Canadian liturgist Paul Gibson
Rev. Paul Gibson went to England to the 1998 Lambeth Conference (the church’s decennial meeting of bishops from around the world) as a member of its support staff and came back home nearly shaking with anger.
“I was not sure I wanted to be a Christian, much less an Anglican (after Lambeth),” he recalled, in an interview. What upset him was the instantly-famous resolution “rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture” and rejecting the “legitimizing or blessing of same-sex unions” and the ordination of “those involved in same-gender unions.”
The resolutions were based on a view of the Bible that Mr. Gibson feels is erroneous and contrary to Anglican tradition. As a result, he has written Discerning the Word: The Bible and Homosexuality in Anglican Debate, recently published by the Anglican Book Centre.
Just 95 pages long, it is a clearly-written critique of how the Bible has been used in the debate over homosexuality, in society and in the church. The book is accessible to laity as well as clergy, written in an even tone that addresses “this tradition-treasuring but wonderfully flexible Communion.”
Mr. Gibson, 68, worked for 27 years as a consultant for theological education and as General Synod’s liturgical officer. In a biographical note, he writes that he “was born and spent (his) childhood in conservative sectarian Christianity in which biblical literalism and infallibility were taken for granted.”
He was raised in Ontario and the churches were Baptist and Plymouth Brethren, he said in the interview. At the age of 16 he attended a service where he “felt I and the congregation were being manipulated by calls for conversion.”
After a short period of non-observance, he wrote, he became an Anglican “and began a long and sometimes painful journey towards an understanding of the Bible that is, I believe, not only authentically Anglican but deeper and more honest than unquestioning literalism can ever be.”
Mr. Gibson leaves no doubt where he stands. He writes that “the Bible is always open to liberation, transformation and change.” He notes that there is not one Bible, but several – the Jewish bible, which does not recognize the New Testament; the Roman Catholic bible, which accepts several books that Protestants do not; the bibles of the Orthodox churches, which differ in the number of books they accept.
“Christians have obviously never been in complete agreement on what they meant by ‘Holy Scriptures,'” Mr. Gibson writes.
He also analyzes the way the Lambeth bishops approached the Bible and used it in the homosexuality debate, within the framework of a 25-year-old book: The Secular City by U.S. Baptist scholar Harvey Cox. Human culture, wrote Mr. Cox, developed within three contexts: the tribe, the town and the secular city. “The subject of homosexuality did in fact sort the bishops more or less with his threefold description,” writes Mr. Gibson.
Mr. Gibson is careful not to denigrate a “tribal” world-view, which, at Lambeth, belonged mainly to bishops from Third-World nations. Tribal culture, he says, can be highly sophisticated, but does feature a “fixed and traditional point of view” that, at Lambeth, was virulently opposed to homosexuality.
A second group, “in the spirit of town life culture” based its disapproval of homosexuality on the Bible as a source of law.
Members of the secular city believe everything changes in time; that tradition gives us light, but “we still have to find the answer.”
Mr. Gibson also notes that the Bible contains material that is rejected by contemporary society – “the legal arrangements for slavery in Exodus 21” ? “the hymn in praise of murdering Babylonian children in the final verses of Psalm 137.”
Mr. Gibson urges us to search “for the spirit of the tradition, rather than the letter” and asks “Does Lambeth 1998 Resolution I.10 truly reflect the kingdom of God?”
Jesus Christ, as far as we know, said nothing about homosexuality, he notes.
He writes: “The time has come to imagine the kingdom of God peopled with our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters ? on that basis of acceptance with which Jesus welcomed all those whom others rejected.”