frgavin on August 25th, 2008

News Analysis

By David W. Virtue

When he was at the Lambeth Conference last month in Canterbury, the newly consecrated first black Bishop of Maryland, Eugene T. Sutton made the following statement; he said that the use of Scripture to reject homosexuality in the Anglican Communion evokes previous eras’ biblically based arguments in support of slavery and racism.

He was supported in his views by all eight black Episcopal bishops at the conference who believe rights for homosexuals and their behavior is acceptable based on similar logic.

Another bishop, the black Suffragan Bishop Gayle E. Harris of Massachusetts agreed saying, “As a person who knows what it means to be oppressed, I refuse to allow my brothers and sisters in the faith to be discriminated against.”

Not everyone agrees with this linkage.

“As a black Christian, these types of remarks are extremely disturbing, as they in no way reflect the level of scriptural literacy, knowledge of theology, history and methods of biblical interpretation bishops (and other church leaders) should possess,” says a fourth generation black Evangelical Episcopal layman, Dr. Michael Howell.

Howell, a former professor of Marine Science, is a member of the Diocese of SW Florida Standing Committee and also serves on the boards of Trinity School for Ministry, (TSM) the American Anglican Council (AAC) and Forward in Faith, North America (FIFNA).

He wrote to VOL saying that one cannot cite erroneous uses of the Bible as justification for slavery as an argument for dismissing scriptural passages that condemn homosexual behavior.

“That’s not godly wisdom, but rather, sheer ignorance. Have they forgotten that the witness of the bible was an integral part of William Wilberforce’s (British Evangelical politicians’) argument for the eradication of the slave trade and (later), slavery?

“Slavery is never glorified in scripture and in the New Testament; it is a situation that should be avoided. There is a clear trajectory from conditional practice and tolerance (e.g., Exod. 21:1-11, Deut. 23:15-16, etc.), towards an end where emancipation is a moral imperative. In Philemon, Paul makes a compelling case for Onesimus (a slave), to be welcomed as a brother in Christ, rather than the continuation of his pre-imprisonment status as Philemon’s slave.

The bible is very clear that God has always intended for people of all races, cultures and classes to be fully reconciled with Him. We see this throughout the Old Testament (e.g., Gen. 18:17-19; Ps. 67: 4; Is. 49: 6; Is. 56: 7; Is. 60: 3, 5; Dan. 7: 14; Mal. 1: 11) and certainly in the New Testament (e.g., Mt. 12: 18, Mt. 28: 19; Mk. 13: 10; Lk. 2: 32; etc.). In Acts 15, James justifies the acceptance of the Gentiles by the Church not solely on the testimonies of Peter, Paul and Barnabas, but by appealing to scripture (c.f., Acts 15: 13-21).”

Howell, a Ph.D. who has been a General Convention deputy who recently attended GAFCON and serves on the Common Cause Partnership Council said that by contrast, no scriptural parallel exists for the acceptance of homosexual behavior, despite the fact that biblical writers were certainly familiar with the notions of different sexual “orientations” and other ideas used in antiquity to support acceptance of such behavior (see “The Bible and Homosexual Practice” by Prof, Robert A.J. Gagnon for a through discussion of this topic).

“A biblical justification of slavery can only be made by ignoring and distorting the spirit, letter and trajectory of scripture – clearly unacceptable methods for exegesis and formulating hermeneutics. Those who attempt to discredit the clear and unambiguous witness of the bible towards homosexual behavior, use the same flawed approached to support the notion that homosexual behavior is compatible with Christian belief.

“For the Church, the matter of homosexual behavior can never be a “rights” or a “justice” issue. No one is barring anyone from participating in any aspect of church life or governance simply because they have same-sex attractions, weak or strong. Sex is a blessing that God has reserved for the context of (heterosexual) marriage. Sexual expression is not a “right” and scripture does not support such thinking.

Read all of this article here

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