A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
By The Rev. Ruth Innes
A Epiphany 4
St Peter's, Linlithgow, Scotland
30 January 2005
Let me read the last few Beatitudes again - but this time in a new translation. Before I do, let me say something about bible study. We can all be a bit precious about which bible we prefer. "Oh I only use the King James version - I love the poetry of it!" But you know there are many translations out there and they can all offer us something different.
Bible reading should be contextual. That's the first thing we were taught at University. We always had to ask several questions first before we read a passage.
And then of course, we have to ask, "What does this say to us today?"
The bible is a living book, not just a bunch of Dead Sea scrolls. And reading different translations - and more modern translations - can help us answer that last question. "What does this say to us today?" If we read it in the language of today, it might help us see clearer what we should learn.
I am now going to read a short passage from the Message, a new translation.
9 You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family.This passage really spoke to me this week as I was preparing to visit the Primus to discuss the Windsor Report. This report came about because the Episcopal Church in America voted to elect a bishop, Gene Robinson, who is gay and in a relationship.
10 You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God's kingdom.
11 Not only that - count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable.
12 You can be glad when that happens - give a cheer, even! - for though they don't like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always been getting into this kind of trouble.
You may also have read about the treatment of Jeffrey John in England - a gay man, a celibate gay man, who was called to be bishop. But some people in our Church were not having it. They protested that being gay did not conform with what we are told in the bible, and they hounded him out of town. They went to the Press and shouted long and hard about the sin he was committing. He withdrew.
Likewise with Bishop Gene Robinson, some people in our Church shouted out about how wrong it was and called for his resignation. When the Church in America refused, these people threatened the future of the Anglican Church. The Windsor Report is our Church's response to this.
Let me read verses 10-12 again.
Certain factions in the church have been using Scripture in this battle about homosexuality. Mostly they have used Paul's letters. Because Jesus never said a word on the subject.
Or did he?
What were the Beatitudes all a bout? Jesus preached a gospel of love - love for all. That's what I hear anyway. That's what I think the Beatitudes are about. Jesus preached a radical gospel - as radical then as it is today.
In the Anglican Communion we believe in a three-pronged approach of scripture, tradition and reason. Like a three-legged stool each plays its part in what we believe. And three-legged stools which have one leg longer than the other two rend to be uncomfortable, if not dangerous. Scripture is not our only method for discerning how we are to live. Tradition and reason should play an equal part.
Tradition tells us to look back in history at how our Church has evolved. How do we make decisions? In our tradition we make them by Synod. Synod is made up of bishops, priests and lay people. All have their vote. And that is how Gene Robinson was elected as bishop - by due process. By the tradition of our church.
What is reason?
How we think, how we act in a civilised society. In a 21st century society, you cannot be discriminated against because of your sexuality. Our law is quite firm on that matter. And if our secular law reflects that, shouldn't our church law be the same?
Of course, in some parts of the Anglican Communion this is not the case. In some parts of Africa, for example, homosexuality is considered a sin. And you have to understand their history to see why that is the case. Always look at the context. So when some of the African bishops are crying out that Bishop Gene's consecration is a threat to our communion, they are speaking from their own context. But not from ours.
The Windsor Report tried to address this. A group of people on both sides of the argument met to find a way forward. Some wanted America thrown out of the Anglican Communion. Some wanted to affi rm America for making a stand towards an inclusive church. Which side of the argument would you stand on?
I acknowledge that this can be a tough question for some people. It depends on how we were brought up, on where we were brought up, what experiences we have had, the friends we know - a whole host of different things can affect our beliefs. You may think that you don't know any people who are gay or lesbian - that you have never met any. You may think it doesn't affect you. But it does. Of course you have met some. That policeman or woman who came to see you about protecting your home. That bus driver who waited for you to get on the bus. That fire fighter who rescued your kitten from a tree. All of those organisations have equal opportunity policies and employ people who are gay.
But the Church doesn't. That doesn't mean to say that there aren't priests and bishops who are gay. Oh no ! There are thousands. But what it does mean is that most of them have to live with a secret. Something they daren't tell in case they are ostracised or publicly humiliated or threatened or worse. Is that how the Church should be?
The Windsor Report begged us to listen to one another's stories. Both sides need to come together and open their hearts to one another. This dialogue has been taking place and some hearts have turned. Many have not. Many have listened with closed ears.
Let's read verse 9 again.
9 You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family.
The Anglican Communion is a very diverse body. Each Province has its own canon law, its own way of governance, its own leadership. There are some things we share, and many we don't. We have different ways of doing things, acc ording to our own context. Some provinces have women priests. Some don't. Some have women bishops. Some don't. But we all muddle along together, respecting one another's differences. Why should this issue be any different?
The Windsor Report states that within our communion there are four things (known as the instruments of unity) which hold us together:
But Anglicanism (and our Scottish Episcopal Church) has always prided itself on being made up of autonomous provinces which work together as a family on a basis of friendship, affection and trust, without any central overarching authority.
The Windsor Report would like to give more authority to the four instruments of unity. In effect, that could make us more like the Roman Catholic Church with a quasi-papacy - a body or an individual (the ABofC) who could make decisions on behalf of us all.
Do we want that?
The Windsor Report called for ECUSA (the Episocpal Church in America) to express its regret for the pain its actions caused other members of the communion. and to effect a moratorium on any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges. How long might that take, do you think?
The report says that Gene Robinson's consecrating bishops are invited to consider whether they should withdraw themselves from representative functions in the Anglican Communion. Yet it doesn't ask the same of Bishop Kunonga of Harare who is a supporter of Robert Mugabe, and had committed horrendous crimes in his own province. Why is that, do you think?
It's a messy business. Or rather, we are making it so. Sex is never easy to talk about, and it would app ear, even less so in the church. But we need to talk about it. We need to feed back your views to our Bishop this week. We need to think about what Jesus is calling us to do in today's gospel.
On Thursday the synod will meet with Bishop Brian and the Primus and we will debate the Windsor Report. If you feel strongly about this issue, you are welcome to come along and listen. If you feel that you would like your views known, speak to Richard Rippon who is your Lay Representative on Synod, or myself before then. Every voice should be heard. That is the kind of church of which we are members.
9 "You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family.
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