Anglicans, Rom 1:26-27, and Homosexuality

Anglicans, Rom 1:26-27, and Homosexuality May 12, 2012

Together with the uber-talented Rev. Dr. Sarah Harris of Carey College, we’ve written a short piece on Paul, homosexuality, Rom 1:26-27, and the Anglican Communion, for a forthcoming book tentatively called Sexegesis: An Evangelical Response to Five Uneasy Pieces on Sexuality and Scripture (title may yet change, but it’s due out mid-year). See the original book we are responding to here. In particular, we are dealing with the arguments by Rev. Peta Sherlock, an Anglican priest in Melbourne. Here’s part of our response.

So how are Anglicans to read Rom 1:26-27? We want to suggest four factors for consideration.

(1)   On inclusiveness, we are unsure what Peta Sherlock means when she suggests that we bring gays and lesbians from the margins to the centre. If by that she means practicing hospitality, listening, loving, and sharing in a local church context, we are in full agreement. But we suspect she means something more in terms of validate and ordain to holy orders, something we hesitate at. A better model, something in line with Richard Burridge’s suggestion, is that we practice hermeneutical inclusivity where we willingly read, mark, learn, and digest Scripture together in order to better understand Scripture and each other too.[1] Furthermore, while the Christian community is indeed radically inclusive as it follows the example of Jesus, it is also a redemptive and transformative community. Because “all have sinned,” everyone without exception –Jew and Gentile, slave and free, gay and straight– everyone needs the redemption that comes from the cross of Christ, the new life that flows from the resurrection of Christ, and the transformation that ebbs from the work of Holy Spirit. So everyone is invited to church, and come as you are, but no one is allowed to stay as they are.[2]

(2)   On listening, this is vitally important and along with Sherlock we hold to its importance. But listening to gay and lesbian experience cannot be one way. Those of us engaging in this conversation on the subject of God, sexuality, holiness, and struggle, should also listen to our forefathers and foremothers in the faith, the Global South, celibate gay and lesbian Christians, and even ex-gays as well. At this crucial time in the Anglican Communion we must make sure we hear the full spectrum of voices from the global church and not marginalise voices we don’t like by displaying a colonial attitude that projects superior knowledge or sophistication by the white-western world. Let us seek to exhibit a truly catholic practice as we listen.

(3)   On ecumenical challenges, much thought should be given to how a full acceptance and affirmation of homosexuality will affect relationships with other churches. The episcopacy is meant to be a symbol of ecclesiological unity and theological integrity, yet the homosexuality debate has led to episcopal disunity perpetuated by a failure to uphold the faith delivered to the saints. The pursuit of unity with Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant churches will be irreversibly damaged if the ordination of practicing homosexuals to the episcopacy continues. Moreover, within the Anglican Communion itself, we face the problem that Lambeth Resolution 1.10 sets out the official position of the Anglican Communion on sexuality,[3] while many provinces continue to willfully defy it with impunity. The attempt of the Anglican Covenant to fix this problem is dead in the water as even the English Church has not accepted it. It would seem that we are left with either repealing Resolution 1.10 or else adopting a two-tier Anglican Communion.

(4) On ordination, I (Sarah) as an ordained Anglican woman in the evangelical tradition would like to affirm again that the debate around the ordination of women must not be confused with the ordination of practicing gays and lesbians as is alluded to by Sherlock in her chapter and by Kirby in his introduction.  If Romans 1 is accepted as having a clear echo of the creation story, then on a very foundational level we need to recognise that God is imaged by both male and female (Gen 1:26-27) and this “imaging” should provide the presupposition to our reading about humanity in Romans. For too long the church has cast God’s image, and thus God’s representatives, as male and I am a beneficiary of the long-fought battle to reclaim the “gender-fullness” of God. Throughout Scripture we read of many women involved in teaching and authoritative ministry and also of two occasions when they had those voices restricted for various reasons. This canonical diversity, cast in the foundational framework of a gender-full God, opens a biblically-integrated door that the witness of scripture can in no way be seen to open for the practicing gay and lesbian person. For celibate homosexuals, as with celibate single heterosexuals, the door is of course open if God calls them and the church recognises that call. I realise that I have had a door opened that the homosexual community now want widened and I have considerable empathy for the frustration and confusion that may be felt by this community. However as an Anglican scholar committed to the truth of Scripture and with Jesus as the North Star, I can find no place in Scripture within which the church can find room to move on this issue.


[1] Richard Burridge, Imitating Jesus: An Inclusive Approach to New Testament Ethics (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 395.

[2] We owe this latter point to Dr. Ben Witherington of Asbury Theological Seminary.

[3] See the Lambeth Conference Official Website. http://www.lambethconference.org/resolutions/1998/1998-1-10.cfm.

 

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