence:
"Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers--none of these will inherit the kingdom of God!" (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, NRSV)
Let's do a little exegesis. The footnote in the New Oxford Annotated Bible says: "Male prostitutes, young men or boys in a pederastic relationship; sodomites, the older homosexual." The note invites us to look also at Romans 1:26-27 (those "consumed with passion for one another"), 1 Timothy 1:10 (list of sinners including "sodomites"), and possibly 1 Corinthians 11:4-7 (women unveiled or with hair cut off). Although none of those passages directly addresses the situation of persons in a lifelong, committed relationship with someone of the same sex, and although Christ never condemns or even mentions such a relationship (despite his condemnation of divorce, Matthew 5:32), clearly "sodomy" in its first-century context, or whatever Paul meant by the term arsenokoitai, was a mortal sin. To explore the context more deeply, you need to consult reputable Bible commentaries and other scholarly works dealing with the period. (A commentary on the modern church might observe that there are three categories of gay people, depending on diocesan decree or parochial preference: those called to celibacy, those whose sexual activity is ipso facto sinful, and those whose sexual activity is not inherently sinful. There are passionate advocates for each category.)
So is a lifelong, committed relationship with someone of the same sex, as practiced today (not in the first century), a sin or not a sin, sodomy or sanctity? Bishops, please teach us which of these two positions we should hold as biblical and traditional truth!
If same-sex union is not a sin, but sanctity, we should welcome and rejoice in same-sex couples, blessing their unions and putting no artificial barrier in the way of their ordination. We should do this because the church at all levels must be truly catholic and represent the fullness of humanity. Once we baptize people, and once we are convinced that God calls them to holy orders, we have no excuse not to ordain them. It's the sacramental thing to do in a sacramental church.
If same-sex union is a sin ("sodomy"), and the sinners refuse to repent and cease their practice, we should prohibit not only such sinners seeking ordination but also all ministering in the church--senior and junior wardens, members of the vestry, singers and choir directors, readers and ministers of communion, teachers of young and old, carers of the sick and dying, visitors of those in prison, feeders of the hungry, journalists, administrators, a myriad of sinners. Don't let them do these things in the name of Christ, for by their sinning they bring the church into disrepute and perhaps even litigation. And if we should not accept the ministerial gifts of these sinners, we should not accept their money.
It seems a clear choice: Either embrace them as baptized saints or show them the door as incorrigible sinners.
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