This is an excellent and thorough analysis of the competing worldviews of the mutually opposing factions in the Anglican Communion. Proud takes several topics—including culture, human rights, and trends in global Christianity—and examines how the conflict occurs within those issues.
I’ve excerpted his treatment of two of those issues, and in this first excerpt he discusses the effect of culture.
To my mind, for both sides, the impact and effect of culture in this debate is of paramount importance. Although it should be noted that, for those who support the ordination of openly gay people and the blessing of same-sex unions, politics has an equal and powerful influence. [xix] Over the past twenty years especially, Christians have wrestled with the relationship between Gospel and culture. On one hand, Christians recognise that, just as the Divine Word was incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ, so the Gospel must be in-culturated, so that the peoples of a particular time and place can understand and receive the Good News. It was the South African missiologist, David Bosch, who said, famously, that the Christian faith never exists except as translated into culture. [xx] Perhaps he was following Pope John Paul II in this, who said “a faith that does not become culture is faith not fully accepted, not entirely thought out, not faithfully lived”. [xxi] Whilst we all of us exist within a particular culture, we are none of us exhaustively defined by that culture. No particular culture should predominate; all culture stands under the judgement of the cross. But of course, cultural mores shift and change over time. What was acceptable in the past might well not be so today. [xxii] And what is acceptable in one culture today might well be tabu in another. As soon as one uses the language of tabu, one realises that deep things are involved here; the core and essence of our humanity-in-society is being affected. Over the past four or five decades, the cultural landscape of the global North has changed. The liberalism of the 60’s has led to the Post-modernism of the 00s. Christians in the North, submerged in the surrounding culture [xxiii] have, on the one hand, found it increasingly difficult to communicate the Christian story as they received it and, on the other, have tended to be susceptible to the values, opinions and priorities of the age. On one level, this has been creative. The Fresh Expressions movement in England is an example of how Churches are attempting to engage with the surrounding culture in ways that make the Gospel accessible to people who simply do not know the Christian story. On the other hand it has, in my view, lent itself to the growing conviction, found even amongst Anglican Christians in Evangelical parishes in the UK, that there are no issues to be addressed around human sexuality. [xxiv] Clearly, the values of the surrounding culture have permeated the Church [xxv] .
I should note, at this point, that we are not immune to the impact of the surrounding culture on Christianity in Ethiopia. The issue of polygamy amongst the people groups we work with has caused pain and difficulty on all sides. For semi-nomadic pastoralists, like the Nuer, levirate marriage is a way of taking responsibility for and caring for the clan. If your father or your brother dies, you have a duty to marry his wives and have children by them, even if you are already married. This is regarded as a sign of respect to your immediate family, ensures the survival of the clan and fulfils a moral duty to a wife and children who might otherwise be left behind when the tribe moves on with the cattle. Lambeth 1988 addressed this issue and concluded that, if you come from a polygamous culture, you should not cast off your wives when you become a Christian but that, once you are baptised, you should not take on further wives. It further concluded that, if you are an ordained leader, you should be the husband of one wife. This is now part of official policy in the selection and training of candidates for ordination within the Diocese of Egypt, North Africa and the Horn of Africa. However, before it became such, we faced the painful situation of having to remove two ordained leaders from their posts for trying to conceal their polygamous marriages. Both were suspended initially, pending investigation. One, removed from his post, is still a deacon but is now working happily as the administrator of our parishes in the western region of Ethiopia. The other caused us great difficulty [xxvi] . Since then, a further case arose, but in this instance the man, fully understanding our position, resigned his post as soon as his father died, because he wanted to be free to fulfil his clan obligations by adopting his father’s wife as his own. We are in no position to throw stones.
Both these cases illustrate some fundamental principles involved in balancing Gospel and culture; principles which require both wisdom and discernment. It was David Bosch who said that the Church has to remain identifiably different from the world, or else it will cease to be able to minister to it. [xxvii] In fact, Bosch’s insights are so pertinent to this debate that it is worth taking time to record some of them here. To begin with, he notes that, like the other Semitic religions, Christianity takes history seriously, because that is the arena of God’s activity. However, at once, this begs the question of how we are to interpret God’s activity within history, so we can participate in what he is already doing? What are the signs in history that reveal God’s presence and activity? Quoting Knapp [xxviii] he asserts that the heart of the problem lies in the fact that Christians tend to sacralise “the sociological forces of history that are dominant at any particular time, regarding them as inexorable works of providence and even redemption”. It is not, says Bosch, the facts of history themselves that reveal where God is at work, but those facts illuminated by the Gospel. We have a responsibility to interpret the signs of the times. He also observes that in the North, the inculturation process has often been so successful, that Christianity has, in effect, become the religious dimension of the culture. When society listens to the Church, all it hears is the sound of its own music. He continues, the North has often domesticated the Gospel in its own culture while making it unnecessarily foreign to other cultures. [xxix]
We should observe, at this point, that the Gospel is foreign in every culture; that it will always be a sign of contradiction. Kwame Bediako offers some helpful reflections on the use of power at this point. [xxx] Looking to Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate and his subsequent crucifixion, Bediako points out that Jesus “de-sacralised” all power. In his day, this was the power of the Empire and the Temple, which are neither, any longer, absolute or ultimate. [xxxi] Whilst recognising that the cross is about sacrifice and atonement, he asserts that it is also about concrete social realities, in that the cross of Christ “judges” all the human institutions that shape history and human relations: family, blood, kinship, nation, social class, race, law, politics, economy, culture, custom, tradition and religion. Clearly, the Church should neither be a hostage to the dominant, contemporary cultural paradigm in the global North, any more than it should be a hostage to the cultural paradigms of any place or age. In this section, I have suggested that the Church should always be wary of “baptising” every cultural norm. It would follow that the Church should not assume that the ordination of practising homosexuals, or the blessing of same-sex unions is right, simply because of political pressure from the surrounding culture. Again, the forces of any culture are only rarely the work of divine providence or redemption.
In this excerpt Andrew Proud discusses the different uses of the Bible of the two factions:
I have left this to this point in my exploration, not because I consider the Scriptures to be the least important aspect of the debate, but because they have become the battle ground where all these other issues are played out. The two sides of the debate are polarised. On the one hand, there are those who uphold a traditional interpretation of Scripture and two thousand years of Church tradition, with their emphasis on sexual holiness. And on the other are those who believe, strongly, that homosexual orientation has a genetic causation and suspect those who hold any view contrary to that, of adhering to “obsolescent” Scriptures in an attempt to support an antiquated worldview. In their view, the entire debate should be conducted in light of what they see as the “Christian virtues” of tolerance and inclusion. There is not space here to examine, in detail, those Biblical texts that refer to homosexuality. In my opinion, those from either side of the debate cannot afford to ignore Robert Gagnon’s thorough treatment of the Biblical texts and contexts in this debate. [xlvii] I do not pretend, either, to have read exhaustively the writings of those who support the view of the LGCM. However, it is illuminating, at this point, to draw the reader’s attention to one particular article, which reveals some of the presuppositions behind their approach.
Terri Murray [xlviii] reveals two of the suppositions behind their approach. Firstly, that in the Gospels, Jesus urged his disciples to “pick up their crosses and follow him, not to rest assured that they would be made holy by his generous sacrifice on their behalf.” Clearly, for her, life is about struggle, hardship and choice; just as she sees Jesus as standing for liberation from the conventions and mores of his time. Secondly, she believes that Paul’s entire writings are pervaded by what she describes as “anthropological pessimism”. She writes, “Time and again we find Jesus criticizing the hypocrisy of those who insisted on using conventional Jewish rules of external behaviour as a measure of moral purity” And, “from reading what certain evangelists recorded about the life and teachings of Jesus, we know that his ethic was not reducible to exterior rules of normative behaviour, but emphasized the intention of the agent over the rightness of the act”. She goes on to assert that, “In Pauline Christianity” by contrast, “as in Islamic Sharia law, we need not look at agency at all, because intention does not matter.” Not surprisingly, she concludes by challenging the unity of the New Testament and insists that LGCM, at any rate, should not make any “unnecessary concessions to the Christian authority figures who equate Christianity with the Pauline doctrines.” For her, those who follow the received interpretation of Scripture and tradition [xlix] are guilty of being uncritical and championing outmoded forms of thought because their entire hypothesis is informed by homophobia, the quest for power, intolerance and, with the introduction of the notion of Sharia Law, violence, too. Such labels, which are often used in this debate, seem to me to be designed to intimidate and belittle those who hold traditional beliefs and which, in turn, stifles any meaningful debate. I would also note that according to this anthropology, humankind is no longer seen as being created in the image and likeness of God. In fact, it reduces human beings to their instincts and tendencies. We could further note that not only might tolerance not be the Christian virtue after all [l] , but that, following Wesley Carr, there is nothing is intolerant as a liberal.
Gagnon readily admits that Biblical texts must indeed be read in context, but notes that the trajectory of Biblical scholarship does not lead inexorably to an endorsement of the LGCM view. Indeed, he asserts, at more than one point in his book, that the burden of proof lies with those who want to convince the Church to abandon the evidence of Scripture and 2,000 years of Church tradition, in approving the ordination of openly gay individuals and the blessing of same-sex unions. There is rather more at stake here than the issue of sexual politics. If the Church adopts such a radically politicised reading of the Scriptures, it will be in danger of losing its moorings entirely and all credibility in the global South. One also has to wonder to what extent, if any, such a Church would be regarded, here in Ethiopia, as part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ.