GENERAL CONVENTION 2003
Sexuality Matters, But Is It an 'Essential'?
not be squeamish: The real issue for those opposing Canon Gene RobinsonĂs election
is not his unalterable characteristics (his orientation) but how he chooses
to act on that orientation (his behavior). Opponents maintain that to
seat Canon Robinson as bishop not only condones his behavior, but holds it up
as Ă¬a wholesome example for the entire flock of ChristĂ® (BCP, page 517).
And in the proposal to develop rites for blessing same-sex unions, what is at stake is whether there is anything wrong, per se , with the sexual activity of gays and lesbians. Advocates of blessing same-sex unions claim the important thing about sex is that it is consensual, loving, giving, caring, and non-promiscuous. Opponents say all these factors are necessary but not sufficient. The sex in question, if it is to fit the biblical norm, must be between a married man and woman, and any expression of sex outside this biblical norm is just that Ă± outside the biblical norm -- and cannot be blessed in good conscience.
What is at stake in these issues, therefore, is the issue of sexual behavior , not sexual orientation. In wrestling with the issue of sexual behavior, a sentiment attributed to St. Augustine should set the tone: Ă¬ In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity. Ă® Ă¬Essentials of the faithĂ® are those things upon which we really must insist, lest we erode our underpinnings and lose our foundation, not to mention our credibility.
Ă¬Important but non-essential mattersĂ® about the faith are matters about which we can agree to disagree.
So what are the essentials of our faith? They are those things God has revealed and the church universal has received. We can start with the ApostlesĂ Creed, confessing faith in God revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinitarian formula is the basis for our baptismal covenant and the foundation of our faith.
We then can move to the Nicene Creed, which emphasizes to a greater degree the redemptive work of Jesus Christ: that Ă¬for us and for our salvation,Ă® Jesus became incarnate, suffered death, rose again, ascended into heaven, and will come again in judgment of the living and the dead.
universal church quickly adds to this list other essentials, such as our belief
that Holy Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation. Episcopalians,
Anglicans, and other mainstream denominations would want add the sacraments
of baptism and Holy Eucharist, but even here, the debate would be engaged as
to Ă¬by whom, how often, and in what formĂ® Ă± and there weĂd be in the realm of
Ă¬important but non-essentialĂ® matters.
Clearly, what forms of sexual behavior are acceptable and what forms are sinful is an important matter for the church to discuss, and even to decide. Important matters such as these deserve the churchĂs deep prayer, attention, and debate. But Ă¬important mattersĂ® are not the same thing as essentials, and precisely for that reason, we can continue to agree to disagree about them, without unraveling the church.
What does have the potential for unraveling the church, however, is the way we go about agreeing to disagree.
That is why the third aspect of AugustineĂs maxim is Ă¬in all things, charity.Ă®
The most famous passage on Ă¬charityĂ® is, of course, the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians.
that there is not much about modern culture that could not have been said of
Corinth . Much of 1 Corinthians is explicit, stern instruction and direction,
challenging the churchĂs litigiousness, complacency, irreverence and pride.
Paul minces no words.
But then Paul says, if we are the most eloquent persons in the world, have all prophetic powers and knowledge, and all faith, but do not have charity, we will sound to the rest of the world like clanging symbols Ă± the screech of fingernails on a blackboard.
The love of which Paul speaks Ă± the charity we are to have in all things at this General Convention Ă± is slow to lose patience, looks for ways of being constructive, does not try to impress, does not gloat, is not irritable or touchy, and does not keep score.
In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, love.
Published by Center Aisle apublication of the Diocese of Virginia
James Lee, Bishop
Editor: Ed Jones, email@example.com
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