Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Proportion and Absurdity

So here's a concluding snapshot of Archbishop Drexel Gomez' sermon at the recent consecrations of two new missionary bishops. . .
. . . for former members of The Episcopal Church . . .
. . . who have now joined the Church of Kenya:

My brothers, you are entering the Episcopal ministry within the Anglican Communion at a time when the Communion is being severely challenged in each of the three related areas of the patristic tradition concerning Episcopal ministry. I refer to:

* The maintenance of eucharistic communion

* Continuity and apostolic teaching.

* Oversight of the churches.

The present impaired state of the Communion is due mainly to actions taken by the Episcopal Church of the United States of America in respect of human sexuality with special reference to the consecration of a bishop living in an opened homosexual relationship. The actions of the Episcopal Church have created a situation in which some Anglicans in the United States and throughout most of the Provinces of the Communion are convinced that the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is clear in its teaching and must take precedent over culture. Holding fast to this belief, they cannot accommodate those who believe the contrary. The issue is not primarily on of sexuality but one which seeks to answer the question "which relationships correspond to God’s ordering of life, and violate it?" It is a division of opinion between those of us who firmly believe that homosexual practice violates the order of life give by God in scripture and those who seek by various mean to justify what scripture does not hounour. We, in the Global South, whole heartedly support the position outlined by Richard Hays in ‘The Moral Vision of the New Testament:’

‘Paul singles out homosexual intercourse for special attention because he regards it as providing a particularly graphic image of the way in which human fallenness distorts God’s created order. God the Creator made man and woman for each other, to cleave together to be fruitful and multiply. When human beings ‘exchange’ these created roles for homosexual intercourse, they embody the spiritual condition of those who have ‘exchanged the truth about God for a lie.’

We believe that faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ prevents us from compromising the truth so clearly revealed in holy scripture.

There is so much material here, that it would require days of careful writing to address in full. An assumption of responsibility is laid "mainly" at the doorstep of The Episcopal Church, laden with a quote based on a very narrow and disputable reading of a brief passage of Scripture, homosexuality is roundly condemned as "exchange" of choice. . .

And upon this the entire ecclesiological framework of communion, apostolic ministry, and oversight seems placed.

Despite all this, it is acknowledged that the current disagreement is a "division of opinion."

Is it to this that our House of Bishops must rationally and carefully respond? Thankfully, no. But then Gomez was instrumental in the Windsor Report as well as the more recent draft Anglican Covenant. He is not a minor player in the present crisis. So if this is indeed the substance behind the demands made by the Global South Primates through the most recent Communiqué, we have truly left the realms of faithful and rational disagreement altogether.

I do not envy the new bishops just consecrated in Nairobi. They have been handed, and have taken, if the Archbishop's words are to be understood at face value, the episcopacy entirely on the merits of a narrow argument over sexual ethics. Somehow, fidelity to this one way or another is equated in toto with fidelity to Christ. That seems to me to get the cart entirely before the horse. It makes Christ so small next to the specter of "homosexual practice." That is truly a mistake of proportion. Surely Christ for the good Archbishop is bigger than that. I dare say, Christ might be big enough to even belong as well to those of us who conscientiously and prayerfully disagree with the stance that Gomez++, Nzimi++, and other Global South Primates have taken . . . and then together have hung, if not hanged, the Communion upon it.

The question remains: why this particular ethical question, when any of us could name well over a dozen (many pertaining to sexuality) that have been disputed in the Anglican Communion and greater Church for years and some centuries?

I do not agree with the Archbishop's theological or scriptural interpretation, of course. But this is not my point here.

Rather, it is this:

Would I ever want to take up any ministry, regardless of the Order, under the auspices of a narrow and now clearly destructive contention over Christian ethics?

The answer is a simple no.

When I took up my vows of priestly ordination, it was to respond to the calling of Christ and the Church, and not really against or for any one particular issue or a particular understanding of a portion of biblical texts, but about embracing the whole of Scripture as "containing all things necessary for salvation." It was about furthering a life-long Christian vocation by following the lead of the Trinity through the discipline of Orders in the Church.

Archbishop Gomez, probably in an effort to make ecclesiastical-political hay out of a controversial action, hands these new bishops a sermon that seems to me quite sad, simply for its confining the reason for these irregular consecrations to a single issue. In doing so, it makes the present impasse almost cosmic, and relegates the potential for grace in this mess to hardly an afterthought.

And it begs the long-asked question: once the sexuality issue is settled for these new bishops and their flocks (in some ways it already is settled through a purifying march away from all who disagree with them) well what then? What will be left? In twenty years, will they look back and relish a sermon that implies their ordained ministry was re-defined by opposition to homosexuality?

I certainly hope not. To do so would be patently absurd.

My university chaplain warned me once never to define myself or my work by what or whom I am against.

These seem to me wise words for all of us in a contentious time.


Rick D said...

Clearly Gomez must step down from his central role as chairperson of the Covenant Design Group. Mark Harris sums this up very well here.

June Butler said...

My university chaplain warned me once never to define myself or my work by what or whom I am against

That was wise advicefrom your chaplain, Richard. For several years, I defined myself by my opposition to the Bush administration. You could say I was obsessed. That was no good place to be. I was bitter and angry too much of the time.

Of course, I still oppose almost everything that our president and his enablers do, but now I pray for them and do what I can to turn those policies and actions around, and I move on with my life.

It's getting tiresome to hear Abp. Gomez and his cohorts say that the disagreements in the Anglican Communion are not about sexuality, when they so obviously are about sexuality.

What will they think of their actions twenty years down the road?

R said...


Yes, I agree. Mark has said it best, and I have nothing to add, except that our House of Bishops can take very little seriously, whether the Windsor Report or the proposed Anglican Covenant, with Archbishop Gomez undermining the credibility of both with his recent words and actions.

Whatever thread-bare good faith was left is being seriously undermined, ushering in a very bleak outcome to all this, indeed.