Wednesday, October 3, 2007

What's at the "Epicentre of Tensions" in the Anglican Communion Today?

The Joint Standing Committee's report to the Archbishop of Canterbury has just been released. There are many problems with the report, not the least of which is, as Kendall Harmon and others have pointed out, that not everyone on the committee signed off on it.

But one fundamental error stands out to me at this time: the committee's evaluation of what it calls "the epicentre of tensions in the [Anglican] Communion."

"At the epicentre of tensions in the Communion over the last five years has been the fact that the Episcopal Church elected and consecrated as a Bishop a person publicly acknowledged to be living in a committed same-sex relationship" (emphasis my own).

No, no, a thousand times no. The issue is not, and never has been, "[public] acknowledg[ment]" of such a relationship. The issue always has been the actual relationship -- or, as the House of Bishops itself put it, "[n]on-celibate gay and lesbian persons."

Ironically, the quotes that follow in the report from the primates and the Windsor Report emphasize this very fact (all emphasis my own):

"[Gene Robinson's] chosen lifestyle would give rise to a canonical impediment to his consecration as a bishop" -- the primates, October 2003

"... any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union" -- the Windsor Report

Yes, everyone knows the standard progressive rejoinder: "We've had gay and lesbian clergy for centuries; they just haven't been open about it." That argument can be applied to clergy with a myriad of issues and sins, however. Is it the "[public] acknowledg[ment]" that's divisive, or the actual relationship? If a single bishop living in a relationship with a man or woman outside of marriage caused similar tensions, would the issue be the public acknowledgment of the relationship, or the actual relationship?

Because at heart this is still fundamentally an issue of what the church is to teach regarding marriage and holiness in sexual relationships. As the committee itself noted, Lambeth Conference Resolution 1.10, which upheld the traditional definition of marriage as a "lifelong union" of one man and one woman and encouraged sexual abstinence outside of marriage, "expresses the understanding on Christian marriage and sexual relationships actually taught and held by the vast majority of Anglican churches and bishops across the globe - indeed, by the vast majority of Christian denominations and their leadership."

It's possible that the committee did not intend to stress the "[public] acknowledg[ment]" over the actual relationship. If so, we have here a case of poor wording choices. Otherwise, we have at best shortsightedness. No doubt everyone could agree with the committee if it had said only that the consecration of a bishop living in a same-sex relationship was "[a]t the epicentre of tensions" -- at least on a surface level. (The roots of the tensions, of course, extend to much deeper issues.) But let's not forget here that public knowledge of a gay bishop is not causing the "tear in the fabric" of the Anglican Communion garment. It's the fact that the Episcopal Church goes against standard Anglican Communion, and Christian, teaching that's important here.

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