Same-Sex Affection, Holiness, and Ordination
A Response to Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold
by Peter Toon
Preservation Press of the Prayer Book Society of the USA 2005
Copyright 2005 by the Prayer Book Society of the USA
Introduction: Facing an extraordinary claim
Chapter 1. A Development of Doctrine?
Chapter 2. Engaging with Scripture
Chapter 3. Experience as Revelation?
Chapter 4. The Episcopal Church from the 1960s
Chapter 5. The Consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson
Epilogue: Truly to set our hope on Christ Jesus
Introduction: Facing an extraordinary claim
In the week of June 20, 2005, at the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Nottingham, England, representatives of the Episcopal Church of the USA made a presentation concerning homosexual partnerships. They also distributed an essay in the form of a book with the title, To Set Our Hope on Christ. A Response to the Invitation of Windsor Report. The essay does not have a single author for it is written by a team of theologians and scholars brought together by the Presiding Bishop, Frank T. Griswold, for the purpose of presenting to the world the Episcopal case. It is published by the Episcopal Church from its Office of Communication, Episcopal Church Center in New York City. We may assume that the content of this essay represents both the mind of the Presiding Bishop and the mind of the leadership of the Episcopal Church through its Executive Council and House of Bishops.
Why was this essay written and published as a book? The simple answer is because the Anglican Communion of Churches wants to know why it is that the Episcopal Church is so committed to the blessing of same-sex couples and ordaining persons within such partnerships. In paragraph 135 of The Windsor Report (2004) produced by a commission, appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and chaired by Archbishop Eames of Ireland, there is the invitation: “We particularly request a contribution from the Episcopal Church (USA) which explains, from within the sources of authority that we as Anglicans have received in Scripture, the apostolic tradition and reasoned reflection, how a person living in a same gender union may be considered eligible to lead the flock of Christ.”
This essay, To Set Our Hope on Christ, from the Griswold team is the official response to this request and thus it is important for obvious reasons. It is the first time that a province of the Anglican Communion has publicly and openly stated its commitment to same-sex unions and offered biblical and theological justification for it, at the same time as explaining and defending the consecration as a bishop of a man “living in a same gender union.”
On reading the essay carefully several times, I must confess that I was surprised by its style and content. The whole approach is not combative (people fighting for their claimed rights) but educative (with intelligent and well-informed Episcopalians inviting Anglicans to see what the Lord has revealed to them from the Scriptures and in their religious experience). The reader is invited both to hear about, and to come and see, “what new thing the Lord has done and continues to do” within the Episcopal Church. It is a bold, confident approach and, at the same time, is written in a suitably humble and attractive style. The aim is obviously that of seeking to cultivate and encourage conversation in which, it is hoped, critics will be silenced and converts made, and the Anglican Communion will be able to celebrate in a new way what it means to enjoy unity-in-difference in mutual understanding and caring love.
In his brief “Foreword” Bishop Griswold makes four claims: that the Episcopal Church has been seeking to answer the question “How can a person living in a same gender union be considered eligible to lead the flock of Christ?” for nearly forty years; that it has also been addressing a more fundamental question, “How can the holiness and faithfulness to which God calls us all be made manifest in human intimacy?”; that the clergy and people of a diocese, after much discernment and prayer, have been able to call a man living in a same-sex relationship to be their bishop; and that within the Episcopal Church the Spirit of truth is creating new understanding drawn from the immeasurable riches of Christ. So the stage is set for the team to justify, to explain, and to commend the “holiness” of same-sex unions, and to show that it is possible to be called by God, while in such a union to lead the flock of Christ.
The stated aim of the team, in its own words, is conciliatory: “we entirely desire in unity with you [fellow Anglicans worldwide] ‘to set our hope on Christ’ (1 Peter 1:3), so that with you we ‘might live for the praise of his glory’ (Ephesians 1:12) and so serve the Gospel throughout the world.” The explanations and teaching to be offered in the essay are to be understood within this commitment to fellowship and unity in the Gospel. Further, the considerations are being offered, and it is hoped they will be received, in humility for “perhaps mutual humility is an essential virtue for the entire Anglican Communion.”
Such a careful beginning is required because what is then presented in the first part of the book (especially to biblically-minded African and Asian minds) is an extraordinary, even unbelievable, claim. This is that there is now occurring amongst Episcopalians a positive and exciting development of doctrine in the Church’s teaching on sexuality, sexual relations, and morality. As the team explained: “Setting our hope on Christ and praying for his humility, we desire to converse with you about the difficult but wonderful blessing that the Lord has opened our eyes to see in our very midst: the gifts and fruits of the Spirit ... in the lives and ministries of our members of same-sex affection.” [1.4] The adjectives “difficult” and “wonderful” are important for they indicate how strongly the team feels about the innovation. For, as they state: “We wish only to describe something of what – through much perplexity and faithful struggle to serve the Good News of God in Christ – we have come to believe that God has been doing in our midst.” [1.4]
As we have already noted above, the Presiding Bishop in his Introduction to the essay points to this new reality within the Episcopal Church. After citing John 16:12–14, which speaks of the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete of Jesus Christ leading the Church into all the truth of Christ, Griswold writes: “It is my hope that the life we share in the gospel will be guided by the Spirit of truth, who works in us new understandings drawn from the immeasurable riches of Christ who is our Truth.”
So it is that the team enters on its monumental task of sharing and educating, praying that “this contribution to our Communion-wide listening process may be fruitful for God’s mission” and also “that whatever differences there are in our Anglican Communion [these] may never be overtaken by the anger and divisiveness of the world.” [1.6] In one sentence, what is to be communicated is “a brief account of how, in good faith and loving obedience to the Word of God, many Christians in the Episcopal Church have come to a new mind about same-sex affections, and how this has led us to affirm the eligibility for ordination of those in covenanted same-sex unions.” [1.7]
Conscious of the seemingly attractive and gracious spirit in which the essay is written, I feel hesitant to offer serious criticism of it, for it will seem as though, as a critic of such an irenic presentation, I have a harsh spirit and do not seek to encourage dialogue, listening, and further reflection. Yet, despite the risks involved, my conscience persuades me that I must offer a critique, and a serious one. Why? Because I believe that this essay is built upon a foundation of sand rather than rock, and before the penetrating eyes of the Lord it falls to the ground in pieces as the winds of divine reality blow over it. Further, as a friend noted, “not only is the language warm and humble, it struck me that it goes even beyond this – it is beguiling and seductive. This document seems to be an attempt to seduce us into the belief that lust is holy, and so the choice of language. We are presented with an argument, yes, but not really of the kind a theologian should make, but rather of the kind that a temptress would make in luring us to her bed. The authors whisper in our ears all those flattering little lies that we so much want to believe....” Perhaps this overstates things too much, but there is a ring of truth to the point being made.
Let me be more specific. What it claims as a wonderful new development of doctrine and practice led by the Holy Spirit, I shall seek to show is in fact a corruption of Christian teaching and behavior. What it seeks to show is a doctrine to be received and tested through discernment in the Church, I shall seek to show is a doctrine not to be received but to be rejected. What it claims as a biblical basis for this innovation, I shall show is not so at all, but rather suggests the opposite, its erroneous character. What it presents as an example of biblical holiness, I shall show is more like “a secular holiness.” What it sets forth as solid reasons for consecrating Gene Robinson as a bishop in the Church of God, I shall show do not clearly demonstrate that this consecration was right and proper. And, what it offers as its title, based upon 1 Peter 1:3, I shall show supports the traditional and orthodox position on the Christian life and holiness, not that of the Episcopal Church in recent years. Further, I shall indicate that by the stances and positions that the Episcopal Church took in the period after World War II, and especially in the late 1960s, it became a Church heading in one direction, a “progressive” direction, and that the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordaining of active, homosexual persons are wholly to be expected in such a Church, for they are within the terms of reference of this progressive journey.
Now I invite my reader to consider my response to the essay as I present it in the chapters which follow this Introduction.
Chapter One – A Development of Doctrine?
Since the Presiding Bishop’s team wrote not in the first place for academics but rather for informed and concerned clergy and lay leaders, it is not surprising that they seek as far as possible to avoid technical terms. And since they have in mind African and Asian Anglicans who are very biblically based and taught, they seek to appeal to portions of Scripture which they hope will resonate with such readers.
In this chapter, I shall make use of two technical theological terms because they accurately state what it is that the team is claiming and propagating, and further, they are relatively straightforward to understand. The first is “development of doctrine,” which as a phrase was made famous by the book written by John Henry Newman to describe how he had come to embrace the dogma and doctrines of the Roman Church, where they differed from the consensus of the Fathers of the first five or so centuries of the Christian era. The book’s title was, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1845). Since its publication, it has generated much discussion of the relation of church doctrine and dogma to teaching found within the books of the Bible (i.e., biblical theology). In fact, I myself wrote, The Development of Doctrine in the Church (Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans, 1979) after I had been stimulated by Newman and those who debated with him in the nineteenth century.
The development of doctrine set forth in the essay is that persons of the same-sex may live together in an active sexual, committed and affectionate relationship; that in this union they may display genuine Christian holiness; and that thus they may be appropriate candidates for leadership positions, including ordination to all three orders of the Threefold Ministry. This is a remarkable and amazing claim since, to all normal appearances, it apparently contradicts the received and traditional teaching of the Church on sexual relations between human beings. That is, it is a doctrine which has no place whatsoever in the teaching of virtually all the provinces of the Anglican Communion, in the official teaching of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and also the teaching of most major Protestant Churches (e.g., the Southern Baptist Church of the USA).
GETTING THE STORY RIGHT
To be sure that we have correctly understood the content of this claimed development of doctrine, let us note some extracts from the essay:
For almost forty years, members of the Episcopal Church have discerned holiness in same-sex relationships and have come to support the blessing of such unions and the ordination or consecration of persons in these unions. Christian congregations have come to celebrate and bless same-sex relations because these exclusive, life-long, unions of fidelity and care for each other have been experienced as holy. These unions have evidenced the fruit of the Holy Spirit: “joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23). More specifically, members of our congregations have seen the fruit of such unions as sanctifying human lives by deepening mutual love and by drawing persons together in fidelity and in service to the world. [2.0]
Their holiness stands in stark contrast with many sinful patterns of sexuality in the world ... Christians of same-sex affection in the Episcopal Church have shown themselves entirely at one with their fellow Christians in rejecting such sinful expressions of sexuality and in seeking to live, in common with all Christians, lives blessed by the transforming power of Christ.... We believe that God has been opening our eyes to acts of God that we had not known how to see before. [2.1]
Some members of the Episcopal Church came to perceive (a) holiness in the lives of its members of same-affection, and (b) the potential for their covenanted unions to be open for God’s blessing. In no way do we wish to minimize the sea-change in our understanding that this has represented. Indeed, we have only been able to conceive of what God might be doing in our midst by allowing the light of the Holy Scripture to shine upon our experience and guide us to the living Word of truth. [3.0]
For some time now, some members of our church have been perceiving that same-sex relations as well as heterosexual relations can be manifestations of holiness, honesty, goodness, and enduring fidelity – just as same-sex relations as well as heterosexual relations can be manifestations of abuse, promiscuity, and many other kinds of sin. [2:23]
Like women bishops, African American bishops, and all those bishops raised up from formerly colonized people before them, bishops of same-sex affection have the capacity, in virtue of the Spirit-filled lives of holiness, to embody this salutary diversity for the greater good of the whole Communion. They are signs not only of the Church’s unity but especially of its diverse and comprehensive catholicity. It is by way of this very diversity-in-unity, by way of all these diverse voices, including those previously unheard, brought together in a communion of mutual listening and learning, that we are brought more fully into the fullness of God’s truth. [4.21]
Further, in order to have clarity of mind as to just how much the innovation differs from the traditional Christian understanding of sexual union, it will be good to note what is found in a classic Anglican source, The Book of Common Prayer (1662) in the preface to “The Form of Solemnization of Matrimony.” Here we find the historic Christian and the reformed Catholic doctrine of marriage. Regrettably this preface was shortened in the American form of the Prayer Book in the editions of 1789, 1892 and 1928, and does not appear in the 1979 book. But here is the authentic statement from 1662:
Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this man and this woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee; and is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be enterprized, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy man’s carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.
First, it was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy name.
Secondly, it was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency mighty marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.
Thirdly, it was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity, into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. Therefore if any man can shew any just cause, why they may not be lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.
It is possible to see these three reasons for holy matrimony as (a) presented in order of importance, or as (b) three related reasons which may be stated in any order, as long as they are all present. In whatever order we put them, it is obvious that within the doctrine of sexual relations presented here, the idea of blessing the partnership of a same-sex couple makes no sense at all. Marriage as a holy covenant between a man and woman and blessed by the Church in God’s name both points to, and also symbolizes, the mystical union between Christ, the Bridegroom, and the Church, his Bride. The union of two persons of the same sex cannot obviously signify this mystical union. In fact it stands opposed to it.
Therefore, the new doctrine that God blesses the homosexual union of a same-sex couple, and that their life together can be that of holiness unto the Lord, truly represents, as the team states “a sea-change” and, in formal terms, a major development of doctrine in the Church.
We may observe in passing that this extraordinary claim of a major development of doctrine has occurred within a denomination which (a) has been seriously declining in membership and influence since the 1970s, and (b) has been known more for its “left of center” political and social activity than for its biblical theology, evangelical zeal and missionary activity. Further, we may note (and then return to the topic below in chapter 3) that this claimed development has no apparent or obvious basis in specific promises and prophecies of the Old or New Testaments.
WHAT IS A DEVELOPMENT OF DOCTRINE?
At this stage, it may be appropriate to make a few comments on the general idea of the development of doctrine in the Church in order to appreciate what a very major claim the Presiding Bishop’s team is making.
First of all, let us be clear that development of doctrine is not simply the history of doctrines, say of the doctrines of God and Christ. It takes for granted the work on the history of doctrines and seeks to answer certain questions arising from the data provided by the history. Questions such as: What is the relation of a particular church doctrine to the biblical material on which it claims to be based? What is the relation of a church doctrine framed in say the sixteenth century to the same or a similar one framed in the fourth century? What is the relation of doctrine formulated in one language to the same doctrine formulated in another language and place? And what criteria can be established to decide whether the emergence of a particular doctrine can be classified as either “erroneous” or “faithful” to the original biblical data?
Outside the New Testament documents and era, major developments of doctrine familiar to students of the history of the Church are: the dogma of the Trinity from the fourth century; the dogma of the Person of Christ from the fifth century; the Bishop of Rome as not only the Patriarch of the West but as the Vicar of Christ from the thirteenth century; the dogma of transubstantiation with regard to the bread and wine of the Mass from 1215; the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone from the sixteenth century, and the two dogmas concerning the Blessed Virgin Mary, those of the Immaculate Conception (1854) and of the Assumption (1950).
To these well-known examples, some contemporary churchmen, who wish to move with the times and see the church as relevant in society, would add such things as the ordination of women to the presbyterate and episcopate in the late twentieth century, and the incorporation of human rights into the description of what it is to be made in the image and likeness of God, also in the late twentieth century. Now the team assembled by Bishop Griswold is boldly advancing the new doctrine that the presence of Gospel holiness is found in same-sex covenanted partnerships, members of whom may hold high office in the Church.
Here we should perhaps step back a little to think of the model of development. In speaking of development, we need to be aware that a development can be understood in various ways and can be considered both in a positive and negative way. For example, while certain late patristic and medieval developments of doctrine of the Papacy and the Mass seemed to sixteenth-century Catholics to be good and wholesome, to Martin Luther, John Calvin and Thomas Cranmer they seemed to be corruptions of doctrine. Likewise, in the modern situation, different people see things in different light, depending on their standpoint. And that form of sexuality, which to the Episcopal team is good, wholesome, positive and from God’s grace and guidance, is to other Episcopalians and Anglicans an abomination before the Lord.
We are all aware of a law of development operating around us and in us, as we see infants grow into adults, seedlings grow into bushes, schools grow in attendance and size, and technological goods grow in sophistication. But we also see a law of corruption operative around us where there is a departure from the original type. For example, when a government department or an organization grows in size but does so only for the benefit of the select few rather than for all citizens. Further, there is a law of exaggeration also at work around us, as when we see, for example, a person through over-eating good things become obese. In the latter case the development is obviously and regrettably excessive.
So we can speak of healthy development, corrupt development and excessive development of doctrine. Same-sex unions would seem, in this classification, to belong to the second, where there is development through departure from the original type, and where the original type is a man and woman joined together in holy matrimony, symbolizing in their union the mystical marriage between Christ and the Church.
The use of a couple of models may help us gain greater insight into this matter of development of doctrine in the Church.
First of all, take the model of the interaction of the structured elements with the constituent elements, as, for example, what is seen on a modern production line in a factory. There enters the production line all kinds of prepared materials and these are then by technical and human means transformed into something specific such as a computer, a TV, or a car. In the Church, we see data and themes from the Bible and Christian tradition (and often also from culture and experience) being formed or pressed into shape as a doctrine, be it, for example, women’s ordination or same-sex blessing. The actual content of the doctrine is, of course, strategically related to which structured elements were used and who and what were the human forces receiving and shaping those elements. We know from observation that virtually the same motor production line can produce (at different times) trucks or cars. Thus the local church or province can produce any kind of doctrine, depending on what it uses from its resources and how it uses the chosen materials. This fact and reality shows why there have to be criteria to judge whether a development in doctrine is a faithful move forwards, a corruption or an exaggeration. And the criteria certainly cannot be vague and generalized notions of love, or criteria drawn from secular society and norms.
Secondly, take the model of the development of a site on a city street. On this piece of land there are some buildings. One way forward is to demolish what is there, prepare new foundations and then build a new edifice. Another way forward is to do a complete job of renewing and refurbishing what is there, so that in the end there is, as it were, a new building on site. In this model the role of the architect is crucial as also of the builders who do the work. With respect to the innovations in sexuality commended by the team, it appears that the model at work is primarily that of demolition and rebuilding on new foundations. The old building based on the impossibility of same-sex affection being holy and good has to be removed in order for a new one to be erected.
So it would appear that for the claim, that same-sex couples display Gospel holiness in their mutual affection and witness, to be received by the whole Church as a faithful development, what must be shown is (a) a clear, propositional, biblical basis for this kind of partnership, and (b) evidence from a variety of places and cultures that Christians are truly experiencing and calling for this recognition and development. The team makes it hard for itself to provide this kind of information when it states: “It seems very likely that there was no phenomenon in the time of the biblical writers directly akin to the phenomenon of Christians of the same gender living together in faithful and committed lifelong unions as we experience this today.” [2:18]
If the word “development” is replaced by that of “evolution” then perhaps the task of the team is the easier. For, in defense of the innovatory doctrine of God’s approval of same-sex couples, possibly the use of the model of evolution of the species rather than of development works better. From this model, it could conceivably be argued that the emergence in the West in the twentieth century of same-sex partnerships blessed by God, is like the appearance in the chain of evolution of one form of life which is both like and unlike what has existed before it and from which it has evolved. However, the model of evolution, if adopted, would require a total re-think of the emergence of all dogma and doctrine throughout the history of the Church.
THE ANGLICAN DOCTRINE OF RECEPTION
We have all become vaguely familiar with the doctrine of reception through the controversy and debate surrounding the ordination of women to the Threefold Ministry of Bishop, Presbyter and Deacon over the last two decades or so. Although the team does not actually mention this doctrine in a formal way, their use of language, when speaking of the adoption of the doctrine of the holiness of same-sex partnerships, is virtually the same form of words as was used of the reception of the new doctrine, the ordination of women, by the official Anglican Commission, known as the Eames’ Commission. (See The Eames Commission. The Official Reports, Toronto, 1994)
The Griswold team mentions of en reflection, prayer, discernment and being guided and led by the Holy Spirit. For example:
Not every biblical norm is relevant to every situation in our time. Discernment is required, through the direction of the Holy Spirit, in order to ascertain the Lord’s will for us in every time and to follow in faith where Christ has led the way. [2.18]
Throughout this long season of listening and discernment, the Episcopal Church has remained committed to the common call to serve God’s mission as the basis for ecclesial unity. We have prayed always for the divine gift of a common life that embraces even profound differences. We believe that, in our willingness to remain faithful to such “unity-in-difference” we have not undertaken the work set before us lightly or without considerable study, deliberation, and constant prayer [3.21]
The team obviously believes that the Episcopal Church has been given a precious insight from God, and from this insight new doctrine has been created. Yet the doctrine, if true, is universally true and is not only true for the Episcopal Church and a few other western provinces of the Anglican Communion. It is for the whole Communion, so that this family of Churches may advance in true fellowship, holiness and maturity. So the team calls upon people to come and see this new phenomenon of holiness and grace within parishes and dioceses of the Episcopal Church. It wishes to share with others worldwide what it has been given through pain and perseverance; and it desires to have conversation with people of different viewpoints so that Episcopalians can tell their stories of what God has done for them and for their covenanted same-sex partnerships.
One of the principles of the Anglican/Eames doctrine of reception is that time and testing in dioceses around the world will show whether the doctrine is of God. So, it is claimed, the ordination and deployment of women as clergy is now being tested and will continue to be tested until it is generally clear to all whether or not this innovation is a genuine development of doctrine and blessed of God. (In reality, I must say that leaders pay lip service to the doctrine of reception and behave as if the ordination of women is truly and surely by God’s express will and is here to stay; see further my short study: Peter Toon,
Reforming Forwards? The process of reception and the consecration of women as bishops, Latimer Trust, London, 2004: www. latimertrust.org)
It would seem to be the case that the team would be very pleased to see the new doctrine of the holiness of the partnerships of same-sex couple made officially into a doctrine in the process of reception, on the same principles as the ordination of women is currently officially based. For this to occur and to have any chance of success, there would need to be a massive change of opinion in African and Asian provinces of the Anglican Communion. It seems most unlikely that such a daring proposal will be given the go-ahead by such bodies as the Primates’ Meeting and the Lambeth Conference of Bishops. However, this lack of official support does not mean to say that this novel doctrine is not being, and will not be, treated as a doctrine in the process of reception in the Anglican Churches in the western nations, the USA, Canada, and Scotland, for example.
Having explored what it is that the team is advancing—a development of doctrine and a doctrine to be received by the whole Communion—it is now appropriate that we critically note the claimed biblical basis of the doctrine.
Chapter Two – Engaging with Scripture
The team insists that it paid serious attention to the Holy Scriptures, the books that Christians have thought of as God’s Word written. In fact, the claim is made of a sustained engagement with Scriptures and the God of the Scriptures. However, it needs to be understood that this study is of a text which is primarily thought of as a record of religious experience and in which are errors and inconsistencies. Yet it is presented, at least on first appearances, in much the same style as one would hear from an evangelical and charismatic group. Here is what the team claimed:
Together with the disciplines of prayer and the sacramental life, we have sought the voice of the living God by paying attention to God’s Word to us in the Scriptures. We have been led to notice possible analogies between the experience of the early Church and our own situation. We have assumed that God’s word is living and active (Hebrews 4:10–12); that it is effective and prospers in that for which God sent it (Isaiah 55:10–12); and that it is like fire and like the hammer that breaks the rock in pieces (Jeremiah 12:29). We asked God to show us whether we were to welcome Christians of same-sex affection into our midst and to invite them to share leadership of the Church with us or not. We asked God’s help in discerning through the power of the Holy Spirit whether we ought to understand our situation in analogy with the experience of the early Church regarding the inclusion of the Gentiles. We began to study Acts 10–15 with great care. [2:9]
Apparently, the team believed that it received a positive answer from the Spirit with regard to the analogy with respect to the experience and decisions of the early Church! And then based upon the application of this analogy, other biblical texts were seen in new light, so that their meaning and relevance were seen in ways that traditional interpretation would not recognize.
We are not informed as to how the engagement with Scripture proceeded – e.g., through the use of commentaries, of classic methods of meditative and contemplative prayer, and of discussion and dialogue within the team. What we do learn, and that most clearly, is that reflection on chapters ten to fifteen of the Acts of the Apostles provided the team with what seemed to them a clear word from the Lord Jesus Christ concerning his desire to include in his flock faithful couples in same-sex relations of affection. That is, they studied the raw data of the experience of the members of the early Church in the Acts of the Apostles and drew conclusions from it for the modern situation.
Here perhaps a word of caution is appropriate. When we want to be convinced, or are convinced either partially or wholly that a certain practice or teaching is right and good, then (as people who take the Bible seriously as a word from heaven) there is the tendency to see in the Bible justification for the practice or teaching. Spiritual directors point this out to believers often for, as the prophet Jeremiah said, “the heart of man is deceitful above all things.” Let us be honest with ourselves. We can so easily persuade ourselves of something, especially if it supports our cause. Thus the possibility exists that the team worked very hard to find a scriptural basis on which to ground the innovation they so desperately wished to commend and defend, and in fact, they actually led themselves right into what they wished to find.
What do we find in Acts 10–15? In chapter 10 we are introduced to Cornelius, a Gentile and a God-fearing man, who read the Jewish Scriptures and prayed to the God of Abraham. God granted to him a vision in which an angel of the Lord visited him and told him that his prayers had been heard and that he was to send men to Joppa in order to bring Simon Peter back to his house. This he did. As the men were on their way, Peter went up on the housetop to pray and he too had a vision. He saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending. In it were all kinds of animals, reptiles and birds. He heard a voice from heaven telling him to rise, kill and eat. However, Peter, mindful of Jewish customs concerning clean and unclean animals, refused. Then the voice declared: “What God has made clean do not call common!” This occurred three times.
As Peter considered what this vision and word meant, the Gentile men from Cornelius arrived. Led specifically by the Spirit of the Lord, Peter broke Jewish custom and went down to speak to the men, who told him of Cornelius and his vision. Against Jewish custom, Peter invited them to stay the night. The next day they all set off from Joppa for the home of Cornelius, who gathered relatives and friends together in expectation of their arrival. By this time Peter had come to see that the vision was from the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ and was a message to him to concerning God-fearers amongst the Gentiles. They were not to be treated as outside God’s circle as outcasts, but they were to be embraced as fellow human beings and as potential Christian believers.
So, when they met, Peter declared what God had taught him and there was a sharing of stories and experiences by Cornelius and Peter. Then Peter declared the Gospel concerning Jesus Christ to the assembled people, and when he had preached the Holy Spirit descended in power upon them all, most notably upon the uncircumcised Gentiles, who believed the Gospel. This intervention by God amazed Peter and his fellow Jewish Christians and they immediately proceeded to baptize these Gentile believers, who rejoiced to receive the Sacrament. They recognized that God had already accepted them as his children by giving them the gift of the Holy Spirit.
In Acts 11 we read of how Peter returned to Jerusalem and was initially criticized by those who believed that the only way for Gentiles to enter the church was first by becoming converts to Judaism, and submitting to circumcision. However, Peter recounted to his brethren his vision, the leading of the Holy Spirit, and what happened when he visited Cornelius. This had the effect of silencing his critics and all agreeing that “to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Moving on to Acts 15, there we read of the Jerusalem Council which was convened by the apostles and elders to deal with the question of the conditions of entry of Gentile converts into the Christian Church. Did the Gentile believer have first to become a convert to Judaism in order to become a Christian? At this assembly it was Paul and Barnabas, who testified to the way in which Gentile believers had been given the gift of the Holy Spirit by God and that no distinction was made by God between the reception of Jewish and of Gentile believers into his kingdom of grace. James the Just, the brother of Jesus, who presided over the Council, led the assembled elders on the basis of the testimony of Paul, Barnabas and Peter, and especially by proofs from Scripture, to decide what should be the doctrine and policy of the Church. It was that Gentiles did not have first to become Jewish converts before they could become Christians. However, they were asked to abstain from meat that had been offered to idols, from blood, from meat from a strangled animal, and from sexual immorality. And thus the Gentile mission of the Church could now proceed with all speed and so it did, with the result that Gentile believers soon came to outnumber Jewish ones! And, further, both Peter and Paul were to die in Rome, center of the Gentile world, as martyrs for their Lord.
Obviously, this decision of the Council was momentous in the history of the spread of the Christian Faith. Had conversion to Judaism been a prerequisite for becoming a Christian, there would have been few converts, the Acts of the Apostles would probably never have been written and neither would the majority of the books of the New Testament. But what did happen was that, as Christian leaders reflected on the inclusion of the Gentiles, they saw it not only as the fulfillment of prophecy but also as the making known of a mystery which had been hidden in God from before time (see Ephesians 3).
THE TEAM AND ACTS 10–15
Several features of this rich narrative proved important to the members of the team as they read and interpreted it, looking for a way of understanding it to support their cause. They note things like the following:
1. Peter believed that he ought to obey the biblical commandments found in Leviticus 11 concerning the eating of animals and so he resisted the call of the heavenly voice to do so.
2. Significantly Leviticus 11 contains very clear prohibition of male same-sex relations alongside dietary and food laws.
3. There is within the narrative an implied criticism of Peter’s decision to stand firm and not kill to eat (cf. God’s word to Ezekiel in a similar situation, 4:14–15).
4. Cornelius, a God-fearing Gentile, is guided to invite Peter to his home, but yet he is not aware of Jewish taboos about mixing with Gentiles and entering their homes.
5. In the way God spoke to both Peter and Cornelius, “God took the initiative and it took the Church a while to catch up with what God was doing. The Holy Spirit’s meaning is not immediately self-evident; it took both Peter and Cornelius a while to figure out what this new thing was.” [2.10]
6. Peter and Cornelius “came to understand each other by listening to the other tell his story of how God had led him to this encounter. They convinced others within their groups by telling that same story. This was especially the case with Peter, who was, rightly, criticized for his actions by those who had not shared his experience.” [2.10]
7. No one in Jerusalem suggested that how the Gentiles were admitted into the Church was of secondary importance (adiaphora). This subject had the potential to divide the Church. “Peter and the others both trusted God and were willing to withstand criticism for their actions that were in clear opposition to the established customs of the Church at the time. The weight of the scriptural arguments was on the side of Peter before his transforming encounter with Cornelius, and afterwards with the Church members who criticized Peter.” [2.10]
8. It was “Church people who were not Gentiles who argued on their behalf and introduced them to that part of the Church that had not seen their gif s and discovered the presence of the Holy Spirit powerfully among them,” [2.10]
9. “Acts 15 states the Church’s studied compromise on the issue. The Jewish church was not requiring Gentiles to become like themselves, or to live in some cramped way so as not to offend. They decided not to add any yoke that they themselves would be unwilling to bear.” [2.10]
What is obviously impressive to the team is that the intervention of the Holy Spirit in the experience of Peter and others led them to question and re-interpret what previously they saw either as a clear commandment of Scripture or as a fixed Jewish custom, not to associate with Gentile people. The team reads this to mean that the laws of Leviticus were set aside because of the clear leading of the Spirit of the Lord (and remember that in Leviticus 11 is the prohibition of homosexual acts). Further, what they see as the sharing of stories, between Cornelius and Peter and between Peter and the conservative Jewish Christians, is important to them as the way to lead to the right outcome in a controversy within a church.
So by analogy the team came to see that God was showing them that he has already accepted those same-sex couples, who have been visited by the Holy Spirit and given his gifts and graces. And the action of the Spirit of the Lord in and upon these couples has the effect of nullifying any commandments and laws which directly or indirectly appear to state that two persons of the same sex cannot be united in affection. Further, the decision of the Jerusalem Council not to burden Gentile Christians with a heavy yoke tells the team that, “it seems to us that arguments such as that persons of same-sex affection can be ordained only if they remain celibate, are thus rejected by implication.” [2:10]
Further, the team can deal quickly with the texts in Leviticus (18:22 & 20:13) which have been taken by the Church in general to prohibit all forms of same-sex relations (even though the kind of covenanted same-sex relations known today were not known then). Its point is that if the Holy Spirit has spoken and acted and has given discernment to his people, then the laws of Leviticus are no longer pertinent and relevant in the case of covenanted, same-sex affection. And the same goes for the statements of Paul about homosexuality in Romans 1:26–27 and elsewhere. There is little doubt but that the team will be accused of passing over too quickly and brushing aside too easily what have been taken as clear moral statements for many centuries.
IS THE ANALOGY LEGITIMATE?
The more I read and pondered the analogy, the more I came to see that the explanation of the incidents and decisions in Acts 10–15 is recounted by the team in such a way as to lead to the conclusions they sought. Again, as I remarked above, this is not a strange or rare phenomenon but is something we all do in one way or another in our lives. Here are my observations.
(1) What the narrative of Cornelius and Peter in Acts 10 is all about is how Gentiles who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are to be admitted into the Christian Church, at a time when all leaders and members of the Church were Jews. Whatever the ethnic or racial background of Gentiles (and the Mediterranean world was multi-racial), the Jewish Christians were generally convinced that to become a Christian a non-Jew must not only believe the Gospel, repent of sin and receive the Lord Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour, but also he must go through the basic rites and requirements in order to become a Jew, for only believing Jews could become Christians. The crucially important story in Acts 10 is about the way into salvation and church membership for people who are not Jews. It is not about life inside the Church as such but about actual entry into the kingdom of God and the Church – of who may enter and on what conditions.
The question of same-sex unions does not belong to the category of receiving salvation and becoming a Christian through regeneration and baptism. Rather it belongs to the category of Christian holiness and morality, whether it is in line with God’s will for such a union to be entered into and then blessed by a minister. So this text is hardly suitable for use even by analogy to justify covenanted same-sex unions.
(2) The team does not seem to have rightly understood the purpose of the vision given to Peter when he was on the rooftop. The point of his seeing the descending sheet containing a variety of animals, birds and reptiles, which he was commanded to kill and eat, was not that Peter should actually eat flesh prohibited by the law of Moses. No, it was that he should cease to follow Jewish customs and habits in the way he related to and treated persons from a Gentile background. And the message got through to Peter right away for he invited the servants of Cornelius, who were uncircumcised Gentiles to stay with him overnight. Further, when he got to the home of Cornelius he made it very clear that God had told him not to treat Gentiles as inferior or unclean. So Peter’s vision, although its reference to clean and unclean animals has its roots in Leviticus 11, is not ultimately about the topics in that chapter, and therefore not about male-with-male sex. Rather, it is all about the new attitude that Peter, as an apostle and Jewish Christian, is to have towards Gentiles, and especially to Gentiles who believe the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. And this new attitude is required in order for the evangelization of Gentiles to proceed.
So it is not about God leading Peter beyond the prohibitions in Leviticus 11 (as the team claims), but it is about God teaching Peter that there was no impassable gulf between Jews and Gentiles. We need to be clear that the Old Testament itself did not teach or support the idea of a massive divide between Jew and Gentile. By choosing and blessing one family, that of Abraham, God intended through him to bless all the families of the earth. So the psalmist and the prophets spoke of the time when God’s Anointed One, the Christ, would inherit the nations and be their Light; further God would pour out his Spirit upon all flesh. Regrettably the biblical doctrine of election had been turned in Judaism into a doctrine of favoritism and separatism so that no pious Jew would willingly enter the home of a Gentile. This entrenched prejudice had to be overcome before Gentiles who believed the Gospel could be admitted into the Church of God. And the removal of this prejudice had to begin with Peter, the chief of the apostles.
(3) In the account of the Council in Jerusalem in Acts 15, it is clear that the elders present were deeply impressed by the testimony provided of God’s visitation of Gentiles. They listened intently to Paul and Barnabas as they related the signs and wonders God had done through their ministry amongst Gentile people. They also paid careful attention to the testimony of Peter. But the decision to accept Gentiles who believed on Christ without requiring that they first become Jewish converts was not made – as the team suggests – only on the basis of the accounts of the experience of the Holy Spirit’s work amongst Gentiles. We need to note very clearly that James, who presided at the Council, appealed to the words of the prophets to confirm this visitation of God to the Gentiles (Acts 15:13–17). After all, councils have no authority in the Church unless it can be shown that their decisions are based upon and are in accord with clear scriptural teaching.
What did James say? “Symeon [Peter] has described how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for himself” (v.14). The words “a people for himself” are often used in the Old Testament of Israel, the covenant people of God. So what James is actually doing here is expressing his conviction that Gentile believers belonged to the true people of God, Israel, called and chosen by God. They are “a people for himself.” Then James moved on from the apostolic evidence to the written word, saying, “And with this the words of the prophets agree.” To substantiate this claim he quoted from the prophet Amos (9:11–12). In this quotation there are two related and important truths. First, God promises to restore David’s fallen tent and rebuild it (which the early Church read as a prophecy of the resurrection and exaltation of Christ, the seed and Son of David, and the establishment of his new covenant people). Second, a remnant of Gentiles will seek the Lord and, through the Son of David, Gentiles will be included in the new Israel of God.
So it was that James, whom the circumcision party or the Judaizers had thought of as their champion, now declared himself in agreement with Peter, Paul and Barnabas. And he did so by stating that what had been foretold by the prophets of Israel was actually becoming a reality in the missionary work of the apostles.
Bishop Griswold’s team has not supplied, and probably cannot supply, any evidence of unfulfilled prophecies and promises from the Old Testament which could be said, even in a general way, to point to God’s future approval and inclusion of same-sex couples within his covenant of grace. The analogy as made by them has no authentic power if there is no clear word of the Lord than can be associated with it. The Church surely must not make a very major change in her doctrine only on the basis of an analogy that is questionable in its nature and application!
Chapter Three – Experience, a Source of Revelation
Anglicans have become familiar with the claim made by their theologians that Church doctrine is based first of all upon Scripture as God’s Word written, secondly upon the authentic tradition of the Church through space and time, and thirdly Scripture and tradition interpreted by sanctified reason. In short, Scripture, tradition and reason. And the Windsor Report, as we have already noted above, called upon the Episcopal Church, to provide an explanation “from within the sources of authority that we as Anglicans have received in Scripture, the apostolic tradition and reasoned reflection, how a person living in a same gender union may be considered eligible to lead the flock of Christ.”
The Presiding Bishop’s team, as we have noted, sought to engage with Scripture to justify the innovation of same-sex unions as holy, but made little use of tradition, if by this is meant the teaching of councils and doctors and the content of classic liturgies. Their use of reasoned reflection is focused both upon the interpreting of the Bible and the drawing of conclusions from “experience.” Here “experience” is what we may call raw data, including such things as the sexual feelings of particular human beings given through their personal testimony; the observations of people noticing the way that two persons of the same-sex live together as a couple; the account of the way that processes of choice and election of a bishop occur in a church; how governments and society have given rights and care to minorities and the marginalized; and what professional people (e.g., sociologists and psychiatrists) say about homosexual attraction and same-sex couples. In fact, anything can count as experience from society, culture, and education if it seems relevant to the question that is demanding an answer.
THE USE OF THE DATA OF EXPERIENCE
The team does not specifically give to the data of modern “experience” the same authority as it gives to the primary data of religious “experience” which is the basic content of the sacred Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. However, it certainly makes much of this modern source which it believes can be, and often is, a means of God’s revelation and guidance to his people. In using contemporary “experience” along with [experience in] Scripture and tradition, the team follows in a path that has been much used in the Episcopal Church of the USA over the last forty years or so. It may be observed that when the three become four (Scripture, tradition, reason and experience), that is when “experience” becomes not only the fourth leg of the stool, but the primary leg, it is much easier for a Church to pioneer and justify innovations, and this, of course, has been occurring regularly in the Episcopal Church since the 1960s. Let us notice briefly the use of contemporary “experience” by the team. (In the last chapter, we may now claim, we looked at their use of the data of religious experience from the Bible.)
First of all, there are many references in the essay to the personal experiences of people in same-sex unions of affection as well as to the observation by others of the unions of these homosexual persons. And these all are used directly or indirectly to suggest or affirm that God approves and blesses these unions. For example:
In the Episcopal Church we have been faced with growing testimony, and the experience of some of our own members, that the distinction between same-sex and heterosexual orientation is not a divide between dysfunction and normality, nor between sinful activity and holy activity. Rather the distinction has come to seem to us much more like the kind of cultural and biological distinctions that St. Paul came to see as overcome in Christ... “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27–8 cf. 1 Corinthians 12:13; Colossians 3:11). It is in this light that we have begun to re-conceive our understanding of same-sex affection. In other words, we have begun to notice, as we had not done before, the ways in which persons of same-sex affection might be leading lives of holiness. [2.23]
As a result of this shift in our awareness, we have begun to reflect on signs of manifest holiness in the lives of our members of same-sex affection, not simply as an anomaly but in light of the great Gospel of Christ’s victory overcoming the most basic differences within the human family. [2.24]
The experience of holiness in some same-sex unions has called for and deepened our sense of how these life-long unions of fidelity can be seen to manifest God’s love. [2.25]
In the second place, there is provided in the essay an argument for the equal status, if not priority status, of that purpose of marriage which may be described in terms of life-long fidelity and self-giving love. [2.26–27] “It is not good that Adam should be alone; I will make him a helper as a partner” (Genesis 2:18). And the obvious point is made that a same-sex couple in a covenanted union can enjoy and exhibit this just as much as a man and a woman in matrimony. Since the 1979 Prayer Book of the Episcopal Church makes companionship primary as a purpose of marriage, and describes procreation as optional, then it appears that the team is on solid ground in their own arena in this particular.
In the third place, there is an appeal to “the growing preponderance of opinion in the fields of scientific research.”
For centuries it has been assumed that same-sex affection was inevitably a distortion or dysfunction of human nature. Increasingly scholars in the field have found that the phenomenon of same-sex affection is not accurately understood as a biological, psychological or cultural dysfunction but more adequately studied as simply another way in which human nature exists. [2.22]
Contemporary studies indicate that same-sex affection has a genetic-biological basis which is shaped in interaction with psycho-social and cultural-historical factors. Sexual orientation remains relatively fixed and generally not subject to change. Continuing studies have confirmed the 1973 decision of the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from their diagnostic manual of mental illness. [2.22]
It is interesting to observe that there is no appeal to the very important reality of the growing rights granted to homosexual couples by states and corporations in the western world. Probably the primary reason for this omission is that this essay is aimed at critics abroad in Asia and Africa in whose nations there are no such rights yet granted. Another reason may be that the focus in the essay is on the Bible and theology not on politics.
THE ROLE OF EXPERIENCE
An essential part of a healthy Christian life is what has been called over the centuries “the experience of God.” That is the sense of the presence of God which a person knows when involved in prayer, worship, meditation and contemplation. Testimony to such an experience is found throughout the Bible and throughout the long history of the Church. And, of course, such a sense of the divine presence is important for energizing and motivating the daily Christian walk with God and the serving of him in his world.
Yet, though experience of this kind is essential to an authentic walk with God and discipleship of Jesus Christ, it has never officially been used in the history of the Church as a primary source of Christian doctrine. What the Christian learns from Scripture and Creeds, he sees confirmed in his experience of the presence, providence, and guidance of God. In fact, he learns to interpret his experiences by the principles of the Word of God and the doctrines of the Creed. At the same time, his experiences of God will also from time to time have the effect of helping him to see the deeper or clearer meaning of Scripture passages and teaching, because he will be enlightened and inspired by the experience of the Lord. In practice, he visits a spiritual director for help in discerning whether his experience is in conformity to the revealed will of God in Scripture.
Where “experience” may actually become, or seem to be, a primary source of doctrine is when in the time of a particular social or cultural crisis, the Church moves forward, after much struggle and controversy, to adopt what seems to be a new doctrine or teaching. Let us take an example. The increased role of women in the Episcopal Church from 1970 obviously occurred to a very large part because of the development of the human rights’ culture and, in particular, the pressure of the feminist movement in American society for equality for women in jobs and opportunities. But, was it the case that God used this social and cultural phenomenon to open Christian eyes to see what (e.g., equality of status and ministerial function for women) was there within the New Testament; or did Christian eyes begin to see in the New Testament something that was not actually there but which they thought ought to be there, and thus believed was there? My own view is that it was the latter, for new forms of exegesis and interpretation had to be used to find the doctrine in the New Testament.
In contrast, if we take the impact of the civil rights movement, we may say that it had the effect on some white Christians of making them see, for the first time, that a black man was just as much a real human being as a white man, and just as much made in the image and likeness of God as any American hero. In reality, as the Churches were morally compelled to drop some of their customs and practices which supported segregation, there was truly no new doctrine created in the Church; rather, there was a new appreciation of doctrine already there in the Bible and tradition, which had been conveniently ignored by too many churches and their leaders.
When we begin to assess the impact of the campaign by homosexual persons for their full rights in society and church, we enter complicated ground. For this movement came after the civil rights movement and alongside the feminist movement and at first it claimed for its constituency similar rights claimed by blacks and women. However, it reached its greatest power as a movement when the feminist movement was decreasing in energy and influence. So it has occupied center-stage, as it were, in the last decade, and especially so in the Episcopal Church. Apparently it targeted this liberal Church which it believed could be re-shaped quickly and easily to give full rights to persons of homosexual orientation. And those claimed rights have grown as the years have gone by and now they include not only recognition of sexual orientation as a real and virtually fixed thing, but also the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of homosexual persons who are not celibate.
What the Griswold team has actually attempted to do is to provide, after the fact, a specifically religious and biblical basis for the full claims of Christian members of the homosexual movement. That is, knowing what are the full claims and rights of homosexual persons in 2005, it could be said that the team (under pressure to provide a sure word to the Anglican world) has searched the Bible and other Christian sources (e.g., the 1979 Prayer Book), in order to discover there a basis or theological justification for what they believe God has already shown to be his will in the daily experiences of homosexual persons in the Church.
What, I think, is reasonably certain is that without there being a strong homosexual movement in nation and church, no group of scholars in studying the Bible independently would have found therein a justification of the doctrine of the holiness of covenanted same-sex couples and the rights of such to be called to high office in the Church. So, like the question of the ordination of women, the use of the Bible is highly controversial for it is not clear whether, on the one hand, what is desired to be there is then found there, or whether, on the other hand, what is desired to be found there is actually, really and truly there, for all to see. My hunch is that the use of Scripture by the team is such as to suggest to most reasonable persons that no justification in Scripture exists but that the team found one all the same, for they were intent on finding one (in all sincerity) to buttress what they believed they had already learned from “experience”!
Without external pressure to come up with an innovatory doctrine, I suggest that it is most likely that serious study of the Bible pursued in an objective way by a team of educated persons would find that (a) God created man and woman, male and female, and willed that in their union as one flesh in holy matrimony for life they would reflect his image and likeness; (b) that procreation, companionship and creating a godly family are the purposes of marriage; (c) that chastity is required of all who are not married; (d) that fornication, adultery and sexual relations between persons of the same sex are all contrary to God’s will and are sinful; and (e) that God’s grace and mercy are available to help all his children live in purity, obedience and true liberty.
THE INDUCTIVE METHOD IN THEOLOGY
The most common method of doing theology over the centuries until the modern era has been what may be called “the deductive method.” Here the clear statements of Holy Scripture are seen as propositional statements, that is meaningful statements of God’s truth, revealed by him. From these clear statements, especially where there are many of them, deductions are made in order to know what is the will of God. And, of course, the traditional Christian opposition to same-sex relations is based upon both the deductions made from the clear statements concerning marriage between a man and women becoming one flesh, and the clear statements of the condemnation of sodomy.
Since the beginning of the nineteenth century, another method of doing theology has gained ground and it has become the dominant one in the liberal Churches of the West and in the old-line and main-line Churches of America. This is the inductive method which speaks of God from the side of humankind. It takes the Scriptures to contain a description of the religious experience of the Israelites, Jews, of Jesus, of the apostles and evangelists and the early Church. Thus the Bible contains the data from which the theologian is to begin his study and reflections, his exegesis and interpretation. This data is unique but it is nevertheless the data of religious experience, and it is not seen as the actual and real words of God in the words of men. At best, it is the Word of God mediated through the religious experience of ancient people. [See further for details of different types of contemporary theology Peter Toon, The End of Liberal Theology, Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois, 1995.]
The data of religious experience in the Bible is then joined to the data of religious experience from the history of the Church and especially from the recent and contemporary experience of the Church. And from this data, conclusions are arrived at by the use of the inductive method as to who and what is God, who and what is Christ, who and what is the Spirit of God, what is salvation, what is holiness, what is the Church, and so on.
The Roman Catholic theologian Bernard Lonergan explained the difference between the deductive and the empirical method in these words:
Theology was a deductive science in the sense that its theses were conclusions to be proven by the premises provided by Scripture and Tradition. It has become an empirical science in the sense that Scripture and Tradition now supply not premises but data. This data has to be viewed in its historical perspective. It has to be interpreted in the light of contemporary techniques and procedures. When, before the step from premises to conclusions was brief, simple, and certain, today the steps from data to interpretation are long, arduous, and, at best, probable. [“Theology in its New Context” in Second Collection, London, 1974, p.58.]
There is no doubt at all that the team is committed in general terms to the inductive method, but in a more radical way than Lonergan. This is not surprising since the major seminaries of the Episcopal Church have taken this approach for granted for many years.
The German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher pioneered this inductive method of theology from his chair of theology in the new University of Berlin in the early nineteenth century. Schleiermacher taught that religious consciousness is truly consciousness of something so much beyond itself that the human subject feels himself to be utterly dependent on the other Reality. So, while the theologian is to start from human consciousness he is not to end there. Peter Berger wrote:
The core of the inductive model is, quite simply, the assertion that a particular type of human experience defines the phenomenon called religion. The experience can be defined and analyzed. Any theoretical reflection about religion (including the theoretical enterprise of theology) must begin with religious experience (so that, for theology, the unavoidable procedure is to go from the human to the metahuman, and not in the reverse direction. [The Heretical Imperative, Garden City, 1979, p.135.]
As we look back over the decades from the end of Word War II, we can see how the use of the inductive method has allowed the liberal denominations of the West to arrive at conclusions which their own confessions of faith and founding principles oppose and contradict. In the Episcopal Church this inductive approach has even been used with respect to modern liturgy. There has been the oft-repeated cry, lex orandi, lex credendi (the law of praying is the law of believing). Modern theologians and liturgists produce new liturgies to replace those that have been in use for centuries and, having done their work and produced their rites, they call upon church members to use the inductive method to ascertain what it is that the Church is to believe! So the church members come to believe what the “enlightened” liturgists want them to believe.
It is now appropriate to move on to look at the Episcopal Church’s recent history in order to see just how this old-line American denomination became in the twentieth century a near perfect laboratory for the extensive use of the inductive method of using “experience” as the basis for creating new doctrine and morals, new liturgy and polity.
Chapter Four – The Episcopal Church from the 1960s
Both Bishop Griswold and his team make much of the fact that the Episcopal Church has been thinking about same-sex relations for forty years. That is, on the agenda of the General Convention there has been regularly and consistently, in one way or another, the topic of sexuality in its modern forms. An Appendix, which is as long as the team’s essay, appears in the book and it “delineates the formal contents of the debate over these last four decades.” It begins with the General Convention of 1964 and ends with that of 2003. To quote: “This appendix sets forth, from official documents, the evolution of the Episcopal Church’s deliberations on sexuality, from the earliest debates regarding marriage to the dialogues on human sexuality leading to the 74th General Convention in 2003.” In the light of our earlier comments in chapter one on the difference between development and evolution of doctrine, this introductory comment is interesting, to say the least. So also is the further comment that, with respect to the documents produced over this period, “the change in content and language over the years was gradual but always in the same direction.”
FROM 1964 TO 2003
Anyone who reads this presentation of what General Convention, meeting every three years, debated and passed resolutions about will have no doubt but that the Episcopal Church changed its doctrine and ethos. It did move slowly but surely away from a traditional Christian approach to sexuality to what may be called an innovatory and revolutionary approach to sexual relations. And of course in this “progress” it simply moved with the times, as American society also became more tolerant of new forms of sexuality and then supportive of rights for homosexual persons and for same-sex couples. In fact, one way of telling this story would be to say that the Church moved with society and provided a kind of “God” and divine “Love” reference to the secular movement in society. Another way would be to say that the changes in society helped to make the Episcopal Church aware of what is good and true and which may be supported by Christian theology and biblical insights, especially if that theology is using the inductive method and sees the Bible as providing primary but raw data of religious experience.
As the content of the Appendix makes clear, the changes in doctrine and approach in sexuality within the Episcopal Church were both in the doctrine of marriage and in homosexuality. From the 1960s the reality of divorce in American society was accepted within the Church and so it became relatively easy to have a second or third marriage blessed by a priest in a church service. So powerful has this change been that the fact of divorced and re-married clergy and laity is now virtually taken for granted and is rarely mentioned as a problem, less still as wrong. Thus being divorced, or divorced and remarried, is no barrier to high office in the Church, as a study of the marital state of Episcopal clergy would reveal. Further, as noted in earlier chapters, the purpose of marriage was declared in the 1970s to be first of all that of companionship, with procreation being optional as a purpose, and this has assisted in the acceptance of the divorce and contraceptive cultures. African bishops, amongst whose clergy there is normally to be found no divorced and remarried clergy, find it difficult to understand why there is so much divorce and remarriage, not least amongst those who claim to be “orthodox” in doctrine.
There seems little doubt but that the changes in the doctrine of marriage helped the calls for full rights for homosexual persons both in state and church. For if the Episcopal Church changes its position (which was the historic Anglican and Western Christian position) on re-marriage in church after divorce, then it surely encourages people to think that it can also change its position on the reception and treatment of homosexual persons, who are seeking to live in a covenanted same-sex union. Further, if the same Church elevates companionship with sexual fulfillment as a primary purpose of marriage, then it encourages homosexual persons to think that their same-sex affection and fulfillment should be accepted and blessed by the Church also.
ARE THE “ORTHODOX” OF ECUSA THE INCONSISTENT ONES?
We are all aware that since World War II there have been many changes or developments within the Anglican and Episcopal Churches in the West. In North America, in particular, these have been continuous and consistent.
Looking back, one can see that a decision was made, or a route was adopted, at the beginning of the second half of the twentieth century by the Episcopal Church in the USA to become relevant within, and acceptable to, the changing culture and then to “the spirit of the 1960s.” From this, which was as much being caught up in the wind of change as making a decision to take a new path, has come a whole series of innovations and changes in the worship, doctrine, discipline, morality and polity of the Episcopal Church.
Protests have been made from time to time before, during and after each innovation by the would-be faithful membership; but, usually, the protestors have eventually accepted the latest innovation, saying that they were determined to resist the next one – only to accept this eventually after much pain, protest and pressure. At the same time, some people have voted with their feet and departed (so the membership of the Church has dropped by as much as 66 per cent since the high point in the mid-1960s, while the population of the country has since the 1960s much increased).
However, it would appear that resistance to the homosexual agenda of recent years is rather more sustained and widespread than earlier resistance to different innovations. Is this spirited effort like the final kick of a dying horse or like the coming into activity of a sleeping giant?
The progression of innovations, changes and revisions, is relatively simple to plot from the middle to the end of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. Here are some of them:
1. The changing emphases and curriculum in the seminaries which produced a new kind of priest (less the “man of God” and more the “religious man of the world”);
2. The acceptance of remarriage in church after divorce;
3. The imposition of a new prayer book, which though a Book of Varied Services was dishonestly called “The Book of Common Prayer;”
4. The setting aside of the classic formularies, that is the historic Book of Common Prayer, the Articles of Religion and the Ordinal;
5. The introduction of a new hymn-book with inclusive language.
6. The advent of the “You-God,” and the attempt to dethrone the “Thou/Thee God;”
7. The arrival of the feminist agenda with the ordination of women, the use of inclusive language for human beings and significantly also for God;
8. The mandating of the acceptance by office-holders of women as priests.
9. The acceptance of much of the human rights’ agenda such as the granting of full rights to actively homosexual persons and the blessing of same-sex unions;
10. The changed function of a Bishop from that of Chief Pastor to that of CEO and Chief Liturgical Officer.
It is important to see the relations and connections between the various innovations. Without (a) the use of the inductive method in theology, (b) the acceptance of the human rights philosophy and agenda, (c) the influence of psychotherapy and the pursuit of self-worth and human dignity programs, (d) the adoption of the peace and justice movement from the 1960s, and (e) the arrival of the divorce culture in the ECUSA, there would have been little basis on which the homosexual agenda could have planted its seeds and grown steadily over the years and then had its great successes in 2003 at the General Convention. After all, to put it simply, if heterosexual persons have the right to fulfillment of their feelings, and the right to be true to their orientation in serial monogamy blessed by ECUSA priests, why cannot the homosexual person have the same rights and opportunities to experience and fulfill his/her own orientation?
Here, to be fair, we may note that the intense (and, in some cases, costly) protest today by the small group in the Episcopal Church who use the word “orthodox” of themselves, against the agenda of the progressives (or “revisionists”) is judged by some, who have been previously scarred in battle within the Episcopal Church, to have little credibility. This judgment by “extra-mural Anglicans” is made on the basis that those who call themselves “orthodox” usually accept in practice several of the innovations of the second half of the twentieth century – e.g., the new formularies of 1979 contained in the new “Book of Common Prayer” of 1979 (which acceptance includes the rejection of the historic Formularies of the Anglican Way), the ordination of women as true to biblical data, and the remarriage of divorcees in church (with few questions asked). That is, they choose which of the results of the use of inductive theology from “experience” that they like and they reject others which they do not like. A more consistent line would be to reject all innovations that are based on a theology of experience. (See further, Louis R. Tarsitano & Peter Toon, Neither Orthodoxy Nor A Formulary. The Shape and Content of the 1979 Prayer Book, Prayer Book Society, Philadelphia, 2004.)
Further, a strong case can be made that the same type of exegesis and interpretation of sacred Scripture, which makes it possible to claim that serial monogamy and the ordination of women is approved by God, also can be put at the service of showing that long-term unions of same-sex couples is not contrary to Scripture and tradition, when they are rightly understood and interpreted.
Therefore, it may be claimed – perhaps to the amazement of the “orthodox remnant” within the Episcopal Church – that logic and justice would seem to be on the side of the “progressives,” for they have been consistent since the 1950s both in their adoption of modern ideologies and culture and in deliberate changing of Church doctrine and practice to conform to modern standards and mores. Their consistency owes much to their use of the inductive method and the treating of both biblical data and data from the modern scene as the raw material from which to create what they hope is a relevant and attractive theology for persons living in modern, western culture.
Therefore, it would appear that for the “orthodox” to be consistent and truly have a platform from which to oppose the homosexual agenda with integrity, they need to be prepared to go back, as it were, behind all the innovations of the second half of the twentieth century, to recapture the authority of Scripture and a right way of reading it, and also restore the Formularies, The Book of Common Prayer, Ordinal and Articles as the guide to worship, doctrine and discipline. With this recovery of their roots, they will need also to look critically at the way they do theology and the way they use and create modern liturgies. For as long as they challenge the progressives from within the arena of the actual innovations and theological methodology that they share in common, their credibility and voice are muted; and further, they appear to involved in a lost cause. In fact, it is possible that without the strong support of overseas bishops, they would already have ceased to protest.
With this general background, we are possibly now prepared to examine the reasons supplied by the team for the actual consecration of Gene Robinson in New Hampshire and to judge whether these reasons have any weight and power.
Chapter Five – The Bishop of New Hampshire
With the possible exception of the name of the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Frank Griswold, no other name of an American Episcopalian is so well known not only in the USA but around the world as that of Gene Robinson, the homosexual Bishop of New Hampshire. He has been heard on radio, seen on TV, featured in magazines and newspapers and treated as a celebrity by the media. Because of his election and then consecration as a Bishop, the Episcopal Church received more publicity in 2003 and 2004 than it had done for many years before. And it may be said that the Episcopal Church has spent much time and energy, as well as dollars and cents, in defending and explaining its action in the consecration of this divorced man, living now in a same-sex partnership, as the bishop of a diocese. The essay, To Set Our Hope on Christ, is the most recent and sophisticated attempt to explain and justify this innovation of the consecration of a homosexual person, openly living in a covenanted, same-sex union.
In order to explain and justify the consecration of Gene Robinson in 2003, the team provides both a theology of ordination (based on the ordination services in the 1979 Prayer Book) and an explanation of the steps required by the canon law of the Episcopal Church for a person to move from being elected in a diocesan convention, to being approved by a majority of dioceses in the Church, and to being consecrated as bishop. This is done in an orderly and careful way in order to show that in the case of Gene Robinson everything was done according to the rules and doctrine of the Church; further, the fact that it was so done, requires us, it is suggested, to assume in charity that this man is both called of God and accepted by the Church and is therefore truly a bishop of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
WHY WAS HE CHOSEN?
The team seeks to explain how it was that a divorced man, living in a same-sex union, was fitted theologically and morally for the vocation of a bishop. Their story is that he was seen as passing all the basic tests and getting the approval of all who were required to make their mind known. Here are the tests.
First of all, “the people of God, in the power of the Holy Spirit, discern God’s call in those in whom they recognize the charism of true, faithful, and, if need be, costly witness to the power of the Lord’s death and resurrection. Such witnesses are notably marked by a deep and continuing conversion to God’s purposes ... and by a gentleness, kindness and humility that corresponds to the way of Christ.” [4.3]
Secondly, “the electing community must be able to discern in a candidate for Episcopal ministry an authentic obedience to the love of Christ and a capacity to point ... not to the candidate’s own self but to Christ at work in the full power of his sacrificial holiness.” [4.6]
Thirdly, “discerning a candidate’s capacity to lead the flock of Christ into Christ’s own holiness is, because of the particular needs and conditions of every local community, the necessary task of the local community under the guidance of God the Holy Spirit.” [4.9]
Fourthly, there is no single standard or expression of holiness and thus that for New Hampshire is not necessarily the same as that for Texas. “The particular form in which Christ’s holiness embodies itself in every concrete situation must necessarily be diverse if it is to be real for each local community.... What must be universal, however, is each community’s fidelity to the lordship of Christ and his holiness, and unfailing obedience to God the Holy Spirit who guides the community in recognizing how the Lord’s holiness must come to full actualization in their life together for the sake of the world.” [4.11]
The team also faced the question as to how this particular Bishop of New Hampshire can be seen as a bishop of the whole Church, when his consecration was opposed by so many. Its answer is found in paragraphs 4.12 to 4.16 of the essay. In short, they argue from Scripture and Church history that at no time was it required that any bishop should require the votes of all bishops and all provinces. “Even with increased institutional concentration, east and west, at no time was it held that all bishops had to give consent to a particular Episcopal election.” [4.14] Also the team points out that there is, as yet, no agreement in the Anglican Communion as to the acceptability of women bishops or on whether divorce and remarriage prohibit eligibility, but yet there are both women bishops and divorced and remarried bishops. Yet there is little or no protest over them.
However, what it significantly does not do is face head on the question as to why the consecration of Gene Robinson was not postponed or delayed when virtually all the provinces and leaders of the Anglican Communion asked that it should be. From other sources we know that the point was often made that the Episcopal Church is an autonomous province, that it kept meticulously to its rules for the electing of a bishop, and that it was deeply engaged in discernment and prayer in this whole process and was thus led by God; and, finally, being led by God, it is claimed, is more important than being pressurized by conservative Anglicans worldwide.
Further, the team makes bold to take the initiative and high ground by describing the unity sought by the Anglican family as “unity-in-difference” and by defining this kind of unity as “expressed by openness in dialogue, by attentiveness to the particularity of people, times and places, by acceptance of interdependence ... and by honoring plurality and diversity as gifts of God.” [4.17]. On this kind of basis, “the Episcopal election in New Hampshire is offered up to the whole Church for its consideration in this very spirit of communion by which the Anglican churches have always been bound together in diversity. We recognize our disagreements here but walk together in love, in hope that the processes of discernment might be furthered thereby, for the sake of our common mission to bring God’s love to the world.” [4.17] And the team also states:
The election of the Bishop of New Hampshire ... is certainly not meant to in any way to signal an interruption of communion with the wider Church or lack of concern for the Church’s greater good. We believe that God takes our differences, which the world would quickly harden into divisions, and embraces them by the power of Christ and the Spirit within those blessed differences-in-relation of the Divine Persons; in this way the Church’s life of conversion and difference may become every more fully a sharing in the blessed communion which is the life of God the Holy Trinity. [4.19]
Here we have reached the summit of possibilities, for the unity-in-difference in the Anglican family is being directly related to the perfection of the infinite and eternal relations of order within the Triune God. This is daring and, I would judge, probably irreverent!
I think that it will be reasonably clear to any fair-minded observer that Robinson was elected and consecrated in accordance with the official rules of his Church. But, even so, why did the clergy and laity vote for him? The theology guiding his progress to acceptance was the dominant practical theology of the vocal majority in the Church, wherein the belief that God is Love and Love is God is dominant. Note, in the quotation above, the words, “our common mission to bring God’s love [his inclusive love] to the world.”
I speak of practical theology rather than official doctrine for the theology that guides most Episcopal bishops and priests is clearly not identical with the doctrines in the Constitution of the [Protestant] Episcopal Church of the USA and in its tradition of doctrine since its origins in 1789, as found, for example, in the editions of its Prayer Book in 1892 and 1928. Put simply, this modern practical theology is that God’s nature and character are Love and that all love in the world is of God; that the Gospel is good news of inclusion in his family of all types and kinds of people, just as they are, within God’s embrace of love; the Church is committed to working for justice and peace in the world, which are the fruit of love; holiness of life can be known in all kinds of loving, faithful relationships; and that the Episcopal Church is to display in its comprehensive membership, “unity-in-difference.”
Conservative critics describe this type of practical theology as relativism for it seems to have no absolute norms or standards by which to declare and to teach what is the holiness of the Church and its members. The basic criterion seems to be love, love as it is known in human experience and description. God as Love is described in this light, and so the possibility that God is truly Love and yet in his Love he forbids same-sex relations is not even considered as a possibility. Love affirms, includes, establishes, authenticates and blesses and since God is Love then this is how he is and acts toward all people, just as they are. Thus practical holiness is living in a way that is in accord with how God lives and acts; it is imitating how he is seen to be in his relations with humankind.
THE CONSECRATION AND THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION
The Anglican Communion has thirty-eight member Churches (Provinces) and each one is autonomous and self-governing. There is no central authority which has the power to tell any or all provinces what to believe, teach, confess and do. Thus the Episcopal Church of the USA is not subject to any synod or meeting or patriarchal bishop outside its own borders. However, it may choose to accept fraternal advice and correction from other provinces and churches.
While the unity of the Anglican Communion is based upon historical ties, common heritage, mutual affection, and voluntary association, there are in place what are called “Instruments of Unity,” by which support for staying in healthy fellowship one with another is supplied. These four “Instruments” are the See of Canterbury with its Archbishop, the Lambeth Conference of Bishops (meeting every ten years); the Anglican Consultative Council (containing representatives from all Provinces and meeting every two years); and the Primates’ Meeting (Archbishops and Presiding Bishops of the Provinces meeting annually).
The charge made against the Episcopal Church both by some of its own members and very definitely by leaders of overseas Provinces is that in proceeding to the consecration of Gene Robinson, the Episcopal Church and its Presiding Bishop, did not take seriously the fraternal advice and exhortations offered by the “Instruments of Unity.” That is, they knowingly and deliberately paid no heed to the repeated message from abroad that to go ahead with this consecration was wholly contrary to the mind of the Communion, was to contradict the doctrine approved by the Lambeth Conference in 1998 and confirmed by the other “Instruments,” and was also to cause schism, long-term problems, and pain in the Anglican Communion.
There was no accusation that the Episcopal Church had not carefully followed its own rules in this matter. Rather the charge was that the Church had deliberately chosen to exercise its autonomy to the full by refusing to listen to the most urgent and serious messages sent to it by other Provinces, the Primates’ Meeting and by the Archbishop of Canterbury himself. At the least, the consecration itself could have been delayed or postponed, but the Presiding Bishop as the chief consecrator decided it would go ahead; and, when it did so, in the judgment of many, it was in a triumphal manner. The impression was given that the Episcopal Church believed that it was pioneering a new advanced form of Anglicanism and intended to declare this to the world, whatever the consequences.
We may note that the “Instruments of Unity” had certainly agreed that it was right and proper for the member Churches to listen to the experience of homosexual persons within the Churches and their relation to God himself. At the same time, it was clearly understood that this listening and dialogue were to be within the context of the content of resolution 1.10 of the Lambeth Conference of 1998. This states that active, sexual relations are only acceptable to God within the marriage of a man and woman; that homosexual relations are incompatible with scriptural norms; that legitimizing or blessing of same-sex unions, and the ordaining of those within such partnerships, is wrong. In other words, the listening to the stories from homosexual persons and their supporters, was to precede (not follow) any possible changes in doctrine, practice or ceremony in the Churches.
The consequences of the refusal by the Episcopal Church to conform to these basic rules and arrogantly to pursue its own path, are beginning to be seen and felt in 2005. There is exclusion from membership of the Anglican Consultative Council; many bishops overseas have declared themselves out of Eucharistic communion with bishops in the Episcopal Church; some overseas bishops see the USA as now missionary territory for establishing Anglican churches wholly separate from the Episcopal Church; parishes are leaving the Episcopal Church to join the Anglican Mission in America under the general guidance of the Archbishop of Rwanda, or to come under the pastoral care of other Anglican archbishops and bishops abroad; and groups within the Episcopal Church (e.g., the Anglican Communion Network) are actively preparing for the possible establishment of a new Anglican province on US soil after the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 2006. And, if the content of To Set Our Hope on Christ truly indicates where the leadership of the Episcopal Church is, then there is probably no likelihood of any reversal of policy and doctrine at the General Convention in 2006, and thus this possibility of a new province is neither fanciful nor remote.
WHAT IS HOLINESS?
The Old Testament makes it more than clear that the God of Abraham, Moses and David, is holy, radiantly, and infinitely pure, and wholly separate in his essence and being from all creatures. Yet, even with such a transcendent presentation of his holiness, this living God calls upon his elect people to be holy even as he is holy. And his only-begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, taught his disciples to pray, “Hallowed be thy Name.”
For those raised in a traditional form of Christianity, be it Protestant, Anglican, or Catholic, holiness of life is usually seen in terms of consecration, devotion, and dedication to God, reverence and love for him, the cultivation of the fruit of the Spirit in one’s life, the keeping of the disciplines of prayer, meditation, and worship, the sharing in fellowship with fellow Christians, the loving of others, and the maintaining of one’s body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, as one seeks in daily living to be “the salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” In terms of sexual holiness and the keeping of the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, holiness is seen in terms of chastity and purity, with sexual intimacies and intercourse reserved only for those who are married, joined as one flesh before God. For this traditional approach to holiness of life any form of fornication or adultery is sinful, as is also any form of active homosexual or Lesbian intimacy. Temptation to do such things is not sinful in itself if it is resisted in mind, heart, and will; but the actual doing of such things causes one to lose one’s communion with God until there has been appropriate repentance and putting things right before him and with others.
When someone who has thought of practical holiness in such terms reads or hears that people of the same sex, living in actively sexual unions, display holiness of life both in their partnership and in the way they relate to others in the church and world, he is amazed and shocked. This is why there has been such a strong reaction world-wide amongst Bible-based Episcopalians and Anglicans to the claims made for Gene Robinson and others. To be told that homosexual persons have rights to be themselves and to express themselves as long as they do no active harm to others is one thing, for it is acknowledged that the doctrine of human rights as a secular theme has been accepted by most western governments. However, to read, as in this essay that we are considering, the following statements, is to be shocked, very shocked indeed:
The Lord has opened our eyes to see in our very midst: the gifts and fruit of the Spirit in the lives of our members of same-sex affection. [1.4]
These exclusive, life-long, unions of fidelity and care for each other have been experienced as holy. These unions have evidenced the fruit of the Spirit.... More specifically, members of our congregations have seen the fruit of such unions as sanctifying human lives by deepening mutual love and by drawing persons together in fidelity and in service to the world. [2.1]
Their holiness stands in stark contrast with many sinful patterns of sexuality in the world. [2.1]
Christians of same-sex affection in the Episcopal Church have shown themselves entirely at one with their fellow Christians in rejecting ... sinful expressions of sexuality and in seeking to live, in common with all Christians, lives blessed by the transforming power of Christ. [2.1]
I recall evening meetings at several General Conventions in the 1990s where testimonies were heard from homosexual persons of how they believed God was leading them and blessing them in their personal lives and also in their partnerships with same-sex lovers. These meetings were for the purpose of gaining support for resolutions to be debated in the Convention.
There is no doubt whatsoever that what is being claimed by the team is something that has never been claimed before as authentic Christian doctrine in the Ecclesia Anglicana and in the Anglican Communion of Churches. Indeed, it has never been claimed before in any branch or part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
Epilogue: – To set our hope on Christ
The title of the Griswold essay is based on 1 Peter 1:3, which the Presiding Bishop quotes at the beginning of his Foreword to the essay. Here, in closing this response to the essay, I wish to reflect upon this text and the longer sentence of which it is part.
I must confess that I am not wholly sure why 1 Peter 1:3 is quoted and why the title, To Set Our Hope on Christ, was chosen for the essay. My guess is that it is meant to convey the fact that in what we call the resurrection of Jesus, a new, life-giving spirit of and from God was, as it were, released into the world in order to form a “new community.” In this community of inclusiveness of Jew and Gentile there is place and hope for all persons of every orientation and type to reach their full potential and maturity as God calls them to be his children, just as they are.
What now follows is my brief exposition and comment on the text, which presents a powerful statement of hope for those who, born from above by the Holy Spirit, trust in the Lord Jesus and walk in his ways..
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3–5, ESV)
The ascription and offering of praise to God is common in the Old Testament. Here Peter the converted Jew, ascribed praise to God, but most definitely calls him by the Name that was only known after the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnate Son of God. “The God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ” is praised and it is to be noted that the Son of God is called “our Lord Jesus Christ,” our Lord, our Christ, and our Savior. Praise is a unique form of prayer. When we praise God we do not look for anything in return; we praise him simply because he is wholly and truly wonderful, glorious, and praiseworthy as our God, Creator, Judge, Redeemer, and Father.
God the Father is also the God of mercy and grace. He has come to us and met us in our great need, not because we deserved his coming to us, but because he loves us with an everlasting love and is full of mercy towards his creatures.
What then in this great mercy has God done for us? He has caused us, by his will and through his power and by his Spirit, to be born again. This is not a second birth from our mother’s womb, but is a birth from above, effected by the presence of the Holy Spirit. It brings into the soul the beginnings of new life, the life of the kingdom of God of the glorious age to come. Of this internal spiritual birth, baptism in water is normally the visible, external sign.
When we are born, we are born into the world, but when we are born again of the Spirit, we are born into a living hope, into the eager and confident expectation of the life of the age to come, the life of heaven. It is a living hope for it strengthens and matures as we grow in the grace and knowledge of God the Father and his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and as we contemplate the eternal City of God.
On what basis does God the Father cause us to be born again and to be given living hope? There is only one answer and it is “the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” The rising from the dead by Jesus in his new resurrection body of glory on Easter morning is God’s acceptance of his sacrifice for the sins of the world. And therefore, through and in Jesus Christ, those who are united to him by faith and in the Holy Spirit, are given a share in his risen life, with the promise of a body like unto his glorious resurrection body.
The object of the living, maturing hope of Christians on earth is “to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading.” Their inheritance is in the new creation and in the new Jerusalem and is not subject (a) to decay or being worn out; (b) to being stained by sin, evil, and imperfections; and (c) to withering, growing dim, or losing its beauty.
This marvelous inheritance is “kept in heaven for you.” God has reserved this and it will surely be there waiting for the ones whose names are printed upon it. It will never be denied those for whom it waits, for it is “for you.”
But if persecution, trials, and tribulations come our way, shall we be able to remain faithful to Jesus Christ? Yes! Because, you “are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” God the Father is protecting believers from attack and from straying from his kingdom of grace. As they look to him, trust his promises, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, he leads them onwards in their pilgrimage toward the heavenly goal, to the fullness of salvation and redemption, when in resurrected bodies they will fully partake of the privileges and blessings of the life of the age to come in the bliss and perfections of the City of God.
If we continue to read chapter one, we see that the living hope is intimately connected to holiness (1:13–16) on earth in preparation for life in heaven. The Christian believers are to set their hope fully on the grace that will be brought to them at the revelation of Jesus Christ [in his Second Coming in glory to judge the living and the dead]. Meanwhile, living by this maturing hope, you are “not to be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’.” Holiness has two aspects. It is on the one side separation from the world and its sins and evil, and, on the other side, and more importantly, a separation unto God, to his grace and mercy, and to do his will. It is of note that Paul calls Christians by the name of “saints”, meaning the separated ones, and Peter himself refers to the church of God as “a holy nation” (2:9).
The Church is certainly called by God to be in the world, but it is certainly not to be of the world, even though it is present in the world for its good, to be therein the salt and the light of the world. The Church holds its membership not in any earthly kingdom but in the heavenly Jerusalem; and so in this world it is a pilgrim people, whose way of life is directed from Christ above, to whom it looks steadfastly as it journeys faithfully and joyously toward him. The Church of God is a holy nation set amidst the secular nations of the world and if it loses this holiness of godly separation and consecration then it loses its aim and purpose.
As one reads through the five chapters of 1 Peter, it is most difficult to imagine or conceive that the writer of this Epistle would be able to recognize Christian, Gospel holiness (in terms of separation from sin and unto the service of God) as possible in same-sex unions, even when they are, by earthly standards, faithful and loving. Further, bearing in mind what he has to say about elders in the church as shepherds of the flock of Christ (5:1–5), it is difficult to conceive that the apostle could tolerate the idea of a divorced man, living in a same-sex union with another man, as a possible candidate to be a pastor or shepherd of the flock of Christ, and providing a holy example to that flock, for whom Christ shed his precious blood.
If 1 Peter is read as containing clear and true statements about the Christian Faith made by God through his servant, Peter, and that these propositions are as true today as they were in the first century, then one has to conclude that the whole purpose and enterprise of presenting and justifying same-sex unions and the ordination of persons from them as priests and bishops is not only wrong, but also, I fear, runs the possible risk of being blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, who is the Spirit of Christ and of his truth.
So I close by an appeal to the members of the team, and their leader, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. I ask them, as persons whose hope is on Christ Jesus, the Lord, to reconsider what they have written and to listen again to the Scriptures, but this time as truly the Word of God written, rather than the data of very important religious experience. I ask them to look again at the biblical portrayal and call for holiness in God’s Church and also to be prepared to accept that chastity, though an unpopular virtue, may be one that God loves to see in his baptized children, whatever their sex and orientation. I urge them to treat their homosexual sisters and brothers with great respect and care, but at the same time to put it to them that God’s call to holiness means that they are called by the Gospel to live, with his gracious help and guidance, in chastity and celibacy, looking for their reward in heaven, which is truly the wonderful goal of the living hope that we have through Jesus Christ our Savior. After all, we are pilgrims and sojourners on earth and our real and true home is with the Lord Jesus, the saints and the angels in heaven. Finally, I ask them to love and respect their “orthodox” brethren whose criticism of homosexual persons has sometimes been harsh and lacking in graciousness and kindness, emanating, I suspect, from gut feelings and not from born-again hearts.
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