Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Anglicans, schisms and homosexuality

I was having a read of this article about the latest Anglican shall-we-split-over-homosexuality antics, by NT Wright. I was a little surprised to see him misquote Acts 27:30-31 in the first line (he says "soldiers" when it should be "sailors"). But the article makes for sad reading in general. It seems the schismatics are at it again: In the Anglican church there seems to be a core group who would like nothing better to split their church. It seems to me (as an outside observer) that several of them are out for their own gain and have been quite pleased with the power and influence that stirring up conflict has already brought them, and they can see even more power on the horizon if they manage to split off a faction of the Anglican church and gain full control of it.

What some of this group is doing with the power they already have is deeply disturbing too. Peter Akinola, one of the leaders of the faction, in 2006 responded to Muslim violence against Christians in his country by announcing in his capacity as a Christian leader of Nigeria that "May we at this stage remind our Muslim brothers that they do not have the monopoly of violence in this nation." Eighty Muslims were killed by 'Christians' in a subsequent backlash. I can only wonder why he has not been stripped of his rank and excommunicated from the church for this... He clearly knows nothing of biblical teachings of love, and so his attempts to "correct" others on issues of biblical morality are laughable.

What I do not understand in this debate is the schismatic faction's strength of feeling on this issue. The number of times homosexuality is mentioned in the bible can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Another issue that occurs in the bible about as often - remarriage after divorce being adultery - was recently deemed acceptable by a general Anglican council without remotely the same degree of hue and cry. Apparently it is okay for people to live in committed adulterous relationships and for these to be sanctioned by the church, but it is apparently a matter of church-splitting importance if people live in committed homosexual relationships. I see a double-standard there. This group seems upset over the issue of homosexuality to an extent that is neither justified by the biblical texts nor logically consistent with their strength of feeling on other issues.

Honestly, I can only conclude that they are homophobic, lacking rational motivation for the degree of opposition on the issue but rather seriously affected by their emotions about it. Peter Akinola again comes to mind, as he has led a major movement in Nigeria against homosexuality and attempted to criminalize it. Perhaps someone might think that given the African Aids crisis he was acting out of concern for people and trying to prevent the spread of Aids, yet the statistics show that it is actually amorous heterosexual relationships that are the problem. The issue of homosexuality just seems to be one that gets people emotional in a way that other questions of divorce-and-remarriage don't. Even among non-Christians, I've observed people get far more vocal and have much stronger feelings about homosexuality than about many other issues. Something about it causes people to feel strongly (pro or con) in a way that other seemingly similar issues don't, and to be honest I'm not sure why this is.

As with all issues this one is often clouded by emotion. A lot of people make up their minds before studying the issue carefully and looking at the evidence. I find a lot of those Christians I talk to who feel strongly (pro or con) about the issue have only the tiniest acquaintance with what the bible says on the subject, virtually no grasp of relevant moral philosophical concepts, and little to no skill or training in careful exegesis of biblical passages. It is my experience and observation that, generally speaking, the majority of the most vocal and firm Christian advocates against homosexuality come from a demographic consisting of under-informed laymen. By contrast, the anecdotal evidence that has come to my attention shows that of those who have been through seminaries (and are thus, hopefully, somewhat more intelligent, more expert in exegeting the bible, and better at understanding moral philosophy than the average pew-sitter) the majority think homosexuality is okay. In my own city it seems to be the case that a few parishes contain a small group of people influential within the congregation who have decided to take a stand against homosexuality and they have told the remainder of their congregation that homosexuality is unbiblical and the rest of their congregation has unquestioningly accepted what they have been taught.

I'm a theologian-philosopher who has studied the biblical, exegetical, philosophical and theological issues carefully for years and concluded that homosexuality is definitely okay. (In fact I would go so far as to say that attempting to suppress or condemn homosexuality could be reasonably classed as un-Christian.) Yet time after time in discussion with lay Christians who are convinced the Christian and biblical position is to be against homosexuality (because their Pastor told them so, and pointed to a verse in the bible) I find that they simply know nothing of the issues that need to be considered before coming to any sort of conclusion. Time and again, they have simply believed others who sounded plausible and feel strongly about an issue they know virtually nothing about and are totally unqualified to have an opinion on.

5 Comments:

Blogger Doug Chaplin said...

Ah, but you're forgetting. There are a lot of divorced evangelicals who don't want to go without sex for the rest of their lives. There are comparatively few gay evangelicals, and most of those think they should go without sex as a punishment for having sinful tendencies.

5/2/08  
Blogger Bryan L said...

I'll be honest Andrew I'd like to beleive homosexuality is ok but I don't see any biblical basis for making that step (I've tried to find some).

Maybe you can share your arguments for why you think homosexuality is ok and to call it a sin (condemn) it is unchristian.

Bryan L

5/2/08  
Blogger Peter Kirk said...

there seems to be a core group who would like nothing better to split their church.

I thought you were referring to Jefferts Schori and her cronies, who by their actions are doing their best to force a split. But the core issue is not homosexuality. It is that people like the majority of US Episcopalians have abandoned the core teachings of the church and replaced them by teachings repugnant to the majority, in many different areas.

Apparently it is okay for people to live in committed adulterous relationships and for these to be sanctioned by the church, but it is apparently a matter of church-splitting importance if people live in committed homosexual relationships. I see a double-standard there.

I see a double standard here, but quite the opposite one to the one you see. The church does NOT sanction committed adulterous relationships; clergy who enter them are routinely removed from office, at least here in the Church of England. But, at least unofficially, the church DOES sanction homosexual relationships, committed or otherwise, by promoting clergy in them, in the USA even to the rank of bishop. It seems to me that you are allowing your emotions to get in the way of the facts.

May I ask you, as one "theologian-philosopher who has studied the biblical, exegetical, ... issues carefully for years" to another, do you really believe that Jesus and the apostles considered homosexual activity to be acceptable? If they didn't, why should we?

6/2/08  
Blogger Andrew said...

Doug,
I wasn't forgetting that :) it's just that it's not good logic on the part of those evangelicals.

Bryan,
I'd be happy to write some post(s) about these issues, and will do so in the next few weeks as time permits.

Peter,
I thought you were referring to Jefferts Schori and her cronies, who by their actions are doing their best to force a split.
I'm not Anglican, so I may have missed something important here. But as far as I know the main 'bad' thing she has done is ordain a gay bishop in accordance with the wishes of the majority of those she serves, yes?

people like the majority of US Episcopalians have abandoned the core teachings of the church and replaced them by teachings repugnant to the majority, in many different areas.
Could you be more specific? Many people would argue that I've abandoned the core teachings of the church, and I would argue in return that the church over time throughout history has systematically departed from the core teachings of the early Christians and that we need to return to New Testament Christianity. So please understand that vague accusations of heresy against someone don't hold any weight with me. As far as I can tell, she seems to have a deep concern for the Social Gospel, which is something that has been a focus of many Anglicans for the last century, and which is far more biblical and laudable IMO than the rubbish many conservative evangelicals spout. So in what way is she departing from the teachings of the church?

clergy who enter them are routinely removed from office, at least here in the Church of England.
I was under the impression that divorce and remarriage was now permitted within the Anglican communion. Is that not the case within the hierarchy of the Church of England?

do you really believe that Jesus and the apostles considered homosexual activity to be acceptable?
The answer I wrote for this was so long I’m going to post it as a new post.

6/2/08  
Blogger Peter Kirk said...

But as far as I know the main 'bad' thing [Jefferts Schori] has done is ordain a gay bishop in accordance with the wishes of the majority of those she serves, yes?
Well, maybe it was the wish of the majority, but it was against the doctrine of the church she serves in. The church is not a democracy on matters of doctrine and practice, and I cannot accept that it has the right to be so.
So in what way is she departing from the teachings of the church?
I am not an expert on this, but I understand that the group she represents has effectively rejected the biblical gospel and instead preaches a message that God accepts anyone without any call to repentance. She doesn't back that up as you do by a desire to return to the primitive teaching of the church, rather she asserts the contemporary church's right to decide doctrine for itself.
I was under the impression that divorce and remarriage was now permitted within the Anglican communion. Is that not the case within the hierarchy of the Church of England?
Divorce and remarriage is accepted by the church, with certain constraints, as it was by Jesus. Adultery is not accepted by the church, as it was not by Jesus.
The answer I wrote for this was so long I’m going to post it as a new post.
I look forward to it.

6/2/08  

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