Sad Times for the Episcopal Church

I attended an Episcopal church one summer a few years ago. I’m not Episcopalian, but I enjoyed the church and the experience. I loved the liturgy and tradition of it—the sense of being part of an ancient, worldwide, structured body of believers. I loved the use of organ and the singing of 500 year-old hymns. I loved the creeds.

But sadly, the Episcopal Church is a dying denomination, and the events earlier this week at the Episcopal General Convention in Anaheim only underscore its deterioration.

At the convention, Episcopal leaders pronounced gays and lesbians eligible for “any ordained ministry,” even though Anglican leaders had sought a clear moratorium on consecrating another gay bishop after the Gene Robinson hoopla of 2003.

This bold move by the American Episcopal church—a slap in the face to the authority structure of the worldwide Anglican communion—is symptomatic of the larger and long-developing rifts in the communion, and it’s likely going to be the last straw before a major schism.

I think N.T. Wright—Anglican Bishop of Durham and respected author/theologian—is correct when in The Times this week he described the situation thusly: “In the slow-moving train crash of international Anglicanism, a decision taken in California has finally brought a large coach off the rails altogether.”

There are a lot of denominational politics at play here, but what this whole thing comes down to is the fact that some within the Anglican world (American Episcopalians) elevate personal preference over the Bible, tradition, and authority. Essentially it comes down to a lack of discipline and a selfish “I should be able to do whatever I want!” attitude that disregards anything that isn’t inclusive or tolerant. It’s a blurring of biblical teaching and an intentional obfuscating of morality to meet the fickle whims and needs of our own variegated sexual impulses.

N.T. Wright addresses this idea in his article:

…But Jewish, Christian and Muslim teachers have always insisted that lifelong man-plus-woman marriage is the proper context for sexual intercourse. This is not (as is frequently suggested) an arbitrary rule, dualistic in overtone and killjoy in intention. It is a deep structural reflection of the belief in a creator God who has entered into covenant both with his creation and with his people (who carry forward his purposes for that creation)… Jesus’s own stern denunciation of sexual immorality would certainly have carried, to his hearers, a clear implied rejection of all sexual behaviour outside heterosexual monogamy. This isn’t a matter of “private response to Scripture” but of the uniform teaching of the whole Bible, of Jesus himself, and of the entire Christian tradition.

Gay Episcopalians would likely retort by pointing out that it is simply unjust. They are Christians and they want to serve God in a pastoral role in the church, and they can’t help the fact that they are gay. It’s just not fair that they are forbidden from the ministry.

Again, N.T. Wright answers this well:

The appeal to justice as a way of cutting the ethical knot in favour of including active homosexuals in Christian ministry simply begs the question. Nobody has a right to be ordained: it is always a gift of sheer and unmerited grace. The appeal also seriously misrepresents the notion of justice itself, not just in the Christian tradition of Augustine, Aquinas and others, but in the wider philosophical discussion from Aristotle to John Rawls. Justice never means “treating everybody the same way”, but “treating people appropriately,” which involves making distinctions between different people and situations. Justice has never meant “the right to give active expression to any and every sexual desire.”

The thinking of the Episcopalians in Anaheim this week is simply a symptom of the larger culture in the postmodern world. We can be whoever we want to be, and no one can argue against the rightness of our own feelings or inclinations. Tradition and authority (and scripture) be damned! What matters is my own experience.

To that, N.T. Wright says this:

It is a very recent innovation to consider sexual preferences as a marker of “identity” parallel to, say, being male or female, English or African, rich or poor. Within the “gay community” much postmodern reflection has turned away from “identity” as a modernist fiction. We simply “construct” ourselves from day to day.

But at the end of the day, the Christian life requires discipline and sacrifice. The deterioration of Episcopal-Anglican relations reflects the unpopularity of this idea in the contemporary world. People don’t want to believe that to be a Christian means that they can’t do things they feel are right, or that they must deny themselves the pleasures they so strongly desire. They don’t like the idea of self-control and restraint. But that’s what being a Christian is all about.

Wisely, N.T. Wright mentions in his article that we must remember that there is a distinction between inclination and desire on the one hand and activity on the other. It is one thing to have disordered or confused sexual desires. It is an entirely other thing to act on those. “We all have all kinds of deep-rooted inclinations and desires,” notes Wright. “The question is, what shall we do with them?”

In the Anglican church, there is no prohibition against the consecration of a person with “deep-rooted inclinations and desires.” But the understanding is that, in reverence to God, scripture, and the church, that person remain celibate. And it’s possible. It just takes discipline.

The Episcopalians—those wild, rebellious, American Anglicans who insist that active homosexual lifestyles are okay to God—are clearly lacking in the discipline department. And as a result, the world’s third largest body of Christians (the worldwide Anglican communion) is losing its unity and–perhaps–credibility.

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86 responses to “Sad Times for the Episcopal Church

  1. Great post! I couldn’t agree more.

    The issue has surpassed Scriptural debates and now lies in the court of human appeal. When we become our own standard of which to judge what is right, or “just,” watch out! It’ll be a scary place.

    I’m thankful for N.T. Wright’s clear position.

  2. If you were gay, Brett, this article would be so much easier to take.

    Have you spoken personally with any of those pesky Episcopalians in Anaheim? I’m inclined to believe they probably still hold tightly to tradition and scriptural authority, yet you make it sound as if they disregard them altogether now. Really?

    It shocks me that you have chosen to place yourself so starkly in this camp. I love NT Wright, but he’s simply wrong here. If one’s sexual orientation is not part of one’s identity, then what is it?! Can anyone honestly just switch it on or off at will? History gives example after example of that ill-chosen path. (Just add a little more self-control Timmy. Toss in a little restraint for good measure, and you’ll be fine.) Hmm…

    Can’t wait for your review of the new Derek Webb album. :)

    Greg

  3. Sad time indeed, but also exciting times. All is not lost! Conservative orthodox churches have been leaving the American Episcopal church for years and have been slowly re-gathering together into a new unity. Last year, they announced the forming of a new rival province, recognized by the other conservative Anglican bishops from Africa & South Asia.

    http://www.theacna.org/stream/2008/12/begin-new-church.html

    As a long-time Anglican, it is very sad to see the split & those that are unrepentant, but is also very exciting to see how the Gospel refuses to be shut down, watered down, or marginalized. It will always find a new way to go forth.

  4. Yeah I’m going to agree with Greg here and say that this article comes across as begging the question. You don’t argue that homosexuality is unbiblical; rather, you argue that those who are for homosexual ordination are lacking in discipline, have no sense of sacrifice, and want to do whatever feels right regardless of scripture– you don’t leave open the possibility of any hermeneutic different from your own, and yet at no point do you argue for the validity of your hermeneutic. It’s dishonest.

  5. Great article. Thanks. As a believer, my true identity as I’m a child of God. My old identity is to be put away. My life then becomes a journey to grow toward spiritual maturity (Christ-likeness). In that process, I am to set aside anything that gets in the way. This includes my old ways, my old identity. If I can’t let go of my past, I am not demonstrating the spiritual maturity that is necessary for church leadership.

  6. Sigh.

    When Jesus took time to eat with tax collectors did he condemn their lifestyle choice? Or did he treat them like human beings who deserved dignity and respect and love?

    This posture of scriptural fidelity doesn’t work now, unless you’re in keeping with kashrut. (And if you are, do you eat sturgeon? It’s a fish with no scales – where does that fit?)

    I belong to a Methodist church that celebrates communion with grape juice in order to have a truly open communion, because we allow over 700 different persons in recovery use our building each week. Does that stray from Jesus drinking wine at the last supper? Does that mean my church is breaking with scripture and tradition?

    Frankly, it matters little to me whether or not you think the Episcopal church is on the wrong track, or whether N.T. Wright does. If these human beings are called by God to serve I’m sure they will find a path somewhere unobstructed by these petty human-made divisions.

  7. Tim:

    In all fairness to Brett, an attempt to argue for the validity of his hermeneutic while refuting the hermeneutic of the opposing side is probably too vast an undertaking for this space. That matter has been debated extensively elsewhere, and Brett should be safe in assuming that his audience has at least a passing familiarity with the arguments of either side. His primary aim, as I saw it, was to argue that the Episcopalians’ desire to accept practicing homosexuals in all areas of church ministry is inconsistent and illogical in the context of the tradition of which they claim to be a part. Which is absolutely true. (Now, he may also believe–as I do–that heterosexual monogamy is the only morally acceptable expression of our sexuality, but it’s not necessary for him to defend that viewpoint in this discussion as he has framed it. That’s another debate for another day.)

    The Episcopal Church is on shaky ground because it wants to have its cake and eat it too. On the one hand, it wants to be politically correct and theologically liberal in its approach to homosexuality. On the other hand, it still wants to claim a place under the umbrella of a tradition that prizes orthodoxy and has a high view of Scripture. Once Episcopals started down this path of contradictions, a split was inevitable.

    Michael:

    You’re setting up a bit of a straw man here. Brett was careful to point out that ordination as an authority figure within the church is not a right, but a gift and a calling. Nowhere in his (or Wright’s) position does he say that homosexuals should be excluded from the life of the church. He merely says that they should not be ordained in ministry, just as a church should not ordain any person whose lifestyle falls outside the moral boundaries of its tradition. The “eating with tax collectors” argument is irrelevant to this discussion because Brett didn’t argue that we *shouldn’t* eat with tax collectors, as it were.

  8. Addendum to my last paragraph:

    Of course, the church does ordain heterosexual ministers all the time who turn out to be living outside traditional moral boundaries (I’m sure I don’t have to name names for you to know whom I’m talking about). However, one may assume that, at the time of ordination, these ministers didn’t openly admit to sleeping with another person out of wedlock, since that would have denied them ordination as well.

  9. Thanks, Brett, for drawing attention to the highly respected N. T. Wright and his harsh but well-reasoned response to the decision that came out of Anaheim this week. As someone who has attended an Episcopal church for only three years (after having grown up in a ‘seeker-friendly’ Methodist church), it grieves me to see TEC’s leaders do the precise thing they know will only deeper the rift in the Communion . The grief must be deeper for the conservatives who have ‘stuck it out’ this long, only to see a divorce become nearly imminent.

    As a friend noted last night, the problem moving forward is that there are no structures in place to discipline TEC leaders. Rowan Williams can ‘regret’ their decision all he wants, but in the end, who has the authority to discipline those meeting in Anaheim? Perhaps TEC’s decision is, in the end, a deeply American gesture, a Declaration of Independence that might seem courageous but actually finds no resonance in the New Testament’s language about unity in the Body.

  10. Jesus may have sat with the tax collectors, the prostitutes and others, he may have treated them like human beings, he may have directed his love and affection toward them. Certainly he did and we should follow his lead.

    However, he never called them to lead his flock, to be teachers in his church, except when they turned, changed their ways, in full repentance – new people so to speak. And for those who did repent and were chosen to feed his flock he created a hierarchy (which is pretty clearly outlined in the early church fathers’ texts as well in scripture) which kept those leaders in check, which served as disciplinary leadership.

    If one believes that Scripture is clear in saying that homosexuality is wrong then it would be true whether a person is born gay or not. We are all born with a tendency to lie, to whine, to scream out selfishly. That doesn’t make it right. It’s a sin and one we each must discipline. It’s a simple comparison, i realize, but it works. If – for the sake of argument at least – one believes that being gay is a state in which a person is born then ok. But that person must still learn to discipline the sin, must acknowledge that it’s a sin. Brett’s right, discipline is a key issue and it necessarily must be for one who is going to be leading and feeding His flock. And if one believes that homosexuality is wrong – and against the laws of nature (an idea that modern thought has surely abandoned- the idea of “natures,” that is) then how can one possibly be okay with a practicing homosexual acting a Christian leader?

    Now, you will probably say that all sins are wrong – a sin is a sin. And yes, you would be correct. And all ministers must fight their own battles, we all must wage a war for perfection within ourselves. But any minister who openly (or not so openly) indulges regularly in ANY sin should be disciplined. A youth minister who lies regularly should be disciplined, as should the pastor who is doesn’t control his eyes, or who plagiarizes from the pulpit, the deacon whose temper rages or beats his wife, the elder whose can’t control his alcoholism, and the music minister whose judgmental to a fault.

    Yes, said discipline must be administered in a Christ-like fashion, with patience and grace; but that patience and grace must not appear at the sacrifice of orthodoxy and scriptural dogma.

    Ultimately we must each wrestle with ourselves, continually checking ourselves, repenting and changing and presenting ourselves to God equipped and prepared to serve Him as He calls. We must remember to check for the beam before the speck, as Christ taught.

  11. On a separate note, Brett, you may be interested in the ACNA – the Anglican Church in North America. Primarily made up of former Episcopal churches who left the Episcopal denomination and churches that are actually mission churches under the guidance of Bishops and leaders in African, most notably West Africa, including Ghana. That is, the Anglican church in Africa is starting churches here in American as missions. Thinking about that for a moment or two will turn some of the conceptions about large scale missionary work on their heads.

    Below is the link to the ACNA Constitution and Canons:
    http://acnaassembly.org/index2.php/acna/page/113

    You may also want to browse the site where there is video of speakers like Rick Warren, the Orthodox Bishop in America, and Bishop Duncan address the assembly.

    As someone who grew up in the Episcopal church and whose church left the Episcopal Union this is all very interesting. I attend an Anglican Mission church and would argue there is a lot of truth being taught there.

    Just thought you might like to check it.

  12. Fantastic post, Brett! You (and Wright) really nailed it here. Kevin, thank you for clearly stating what should have been obvious to people reading the original post. Well spoken.

    While not a member of an Episcopalian church, I agree with Kathy that it is heartening to see the creation and growth of the ACNA. As Paul advises in 1 Corinthians 5, there are times when it is neccessary to purge the old leaven to remain an “unleavened” religious community. It seems to me that the Anglican/Episcopal communion has done its best to reconcile and encourage the more liberal members to return to an established biblical foundation and they have chosen otherwise. Sad but ultimately their choice.

    Even in a self-styled-postmodern world, objective truth exists. As Pilate discovered, that Truth is unflinching and implacable.

    Thank you for this post, Brett. One of your best, imo.

  13. Brett, I did enjoy the article. I do believe that self-control is a direct result of a life with Christ. Yet where the Episcopal Church in America & many other mainline protestant denominations are headed would deeply grieve their founders (Calvin, Wesley, Luther), yet their straying also grieves the heart of God (in reality the best example are those kings in 1 & 2 Kings where the majority of what is written about them is: so and so did evil in the eyes of the Lord).

    Greg- Last Week on NPR’s Tell Me More program, they had 2 Episcopal priests on. One a “conservative” holding fast to the scriptures opposition to gay/lesbians in leadership & consecration of unions within the Church, and the other a “liberal” pastor argues for leadership of GBLT within the church, a post- post-modern interpretation of scripture, & for GBLT “justice” within the church. Michel Martin, the host, places the two up against each other, and while her position is biased towards the GBLT community, you do hear the disregard for following the teachings of Christ for the sake of fairness and reinterpreting scriptures in light of our post- post-modern world. The scariest part of this debate is that as we become enwrapped in our sin, we lose sight of our salvation- that the Gospel, which is not only meant for those that don’t know Christ, but even more so for those who do. In turn, if the Episcopal Church in America (corporately) is more focused on promoting themselves than the Scriptures, how long can Christendom in American continue to walk down a path of destruction?

    When we make Christianity about our fight for “justice,” is our focus, devotion or attention placed fully upon Christ. For the last century, there has been this focus on fighting for our own “justice” in America. And if we are so focused on ourselves and not upon Christ, are we (corporately) fully following and being transformed by the Gospel?

    listen to the Tell Me More clip: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=106461260

  14. I see many thoughtful comments above, but as a gay Episcopalian I would like to offer some perspective. I am quite dismayed by this trope that the Episcopal Church is just “throwing away” years of tradition, teaching and understanding, and that we are snubbing the rest of the global church. The real truth is, this is another step in what has been a long and painful process of wrestling with this issue. The Episcopal Church first called for “dialogue” on the issue of sexual orientation at its General Convention in 1976…thirty-three years ago!

    This process of dialogue has helped Episcopalians understand that homosexuality is not “a lifestyle.” There is overwhelming scientific evidence that sexual orientation is a natural, biological phenomenon; while not fully understood, there is substantial agreement that there is a genetic component. There is, likewise, absolutely no science available to suggest that sexual orientation is merely a matter of personal preference or the result of “confusion” or bad parenting or sexual abuse, as many conservatives assert. There is no evidence that homosexuality can be “cured,” any more than you can “cure” brown hair. Sure, you can dye it and make the world think you’re a blonde, but that’s not the biological truth of who you are.

    Having come that far, the church is now examining what “the homosexual lifestyle” is all about, and what we have found is that it varies in no substantial way whatsoever from “the heterosexual lifestyle.” What we have found is that there are gay people who believe passionately in God and the Gospel and the Church, who profess the creeds with all their hearts, who form committed, enduring, monogamous relationships that, again, differ in no meaningful way from opposite-gender relationships.

    And so we turn to Scripture. If you accept that sexual orientation is genetic or otherwise biological in origin, then we must be consistent in our theology with God’s declaration in Genesis 2 that He beheld all of Creation, and declared it “very good.” We must also pay very close attention to Peter’s revelations in Acts, particular God’s insistence in the 10th chapter that nothing He made is “unclean.” As the story continues, Peter is explicit that he understood the vision of the “unclean” animals as a metaphor; the revelation is not about food, it is expressly about humanity. It was against “the Law” to associate with Gentiles; but through Cornelius, Peter and his followers discover — somewhat to their amazement — that this non-Jew, with whom they are Scripturally forbidden to associate *knows* God and is a holy person.

    Nothing in the Holy Scriptures as they have been passed down to us speaks remotely to homosexual orientation as we understand it today. The ancient biblical cultures “understood” that everyone was heterosexual, and viewed same-gender intimacy, as N.T. Wright and others do, as mere sexual gratification. They did not conceive of two people of the same gender having a biologically innate sexual AND emotional mutual attraction, just as they did not and could not have conceived of a round world spinning on its own axis revolving around the sun in a far corner of a vast universe of which it was not the center. We forgive them what they could not have known, and go deeper into Scripture to see what, then, God’s intent for us is in those passages. The prohibitions still hold IF you read them as a call to regard God’s precious gift of sexual intimacy to be treasured in the confines of a committed relationship. And let us remember the NUMEROUS places in the Bible that describe opposite-gender marriages that would be most unacceptable in today’s church (such as Solomon’s many wives AND concubines).

    The Episcopal Church is not taking these decisions lightly; this is the result of years of prayer and discernment. As for the Global Communion, we love them and hope and pray that someday they, too, will begin to understand what we have been shown. But we cannot refuse to go where the Holy Spirit is leading us simply because others will not.

    I am a 35 year old gay man who grew up with a “traditional” conservative approach to the Bible. Coming out for me as a teenager was a devastating process because I understood it to mean that I had to leave the church; that I, personally, was an “abomination” before God. I sought “help” and prayed and prayed for God to “fix” me, and was depressed and agonized to the point of repeated suicide attempts, because God would not “heal” me. I felt sick and ashamed of my own person.

    But of course, I now believe that God did not “fix” me because nothing was broken. The Spirit led me to the Episcopal Church, where I enjoy and treasure the liturgy and the catholic theology. I serve on the Vestry at my parish and I am a delegate to the diocesan convention. I am single and celibate — not because I am “not acting” on my sexuality, but simply because I believe that sexual intimacy should be reserved for committed relationships. I aspire to have such a relationship and expect to be called to the same ideals of fidelity and commitment as opposite-gender couples.

    Being gay is much more than just sexual activity, and today I praise God that the Episcopal Church is learning and embracing that truth. If it breaks the Communion, so be it. We will not be the ones walking away.

  15. But Brett, what would your boy Gus Van Sant say about all this Biblical rigor you endorse? And George Steiner and Martin Heidegger, who you clearly admire, were phenomenologists who believed that experience is the proper starting point for all inquiry, not scripture. (“We can be whoever we want to be, and no one can argue against the rightness of our own feelings or inclinations. Tradition and authority (and scripture) be damned! What matters is my own experience”). Steiner has written extensively and explicitly on the language of sexuality with no reference to proper, moralistic context.

    Not that I would advocate for monolithic consistency though, being a postmodernist poseur and all.

    Interesting rant, in any case.

  16. This issue is linked (for me, at least, and in the minds of some others) to the issue of women in the church.

    This is a link to a talk N.T. Wright gave on women’s service in the church: http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Women_Service_Church.htm.

    In this case, he looked at scripture and determined that many have interpreted it incorrectly and that women should in fact be allowed to serve alongside men in the church. If you reexamine the Bible in this manner regarding homosexuality, you can come to some equally nontraditional conclusions.

  17. Andy-
    Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord through his many wives and concubines. The Kingdom that was established under him was split (creation of Judah & Israel) in his son’s regin. See 1Kings 11:11-13. So in all reality Solomon was punished for his sins and also the rest of the Kings of Israel/Judah who did evil in the eyes of the Lord.

  18. Kevin–

    The Episcopal Church is on shaky ground because it wants to have its cake and eat it too. On the one hand, it wants to be politically correct and theologically liberal in its approach to homosexuality. On the other hand, it still wants to claim a place under the umbrella of a tradition that prizes orthodoxy and has a high view of Scripture. Once Episcopals started down this path of contradictions, a split was inevitable.

    This is exactly the begging of the question to which I refer. I don’t expect Brett to flesh out an entire hermeneutic on a blog, but to claim that Episcopalians are contradicting themselves by valuing Scripture and simultaneous recognizing homosexuality as a valid facet of humanity skips over the entire part wherein you have to explain why that’s a contradiction. The fact of the matter is that Episcopalians do not have a low view of Scripture, they merely read it differently than you and Brett do. It’s disingenuous of you to claim that merely because they disagree with you on interpretation they therefore do not value Scripture as highly as you do. That’s what I take issue with. The Episcopal view of homosexuality has nothing to do with attempting to kowtow to political correctness or tolerance (which has, for some sinister reason, become pejorative) and everything to do with living as they believe God has called them to live, as they understand it. And, in a fashion identical to that of both you and Brett, they glean this understanding from reading their Bibles in a way that makes sense to them. For you to claim that pro-gay Christians don’t value Scripture as highly as they ought is, in a way, an ad homenim attack that does not actually address the argument, but short-circuits it in an attempt to prematurely claim victory.

  19. Yes, BUT…according to 1 Kings, what Solomon did that was wrong was that he married women who were not Israelites. It doesn’t appear wrong in God’s eyes (at least according to the text) that Solomon had “700 wives and 300 concubines,” what was wrong was that they were foreigners who “turned his heart” to other gods; indeed, 11:7 says that Solomon, who builder of the great temple in Jerusalem, began to build temples to other gods. Polygamy doesn’t seem to have offended the Lord.

  20. Sigh.

    Lots of grenade lobs back and forth, as always. And I feel like I need to offer my two cents, for whatever they’re worth.

    First, Andy, I would like to offer you my sincere apologies for being part of an evangelical culture that made you feel that you needed to leave the church for being gay. I don’t offer that patronizingly, but in sincere grief for some of the shit I’m sure you went through. The church in America (sorry to be specific here, but I’m American and mostly know about the American church) has done a pretty abysmal job of figuring out how to address homosexuality. It took one of my closest friends coming out to spur me on truly realize this, and I say that in complete humility, and not as someone who has it figured out.

    In any case, while I do agree that someone certainly can be gay due to orientation (and, I would suspect, Bishop Wright would say so too), I agree with Wright in most of his points. I would say that the Bible is fairly explicit in its general warning against sexual immorality, and I would believe homosexual practice (i.e. NOT orientation) to fall under this definition.

    So, using this as a jumping off point…I and other conservatives don’t oppose the idea of gay people in the church. Indeed, we welcome and honor gay brothers and sisters as members of our community, recognizing them in ourselves and ourselves in them. The opposition is to that of sexual immorality, in which we include homosexual practice. So ordaining someone in an active homosexual relationship would be akin to someone ordaining a person living with his girlfriend, or a woman in active sexual relationship with her boyfriend.

    I know that this seems unfair. But, in my mind, it’s no more “unfair” than the Church asking that its members commit to chastity for their lives. Our impulses ought not rule us–and when they do, we ought to accept that exquisite grace offered from God and pray that we will be made new once more. I pray this prayer as a single male who struggles being a virgin in his mid-20s. And I know the monastics have prayed this prayer every day for the past 1900 years.

    Finally: Conservatives, stop patting yourselves on the back and offering accolades to the schism. This isn’t celebration. This sucks. This is a church that is being rent apart, and you need to mourn. Mourn because this is Christ’s body, and we are tearing it into pieces. Mourn because we have been responsible for the rending as well.

  21. Andy, thanks for sharing. I’m of the firm believe that Christians will become much more accepting of their homosexual brothers and sisters the more they encounter them and realize that the Religious Right’s bogeyman ‘gay agenda’ gay people don’t exist.

  22. Thanks to all for the comments thus far. And Ryan for reminding us that this whole thing is indeed cause to mourn. Forgive me if the tone of my post at all seems to make light of the situation. I didn’t intend it as such.

    Andy- I echo Ryan’s apology for being part of the evangelical church that alienated you to the point of you not feeling comfortable within its walls. I want to be part of a church that welcomes gay people and loves them, just as it welcomes anyone who struggles with anything.

    But the issue is with sanctioning a lifestyle that I truly believe–and which I believe the Bible clearly articulates–is sinful.

    It’s a tough issue, to be sure. It’s painful, heartbreaking, and there is a lot of suffering involved on the part of so many. But I think that one of the fallacies of the modern age is that we shouldn’t have to suffer for something that isn’t our fault. On the contrary, I think that suffering is an essential, unavoidable part of the Christian life–a fact that Nouwen and Bonhoeffer and countless others have eloquently underscored in their lives and writings.

    It may seem harsh, but I like what Marva Dawn (someone acutely aware of suffering) writes in her book, Sexual Character:

    “It is not too great a suffering to ask of homosexuals [or anyone else who is not married] that they remain celibate for the sake of the Kingdom of God. All of us have to bear certain sufferings in this broken and sinful world. And the grace of God makes them all bearable, whether they are physical, sexual, or other.”

    And so to all in this debate and especially to all the Christians who are splitting up over this, I urge you to think in terms of God’s grace. It covers all wounds and all struggles, whether inborn or chosen, and allows us to live with suffering and feel God’s love and pleasure even when we suppress our own.

  23. To Brett, Ryan, and other who believe that the Bible gives a clear prohibition against homosexual activity– and I mean this genuinely, not as a rhetorical ‘gotcha’– could you show me your basis for the belief that lesbianism is clearly prohibited? Or do you have such a belief? And, if not, could you articulate for me what you feel the distinction is between male homosexuality and female homosexuality?

  24. This is an interesting thread. It’s not often one finds anything on the blogosphere that isn’t, to start with, rife with spelling and grammatical atrocities, vulgarities and name-calling. So I am happy I stumbled upon it.

    To me, this kind of conversation is the great strength and charism of Anglicanism. We are all in agreement about a great many things — indeed, we agree on the most important things, and we are all professing Christians. We have some different experiences and some different points of view on some issues, and sometimes that becomes quite contentious; but again, this is nothing new. Read Acts. Read Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. Struggles and disagreements and mismatches of temperament and style should not be communion-breaking problems when we fundamentally agree on the person of Christ and the truth of the Gospel.

    With regard to the Bible being “clear” on homosexuality, believe me, I do respect where you’re coming from because that’s where I started. People often have this notion that I just don’t understand or, perhaps have just not read, say, Leviticus 20. It has been — and remains — an ongoing struggle for me to harmonize these passages with what I know to be the truth of my own experience.

    Frankly, it simply doesn’t cut it to just say, “Well, the Bible says […], and that’s just the way it is.” The Bible says many things I’m confident all of you freely disregard; it is, to use a particularly loaded word, an “abomination” to wear linen and wool at the same time. A cheeseburger is an “abomination” — you are not allowed to combine dairy and meat in the same meal. It is wrong to yoke an ox and a mule together; why that is offensive to God is anyone’s guess, but there it is in the Bible, so it must be true, right? A woman who has given birth is “unclean” for seven days and must not be touched. Do we, when we are setting up our nativity scenes every Epiphany, ensure that we place Joseph far enough away from Mary?

    Deuteronomy prohibits a man from serving in the military within one year of his marriage.

    Have you read Deuteronomy 22?? It is, frankly, ridiculous. A woman can accuse a man of rape ONLY if the attack occurred in a rural area; in a city, her cries should have been loud enough to attract attention and she would have been rescued. Since no one heard her and came to her rescue, the Biblical assumption is that the sex was consensual. But if it was out in the country, there’s no way to know if she screamed loudly enough, so the verdict goes to her as a default (verse 27). Verses 28-30 are my pet favorites. If a man rapes an unbetrothed woman (and, in this culture, we’re talking about someone who is almost certainly under the age of 15), he has to pay her father 50 shekels and then marry the girl; divorce was legal in this culture, but not for this man…having raped the woman, he can never “put her away.”

    Now, I would like to find the Christian today who firmly believes that God has ordained that a woman who has been the victim of a sexual assault has to marry her attacker. (Indeed, I know evangelicals who believe that rape deserves the death penalty.) Here, the girl is treated kind of like a new car at a dealership; the guy took her for a joy-ride and put a dent in the fender, and now the dealer can no longer get full price for her…indeed he’ll be lucky to sell her at all. So the guy is obligated to reimburse the father for damaging his property and he must care for the girl because no one else will want her. (A few verses earlier Deuteronomy says that if a man accuses his bride of not being a virgin on their wedding night and she and her father cannot produce “proof” of her virginity, “they shall stone her to death, because she committed a disgraceful act in Israel by prostituting herself.”)

    I can’t speak for you all, but I find these notions rather horrifying, and I do not believe they truly reflect a Godly, holy way of living. We don’t just disregard them today because we are kow-towing to political correctness or militant feminism; we read them and think, “WTF?”

    Now, with regard to the notion that a homosexual orientation or tendency thereto is not sinful but the physical expression is and, well, sorry, but that’s just what the Bible says…I have to tell you, this is the very journey of conscience that the Episcopal Church has undertaken. It is not that we are unaware of what the Bible says or are willfully ignoring what is there; but we have had the courage to look at the lives of gay and lesbian couples and seen that sexual intimacy is often merely the physical expression of a deep and abiding, committed, loving relationship. We are witnesses to these healthy, loving relationships, and we hear a call to justice in the wedding liturgy proclamation, “What God has joined together, let no one put asunder.”

    I recognize that many American Christians have difficulty with this kind of approach; the Bible is the Word of God, it cannot be questioned. But I respond simply that that is not the Anglican way. Our faith is informed equally by Scripture and tradition, but also by reason and experience. We believe that the God who endowed us with these marvelous, creative, critical minds did not intend for us to forgo their use. And we do not expect that everyone will see or experience everything the same way, but we call people to live their lives as honestly as they can. We believe the altar is God’s table, not the church’s, and if someone comes to the table to receive the sacrament, they are called by the Holy Spirit and it is not our place to stand in their way.

  25. Andy,

    Thanks for continuing the discussion. I appreciate your perspective and hope you are finding the discourse on this blog to be courteous and charitable.

    There is a lot there in what you wrote above that I could respond to, but I have to immediately object to your argument that we should not trust “the Bible says” arguments because of the fact that the Bible (the OT) has a lot in it that we don’t and shouldn’t take as pertinent to our lives (i.e. not yoking an ox and mule together, etc). No Christians are really making the argument that we should be following the obscure Old Testament laws you bring up (the “ridiculous” ones in Deuteronomy 22 to which you respond “WTF?”). It’s because we recognize the difference between the old covenant and the new covenant.

    The Levitical and Mosaic laws are not intended to regulate the Christian life today. The church is not Israel. We are to live life under the new covenant as set forth in the New Testament. This is not to say, however, that these laws have no purpose for believers. Though we are not subject to their specific mandates, we should look at these laws (as with all the seemingly “irrelevant” aspects of the OT) as part of the bigger picture of God’s holiness and his plans for Israel—and eventually the church—to be distinct and set apart.

    So, with respect to homosexuality, if the various Old Testament passages (Leviticus 18:22, and 20:13, etc) were the ONLY condemnations of the homosexuality in the Bible, we might be having a different conversation.

    But the fact is, the New Testament ALSO includes reference to homosexual behavior being sinful. Throughout the Bible, in the OT and NT, homosexuality is always associated with sin (it is never mentioned in any sort of positive, God-sanctioned context). In the NT, Paul is pretty clear both in his letters to the Romans (1:26-27) and the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) that homosexuality is an unrighteous act (in the latter passage he lumps it in with idolatry, adultery, thievery, etc.).

    So if I’m reading you right in your penultimate paragraph, you seem to agree (as with the Episcopal church at large) that the Bible does not sanction homosexuality, but because you bear witness to homosexuality being a love-filled and sincere expression of identity, you are simply choosing to overlook the Bible. You write:

    “It is not that we are unaware of what the Bible says or are willfully ignoring what is there; but we have had the courage to look at the lives of gay and lesbian couples and seen that sexual intimacy is often merely the physical expression of a deep and abiding, committed, loving relationship.”

    Andy, I hear what you are saying and I really do sympathize. I’m sure there are very deep and abiding, committed, loving relationships between gay couples. But what is the “courage” you reference and why do you call it courage? Is it the courage to look to your own experience and feeling of what is “right” while forsaking the transcendent authority of scripture? In my view, the truly courageous thing would be to trust that God’s word is a binding truth that, even if it feels oppressive and contrary to my experience, always has a better idea of what is good for me than I do.

    The Israelites in the Old Testament probably also felt it “ridiculous” that they couldn’t wear linen and wool at the same time. Their experience in the world likely indicated that there wasn’t anything wrong with mixing fabrics. It didn’t cause anyone any harm. So why follow the law? Because God commanded it. That was the only reason they needed, and it necessarily trumped what they desired or felt to be just. That was precisely the point. It set them apart.

    And I’m not sure it’s totally accurate to describe “the Anglican way” as being “informed equally by Scripture and tradition, but also by reason and experience.” The Anglican church does highly value tradition and church authority, but certainly it all bows in deference to the authority of scripture. This is a body that had its roots in the Reformation, after all.

    And if Christianity’s epistemological certainties were really equally derived from God’s divine communication and our own flawed, fickle, impassioned perceptions and human experiences, why would anyone really want to be a Christian?

  26. Having had experiences with quite a few gay ministers, I can say that after a while one finds sermons that all seem to be geared around the validation of “personal relationship with God” over the word of God. Many gay ministers want to serve God but they also seem to want to serve Him by bringing everyone in the congregation to stop believing in the Bible. True, this is an episcopalian trait, but the gay episcopalian priests take it to such an extreme level it often boggles the mind. Often, Bible studies are created to preach the Bibles but which are there merely to mock it and to make congregants distrust it or true Bible-believers look stupid.

    In addition, I have yet to meet a gay male priest who totally believed Jesus was heterosexual. In addition to books about David and Jonathan, they have ALL had books about Jesus love affair with the beloved disciple.

    In a world where other religions take their holy books seriously, what are Christians doing belittling their own holy book? How can we stand up against the mockery or the true faith of a muslim who honors his koran or a Jewish person who honors his Torah, or a Mormon holding the Book of Mormon.. and say, “yes, well, we all know my Bible is wrong in so many places and only a work of man. But does it matter? All religions are really the same.”

  27. Tim:

    I realize now that my use of “high” was rather loaded and a poor word choice. I meant it in the same sense that one would use “high church” and “low church”–i.e., not as a qualitative judgment but as a distinction made on the basis of differing practices and processes. I think we can agree that the Episcopal approach to biblical interpretation differs greatly from the more conservative approach favored by traditional Anglicanism, in a fashion similar to how a typical Southern Baptist church eschews most liturgical forms of worship. Not innately superior or inferior, just different. I didn’t mean to imply that the Episcopal Church values Scripture less than other denominations. Apologies to anyone who was offended.

    Having clarified that, I don’t think it begs the question to note the inconsistency between the Episcopal Church’s homosexuality-friendly reading of Scripture and its insistence that it’s simply a more progressive brand of Anglicanism. A view of Scripture that allows for the exegetical calisthenics required to endorse the ordination of practicing homosexuals is not an Anglican view of Scripture, no matter how noble the intentions behind it. One might as well claim to be a Catholic while not recognizing the Pope as the ultimate religious authority on earth. It doesn’t make you a lesser Christian to hold that belief (ugh, what a horrible phrase), but it sure as heck doesn’t make you Catholic either.

    This is why I think the Episcopal Church’s position is untenable, and, to appropriate your choice of words, disingenuous. It wants to interpret Scripture using methods that are beyond the pale for Anglicans, then acts surprised when told that they’re no longer Anglicans. Nobody is (or at least I’m not) calling into question their place in the Body of Christ. I would like it, however, if Episcopalians would recognize the true motive behind the split. The aim is not to exclude them out of homophobia or narrowmindedness, but to avoid taking Anglicanism down a path that subjects Scripture to interpretations that are invalid within an Anglican framework.

  28. I have little to add at this moment, but I do think that we ought to clarify our terms for the sake of argument. At this point in history, July 2009, there is a difference between the Anglican church in America and the Episcopal church in America. It is the Episcopal church which ordains homosexuals – the Anglican church does not. Many Episcopal churches, and even dioceses, have left the Episcopal church to join the Anglican church – hence the formation of the ACNA.

    It would, perhaps, be useful to differentiate between the two so our points our more clearly understood.

  29. @ Andy – I’m sorry, but homosexuality is a lifestyle choice. There have been no conclusive findings, either by geneticists or biologists, that demonstrate an organic basis for it. Even the psychiatric community is embracing this truth more and more these days. The newest edition of “Essential Psychopathology and Its Treatment”, a textbook used in med schools and psychiatry departments contains the following text on page 488:

    “While many mental health care providers and professional associations have expressed considerable skepticism that sexual orientation could be changed with psychotherapy and also assumed that therapeutic attempts at reorientation would produce harm, recent empirical evidence demonstrates that homosexual orientation can indeed be therapeutically changed in motivated clients, and that reorientation therapies do not produce emotional harm when attempted (e.g., Byrd & Nicolosi, 2002; Byrd et al., 2008; Shaeffer et al., 1999; Spitzer, 2003).” (H/T: the excellent Stand To Reason blog

    If homosexual orientation is a “genetic component” as you claim, how can it be therapeutically changed, as referenced in the textbook above? You assert that there is “absolutely no science available to suggest that sexual orientation is merely a matter of personal preference” but the burden of proof lies on you, Andy. If you are claiming homosexuality is genetic (which you are), then it behooves you to find concrete evidence for a claim that runs perpendicular to any scientific evidence we currently have. Homosexuality is a sin preference, no worse or no better than any other sin preference; including promiscuous heterosexuality, adultery, etc.

    I fully agree with everyone else that expulsion from a church community simply because someone suffers from homosexual impulses is not okay. I think that Christians tend to magnify the sin of homosexuality, as if it were greater or more heinous than any other sin. It is certainly more celebrated than most sins in our day but like any other sin, it is possible to succeed in your struggle against it. Joe Dallas has started an awesome ministry, helping people stuck in the gay “deathstyle” (as he calls it) get out of it successfully. In case you or anyone else is interested, Dallas’ ministry is called Exodus International. That being said, a Christian community who believes in the authority of the Bible cannot condone or tolerate practicing gay clergy or practicing gay parishioners. Paul’s directions are very clear to the church on what to do with parishioners who continue to sin after being made aware of their transgressions. Unfortunately, the answer is expulsion. The good news is that we are freely offered the “living water”. We have not been left to struggle with our sins on our own. But we are supposed to struggle against our sins. As the story of Jesus and the woman at the well so clearly illustrates, we are forgiven through the grace of God but not encouraged to continue in our sinful path. Jesus told the woman to “Go and sin no more” (emphasis mine).

    The rest of your argument hinges on the false assumption that homosexuality is organic in nature, so I don’t need to go point by point through it. A couple of points from later posts that I do want to highlight:

    – @Ellen/Andy, the only form of sexual union that is specifically blessed by God in Scripture is one man-one woman-one lifetime. It is how He intended us to promulgate life and find companionship. There is no other form of sexual union that finds God’s blessing in Scripture. If I am wrong, please direct me to the verse that I’ve overlooked.

    – @Tim, please read Romans 1, specifically verses 24-29. Lesbianism is clearly described as unnatural and abnormal.

    – @Andy, as Brett so clearly described for you, we are part of a New Covenant, not required to comply with the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant is based on Mosaic Law. The Law served to illustrate our inescapable sinfulness and our need for a Savior. Only one person fulfilled the Law: Christ. We are now under Grace, not under the Law. Our sins, past and future, have been atoned for as soon as we trusted Christ. We are called to honor Christ through our actions and to present our body as a “living sacrifice” to the Lord. To call certain passages of the Old Testament “ridiculous” is sophistic and a bit simple. Just because it doesn’t resonate for you today, it certainly had an important purpose historically for the Israelites. It may not be immediately apparent, but we have faith in God that his commandments are just and righteous, regardless of our personal understanding (or lack thereof).

    – I’m sorry to say your dismissal of Deuteronomy 22 betrays a lack of comprehension of doctrine. Repeatedly in Scripture, we are told that men and women are made “one flesh” when they are sexually intimate. Please reference the story of the woman at the well again to see how Jesus asks her about her 5 husbands. The woman was not married 5 times, but was engaged in sexual relationships with 5 different men, seen in the eyes of God as marriage. If a man is sexually intimate with a woman (even if it was forced) they are technically made one flesh in the eyes of God. If they are made one flesh, then the verse you are referencing is speaking to this fact and offering the only remedy. When I read these verses I don’t think “WTF?”, I overwhelmed by the grace of Christ who gave himself to prevent our certain condemnation according to our inability to live up to these statutes.
    – You state that “this is not the Anglican way” but I would have to disagree with you. If it is not the Anglican way, then we would not be discussing a schism in the Anglican church. Apparently some of your conservative brethren do feel that it is the Anglican way and are acting accordingly.

    A great discussion. Glad we can have these tete-a-tetes.

  30. Oh, my goodness…so much to respond to.

    First of all, the Episcopal Church is the only recognized province of the Anglican Communion in the United States. The Anglican Church in North America is a splinter group that is not officially recognized by Canterbury. The American dioceses that have chosen to realign with provinces in Africa and South America are in violation of Anglican canons of polity. “Anglicanism” is neither liberal nor conservative, it is the traditional “via media” between the Roman and Protestant.

    Luke, you have been misinformed. There is substantial research linking sexual orientation to biological causes. And I ask you, between fellow Christians, to accept my testimony that it is not a “choice.” My upbringing would never have allowed me to make such a “choice.” And it is certainly not “a lifestyle.” Gay people lead lives just like everyone else, we are no different. I’m curious what it is about my life that you think is substantially different than your own.

    To address the seemingly relevant passages in the New Testament, I reiterate my assertion that they are not really speaking to a homosexual orientation or same-gender relationships. In Romans 1, Paul is writing rather specifically about certain pagan temple practices that included sexual rites. He argues that these people were so sinful that “God gave them over” to such practices. Well, you know, I just don’t believe that’s how the Lord works. I don’t think God gives up on people, ever. You can tell by the language Paul uses that he doesn’t conceive of same-gender attraction as a natural thing, which we now know it is, and he is not prohibiting or even remotely speaking to the concept of two people of the same gender making a covenanted relationship together.

    I realize that is an outrageously radical approach for some Christians, but I offer that Paul himself opens the door for us to question his claims in 1 Corinthians 11, when he writes that women should ALWAYS cover their heads when they pray, and that it is a “disgrace” for men to have long hair, “but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory.” Ummm…you know, this strikes me as a not particularly enlightened point of view. Furthermore, Paul prefaces this whole passage by saying, “Judge for yourselves!” (Verse 13) Well…okay, I will. I’m thinking of all the paintings and sculptures of Christ I’ve seen over the years, and except for the ones where He’s a baby on his mother’s lap, I can only think of a couple (20th century) images where Christ DOESN’T have long hair. And to say a woman’s glory resides in her hair, well…that’s just lame. God created us male and female in his image; we are equally representative of God and so to reduce a woman’s value to her hairstyle is, well…it’s a remnant of patriarchy that we have thankfully left behind. I’ve never been to an evangelical church where every woman covered her head during prayer.

    The Episcopal Church has been ordaining women as priests for over thirty years, so clearly we are of the mind that Paul was not entirely correct on every point. That is shocking to many people, but that’s where we are. I don’t think it means we’re ignoring the Bible or not taking it seriously; indeed, I think to take the people and work hard to understand it within its own historical context and the social location of its authors is to take it MUCH more seriously than those who claim, “Well, there it is, in black and white, sorry.” So many people argue (myself at times, included) that “the Bible is very clear that (etc.), ” but clearly that cannot be the case with regard to nearly any issue; look at the diversity of Christian thought today and back across history. If the Bible were so clear on everything, there would be hardly any pretext for disagreement. But our mutual history does not support that claim.

    The Romans 1 passage is an interesting case. It is almost never presented within the context of the rest of the Epistle, as if “Chapter 1” is some sort of separate thought; it’s not, it’s just markings added by later editors for reference. “Chapter 1” must be read in the context of “Chapter 2,” where Paul makes very clear there is no such thing as a hierarchy of sin; in any way that we fall short of Godly ideals, we are in sin; he lists gossip alongside murder, and so to be consistent with Paul’s theology on sin, it’s disingenuous to claim that sexual immorality is necessarily worse than any of the thousands of ways we individually fall short of God’s hopes and expectations for us every day. We must also read “Chapter 1” in the context of “Chapter 8,” where Paul says, nothing, NOTHING can separate us from the love of God (which makes it hard for me to understand how God could give people over to sin. I’m not saying there isn’t any way to reconcile those two claims, I’m just saying I am still sitting with what appears to be contradictory to me at this time. We also must read Chapter 1 in the context of Romans 10:5-13. Paul does not say, “Except the gay people.” He says that everyone who believes and everyone who confesses that Jesus is Lord will be saved and that anyone who trusts in Him will not be put to shame. No exceptions.

    Many people make it sound like the Episcopal Church is just running rough-shod over the Bible, but really we are not. As I said, I think we take the Bible MORE seriously than many other contemporary traditions, because we are actively engaged in the process of wrestling with these difficult passages and discerning God’s will for us today.

    We do not worship “the Bible,” we regard that notion as idolatry. For us, the Bible is the starting point, not the final word. We are too mindful of all the ways the holy texts have been used in the past to work evil (never forget that Satan himself quotes Scripture to Christ in the desert). We worship the Trinitarian God, and trust in the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, and we believe that God is still speaking to us today, that the sum total of his revelation to humanity is not contained between Genesis 1 and Revelation 22 (a contention supported by John 21:25). And God has shown us the holy lives of openly gay people, and we are responding with trust and courage and prophetic voices.

  31. @ Andy, if I have been “misinformed”, could you please provide documentation to this substantial research linking sexual orientation to biological causes? I have provided documentation from one of the primary psychiatric textbooks, demonstrating that modern psychiatry is moving away from the homosexuality = biological argument. If you call me misinformed, please at least provide documentation to back up your statement. Asking me to accept your testimony that your lifestyle is a choice is also asking me to disregard the testimony of other Christians (such as Joe Dallas) who testify that homosexuality is a choice. I will side with Dallas and the preponderance of scientific evidence (or lack of scientific evidence to the contrary, I should say). And I do see it as a “lifestyle”, Andy. Practicing homosexuals live a life that is far different from my own. I know this because I have had openly gay room-mates and friends in my life. If you don’t know about this lifestyle and haven’t seen the statistics associated with it, please let me know and I’d be happy to share.

    What I get from your posts, if you will allow me to be frank, is moral relativism with a Christianity label slapped on it. Reading your posts, I get a lot of struggling to adapt Scripture to your point of view. You seem to be looking for other inconsistencies in order to justify the inconsistency that you favor. This is not solid reasoning, my friend. You state that “Paul was not entirely correct on every point”. So which ones was he correct on? How do you determine it? If someone else comes to a different determination than you, who has the proper interpretation? You seem to be arguing that as time passes and people change, we are to adapt the Bible to our times and sensibilities. This is moral relativism and it is antithetically opposed to Christian doctrine.

    You must have missed what I wrote in an earlier post. I said, “I think that Christians tend to magnify the sin of homosexuality, as if it were greater or more heinous than any other sin. It is certainly more celebrated than most sins in our day but like any other sin, it is possible to succeed in your struggle against it.” I do not separate homosexuality from other sins. And you are right, gossip is attacked very strongly in Scripture, but is often treated as harmless by Christians. This is wrong. I am not holding myself, any church, or any denomination up as perfect models of believers. I know that I am a rotten sinner and will be forced to struggle with my own sin nature until my death. We are all sinners and we struggle with different sins. In that, there is no difference between you and I, Andy. The difference enters when I hear you try to defend sinful behavior as righteous and acceptable behavior in God’s eyes. This is where we part. I do not accept your argument as the truth anymore than I would accept an adulterer who tried to convince me that David’s transgression with Bathsheba was not sinful in God’s eyes and adultery should be encouraged and accepted in congregations.

    I do not worship the Bible either, Andy. But it is the word of God, “Spirit breathed”, and meant to be taken as the revealed communication of God to man. If we are to manipulate it and discard portions of it, as you seem to suggest, then it loses its primacy and importance in our lives and becomes merely a reference tool, to be used when convenient and discarded when not. You are absolutely right about the misuse of Scripture. The Enemy has an intimate knowledge of Scripture (he was an arch-angel after all) and uses it to his advantage. But how does Jesus answer Satan’s twisting of His own words? He rebukes him with Scripture of his own.

    I don’t want you to get the impression that I am judging you. I am not. I am simply challenging what you have affirmed as truth, because I do not believe it to be so based on the word of God. We cannot be separated from God’s love, He will always love us no matter what we do and how we sin and (amazingly enough) whether or not we accept Jesus as our Savior. But that doesn’t mean that unbelievers will be saved along with believers. Once we are born from above, we are freed from the consequences of sin but not the power of sin in our lives. That’s a struggle that even Paul fought against. It will not end until we are delivered from this “body of death”.

  32. Andy,

    As Luke said, the burden of proof is yours. You both make claims about the science and genetics of homosexuality, yet he is the only one who has provided professional and/or scientific data or claims. All we have to go on are your broad claims. If we are to be convinced then we must be convinced, you must give us something to be convinced by besides your own un-proven opinions.

    Also, I called for clarification because, whether you consider their actions improper or not, the members of the ACNA are still referred to as Anglicans and will go on being called that for the foreseeable future. Simply for the sake of discussion I suggest that we use the terms Anglican and Episcopalian – more specific usage rather than broad, for the sake of clarity in this particular conversation.

    That said, let me respond to some of your other points. But first, let’s point out where we agree. I think that most of us would agree with your implication that God’s mercy is available to all sinners; that, in fact, we are all indeed sinners and are all in need of said Grace. I think for the most part we all agree that any hierarchy of sin is improper. Even those who debate most adamantly that homosexuality is a sin seem perfectly willing to admit that it is no more or less a sin than theft, lying, etc. It’s not a matter of better or worse, higher or lower – we’re not having a quantitative or even a qualitative debate. Furthermore, I think that we would all agree that to “worship the Bible” is wrong, and that God has blessed us with tools of reason that we ought to use judiciously and with propriety. And finally – and perhaps above all – I think that we all agree that all people – not excluding homosexuals – should be allowed to attend our churches, that they ought to be shown the love of Christ.

    So we have plenty of common ground and let’s not lose sight of that.

    Now…you say that Paul seems to consider a “natural” way of things, a natural order. This much is clear, he does refer to a natural order. Romans 1:26 is clear on this point. Yet, you claim that there is no such natural order (a fundamentally dangerous and problematic claim in many ways). You claim that Paul was “not… correct” – that he didn’t know what he was talking about. Thus – and there is no way around this that I can think of – you imply that the Bible is not the inspired and perfect word of God, which it clearly claims to be. You can’t simply pick and choose which parts of the Bible you want to adhere to, which are correct, which are infallible. Either the Bible is infallible as it claims to be – in which case Paul was in fact correct – or it is not, in which how does one know which parts are right and which are wrong? Tradition? Well, tradition of the church clearly states that homosexuality is wrong. Personal revelation through reason, etc?

    I stand by you in your suggestion that the Bible is not the be-all and end-all of God’s revelation. The Church does play a prominent role. However, I cannot stand by the implication that the Bible is not the infallible, inspired word of a perfect Creator. It either is or it isn’t and if it isn’t everything changes.

    Andy, this is not a debate about whether gay people can be saved. It’s a debate about 1) whether it homosexuality is a sin and 2) whether homosexuals ought to be ordained as ministers of the church. We’re certainly not making the assertion that a gay person can’t be saved – a point that might be valuable to keep in mind as the discussion rages on.

    Thanks for partaking, for being forthright and candid, for being honest and for sharing your thoughts with us. It’s great to be able to engage in a thoughtful fashion over such issues.

  33. We are not picking and choosing which parts of Scripture seem to suit us; it is a process called “discernment,” which is guided by the Holy Spirit. Jesus himself urges us to this practice when the Pharisees ask him whether it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath; Jesus knows full well that “the letter of the law” says no, but he responds to the Pharisees by asking them a question of his own (Luke 14:5), about whether any of them would refuse to rescue their ox or their child if they stumbled into a well or a ditch on the Sabbath. We are to follow our heart and our conscience. It’s not picking willy-nilly.

    The amount of scientific evidence available on the biological causes of sexual orientation are overwhelming. I might point you in the direction of a resource named “Google.” For you to ask me to provide some kind of evidence to support my argument is rather astonishing to me; it’s as if you’re asking me to prove that the world is round.

    You are right: I reject the claim that the Bible is the inerrant and unquestionable word of God. That is not the historically orthodox view of Scripture. It is not even how the Bible was meant to be read. 2 Timothy 3:16 says “All scripture is inspired by God.” Inspired is not a synonym for “dictated.” The Bible is the Word of God…written by people in the idiom of their own time. The richness of Scripture comes from reading and understanding it as literature of special varieties, not as inviolate history or science. Indeed, critical minds have difficulty accepting the claim that the Bible is “perfect” because there are so many internal contradictions — at least, when read ‘literally.’ The Gospels, for example, contain many irreconcilable variations on the story of Christ. The point of them is not to TRY to harmonize them, but to read them carefully and understand what the author is trying to say. The lessons we are to take away from Genesis 1 have absolutely nothing at all to do with how long it took God to create the universe. To insist the Bible can only be taken at face value is to largely miss what is really there. This may sound very strange and radical to you, but this is the historically orthodox approach to Scripture. St. Augustine wrote in the early 500s why we should not be reading Genesis as a literal account of creation. The “authority” of Scripture, from our point of view, does not come from claims to inerrancy. We recognize that everything therein was written in faith, but from a human perspective. We believe we *must* take that into account in order to discern what the Spirit is really trying to say to us through the Bible. That, apparently, is not your approach, but it is the Anglican way.

    And I understand wanting to make a distinction between Episcopalians and the Anglican Church in North America, but you’re not making the right one. As I’ve said, The Episcopal Church is the only recognized province in the United States of the global Anglican Communion. We are Anglican. Indeed, I prefer to refer to myself as Anglo-Catholic. We are Episcopalian by an accident of politics; when this country rebelled against the British, we couldn’t very well go on being “The Church of England” in the United States. However, the conflict was political, not theological. So we reincorporated ourselves as The Episcopal Church in America (“Episcopal” just refers to the fact that we have bishops consecrated in apostolic succession.) It is not a uniquely American term…the protestant church in Scotland is…The Scottish Episcopal Church. So to say the renegade bishops are “Anglican” and we are not is factually and canonically untrue.

    It either is or it isn’t and if it isn’t everything changes.

    I disagree. The Bible is not an either/or proposition. It’s a library of ancient texts, and it contains many different kinds of writings. The Bible — and Christianity — is not a house of cards, where if you remove one claim the whole thing collapses. It’s just not so.

  34. Under all of this, we are all being distracted. I see people who love Jesus, arguing and passionately disagreeing over what (in their opinion) constitutes sin. It distracts us from what truly matters: Christ’s Love.

    The bottom line is that we all have sin. Jesus calls us to give everything to him. I see pastors, ministers and church leaders abusing their blessings everyday. I see leaders indulge in golf 4+ times per week, I see some who own vacation homes and others who over-eat everyday.

    Are they being perfect stewards of God’s will? Or are they walking in habitual sin? Our we challenging those leaders to bring that sin into the light?

    Sin is sin. But, sinners can still know God because of Christ.

    Homosexuals can help me better know and understand the greatest love anyone has ever known because Christ died for their imperfectness. I can see Christ’s love in the greatest of sinners.

    God’s plans are above my understanding (that is why he is worthy of my worship) and I trust his love in this world.

    This discussion challenges me to examine my life and see whether I am being a steward of God’s will.

  35. Additionally, let me say a few words about what it means to be “Anglican.” An Anglican is defined by his liturgy, not by his doctrine. What we share globally is a common worship. We allow for great variations among our members in theology because we corporately believe that no one person ever gets it all right, and that together as a people of faith embracing our diversity of beliefs and experiences we will come closer to knowing God’s truth. Historically, whenever “the church” (in the universal sense) has insisted upon any specific belief without allowing for alternate understandings or at least listening to questioning/seeking people, it has started down a dangerous path. We believe God’s promise in the Book of Revelation that all will be healed, all will be made whole; in the meantime, we accept Paul’s invitation to us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12), which I believe is what we are doing.

    There have always been Anglicans who believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, and there have always been Anglicans who believe the Bible is richer and deeper than that. Historically, we have had many differences of opinion (even now, within the Episcopal Church, there are dioceses which won’t ordain women) but we come together in this common worship and believe that Christ is revealed to us through Scripture and the Breaking of Bread. We are richer for our diversity of thought.

    The conflict that arises now is because certain people within the global communion are, for the first time, trying to establish and enforce a doctrinal unity that is utterly foreign to Anglicanism.

  36. Brett:
    I commend you for taking on this debate and sticking with this position. Many strong arguments have been levied on both sides of this fence (which is, of course, more than two-sided in many ways), but your Marva Dawn quote is one of the strongest out there.

    Recently I’ve been reading a lot about sex and violence in the movies, and writing about a just-post-production movie that portrays lesbianism positively. It isn’t easy for me; sometimes it’s agony trying to keep my beliefs and profession of faith in line with God’s love for people with all kinds of sexual habits, desires and temptations.

    I think sexual acts are often considered part of our identity simply because they mark us in near-permanent ways–which we wouldn’t say for what we eat or wear. Although I eat pork and wear poly-cotton blends without guilt, I maintain that homosexual activities are not ordained or blessed by our Father in heaven. As one who pledges celibacy before marriage, I don’t feel judgmental in asking brothers and sisters to do the same…I’m hoping to help them protect themselves and each other, not keep them from enjoying God’s gifts.

  37. Richer and deeper than the inerrant Word of God? Andy, I think you’re failing to think deeply about what those words mean. There are few ideas that could possibly be richer than this – perhaps only the idea of salvation itself. That the Perfect Creator of the Universe, completely Holy and completely righteous would give us his inerrant, perfect Word is mind boggling. How could something possibly be richer with knowledge, with truth, with beauty? It couldn’t,and to suggest that the subjective interpretations of modern people – lay people or otherwise – could be more rich than that is a fundamentally idolatrous view point.

    Also, the burden of proof being yours you elected to provide “google” as your evidence that homosexuality is biologically based. You suggested we do the work for ourselves, not only is this a rhetorical disservice to those with whom your conversing but it also did very little to further your point. I went ahead and did google the topic for a while. The verdict is far from clear. It would behoove you to provide some scientific, philosophical or otherwise reasonable evidence since much of what one finds when one googles the topic are the same arguments from the same biased groups that people have tossing about for years. And this goes both ways. I’m not going to come right now and say that homosexuality is completely “learned” or what have you, but I will say that to say that the verdict is clear, that the evidence is plain to see and that true science assures us that it is biological is not only false but your approach is, to borrow one of your own terms, disingenuous.

    You wrote: “You are right: I reject the claim that the Bible is the inerrant and unquestionable word of God. That is not the historically orthodox view of Scripture”.

    If this is true than clearly our debate should have little to do with whether homosexuality is sin or not. Rather, we are debating a much more important, much more crucial point – a point about which the church fathers were willing to go to toe to toe for centuries. To suggest that the church has always believed the Bible to no be the perfect word of God is revisionist history. As Theology Today wrote a number of years ago, it wasn’t until the last 2 centuries that any sort of doctrinal statement asserting that the bible was anything other than the inerrant Word of God ever appeared without being considered heresy by the church at large. That the Bible is a library of texts written by human hands does not necessitate that it not be inerrant. The Holy Scriptures possess a fundamental unity bound together by the work of the Holy Spirit – it is one “composite” with the same story and same theme throughout. That it was written by various minds in various time only serves to underscore the miraculousness of God’s creative abilities.

    Of course, essentially we are coming from two completely alternative paradigms. It’s like debating whether oranges are better than apples with someone who doesn’t believe that people actually have individual tastes in the first place.

    You argue that your readings and interpretations of Scripture come from “discernment” yet you fail to recognize the fundamentally egocentric perspective from which you are coming. Doctrinal points have never been accepted by the church accept through council, having long ago accepted the notion that no singular person – or even singular group of people – can, on their own, interpret Scripture. This is a historical perspective about which I’m talking now. Read the historical documents, read the notes from the councils, etc.

    Andy, you accuse the ACNA bishops and those like them who have left the Episcopal of being “renegades.” Yet you fail to realize that it is the Episcopal church who is acting in renegade fashion. It is the Episcopal that is acting aside from the wishes and beliefs held through most of the rest of the Ecclesiastical world, so much so that they have ostracized themselves from the likes of the Evangelical church, the Orthodox church (eastern and otherwise), much of the Catholic church, etc. It is the Episcopal church whose actions have been “renegade,” that are revising history and that are creating schism. The Episcopal church has bought into the postmodern moral relativism so deeply, has cast her lot so firmly with the heartbeat of society and culture that most of Traditional orthodox Christianity simply couldn’t, with good conscience, have anything to do with her. To suggest that the ACNA leaders are the renegades is to be blinded by one’s actions. The Episcopal church has, essentially and historically, washed their hands of the rest of Christendom, claimed they are right no matter what and turned about face within their own walls. Not since the Anglican church was founded by bloodshed at hand of Henry VIII has a denomination acted with such self aggrandizing idolatry. The leaving itself is not what causes schism, schism is caused by a push – in this case a theological shove.

    I say this with a shudder for I have been, like you, an Episcopalian.

  38. Brett writes:

    “…what this whole thing comes down to is the fact that some within the Anglican world (American Episcopalians) elevate personal preference over the Bible, tradition, and authority. Essentially it comes down to a lack of discipline and a selfish “I should be able to do whatever I want!” attitude that disregards anything that isn’t inclusive or tolerant.”

    Brett, I think you should be a little more careful here. First, it’s not just gay people who are thinking seriously and carefully through the issues surrounding same-sex attraction and Christian practice and asking if sexually-active same-sex marriages might be OK. Secondly, the questions and arguments surrounding these issues aren’t just a matter of lack of discipline and selfish cries of “I can do whatever I want!” You do discerning same-sex attracted Christians (and heterosexual questions who are re-examining and questioning traditional teachings) a disservice when you write of them in this way.

    Have you ever read Richard B. Hays on this question, in e.g. THE MORAL VISION OF THE NEW TESTAMENT? He manages to present a traditionalist view at the same time as he respects people who disagree – he recognizes the complexity of the question and, more importantly, the utter spiritual puerility and fatuousness of drawing a line in the sand between good and bad Christians along the lines of what they think about same-sex sexual ethics.

    Surely you can see how the question of same-sex sexual ethics in the church is pretty complicated, esply for folks who reason along something like a Wesleyan Quadrangle? Surely you can see how New Testament statements against temple prostitution and pederasty might not exactly speak much to the issues at hand?

  39. Sorry, that should have read “heterosexual Christians who are re-examining and questioning traditional teachings,” not “heterosexual questions”

  40. One final question re: NT Wright’s comments:

    Are we sure that monogamy (as opposed to polygamy) was the ethical norm during Jesus’s time? When EXACTLY were Jewish men no longer allowed to marry more than one wife?

    Also, when and how did the Judeo-Christian tradition come to see sex between a married man and an unmarried woman as adultery? See here:

    http://ichsteh.wordpress.com/2008/01/21/things-i-fantasize-about-researching-in-depth-if-i-werent-a-full-time-grad-student-in-a-non-funky-field/

  41. (I note the fact that sex between a married man and an unmarried woman wasn’t seen as adultery in the OT and perhaps not even in the NT to point out that the relationship between Biblical sexual ethics and traditional Xian sexual ethics isn’t as solid as we think. That’s not to say there’s an easy answer to the question of SSA issues in the church – on the contrary.)

  42. Luke,

    For the vast majority of the history of the Christian church, the church has interpreted ‘women giving up their natural use for that which is unnatural’ as referring to heterosexual anal sex. It’s only been in the last 100 years that anyone has decided that the ‘obvious’ reading of this passage refers to homosexuality, which would seem to indicate that this is not the obvious reading.

    Regarding the biological nature of homosexuality and the ability to ‘cure’ it, I think everyone in this thread should read the last chapter of Joel Derfner’s Swish, wherein a homosexual man attends an annual convention of Exodus International and befriends several men who consider themselves to be ‘cured’ of homosexuality. I think this will probably open your eyes to the truth of the nature of homosexuality (spoiler alert: They are all miserable and not attracted to women and still attracted to men and the only thing that has changed is that they are burdened by overwhelming guilt about who they are). It’s heartbreaking.

  43. Tim,

    Derfner’s book may be heartbreaking but you can’t expect people to make a decision on a scientific argument based on a small, dramatic sample size on a single book. The truth is, and very few people are even debating this right now, that the debate is not closed – it is simply not 100% proven that homosexuality is all about biology or genetics.

    Moreover, it is also simply not true that the church has traditionally recognized Romans 1 as referring to anal sex. Or rather, that it only recognizes it as such, without including homosexuality.

    From as early as the first and second centuries, the early church fathers taught and the church declared that homosexuality was “unnatural” and a sin. Even the Episcopalians don’t often debate this! Much of Episcopalian thought on the matter declares that the church has been wrong, not that they haven’t been teaching it’s okay. hence they are referred to as “revisionists” or “progressives.”

    I’m shocked that we are even debating about the church’s traditional teachings on homosexuality. Since it was an issue in ancient times, the church spoke about it, declaring it to be wrong. They believed in a natural order of things, an idea that postmodernism has tossed to the wayside. However, “nature” is at the center of Christian thought. We believe that Christ had two “natures” – man and God. We believe that man has a sin nature. We believe that sin has a nature, as does grace. The Christian tradition taught that through salvation and grace God enables man’ nature to be perfected and fulfilled, but since modern man believes that there is no such thing as fundamental natures they are driven by constant progressivism and a desire to have power over any sort of natural orders that do appear. So the idea of nature driving them, the early church made it clear that homosexuality was to be considered a sin. Any other approach would have to be considered progressive, as it is, and to say otherwise about the early church would have to be considered revisionist at best.

  44. David, I’m not discussing the church’s historical stance on the issue of homosexuality. I’m specifically talking about the church’s historical interpretation of a single specific sentence in Romans. It’s obvious that the church has historically stood against homosexuality; I wasn’t arguing that. However, it has not been until recently that this specific passage has been read as pertaining to lesbianism, so when contemporary Christians point to it as clear and obvious evidence of scripture’s stance against female homosexuality, their argument is flawed. That’s all that I’m saying.

  45. @ David – I think you hit quite a few nails on the head with your posts. I cannot imagine subjective human relativism being labeled as “richer and deeper” than the inerrant Word of God. That is dangerous territory for a believer (and a very egotistic outlook), in my opinion.

    @ Andy – When you are asked for documentation/evidence during a discussion, it provides your argument with significantly more support if you provide said evidence. Sarcastically suggesting that the requester “Google” for the requested documentation is a) not helpful, b) indicative that you have no specific source for your position, and c) relying on some kind of internet zeitgeist to prove your point for you. Until you are able/willing to provide a substantial source for your statement, I think for this discussion’s sake we should proceed with the assumption that homosexuality is a choice. If you can provide a trust-worthy source indicating otherwise, I’d be happy to discuss it. Also, please be careful of confusing “literal” with “inerrant”. They are not the same label. I am not advocating that all Scripture must be read in a completely literal fashion, many parts of it (e.g. the Parables) make no sense when read this way. I am advocating that the Scriptures are inerrant. Big difference. 2 Timothy 3:16 says that all Scripture is “God-breathed” or (“given by His inspiration”). This is a not like someone sitting down to write a poem and being inspired by a flock of birds. This is speaking of direct inspiration from God to the mind of man. Why would God use such a means of communication if the scripture produced was fallible or incorrect?

    @ Joe – You are right. All sinners can know God because of Christ. His grace is available to all, free of charge. We are all sinners who need his grace on a daily basis, no one is immune or perfect. I believe an integral function of the Body of Christ is to provide a check on ourselves and other believers when we see them going astray (and leading others astray). Not in judgment, but in love.

    @ Betsi – No, it is not only gay people who are thinking about these issues. But it is gay people who are forcing these issues onto agendas. If there were no gay parishioners seeking to be clergy or gay couples seeking a church’s approval of their marriage, we would not be having this discussion. Brett is correct in his statement, this “progressive” movement is deliberately shunning 2,000+ years of established Judeo-Christian morality and insisting on changing the representative face of Christianity so that they are able to continue living the lifestyle that they have chosen. Just because someone wants to redefine something, doesn’t mean that the redefinition is apt or accurate. I haven’t read the Hays essay that you are referring to, but there is a right and a wrong side on this issue. To suggest otherwise is relativistic and contrary to the Christian worldview. I’m not judging or castigating the people on the “wrong” side, but Biblically it’s clear that there is a wrong side. As far as when the Judeo-Christian tradition came to see sex outside of marriage as wrong, it appears from the account of Christ and the woman at the well (referenced earlier) that the Lord views her behavior unfavorably. I’m not sure why “when” matters.

    @ Tim – I’ve never heard that interpretation of Romans 1 before and I’ve also never heard that this was the accepted interpretation. Could you point me towards some documentation indicating this interpretation being the historically accepted interpretation? Just from reading the passage it appears clear that Paul was speaking of homosexual activities between women as well as men: “For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.” The fact that it speaks of “their women” not woman in the singular and that the next sentence states “Likewise also the men…burned in their lust for one another” seems clear to me that the women also burned in their lust for one another as the men did. Any other reading seems to be counter-intuitive. As far as the last chapter of Swoosh, I have no doubt that there are many men/women who have come out of the gay lifestyle and are miserable. Most of us are (for awhile) when we put aside a sinful lifestyle and resolve to live a lifestyle that honors God instead of ourselves. Our sin nature does not let us forget how much we enjoyed our previous sinfulness every once in awhile. I would hope and pray that these men find happiness and further rehabilitation the longer that they walk their difficult path. It seems a fairly limited sample size, given the size of the ministry. I would suggest that if everyone involved in the ministry felt the same way as these men, there wouldn’t be such a thing as Exodus International. Without success, these ministries do not last and they certainly don’t grow. I acknowledge your (Derfner’s) account, but I certainly don’t believe that it is the status quo in Dallas’ ministry.

  46. Luke, is this enough?

    For those asking for evidence as to biological causes to homosexuality:

    http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2008/06/13/0801566105.abstract

    The study finds differences in brain architecture between homosexual and heterosexual subjects.

    This study actually finds a genetic correlation, and it is fascinating:

    http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0002282

    This one finds a correlation in in the number of boys a mother has born.

    http://www.pnas.org/content/103/28/10771.abstract

    At the risk of playing source gotcha!, all of these studies are more recent than the 2002 textbook cited.

  47. Oh dear… I sure hope we don’t get an avalanche of posts that I composed while I couldn’t get the thing to take my links.

    I guess one thing that I would take from the studies I linked to is that human sexuality is altogether more complicated than almost anyone gives it credit for.

    On a different note, someone earlier mentioned that the African churches in the Anglican communion are setting up missions to the United States and that the more conservative swinging American Episcopal congregations are aligning themselves with them. If we’re going to get angry with the American church for trying to go its own way, why aren’t we upset with African churches interfering with parish and diocese boundaries? The net result is more division, not reconciliation.

  48. Luke–

    See here. Sources include Clement, Anastasios, Augustine, the Apocalypse of Peter, and others.

  49. James Rosenthal

    I wonder if Dr Wright or you have any comment on (non-disclosed) homosexual bishops, civil partnerships/blessings and clergy, say in the UK, versus those known in USA. The Communion will remain in some new form based on “Communion” in areas like Companion Links and more.
    John 8.32

  50. Chris, no one is suggesting that there are not studies suggesting that homosexuality is a product biology and genes. However, there are also certainly studies that suggest otherwise. Scientists have been and will continue to argue about this for a long time. The problem arises when someone makes a broad sweeping claim or argument based on the possibility that biology determines sexual orientation without admitting that the results of studies vary and are not conclusive.

    Tim, that’s an interesting article but the flaw in your argument is that while it certainly might mean what the writer there, and you, say it does, that doesn’t mean that it doesnt also refer to homosexuality, particularly, the “men with men” part of the verse. I’m not suggesting you or that writer are wrong, but that we needn’t limit ourselves.

  51. @Luke:

    I’m not sure why you called me “Betsi” in your response to my comments, but I’ll reply in any case, as it’s clear you were referring to my posts.

    “… is deliberately shunning 2,000+ years of established Judeo-Christian morality and insisting on changing the representative face of Christianity so that they are able to continue living the lifestyle that they have chosen”

    What’s the point of this (heartless, unfair) simplification? Have you ever considered the fact that some Christians choose to pursue same-sex relationships AFTER they discern whether such a thing is consistent with Christian mores, and not, as you suggest, in order to CONTINUE living as they have lived? The blog “Rising Up Whole” is an example of what I refer to. And my own blog (click above) is another example: were I to pursue same-sex relationships, I wouldn’t be “continuing” or “persisting” in a lifestyle: I would be making a new decision. Your reductive take on same-sex attracted Christians’ struggles with this teaching is uncharitable and, I might add, unproductive.

    “As far as when the Judeo-Christian tradition came to see sex outside of marriage as wrong, it appears from the account of Christ and the woman at the well (referenced earlier) that the Lord views her behavior unfavorably. I’m not sure why “when” matters.”

    If you reread my comments you’ll see that I didn’t ask “When did the Bible start to see sex outside of marriage as wrong,” but RATHER, I asked, “When did the Bible start to see sex between a married man and an unmarried woman as ADULTERY?” Your example of the woman at the well thus doesn’t speak to my question at all: she has been MARRIED, and it’s not at all clear what became of her previous 5 husbands – did she, for example, abandon them for her new lover? Not the issue I’m asking about.

    And the point of “when” is this: we need to recognize that our own mores do not always map on to clear Scriptural proscriptions. We need to recognize the extent to which orthodox Christian mores stem from traditional reflection, and not just clear Scriptural witness. Do you follow?

  52. David you took the words out of my mouth..

    Chris and Tim, thank you for providing these links. Just a couple of thoughts after reading over these references.

    Chris – These are certainly interesting studies and it looks like they have produced results that could be seen as favorable to the argument of homosexuality being categorized as biological. I think it’s important to emphasize that they are simply studies though. They are hypotheses suggested by the organizers of the studies and they have led to favorable results. It will be interesting to see how the peer reviews go and whether these studies are picked up and elaborated on. Like David, I imagine that counter-studies will be funded and produced to suggest an opposite hypothesis. I hope we can agree that equating this level of scientific finding with accepted and published medical textbooks is a little premature. Let’s not even examine the equivalence of these studies to the scientific reality of the “world being round” that was suggested earlier. Thank you for your post.

    Tim – It is interesting to read that author’s take on the passage, with some early church fathers’ documented opinions. Even the author admits that it’s far from clear what the verse is referring to and I still feel that just as strong of a case could be made for the verse referring to homogenital behavior. Thanks for the link.

  53. @Miss Ogilvy –

    I don’t know why I referred to you as Betsi either. My apologies.

    I’m very sorry that you see my comments as heartless, unfair, uncharitable, and unproductive. It isn’t how they were intended. I do however stand by what I wrote and here’s why. I have not considered the fact that some Christians choose to pursue same-sex relationships after they discern whether such a thing is consistent with Christian mores for the simple fact that same-sex relationships are not consistent with Christian mores. I don’t consider this fact for the same reason I don’t consider Christians who choose to engage in an adulterous relationship after they discern that Christianity discourages adultery. If they do choose to take that path, they are doing so with full understanding of their error (or I would certainly hope that their local assembly is Scripturally-sound enough to teach this understanding). Christ’s grace is sufficient for all of our choices and sins, but in both instances they would certainly be choosing to live a life honoring self instead of offering their bodies as a living sacrifice to our Savior.

    Do you think that contemporary Christians with homosexual impulses are the only ones that have dealt with this situation? You act as if this is a brand-new problem and that I am acting heartless by pointing to historical precedent. Since Gentiles and Jews began learning of The Way and hearing the teachings of the Lord and His apostles, I would suggest that there have been people who have struggled with this sin. But not until now has it ever been considered compatible with Christian teaching, in anything other than cults, wayward congregations and splinter groups. Now it is being embraced by historically orthodox denominations and forcing mass schisms in some of the world’s oldest churches. Apparently, our post-post-modern world with its moral relativism and subjective truth provides the perfect environment for this mind-boggling fallacy to ferment. You write that “we need to recognize that our own mores do not always map on to clear Scriptural proscriptions” and all I can do is say that “No, we do not”. What we need to do is to rightly divide the Word and search our dispensation (the dispensation of Grace) for the applicable proscriptions. And then we need to live accordingly. Christ did not come to earth and die for our transgressions so that humans can decide to follow “traditional reflections” instead of His Word. I believe that this issue needs to be approached charitably but unflinchingly. No one should be ostracized for their sexual impulses, but congregations do need to exercise sound biblical judgment based on an individual’s actions.

    By the way, this is not a new occurrence; questioning of the continuing applicability of God’s Word to our lives. I seem to remember another entity asking a young couple in a garden, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not (fill in the blank)?’”

  54. David, I wasn’t trying to suggest that the matter is settled, indeed my post was intended to show that the matter is emphatically not settled.

    It is dangerous (I think) to move down this road of discussion by cordoning off whatever side you disagree with as not viable. It had been proposed to frame the terms of this talk in light of the fact that no studies suggesting biological basis for homosexual sexual orientation had been cited specifically, as was done with the psychiatry book going the other way. I wanted to avoid that because to artificially limit the discussion does it no justice.

    Carry on.

  55. @ Luke:

    “You act as if this is a brand-new problem and that I am acting heartless by pointing to historical precedent.”

    I think you misunderstood what I was saying. I don’t take issue with your pointing to historical precedent – in fact, I think it’s IMPORTANT to look to historical precedent, and I would argue that the univocality of Christian TRADITION on the question of same-sex sexual ethics is just as important to what we do with the issue now as the Scriptural witness.

    It’s not your scriptural perspective or your invocation of historical precedent that’s heartless, it’s your rhetoric: your framing of the question as a contest between selfish desire and dying to the self. For many same-sex attracted Christians, it’s much more complicated than that. Can you hear me on this one? Does it at all make sense to you why framing the issue in this way might come across and patronizing and might involve distortions?

  56. I guess one of the problems in the interactions you and I are having, Luke, is that I’m coming from a more Catholic perspective (we can’t look to Scripture alone – the tradition of the church is important to help us use Scripture well) but at the same time I want to ask how exactly that tradition was formed, when and why certain ideas arose. You seem to be coming from a more Protestant perspective, and you appear unmoved by these problems.

  57. David–

    Tim, that’s an interesting article but the flaw in your argument is that while it certainly might mean what the writer there, and you, say it does, that doesn’t mean that it doesnt also refer to homosexuality, particularly, the “men with men” part of the verse. I’m not suggesting you or that writer are wrong, but that we needn’t limit ourselves.

    I never said anything about the male homosexuality content of the passage. All that I asserted was that, while many contemporary Christians indicate that verse as biblical condemnation of lesbian activity, and assert that it is the obvious and only possible reading of the verse, they are incorrect, as evidenced by no less than St. Augustine. My point is that there is no passage in the Christian scriptures that overtly condemns lesbianism, and I would sincerely like to hear anyone attempt to explain why they think that is– what is the difference between female homosexuality and male homosexuality, and whether anyone here will now suggest that only one of them is sinful.

  58. Luke–

    You write that “we need to recognize that our own mores do not always map on to clear Scriptural proscriptions” and all I can do is say that “No, we do not”.

    I think you misunderstand what she’s saying. Her argument is that, despite the fact that Christian tradition has always held X to be moral, we cannot therefore assume that the morality of X is easy or possible to locate in scripture.

  59. @ Miss Ogilvy,

    I hear that you are telling me that it’s more complicated than living for self vs. living to honor God. Can you elaborate how or what the further complications are? I’m having a hard time agreeing with you, but am always willing to listen to someone’s argument.

    Some of our disagreement could be different non/denominational backgrounds. I actually am coming from an Evangelical perspective, but grew up in a Protestant household (while attending Catholic school) so I am somewhat familiar with their platforms. This is interesting. I assumed you were coming from a Protestant background, simply because you seem to view the same-sex question as potentially compatible with organized religion, or at least you are interested in exploring the possibility that this is so. A stance favored by multiple mainline denominations. But the Vatican has one of the most firm and unyielding stances on this issue, doesn’t it?

    It’s not that I am unmoved by the logistics of determining when, why, and where of this issue. It’s that I ultimately see these questions as superfluous. I am certainly in the Sola Scriptura camp and it sounds like you are not.

    @ Tim –
    I see what you’re saying. I’m sorry if I communicated that I thought this morality and the surrounding choices were easy or easy to locate in scripture. I do not believe the Christian walk, and the associated struggles against sinful desires of all shapes and sizes, is easy. Every Christian fights a battle in their soul each day against some form of sinful desire. I don’t prioritize this particular struggle anymore than I place it in a hierarchy of sins. I know that you will disagree with me, but I believe with careful study and useful tools (concordances, comparitive translations, etc) it is possible to locate scriptural truths on any moral dilemma that we will come up against.

  60. I know that you will disagree with me, but I believe with careful study and useful tools (concordances, comparitive translations, etc) it is possible to locate scriptural truths on any moral dilemma that we will come up against.

    I actually agree with you, but probably for different reasons. I probably take a much more single-arc metaphysical approach to finding scriptural truths on any moral dilemma, rather than the (I’m guessing) prescriptivist approach you use. Sorry if I’m putting words in your mouth, but I think that probably sums up our differences well. In other words, I take Jesus’s response re: the greatest commandment (i.e. Love the Lord your God, and the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself) as tautological and all-encompassing, and thus all morality stems from these two (one?) commandments, as in ‘If the Bible seems to say that I should do something unloving to someone, I’m probably reading it wrong, because I am always supposed to be loving, and therefore that is probably not a command I should apply to my typical everyday life,’ whereas the more traditional approach that I believe you take is to assume that this response of Jesus is descriptive of the regularly-assumed tenets of Christian morality, as in ‘If the Bible seems to say that I should be unloving to someone, I’m probably reading it wrong, because I am always supposed to be loving, and therefore this proscribed action must actually be loving in some way that I don’t understand.’

  61. Tim–I understand your reasoning in the above, but it does seem that it might set you up to elevate your own understanding and definition of love over and above God’s; even though He’s been alive longer than you and has quite a bit more experience in loving people.

  62. He has indeed, but I don’t think it sets me up to elevate my own understanding above God’s anymore than any of the many, many other levels of interpretation and explanation and translation that we impose on Scripture. As I said, I’m never dismissive of Scripture; when confronted with something that seems not to make sense, however, I locate the difficulty in the years and layers of culture and translation that I know to exist rather than in my own understanding of how love (etc) works– I’m not sure how to live consistently otherwise, because I am only able to live and love as I understand those things.

  63. That makes sense, of course, but don’t you think that God in His sovereignty and wisdom could protect (and imho does protect) the exact wording and translation of Scripture through the years so that it helps to shape you correctly and conform your idea of love to His standards…not the other way around??

  64. Honestly, no, because there is no exact wording and translation of Scripture. If Luke comes back he’ll roll his eyes at this, because I’ve talked about it before, but there are passages in the Bible that end in the middle of a sentence (2 Chronicles ends in the middle of a sentence); most of the Gospel writers have atrocious grammar; no two copies of ancient biblical manuscripts match each other word for word (there are an estimate 200,000 to 300,000 variations in biblical manuscripts, which is more words than are contained in the New Testament); even the books that were considered to be Scripture have gone in and out of vogue, meaning that the wisdom and writings of various Church fathers (Athenasius, Augustine, etc.), from which we as believers developed our understanding of theology (for example, the doctrine of the Trinity), were informed by scripture that is no longer considered Scripture. None of this is to say that I don’t believe in the validity of Holy Scripture; rather, it is to say that it is very important that we understand that Holy Scripture is a human document that is witness to the Divine, and must not be deified itself.

  65. Yes…it uses human grammar and imperfect sentences; some of the phrasing and wording is unclear at times; I’m not deifying Scripture. But I still believe God uses its exact wording even though it may look “imperfect” to us at some stages (because the constructs of “grammatical correctness” and those kinds of hang-ups limit us perhaps to surface arguments?) to transform us, in concert with the Holy Spirit, rather than allowing us to negate some parts of it because we see them as obsolete through the lens of our flash-in-a-pan culture.

  66. I’m not saying any of it is culturally obsolete; but we have to read the scriptures as having been written in a particular culture. Proclamations that the community should stone disobedient children are meant for a specific time and place; messages in which Jesus asks us to consider what we would do if we were a shepherd in a particular situation require that we understand what it is like to be a shepherd in first-century Israel. Context is vastly important, and to ignore context and the process by which these words arrive in our laps is to completely miss what the scriptures mean rather than merely what they say.

  67. Brett,

    I had no idea you were so deeply homophobic. I have considered visiting your church since moving to Los Angeles. I think, for now, I’ll stick with Mosaic which, as you may or may not know, does hold very similar views on the issue as you. They, on the other hand, are much more rooted and focused in the love, grace and power of Christ. I must say, I’m let down sir.

  68. Brian,
    I’m not homophobic. Am I afraid gay people? No. Am I afraid to call sin sin? Also no.
    Mosaic is a good church and so is my church (The Bridge). Both churches believe homosexuality is a sin. When I interviewed Eric Bryant (pastor at Mosaic) for my book, he talked specifically about how Mosaic holds firm to this belief:

    “We talk about things that are uncool,” said Eric Bryant of Mosaic. “We believe that God’s design for sexuality is in the context of heterosexual marriage, and that is uncool. We believe Jesus is the only way, and that is uncool, but it’s a belief that we are not going to change.”

    I’m sorry that not being secret or shy about an orthodox belief is a let down for you. And I’m sorry that your view of being focused on the love, grace, and power of Christ necessitates silence on beliefs like this. But then you should also be let down by Eric Bryant, who at least when he talked to me was anything but silent on the issue.

  69. Homophobia doesn’t strictly mean fear of gay people (if we were going to simply parse it etymologically, it would mean fear of that which is the same as you).

  70. Thanks so much for this article, Brett. I appreciate your stance on this in light of Scripture.

  71. Tim–I’m not suggested we *ignore* context, and some Old Testament laws were abolished by Jesus’ advent. But I feel it’s fairly obvious by His words in the gospels which of those were obsolete and which were not. We’ve muddied up a lot of Scripture by comparing things that are not alike, even in their proper contexts. Jesus had such a high standard when it came to lust and sexuality. It’s completely disrespectful of Him for us to pretend that He would have given same-sex intercourse a free pass.
    He forgives and cleanses us from our trespasses; but He didn’t abolish the homosexuality commandment. We know because Paul reaffirmed it. Did Paul reaffirm it because he was homophobic? No. He was trying to set the record straight. No pun intended. He had to do the same for the Corinthians when they started trading wives around.
    Homosexual behavior is a trading of the natural for the unnatural; not worse than any other sexual sin, but a symptom of a much larger problem: a heart that refuses to yield and obey God’s law, that refuses to put His Word above selfish desires.

  72. Oops; should have read *suggesting* not *suggested*

  73. The other problem I have with the cultural context argument on this issue is that it suggests that something fundamentally different about human nature must exist in this generation that exempts us from those laws. Now, because we have “science” that can point to a gene, we can say we were predetermined to behave in a certain way. Or now, because we are theologically “advanced” and can translate back into original Aramaic/Hebrew/Greek, we can boast a greater, more “enlightened” understanding of the texts…
    Frankly, that’s a hubris that ties directly to the Tower of Babel, and a big part of what has our generation wandering in confusion and never maturing. We actually refuse to mature; we’d rather hear ourselves talk and pride ourselves on our arguments than be transformed by the renewing of our minds through pure Scripture.
    I’m not denigrating the value of scholarly interpretation and analysis; but I *know* Jesus didn’t intend for us to see those things as a necessity. We can read the Bible as little kids and take it at face value. (Internetmonk.com has a great post that touches on this at the moment.)

  74. Now, because we have “science” that can point to a gene, we can say we were predetermined to behave in a certain way. Or now, because we are theologically “advanced” and can translate back into original Aramaic/Hebrew/Greek, we can boast a greater, more “enlightened” understanding of the texts…
    Frankly, that’s a hubris that ties directly to the Tower of Babel, and a big part of what has our generation wandering in confusion and never maturing.

    I understand your concern, but I also don’t think that this argumentation necessarily follows. When we are presented with what, for all intents and purposes, appears to be a gross disagreement between the Bible and everything else we know to be true (say, for example, the Church’s long-standing belief that heliocentricity was heretical), we have a few options: Decide that our reading of the Bible is absolute and immutable, despite all evidence to the contrary, or we can decide that our reading of the Bible, no matter how rooted in Church tradition, is flawed. To continue to hold to our preferred interpretation of Scripture over and against all other evidence from God’s nature strikes me as far more hubristic than the alternative– the openness to the possibility that we’re wrong.

  75. ok…but I actually happen to be arguing that the interpretation of Scripture that I *don’t* prefer and would rather *isn’t* true is actually correct, despite many arguments and sympathies to the contrary. It would be great for me–socially, politically, and culturally–if I could capitulate to some of the arguments posited here. However, my experience in observing the lives of homosexual people over a long period of time, coupled with my desire for their wholeness, happiness and long-term well-being, also has given me very strong evidence in favor of my earlier arguments.
    I’m always open to the possibility that I might be wrong, but I’m never open to the possibility that God is going to rewrite Scripture according to my cultural preferences and the pressures around me, if I just squint at it hard enough.

  76. I’m always open to the possibility that I might be wrong, but I’m never open to the possibility that God is going to rewrite Scripture according to my cultural preferences and the pressures around me, if I just squint at it hard enough.

    Again, I’m not arguing that we need to discard any scripture or that it’s wrong or irrelevant. What I’m arguing is that the traditional understanding of certain portions of Scripture can be incorrect, and that it can be very, very difficult for us to see that there is any other possible reading simply because we are so very used to the one reading we’ve been presented for so long. God didn’t rewrite anything in the Bible to adjust to our newer understanding of the shape of the solar system– we simply adjusted our understanding of how the relevant portions of Scripture functioned in relation to scientific fact.

  77. Brett – re: Brian Barnes’ comment, can I just say that what comes across in your post as homophobic is NOT your ethical position, it’s the way you EXPRESS it:

    “this whole thing comes down to is the fact that some within the Anglican world (American Episcopalians) elevate personal preference over the Bible, tradition, and authority. Essentially it comes down to a lack of discipline and a selfish “I should be able to do whatever I want!” attitude that disregards anything that isn’t inclusive or tolerant. … But at the end of the day, the Christian life requires discipline and sacrifice.”

    It’s just not this simple. It’s not a simple toss-up between hedonism and sacrifice. Yes, celibacy means sacrifice. But living in a committed same-sex marriage would ALSO involve sacrifice and discipline. And the lines along which SSA Christians think as they try to decide how to reconcile their sexuality and their faith are MUCH MORE COMPLICATED than you suggest in your post.

    Even Henri Nouwen considered coming out and leaving the pastorate, so desperate was his pain. See here:

    http://www.ransomfellowship.org/articledetail.asp?AID=506&B=Wesley Hill&TID=7

    So please, PLEASE – if you ever feel the need to weigh in on this topic again, consider that SSA Christians who struggle with some confusion and ambiguity about traditional church teachings, and other SSA Christians who decide that same-sex marriage doesn’t violate NT ethics, MIGHT NOT be motivated by selfishness and lack of discipline.

  78. Pingback: I carried my heart in my hand, do you understand? « Miss Ogilvy Finds Herself

  79. Sadly typical of Brett lately–knee-jerk judgment without authentic inquiry. Whatever pays the bills i guess.

  80. I didn’t realize this thread was still active. Sorry for not responding sooner.

    @ Tim – You’re good. I did roll my eyes when you indicated I would.

    You make an equivalence here that it’s important to highlight. You write: “When we are presented with what, for all intents and purposes, appears to be a gross disagreement between the Bible and everything else we know to be true (say, for example, the Church’s long-standing belief that heliocentricity was heretical)”. You are equating the Bible and the Church. This is an invalid equivalence, in my opinion. The Church may have insisted on geocentricity, but I am not aware of the Bible insisting on it.

    What I’m not hearing from you Tim is the understanding that the Lord inspired the writing of Scripture to speak throughout the ages, unhindered by contextual requirements. The Lord inspired those passages in Scripture with the understanding that you, Tim Coe, would read them thousands of years later and find spiritual nourishment. The Scriptures probably speak to us in different ways now than they spoke to the Israelites or early Christians, and I believe that this development has been guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit, just as the Scriptures have been preserved to the present day in their astonishing accuracy. Of course, if we examine and mine the contextual trappings of Scripture it only enhances our understanding and adds nuance that might not be apparent at first glance, but that is the beauty of the Holy Bible. As Betsi said, it is simple enough that a child can understand it but dense enough that scholars can dedicate their lives to studying its nuances and teachings without reaching full comprehension.

    @ Betsi – I agree with just about everything that you’ve stated. In particular, I really appreciate the way you write about Paul’s affirmation of the sinfulness of homosexual behavior and the way he was simply identifying a sin (that was known to all Jews and followers of The Way to be a sin).

    @ Miss Oglivie – I’ll ask again, since it wasn’t answered the first time. You say that this issue is “not that simple” and that Christians with homosexual impulses “might not be motivated by selfishness and lack of discipline”, so what are they motivated by and how is it not that simple?

    @ K – Wow. How hypocritical of you to jump on at the end of a 70+ list of comments and accuse someone of knee-jerk judgment.

  81. Thanks, Luke; I appreciate it!

  82. @ Luke:

    I think if you glance at a few of the posts on my blog you’ll get an idea:

    missogilvyfindsherself.wordpress.com

  83. @ Luke, again:

    You would also do well to check out the link I posted earlier to the Wesley Hill piece that alludes to Henri Nouwen.

  84. I realize I’m half a year late, but while I got here by ego-surfing I think this is a fascinating discussion.

    I’m Jewish, though I grew up in the Deep South and sang for much of my adult life in Anglican and Episcopalian churches, so I have at least a basic understanding of some of the Christian attitudes toward homosexuality.

    Here’s something I don’t understand and would love for somebody to explain to me.

    The New Testament seems to be pretty clear on the role of women in church, but much of the Anglican Communion has ordained women for years. Bishop Wright, in the link Rachel posts above, argues for a contextual understanding of Paul’s strictures that allows the ordination of women. But in this thread, if I’m reading correctly, those against the ordination of GLBT people answer arguments for a contextual understanding of Paul’s strictures on homosexuality by saying (roughly) that to attempt such contextual understanding is tantamount to trying to rewrite Scripture.

    So I guess my questions are: Are those against ordaining GLBT people also against ordaining women? If not, why not? How does one reconcile Bishop Wright’s denunciation of ordination of GLBT people with his arguments in favor of the ordination of women?

    (And Tim, thanks for the plug.)

  85. Pingback: CT Article … A Response to the Response « The Search

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