Some thoughts on the questions around gays and lesbians in the church, from people in the diocese of Toronto who are on both sides of the question.
Preamble: We are on a journey together, and these beginning articulations of emerging common ground are the start of that journey together. As members of the Body of Christ, we are committed to the unity of the Church, conscious that some responses to homosexuality have been divisive of this unity. We acknowledge that we all share in a blindness on this subject, in one way or another. We are none of us free of sin and the effects of sin, and we acknowledge that we must repent and be willing to examine our own assumptions and attitudes. Moreover, none have the entire picture because of our own location and our own limited perspective. It is not given to any of us to know the whole truth, and so we need to learn from each other.
1: We agree that scripture is not to be used as a "hammer" against those with whom we disagree. We also agree that scripture is not to be mined for "proof texts"; rather, specific passages are to be understood in the larger biblical context. More positively, we agree that in all the diversity and tensions in scripture, there is a fundamental story or direction which is embodied in the person and story of Jesus the Christ, which cannot be reduced to a simple set of laws or concepts. As we hear the living Word in new situations, we may find that we hear parts of that story in new and different ways.
2: We agree that God the Holy Spirit continues to lead and guide the Church. As baptised believers we may experience a new insight from the Lord, which must be respected but which must also be tested. The test is the spirit of the Word rather than the letter of the law. It is our common experience as believers that God's Word is spoken afresh in the situations of our lives.
3: We agree that the tradition of the Church is to be respected and listened to, since it represents our conversation partners in many times and places. We affirm that Anglican doctrine establishes the supremacy of Scripture, with tradition and reason helping to interpret Scripture when it speaks and determine order where it is silent.
4: We agree that homosexuality is only one part of the subject of human sexuality; furthermore we acknowledge that human sexuality is presently a subject of considerable confusion and turmoil. We recognise that dehumanising practices occur across the spectrum of sexual relations. We are united in our opposition to all forms of violence and exploitation..
5: We agree that moral and ethical norms exist in order to nurture healthy human life, within ourselves, with other persons and before the face of God. We also affirm that Christian tradition properly forms our ethical disposition: it helps us by providing a starting point and guidance in difficult situations. However, humans do not exist for the sake of moral and ethical norms. This means that, where we find a large degree of human pain and anguish, we must be willing to re-examine traditional moral norms. We must realise, as the Good Samaritan did, that the suffering is real, and must not use a code for life as an excuse for "passing by." We must also be willing to examine the moral norm and either make a compelling case for it or modify it in certain ways.
6: We agree with the House of Bishops when they said in 1978 that "We believe as Christians that homosexual persons, as children of God, have a full and equal claim, with all other persons, upon the love, acceptance, concern and pastoral care of the Church."
7: We agree that, while God accepts and loves all of us as who we are, we are all in constant need of re-forming ourselves closer to the image of Christ.
8: We agree that heterosexual marriage is commendable because it seeks to provide intimacy for committed partners and a safe place for the raising of children. However, marriage is not a state that is appropriate for all persons and in every situation.
This provisional statement of Emerging Common Ground comes from a Dialogue Group which has been meeting with Bishop Finlay since February of 1995. This text was presented to the Toronto College of Bishops in April 1997.
The dialogue is ongoing. Please keep us in your prayers.
Your feedback is welcome. Please write to the Bishop's Dialogue Group, Diocese of Toronto, 135 Adelaide St East, Toronto M5A 1L8.
Bishop Terence Finlay
First printed for Toronto Diocesan Synod • Nov 1997