Skip to comments.Will Anglican Seperation become Anglican Divorce?
Posted on 10/18/2004 7:02:36 PM PDT by lightman
Will Anglican Separation become Anglican Divorce?
by Kendall Harmon
Anglicanism is in a huge crisis. In a shot fired throughout the globe in Minneapolis in the summer of 2003 the Episcopal Church confirmed the election of a man as bishop who had been living with another man as his companion and lover for over 10 years. A Lambeth Commission report seeking a way forward out of the mess the Americans created is to be released on October 18th in London. How did the third largest Christian family in the world get to this critical point?
Let me suggest four reasons.
The first is theological. If one were to guess based on the bulk of the media coverage of this event over the last year, one would think this is a controversy about sex. Perhaps you know the saying, Americans have sex on the brain, what a strange place to have it, so such a focus in this culture would not be considered surprising. Indeed, superficially it is about sex since the question in dispute is: should people in non-celibate non-marital relationships be considered wholesome examples who can be ordained as Christian leaders?
But sex is only the tip of the iceberg, the real controversy is underneath the water.
This is fundamentally a debate about the interpretation and authority of Scripture. During their once a decade meeting in 1998 at Lambeth, the vast majority of Anglican bishops worldwide rejected "homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture."
At issue are not just a few individual passages, as is often alleged, but the broad structure of the biblical narrative which flows from the primordial couple in the Garden of Eden through the Song of Solomon to the celebration of an undefiled marriage bed in the New Testament. The Bible's positive teaching on marriage is that it is intended by God to be a "one flesh" union which embraces the complementarity of the two sexes. Based on this positive teaching, the Scriptures are also very clear that homosexual behavior is a violation of God's purpose for sex. Even Walter Wink of Auburn Theological Seminary, who favors altering the church's teaching in the area of sexual morality, admits this: "Efforts to twist the text to mean what it clearly does not say are deplorable. Simply put, the Bible is negative toward same-sex behavior, and there is no getting around it."
Yet given that the Bible's clear teaching is against sanctioning this behavior, the Episcopal Church approved of its practice in its highest office, that of bishop. This is seen as the act of a church which is standing over Scripture and rebelling against its authority and direction.
At the next level under the water, this is a dispute about marriage. Traditionally, marriage was understood to have four purposes, communion (joy shared is doubled, sorrow is halved), union (the two shall become one flesh), procreation (be fruitful and multiply), and prevention (marriage was actually understood to prevent sin-when was the last sermon you heard on THAT one?).
A same sex union cannot be unitive, because physically the bodies do not fit together in their design, and it is unable to be procreative. So whatever else you can say about the relationship Gene Robinson of the diocese of New Hampshire is now involved in, it is not marriage. Yet the church has always understood that the only proper context for the expression of sexual intimacy is between a man and a woman who are married to each other. So what, it must be asked, are those claiming the necessity for change asking for? Among themselves there are actually three positions. Some say marriage needs to be shifted, some say we need a new category which is like marriage in some ways but unlike it in others, and others say we need to encourage friendships which may develop a physical side and see what will happen. Incredibly, which of these three positions is actually being argued for, and what exactly we are doing, has not yet been spelled out. These are relationships in search of a theology, and the doctrine of marriage is at stake.
At a third level under the water this dispute is about authority in the church, about who gets to make decisions and how those decisions are made. Anglicanism sees its decision making as focused on councils, whether PCC's, or diocesan synods, or General Synods, or Lambeth meetings, or Primates meetings. The Anglican theologian Richard Hooker believed that council's purpose was to promote peace and stablity, and argued their authority was related to their conformity to the teaching of Holy Scripture and the decisions of previous councils, as well as to the degree to which their decisions were more widely accepted over time.
For a conciliar church, the more important the decision, the more widely you consult. And with regard to the decision in Minneapolis, all four Anglican instruments of unity said that this decision should not be made. Yet we not only made it, but we did so without consulting them, as we promised in our 1991 General Convention to do. Thus the decision is widely perceived as a unilateral and arrogant act of American imperialism.
At the deepest level underneath the iceberg, this debate is really about the message Jesus asked his followers to bring to the world. If you listened closely in Minneapolis, you could hear the will of the God to draw all people to himself through the cross of his Son, being replaced with a new and different message where a therapeutic Jesus embraces people where they are. Episcopalians have embraced a gospel of affirmation, rather than the gospel of salvation and transformation.
No wonder Anglicans have gone through a painful separation throughout the globe. Let us hope that Robin Eames and his Windsor Report will prevent the further tragedy of a divorce.
The Rev. Canon Dr. Kendall S. Harmon is editor of the Anglican Digest, the publication with the largest circulation in the Anglican Communion
I cannot see how the Anglican church can avoid schism. The traditional bishops seem adamant, and the homosexuals didn't provoke this crisis only to back down.
Sadly, I see the Lutheran Church (ELCA) in America following this same path. They are going through a charade of "study," to culminate in a "decision" in Fall of 2005, but the current bishop has already stated that the church "will not let seven verses of scripture" guide the decision.
Most Lutherans appear troubled, but unaware the decision has already been made, and unready to take a stand in any case. Most will go quietly, as most Episcopalians will, but there will be enough who care about scripture to separate themselves from the apostate leadership.
And, as the poster below notes, it is not only an Anglican crisis. The underlying cause lies within almost every Church in some way or another, even if it is isolated for now- as it would seem to be in Eastern Orthodoxy, for example. I do not think anyone can be immune.
The Anglican Communion may well survive *without* the Church of England and ECUSA!
Thank you for this article. Yes, the real issue is the interpretation and authority of Scripture.
It sounds like the apostate Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Methodists now or soon to be "invited" to leave their denominations might do well to make common cause and create their own denomination. It can die in a generation or two or be enfolded in the Unitarian-Universalist Association.
too funny: born of divorce, died of divorce.
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