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Reflections on General Convention

| 10.8.03
Reflections on General Convention 2003, an original essay

Well, it's over. Another General Convention of the Episcopal Church is done. With the confirmation of the first openly gay bishop in a mainline Christian denomination, and the dis-approval of liturgies for same-sex unions, we as Episcopalians have taken a step in a new direction on one front while acknowledging ambiguity on another --and all the consequences, intended and unintended, won't be known for some time to come.

As one who has agreed in principle that gays and lesbians' committed, monogamous sexual relationships should be recognized by the church on an equal footing as comparable relationships between heterosexuals, I still feel a lot of ambivalence about the twin decisions made by the Convention. No small matter is the seeming contradiction between allowing an openly gay man be a bishop, yet rejecting a liturgy to bless unions between gay people! I'm also concerned about the unity of the Anglican Communion, and how troubling this must look to those fellow Christians outside of Anglicanism for whom the Bible clearly prohibits same-sex sexual acts.

Despite the historic decisions on the part of the Convention, the decision was far from unanimous. Attending services this morning at my own mostly conservative parish, a feeling of sadness was palpable in the air as people mourned a church which to them has fallen into serious doctrinal error. One thing General Convention failed to do was promote a theological rationale for its decision. As with the ordination of women in the 1970s, once again General Convention has seemingly let their actions precede their theology on this matter. This seeming lack of concern has saddened and angered conservatives within the Episcopal church, and must totally bewilder those outside the Anglican tradition.

As for my own views --key to understanding the theological divide is the way the Bible is understood. Ever since Martin Luther broke from the medieval Catholic church with the cry of "Sola Scriptura," or "Scripture Alone" most protestants have believed that God's truth could be obtained through reading the Bible for oneself and comprehending it's most obvious meaning. Luther believed that if everyone could read the Bible for themselves, they'd come to the same obvious conclusions he did. They didn't, and now we have thousands of Christian denominations. Yet most protestants believe that there is an obvious meaning to the Bible, and it's a matter of either understanding it correctly or incorrectly.

For Anglicans discerning God's truth is more complicated. We believe that God's truth comes to us through Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. These three things don't stand alone and against one another, as if you could poll them on any given issue, and get a 2-1 split decision. Like the Trinity, they are three-in-one and one-in-three. They cannot be divided, and they complement and inform one another.

I see this triad as a way of acknowledging that no one can just sit down and read the Bible and get truth directly from it. The truth that one gets from the Bible (Scripture) is influenced by how one has been taught about the Bible by their parents and their church (Tradition), as well as one's life experience, knowledge of science, history, and the worldview they bring to the text (all aspects of Reason.) Going further, the knowledge gained from Reason and Tradition can open up some possibilities for interpreting Scripture, while closing other paths as unacceptable. Likewise, Scriptural ethics can inform what we do with our Reason and how we shape our Tradition.

Applying this schema to same-sex unions goes like this --at least for me it does. I start by looking at the world around me --a world in which I see equal amounts of promiscuity, brokenness, struggle, faithfulness, love, monogamy, and commitment from both heterosexuals and homosexuals. My Christian upbringing tells me that faithfulness, love, monogamy, and commitment are positive values, but it also points me to seven or eight verses scattered throughout the Bible that seem to condemn homosexual acts. Yet when I read these passages closely and carefully in their contexts, noting the kind of people they describe, it doesn't match up very well with what I see around me today. Moreover, I see other issues in these same passages that don't seem to have anything to do with the homosexual people I know. So I take all these varying sources and attempt to synthesize out of them a course of action or an ethic that is as faithful as possible to the Scriptures, Tradition, and Reason.

It can get messy. Complicated. Confusing. Scary. Sometimes I really have my doubts that we're doing the right thing. Sometimes I think we're doing the right thing, but in the wrong way. But I truly believe that this process tries to make the best use of all the gifts God has given us to discern truth, and do right by ourselves, our God, and our neighbor.

PUBLISHER: Tomte, 2003

I've Moved!!!

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