- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Episcopal Church in the United States has done it again. Having marched out of step with the majority of the worldwide Anglican Communion, American Episcopalians have declared their intention to walk even further apart.

The world knows about the ordination of a bishop in a same-sex relationship and the ways in which that has torn the fabric of the communion, as the primates have said, at its deepest level. (This, by the way, is also a classic description of schism.) It also is widely known that people have their same-sex unions “blessed” in many parts of the Episcopal Church and such people also can be candidates for ordination.

All this continues despite the clear teaching of the 1998 Lambeth Conference that it should not.

So what is new? In passing Resolution DO25, the General Convention has openly stated that ordination should be open to those living in same-sex unions, which it also regards as exemplifying “holy love.” In a further resolution, CO56, the Episcopal Church has agreed to bring liturgies for blessing same-sex relationships to the next General Convention, in 2012, for final approval.

Why are all of these developments important? Are they not simply a formalizing of what happens anyway, and is the church not just reflecting the culture in which it is set?

Let it be said, straightaway, that this issue is not a second- or lower-order one on which Christians can agree to disagree. It profoundly has to do with how men and women are created together in God’s image and together given a common mission in the world. This mission they fulfill in ways that are both distinctive and complementary.

No Bible-believing Christian can say that “men are from Mars and women from Venus.” They are not distinct species but have been made for each other in their distinctiveness and complement each other. This is the burden of the earliest chapters of Genesis that are strongly and unambiguously affirmed in the teaching of Jesus himself. As a whole, the Bible’s teaching on human sexuality clearly affirms that the proper expression of our sexual nature is within the context of married love. The alternative, for those who have this gift, is dedicated singleness in the fulfillment of God’s purposes.

In the pagan world, in which the Bible was written, such a view was vigorously countercultural. Many of Israel’s neighbors tolerated both heterosexual and homosexual practices that are rejected by the Bible because they violate the holiness of God, the order of creation and respect for persons.

It is often the case that where the fundamental teaching of the Bible regarding marriage is not upheld, the status of women, in particular, suffers and they are reduced to being either a source for male self-gratification or chattel who maintain the home while men seek gratification elsewhere.

Today also, in the context of permissive cultures, the church has sometimes to take a countercultural stand so that the dignity of persons, made in God’s image, is not debased.

As to same-sex attraction, there may be a predisposition toward it, even if we do not know all the reasons for it. That does not mean it must be gratified. Not every desire can or should be given active expression.

There may be relationship issues with a parent or a seeking of the man or the woman “I want to be” in others of the same sex. Those in such situations need to be cared for and to know that God loves them. They need to be helped so they can conform their lives to the stature of the fullness of Christ.

As they are welcomed to church and hear God’s word, they will meet with Christ and be transformed by the renewal of their minds, spirits and bodies. They will be nurtured by word and sacrament but also by friendship.

Again and again, people say it is the affirmation of Christian friends, the role model of a wise, perhaps older Christian and the fellowship of the church family that have brought them to a new place in their discipleship.

None of this seems to bother the decision-makers in the Episcopal Church (though it may bother the faithful more than we think). They will have caused a schism despite repeated entreaties by the rest of the communion not to take unilateral action that contravenes the teaching of the Bible, the unanimous teaching of the church down the ages and the understanding of the vast majority of Christians today.

There can be little doubt that the latest moves in the Episcopal Church will further damage the fellowship among Anglicans. There will be more talk of the rupture, impairment of communion and the like. The moves also will further damage ecumenical relations with other churches, such as the Roman Catholic, the Orthodox and various evangelical and Pentecostal bodies. Interfaith dialogue, especially with Muslims, also has been adversely affected, with dialogue partners asking how what they have hitherto regarded as a “heavenly religion” can sanction a practice that most religions do not permit.

In all this, those who remain orthodox in faith and morals will need to remember that any disruption of fellowship is for the sake of discipline and the eventual restoration of those who have chosen to go their own way to the common faith and life of the church. It is for this that we must work and pray.

The Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali is Anglican bishop of Rochester in England. The bishop was born in Pakistan and ministered there as well as in Britain and elsewhere. He has both a Muslim and a Christian family background.

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