Ordinary Time 17/Trinity 7 – Thursday
Commemoration of William Wilberforce, social reformer (d.1833)
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most. Rev. Rowan Williams has a fairly good response to TEC’s recent General Convention up on his website.
Entitled “Communion, Convenant and our Anglican Future”, it is worth reading in light of recent events.
Section 2 gets at the hub of the matter. Archbishop Rowan’s thoughts on how the issue of same-sex unions affects the broader life of the Anglican Communion (and after that, the whole Church Catholic) are pertinent and could apply to other issues that Anglicans face-off on. The only other two big ones that come to mind are lay-presidency at the Eucharist, but the most sensitive issue after the same-sex union issue is the ordination of women to the priesthood and subsequent elevation to the episcopate (i.e. women bishops).
Here’s section 2 in full (my emphasis):
4. The first is to do with the arguments most often used against the moratoria relating to same-sex unions. Appeal is made to the fundamental human rights dimension of attitudes to LGBT people, and to the impossibility of betraying their proper expectations of a Christian body which has courageously supported them.
5. In response, it needs to be made absolutely clear that, on the basis of repeated statements at the highest levels of the Communion’s life, no Anglican has any business reinforcing prejudice against LGBT people, questioning their human dignity and civil liberties or their place within the Body of Christ. Our overall record as a Communion has not been consistent in this respect and this needs to be acknowledged with penitence.
6. However, the issue is not simply about civil liberties or human dignity or even about pastoral sensitivity to the freedom of individual Christians to form their consciences on this matter. It is about whether the Church is free to recognise same-sex unions by means of public blessings that are seen as being, at the very least, analogous to Christian marriage.
7. In the light of the way in which the Church has consistently read the Bible for the last two thousand years, it is clear that a positive answer to this question would have to be based on the most painstaking biblical exegesis and on a wide acceptance of the results within the Communion, with due account taken of the teachings of ecumenical partners also. A major change naturally needs a strong level of consensus and solid theological grounding.
8. This is not our situation in the Communion. Thus a blessing for a same-sex union cannot have the authority of the Church Catholic, or even of the Communion as a whole. And if this is the case, a person living in such a union is in the same case as a heterosexual person living in a sexual relationship outside the marriage bond; whatever the human respect and pastoral sensitivity such persons must be given, their chosen lifestyle is not one that the Church’s teaching sanctions, and thus it is hard to see how they can act in the necessarily representative role that the ordained ministry, especially the episcopate, requires.
9. In other words, the question is not a simple one of human rights or human dignity. It is that a certain choice of lifestyle has certain consequences. So long as the Church Catholic, or even the Communion as a whole does not bless same-sex unions, a person living in such a union cannot without serious incongruity have a representative function in a Church whose public teaching is at odds with their lifestyle. (There is also an unavoidable difficulty over whether someone belonging to a local church in which practice has been changed in respect of same-sex unions is able to represent the Communion’s voice and perspective in, for example, international ecumenical encounters.)
10. This is not a matter that can be wholly determined by what society at large considers usual or acceptable or determines to be legal. Prejudice and violence against LGBT people are sinful and disgraceful when society at large is intolerant of such people; if the Church has echoed the harshness of the law and of popular bigotry – as it so often has done – and justified itself by pointing to what society took for granted, it has been wrong to do so. But on the same basis, if society changes its attitudes, that change does not of itself count as a reason for the Church to change its discipline.
Paragraph 10 to me sums up what the Church’s approach to such sensitive matters should be. The consistent witness of Scripture and Tradition over the last two-thousand years cannot be simply ignored for the sake of pastoral need. While yes, we will ultimately have to answer to our Lord at the end, while we are here on earth, we have to also answer to our fellow Christians in other traditions and denominations if we are truly ecumenical in spirit.
Granted, the Archbishop’s reflections from Lambeth don’t carry the same sort of weight as a papal encyclical from the Vatican, but this should be required reading for all who consider themselves to be Anglican, whether of the Anglican Communion or the Continuing Anglican varieties.