The issue of gay bishops and gay unions dominated the news and concerns of our Anglican brethren in 2003. As a Roman Catholic and convert from Anglicanism (of the evangelical variety), I have found that the issue of homosexuality must be placed in a wider moral context. Sexual sin is serious, whether homosexual or heterosexual.
For instance, in 2002 the Church of England officially threw out its belief in the indissolubility of Christian marriage, a belief that had forced King Edward VIII to abdicate the throne sixty years ago and Princess Margaret to give up the man she loved forty years ago. This change on marriage hardly raised a protest from Anglicans. Even the conservative Anglo-Catholics made little of the change; indeed, they have been virtually silent on the gay issue, as it is a problem that riddles their own constituency.
Despite the divorce of Henry VIII, which gave rise to the Church of England, remarriage after divorce had been forbidden by the canon law of the Church of England. (An excellent recent study of the Anglican witness to the indissolubility of marriage, The Great Divorce Controversy, has been written by Edward Williams—no relation—a concerned Anglican who holds to the traditional and biblical view.)
As I write, I have before me two books written by clerical members of a conservative Anglican lobby group called Reform. In Church and State in the New Millennium, Rev. David Holloway asserts that the New Testament teaches that marriage is an indissoluble union and remarriage after divorce is adultery. He asserts that this is biblical and traditional Church of England teaching.
The other book, The Hundred Top Questions, is by Rev. Richard Bewes, rector of All Souls, Langham Place (John Stott’s old church), who asserts that marriage can be dissolved in the case of adultery, in which case the innocent party may remarry. Yet both of these men affirm that the Bible is clear on all the fundamentals.
What, I ask, can be more fundamental than the holy bond that joins man and woman? Anglicans have no consensus as to what constitutes the sin of adultery, a sin so serious that, according to the Bible, it can just as much exclude one from heaven as can homosexual sex (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9). Although Reform makes statements affirming “lifelong heterosexual marriage,” nowhere does the movement officially define whether or not marriage is an indissoluble bond. Members of the movement are hopelessly divided. They have never broken ranks over the difference, since it would make a mockery of their stand against the homosexual lobby and their claim that the Bible is clear on morality.
Anglicans within Reform have concealed their differences and have made common cause on the gay issue. The resolution drafted by the 1998 Lambeth Conference, a worldwide gathering of Anglican bishops, states the following:
“This conference, while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialization and commercialization of sex; [and] cannot advise the legitimizing or blessing of same-sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same-gender unions” (Resolution I.10 d, e).
Bishops who do not sign up to this resolution are to be ostracized and boycotted. Witness what happened in the Worcester diocese when Fr. Charles Raven and his congregation left the Church of England, or the boycott of the bishop of Newcastle by conservative Anglicans. Yet these same conservatives hold up Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney, Australia, as the very model of a Reformed Anglican bishop—and yet he asserts that Christian marriage is not indissoluble and believes in divorce.
While some Anglicans were denouncing the current Prince of Wales’s adulterous relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles, fellow Anglican Lord George Carey (archbishop of Canterbury, 1990–2002) was telling Prince Charles not to leave his mistress but to marry her. He also sent his congratulations to Bishop Mark Santer, who, while bishop of Birmingham, married the divorced wife of one of his clergymen in a registry office. No reference at the time was made to Paul’s admonition that a bishop must have a blameless family life, in sharp contrast to the barrage against V. Gene Robinson, the openly homosexual bishop at the center of the 2003 Anglican furor.
Conservative Anglicans always are pushing the Lambeth declaration of 1998, which, “in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union” (Resolution I.10 b). Note the careful wording of this statement: There is no mention of indissolubility, since the Anglican communion is divided over the issue of divorce.
There are some provinces of the communion (which in reality is not a communion but a federation) that still hold true to the traditional teaching, while others have long abandoned it. The American Episcopal Church did so as early as 1808. There may be only one openly gay Anglican bishop, but there are dozens of divorced and remarried ones of both sexes.
But Lambeth declarations, besides having no binding authority, can be superseded and contradicted. For instance, take Lambeth 1948, which condemned female ordination, and Lambeth 1908, where contraception was declared to be sinful and a threat to Christian morality. In 1930 that latter declaration was overturned, and contraception was allowed for serious reasons. The Anglican communion became the first major Protestant denomination to give way on this issue. In 1958, even the “serious reasons” proviso was scrapped, and sex became primarily recreational bonding with children as an option.
In 1930, there was much controversy and conservative opposition, and Anglican bishop Charles Gore predicted a sexual revolution as a result. All the nations that have accepted contraception (including nominally Catholic ones) are in sharp decline in both morality and population. In Britain, births are exceeded by deaths in Scotland and Wales. In England, if it weren’t for massive immigration and high fertility among the immigrants, it too would be below replacement levels. So desperate is the British government, with the looming pensions and welfare crisis caused by this population implosion, that the doors are to be opened to limitless immigration.
As for Anglicans, contraception is now a non-issue, or at most a Vatican conspiracy to fill the world with Catholics. Many Anglican books on sex and marriage advocate contraception, masturbation, and oral sex. So ingrained is the contraceptive mentality that few Christians (Catholics included) now want their quiver full of arrows; instead they defer to a “comfortable” lifestyle. Anglicans may assert that Catholics are against the pleasures of the flesh, but it was the sixteenth-century Reformer Thomas Cranmer who took out of the English marriage vows the wifely pledge to “be bonny and buxom in bed and board”! Catholic theology, on the other hand, views the unitive and procreative.aspects of marriage as inseparable.
What the Anglican communion fails to see is that acceptance of contraception by society also opened the door to homosexuality. If sex is primarily for bonding and recreation and can be engineered to be deliberately sterile, how can we deny the legitimacy of the ultimate sterility of same-sex relationships? The late Lord Robert Runcie (archbishop of Canterbury, 1978–1990) cited this fundamental change in the Anglican view of sex in order to justify the fact that he had ordained active homosexuals and lesbians to the Anglican ministry.
In contrast, Catholic teaching on marriage and procreation is biblical and consistent with historical tradition and scriptural teaching. Christ turned marriage into a sacrament that, validly entered into and consummated, only death can put asunder. Furthermore, the sexual union that ensues must be open to the gift of life. Of course, the Bible rules out homosexual sexual practice completely.
Conservative Anglicans are fond of Paul when it comes to doctrines of grace, headship, the role of women in ministry, and homosexuality. After all, he is an apostle of Jesus Christ, and it was our Lord who said of his apostles, “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16). But there is one area of Paul that conservative Anglicans are as neglectful of and embarrassed about as the liberals: the teaching in 1 Corinthians 7 that the unmarried state allows for a more dedicated service to God.
Conservative Anglicans need to reexamine their entire teaching about what constitutes human sexual relationships, marriage, divorce, and the family. As our Lord taught, it is easy to criticize the speck in your brother’s eye when you have a log in your own. Surely adultery and the holiness of marriage is as fundamental an issue as homosexuality. With a selective attitude toward sin and Scripture, Anglicans have little chance in converting homosexuals, let alone fulfilling their noble aim of winning the world for Christ.
Robert Ian Williams