frgavin on May 6th, 2013

response to the

Proposed pastoral guidelines for same-sex unions

in the statement of the synod of bishops of the anglican church (church of the province of southern africa)

By Dr. George N. Malek

It is Christianly heartening that the resolutions of the Provincial Synod and the Provincial Standing Committee are committed to working together; but the document gives a mixed and conflicting signal in its entirety as to whether the Guidelines themselves, as presented, have been drafted by a group that is “particularly determined“, as the document states, to ensure that, though the Scripture is acknowledged as the authoritative text of faith, there is a predetermined mindset that pushes for the acceptance of certain human behaviour as acceptable in the faith  and practice of the Church, attempting to possibly give us a new common foundation of faith. So while we note that the statements of the Synod of Bishops are committed to the Scriptural authoritativeness of faith (paragraph 2, page 2), their commitment is equally committed to dividing faith from the practice and behaviour of the “faithful” as prescribed in the Book that they categorically state is the authoritative text of faith (paragraph 5, page 2).

Hence, the above suggests a commitment that is ultimately the outcome of a predetermined mindset (paragraph 3, page 2) of those whose behaviour and practice may not be in line with Scriptural moral and behavioral guidelines. And since the statements of the Synod themselves express submission to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we are left wondering as to whether the Spirit that guided the Church in historical times, when this behaviour and practice was immoral and sinful, is the same Spirit that is allowing the drafters now, because of the change of human temper and discussions, to give us new guidelines that are what the Spirit then did not guide. We are left asking whether this Spirit is reliable for all times and seasons, making the sacrifice of those who have died for the faith to be the result of simply misguided  interpretation of the times, making demands on us now to re-examin  the foundations themselves.

It would seem that the Church today is grappling anew with what it is that holds her and sustains her, forgetting (or knowing full well) that grace will make us endure, and that the person who wrote that doctrine of grace in the Scripture that holds our foundation, is also the same person who wrote the guidelines for the practice and behaviour of that same Scripture that the Synod of Bishops holds as the authoritative text of faith. It is this general trend, that seems to be dribbling in by bits and pieces in order for the Church to slowly accept some new, modern, trends that deal with the Scripture as an unreliable text of faith, unreliable in the prescription of the life of faith. This trend is advanced by what the document acknowledges as the guidance of “recent scholarship,” which the Synod suggests is the guidance of the Holy Spirit’s leading (paragraph 5, page 4).

Not only do the proposed Guidelines seem to give us an untrustworthy consistency on who the Holy Spirit is, and by what means the Spirit guides us, but we are also left in a quandary as to how the Guidelines understand the nature of the human being, the nature of creation, its purpose and orientation – since all of these are to be in line with the image of God. Are the Guidelines here in an attempt to give us a new image of God, a new purpose of God, a new orientation of the nature of humans and human sexuality? In line with these enquiries, when related to the sexual nature of humans, what is sexuality then? Contrary to the recommendation of the Guidelines and their orientation, sexual behaviour, when examined in line with purpose and destiny, is not presented in the Scripture as a means of gratification of emotional and/or instinctual sexual tension per sé, in either non-abusive or abusive relationships – and never allowing for abusive relationships by any means. The Scriptural look at love and sexuality is always a look of wholeness through the unity of purposed outcome that is beyond the needs of those involved in the expression of their love through sexuality; it is a creative and a co-creative relationship. In line with all the above, one is tasked in the review of the whole proposed Guidelines document, and particularly under item 6, regarding the Communion’s perspectives, to note that the different convictions remain exactly that, convictions that lack the notion of the Scriptural purpose of sex, as well as the lack of Scriptural support in general. It is heartening, however, to see that item 7 of the Guidelines recognizes emphatically that “this is an issue which will not go away,” and that “the Church does not sanction civil unions.” It is also heartening to know that the Synod has become cognizant of “the deeper truth that all human relationships” are complicated, need the transforming power of Christ, and that we all fall short of Biblical norms. It is here where the dilemma arises: the attempt to change the Biblical “Bell curve” to fit the range of human demands is taking the easy way out, not the pastoral way out, since both of us insist on our dependence on the transforming power of Christ. One is prayerfully bold in grace to send a warning that transformation is a burning fire, painfully birthed by the delivery of the Holy Spirit; is never produced by consensus and agreement or disagreement on issues. To be transformed is an image of a consuming and burning fire, not a lullaby journey that passes resolutions thinking it is the work of the Holy Spirit in us.

This pushes us then to look at sexuality as also the means of sketching a completed image of God. This image of God cannot be birthed in the “workshops” of a sexual relationship between two males or two females. Beyond the Guidelines’ concept, therefore, of sexuality as a gift of God, is an honoured and honourable gift of God in the hands of humans, not simply a gift of God. Certainly, as repulsive as these human acts against adulterers and homosexuals are, this explosive rage touches the core of the creative nerve from which all generations are formed, sexuality. It is for the Church to take note that sexuality, sinfully or non-sinfully presented, cannot be treated with an attitude “that sexual sin should not be treated as in any way different to or more serious than other human failings” (page 2). This explosive rage, repulsive as it is, must never be shrugged off glibly as acts of crime, as they are, but must always be taken into absolute seriousness, so much so because sex is an issue that touches the core of every religion that has a moral sense in it, Christianity, Islam and Judaism in particular. It is an indication and an evidence that what these religions do not perceive as honourable is deeply related to sexual behaviour, and that Biblical morality, the Guidelines should note, takes on the course of a distinctive division between honour and shame, not simply between what is right and what is wrong; that the Guidelines also need to take note that while sexual sin (which remains to be yet defined by the Guidelines) is also sin, we are baffled as to how the Guidelines view sexuality. Indeed, all human history, human religions, human cultures and human creation and procreation assigned a more fundamental task and effect to human sexuality and the sexual orientations of humans. It is not for no reason that in matters of sexuality, the Church is split. Why? Because sexuality tells us about how corrupted we are to the core and how perfect God is in substance. So that, while animals are sexual beings, it is humans that are sexually moral beings. Sexuality and morality are inseparable in cultures as morality is the expression of God’s image in our human nature. This is how the Scripture prescribes what is acceptable and unacceptable in sexual behaviour. So while the Guidelines desire to treat sexuality as no more serious than other human failings, sexuality has tormented humanity and affected the human nature in far more serious ways than other forms of human failings. Sexuality is where man/woman began to know his/her nature. It is God’s power given to humans to be co-creators with God, hence the severe emphasis in Biblical traditions on how Biblical civilizations looked upon and dealt with sexuality, its orientation, disorientation and prescriptiveness. There is no question that the statements of the Synod of Bishops’ motive is to portray the Church as loving. That is truly good. But the Church must be portrayed as truthfully loving, thankfully created, not only receiving the gift of life but honouring that gift, and certainly not through living in the luxury of self-gratification. We, therefore, pray and ask “what vital moral standards” is the Church to teach, uphold and live.

The Synod would be wise to consider Rabbi Akiba (c. 50 – 135 CE), who said, “All the ages are not worth the day in which the Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the writings are holy, but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies”; for “Love is strong as death and passion fierce as the grave.” Whether the wisdom of sexuality is Godly or ungodly, man is consumed on both altars. And to treat this area of human nature as “not to be treated in any way different … than other human failings,” needs to be reviewed by the Synod of Bishops. We are in full agreement, however, that the Church is not in the business of criminalizing any human act, but the Church should know that sinful acts lead to, and are, the cause of crime and cruelty in the world. Sin may or may not be criminalized, but there is no crime that is not sinful. So while humans are sinful, they are not necessarily criminals. Not having defined their grounds, the Guidelines, while rightly not criminalizing certain sinful acts, remain murky at best by reducing the collective wisdom of the ages on sexuality as simply not much different  than other sins.

When the Scriptures celebrate sexuality, the Scripture writes the Song of Songs, of a bride – a young girl – and her groom (thought of as Solomon). As it was in creation when the first song of consummation was sung by Adam to Eve, (“Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh, she shall be called Woman”), so it is in the Song of Songs that the sexuality of the female and the male is celebrated. Both are insistant about what the image of God is in human sexuality. The Scriptures do not celebrate deviations of sexuality that do not reflect this image of God. Homosexuality is neither celebrated nor accepted as an image of God or God’s love. This is so even though the mother loves her children – painfully so!! To love painfully is not, nor should be, interpreted as an approval, let alone celebration, of an image that does not reflect God in the flesh. This is because deviations of that image of God in us are neither healing love, nor itself healed. They are from the nature of the narcissist in us. Indeed, it happens that in cases of deviant and obstinate off-springs of loving parents, they may and do drag a suffering parent into an approval that becomes a license. The strength of love (pastoral care) is to also be able to turn the sinner back and not go along with him/her. Seen in this light, the Scripture is not subject, nor can be subjected to cultures, but is a message to chart the way of Christ in all cultures – knowledge and the culture of recent scholarship not excluded nor immune.

It is heartening to know that the Synod is clearly mindful that the issue of sexuality, its orientation, use, abuse and purpose will not go away. This then in itself ought to inform us all that the Church cannot simply afford to treat what the Guidelines call “sexual sin” as nothing more or less than any other sin. It is however an excellent start in accepting the reality and magnitude of the issue involved. It is when dealing with sexuality that we do not only deal with our “faith” but we deal with our messed up life on this side of the grave.

May the wisdom of God, the Desire of all ages, and the light of the star of Bethlehem, shine on the conference tables of our blessed Bishops.


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