Saturday, November 12, 2005

Schism brewing...

After a conference in Egypt where the Anglicans of the global South called for the disciplining of the U.S. Episcopal and Canadian Anglican churches for accepting gay clergy and blessing same-sex relationships, conservative Anglican archbishops at a gathering in the U.S. are calling for conservative Episcopalians in the U.S. to go into schism.

Here's a great quote from Bishop Datuk Yong Ping Chung of Southeast Asia: "We will stand with you as long as you remain faithful, biblical, evangelical and orthodox." I love it when Christians put conditions like that on each other, something like, "I'll always love you--as long as you do as I say." Healthy. It, of course, both does and doesn't remind me of something similar Jesus said: "Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20 NRSV). Note the lack of qualification.

What's really great, of course, is that if liberal U.S. clergy went to Africa and Asia insisting that churches there make some changes, it would rightly be called imperialism. Even in Anglican polity, a local bishop has no jurisdiction outside his or her own diocese--like the Wicked Witch of the West in Munchkinland.

What puzzles me is why church communion cannot be maintained in situations of dispute like this. The issue is clearly homosexuality; it's hard for anyone to argue that Christians are of one mind about this. Even though the Roman Catholic church claims a single, monolithic teaching, even some bishops privately question the "instrinsic disorder" attitude toward homosexuality; the disagreement only grows the further "down" the ranks you go.

The thing is, sexual morality is not a "matter of faith"; it's not dogma and it's changed a lot as our understanding of the human person and human sexuality has grown. Sure, we try to figure out how to best live out sexuality as Christians, but our understanding of the moral law can and does change; for ample evidence, read John Noonan's A Church That Can and Cannot Change; you'll be surprised to find out how long it took the Catholic church to come around on the immorality of slavery.

If it's the case, and it demonstrably is, that church moral teaching can change, then why can't some churches, whose moral reasoning has reached a certain conclusion about, say, homosexuality, try that conclusion out to see if it works. No one is saying that African Anglicans have to ordain gay men, just like no one told them they had to ordain women.

For that matter, why can't the Roman Catholic church do the same around the questions of married and female clergy? The first issue is certainly not a matter of faith, and despite Vatican statements to the contrary, it's hard to argue the second is either, especially concering female deacons. Why not experiment? What do we have to lose? Hell, we may find that married clergy are too expensive to maintain. (Although I think some fear that women will be better at ordained ministry than men!)

And there's the rub. Once we start allowing local variation, we won't be able to "control" our sister and brother Christians. We'll have to trust one another to make good decisions. We might even make mistakes. Heaven forbid.


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