Purple-shirted flatulence: Schism is better than heresy
by Mark Dawes, Religion Editor
The Jamaica Gleaner
August 9, 2008
Five years ago this week, V. Gene Robinson, an openly homosexual clergyman, secured enough votes from the Episcopal Church in the United States to become the Bishop of New Hampshire.
It was a landmark decision. But that appointment also served to create serious and seemingly irrevocable splits in the Anglican communion worldwide.
That infamous anniversary happened this year during the 2008 Lambeth Conference of (Anglican) Bishops, July 16-August 3. The conference, which is held on the Canterbury campus of the University of Kent, is a forum where Anglican bishops and archbishops from all over the world meet once a decade to fellowship principally in prayer and Bible study. At the end of the meeting a release was issued reflecting the thoughts of the bishops. Resolutions are also passed, but these are non-binding.
Altogether, 650 bishops found their way to Lambeth. This year's conference drew much attention by virtue of who was not there. About 200 theologically conservative bishops boycotted the meeting and made their way to Jerusalem where they held their own gathering in June dubbed the Global Anglican Future Conference, or Gafcon. More than 290 conservatives, including most of the 230, who were in Jerusalem are setting up an alternative Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans to rival the official structures of the Anglican Communion.
Accepting of homosexuals
In general, theological liberals are accepting of homosexuals to the clergy. Theological conservatives are not.
At least 15 of the 29 provinces that make up the Anglican Communion globally have already severed relationship with the Episcopal Church of the United States. Conservative Anglican congregations in America are increasingly frustrated by that province's failure to distance itself emphatically from the gay lobby within the church. Some of these congregations have since aligned themselves to Anglican bishops in Rwanda, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda and other African dioceses.
The questions on the minds of many are, Will the Anglican church disintegrate? Will it split even further? Will there be a Lambeth Conference in 2018?
When V. Gene Robinson was made a bishop, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, in response to the furore that ensued, quickly established the Lambeth Commission on Communion to look at what the Scriptures taught concerning homosexuality and what it means to be an Anglican. The Lambeth Commission, included bishops from all provinces of the global church.
Their findings came to be known as The Windsor Report. This document described homosexual conduct as unbiblical and unAnglican. The report urged the Episcopal church to express regret concerning the election of V. Gene Robinson, and not to repeat the ordination of a homosexual to the office of bishop.
The Episcopal Church on receiving The Windsor Report have resisted from within and without attempt to bring it to repentance and correction.
Invoke a charge
The Windsor Report served to invoke a charge not uncommonly laid against Anglican ethos. The charge was that the report did not go far enough and that the Anglican communion was sacrificing biblical truth to preserve unity. Indeed, there is a saying that Anglicans prefer to accommodate heresy within their ranks rather than have a schism.
How else can one explain the church having people like the very liberal John Shelby Spong, retired Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, New Jersey, a man who is dismissive of virtually everything that is recorded as being supernatural in the Bible, and the conservative John R. W. Stott, retired rector of All Souls Church, Langham Place, England, who is regarded as the evangelical's evangelical.
In its communiqué at the end of the Lambeth parley (http://www.lambethconference.org/reflections/document.cfm), the bishops addressed the matter of homosexuality in Section H. The section cited contrasting views of homosexual behaviour and then offered a way forward. According to the bishops, "There are competing visions of how the Communion should responsibly handle our current situation:
1) "If your eye cause offence, pluck it out" - decisive action
2) "Let God be God" - allow God to transform our attitudes and behaviour, while we look for further insights.
3) "If it is from God it will last" - Gamaliel's advice can be followed here, so wait.
4) Some people are looking for a clear direction from the Communion, and from this conference in the form of a pastoral letter or direction.
5) More 'listening' is needed where the purpose is not, "I win, you lose", but "nobody wins, nobody loses" and we grow together in Christ.
6) Ongoing dialogue itself is a 'Christian witness'. The Communion needs a 'Catholic patience'.
7) Further careful study of the Scriptures, theology, doctrine and other disciplines, such as theological anthropology, must be pursued together through a formal commission at Communion-wide level. This would equip the bishops in their teaching office.
8) Give pastoral care, but do not canonise, regularise, legalise or endorse homosexual relationships.
9) Cross-provincial and diocesan intervention must stop to create the time and space for the Spirit of God to "lead us into all truth".
The perspectives of bishops and dioceses need to be heard and respected.
10) Legal action in the courts should be avoided if at all possible.
11) Reaffirm the moral authority of the whole of the Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1:10, and the report commended in it, and continue its implementation, but not the style of debate that led to it. Acknowledge that some good work has been done on the resolution such as the development of listening processes, and the intentional development of closer relations among bishops and dioceses.
12) Declare a "Decade of Sharing and Generosity" and keep walking, keep talking, keep listening together.
This statement on human sexuality is innocuous compared with that put out at the 1998 Lambeth Conference which was already weak (http://www.lambethconference.org/resolutions/1998/1998-1-10.cfm). In resolution 1:10 the 1998 Lambeth Conference said "This Conference:
a) Commends to the Church the subsection report on human sexuality.
b) In view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage.
c) Recognises that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God's transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships. We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ.
d) While rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex.
e) Cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions.
The Anglican church in Europe and North America represent a paradigm of what happens when diverse and contradictory are celebrated at the expense of biblical truth and where leaders lack the courage to confront and correct.
The problem posed by homosexuality to the Anglican church was theological long before it became organisational. For the conservative Anglican, the Bible is inspired and, therefore, authoritative for faith and practice. For liberals, the Bible is inspiring, like good Shakespearean writings, and listening to Mozart or Marley.
That theological legacy is that now there are some who will not remain in the Anglican church if a section of it is going to bless homosexuality, and others who are certain to leave the church if it will not bless homosexuality.
Sometimes schisms are necessary for the progress of God's church. Paul and Barnabas had a serious schism over John-Mark (Acts 15:37-41). The result is that Paul and Barnabas parted ways and went in different directions to spread the gospel.
The Anglican church has had five years to deal with homosexuality among clergy and the blessing of same-sex unions. Collectively, the church has lacked courage to take the hard decision that beckons. There have been enough conferences, councils and purple-shirted flatulence on the issue of homosexuality. If a person can find where the Bible sanctions homosexuality he/she should be recruited by George W. Bush to find bin Laden. Anglicans have lost enough time on the issue of homosexuality. The two opposing views on homosexuality are incompatible. There is no middle ground. There has been enough talk. There comes a time when schism is far better than heresy.
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