Rocking the boat is not a very Anglican thing to do. So the measured response of the Episcopal church to their new “demotion” over their championing of LGBT rights is not unexpected – and, politically, almost certainly the “right” response.
But their reaction should perhaps be stronger. It may well be time for the Episcopal Church to actively dissociate itself from the Anglican communion – and quite possibly issue a formal rebuke to both Canterbury and the other senior primates.
1) Venerable state churches like the Anglican Church have learned the hard way the dangers of allowing the truly radical nature of the Gospel to be swallowed up by embedding (“establishing”) themselves in society. They know how easy it is for the church, emeshed in power structures, to align itself with the prevailing voices of cruelty and oppression, whether it be with slavery, sexism, imperialism, classism, assimilationism, or racism. Time and again, the result has been grim: the burying, obscuring and even corrupting of the Gospel for the maintenance of an unethical socio-cultural status quo. Think tolerance of slavery, residential schools, colonial collaboration, etc. The long-term damage to the church caused by these capitulations is hard to calculate. The church pays the price for generations.
Is not homophobia in some churches of the Anglican Communion not yet another manifestation of socially-embedded cruelty and oppression? Must the church again capitulate to these socio-cultural forces?
Given this reality, the members of the Episcopal Church need to weigh very carefully whether they can continue their association with churches that seem blind to these dangers. There may be an argument for continued association: perhaps they should continue in the communion to bear witness, to suffer, to speak from their particular experience, to warn and admonish, to call their brothers and sisters to a better way? But when does solidarity bleed into collaboration? Haven’t we been down this road too many times? When is enough truly enough?
2) The psychological, social, and even physical damage done to LGBT people by their socio-political oppression is present, tangible, and demonstrable. Ethically, this needs to be taken into the calculation: can the churches be seen to be complicit in this clear and visible harming of people? Can this ever be justified?
Even if you think homosexuality is theological problematic, can you justify the furtherance of concrete human suffering? This is a question that not only church bodies must ask, but also individual Christians, especially teachers and leaders in the church. At what point does it become impossible to remain associated with church bodies where basic human dignity is ignored? When does this type of behavior become sufficiently egregious that remaining in communion is no longer tenable? When is the line crossed? For how long can concern about unity trump concern about concrete, suffering people?
3) Finally, the anti-LGBT theological arguments are not strong. The antiquity of so many of them make many reticent to assert this very loudly, but we are now being almost dishonest if we pretend that the biblicism and traditionalism of the anti-LGBT arguments represent particularly sound theological positions. It’s not just the individual arguments that are weak. Their roots are rotten. The assumptions under the assumptions are wrong.
In my own experience with this blog — and you can see my posts on homosexuality and the bible, church, and tradition — the only real counter-arguments proffered boil down to the notion that either the church or the bible are the Gospel – both of which are dubious contentions. Maybe there are other, more profound theological counter-arguments, but I find it revealing how few scholars today attempt to advance a well-developed defence of the traditional anti-LGBT stance. Theologically, the conservative position has quietly become exhausted.
Given this, is it not now time for churches like the Episcopal Church to speak more firmly, with conviction, in opposition to the anti-LGBT forces? Is it not now time to say to these conservative churches: “You know, you’ve probably never considered the possibility, but you may be simply wrong theologically. It doesn’t seem that your position can be justified, and it’s clearly causing harm to the people of God, and the Gospel itself. So…stop.” And if these churches cannot offer a response, then why are we so neverous about separating from them? We need to keep talking, but we mustn’t let unity become of greater value than truth and the Gospel!
There is no doubt this is a tough issue. But in light of these three points, certainly the Episcopal Church should feel no fear by its current “demotion”.
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