Thursday, July 31, 2008

On The Lambeth Conference

Last week my brother, a Vicar in The Church of England, met Bishop Gene Robinson for a twenty five minute chat. He won’t, slightly irritatingly, tell me what they said to each other, but fair enough. I even assured him I wouldn’t publish what they said on this blog, and I wouldn’t have. But it didn’t fly. Anyway, my brother typically prefers to discuss theological issues face to face, despite the fact that we usually have far more substantial and detailed exchanges by letter or email. No matter.

Gene Robinson, in case you didn’t know (why should you if you are not an Anglican Christian) is the ordained Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire in the Episcopalian Church in the United States Of America. The US Episcopalian Church is one of the thirty-eight provinces of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which at the moment is holding its once a decade Lambeth Conference in Canterbury, England.

Recently, here in Kuwait, I’ve taken to watching BBC World. I used, more commonly, to watch Al-Jazeera. But these days I become increasingly interested in what’s going on at home.

A short while ago, in amidst all the preoccupation with Radovan Karadzic, I saw Gene Robinson speaking.

Afterwards, an African Conservative Bishop was interviewed about homosexuality and Christianity. He referred to the sense (with which I agree- regrettably to you, perhaps, if you disagree) that the Bible is clear that homosexuality is not what God wants for human beings. Then, as if this was relevant, the journalist ran past him the following idea.


“One Bishop’s sin is another Bishops love and tolerance”.

What to think about that? I am supposing that this is intended to convey the idea that if a Christian believes that a particular action is a sin, that is wrong, that he might also therefore not be loving or tolerant towards those who commit the sin. And that, in other words, the erstwhile, noble principle, that one should ‘love the sinner and hate the sin’ is not valid. That to love the wrongdoer one must deny that there is a wrongdoing in question. While I would absolutely maintain that homosexual deeds are far less sinful than murder or rape, does this mean, I wonder, that if we are to love murderers and rapists, as indeed is our Christian duty, we need also to deny that murder and rape are wrong? Only asking.

The following thoughts also came to mind. They express the core of my feelings on this, relatively speaking, irrelevant issue, which currently faces the Worldwide Anglican Communion (though try telling that to the media).

Regarding the quote that “One Bishop’s sin is another Bishops love and tolerance”:

Is this supposed to be imply that Bishops who don’t sin are not loving and not tolerant. What does tolerance mean, anyway?

Is love and tolerance the defining essence of the Gospel? No, it isn’t. Aah…that was a line asking to be taken out of context now, wasn’t it? Love and tolerance are, indeed, fundamental and central to the Gospel, but they are not its core essence, which, surprisingly enough, is God’s incarnation and self-sacrificial love on the part of the world.

Besides, the meaning of love and tolerance are not stable, not clear. Whose love and tolerance? What is meant by love and tolerance? They are just words. Also relevant to the question of what love and tolerance is, is the love and tolerance of liberal fascism, for example, or the love and tolerance of the restrictive, banalising nihilism of political correctness? Or to put it simply: is the value of all forms of love and tolerance absolute?

The absolute, objective love and power that resides in the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not linguistically dependent. It exists prior to and independently of the words used to refer to and describe it. For this reason, words do not merely arbitrarily concoct or devise that Gospel to be whatever someone, using words, might want it to be – through words. Rather words may, or may not, refer to and capture the Gospel accurately.

And some other more general thoughts arose:

The idea that opposing the institution of actively homosexual clergy for the Anglican Communion is ‘homophobic’ is strange. This idea is, I would suggest, often inaccurate and also, when it is inaccurate, insulting. Yes, some straight men, including Christians, do fear homosexuals for irrational reasons. But most, I would suggest, do not. I, for one, would never deny that gay men are very often pleasant and agreeable. Indeed, I have often, beyond that, admired the manner by which they have moved beyond our typically hideous macho male, competitive templates regarding their general approach to life. To me, certainly, they are not frightening, unless they choose to be. Why else would they be my friends, as they are? But not thinking, as a Christian, that they are frightening - and so therefore not being homophobic towards them - doesn’t, surely, necessarily imply that the Christian not feeling such a fear, should then necessarily believe that active, practi
cing homosexuals should lead congregations in their worship of God. And that, and that alone, or so it seems to me, is the issue in question.

The separate question of granting and maintaining liberty and protection for homosexuals in society in general (which I certainly support and defend) is, of course, entirely separate -but so for that reason not relevant to an internal debate regarding the Christian religion.

And if anyone out there thinks that because I am not blandly, blindly swallowing the liberal consensus on this matter, I am therefore something along the lines of a homophobic intolerant bastard, well, they can go right ahead and eat my shorts. Though I'll have to find them first.

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