In “On Church and State in Rowan County“, Lorne Anderson wrote about the refusal of a municipal clerk to issue a marriage license to a gay couple, based on her religious beliefs. Lorne commented in part, as follows:
The Bible has quite a few passages on the interaction of Christians with the State. Offhand I don’t see any that require the State to promote the agenda of the Church. That the two became intermingled in the past few centuries is not surprising, but neither is it Scriptural…
However, nowhere in the Bible do I find a command that says Christians are supposed to impose their beliefs on the society around them. Act as salt and light, yes, that is there. Civil disobedience against an ungodly law, yes, that is there too. But it seems to me that Ms Davis in her zeal is not allowing people to make their own choices. It is not her responsibility to restrict the free will of others. She cannot believe for them.
Lorne also commented here concerning the relationship among rights, values and the state. He expanded these idea further, as follows:
My views on church/state relationships have evolved as I have hopefully matured. Reading Scripture I don’t see that the State is supposed to be the instrument of the Church. That is not to say that the State cannot promote Christian values. I think generally it should – but that is not its mandate. Christians for a long time have often missed the mark and confused the relationship. The state should never be a tool for evangelism yet too often it has been used for just that, pretty much since 313–following the Edict of Milan, during the time of Constantine the Great.
To which Neil Remington Abramson responded as follows:
I suppose it is inevitable that those opposing integrating GLBTQ into church life are the less tolerant, and those supporting integration are the more tolerant. The former are the gatekeepers and the latter the ones knocking for admission. I may have given up my membership in the church that supported the blessing of same sex marriages (Anglican Diocese of New Westminster) for one that is still divided on the issue (Presbyterian Church in Canada), but my view hasn’t changed. Jesus came to save society’s outcasts – lepers, adulterers, tax collectors, etc. – and I think he would have wanted to save the GLBTQs as well.
Scripture may well have probably been divinely inspired, but I doubt God sat over the shoulders of the authors dictating word for word. Scripture is undoubtedly also a reflection of the mores and prejudices in the historical and cultural times it was written. We are surely not expected by God to reproduce the society and culture of ancient Israel in modern North America. In any event, I only need to look at the Gospels to see that Jesus opposed rigidified theological thinking in favour of helping, supporting and including anyone willing to listen to his message.
I was a member of Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Vancouver at the beginning of the new century, when Bishop Michael Ingham took on the whole of the Anglican Communion, as necessary, to encourage his New Westminster Diocese churches to bless same sex unions. Bishop Michael was a very special guy. An aura of holiness and light seemed to encompass him much of the time and his was a special and persuasive voice for inclusion. I miss his leadership, now that he has retired.
Nor was his decision to bless same sex unions entered into lightly. When one Synod voted in favour by the narrowest of margins, he declared that it was too early to make a decision and asked his members to study the issue for three years. At that point, another Synod voted again in favour by a greater margin and we embarked on another round of study. Finally, a subsequent Synod supported the blessings by a very wide margin and it became the policy of the Diocese, with the Bishop’s approval. And there were serious consequences. The Anglican establishments in Africa and Latin America opposed our inclusiveness. One Bishop in Latin America tried to extend his Diocese into ours, to represent our disaffected minority. The Anglican head office in England advised moderation on both sides, hoping to avoid a split in the Communion.
Nor was anyone in our Diocese required to engage in blessing same sex unions. Bishop Michael decreed that churches could choose to do so or not, depending on their own views on the subject. In fact, virtually all (not quite but close) same sex union blessings were conducted at Christ Church. Anglicans have a great tradition of not requiring members to all hold the same beliefs. We believed that in the fullness of time perhaps we could come together on any issue, even if it took years, or even generations to achieve, and there was no need to rush. Nor was there ever any need for everyone to hold all the same beliefs.
Ultimately, it was the conservative minority opposing same sex blessings that forced an early resolution, and this rush to decision violated, in my opinion, the usual Anglican virtue of being willing to co-exist harmoniously in disagreement over long periods of time. Six churches within the Diocese tried to leave the Diocese and join the South American Diocese, taking their church buildings with them. A great court battle raged for several years since all church buildings were owned, by law, by the Diocese. In the end, Bishop Michael prevailed and the dissenters withdrew themselves, without their church buildings. A friend of mine, an Anglican priest, was such a dissenter, and retrained as a Roman Catholic priest. He was ordained as such last year at Holy Rosary Cathedral. I attended. This second Michael also strikes me as a holy kind of guy.
I agree with Lorne that Christianity was not intended by its founder to be a force for excluding minorities from the love of God. If anything, Jesus taught us to fight for the inclusion even of those we might otherwise have despised. Jesus taught us that everyone is loved by God, and that it is our duty to try to overcome our own narrow-mindedness, and see others as God sees them, and us. We are not to be gatekeepers who try to keep God for themselves. We are enjoined to welcome anyone that God has encouraged to come, to knock, and to be welcomed in His name.
It’s too bad that the Presbyterian Church of Canada is still divided on the GLBTQ issue. The latest General Assembly held in Vancouver this spring decided to continue studying the issue. However, my Presbyterian mentors and friends are generally in favour of full inclusion, and I haven’t met anyone in my church who openly opposes. And though I have become a Presbyterian, I am still myself, the same person who supported Bishop Michael. Regardless of any reservation I might or might not have, my duty is to support the values that I believe Jesus came from God to teach. God leaves me room to have my own opinion, but to oppose His will is hubris. It is not my place to insist that my own views should take precedence over God’s, as manifested in the life and works of His Son.
Lorne’s further sentiments:
Interesting take on the issue, though it is ecclesiastical in nature and the state is not involved. I both agree and disagree with the points raised by Neil.
I agree Jesus would have reached out to the GLBTQ community, but I don’t think he would have endorsed its behaviour. I would say from Scripture (and if we accept it as God inspired we sometimes must swallow some unpleasant pills) that sexual relations outside of male-female inside of a marriage are sinful. I also note that we are all sinners, and see no need to fixate on one sexual sin. For a non-Christian standpoint, I would argue that homosexuality is counter-Darwinian and therefore should not be considered normative.
I’m on the fence on gay marriage. Very short form, I applaud people wishing to make a commitment to each other, but I can’t square the relationship with Scripture. Way too many facets to look at here, way too much history to repeat. I have come to the conclusion though that the church needs to let the State be the State and not try to dictate to it, even when it is wrong. I know many disagree with me, but we are called as individuals, not societies, to a relationship with God.
And, on a side note, in Ottawa, two Anglican churches left the Canadian church for the Latin American one. One kept its building, in a negotiated settlement.
Further response from Neil:
I’m a bit on the fence too. That’s why I phrased it as I did at the end. Jesus forgave the adulterous woman but told her to sin no more.
I’m also with Kierkegaard in Fear and Trembling that ethics is a function of one’s cultural and historical context and one’s individual faith in God might drive you places reprehensible in a cultural-ethical context.
So tolerance to GLBTQ is ethical now but 40 years ago not. And religious values are not necessarily the same as ethical, with the latter being much more flexible and variable.