Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Continuum and Resolution 1.10

The Anglican Communion’s Lambeth Conference adopted in 1998 the now well-known Resolution 1.10, which upheld the age-old Christian call for “faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union”, and restated the position that “(sexual) abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage.”

It also recognized that “there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation,” many of whom are “members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God's transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships.”

The bishops committed themselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and expressed a “wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ.”

Finally, it said that, “while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture,” it 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 trivialisation and commercialisation of sex.”

There is nothing here that any faithful and spiritually sensitive orthodox Christian could disagree with. And that, obviously, would include members of the Anglican Continuum.

But I have wondered to what extent the spirit of Resolution 1.10 has been assimilated into the life and practice of the Continuum. I don’t know the answer, but would like to hear from readers who perhaps do.

As a way to begin the conversation, I have asked contributing editor Ed Pacht to prepare the following piece. It will be clear as you read it why I did so.

God Loves Homosexuals But Not Their Sin

Traditionalist Catholics (as opposed to the so-called "Affirming Catholics") will be pretty well agreed on the central matters of human sexuality: that male and female are two different estates of humanity, intended to complement one another; that the sexual act is intended solely for a man and a woman bound in Holy Matrimony, and has as its principal (though not sole) purpose the procreation of children; and that all other instances of sexual activity transgress the bounds set by God, constituting, therefore, sin.

Though there will be some disagreement (sometimes heated) over just what is permitted within marriage (including the matter of ψontraception), we would be united, and most Evangelicals with us, in condemning all instances of premarital and extramarital sex (including homosexual activity) as serious sin. We become vociferous in our condemnation of those forces claiming to speak from inside Christianity in defense of the practice of sexual sin, even declaring such sin to be virtue, and rightly declare that this is a willful denial of the very word of God as written in Scripture and cherished in Tradition.

Though there are other issues that are of greater theological impact, and have already led many to withdraw from the Canterbury Communion to form the various "Continuing Churches", it has been this issue, with the consecration of an openly active homosexual bishop and the promotion of "gay marriage", that is proving to be the final Communion breaker.

This little paper, then, grows out of these concerns, and, against the background of a wholehearted agreement with the traditional views of marriage and sexuality, is an attempt to raise the question as to just what traditional Anglicanism and the Continuum, in particular, are now doing and what should be done to minister the Catholic Faith to those who either identify as homosexuals or who identify in themselves same-sex attractions.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a committedly celibate widower, nearly 65, who has been aware of homosexual attractions since my early twenties, and did have an active period in the 'gay' scene four decades ago. As a Protestant minister I became involved in a ministry centered on the issue, which, sometime after returning to Anglicanism, I left, over differences in both ministry principles and theology. I continue, as a licensed Anglican layreader, to reach out in an informal way to help those so attracted to find a way to live their lives in accord with traditional Catholic morality and to find holiness in so doing. I earnestly desire a more effective way of serving this need.

There are two very different issues involved in this kind of ministry -- that of homosexual practice and that of homosexual inclination -- that are frequently confused with one another to the considerable muddying of the waters. The distinction is essential for understanding.
Homosexual practice is dealt with very clearly indeed in the Scriptures (in many passages in both Testaments) and in the traditional teaching of the Church; so clearly, in fact, that the revisionists have found it necessary to engage in some amazing mental gymnastics in their effort to reverse traditional thought, so clearly that I will not trouble to make the case here.

Sexual relations between men or between women are, simply stated, grievous sin. While any sex outside of marriage is seen as a very serious violation of divine law, homosexual activity is seen as yet further from God's will, and thus even more grievous a sin. What, then, is the Church's role in dealing with the practice of homosexuality?

1. Teaching. There must be uncompromising fidelity to the standards of Scripture and Tradition regarding sexuality. Our pulpits, our classrooms, our writings, and our individual ministrations need to present clearly the sinful nature of these things. St. Paul wasn't bashful about it, and neither should we be.
2. Non-blessing. The Church needs to be clear in not giving the appearance that such activities may be accepted or winked at. Obviously 'gay marriage' and the 'blessing of relationships' are out of place in a Traditional Catholic church, but so also is the acceptance of those openly active or in such a relationship in the leadership of our churches.
3. Absolution. The Church cannot see its primary role as one of punishing or excluding, but of saving. The presentation of God's law must always be intended as a call to repentance and an offer of forgiveness. "Once a blank, always a blank," is not a Catholic principle. Christ is a life-changer, and his Church is a life-changing society.
Homosexual inclination. The fashionable term is 'orientation', which seems to imply something a bit more innate and distinctive than I think justifiable, and I've thus chosen to use a somewhat more neutral term.

There doesn't seem to be such a category as 'homosexual persons' reflected in Scripture, nor does such a concept seem to have existed in society before the modern era. Instead, same-sex attraction is recognized as one of the sexual temptations to which fallen humanity is heir. Its open manifestation seems to have varied from societies like ancient Sparta where it was all but universal to other societies where it was rare, but very few societies have put persons in a distinct category on this account. Ours now does so, and we are expected to consider this the only correct way to look at it.

The reality, I would propose, is what was assumed both in Scripture and by the classical Graeco-Roman civilization: that all are subject to sexual desires, and that there are many possible objects for such desire. There are differences in the strength of various desires in various persons, but it is, in essence, but one phenomenon. Thus, it is 'normal' in fallen humanity for sexual desire to fix upon inappropriate objects, that is, upon anyone other than one's legitimate spouse.

The theological term for this, of course, is 'temptation.' It happens, for reasons that can be endlessly debated, but ultimately do not matter, that same-sex attraction (which is probably present in all to some degree) is far stronger in some individuals than in others. We do not know why this is, but it is a reality, and one that is important to the ministry of the Church. In a highly sexualized society such as ours, these individuals are in need of special care as they struggle along the Christian road toward holiness.

Temptation is not sin. "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15) Jesus knew temptation -- the same temptations we know and feel, it says in this passage -- but He was entirely free of sin. His struggle against temptation was as soul-wrenching as anything we've ever known. Consider the temptation in the desert at the beginning of His ministry and the blood, sweat, and tears of Gethsemane at the very end.

Therefore, the fact that a man has sexual temptations come into his life does not make him a sinner, whether those temptations involve a woman to whom he is not married, or a person of his own sex, or, for that matter, a minor. One can be, as Jesus was, tempted and yet without sin.

Temptation is a battle. If it did not raise up a real desire actually to commit the sin, it would not be real temptation. St. Paul, in Romans 7, describes his own inner struggle and the abject misery it produced in him, until he was able to realize the great grace of God's love in Christ toward him.

This is a story that belongs to each and every Christian. Some have spectacular temptations, like St. Antony in the desert. Some live for a time lives of spectacular sin, as did St. Augustine of Hippo. Others, like St. Therese of Lisieux seem to have lived a whole life without this kind of conflict, until we look deeper and find that temptation of a different sort was equally as hard for them. But all are tempted and all have sinned, and all are called to battle. 'Homosexuals' are no different from anyone else.

Battles are not won alone. The old spiritual song said,

"Jesus walked this lonesome valley,
He had to walk it by Himself
Nobody else could walk it for Him,
He had to walk it by Himself."

But even Jesus wanted, yea, nearly begged, for the support of his disciples, on that night when, in prayer, He fought so hard against the temptation to avoid the Cross, and, though He was indeed God the Son, He did not conquer that temptation alone. The angels came and ministered to Him.

So, what are we thinking when we send a sinner away to conquer his own sin, to win his own battle, all by himself? Is our sinning friend stronger than Our Lord and Master? One of the reasons that Jesus built a Church was to make provision so that His friends will not have to walk this lonesome valley alone.

Consider the Old Testament battle against Amalek in Exodus 17: While Joshua led the battle in the field, Moses and Aaron and Hur, the spiritual leadership of the 'church in the desert', stood on a mountain top praying. When they prayed, Joshua advanced. When they tired in praying, the enemy advanced. The Church in this age is much like that. Every battle being fought is more than the battle of the visible warrior: It is the battle of the whole Church; and my brother's loss is not his loss alone: it is a serious defeat for the whole Church.

What are we doing? Well, in one respect, a great deal. The Anglo-Catholic milieu has always been a religious environment in which those homosexually inclined, yet committed to celibacy, can find a home that does not feel like alien territory. There is an attention to the arts and to the aesthetic sensibilities that such as I find much more congenial than either the macho expectations of some parts of the Protestant ethos or the feminized sweetness of other parts. To repeat, this is home in a way few other environments can manage.

There is also in Anglicanism a willingness to allow each member to wrestle in his own way with whatever temptations seem to be his lot, without the air of judgmentalism and condemnation that one often finds elsewhere. In Catholic circles the provision of private confession and of spiritual direction (a very different thing from 'counseling') provides a far less confrontational structure in which to deal with these things.

Unfortunately, when all those good things have been said, we have not been doing enough. There has historically been very little open teaching about such matters, with the result that many of those who have found a home in the ethos have not been challenged toward a life of chastity and holiness. We see the result in the domination of many Anglo-Catholic parishes by active homosexuals, in the emergence of such a one as the current ECUSA bishop of New Hampshire, and in the agitation for 'gay marriage'.

These are phenomena not in accord with the Catholic Faith and have emerged primarily because of vagueness in Anglican teaching about sexuality, and the lack of real support toward holiness of life.

Where from here? Ay, there's the rub. I'm no organizer, but, having learned a great deal of how to deal with such inner conflicts, having learned the hard way, with very little help, and having been involved with a Protestant ministry whose ministry principles do not seem quite appropriate, I am anxious to be a part of what I see as a vital ministry, one that Our Lord, as 'friend of sinners' would look favorably upon. There are a handful of people for whom I'm attempting to be support (and who are being helpful to me as well) but there is so much more to be done.

Can we of the Continuum get past our anger at the abuses we've seen? Can we reach out as our Saviour desires to those who are caught up in this kind of sin? Can we brainstorm until we find ways to do it? I would be anxious to hear from anyone either seeking help or seeking to be help, to which end contact information follows:

Ed Pacht, 223 Wyandotte Falls, Rochester NH USA 03867


Albion Land said...

Affirming Catholicism has its answer here:

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

Superb article. Thank you, Ed.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

Just a couple of points.

1. The most important theological point in the article, which can show the way forward for how we talk about homosexuality and to "homosexuals", is this one:

"it is 'normal' in fallen humanity for sexual desire to fix upon inappropriate objects, that is, upon anyone other than one's legitimate spouse."

This fact is not well known, especially among Protestants, who have tended to over-react to what they saw as Catholic & "unbiblical" discomfort with all sexuality. Thus it is common for Protestants, including Evangelicals and fundamentalists, to act as if anything goes within marriage and that sexual arousal outside of marriage is not evidence of the Fall, as long as it does not lead to actual fornication or deliberate fantasising about fornication. That is why some autoeroticism is often not seen as a problem by them.

Now, one can disagree with some of St Augustine's views on the subject yet still remain within the mainstream of Holy Tradition. So, we don't have to see intercourse as a result of the Fall or sexual pleasure as always intrinsically disordered. However, it IS a fact that Unfallen Humanity had the appropiate internal harmony between body and soul, between will, mind and sensation that meant sexual desire or arousal was subject to human choice and therefore could be directed toward only the correct human object. (Note that this was due to an original supernatural grace: the Church has NOT taught that it was a 'natural' endowment in the merely physical sense. There is thus no unrealistic conflict with any evolutionary account of human origins in biological terms.) Therefore, our present fallen state means all human sexuality is intrinsically disordered, precisely because we do not simply choose the object of our carnal desires. Instead we are subject to the determining influence of spontaneous feelings.

So, when explaining the Church's position to homosexuals, we should start at this important fact. This will put things into perspective, revealing that they are not being singled out or separated from the rest of the human race in some way. But, perhaps even more necessary is starting at this point when teaching about human sexuality to Christians in general! They need to know they are not that different to persons with homosexual inclinations both for the sake of their growth in grace and to enable them to transcend mere hateful bigotry.

2. A small correction or clarification is required with reference to Christ's temptations. Like us, Christ could be tempted "from the outside". Unlike us, he could not be tempted from the inside (cf. James 1.14,15), since he had no intrinsic, disordered desires in his (unfallen) human nature. However, while no temptation could begin from within Jesus, he could still experience the "stress" of fighting temptation aimed at exploiting intrinsically innocent desires and needs. Thus, for example, the temptation to avoid the Cross and its associated extreme suffering, even if this avoidance was not God's will, would appeal to the intrinsically ordered and good instinct for self-preservation to be followed in preference to a higher obligation. Jesus temptations were more like those that afflicted Adam and Eve which caused their fall rather than being caused by it. That is, they were primarily directed at getting things legitimately to be desired such as food, knowledge, power and beauty (see Genesis 3.5,6 and Luke 4.1-8), but in the wrong way, by attempting a 'short-cut').

Fr Matthew Kirby said...


Before I am accused of contradicting myself, I should note that my statements that sexual pleasure is not intrinsically disordered but all human sexuality is disorderd are compatible. Some Fathers, especially Augustine, taught that the intensity of sexual pleasure interfered with rational thought and therefore must be a result of the Fall. This was not the consensus though.

On the other hand, their was a consensus that all sexuality (in the sense of the complex of desires that make up that part of human nature) was disordered in fallen humans.

In short, "sexuality" refers in my comments to the desires which can lead to sexual acts, "pleasures" to the physical feelings resulting from such acts.