Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Anglicans Take a Step Back

From the New York Times this morning:

Facing a possible churchwide schism, the Anglican Communion yesterday gave its Episcopal branch in the United States less than eight months to ban blessings of same-sex unions or risk a reduced role in the world’s third-largest Christian denomination.

Anglican leaders also established a separate council and a vicar to help address the concerns of conservative American dioceses that have been alienated by the Episcopal Church’s support of gay clergy and blessings of same-sex unions. Although the presiding American bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, agreed to the arrangement, some conservatives described it as an extraordinary check on her authority.

The directive, issued after a five-day meeting of three dozen top leaders of the Anglican church gathering in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, constituted a severe rebuke of the small but affluent American branch. Conservative Anglicans described the communiqué as a landmark document that affirms the primacy of Scripture and church doctrine for the world’s 77 million Anglicans, only 2.3 million of whom are Episcopalians.

“This is very, very, very significant,” said Bill Atwood, who serves as a strategist for a group of the conservative bishops. “It was either call the Episcopal Church back or lose the Anglican Communion, and the group agreed it was better to call the Episcopal Church back.”

We have made remarkable progress over the last 200 years in widening the circle of God's realm to include blacks and other racial minorities, women, and now gays. It is always worth remembering that each movement forward was opposed by Christians who quoted their scriptures and claimed that the word of God was absolute: blacks are not equal, women are not equal, homosexuals are not equal. Each movement forward also included temporary steps backward. Think about the Civil War. Christian churches were willing to split over the issue and the country went to war. But progress came and now Christians look back on that moment and wonder how any person could think that slavery could be justified or blacks could be treated as sub-human. Where did that come from? Well, of course, it came from the Bible. It's in there and there is no use trying to deny it. But we recognize today that the Bible was wrong about slavery, and so were those Christians who used their Bible to defend the indefensible institution.

And so it is with attitudes toward homosexuality. The same backward spirit is fighting a rear-guard action against full acceptance of homosexuals. These Christians are using their Bibles to defend an indefensible position. They are wrong. And at some point in the future Christians will look back on this particular battle and wonder what we were thinking.

In the meantime, the struggle continues. And some of our welcoming churches will probably be seeing a few more Episcopalians.

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