Fellow blogger The Country Parson sent me a thoughtful note on the series of articles I've been writing on the sexuality debate. I'm posting it here as well as in the comment section, along with a response, because I think it is helpful to explain why I am pursuing this discussion, and why I am doing so in this way.
Thanks for your thoughtful response. I regularly read your postings and appreciate the sagacity with which they are offered. I suspect, but do not know, that my position, like many of my colleagues, is quite different because I care for a congregation that could have split and didn't. It meant entering into conversation with the "other side" with lots of questions, few answers and plenty of patience to hear people out. Some, of course, did leave, a few in white hot temper. But most stayed, and I bet that most priests in most places have faced pretty much the same in their own ways. So keep it us. Your arguments are worthy and sound. They can be a part of the cutting edge of a new direction, but they cannot do the heavy lifting required to bring the greater church along after them. That requires another kind of effort.
Your brother in Christ,
I want to thank CP for his thoughts on this. I by no means want to suggest that I would cut off dialogue with any even of the most conservative among us.
At the last General Convention I had an extended, semi-public, late-night, and to a large extent alcohol-fueled, discussion with a leading English Evangelical. He came on very strong, and so did I. Yet there was no animus or animosity in the conversation, but rather conviction on both sides, and I did not let him off the hook or allow him to give in to easy slogans or rest unchallenged in his "orthodoxy." In fact, I met him on his own Evangelical ground, and towards the end of the evening he was in tears of gratitude for my not having simply given up on him but pressing the conversation. He said he had never encountered an American Episcopalian willing to actually debate or even discuss the issue at the level of seriousness it required. I heard the next day from another English Evangelical who was present at this discussion (mostly silent and on the sidelines but observing keenly) that this had been a profoundly important experience for his colleague.
It is with the same kind of seriousness — and a soupçon of humor here and there, in, I hope, the best Anglican tradition! — that I am attempting to lay out the argument here, in part by taking the Scripture with the seriousness it deserves, and the very close reading it requires. That Matt Kennedy is taking my efforts seriously and responding in kind (though perhaps with less humor; but that's another matter!) is, I take it, a good sign. There are even points on which we agree, it seems. And both Matt and I will receive nods of approval from those who agree with us on the points on which we disagree, and who are already more or less convinced of the rightness of their point of view. Others, less convinced, may be swayed one way or the other, in part because the conversation is serious and raises issues that have too often been passed by in more general discussions.
I do understand the parochial situation --- and it is not all that different from my own. I do not focus on these issues in my preaching and pastoral work, but neither do I make them a secret. My congregation has more basic concerns about life and morality — and I think rightly so; for like CS Lewis (through whose writings I came to my adult reconversion to Christianity) I do not feel that the sexuality is the most important locus of morality. Following Lewis, and as I said to the Anglican Evangelical, taking a position of judgment against sisters and brothers represents perhaps a far greater sin in the eyes of God than the sins against which one rails. The presumption of judgment, of taking the role of judge rather than as fellow defendant, is a poison which is racking the body of the church --- as it has from the days of Christ himself and the apostles. The object of this judgment, in our day, is homosexuality, rather than in former times questions of circumcision, food offered to idols, gentile status, vernacular liturgy, episcopal authority, Trinitarian doctrine, the common cup, and any of the many points upon which members of Christ's Church have attempted to distinguish themselves from other members of the same body. In this series of articles I am trying to raise awareness of the ambiguities and uncertainties that could render strict judgment on this issue less secure — to hold open the door of humility and charity that might allow some who seem very certain of the sins of others to understand that they might be mistaken.
Tobias Haller BSG