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Why the Episcopal Church Shouldn’t be Afraid to Leave the Anglican Communion

About the Author
David Wagschal

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.

Here’s why:

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Truth and Forgiveness

About the Author
David Wagschal

The Gay Question: the Way Forward (Conclusion)

In my last post, I argued that the key question facing the churches on “the gay issue” is no longer the question of acceptance but the question of reconciliation. That is, the question is no longer “Will the churches accept homosexuals as full, normal members of their communities?”, but “How do the churches now respond to the generations of people harmed by the traditional anti-homosexual stance?”

For Christians, I think this reconciliation will mean two things: 1) truth; 2) forgiveness.

TRUTH

I believe that, on a spiritual level, the anti-homosexual stance in the churches has manifested above all in one particular vice: lying.

The whole issue is clothed in untruth, deception, deflection, and euphemism. Gay people have pretended they were straight. Spouses have pretended their partners were heterosexual. Children have pretended their parents’ marriage was normal. Obviously gay youth have been treated as if they were straight. Everyone has known that a particular celibate pastor/monk/religious/priest is gay, but no one has spoken of it. Gay people are excluded from communion but no one is told why, or the issue is only spoken of in hushed tones. Many people realize that others are being repressed and hurt, but never speak out. Many completely disagree with the traditional position but keep silent. Everywhere it’s lies, fear, repression.

“…He was a murderer from the beginning, and he does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies…”

We desperately need the cleansing, purifying power of honesty. We need truth.

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The Gay Question: the Way Forward

About the Author
David Wagschal

Greetings! After a welcome summer hiatus, I think it’s high time to get back to the blog.

Like many people, I’m beginning to suffer from a little issue-fatigue with the gay question. So I’d like to wrap up our series on homosexuality and the church with a few final reflections on the way forward.

Where are we?

To move forward, I think it’s important that we have accurate sense of where we really are: “the state of the question”.

Many Christians believe that we’re still debating whether or not homosexuality is acceptable for Christians. According to them, the essential question is, “Will the churches accept homosexuality as a normal sexual practice/orientation for its members and leadership?”

I don’t believe this is true. I think that this stage of the debate is over. I think it is pretty clear that the tide has turned, and that socially and culturally, homosexuality has been accepted, and will continue to gain acceptance (barring any major socio-economic catastrophe). If you don’t believe me, just spend some time with anyone under 25.

Theologically, the tide is also turning.

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Gay Marriage: An Urgent Matter?

About the Author
David Wagschal

Now that the USA has finally legalized gay marriage, we’re seeing a new round of consternation and unsease among churches that object to full civil and religious equality for gay Christians. Reactions vary, of course, but a growing sense of urgency in conservative Christian circles is quite palpable – and along with it an understandable sense of anger and fear.

My own reaction has mostly been one of sadness – mixed with a certain anxiety.

On a civil level, of course, I’m quite happy that the US is now where it is, even if I’m a little bemused that it’s taken so long.

But on a church level, I can’t help but feel a sense of sorrow, and even trepidation, as I contemplate the long-term loss of credibility that the churches – and the Gospel itself – have suffered in the course of this debate. As I have argued at length over the last half a year or so, the traditional anti-homosexual position is not well founded theologically, biblically, ecclesiologically, or even spiritually. So it’s a hard pill for me to swallow to see “Christian” and “anti-gay” pretty much equated in the media coverage of the US decision. Truthfully, I feel a real sense of shame and embarrassment in Christianity’s association with the anti-gay position. And I worry: how long will this association linger?

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Theology in Our Own Voice (The Problem with Tradition Part Three)

About the Author
David Wagschal

(“So Wrong for So Long?” Part 3)

Another weakness with traditionalism is that it can introduce a certain evasiveness, obfuscation and even deception into theological discourse.

Traditional theology insists on being in a conversation with past figures. This is not in itself a bad thing. The problem emerges when the next step is taken – which it usually is – and theology begins to be done through the voice of these figures.

The result is a theological discourse in which most authoritative claims are made beginning with phrases like “Martin Luther says….”, “Athanasius says…”, “Thomas Aquinas says…”, or, most commonly, and worse yet, with a traditional collective: “the tradition says…”, “the Fathers say…”, “the Church teaches…”, etc.

What is the problem with this? Well, it’s fourfold.

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The Dangers of Traditional Theology (The Problem with Tradition Part Two)

About the Author
David Wagschal

(“So Wrong for So Long?” Part 2)

For many of my friends, especially from the Catholic, Anglican, or Orthodox churches (sometimes Lutheran too), the weight of tradition is a powerful argument in the controversy over homosexuality – or, for that matter, in any theological or ethical debate. For them, to do theology necessarily entails a reverent engagement with the sum total of the church’s experience. Often tradition is accorded a near-absolute authority. At the very least, the weight of tradition acts as a powerful break on any change or innovation.

As I noted last post, I’m sympathetic to this vision. At its best, it represents an openness to wisdom and experiences beyond our own place and time. It is a deferential way of doing theology that emphasizes the importance of dialogue with the past, and demands a humility about our own, modern opinions. It also counters the notion of theology as simply an exercise in philosophical ratiocination or pure Biblical exegesis.

I’ve nevertheless become increasingly aware of the weakness and dangers of doing theology this way. These are not well recognized today. In fact, I think they’ve rarely even been identified.

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So Wrong for So Long? (The Problem with Tradition Part One)

About the Author
David Wagschal

“David, can the church really have gotten it wrong for so long? You claim that the church has made some pretty big missteps, not only on the homosexuality issue, but on the nature of scripture, the church, even the Gospel itself. Doesn’t that really strain the limits of credibility? Really, for almost two millennia the church has, well, blown it?”

This is among the most common objections I hear, especially from friends of churches which identify closely with the traditional Greco-Roman or “imperial” synthesis (Catholic, Orthodox, traditional Anglicans, etc). It’s the tradition question: can we not rely, at least to some extent, on received tradition – on the sheer weight of now almost twenty centuries of consensus and usage – as a criterion of truth? Should not this tradition be authoritative for Christians?

A Good Objection

Gotta say that I am very sympathetic to this objection. It was the key reason why, in my late teens, I left a mainstream Protestant church to join a more traditional church. I could never get my head around the sheer historical implausibility of the Reformation view of the world: first there was Jesus, then Paul – then darkness – then the Reformation.

Really?

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Homosexuality: a Theological Issue? (And “Comments Received”)

About the Author
David Wagschal

Why such a big deal?

Tim Clark has very helpfully drawn our attention to recent posts by Rod Dreher and Lawrence Farley. I really like Tim’s take on these in his recent post – which I’ll return to in a moment.

But the issue that really popped out for me in these articles – explicitly in Dreher’s, implicitly in Farley’s – is also the single biggest issue that has emerged from the comments we’ve received. And that is: why is this issue such a hot topic? Why does it seem to be the deal-breaker?

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Christian Theology and Homosexuality

 Since I’ve been writing for a while now about the Bible, Christian theology, and homosexuality, I’m intending to move on to other discussions, especially about the place of the church in the political world. But this recent post by Rod Dreher, which builds off another article by Lawrence Farley, has compelled me to get out one more observation on the subject. What I’m concerned about in both of these articles is not the opposition to gay inclusion in the church (although obviously these authors and I are on opposite sides of that issue), but that the framing of the problem reveals a pernicious but common category mistake that plagues most discussions of Christian sexual ethics and the church.

The gist of both Farley’s and Dreher’s arguments is that revising Christian disciplinary conventions about homosexuality (in response to rapidly changing social and scientific understandings of human sexuality) is problematic because it poses a challenge to fundamental precepts of Christian theology and what Dreher terms “Biblical orthodoxy” or a “Biblical view” of humanity. First, the claim that this argument is theological in nature is incorrect in a way that fatally compromises its premise. Second, positing either that there is such a thing as “Biblical orthodoxy” or that the Bible is capable of presenting a fixed model of human anthropology are dangerously mistaken claims.

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Homosexuality and the Church: getting it right (Part Two)

About the Author
David Wagschal

In the first part of this post I discussed what happens when we make the “big mistake”: when we confuse the church and the Gospel.  I suggested that the results are pretty dire — and that they constitute a key reason people are leaving the church.  But I ended by asking “how do we get church right?  Can we get it right?  Is church even important?”

Church is important and we can get it right!

In practice there is no question that Christians need community. In practice, if not inevitably, we hear the Gospel from other Christians. In practice, we need the beauty, the music, the inspiration, and sense of identity that churches provide. In practice, we need institutional structures to spread the Gospel. In practice, we need social spaces to live and struggle with the Gospel. In practice, we need support of others when our own faith goes cold, or when life takes a turn for the worse. In practice, even the hardships and struggle of Christian community can be important for nurturing our faith — i.e. the challenge of being church can be quite key.

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