Bishop Terry Brown
What do I do (what do you do?) when I realize (when you realize) that a relationship, a touching, an intimacy – which is experienced by me (or you) as grace-giving and filled with love – is for another Christian, equally devout, an act of great sin and offence? Such is the experience of many gay and lesbian Christians. Even if the friendship is rooted and grounded in mutual respect, in faithfulness, in prayer, in worship, in trust, indeed, experienced as “in Christ,” still the judgment of the other Christian is the same: it is sin.
But then there are other Christians who, though they have not experienced the grace of my exact experience, can place themselves enough in it from their own experience, say, of Christian marriage, to offer support and encouragement. But they too are condemned for such a leap of empathy and charity. The Christian who condemns me (and them), I finally decide, is not working under Christian grace, charity and freedom but rather under some sort of “Christian law.” Or they have totally universalized their personal experience and are now prepared to impose it on all humanity. It feels like there is a great gap between us. Indeed, there is.
I am not prepared to renounce a friendship that is experienced as fundamentally grace-filled and loving. But I do not want to offend the conscience of another. And so I stay silent. But that is not so satisfactory. The other still tries to make me feel guilty and my freedom is assaulted. Yet if I respond with truth, the other is not interested in listening but only in condemning.
I am not talking of or advocating hatred, violence, predatory behaviour, exploitation, rape, “casual sex,” promiscuity – but, rather, I am talking of gentleness, affection, mutual self-giving, self-discipline, faithfulness, seeking the best for the other, sharing of wealth and poverty, friendship, joy and laughter – what I thought were the Christian virtues. But I am denied these virtues because I am really only speaking of sin.
Something is very wrong here. My experience of death and resurrection, my experience of Christian friendship, my experience of growth, my experience of prayer – all of it is dismissed.
So, in the end, I do not pay much attention to those who would totally condemn me. From every Gospel story I know, Jesus did not come for condemnation but for love.
Is bodily pleasure the problem? Apparently not. Most of those who condemn me are married and surely enjoy sexual intimacy in marriage. While I cannot exactly imagine myself into that intimacy, I affirm it and hope it is experienced as grace-giving. (Were some second century Gnostic Christian to condemn the existence of sex in their marriages, they would only be puzzled and perhaps angry, and rightly so.) But, for some, bodily pleasure between two persons of the same sex obviously is a problem – one suspects almost any bodily pleasure, including those having nothing to do with sex, especially for men. But that is an Anglo-Saxon view not shared by the rest of the world, not even the rest of the Christian world.
Is it the lack of potential for procreation? That is a very minority viewpoint, especially among Anglicans. Is it that celibacy is necessary for effective ordained ministry? The English Reformation rejected that view. Again, it seems to come back to some sort of “Christian law.”
But where is this law? I see no law in Jesus Christ (except the law of love). I see no law in St. Paul. I see laws in the Old Testament but most Christians do not pay much attention to them, believing as we do that Christ transcended the law. (The churches I see living by the law enslave people with their commandments: no pork, no coffee, no tea, no tobacco, no alcohol, no betel nut, no dancing, no work on Saturday, no celebration of the day of Resurrection; but St. Paul has nothing but contempt for such ?faith?.) I see specific condemnations of specific relationships in St. Paul but the specific relationships are very unlike anything I experience. And very many of St. Paul?s other specific condemnations (not always consistent anyway) have long since been re-worked by the church. In the end, St. Paul (especially the mature St. Paul) is more about the radical freedom that Christ gives than imposing “Christian law.”
So I must oppose. I must say that the 1998 Lambeth Conference resolution on homosexuality is simply wrong. I must say that the position of the Church of England in Issues in Human Sexuality is simply wrong. I must say that the Canadian house of bishops’ 1997 guidelines on human sexuality are simply wrong. I must say that the former Archbishop of Canterbury and many Anglican primates and bishops are simply wrong. And to be ecumenical, I must say that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is simply wrong. “Christian law” is not right. What is right are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There is no law against such things” (Galatians 5:22-23). Lenten repentance is returning to these virtues by returning to Christ.
This is a reprint of a reflection by Terry Brown, bishop of Malaita in the Church of the Province of Melanesia. It was originally circulated in an electronic newsletter published by Bishop Brown, the former mission co-ordinator for Asia/South Pacific with the Anglican Church of Canada.