2005-08-10

Homosexuality and the Anglican church - the inevitable split

It may be ironic, but it is the courage to commit to a system of beliefs that will ultimately tear the Anglican church apart, permanently.

The issue of homosexuality is now at the political forefront for one of the world's largest protestant denominations. On the one hand, the church has a growing conservative base that, for various reasons, cannot accept homosexuality as an acceptable form of human relationship. On the other hand, there are many who see homosexuality as not only acceptable, but also an issue of human rights.

It is a complex situation, but it essentially boils down to two very different understandings of how to determine what God actually wants.

Conservative Anglicans, especially Evangelicals, quite rightly point to The Thirty-Nine Articles (the official statement of faith of the Anglican church) which state in Article 6:

Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.
Taken to its logical conclusion, Evangelicals essentially argue that the Bible and the Bible alone determines what to believe - not church tradition, not any subjective feelings, not the use of the intellect or logic.

There is no doubt that the Bible takes a dim view of homosexuality. Nowhere is its practice condoned. There are large sections of scripture devoted to explaining why it is sinful. Evangelicals believe the Bible, so they will naturally oppose any idea or practice that comes into conflict with that belief. Whatever your own personal opinion, the fact is that Evangelicals are courageously defending their beliefs in this area.

The problem is that those who support homosexuality have the same courage and commitment. These Anglicans see themselves as part of a different church that does not accept the sole authority of the Bible, but includes things like Episcopal authority (Bishops), engaging with modern philosophy and discerning God's truth through the process of consensus or personal meditation.

These progressive Anglicans have accepted homosexuality, not on the basis of some form of relativistic attitude, but in the belief that homosexuality is a legitimate form of human sexual and relational expression. Moreover, because homosexuals have been persecuted and criticised by those in power in the past, acceptance of homosexuality is thus an issue of human rights. To oppose homosexuality is, for these progressive Anglicans, a great crime for human dignity.

But the Anglican church is more than these two polar extremes. There is a broad base in the middle, and many of those in this middle ground are naturally disturbed by the goings-on of these two extremes. When you listen to these people, you tend to hear things like "Well, it's a complex problem", or "There are no easy solutions", or "We need to listen to both sides". Such an approach places unity above all things. Unfortunately such an attitude does not solve the problem, nor does it respect the stance of each of the extremes.

The problem is that, for a conservative, legitimising homosexuality is essentially the same of legitimising paedophilia. For a progressive, opposing homosexuality is essentially the same as condoing slavery or racism. The solution from those in the middle - to emphasise unity and encourage everyone to get along with everyone else - totally ignores the root of the problem.

There are only two solutions. The first solution is for one group to gain more and more power, and then expel the other group. The second solution is for the church to split, and for each group to take power over their respective part of the church. There is no third way. It is either victory or death.

This inevitable result will occur, not because people have failed to "take a stand", but because people have been courageous and taken a stand. There is no doubting the commitment and courage of those on both sides of the debate. What we have to realise is that, barring a direct act of God to change the views of one side, the only result can be schism.


From the Theosalient Department

© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/


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1 comment:

apodeictic said...

You are right in that there will be some kind of a split -- the question will be what kind of Anglicanism emerges after the split. What will Anglicanism look like? Here are some changes I foresee:

1. Some of the traditional faultlines of Anglicanism will be redrawn. The "evangelical / Anglo-catholic" divide has already lost much of its significance in light of the modernist-revisionist onslaught and will continue to do so. In its place a "traditionalist / revisionist" divide is gaining more prominence as theologically conservative evangelicals and Anglo-catholics join forces over hot topics in the church.

2. What follows from point number 1 is a development I am very uncomfortable with. The gospel and the word of God recede into the background as we unite around common attitudes to certain issues facing the church at this moment. People who have diametrically opposed understandings of both the gospel and the nature/role of the church become "allies". In the long term this is not a good outcome for the work of the gospel.

3.We will end up rethinking what it means to be "Anglican" and "in communion". There won't be a clear consensus.

4. Anglicans in the developing world will be ignored less than in the past. (This is probably the only positive outcome of the whole shebang.)

Apart from these changes the differences of opinion and the current practices of ordaining homosexuals and "blessing" homosexual relationships will remain. We might lose ECUSA or another church or two from the Anglican Communion in the process but everyone will continue to do pretty much as he or she thinks fit.

Schism is not new to Anglicanism or the Christian church for that matter.

First, there are all kinds of internal divisions within Anglicanism. There always have been and always will be. What's remarkable is how such varied groups have co-existed for so long.

Secondly, there are already all kinds of breakaway "Anglican" groups who aren't officially part of the recognised Anglican fold. ECUSA might just join the already long list of "unofficial" Anglican churches.

So far most of the splits in Anglicanism haven't been serious enough to force a mass walk out. Only a small minority of principled souls has taken issue and left. Usually a compromise solution (or a "fudge" depending on your point of view) that is satisfactory enough to most Anglicans has been found in order to maintain the illusion of Anglican unity.

But this split over homosexuality will be a little different from what's gone before. Basically enough people are now saying "enough is enough". It is no longer a fringe minority or a silent majority who is opposed to change. This time the majority is speaking up. The Africans and the Asians are throwing their weight around this time and saying "no compromise!".

But in typically Anglican style the debate can't be held over the real issues and this baffles (and exasperates) a lot of people. For an evangelical Anglican the question is one of the Authority of Scripture: Will we follow the Bible's teaching on the question of human sexuality. (I suspect for a conservative Anglo-Catholic it's a little different and involves questions of "upholding the traditional teaching of the church" but it's not my job to defend the illegitimate sons of Rome).

But the nature of the Anglican beast means the debate has to take place on other grounds. We have to conduct the debate on quasi-ecclesiological grounds -- i.e. what is the Anglican Communion, what does it mean to be in communion, and whether there are "degrees of communion".

Each Province is essentially independent to do its own thing. If one Province deliberately ignores or contravenes Scripture (or a "traditional teaching of the church" for those Romeward leaning Anglicans) there's not a lot the rest of the Anglican world can do except (a) ask those concerned to "repent", [already been done re ECUSA and the church in Canada!](b) tolerate this practice [always being done over lots of things!] or (c) refuse to recognise them as being members (or "full members" -- if we admit "degrees of communion") of the international Anglican club known as the "Anglican Communion" [what will eventually happen if the pro-homosexuality provinces don't "repent" and the spin-doctors fail to come up with some fudge suitable for the majority of the disputants].

I suspect after any split you'll have people on both sides saying that they are the "true" Anglicans and that the other side was in the wrong. But in the scheme of things the split won't be that big and won't change beliefs or behaviour.

ECUSA will probably be forced out of the Anglican communion but will continue to do what it is doing now. Moreover, pro-homosexual clergy of churches still in the Anglican communion (eg the Church of England, Anglican Church of Australia etc) will continue to knowingly ordain practising homosexuals and hold "blessings" for homosexual relationships.

In other words not much that matters will change. The academics will get the chance to argue about the nature of the Anglican Communion and whether there can be "degrees of communion" while God's holy name continues to be blasphemed in Anglican churches across the world.

"Come Lord Jesus!"