Taking Out the Trash
I A Line in the Sand
It seems to me that some in very high places, like ++Rowan and various right-wing Anglican luminaries, like to insist that there is a distinction between homosexuals and homosexual practice or activity. I am not sure that the distinction has been thoroughly thought through; in fact, I believe once it is thought through many will see its untenability. It is time to throw it out. The difficulty is twofold: (1)its theological grounding, and (2)facts on the ground in the Communion that render it irrelevant in practice. Here I want to concentrate on the latter point, (2).
The problem, so the story goes, has to do with celibacy. One may find himself or herself with clear, persistent homosexual inclinations so woven into one's dispositions and daily life that for all practical purposes they partially constitute one's personal identity. That's one thing, they say: being a homosexual. Being homosexual, they claim, is not in itself sinful.
It is quite another thing for one to act on such inclinations; indeed, it is a sin. The homosexual ought to abstain from sex, or else marry and have at it with someone of another (I suppose) sex. There is no condition whatsoever on which it is permissible for anyone, homosexual or not, to engage in homosexual sex. Period. A homosexual who abstains has done nothing wrong, the story goes; such a one may be ordained to whatever office, whether deacon, priest, bishop, archbishop. In theory even celibate gay unions may be blessed--nihil obstat, ceteris paribus. For it is not being homosexual that is a sin, but rather homosexual activity.
The distinction is extremely important in context. It serves like a fig-leaf in our current unpleasantness, permitting those excoriating the Episcopal Church to claim they respect all persons as such. Their opposition to GC2003 is not--they say--opposition to homsexuals as persons, but opposition to homosexual activity. Their stand, they claim, is thus not bigoted, and homosexuals cannot cogently make civil rights claims against them--for no persons as such are included in the criticism, only what persons do.
Attacking homosexuals as persons, after all, might seem uncomfortably reminiscent of persecution of homosexuals in the Holocaust. Then maybe various neo-orthodox warnings about Christianity capitulating to culture might seem to come into play in a rather new and unexpected context, and Christian tradition might seem unduly infected--once again--with a strain of virulent paganism spreading a disease of hatred and exclusion as it once did with Jews, women, and blacks. Oh the headache!
II. A Bogus Distinction
You can see how important the distinction is; it would be a real shame if something happened to it. Let's see how the distinction plays out in practice.
Suppose I am evangelizing for the Episcopal Church in my diocese, and some upstart asks Aren't you guys part of that Anglican Communion? I am obliged to say Yes. Then: And don't you guys support the persecution of homosexuals, you know in Nigeria or whatever?
What do I say? Well, not all of us do; you see there are various national churches, provinces, each autonomous. We have no say in the Church of Nigeria's support of persecution-- I would of course be talking complete bull.
After all, whether we really are and will be autonomous is quite up in the air. Being a distinct national province might not really mean much after the polity of our church has been sufficiently worked over. You can imagine a rather dystopic future: some rabid, right wing Anglican assembly of Primates votes in a binding, Communion-wide resolution implying a provincial obligation to support political legislation criminalizing discussion of homosexuality or advocacy for homosexuals, and we are compelled, being subject to the assembly, to comply.
Far fetched? Well, my interlocutor could ask You say it is far fetched, but who would have thought the Nigeria law would pass now in 2007? What can you say to guarantee homosexual persons will not be persecuted and attacked? As you know, that sort of thing has been the norm in the past, both in England and in the US. Your precious communion has already failed the issue of moral principle; now aren't we just waiting to see how far the stain will spill over?
At any rate, for the moment we still have a choice, and need not be party to a koinonia that sees fit to tolerate persecution of homosexual persons. That seems a rather misplaced toleration, no? To anyone with a bit of history it may be uncomfortably close to the Holocaust. Not in the sense of playing Neville Chamberlain--if only!-- but in the sense rather of being the good German who kept his head down and did as he was told.
Sometimes it is odious to keep one's head down and do what one is told. Sometimes a better response would be resistance.
We should fear the wrath of the power of Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit more than the wrath of ++Rowan Williams, ++Marty Minns, and ++Akinola; a bit of fear here would be entirely appropriate. Pleading the distinction above in section I is bizzare to anyone with reality as it is now unfolding in mind. For the horse has already left the barn; Elvis has already left the building: the Anglican Communion, ++Rowan's little organic unity, is already persecuting homosexual persons in Nigeria via the Nigerian Church.
It, ++Rowan's organic unity, formerly known as the Anglican Communion, had a chance to register an objection loud and clear when it might have effected something significant before the law was ratified. Or at least it might have acted to declare solidarity with those bearing the image of Christ among Nigerian homosexuals. It chose not to do so. What madness is this? We are acting like people possessed--indeed, I am learning anew the gravity of Mark's exorcism stories. We are nearing the limits of argument.
We need not be party to a koinonia that sees fit to persecute homosexual persons. As I have noted before, there are other international communions of churches to which we might work to belong, and spade work has already been done preparing the ground for what could be membership in another Christian communion apart from the Anglican Communion. True, these others, like the LWF, might well not condone blessing same sex unions or ordaining active homosexuals to the episcopate--but they have this on the AC: they have not participated in persecution. What would happen if all of a sudden we found a voice on this issue, and requested some sort of acknowledgement in the Communion that its silence on Nigeria was and remains morally wrong?