Have we really abandoned the flock?

Susan Russell, Chair of Integrity got invited yesterday to write for the Guardian. Unfortunately, her piece is full of contradictions and false assumptions.

As the Lambeth conference proceeds in Canterbury, gay and lesbian Anglicans find themselves, once again, on the communion chopping block. It is a sad thing indeed that the message sent out from the Anglican communion to the world is that homosexuals getting married in California are of more concern to the church than are homosexuals being mugged in Nigeria. It is an even sadder thing that bishops who have taken vows to be shepherds to their whole flock seem willing to consider sacrificing their gay and lesbian followers at the altar of institutional unity.

I’m not sure that gay and lesbian Anglicans do find themselves on the chopping block. It really depends on what you understand by the word "gay". Does it mean "attracted to someone of the same sex" or does it mean "attracted to someone of the same sex and simply incapable of not acting upon such an attraction"? The church is full of people who are tempted to sin in any number of ways, but they’re not on the chopping board, not because the church doesn’t really care about *their* sin, but rather because Christians have always understood the difference between fallenness which leads to temptation and the actual carrying out of a sinful act. It appears that Susan is accusing the Bishops gathered at Lambeth of overturning 2000 years of moral discernment on sin and temptation.

Let’s put it another way. Are alcoholics sinners if they are tempted to drink or if they actually get drunk? Susan seems to imply, applying the same argument to alcoholics as she does to homosexuals, that you can’t actually make the distinction. Would not allowing drunks to continue being priests be tantamount to banning all alcoholics from ministry, even if they had been sober for twenty plus years? That’s the direct parallel Susan suggest the Bishops are making.

We recognise that the Anglican communion is involved in a long-term process of discernment and dialogue on issues of human sexuality and we are committed to being part of that process. Sadly, what the Windsor Continuation Group furthered in its report released on July 28 was the process of institutionalising bigotry and marginalising the gay and lesbian baptised. Acceptance of these recommendations would be totally antithetical to the core message of the Christian gospel.

Methinks Susan wants to have her cake and eat it. The "Listening Process" is articulated by Lambeth ’98 1:10 and the recommendations of the ACC in 2005. However, Susan is quite blatant in her ability to pick and choose which bits of those resolutions she thinks she is bound by, while insisting that the rest of the Communion do exactly what she tells them to. I want to ask Susan this question. Why should any other Anglican engage in "Listening" when Susan ignores the rest of ’98 1:10? Why should they take part in Phil Groves’ listening project when Susan feels quite free to ignore the other parts of the Nottingham statement that re-affirm Lambeth ’98 1:10’s condemnation of same-sex activity?

Surely if Susan wants traditionalists to comply with the bits of Lambeth ’98 1:10 that she thinks they are ignoring, then she is utterly hypocritical in sweeping under the carpet the bits that don’t suit her?

The American and Canadian churches have never maintained that they hold anything other than a minority opinion on the full inclusion of the gay and lesbian baptised in the life and witness of the church. "Blessed are you who have complied with the will of the majority to exclude the minority" is to be found nowhere in the Bible. Rather, the gospel of Jesus is one of love, inclusion and "doing unto the least of these."

So is Susan essentially throwing catholicy out of the book? What if the Province of Nigeria decided it was holy to abolish marriage and just have free love? Would Susan not intervene because those participating were "baptised in the life and witness of the church"? Is it OK for a minority to go ahead and do whatever they want, despite the fact that the rest of the church is in complete disagreement?

The Windsor Continuation Group has presented the bishops with nothing less than a "Sophie’s choice" – telling them to choose between walking with brother and sister Anglicans who disagree with them on issues of human sexuality or walking with their brother and sister Anglicans who happen to be gay or lesbian.

Well I know plenty of gay christians who are perfectly happy with the Biblical moral code of no sex outside of the marriage of husband and wife. I was one of them. I would have been perfectly happy to spend the rest of my life single if need be.

The issue isn’t anything to do with "walking with their brother and sister Anglicans who happen to be gay or lesbian". It is to do with walking or not walking with those who condone and even celebrate sinful behaviour.

It is time for the bishops to step up and say that gay and lesbian Anglicans are not for sale as bargaining chips in this game of global church politics – that the sacrifice of their lives and vocations in this church is too high a price to pay for institutional unity.

Once again, no-one is sacrificing anybody. What they Bishops are called to do is to pastor their flock and call them to living daily for Christ and dying to their sin. It’s no more than we expect of any other Christian.

For at the end of the day, there is an ontological difference between feeling excluded because you’re disagreed with and being excluded because of who you are. Brother and sister Anglican walking away from the table because they’ve been disagreed with is a painful thing. The church walking away from the gay and lesbian baptised is a sinful thing.

No-one is excluded because of who they are – they are being disciplined because of what they do. It is the complete failure of Susan and her colleagues to either understand that most basic of Biblical moral theologies, or their willful ignoring of it, that is the instrument of exclusion. By choosing a path contrary to Scripture they are the ones placing themselves outside the camp.

Contrary to what Susan wants us to believe, there are plenty of us working day by day to help those struggling with all kinds of sexual issues to live lives that honour God and adhere to his plans for them. We don’t abandon them, we wait with open arms for them, to join us and all the sinners in the church in discovering the real grace of God, the grace that allows one to admit our fallenness and let Jesus destroy it on the cross. When we do that we discover that it *is* possible to live a life that is aligned with God’s will and destiny for us, regardless of the wounds life has delivered.

What a shame that Susan is unable to see the real power of grace, of the one who *never* abandons those he is calling and making his home.

1 Comment on “Have we really abandoned the flock?

  1. Peter, 

    In the last week, you have focused on Gene Robinson, David of Changing Attitude, and Susan Russell?  I wonder if you are choosing the wrong targets.  Surely, your passions should be raised against the Lambeth Bishops, men such as N.T. Wright, who will leave Canterbury without speaking out publicly against what the Episcopalians and Canadians are doing.  How different from the bishops of Washington and San Francisco, on the other side, who have passionately stood up for their gay clergy in relationships during these last weeks.   Why the loss of will on the part of your natural allies to speak out for what they might believe in?

    As a liberal, it seems to me that Lambeth has been a success!  Even if the Episcopalians are asked to desist from their errant ways, they will not be able to give a response to this in their next General Convention, it is too early!  This means that any response will be years away; in the mean time, further conversations between the Lambeth bishops (as against the Gafconites) might mean that the consensus begins to move more firmly in the direction of acceptance of practising gay clergy in the Anglican Communion.  I am told by some synod members that this is where many of the English bishops are; waiting and hoping for things to gently change while supporting their gay clergy quietly until that happens.  This attitude seemingly even is shared even by many of the evangelical bishops?!

    What of the Gafconites?  It is difficult to see how such a diverse group of people can remain bound together for too long – anger at a common enemy will only cover the cracks for so long.  Maybe, they might all have ‘Benediction’ together, and then the Dean of Synod can tell the Anglo-Catholics of the US and UK while he just said that for the Pope to call himself the Vicar of Christ is a blasphemy!  Not sure how our flying bishops will respond to that one as they think about departing the CofE into the arms of the ‘whore of Babylon’.

    Sorry Peter, it is a Friday afternoon, and I feel like looking into the crystal ball.  I suspect that I am not very good at it, but it might provoke some discussion.  Seriously though, you cannot be too happy with Lambeth, nor the way that the English, evangelical bishops are acquiesing to the liberal agenda, what is it about evangelicals when they become bishops.  I am told of a bishop not so far from me, who was once a vicar of a leading evangelical church, who sends cards congratulating his clergy who enter into civil partnerships.

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