INTEGRATOR, the newsletter of Integrity/Toronto
copyright 2003 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
GETTING TO THE HEART OF THE MATTER
New Westminster plan for blessing same-sex unions should be scrapped
by Jennifer A Harris
SCRIPTURE AND PLAIN REASON
on upholding the authority of scripture
by the Rev Canon Bill Morrison
A DAILY REFORMATION OF THE HEART
a review of Chris Glaser's daily meditation Book
by Chris Ambidge
REQUIESCAT IN PACE
obituary for William Wood, founder and past president of Integrity/Vancouver
by Jennifer A. Harris
Recent events in the Diocese of New Westminster have re-energised what has become a lengthy and sometimes stale debate about whether or not the Anglican Church of Canada should bless same-sex unions. While the circumstances in New Westminster are complex, we can say that these events have provided a necessary focus for the on-going discussion. That the events in New Westminster threaten to divide the Church is, for some observers, a foregone conclusion. This perspective is not limited to one particular group, since both "sides" of the debate have recognised the powerful emotions and sentiments expressed in the actions of the people and bishop involved. One comment to arise from this situation is the suggestion that the Anglican Church of Canada is now spending more time talking about sex than about God. This statement suggests that the level at which the debate is perceived to be taking place is not adequate to the contents of the debate, nor to what is truly at stake in this discussion.
The question of whether or not the Anglican Church of Canada should sanction the blessing of same-sex unions is not a question about sex, or at least, it should not be. Instead, it is a profoundly important question about the theological nature of marriage, or more specifically whether the nature of marriage is such that it is open to the inclusion of gay and lesbian people, or, conversely, that marriage expresses a divine ordinance which cannot be changed. Simply put, this debate is not about sex, but about theology, about our understanding of the meaning and status of marriage in God's intentions. This "fact" about the debate may be welcome to some on both sides of the issue, but it has rarely been expressed.
One reason why the debate is perceived to be about something other than theology is that it is taking place at a practical level, where concrete pastoral concerns serve as primary motivation. In fact, the language of "blessing" has been used as a pastoral tool for both camps: extending the Church's welcome to gay and lesbian relationships, while not alienating those who would defend the traditional teachings on marriage. This pastoral concern is why the desire for the blessing of same-sex unions has arisen chiefly in those dioceses where there is a sizeable gay and lesbian Anglican population. It is in response to the stories of suffering and redemption told by gay and lesbian Anglicans that some pastors have dared to speak about a legitimate need to offer the Church's fullest blessings to these couples. Additionally, Anglicans have recognised the need to speak a word of faith to the gay and lesbian communities beyond the church walls, and do so by inviting them inside the church with open arms. These people of good will acknowledge that the Christian Church has been for too long an unwelcoming place for gay people and, in the name of justice and the Gospel, these barriers must be brought down. Whether a simple blessing achieves this end is another matter, and one to which I shall return in a moment.
While we may agree that pastoral and theological concerns should not be at odds with one another, the obstinate opposition engendered by the issue of same-sex unions suggests that pastoral concerns have over-ridden the foundational theological issues at hand, and that the Anglican Church cannot move forward on the pastoral side before wrestling openly with the theological. We are witnessing in this debate two very different approaches to the meaning, or theological significance, of marriage. They are fighting each other without sufficient acknowledgement that they each hold such differing approaches. There is little recognition that the level at which they are disagreeing concerns meaning itself. The result is that the two sides of the debate end up talking past each other.
One assumption that underlies my observations is that the issues of same-sex unions and the definition of marriage are contiguous and to speak about the one without addressing the other is fruitless since they are, in the Christian context, inseparable. This is so because we Christians cannot talk about intimate relationships without talking about troth [a pledged "word" --Ed.]. Likewise, we cannot avoid the fact that the only intimate relationship the Church has ever sanctioned is that which serves to proclaim the self-sacrificing love of Christ for the Church, that is, Christian marriage. With this said, we can begin to explore the theological under-girding of the debate at hand.
Marriage is, for most Anglican, if not most Canadians, a symbolic (even a sacramental) institution, that is to say, while it is something tangible it has meaning beyond its individual instances and this meaning is rooted in history, culture, and revelation. That marriage has symbolic value is simply to acknowledge its sacramental nature. Marriage signifies or represents, among other things, life-long commitment and fidelity. This content of marriage, its meaning, is appealing to some and repellent to others, yet most people will agree that this is what marriage represents or symbolises. But agreement at this level is quite superficial. There are (at least) two distinct beliefs about the nature of meaning, especially when applied to things with important symbolic value: the belief that these things are meaningful because they have been endowed with meaning by strictly human means, and those who hold that meaning is essential or inherent within that thing, that it reveals a divine intention in its content and meaning. These two positions may be called the cultural and the essential approaches, respectively. While there are other approaches (and I shall note one below), these two models seem to be dominant in recent debates.
We can see that these two positions yield rather different approaches today. Thus, while we can all agree that marriage has historically been limited to the union between a man and a woman, and endorsed by the Church for the procreation and upbringing of children, mutual aid and comfort, and the avoidance of lust, a culturalist must argue that this meaning is open to renegotiation, allowing for (as in the current debate) the expansion of the gender definition to include same-sex couples. The cultural approach may honour the traditions of the Church and wish to uphold the sanctity of marriage, but it stresses the Church's ability to develop its interpretations of these traditions. On the other hand, the essentialist believes that the meaning of marriage includes its gendered polarity which is simply not open to change. It is on these terms that people of good will can genuinely say that they are not opposed to gay people being in the Church, but cannot recognise their relationships as marriages (or even marriage-like) because they fail to meet a basic element in the symbolic or theological meaning of marriage.
As laid out here, we can see that even if people agree that gay and lesbian people should have full access to the grace and blessings of the Church (which, we admit, not all Anglicans believe), they can still draw very different conclusions about the nature these blessings should take. It is this foundational disagreement about the nature of the meaning, that is, the theological significance of marriage, and God's role in shaping the meaning of marriage, that keeps the Church from achieving unity on the question of same-sex unions. Even if pastoral issues and the righting of historic injustice were to unite all Anglicans on the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the Church, there would remain the foundational debate about the meaning of the rites and symbols of inclusion, that is, the ritual of blessing or marriage and its meaning.
However, the full inclusion of gay and lesbian Anglicans in the sacraments of the Church is not a justice issue, or even a pastoral one (and it is certainly not about sex), it is a theological question that gives rise to numerous important questions which demand our attention. How do we as Anglicans understand the meaning marriage as revealed in Scripture and practised throughout history? If we agree that marriage reveals its meaning in its divine institution, does this means that its definition and practice is fixed? Is it possible to uphold a belief in the divinely-ordained sanctity of marriage while suggesting that the gender polarity of its membership be disregarded? What is the Spirit saying to the Church in the witness of its gay and lesbian members? Since there have already been blessings of same-sex unions in the Anglican Church of Canada (albeit covertly performed) how can we continue to pray (lex orandi) what we are unwilling to say we believe (lex credendi)?
The Diocese of New Westminster has recently approved the development of a non-doctrinal, non-sacramental rite for the blessing of same sex-unions. Given the profound issues at stake, one wonders if such a rite is even possible. Can we talk about the liturgical blessing of a relationship without speaking of the theological, sacramental, and doctrinal meaning of such a gesture? I suggest that the answer to this question is no. Furthermore, it seems to me that the question and this proposed answer are missing the point. The history of the Christian Church reflects uncontroversially the development of doctrines and practices which seek to reflect Christ's saving love for the world. Marriage is one such doctrine. The sacrament of marriage is not the event which takes place in the church building with so many witnesses, it is the life-long working out of the implications of that event which testifies to Christ's sacrificial love. This vision of marriage is suggested in Ephesians 5 and I would like to call this a third approach to marriage (after the two I noted above). The modelling of marital intimacy and fidelity on Christ's relationship with the Church--an ecclesiological approach--is perhaps the earliest model of Christian marriage we possess which allows for the concerns of the essentialists and the culturalists in the practice of Christian marriage. While the foundational text for the ecclesiological model of marriage assumes a gendered polarity of husband and wife, the purpose of marriage laid out there is not the procreative issues of such a coupling, but a sacramental modelling in daily, public life of Christ's love for the world. This public testimony, it seems to me, is the divinely-ordained purpose of marriage; the procreation of children, the mutual comfort, and life-long fidelity are the fruits of this purpose, not the purpose itself.
What is more, the ecclesiological model affirms divine ordering of human relationships, while at the same time allowing for the Church's engagement in cultural developments over time. For example, the earliest influence the Church had on the Roman imperial notion of marriage was to insist that people of differing legal status (ie slaves and free) could marry; later, the Church sought to establish prohibited degrees of consanguinity in order to de-politicise noble marriages; most recently, the Anglican Church of Canada has allowed for the remarriage of divorced people in the Church. All of these practices are culturally conditioned, yet they adhere to an unchanging purpose of marriage. It is on the basis of this ecclesiological view of marriage that I am arguing for the inclusion of same-sex couples in promoting this ideal of Christian witness. Any blessing of same-sex relationships that does not set out this sacramental purpose for the relationship is not, in my view, a truly Christian rite; any rite that does embrace this purpose is clearly a marriage, so let's call it by its real name. That is to say, while I argue against the non-sacramental, non-doctrinal blessing of same-sex unions, I argue for the inclusion of same-sex couples in Christian marriage.
Some may say that gays and lesbians don't want marriages. This may be true for some and false for others. But the Church is not in the business of giving people what they want, it is about giving people (and, by extension, the world) what they need. Others say that marriage is a broken institution that gay and lesbian people shouldn't be forced into. And while the practice of Christian marriage is always less than ideal, the ideal remains essential to the Church's witness in a broken world. The world needs sacramental witnesses to Christ's self-giving love for the Church and the whole cosmos. Christian marriage is, and always has been, the mechanism by which intimate relationships can take this witness out into daily life. Marriage is not the only way to be a Christian in the world, but it is the Christian way to be a couple in the world, serving the purpose (as I see it) for Christ's endorsement of a complex human institution.
Given the theological nature of what is at stake, it would appear that the situation in New Westminster, while perhaps a necessary step along the way, is a distraction from the discussion which should be taking place on a theological level, in the form of a debate on the doctrine of the Church, and on the meaning and interpretation of the Church's understanding of marriage and, by extension, other intimate relationships. As such, the development of a rite for blessing same-sex unions is properly a matter of doctrine and worship, not of discipline, and should be delivered into the hands of the whole national Church, and not one member of the Body. It is my hope that this sub-Christian model for consecrating same-sex relationship to God's purposes will be scrapped and the Church engage in a renewal of the notion of marriage so that all Christians, gay and straight, may aspire to its holy purpose.
by the Rev Canon Bill Morrison
What does it mean to "uphold the authority of scripture"?
At a recent clergy conference we were asked to use our small-group time to discuss the New Westminster decision to authorise the blessing of same sex unions and its impact on our ministries and our parishes. Afterwards we reported back to the larger group.
In the report-back one of my colleagues said that the main concern of their small group was that we "uphold the authority of scripture." It was clear the small group thought that was something that Bishop Ingham and the New Westminster synod had not done.
That got me thinking. What exactly does it mean to uphold the authority of scripture? Or, to come at it from the opposite side, what would dishonouring scripture look like?
For instance: I do not believe that the universe was created in six days in the spring of the year 4004 BCE, even though that seems to be what the bible says. I believe the universe is billions of years old. I do not believe that the earth sits on pillars, flat, at the centre of the universe, though that is what the bible says.
I do not believe, with scripture, that the sun "comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber [and] ... goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens and runs about to the end of it again," revolving around the earth. The earth revolves around the sun.
I believe that the blue sky is an optical illusion created by the scattering of light, and is not, as scripture says, an impermeable "firmament" in which the sun, the moon, and the other celestial objects are embedded. I believe that beyond the sky lies, not, as Genesis teaches, the waters of chaos, but rather the universe in its all its vastness and complexity.
In believing these things I am rejecting some "foundational" scriptural texts and concepts. I am, presumably, not "upholding the authority of scripture." But am I? Can one reject the Bible's cosmology -- its science -- and still uphold its truth? I think so.
I can still say Psalm 19 without hesitation, enjoying its picture of God creating a "pavilion" for the sun in the ocean, from which it rises "like a champion to run its course" across the sky, while remaining with my feet firmly set the universe of Copernicus and Newton. With our differing world views, we agree that "The heavens declare the glory of God."
Another example: I do not believe that rebellious teenagers should be stoned to death by their parents. I do not believe in capital punishment or talionic (an eye for an eye) justice. I do not believe that slavery is something to be accepted as part of the status quo. Yet these are all practices condoned and even encouraged by scripture. Not only do I not believe that rejecting them is denying the authority of scripture, I believe that rejecting the literal words of scripture is, in these instances, to uphold its true authority as "word of God."
I even believe that my colleague who spoke at the clergy day is really entitled to be part of that group, and even to stand up in the assembly, her head uncovered, and to speak her mind. By doing so I dishonour some quite significant texts of scripture and deny their authority for the Church today. Undoubtedly she also believes that, by accepting her call to ordination and exercising the office and ministry of a priest, she is not acting in defiance of God's word or disrespecting scripture, even though it silences women in church and suggests that the ordained ministry is for males alone.
And yet she does believe that to bless covenanted same-sex unions is to go against the authority of scripture in some way that her ordination does not.
The bible knows no more about the existence of sexual orientation as a variable in the human psyche than it does about the earth orbiting the sun. Nearly everyone -- even my female colleague, I suspect -- would agree that one can uphold the authority of scripture while admitting its cosmology is mistaken. Why is sexual orientation different? Why, if we can affirm that the earth revolves around the sun when the bible says the opposite, can we not affirm a diversity of sexual orientations in humankind, even though the bible assumes everyone is heterosexual?
It seems to me, at this point, that what we are dealing with is no longer a matter of upholding the authority of scripture, but of using scripture to uphold our intention of denying something we do not wish to accept, in spite of the evidence. That's nothing new. In the 18th century people went so far as to say that God put fossils in rocks to tempt scientists into believing that the earth is older than the bible says it is. Some people will go to extraordinary lengths rather than admit that the bible is wrong in its facts and assumptions.
What about the next step: saying that, given the existence of differing sexual orientations, it's as possible for two men or two women living in a covenanted relationship of mutual love, commitment and fidelity to be blessed in their relationship as a man and a woman can be in theirs? Does that deny the authority of scripture? And if it does, how does it differ from the other ways in which our current beliefs and practices are at variance with what the bible says?
Once we have gone this far, we can then see that everything that the bible says about the gifts and responsibilities two people in love have for one another apply just as much to homosexual couples as to heterosexual ones.
Conservative evangelicals are big on "upholding the authority of scripture" when it comes to matters of sexual orientation. So am I. I just prefer to do it from the perspective of the real world.
Book Review by Chris Ambidge
Seven years ago, I began using a daily spiritual reading during my daily commute, as a way of beginning my day with a God-centred focus. The book that was first able to capture my attention on a daily basis was The Word is Out by Chris Glaser, and I wrote a review for Integrator in September 1995. He has now compiled a second daily-meditation book, Reformation of the Heart, and that has now found a permanent home in the side-pocket of my briefcase for reading on the streetcar.
Reformation of the Heart is based on the church, rather than the secular calendar. It offers a scripture passage, meditation and a brief prayer for each of the days in the seasons of Advent, Epiphany and Lent.
Lesbigay people are all-too-aware of the seven biblical "clobber passages", which are used over and over to tell us that we are scum of the earth. There is a very powerful urge for us to steer clear of biblical stuff, the same way that a dog beaten once too often will run away from anything that looks like a stick. In doing that, we deny ourselves the water of life. Chris Glaser points out that the Bible is a much richer source of blessings than it is of curses. He has assembled a series of texts that reveal God's blessings as seen through lesbigay eyes. I've found Reformation of the Heart a wonderful window to see the light.
Here, to give you a taste, is the reading for February 14
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them... There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because God first loved us. 1 John 4:16, 18-19
Realising that "God first loved us" is an epiphany. That is to say, it must be experienced. One may argue it. One may reason to it. One may imagine it. One may even believe it. But epiphanies are more than argument, reason, imagination, and belief. Epiphanies are experiences.
Consider your history and you may find more experiences of God's supposed "un-love" than of God's love: A scripture passage condemning who you are. A sermon attacking gay rights. A family member rejecting you for religious reasons. A beloved church friend pulling away because of your self-disclosure. A person refused membership in your church for being gay. Denominations refusing ordination of gay sand lesbians. Religious groups and leaders pressuring legislatures to allow only heterosexual marriage. Attending a heterosexual marriage in a church that would never bless your relationship.
Now read your love letter s from God; A scripture passage that moved you because it defended someone who was oppressed. A sermon that touched you for being so welcoming. A family member who embraced you because "that's what Christ would do". A beloved church friend who hugged you when you came out. A church that openly welcomes lesbians and gay men, bisexuals and transgenders. Denominations that ordain us. Religious groups and leaders pushing for gay marriage. Attending a same-gender marriage in an inclusive church.
Maybe your love letters from God were a little different than these. Maybe you haven't received all your love letters from God -- but I promise you, they're on the way.
As we grown in our experience that God first loved us, we can see the imperfection in those people and church that fear us. We can see our own imperfection in fearing them or God. We can understand that those who love us abide in God and God in them. We can understand that we abide in God because we love. And we experience that God is love.
Oh happy day! When you first loved me as a twinkle in my parent' eyes, knit me together in my mother's womb, awesomely, wonderfully made in your image -- who am I that you are mindful of me, O God? And yet you first loved me, and so I love. Thanks be to you, divine lover!
Chris Glaser has an MDiv from Yale Divinity School. He now makes his home in Atlanta (with his dogs, Calvin and Hobbes), spending his time writing and leading retreats. Several of his books have been reviewed over the years in Integrator. He has his own website, www.ChrisGlaser.com
Reformation of the Heart: Seasonal Meditations by a Gay Christian (ISBN
0-644-22306-0) is available from the
Anglican Book Centre, 600 Jarvis St Toronto ON M4Y 2P6, (416) 924 9192 or
(800) 268 1168, .
It's also available from amazon.com , or from the publisher, wjkbooks.com .
The Integrity movement in Canada was founded by people across the country who were prepared to take a stand in the church for full inclusion of lesbians and gays. In those days, the late 1970s, it was not yet explicit that homosexuals had full call on the pastoral resources of the church. One of the pioneers of Integrity in this country was William Wood, who founded the Vancouver chapter over 22 years ago. Bill died unexpectedly, of a heart attack, on 24 January 2003.
Integrity/Vancouver celebrated his life and bade goodbye to their brother, former president and core member on 8 February. The requiem Eucharist was at St Paul's in the West End of Vancouver, where the chapter has met and worshipped for many years. Bill was known to Integrity people across the country, having been part of the Integrity team at several General Synods. His contributions to Integrity over decades have been many; both obvious and behind-the-scenes. We are grateful for his ground-breaking work, and while we will miss him, we rejoice that he is now singing God's praises in a better place.
Here is a picture of Bill and the rest of the Integrity team at General Synod 2001
in behind: Steve Schuh (Vancouver), Bob Webster (Winnipeg), Peter Tovell (Calgary), and John Gartshore (Toronto);
in the middle: Ron Chaplin (Ottawa), Bill Wood (Vancouver), BK Hipsher (Niagara Falls), Patti Brace (Sudbury), and Bonnie Crawford-Bewley (Toronto);
in front:Chris Ambidge (Toronto), Penelope Holeton (Toronto).
Bill is second from the left in the middle row.