|Kevin Dixon, chair of the Task Force on Reconciliation
In case you haven't noticed, there's a certain amount of conflict in the church these days. Not that this is unfamiliar to Christians. My reading of the New Testament shows that, right from the start, we've been at odds about everything from how-to-pray to what-to-eat. The issue Anglicans are wrestling with now is the morality of homosexuality.
Since last spring, a diocesan task force has been working to determine just how distressed people really feel about the decision to permit the blessing of homosexual relationships. Of course, not everyone is distressed! After all, a majority of the members of our Diocesan Synod voted on three occasions in favour of it.
During the autumn of 2004, the Task Force undertook a series of telephone interviews to solicit the opinions of clergy and lay leaders throughout the Diocese of New Westminster. This was the first phase of gathering information that may indicate the extent of distress. The people we contacted were pleased to be included in the conversation, but the Task Force acknowledges the need for more input.
The Task Force is now testing the preliminary conclusions we have drawn by consulting more broadly throughout the diocese. By spring, we'll be ready to give our assessment and make some recommendations. In my own opinion, however, one thing is becoming clear already. The blessing of same-sex unions is a symptom of distress felt by some people in our diocese, but not the ultimate cause of their distress.
Remember the debates about hymn books and prayer books? Well, those arguments were nothing compared to the strength of feeling some people have now! It's not that they are distressed just because of a new rite, or because they liked the old way better. It's because our diocese appears to them to be changing the way we read the Bible and understand God's authority in our lives. And, to them, it's not just a little change but an enormous departure from truth.
Then, there are those within our diocese who are themselves homosexual and distressed because this debate has sometimes been so personal and dismissive. They would have the church remember that at the centre of the question are flesh-and-blood people yearning for intimacy.
So we have a dilemma. Some would argue that the diocese has gone off the theological rails and is leading Anglicans into apostasy. Take, for instance, this comment from one person recently contacted by the Task Force: "The diocese should return to the original teachings of the church, acknowledge the authority of Scripture and abide by the 39 Articles of our faith."
On the other hand, others would say the way some people think the Bible ought to be read is flawed. One person interviewed put it this way: "The dividing line is Scripture. Conservative Anglicans who read the Bible more literally need help with how to interpret it."
These two comments, placed side-by-side, make it seem the distress within our diocese is unresolvable. This would be tragic given that Anglicans around the world have, for many years, maintained bonds of affection within the church in spite of diverse perspectives on Christian faith. Is it possible that, as a diocese, we can accept that people of good conscience on both sides of this issue have made their decisions informed by differing but equally legitimate, theological principles?
As a general statement, and at risk of oversimplifying, those who oppose the blessing of same-sex relationships understand the primary attributes of Christian identity to be purity, obedience and fidelity. Each of these is a desirable quality. Nevertheless, those who support the blessing of same-sex relationships approach the issue from another perspective.
They understand the central qualities of Christian life to be love, compassion, and integrity. Neither of these sets of attributes is faulty. Both can be supported by Scripture, and those who are primarily informed by one set of attributes do not necessarily reject the other. But how one's core identity as a Christian is informed leads to different ways of making decisions about how to live as a Christian, and how the church should respond to pressing moral questions.
What the church ultimately must decide is this: Is it possible for those who hold strongly held opposing views, informed by differing sets of theological attributes, to co-exist within the same ecclesiastical structure?
With prayer, the resourcefulness of the Holy Spirit, and our best efforts at mutual understanding, this question will be answered.
The Rev. Kevin Dixon of St. Mary's Kerrisdale is chair of the diocesan Task Force on Reconciliation. Other members are Allan Carson of St. Cuthbert, Delta; Margaret Jonssen, St. Agnes, North Vancouver, and Muriel Kerr, All Saints, Ladner. The Rev. Paul Borthistle, director of Parish Support Ministries, provides staff support.