THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 140
Another gay bishop?
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The inclusion of an openly gay candidate for the post of Bishop in Chicago may be the final trigger to see the schism recognised and implemented. There is no certainty that the Very Rev Tracey Lind (who is a lesbian and living with her partner) will be elected (out of five nominees) to be a bishop. But that is not the point. The point is that The Episcopal Church in America (TEC) has been sitting on the lid of what the bulk of parishioners want to do - to include gay people into the full range of appointments in their church. That lid is going to be blown off sooner or later - if it is not removed officially by the Church hierarchy beforehand.
So what does this mean for those evangelical churches that cannot abide homosexuality and think it goes against all that is sacred? Well, it will confirm to them that there is no hope that the Episcopal Church is going to change track and give the required assurance that it will not appoint any more gay bishops. On the other had, do you really think that the Global South churches seriously think that the Episcopal Church might change track? Or, for that matter, that they have ever thought that they would change track? Surely they are not that naïve! Surely they recognised from the start that what they were asking the Episcopal Church to do was as impossible for the TEC as it would be for the Global South churches to give up their opposition to gay bishops.
So we have to look deeper - beneath the surface. What is this dispute really about? Well, certainly the Global South Church have a fundamental belief in the inerrancy of scripture and all that goes with that approach to Christianity. They believe that scripture forbids homosexuality. It is not really surprising that their understanding of scripture and complete conviction about the importance of scripture (leading in some to a lack of tolerance of other biblical views) pushed them to choose homosexuality as the reason for creating a huge wave of rebellion in the Anglican Communion.
But, of course, it was not just biblical disagreement, or even dispute about the authority of the bible, that is at the bottom of this split. There are many factors including cultural crisis, a desire to completely emancipate themselves from past colonial shackles, a failure to find the way to share power in the global Anglican Communion and, no doubt, personal power politics. I am sure that others could add to the list.
In addition to the advent of a possible lesbian bishop, the Global South have also to stomach the next move by Rt Rev Gene Robinson - plans to enter into a civil partnership with his partner on a weekend just before the Lambeth Conference next year. This is rather rubbing the faces of the Global South prelates in it! Indeed, it may well strengthen the resolve of evangelicals all over the world to resist the acceptance of gay Christians in the church. I am not criticising the decision or the date - but let us recognise that these two events - Rev Tracey Lind and the civil partnership of Bishop Gene Robinson - these two events will sharpen the battle that is going to be played out both prior to the Lambeth Conference and at that conference, if it happens.
So is there still any chance at all for the healing of the breach in the Anglican Communion that is already de facto?
Miracles can always happen - and sometimes do! But the odds, humanly speaking, seem somewhat slim. In view of which it is perhaps time to start asking what happens next? That is - after schism has been accepted as having happened by all concerned. So far it is a fact that schism has happened - once a church breaks off fellowship with another church that is schism - but it has not been accepted as irrevocable by all. My guess is that the next few months will see that situation change - we are all going to be clearer and more sure that schism in the Anglican Communion is an accepted fact of life.
So we have to ask - what will happen next? That depends on how the schism happens - will the Global South churches set up an alternative Anglican Communion? That is, try to preserve their Anglican roots. Or will they opt out completely and form their own international group under some associated name? Could they try to censure and isolate the Church of England? However the parting is effected, how would that event impact local churches - for example the Church of England?
The Church of England has many gay priests. Some of its bishops are pro-gay people, some are anti-gay. There are those (perhaps mostly in the evangelical wing of the church) that are vehemently opposed to homosexuality. That section also has financial clout. They hold much the same opinions and objections as the Global South churches. They would hold the same opinion as the Bishop of Mthatha (in South Africa) - the Rt Rev Sitembele Mzamane - who said very recently there is no such thing as a homosexual orientation - it is just sin.
So are the very different factions within the Church of England going to be able to tolerate each other? Even if they do agree to live together in the same Church, does that mean a form of war will be going on just beneath the surface as each side struggles for power and influence? Will one section (comprising either the evangelicals or the gay-accepting churches in the Church of England) segregate itself with flying bishops or the equivalent?
Who knows! What we do know is that the genius of the Anglican Church through centuries has been the toleration of diversity within its ranks. That tolerance has been sorely strained by the present dispute but there is still time for all sides to take a long look at the subject - especially in the light of the social and legal acceptance of homosexuality in many countries.
Please note that I am not arguing here that the church should shoulder itself with what is conventionally accepted. There have been, are and always will be times when Christians have to stand out against society and witness to it that its values are wrong. However, it is wise to pause and reflect on the great change in thinking that has taken place over the last few decades in this country. Has this been entirely without any scientific basis? And, if there is a true scientific basis for such a thing as homosexual orientation, then what is God’s mind for those who are gay?
The possibility takes us back to one of the basic inconsistencies in this whole debate in the Anglican Communion about homosexuality. Great store is set by many evangelicals on the fact that the 1998 Lambeth Conference passed a resolution that said that homosexuality is inconsistent with scripture. And here we are arguing about a gay man (and now possibly a gay woman) being made a bishop. But if scripture says that homosexuality is wrong then what about all the priests and others in various offices in the church? If their homosexuality is inconsistent with scripture (according to this interpretation of scripture) then surely they have as little place within the church as gay bishops?
So the complaint that there should not be gay bishops must also apply to any other staff in the Churches.
But then what about the lay members of the churches? Is it all right for them to be gay? If homosexuality is deemed inconsistent with scripture then it surely is as wrong for them as it is for priests or bishops.
But I don’t hear nor have I ever read a suggestion by the Global South churches that the ban should extend to gay priests and to gay parishioners. Why not? Because they know that to enforce such a ban is not only impossible but also, if enforced, the church would become greatly impoverished.
The belief that you can ‘deal with’ homosexuality by rooting out the gay people and banning them is totally misconceived. If you believe on biblical grounds that homosexuality is wrong then the only way to move forward is to accept them, love them, hold up the truth as you see it, and to pray. To try to shut the church door on them is not only stupidly ineffective, it is downright unchristlike.
So, we have one gay bishop and there will be others. Some will be lesbians. And lots of gay priests. And even more gay lay people (if they have not got fed up and gone elsewhere). Lets learn to live alongside each other, not necessarily agreeing with everything we see, but letting the love of God shine through us, illuminating the truth for each other.