INTEGRATOR, the newsletter of Integrity/Toronto
copyright 2000 Integrity/Toronto.
The hard-copy version of this newsletter carries the ISSN 0843-574X
Integrity/Toronto Box 873 Stn F Toronto ON Canada M4Y 2N9
BEYOND THE PALE?
The Rev Doug Graydon ponders the difference between pastoral discrimination and theological freedom of speech.
DISCERNING THE WORD - Review of Paul Gibson's book
by the Rev Canon Eric Beresford.
INTEGRITY and FIDELITY TOGETHER AT GOD'S TABLE
WHEN WILL WE MOVE?
Words spoken at Toronto Synod by the Rev Peter Orme
TEN YEARS AT SYNOD
[Names have been changed in order to protect confidentiality, however the following events did happen within the diocese of Toronto this year].
I received the call from Al first thing Monday morning. This was not unusual, Al is a morning person. Al is a client of Casey House's community health care program. He is an articulate man, full of energy when he is feeling well. Al is also a deeply spiritual man and a devoted Anglican. He and I have had many cups of coffee as we discussed God, theology and life in general. When Al calls, it was always because he is in genuine need and it is always an interesting request. Little did I know what I was in for this time.
Al had recently returned home from hospital and was doing well. He had even returned to his neighbourhood church. He wanted to attend the church near his home because he could walk there and because he was a strong supporter of his community. After several weeks of attendance he had an upsetting experience and needed my advice.
The parish was known for its conservative views and worship. That was part of the reason why Al attended. One Sunday, the Rev Marney Patterson was listed as a guest preacher. Al listened to Patterson preach on his views of what challenges lay ahead for the Anglican Church and what theological and pastoral "errors" it had made in the past. Al was neither moved nor concerned by the sermon. At the end of the service the rector invited everyone to look at Marney Paterson's book entitled *SUICIDE: The Decline and Fall of the Anglican Church of Canada?* which was on sale in the narthex. Here is where Al came face to face with what he calls his first church experience of organised homophobia.
For those not familiar with Marney Patterson's book, the largest and most extensively written chapters deal with the issue of homosexuality and its inherent sinfulness. Patterson blames the slow acceptance of homosexuality by the church as the most significant betrayal of the church in its calling to follow Christ. By using information and theory which has either been discarded or proven as false, and by promoting old and vicious stereotypes of who homosexuals are, Patterson, Al believes, is gay-bashing, and such a book has no place in an Anglican Church.
Al wanted my help in finding out how the church could permit such literature in its buildings. If the same had been written about people of colour, or of another faith, would such material be tolerated in the church's narthex? Should writings such as Marney Patterson's book be considered hate literature? And if so, why is it not banned by church officials because it is contrary to motions passed by General Synod and not in keeping with the spirit of sermons preached by the Bishop of the Diocese of Toronto?
All excellent questions, I thought. I also had a growing suspicion that Al and I were in for a long haul to find an answer.
For the first time in his life, Al felt frightened and unwelcome in his own church. As a gay man, Al never hid his sexual orientation. While he never agreed with the church's current practice of (to use Al's phrase) "don't ask and I won't tell" approach to homosexuality, he had always been proud of his Anglican membership. Now he felt all of that was collapsing around him. To use Al's own words, "It was not a safe place for me."
Many conversations followed because of that phone call. Al and I were impressed and pleased with the pastoral responses of the involved bishops of Toronto and their staff. However, Al feels that the rector of his parish, while understanding of Al's viewpoint, will probably not change.
While Al was pastorally heard by his area bishop and by his rector, the larger philosophical question remained unanswered. Marney Patterson's book contains aggressively anti-gay material in it. Would we allow someone to preach anti-gay sermons? Just as the church would not permit racist or anti-Semitic sermons to be preached from its pulpits, should not the church also ban material from its narthex which can be considered as hate literature?
Al's very personhood was, he believes, attacked that Sunday. He believes that Patterson's book makes his sexuality one of the root causes as to why the Anglican Church is in a state of decline. Al believes differently. Al believes that the Anglican Church accepts him as a gay man. Current church policy supports Al's belief. Then why permit such a book as this to be sold in the narthex of this same church?
Hence the ongoing dilemma for Al. Bishops of the diocese of Toronto strive to promote dialogue and foster a community where all are invited to speak what they believe. Bishop Finlay has done a masterful job of creating a faith-based community where dialogue is welcomed. Such a community of shared dialogue leads to insight and acceptance of human difference. Such dialogue allows all of us to see and celebrate the diversity of God's creation around us. And yet, such a process has contained within it the risk of extreme viewpoints which have the potential to harm others.
Are there limits to such dialogue? Who determines when personal viewpoints and beliefs are not in the spirit of Anglican dialogue and are therefore discouraged, if not out rightly banned? There is Anglican precedent. Michael Ingham, Bishop of New Westminster, would not permit Archbishop Moses Tay of Singapore to visit and preach in his Diocese because of the Archbishop's conservative views on homosexuality. And what of the rector's responsibility to ensure the competency of those who speak and preach in the church? These questions remain to be answered.
Al is, I believe, asking the Anglican Church of Canada to practice what we preach. If we as the body of Christ say that gay and lesbian people are welcome at the altars of our church, are we willing to back up that position by drawing limits as to what is said or promoted within our parishes? Is there a point where we can say, with all due Christian charity, that some opinions are not welcome in our church, because of their destructive effects?
Sadly, Al felt he had to leave his parish. I helped him to find another church, which was more welcoming to him. Al feels that it is wrong that he is the one who had to change churches. He believes that there needs to be a consistent message preached from all pulpits which reflect the position of the church on issues such as this, and that the pulpit is not an appropriate platform for individual opinions. I have a tendency to agree with him. Not everyone can switch churches as easily as Al did. Nor, do I believe, should they be forced to.
But then where does the answer lie? For neither do we want to
become a police like state controlling the dialogue and
experiences of faithful Christians. I invite responses to these
questions. Maybe the answer, or answers, rests out there amongst
you the readers. If you wish, you can contact me through e-mail at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Al and I would enjoy hearing from you.
This book was provoked by the arguments around the resolution on homosexuality (I.10) at the 1998 Lambeth conference. However, it is in some ways misleading to see this as a book about homosexuality because what provoked Paul Gibson was not just the debate, or even its conclusions, but the manner in which that debate appealed to scripture to support its conclusions. It seems to me that it is important to get this clear as we approach this short book otherwise we will fail to appreciate its full value.
The book is not long and its treatment of the debates around homosexuality in the life of the church, although suggestive, is often too brief to invite a change of perspective from those who do not already agree with his position. So, whilst I agree that, "Neither the Bible nor Christian Practice leaves the Lambeth Resolution unchallenged " (78), this position cannot be demonstrated without paying attention to the problematic texts that have been appealed to in the debate, and Gibson declines to do this. In another place he argues that when we pay attention to the context and intent of Jesus teaching on divorce, then its implication for our context will not be the obvious and simple one that divorce is strictly prohibited. Rather we will be drawn to see that marriage (and divorce) are institutions that need to be measured, like all laws and institutions, by whether or not they promote human flourishing.
Once again, I find myself drawn to agree with his point, but believe that to be compelling the claim would have to be developed at much greater length. It almost needs a chapter to itself, not just a paragraph. These undeveloped arguments and suggestively sketched positions will be of great interest to those inclined to agree with Gibson, but will also be easy targets to those who are less sympathetic. If this causes them to miss the main insights of this book that will be unfortunate.
What is fascinating about this book is the way in which the author responds to the problems around the use of scripture. The problem as Gibson sees it is that,
"...The Lambeth Conference left the issue of sexuality relatively if not entirely unchanged from the discipline we have received from the past: homosexual people are not worse off in the church than they were before, although they may not be better off. But on the issue of Scripture the Lambeth Conference moved, I believe, into new territory, distancing itself from the cautious liberal and temperate position expressed in Article VI of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion... and the traditional Anglican Ordinals. It is my belief that the wholesale adoption of the Lambeth Conference's position on Scripture would leave us very much worse off than before (14)."
Of course, others have suggested that scripture is being used inappropriately in this debate but the response is usually a theological or historical argument that shows how Anglicans ought to use scripture, or at least, how they have traditionally used scripture. Paul Gibson very helpfully summarises those arguments but takes us further. He reminds us that for us scripture use is not simply a hermeneutic exercise but a liturgical exercise.
Even more importantly, he reminds us that scripture use is linked to culture, and that culture frames the sorts of questions that can be asked of scripture, and the sorts of answers that we are able to hear. Drawing on the seminal work of the American theologian, Harvey Cox, *The Secular City*, Gibson outlines three basic cultural formations, the tribal, the town and the secular city. He resists seeing these formations as discreet historical progressions, there are elements of the tribal in all of us, and, we might add, that globalisation is implicating all of us in the secular city. Nonetheless, there are historical and cultural reasons why certain approaches and types of questioning are likely to be dominant for particular individuals coming, as we all do, out of particular cultural contexts, and we need to be conscious of this.
I take this to be a very important turn in our conversations about the use of scripture, because cultural plurality is an inescapable reality for the communion, and we need to find ways of becoming more sensitive to it, and more responsive to the tensions that it causes. Of course, we might question whether Cox's framework will be adequate in the long run. Gibson wants us to be sensitive to the need to hear a plurality of cultural and hermeneutic perspectives in a way that reflects the humility of "post modern" insights. Yet Cox's seminal work, despite its disclaimers, appears too hierarchical and progressive, too much like a metanarrative to be anything other than "modern".
Still, this is simply to draft the direction for future work. The
essential insight remains that paying attention to theological and
philosophical questions alone will not deepen our understanding of
each other, let alone resolve debates around human sexuality. If
we want to work toward those goals then we need to pay attention
not only to each other's ideas but also to the shaping of those
ideas in the cultural contexts from which we read the scriptures
and within which discern and are addressed by the Word of God.
Once again this year, members of Integrity and Fidelity gathered together to celebrate our common faith in Jesus Christ, in the midst of our disagreements on the church's approach to lesbians and gays. The preacher, as in previous years, was the Rev Canon Paul Feheley, vice president of Fidelity. The celebrant this year was the Rev Bob Webster, a parish priest from Winnipeg and an Integrity/ Toronto member.
Space is too tight in this issue of *Integrator* to say more than thanks for this service. Watch for more coverage in upcoming editions.
Photos of this event are on Integrity's photo webpage:
During the summer I received a call from a member of my parish asking whether I could perform a same-sex covenanting service for him and his partner. I replied that within the letter of the law as it stands this would not be possible.
I find myself wearied by the letter of the law when it prevents me from helping people to celebrate God's love in their lives and in their love. So I wonder when at least part of our church will be enabled to move on this issue. When I say "move" I do not mean "talk." Talk is easy and safe. The more courageous step of action is surely timely and called for. I feel admiration for the bold action taken by the General Council of the United Church several years ago, action which opened the doors of that church to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in ways which have eluded the Anglican Church. And I feel not a little envy for the freedom thus created for individual Untied Church congregations to become "affirming" congregations where people seeking same-sex unions may receive this ministry.
At the end of this month is the 100th anniversary of the tragic death of Oscar Wilde. Wilde's son received a letter from a man who, as a child, had met Wilde briefly in Paris just before his death in 1900. This man, summing up the French attitude towards Oscar Wilde, concluded "he had been made the scapegoat of puritan hypocrisy."
As I reflect upon this and upon the request I received earlier I
begin to pray and hope that we as a church might avoid the risk of
being driven by what could appear to be puritan hypocrisy. I
continue to pray and hope that we might be driven by a Godly love
and generosity that recognises the amazing complexity of human
Toronto diocesan synod in November 2000 saw Integrity/Toronto's tenth annual presence. Synod opens with a Eucharist at St James' Cathedral on the Thursday evening, and Integrity Co-Conveners Bonnie Crawford-Bewley and Chris Ambidge had the privilege of presenting the bread and wine at the offertory.
Friday and Saturday saw the business meetings of Synod. Our colourful display was in the middle of things outside the plenary hall. As in previous years, our neighbours (by deliberate choice) were Fidelity. On the other side, new neighbours -- Gays, Lesbians and Friends from St James' Cathedral -- made for a long (18 feet!) rainbow presence. All sorts of people, old friends and new, stopped by to say hello, chat with the display staff, pick up some literature and maybe snag some of our giveaway edible treats.
A number of people signing our guest book asked to be added to our mailing list. If you are one of those people receiving *Integrator* by mail for the first time, welcome!
You've been given a complimentary subscription for a year. We hope you enjoy *Integrator* as a way of keeping in touch with what Integrity is doing, both in Toronto and further afield. We try for six issues a year, with articles of interest to those working, hoping and praying for full inclusion of lesbigays in the life of the Anglican Church.
Photos of this event are on Integrity's photo webpage: