Yesterday, the bishops of the Episcopal Church (the American branch of the Anglican Church) voted to allow gays and lesbians full participation in any ordained ministry (see NY Times full article). This move was not made sans controversy. There is a strong contingent within the Episcopal Church that opposes the full participation of active homosexuals in the life of the church, both in the U.S. and in Africa which has a very vocal branch of the Anglican Church as well. Here, there have already been four dioceses that have split to form a new denomination.
There are many theological arguments on both sides of this issue. Despite what one thinks is right, I get extremely frustrated when someone suggests that those on the other side either don't "know what the Bible says" or simply don't care. The issue of someone psychologically wired (perhaps even genetically though that has yet to be conclusively shown) for same sex attraction entering into a committed, monogamous relationship with another person pre-disposed for same sex attraction is never discussed in the Bible. Homosexual physical acts are, but they seem to always be in the context of the acts being unnatural for those who are participating in them. Of course it is unnatural and wrong for someone who is not pre-disposed for same sex attraction to simply engage in such acts for mere pleasure... just like it is wrong for anyone to ever use another person as a sexual object without being in a committed, monogamous (and I would argue covenental) relationship. My point is, though the Bible does unequivocally condemn unnatural, same sex activity, it never mentions natural same sex activity. My conclusion, this seems to be an issue that can go either way biblically.
That is why I have trouble with people on either side condemning the other. Each side must make their argument AND be willing to be convinced by the other side if that argument rings true. If I have learned anything so far, it is that when I think I know, without a doubt, what the Bible says, I am soon challenged by the same Bible with passages that seem to contradict what I had thought was 100% truth.
People must follow their God-given consciences. If that leads some to sever denominational relations then so be it. I love the phrase fiat justitia, ruat caelum or let justice be done, though the heavens fall (or do justice even if the sky falls down). If you think something is right, do it. I think the only stipulation is that it is never right to do something wrong in the name of doing something right. Take the murder of George Tiller as an example of how NOT to apply this Latin phrase. It is impossible to be "pro-life" and commit a murder.
My own denomination is wrestling with this issue. I have very close friends and mentors on polar opposites of this issue. Both love God, and both love others. Both believe the Bible. What do you do with that?? It comes down to how you read the Bible. One might say they take everything literally... but they most likely don't. Another might say only certain passages are authoritative... but, that is tantamount to saying that only they (the person) are authoritative since they are deciding what passages are useful. The appropriate, in my view, response is to simply acknowledge that the entire Bible has something important to say to those who call themselves Christian. However, all of us... every single one... picks and chooses which verses we think have bigger things to say than others. A professor friend of mine, a student and friend of Walter Brueggemann's, told me that Brueggemann would come into his classes and challenge everyone that each person bases their theology on 40 verses. He would then assign his students to figure out which 40 verses they use. Brueggemann himself has stated:
Martin Luther King, Jr., famously said that the arc of history is bent toward justice. And the parallel statement that I want to make is that the arc of the Gospel is bent toward inclusiveness. And I think that’s a kind of elemental conviction through which I then read the text. I suspect a lot of people who share this approach simply sort out the parts of the text that are in the service of inclusion and kind of put aside the parts of the text that move in the other direction.
Asked what he does with the rest of the verses, he says we must take them seriously, but that it is impossible to take every verse equally... no one does that.
This issue of homosexuality will continue to be divisive. People must follow their conscience and their interpretations of scripture, but they must also respect that those who disagree with them are simply doing the same thing. There is room for all within Christianity. Christ commanded us to love one another... we must seek to do that first. If that is our attitude, positive debate is possible, and the ability to agree to disagree won't lead to further splits.