October Parish Magazine 2008
Conflict within the worldwide church is scarcely news but during the summer the issue of gay bishops made headlines, even though that wasn’t what the Lambeth conference of Anglican bishops was really about! Rachel, who with her husband Henryk and their two girls are members of St Nick’s, covered both that debate and the General Synod debate on female bishops on the web and she found herself in dialogue with people across the world. Her blog can be found at http://hrht-revisingreform.blogspot.com It’s well worth a visit and if you’re interested in either discussion you can follow them through her well referenced archives for June and July.
In July Joy and I were invited to a friend’s wedding and at the end of a pleasant afternoon I was almost pinned to the wall by the best man who made it obvious that he wanted me to reinforce his strongly anti-gay views! Twenty years ago I might have obliged, at least in principle. I still think that the writers of the Old and New Testaments intended to ban homosexual behaviour among the people of God but that doesn’t end discussion because what they wrote about and the substance of the current debate are not the same thing, though there is some overlap.
Whatever conclusion we reach, all Christians should unite in condemning homophobia, the emotional rejection of gays and lesbians. God calls us to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ and, though at times we may be tempted to imagine that God managed to forget one or more particular social groupings that aren’t entirely to our taste, Jesus made it clear that there are no exceptions! Thus people whose sexual orientation differs from that of the majority should be able to find care and acceptance within local churches. And anyone who is victimised within society should be able to rely on Christian support to achieve civil rights and social justice.
Over the last twenty years opinion within Britain as a whole has shifted significantly towards acceptance of homosexuality. Views in the Church have changed at a slower rate, though theologically conservative clergy are mainly against gay bishops while their liberal counterparts are mainly in favour. Yet there is more at stake than this single issue and conservatives often feel a need to defend the uniqueness of Christ, which is central to biblical Christianity. Recent years have seen a polarisation between conservatives and liberals within the Church but many, among whom I count myself, see the need to move beyond this divide. Some are calling themselves ‘post-evangelical’ or ‘post-liberal’ and they tend to support a ‘generous orthodoxy’, behind which is a recognition that if the church’s message claims to be the best news in the world then it should be doing rather better than it is! In other words, neither conservatives nor liberals have got it entirely right!
About five years ago I was at a conference where a Nigerian bishop spoke with passion about what the ‘gay issue’ meant for his church. Nigeria is divided between Christian and Muslim populations but Christians are in the majority in the south while Muslims are in the majority in the north. From a Muslim perspective all homosexual behaviour is wrong and when Muslims hear of Christian attitudes in secular societies like the USA they use it to justify persecution, accusing Christians of being immoral. It is a sobering thought that actions of Western Christians can profoundly affect the lives of Christians in other parts of the world.
I hope I’ve demonstrated that the issue of ‘gay bishops’ is more complex than it might appear to be and that there is unlikely to be an easy solution. I hope that the Lambeth Conference will prove to have pointed the way forward but at present that is uncertain. I believe that the Church needs both to witness to clear biblical values and be consistent in its treatment of all who fail to match up, including in the area of sexual relations. The Church is not an ‘ideal’ society but one in which human brokenness is much in evidence. In the midst of all our difficulties, however, we can rely on God to be with us to support, guide, and forgive as well as to increase our love and compassion for those who are different from us.
All good wishes,
Vicar of St Nicholas Church, Allestree (See their website for details)