Let's be honest: This is about sex
By Lauren R. Stanley
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
So what did you do in your bedroom last night?
For all the wrong reasons, that question seems to be at the heart of the disputes that are threatening to tear apart not just the Episcopal Church of the United States, but also the worldwide Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is a part.
Anglican leaders from around the world met last week in Tanzania, and their final communique signals a huge, continuing fight over, yes, sadly, what people are doing in their bedrooms.
Of course, the communique certainly doesn't ask that question; its focus is on power and authority and who can tell whom what and, most confusing of all, claims about respecting traditions and defending orthodoxy.
Many of us in the Communion are confused, and we want to ask two questions of our leaders:
Exactly WHICH tradition are you defending?
Exactly WHICH orthodoxy do you wish to uphold?
The more conservative Anglican leaders claim that homosexuality is sinful, specifically anathemized in the Bible, and that anyone who engages in homosexual activity is a sinner of such great import that he or she can not be either a priest or a bishop of the Church. This, these leaders say, is so important that it is worth breaking up the centuries-old Anglican Communion.
But which doctrine, which principle that forms the basis of our belief in and understanding of God, is challenged by sexual orientation? The Church has no doctrine on sexuality because we do not know God through God's sexual orientation or God's sexual activity. So to make sexuality a primary reason for breaking up the Episcopal Church in this country, or the worldwide Communion, makes no sense to many of us; for us, sexuality is NOT a doctrinal issue, it is a CULTURAL issue. And if sexuality is not a doctrinal issue, it cannot represent orthodoxy, so what is being defended?
Some congregations and dioceses in the United States have said that the argument over sexuality is so important that they no longer wish to be under the authority of bishops in this country with whom they disagree on this issue. Those congregations and dioceses have asked for, and in some cases received, different leadership from outside the United States.
Those actions also are confusing. It has been the recognized tradition throughout Christianity since the 4th century that bishops are limited by their own geographical boundaries. This limit was so important in the early Church that bishops at first the Council of Nicea (325 AD) and then the Council of Constantinople (381 AD) said that "bishops are not to go beyond their diocese to churches lying outside their bounds, nor bring confusion on the churches; ... and let not bishops go beyond their diocese for ordination or any other ecclesiastical ministrations, unless they be invited." That last part, about invitation, is important, because it has been understood since those two Councils that the invitations could come ONLY from the area bishop, and not from any other leaders.
Again, many of us are confused: If the communique truly represents tradition and orthodoxy, how is it that both tradition and orthodoxy can be overturned so easily? Respect for geographic boundaries is one of the oldest tenets of the Church; overturning it now seems arbitrary at best.
Then there is the issue of communion, of the Lord's Supper, which Anglicans call Eucharist, meaning "thanksgiving."
One-fifth of the primates, the provincial leaders, present at the Tanzania meetings refused to share in the Eucharist with American Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, claiming that to do so "would be a violation of Scriptural teaching and the traditional Anglican understanding."
In refusing to share the bread and wine together in the service, those seven primates actually BROKE traditional Anglican understanding, which says that the efficacy, the effectiveness, of the sacrament does not depend on either the person administering it or the person receiving it. That understanding began with Augustine of Hippo in the 4th century and was refined by Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. The former wrote that the sacrament does not depend on the righteousness of the person distributing it. The latter wrote that the sacrament "is not wrought by the righteousness of either the celebrant or the recipient, but by the power of God."
Which is why so many of us are confused. By refusing to take communion together, the primates overturned centuries of tradition as well as doctrine.
Leaving many of us to ask, again: What is being defended here?
And finally, many in the American church are wondering about the ultimatum that has been issued by the primates, an ultimatum that basically orders American bishops to reject gays and lesbians, as well as orders congregations and dioceses in dispute over property issues to end all litigation.
The confusion here has nothing to do with the sexuality dispute. Our confusion is over those geographic boundaries, the ones that have been so important to the historic Church for 16 centuries (well preceding the founding of the Anglican Communion). When bishops from other dioceses and provinces tell bishops here that the latter must do what the former says, it breaks all traditions, all doctrines and all orthodoxy.
The ultimatum also presents the American Church with a huge problem: By demanding that American bishops make these decisions, the primates ignore the fact that the American Church is governed NOT by the bishops but by the General Convention, which is made up of laity, deacons, priests AND bishops. The latter cannot decide unilaterally for the rest of the Church. For the primates to ignore this fact is to ignore, once again, the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople, which proclaimed that "it is evident that the synod of every province will administer the affairs of that particular province."
This is why so many of us are confused: Everything we have been taught over the centuries about tradition and orthodoxy and doctrine is being overturned by this worldwide dispute. We no longer know WHICH tradition to follow, WHICH orthodoxy to defend, WHICH doctrine to believe. Our international leaders are offering us conflicting instructions, and we in the pews are left to figure it out on our own.
That this dispute within the Anglican Communion is huge and of great importance is obvious. The issue of sexuality looms large over all that we do, and there is severe disagreement on what God wants us to do, because sexuality, with all its permutations, goes to the very heart of who we are as human beings.
But if we are going to argue over it, could we at least be honest and admit that the real question here is not about the orthodoxy of the faith, it is not about the tradition of the faith, it is not about the doctrines of the faith?
Could we at least admit that this is, indeed, a cultural dispute? This is about some people who believe there is nothing wrong with homosexuality, and some who believe that it is a sin. This is about who will lead a Communion that for centuries was dominated by Westerners, who tend to be seen as liberal, and non-Westerners, who tend to be seen as conservative. This is about territory, history, culture and personal beliefs.
It is not, in the eyes of many of us, both in the United States and overseas, a dispute about God or our faith.
When spiritual leaders get together and focus almost exclusively on issues of sexuality, practically ignoring the needs of the millions in this world who are starving spiritually, physically and emotionally, it is obvious to the rest of us that our leaders really only have one question in mind:
What exactly did you do in your bedroom last night?
Copyright 2007, McClatchy-Tribune News Service