Sexuality Matters, But Is It an 'Essential'?

An Editorial

Letís not be squeamish: The real issue for those opposing Canon Gene Robinsonís 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 ìa wholesome example for the entire flock of Christî (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 ñ 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: ì In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity. î ìEssentials of the faithî are those things upon which we really must insist, lest we erode our underpinnings and lose our foundation, not to mention our credibility.

ìImportant but non-essential mattersî 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 Apostlesí 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 ìfor us and for our salvation,î Jesus became incarnate, suffered death, rose again, ascended into heaven, and will come again in judgment of the living and the dead.

The 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 ìby whom, how often, and in what formî ñ and there weíd be in the realm of ìimportant but non-essentialî 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 churchís deep prayer, attention, and debate. But ìimportant mattersî 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 Augustineís maxim is ìin all things, charity.î

The most famous passage on ìcharityî is, of course, the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians.

Remember 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 churchís 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 ñ the screech of fingernails on a blackboard.

The love of which Paul speaks ñ the charity we are to have in all things at this General Convention ñ 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

Peter James Lee, Bishop
Editor: Ed Jones,

4/30/03 -j

RETURN to General Convention DIRECTORY --|

5/7/04 -j