Who can blame them for leaving the church?

Published October 1, 2004

Elsewhere on these pages is a letter from a now-former Anglican. The man, like many gays and lesbians before him and certainly some to follow, has left his church after too many years of discord and rejection.

It is unknown how many Anglicans like this man are no longer among our numbers. Some say it has been a slow, steady trickle away from the denomination.

It is true that the media (including Anglican Journal) have given a great deal of attention to parishes and clergy who leave the church because of a perceived creeping liberalization of their denomination and its policies on sexuality. However, many of the church’s flock have simply left quietly by the side door.

Tired of being spoken about rather than spoken to, weary of being the scapegoat for the church’s growing divide between liberals and conservatives, many have moved on. They find more accepting congregations like the Metropolitan Community Church or some United churches; others simply leave the church altogether.

And who can blame them?

At last June’s meeting of General Synod, I met an interested observer occasionally in the halls during the meeting. She worked at the university which was hosting the gathering and each time we met, she asked how the meeting was going, specifically how the synod was dealing with the question of same-sex blessings. Once married to an Anglican, she had left the church behind in her new life with her female partner. Still, though, she said she followed the developments in the Anglican Church of Canada. She and her partner, she said, would happily return to the church if they felt the church would have them. When the synod eventually voted to defer a decision on the blessings, I met her again by chance in the halls. She smiled ruefully and said, shaking her head, “By not making a decision, they made a decision.” She and her partner, clearly, will wait to return to the fold.

The church — here in Canada, the United States and abroad — has long wrestled with the role of gays and lesbians in church life. As I write these words, I know that some readers have already stopped reading. Enough, they say. For such a small minority of church members, gay and lesbian Anglicans get an inordinate amount of attention, much of it undeserved.

Many gays and lesbians, I’m sure, would agree.

To be defined and dismissed on the basis of the gender of one’s partner, regardless of one’s actions, good or bad, is perverse.

Let’s get on with what is important, many say.

Nevertheless, some Anglicans still appear to be single-mindedly spinning around, drawing lines in the sand in vain attempts to separate themselves from others.

“That fellow over there thinks Muslims can enter the kingdom of God without accepting Christ; that bishop laid hands on a gay priest or a bishop; that parish invited a heretical author to speak at its church. That priest — sure he’s celibate now — but he is still living with his male partner and hasn’t repented his past.”

Then there is the bishop who will not participate in an episcopal consecration because he cannot bear to stand at the same altar as a fellow bishop who permits same-sex blessings in his diocese. Another bars a fellow prelate from his diocese because of the other’s position on sexuality.

As some are increasingly wont to define for themselves — and for others — who is and who is not a true believer, they risk alienating the moderate middle with their game of “if you’re not for us, you’re against us.”

Where is Christ in all of this?

Later this month all the speculation about the Lambeth Commission on sexuality will be behind us.

Will the report recommend sanctions against the church in the United States and Canada ? Will it envision a new configuration of Anglican provinces, a federation? Will it affirm provinces’ right to autonomy? We will soon know.

Closer to home, less than two years from now, the Primate’s Theological Commission will report back to the national church its findings on “whether the blessing of committed, same-sex unions is a matter of doctrine.” Many across the spectrum of Anglicanism have already made up their minds on this matter. Some will forge ahead with their plans to exercise a local, diocesan option to begin blessing same-gender relationships.

Others, confident that the blessings are a doctrinal matter, and the church having nonetheless already given tacit approval by affirming the “sanctity” of same-sex relationships, will eschew existing Anglican structures for parallel networks of like-minded primates, bishops and groups — more a congregational model than true Anglicanism.

When the Theological Commission reaches its conclusions, will the question be moot? And who will be around to hear the response, when it comes?


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