Discerning the Word: The Bible and Homosexuality in Anglican Debate

Review & Commentary

One thought on “Discerning the Word: The Bible and Homosexuality in Anglican Debate

  1. Review

    The recent action of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church consenting to the consecration of a Bishop who is living in a faithful homosexual relationship and the issue of the blessing of committed same sex relationships give this book immediate relevance. The context of the book is the 1998 Lambeth Conference. The author, who serves as Liturgical Officer of the Anglican Church of Canada, writes because he is concerned about “the integrity of the church’s response to committed and faithful homosexual people” but he is “even more concerned about what the 1998 Lambeth Conference said about the place of Scripture in the Anglican Communion as the basis of its position on issues of homosexuality.”

    The Conference did not significantly alter previous declarations on homosexuality, but on the issue of the authority of Scripture it accepted a resolution radically different from the historic position of Anglicanism, that Scripture “contains all things necessary for salvation and that nothing shall be taught as necessary for salvation that cannot be proved by Scripture.” The resolution of the Conference on the Authority of Holy Scripture “(a) affirms that our Creator God, transcendent as well as immanent, communicates with us authoritatively through the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments; and (b) in agreement with the Lambeth Quadrilateral,(1886) and in solidarity with the Lambeth Conference of 1888, affirms that these Holy Scriptures contain ‘all things necessary for salvation’ and are for us ‘the rule and ultimate standard’ of faith and practice.” The author cautions that “these two clauses should not be read as though they were connected or as though one were the development of the other.”

    It is this resolution that focuses the discussion of the book. What is the Bible, how should it be used and what is its authority? Gibson points out that there are numerous versions of the Bible accepted by various churches and a “wealth of varying manuscript evidence on which our translations are based.” There are also internal contradictions as well as possibility “that some parts of the Bible may have been written to confront and correct other parts.” He writes, “It is clear that the authority of the Bible cannot be based on the existence of a single, discrete, immutable, unvarying text.”

    Gibson suggests that we can avoid the idolatry of biblical literalism which posits that the Bible is the “words of God,” by understanding the Bible as symbol. He defines a symbol as “a matter of one thing standing for another.” We understand the Bible as symbol when we declare that the Bible is the Word of God. He writes, “We mean that this collected literature of our faith tradition is our intimation of the purpose of God as the power of salvation running through the universe, and yet is still the collected literature of our faith tradition .” We also mean that the great themes of liberation and salvation will be “the standard for the weight we attach to individual passages of Scripture.” This will open our hearts to discern “the Word in the words.”

    The final chapter is devoted to “Homosexuality and the “Living Tradition.” In the light of his discussion of the authority of Scripture, Gibson states that the Lambeth resolution regarding homosexual practice and the blessing of same-sex unions “must be treated with great care.” When we use Scripture selectively as “the words of God”, he asks, “Is it possible that we bring our own prejudices to Scripture and find there the condemnations we require.” On the other hand, we can faithfully hold to the “Bible’s central current of liberation, justice, forgiveness, and the realization of God’s reign in care, compassion, mutual responsibility, and self giving.”

    He concludes, “The question is not whether there is a place in the kingdom of God for homosexual people who love one another and are committed to living together. The question is whether there is a place in God’s kingdom for the rest of us if we insist on investing a few passages of Scripture with an importance we do not attach to many others, in order to condemn them.”

    In the year 2004, the Diocese of Toronto will embark on a year-long process of discussing the blessing of same-sex unions which will culminate in a special session of the Synod. This compelling book should be required reading for every person who participates in the process.

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