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BISHOP’S REPORT

Finally the report of the House of Bishop’s theological committee is published. It is somewhat ironically entitled “Same-Sex Relationships in the Life of the Church.”http://www.collegeforbishops.org/assets/1145/ss_document_final.pdf.

It is no surprise that it proved impossible to construct a unified statement for the guidance of the church. The committee invited a group of scholars, equally weighted on each side of the discussion and the predictable result was two reports, one from the liberal and one from the traditional camp.  I commend the Theological Committee for giving equal weight to each viewpoint.

That this contribution to the controversy comes when TEC has staked its future on the liberal side is not a cause for amazement. TEC now has a track record of acting first and seeking justification later. In an individual such behavior would be described as impulsive, the trait of an inveterate risk-taker.

Both papers are set forth in a calm and reasonable manner. No doubt the worth of each document will be judged in a partisan manner, traditionalists favoring “their paper” and liberal theirs. What strikes me is the extraordinary difference in the use of language employed. The liberal paper assumes almost lyrical tones while the traditionalist is prosaic and to the point.

For as long as I can remember liberals have been announcing that we are in a new age in which the human race has “come of age”. I shall lay aside the condescension implicit in that phrase. The liberal paper made me realize, or perhaps re-realize, just what a challenge the liberal view is to the finality of God’s redeeming work in Jesus. The claims made for the liberal position fall little short of proclaiming a second Pentecost. The whole scope of human history, of the biblical record, of the life and witness of the Church in history is to be interpreted or re-interpreted through the single lens of this new Pentecost.

One might compare this approach to that of a group of people dropped into the attic of a very old house. Before them are artifacts dating from the house’s foundation to the present day. These people examine each sample simply through the perspective of their present life and convictions An ancient iron is thought to be a door stop, a chamber pot a receptacle for business cards.

It is heady business to believe that God has chosen this moment in time and this place to announce through the Spirit a new revelation to the whole Church and to the world. Those who so do should take enormous care to couch their convictions in a manner which does not seem like a sophisticated development of “The White Mans’ Burden” and the sort of “exceptionalism” which relegated to second-class status those deemed to be inferior; Teddy Roosevelt’s Gospel. The modern version of this, surely not solely the sin of liberals, is to ascribe moral or intellectual inferiority to those who do not subscribe to one’s Cause or viewpoint. The impression that such moral condescension is aimed at Third World Christians by affluent white Americans is one to be countered and if appropriate shriven.

The burden for the writers of the traditional paper was to attempt to express a position which is inescapably “old-fashioned” and “dated” without sounding dry and heartless. In an age in which dispassionate discussion is viewed as psychologically impaired, perhaps what is needed is some of the “romantic” passion of earlier Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics?

These papers will change few minds. They are useful however in telling the contemporary American story to the rest of the Communion. It is very much an American story couched in the two languages of a divided American society, a society of at least two cultures, locked in an increasingly nasty conflict. That the writers avoided the polemic language of the American conflict is to be commended.

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