These are agonizing days for members and leaders of the Episcopalian majority. As they continue to digest the nearly week-old Dar es Salaam Communique, a cold reality is emerging. They are between the proverbial "rock and a hard place." The rock is their commitment to what they call "full inclusion" of GLBT (Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgendered) members in the life of the church. I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of their contention that it is a moral imperative rooted in the gospel and in their very identity as disciples of Jesus Christ. The hard place is their attachment to and affection for the Anglican Communion. Many of them have deep connections and long-term relationships with various people and places in the larger Anglican world. It would be incredibly painful to lay those relationships aside.
So there is a degree of internecine tension in the "progressive" community. Some are advocating acquiescence to the demands of the Primates. The fact that the Presiding Bishop's name is on the communique supplies a good bit of the energy here. She still enjoys, from what I can tell, an enormous reserve of goodwill among those who were overjoyed at her election. She has political capital. But if she dipped into that capital just three days after her election when she appeared on the floor of the House of Deputies in that unforgettable moment and advocated for B033, she is really dipping into it now as she tries to sell this latest package. If I correctly understood her in the briefing of the '815' staff last Friday, her rationale is something like this: The tide of world opinion is heading only one direction, and that is toward an acceptance of homosexual relationships as within the range of normal, and deserving of all the rights that heterosexual relationships enjoy. Some Anglican provinces are in essential accord with TEC in recognizing this fact. Some Anglican provinces are not as "progressive" as we are, but show signs of openness to our way of thinking. And some, while adamantly opposed at a formal level, just haven't had enough exposure to the gifts that GLBT Christians bring to the life of the church. If we lose our place in the Anglican Communion, we will lose the ability to leaven the lump, and influence the process long-term. It is therefore worth swallowing some of our principles short-term in order to secure these long-term benefits.
It remains to be seen how persuasive this argument is. Several bishops of prominent urban dioceses have already expressed flint-like opposition to any compromise, any retrenchment, in the march toward "full inclusion." Even the prospect of links with the See of Canterbury being severed is not a sufficient deterrent. They would rather lose the Anglican franchise than "sell out" their "GLBT brothers and sisters."
I don't, as they say, have a dog in this hunt. But it gives me no joy to see my "progressive" friends (and others) faced with such an agonizing dilemma. Yet, many of them are inclined to be cynical toward expressions of empathy from someone like me. Comments on this post from last week bear witness to this fact, and I've received similar notes by private email. With some recent exceptions (look at this one), "reappraisers" tend to view "reasserters" as bigoted homophobes who have left their rational faculties in a roadside ditch and are utterly unfaithful to what is now being referred to simply as the Eighth Promise: "Will you seek and serve Christ in all people and respect the dignity of every human being?" It boggles their imagination that a reasonable, faithful person could have any view other than their own. It is an utter disconnect for them.
Communication is a tortuously difficult task even between two people who are committed to it. I've been married to the same woman for nearly 35 years. Despite the fact that we've been together our entire adult lives (we met in college), sharing all that history together, including the raising of three now grown children, and despite that fact that we completely cherish one another, it's not that one of us is from Mars and the other from Venus. One of us is actually from Pluto! We are that different, and communication is therefore that much of a challenge.
So if it's that hard in the supportive context of a marriage, it's amazing that we even try anywhere else. But I'm going to give it a shot. Speaking as a "conservative" (aka "orthodox" or "reasserter"--not, please, "neo-Puritan"), let me say that I believe that persons who find themselves capable of forming an intimate bond only (or primarily) with someone of the same sex are created in the image of God and objects of the love of God. I understand and acknowledge that their orientation is not a choice they have made, and that the orientation itself is morally neutral. When I renew my baptismal vows using the Prayer Book form, I mean every word of what I say.
Why, then, you might ask, do I not support the agenda of "full inclusion"? Because I also believe that God, the creator of human sexuality, has revealed the context in which sexual intercourse may be called blessed--and that is when it is between one man and one woman who are in a covenanted intentionally lifelong relationship with one another. Sexual intercourse in any other context, while it may, by God's generous grace, mediate significant glimpses of the cosmic reconciliation of which it is meant to be a sacramental sign within marriage, falls short of God's design and desire. "Falling short" is one translation for the New Testament word that is usually rendered "sin." The Christian community lacks the authority to invoke God's blessing on a relationship that--notwithstanding its particular qualities, and by its very nature--falls short in that way.
This has nothing whatsoever to do with the intrinsic dignity of GLBT persons. They bear the image of God as much as anyone else. They have the same range of strengths and weaknesses as anyone else, and the same range of gifts and disabilities. I welcome them fully into the life of the church. But I expect them, as I expect myself and everyone else, to be faithful to the "teaching and fellowship of the apostles" (which includes what God has revealed about sexual morality) and to renounce the "sinful desires that draw [them] from the love of God" (which would include any desires that fall short of God's revealed ideal). The only standard of sexual behavior that the church can commend is fidelity in marriage (defined as it has been traditionally understood) and chastity outside of marriage. Those who are engaged in behavior that, on its face, is dissonant with that standard, are not appropriate candidates for positions of visible leadership in the church. Is this a "hard saying"? You bet. Would I change it if I could? Certainly. Do I have that authority? Thank God, no!
So, you see, my "conservative" position is grounded squarely in the vows and promises of Holy Baptism--not just the eight promises that fall under the rubric of the Baptismal Covenant, but also the six renunciations and adhesions that precede it.