Monday, March 20, 2006

In Search of a Rationale

This Article was first published in April, 2005

Bill Cosby has a routine in which he says children must be "brain damaged." He describes a typical scene when a child is caught misbehaving. The parent is demanding to know why the child did what they obviously knew was wrong and the child, having no explanation, responds, "I don't know." I am reminded of the Episcopal Church as the Anglican Communion asks how a person living in a same gender union may be considered eligible to lead the flock of Christ, only instead of responding, "I don't know," the Presiding Bishop has formed a committee to come up with an answer. Just as children often do things in a compulsive way without thinking through the consequences, the Episcopal Church took action at the last General Convention that is not easily explained.

I am also reminded of typical "mob behavior" when a group of people lose inhibitions and act in a way that individual members would usually avoid. The group as a whole has no common explanation for the actions taken and sometimes the reasoning of followers is not the same as the leaders. As the appointment of the theology committee indicates, no common belief has been defined for blessing same-sex relationships and yet supporters march into the future having no idea where they are going.

Some say that there should be an exception to the traditional interpretation of scripture to allow the blessing of same sex relationships. This rationale is often compared to the exception allowing remarriage after divorce; however, this rationale fails to recognize that we still consider divorce as something to be avoided. It is also based on the belief that a homosexual person has no other choice for enjoying the gift of sexuality. While this reasoning was compelling in the beginning of the debate, it has little relevance today because supporters want to see bisexual people, those who do have a choice, also given the option to join in homosexual relationships. The agenda is revealed further when some supporters say there are few purely heterosexual or homosexual people and that all of us are bisexual to some degree.

Others say that Jesus is silent on loving homosexual relationships and the behavior condemned in scripture is only that which is exploitive or against the nature of the person joining in the homosexual act. To believe this one must ignore Matthew 19 in which Jesus affirms teachings of the Old Testament on marriage, emphasizes the importance of commitment in sexual relationships and indicates that the only alternative to the marriage of a husband and wife is the life of a eunuch. One must also ignore other passages in the Old and New Testament that condemn homosexual behavior and assume that, even though supporters say homosexuality is a statistically predictable part of the population, no one had heard of loving homosexual relationships in Biblical time. We must conclude that the physical, emotional and spiritual harm that can be caused by practices that are condemned in scripture, are not a concern with homosexual behavior.

The last explanation that is often given is that scripture is culturally biased against homosexual relationships. To follow this line of reasoning, we must first believe that scripture is not the word of God and that we are not blinded to truth by our own cultural bias. Since the condemnation of homosexual behavior is compared to discrimination by gender or race, we must then believe that being homosexual, which is defined by behavior, is the moral equivalent of being female or being a person of color. Finally, if cultural differences are used to deny scripture and tradition, the interpretation of scripture will become dependent upon local cultural norms and any overriding truth will be lost in the confusion. This was seen when the election of Gene Robinson was affirmed by many who seemed to feel their own beliefs were no basis for denying New Hampshire their choice of Bishop.

In the midst of this confusion, representatives of our Church are now invited to present an explanation of the thinking behind the actions of General Convention to the Anglican Consultative Council. The problem is that General Convention is the only body that has the authority to provide an explanation and the theological rational was not addressed in 2003. As our leadership struggles to answer questions, it would be helpful to have broad participation in the discernment process.

We could facilitate broad participation by having a vote or survey in each diocese to determine the percentage of support for; 1) the historic disapproval of homosexual behavior, 2) an exception for committed same-sex partners, 3) the position that scripture is silent on committed homosexual relationships or 4) the belief that scripture is culturally biased against homosexual behavior. With broad discussion of the theological rationale, ways to protect partners in relationships with no legal status and guidelines for healthy sexual behavior; perhaps we could identify common ground that would help the Church protect the vulnerable and provide guidance in areas of human sexuality


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