Monday, May 17, 2010


"And yet. It’s also impossible to avoid the reflection that the Episcopal church is unilaterally imposing its own vision of the church on a worldwide communion. Whatever one thinks of the matter on a personal basis, the New Testament as well as the Old specifically condemns homosexual behavior as contrary to the will of God. Myself, I think St. Paul’s condemnation of what was long known as ‘peccatum illud horribile non nominandum inter Christianos‘ (that horrid crime not even to be named among Christians) should be read as a condemnation of gratuitous sexual experimentation in a culture fundamentally deformed by widespread slavery and of Greco-Roman permissiveness towards what we would now call child sexual abuse and even rape rather than as an attack on the idea that some people are by the laws of their own nature drawn to members of their own sex. But that is one man’s opinion, and the institutional church with centuries of tradition and theological reflection cannot be expected to embrace radical new ideas overnight. This is not just a question about homosexuality; it is a question about how the church among other issues understands the nature of revelation and tradition. What does it mean, for example, to say that St. Paul didn’t know what was and wasn’t sinful, but that modern psychology can straighten him out? And to the degree that homosexual behavior and the meaning of that behavior changes from culture to culture, how should the different ideas and perceptions of people coming from different cultures be handled?

These are not easy questions and a person doesn’t need to be a homophobe or unthinking fundamentalist to continue to accept traditional Christian teaching on this subject. And when both the Greek Orthodox and the Roman Catholic churches continue to embrace traditional ideas, it is unreasonable to expect the Anglican Communion to move at warp speed to accommodate the ideas of American Episcopalians (less than 5 percent of the Anglicans worldwide) on a topic this controversial.

Even if the mind of the church ultimately comes round to the Episcopal view of homosexuality, the Episcopal church has made a profound and historic error in attempting to force this choice on the Anglican Communion as a whole. A great deal more reflection and discussion is needed before a step this significant can be taken by a worldwide body, and the Episcopal insistence that all the world should march to the beat of an American drum and an American timetable on this issue violates the plain duty of members in a common fellowship.

It seems to me that both the American Episcopalians and their bitterest critics in some of the African branches of the Anglican Communion are making similar theological errors: all sides are turning cultural preferences and habits into religious mandates without an adequately critical theological examination of their own biases. If American society is so permissive, sexually and in other ways that we should all think twice before we assume that our changing cultural norms reflect eternal law, sub-Saharan Africans are also not without their quirks and their blind spots. Neither conservative Nigerians nor liberal Americans come to this fight with clean hands; however the church at large ultimately resolves these issues both sides might do better to review and correct their own shortcomings rather than hurl anathemas at their enemies. Until time, reflection and the Holy Spirit show us the way forward I would like to see us all go on quarreling bitterly in the same house as high and low church Anglicans have been doing for centuries and I’m sorry that both sides have taken provocative steps that make this unlikely."

Walter Russell Mead's whole essay is here.

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