All have seen

All the ends of the earth
have seen the salvation of our God:
sing joyfully to God, all the earth. – Psalm 98:3

Monday, May 23, 2011

To a fierce advocate of LGBT issues in the Anglican Communion: Christology and the future of LGBT activism

This is a note to a retired priest in New Zealand who is a very zealous proponent of a particular interpretation of sexual ethics within the church. I left it originally as a comment here, and have slightly edited it (removed one paragraph which was too specific in nature). It seems to me like it could be relevant to a great many advocates of LGBT issues in the Anglican Communion; so I post it here.

Fr. Ron,

As passionate as you are about the LGBT community – I’d urge you to turn your passion also to understanding how the Christology of The Episcopal Church (TEC) effectively places it outside of Trinitarian Christianity. This is one of the reasons why “dissidents” left – because, unfortunately, TEC has been showing itself as a dissident with regard to Christ Himself. And it’s likely, in the long run, to undermine much of what you are trying to achieve with regard to LGBT rights as other churches decide their positions on this matter given what occurs in the midst of us Anglicans. However, I don’t wish so much to engage you in your thoughts regarding these “dissidents,” but rather to speak to your love of Christ and of LGBT people.

Your voice is heard in the LGBT community and within TEC – you could help advocate a returning of TEC to faith in Christ – e.g., acknowledging Christ as God incarnate in human flesh – instead of this all generally being a set of edifying metaphors for the purpose of directing person’s actions toward various causes for social justice.

No matter how important the cause of LGBT inclusion in the church may be … this is not “the same thing” as Jesus Himself – we must recognize Jesus as The Risen Christ to whom we must turn in seeking transformation of life – and not as various metaphors for doing various good things.


I have been in “very conservative” groups of Christians, where the Christology was unfortunately flattened into a form of legalism – “good Christians don’t smoke, good Christians don’t have sex outside of marriage, good Christians don’t swear,” etc. etc. – with some actually forgetting the incredible importance of the Risen and incarnate Christ Himself, and the way He has changed everything.

Unfortunately, something like this is going on inside of TEC; only it is not simply being modeled by behavior and by lack of good teaching about Christ, as in the case of the conservative groups – to some extent it is being explicitly taught. Not that the things we should do and avoid in TEC's teaching have to do with smoking, cursing, etc.; but doctrines having to do primarily with “inclusion” and treatment of groups of people (which I must add – many of such I am in profound agreement – just as I am in agreement that smoking is damaging to one’s health – but these should not be reductionistically confused with the very person of Jesus Christ Himself).

There is a great deal of evidence of this – from TEC’s promotions of the teachings of Marcus Borg, to +KJS’s sermons and various statements.
I would appeal to you: that you ask your LGBT allies to urgently consider who Christ is – first of all, who Christ is “for me” – i.e., what I currently believe – but also, what does Jesus say about Himself? What does the church teach, and why? If we would like our faith to grow, or to develop as to appreciate the beliefs summed up in the creeds, if we somehow “aren’t there quite yet”? Instead of: teaching people that the creeds mean, more or less, some sort of ethical program?

Think of how a person’s development in faith and turning to Christ can be stunted if he or she is taught things which imply, in plain language, that Jesus is dead – that proclaiming “Jesus Lives” is profoundly similar to saying “Elvis lives” (like Marcus Borg). I must say for all of my LGBT friends: I would vastly prefer that they undergo various sorts of suffering at the hands of persons who discriminate against them, but grow in faith in the Risen Christ – than to be teaching things in the church which amount to bringing “another gospel into the church,” thereby bringing down upon themselves “anathema.” At such a point, I’d argue, it matters little what we are teaching about sexual ethics or which groups are suffering discrimination at our hands. And: that if we are being terribly, unjustly anti-gay – this may be, in the long term, good for gay people themselves – as they will avoid terrible things in our midst by avoiding us. There are all those other, faithful Trinitarian Christian churches – Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Reformed, Baptist, Pentecostalist, etc. etc..

In short, as a lover of Christ and of LGBT people, please consider: a new movement of LGBT people which is not afraid to be confident in Christ; and is very clear about its refusal of teachings about Christ which are not true to what He told us, and contrary to Trinitarian Christianity.

My own “prognostication” here is that the Anglican Communion will suffer greatly, with the LGBT movement within it significantly marginalized when it comes to world Christianity – with churches wishing to maintain Trinitarian Christianity, and associating the LGBT movement strongly with TEC and the debacle of the Communion. But this all is very much less likely to occur, if LGBT Christians are able to prove themselves as witnesses for Christ Himself – something much more than e.g. the cause for ordinations of persons who engage in same-gender sex acts. I, actually, do not believe that God blesses same-gender sex acts. But like you, I love LGBT Christians. And because I love them, I also love it when they authentically profess faith in Christ – and do not confuse Christ with a mere ethical or political platform. If we believe only in sexual ethics – from my view, it probably would be better for things to continue their course, with the Anglican Communion completely marginalized and self-destroying, and other churches doing all they can to avoid the same fate. Actually, I do not care enough about the Communion one way or the other at this point to muster faith in one or the other outcome. However: no matter what happens with the Communion – it is surely a beautiful and wonderful thing if LGBT people are taught to turn to Christ and love Him – no matter what it is that they believe about sexual ethics.

I believe that many LGBT supporters are rather na├»vely counting on a kind of short-term “victory” for TEC without any further reflection on TEC’s Christology, without realizing that the long-term effect of this will very likely be: a further and very profound association of the teachings of Spong, Pike, Borg, +KJS, and McFague with issues around LGBT inclusion in the church … with very few Trinitarian churches willing to even begin considering such things … with many profoundly unhealthy attitudes toward LGBT people in churches going relatively unchallenged, or even exacerbated.

But I would also like to ask you to consider: is not the cause of Jesus Christ Himself, much more important than interpretations of who should be bishops? If we are banging on about our own “wisdom” of who should be a bishop … while neglecting the Christology in the pastoral theology of TEC which is now being represented at a Communion-wide level with +KJS as Primate, are we not likely to evolve rather “fundamentalist” notions about Jesus which come not from Jesus’s own words, but rather upon our blind insistence upon certain protocols of ecclesiology?

I do not wish to enamour you with either the ADV or the ACNA, but merely use what we see here as a springboard for reflecting upon Christ Himself. Please, out of your love for Christ, and your love for LGBT people, consider aiding them in seeking a movement which helps them turn to, and worship The Risen Christ – instead of, as they will be taught in many places in TEC, that Jesus is, in plain language, dead.

My article again, in case you wish to look at it once more, here

Blessings to you and yours,
Blessings to all LGBT people, those in Christ and those who have not yet found Him;
Blessings to all in TEC, the ACNA, and in the Communion
James

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