Monday, July 14, 2008

Can Gay and Straight Christians Really Dialogue?

Reading the religion page of my newspaper last Saturday, I noted that the Anglican bishops are having a big "to do" with the Archbishop of Canterbury in the UK this week.  The regular gathering of bishops from around the world, known as the Lambeth Conference, is one of those solidifying events that maintains the often tenuous ties within the worldwide Anglican Communion, around 70 or so million strong.

The conference is a big event, and missing from the cast of characters is Bishop Gene Robinson, bishop of the New Hampshire diocese.  Robinson's claim to fame, of course, is having the distinction of being the first (and only) openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church USA.  I'm sure that readers will remember the "explosion" in the US ecclesial community when Rev. Robinson was ordained.  Just a few months ago, he and his partner of many years were united in legal civil union in New Hampshire.

During the Conference the bishop, who is barred from attendance, has scheduled several speaking events at Anglican venues in the vicinity of the Conference.  It seems that many of the UK's Anglicans are quite supportive of Bishop Robinson.  In fact, my local Episcopal vicar friend informs me that he enjoys wide acceptance in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, to name a few.  Yet, that is not the end of the story.

It seems that the act of ordaining Rev. Robinson may be the missile that could sink the Anglican ship.  Although widely supported by these liberal churches in theory, many of the liberal leadership view the unilateral and cautioned actions of the American church as an act of American hubris, not completly unlike Bush's actions in Iraq.  In short, many voices cautioned (and still caution) that this is not the time for such an act.  They see it as divisive, and rouge, like a belligerent  child on the school playground.

Where is the bishop's opposition coming from, if so many progressive national churches are not concerned about the action in theological terms-- and maybe even support it (at least in principle)?  It seems as if there are two "flies in the ointment."  The first is the majority of the Communion, which is no long composed of "western style" churches.  Now the majority of Anglicans reside in the southern hemisphere and are monetarily poor and theologically conservative.

The second source of opposition resides among the US laity.  My afore mentioned friend explained to me that, on the whole, a large segment of the US Episcopal laity oppose the action. Why might this be so?

There are two sources fueling all of the opposition: tradition and (primarily) scripture.  Have they really got God and the saints on their side?

I've heard liberals try to argue using Bible text that the Bible does not take a dim view of homosexuality.  In this, I think they are foolish.  It really can't be argued very successfully.  A much better argument in favor of full inclusion can be made from inference that can be drawn from scripture.  Few Christians believe that blacks are inherently inferior and that slavery is morally acceptable, even though both positions were once widely accepted.  As recently as the 1980's, the Dutch Reformed Church made that argument in support of apartheid in South Africa.  Few folks in mainline churches would believe that a wife should "submit" to her husband.  I think an argument made concerning the mythic and culturally conditioned nature of the Bible is much more powerful.

Those who think that homosexuality is a chosen, sinful lifestyle should note that the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses thirty years ago.  For those really willing to investigate, I recommend reading Mel White's Stranger at the Gate.  White was a very condemnation ridden evangelical, married, and a ghost writer for the likes of such well known fundamentalists as Jerry Falwell.  The book recounts the sad story of Mel-spanning decades- trying everything (even electric shock) at the hands of Christian "counselors" to rid himself of his sexual orientation.  After years of abortive efforts, White was forced to admit that he just was what he was.

But, can the church dialog about it?  Can the two opposing views quit the labeling and come to some mutual acceptance? At least some measure of love and the recognition that they can both be Christians though they disagree?  Not if liberal leaders persist in "Bush-like" hubris and not if fundamentalists and other conservatives refuse to even listen.  It is time to do away with the gay bashing and it is time for liberal leaders to stop imposing their views on folks that just aren't ready.  It is time for dialogue.  But, is there any hope?  Since dialogue implies openness and fundamentalists will not offer that, it doesn't seem promising.  My hope is with the great variety of Christians "in the middle."  It is in the middle that we might find some rapprochement and some sanity and some healing.

1 comment:

  1. Greetings from the UK! I liked your article but I want to point out one important thing I think you overlook, and you pretty much have to be C of E to know it. The Anglican faith is, and has always been, a collection of different denominations with much autonomy over their regional church. This comes from our proud history of minimal doctrine and respect for the views of individuals. It is this, I believe, that makes our church so special.
    The issues you raise are not about US bishops 'forcing' their views on the world, but about some bishops in the Southern and Northern hemisphere wishing to have the Anglican churches in the US (and elsewhere) constituted along the lines they approve of. This ruins the fundamental pluralism of our denomination.

    A great article though,