Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Archbishop of Canterbury speaks

The Archbishop of Canterbury speaks about the Episcopal Church's General Convention. Of course we had a few hot-button topics, mostly notably, an affirmation of the place of gay and lesbian people in the life of our church.

Rowan Cantaur has interesting comments. Some of it I can agree with totally. Some of it raises eyebrows.

In particular, I am troubled by his concern that persons living in committed, same-sex partnerships are living outside the marriage covenant and are therefore living a life in sin. I read his comments on the "lifestyle choice" as referring more to the decision to not be celibate (cohabiting heterosexual couples as well as homosexual couples), rather than suggesting that homosexuality is chosen (not part of one's innate being). He seems to state that cohabitation is a sin which is unforgivable as long as it is going on. Any sexual relationship outside marriage is an unforgivable sin as long as it is going on. Sorry, but I can't go there with him on that one.

From a purely logical standpoint, if we say that a lesbian couple is living a non-celibate life and is therefore in sin and cannot be fully part of the church, then we must set the standard that all non-celibate couples cannot be part of the church. That would pretty much mean that you wouldn't have any young clergy, since all of us were in at least our mid 20s when first ordained. Knowing what you all learned in high school, what can you surmise about the average 20-something? Oh, pick your jaws up off the floor.

If we set that standard for our gay and lesbian parishoners, then we have to set it for our hetero parishoners. Oh, Lord, could you imagine if we started refusing communion to the notorious sinners who cohabit? There would be lots and lots and lots of people... young people, divorced people, old granny people and seniors (!) who would not be getting communion!!

I think it is clear that our society, and our church, has moved beyond the point where it considers co-habitation and non-celibacy to be a major sin. I can't think of one clergy person who would refuse to marry a cohabiting couple. We've gotten over it. Some people are given the gift of celibacy. For those of us who are not, we are forgiven. And we move on.

From a theological standpoint, it also makes no sense to claim that a person living in a non-celibate relationship is committing such a sin that they cannot serve God. Since we just established that co-habitation is a non-issue for most of the American public (at the least, the public that I live in), are we then saying there is a sin out there that God can't forgive? If I can sin and then reap the rewards of forgiveness, I expect that all my fellow human beings can too.

Finally, there's the question of relevance. We live in a world where children are still starving, cancer is still not cured, and God's children are still not free in every corner of the earth. Is cohabitation really the issue that we are going to let tear apart the body of Christ? Is it really that important? Can you honestly expect me to believe that God will make or break eternity based on who we learn to offer eros love to? I sort of thought God would be more interested in the whole honoring God alone and loving our neighbors as ourselves thing... or perhaps the striving for justice and peace and respecting the dignity of every human being... or seeking and serving Christ in all persons. I must have missed the parts in the Creed where it said that cohabitation is such a big sin.

I know there are plenty of issues and theological bents I have not yet touched on and can't touch on in a simple post. But I hope I have at least expressed my discomfort with the lifestyle-choice language Rowan used.

Celibacy is a gift some people are given. Sexual love is a gift that others are given. We can't claim the gifts that are not ours. We can only seek to live out the wholeness of who we are exactly as God made us. And God made us to grow as a whole community, to love our neighbors as ourselves. So easy, and so impossible.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

good job Pastor B - i like your style...interpretation to, and appreciation of - "the rules?" what really matters in the final analysis? if all said - applied? then i wouldn't be wearing the burgundy robe nor singing bass nor painting offices....its what we do as we do it and what we do about it....i approve of your stance - cheerio!

Richard 'El Nino' Bateman said...

I will grant you this much, that no matter how hard it may be for some of us to understand, homosexuality seems to be an innate part of us and not a 'choice' which we consciously make. We can't 'decide' to have homosexual desires, and so it stands to reason that homosexuals can't 'decide' to have heterosexual desires. Therefore it would seem to be part of God's core programming for us as individuals. How, then, can acting in accordance with our core programming be sinful, since it is how God made us. We can all 'choose' not to rob a convenience store at gunpoint, wheras I can't 'choose', happily married or otherwise, to be unmoved by the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

If anything the heterosexual cohabitation of a reproductively capable couple carries with it more 'ethical danger' as it were since there is a biological possibility of an unplanned pregnancy occuring as a result. No matter how many men are involved, there are no wombs in which to conceive an 'unwanted' child.

(My apologies to the Sikh community).

Even THEN, even if we say of sex outside of marriage that it is 'sinful', surely it pales in comparison to activities such as drink driving, let alone violence and the taking of innocent human life.

Now THAT is the kind of sin we need to put at the top of our collective moral agenda. Get out there are rage against drunk drivers and the Aryan Nations if you want to confront REAL evil.

Klassiklehrer said...

It seems generally American, or at least Puritanical, to denigrate acts of love and to excuse acts of violence. Think of movie scenes in which people make love: Nothing faster to be cut, or cut away from, than the consummation that is almost always left to the imagination. Then think of scenes in which a man gets his head blown off: Nothing more ordinary, ready-for-prime-time, than that. Does this not seem entirely backward?

But it is this reason, the eww-factor, that accounts for the widespread interest in the gay issue [BTW, Thank you, Lutherans, for drawing some fire!] If Gene Robinson had been feuding with a neighbor for 30 years and refused to reconcile, almost everyone would have shrugged and said, "That's life."

If anyone examined my opinions about our faith, he might want to break away and form a new church, taking disgruntled parishioners with him. But my heresy is merely that I do not believe the communion bread is actually and mysteriously the body of Jesus Christ--until we eat it, and then it certainly is. This may be controversial, but it lacks the eww-factor. So I don't expect a big schism over it.

As psychologists say, the more upset one is about gender identity issues, the less certain he is of his own identity.