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Unspinning Anglican Doctrine - by Stephen Noll

Unspinning Anglican Doctrine

The Rev. Prof. Stephen Noll
The Living Church (USA)

24 April 2005

Many people on all points of the Compass Rose have been waiting to get a clear statement of where the Anglican Communion stands on the limits of sexual activity. Waiting and waiting ... six years and counting since the Lambeth Conference of 1998.

Lambeth 1998 is the fixed knot in our Communion's skein of history, because it firmly tied the issue of homosexual activity to another fixed knot: the teaching and authority of Holy Scripture. Resolution 1.10 on Human Sexuality stated that, "in view of the teaching of Scripture, [this Conference] upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage." Therefore, the Conference "reject[s] homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture." In these seven definitive words from Lambeth, the bishops of the Anglican Communion stated in effect: we cannot accept the agenda of the gay rights movement because it contradicts the fundamental principle of our identity as Anglican Christians.

There may be many other things about homosexuality in matters of pastoral care, social concern and church order up for discussion, but according to Lambeth, the compatibility of homosexual activity with the Word of God is not one of them.

This truth is obvious to the Church in Africa (north of South Africa at least). African Primates and Convocations have reiterated it in a number of statements and in breaking communion with the Episcopal Church USA and the Diocese of New Westminster. The African Primates went to Ireland last month armed with this conviction, and they believe that the Primates' Communiqué articulates their view.

People in the West may not read the Primates' message this way. Why? Perhaps because the drafters of the document were Western ecclesiastical politicians putting in their own dialect what others would have said more simply and forcefully. Some drafters may even see themselves as Penelopes, playing for time until a mythical consensus appears.

Many Westerners are also deceived because Bishop Frank Griswold and the apologists of the North American Church are, to switch metaphors, spewing ink like a retreating octopus, saying nothing has really happened to affect their future in the Anglican Communion. This activity is folly, as they may well deceive themselves into thinking they can befog and befuddle the rest of the Communion on the key issue.

No doubt their delusion is tied to the thin thread in the Windsor Report calling for a demonstration of the "significant development of theology which alone could justify the recent moves by a diocese or a province" (sec. 33, also secs. 135 and 142). And no doubt we must brace ourselves to hear more of "our stories" from the gay lobby at the ACC meeting in June.

What we will not get is a serious refutation of Lambeth's statement that homosexual practice is contrary to Scripture. Oh, yes, we'll hear incantations on the theme, "we solemnly reverence Scripture, it's just the interpretation we can't agree on."

How far does that refrain really get anyone? I wrote a book for the 1997 General Convention arguing that the rejection of all sexual activity outside marriage is part of the warp and woof of Scripture from Genesis 1:27 to Revelation 22:14-17 - to which no reply was given. In 2001, Robert Gagnon wrote a 500-page book, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, which came to the same conclusion. Gagnon challenged Bishop Griswold to respond to his argument and was treated to the PB's characteristic sound of silence in reply.

There are indeed many hard texts and ambiguities in Scripture. Upholding heterosexual monogamy and rejecting all other forms of sexuality is not one of them. The Global South leaders know this, and whatever the spinners may say, they are not going to wait much longer. These leaders are the true Penelopes, deflecting the wiles of false suitors while holding fast to their vow to the one true Spouse, the Word of God.

At the decisive debate at Lambeth, Nigerian Bishop Peter Adebiyi held up a Bible and said: "Missionaries came to Africa carrying the Bible with them and teaching Christians to hold meticulously to the words of Scripture. Now Scripture has spoken: God created man and woman..." The issue facing the Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada is whether or not they will remain part of a church that holds that the Bible is the Word of God and conforms its life accordingly.


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