It's time to "read, mark, and comment upon" the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops' report titled, "Same-Sex Relationships in the Life of the Church".
Take some time to read it and comment on it here. Here is the entire report.
That we "heard nothing new" in this report is, I think, a pretty fair assessment, and perhaps that is something we should consider when we question as to whether we have "done the theology." (meaning that the lack of anything "new" suggests that there may not be much "theology to do")
In essence, the "conservative" case is made on the basis of the "plain" meaning of key scriptural passages along with a few other pieces. They counter the pneumatological claims of the "liberals" by making the case that it is not proven that homosexual orientation is part of a divine creator's intent and, in their view, is a product of original sin and the fallenness of humanity. They argue that the issue of same-sexuality is unique and cannot be cast as another round in battles like slavery and women's rights– battles which prior conservatives have already lost.
The liberal argument advances, in essence, the pneumatological approach that the church experiences the gifts of the Spirit in the lives of gay and lesbian persons who are not celibate. They admit that the scientific proof of sexual orientation is not conclusive (missing the opportunity to remind us that neither is the proof of "cause" of heterosexual orientation conclusively proven either in my neuroscientist opinion), but that such orientation seems innate and comes from a stage of human development that precedes reason and choice (in the womb). They also make a more "eastern" argument that nods to the contemporary western rediscovery of mostly-eastern patristic theologies of incarnation in creating a positive argument about the embodied nature of our spirituality.
None of this, as one of the bishops said, was particularly new or surprising.
The only "new" thing that I found was the liberal argument advanced that same-sex couples should not merely have the option to marry but that they must marry. Their view of marriage as a " an arduous discipline, a training in sanctification" strikes me as patently a brilliant and somewhat inspiring view of marriage, far from St. Paul's pre-apocalyptic view of marriage as a remedy for sexual desire for those too weak to remain celibate. (Better to marry than burn). It also moves us away from a Roman Catholic traditionalist view that a sexually expressed life is a kind of "second best" for those who do not have the charism of celibacy. As such, it might have the possibility of revitalizing the fading importance of heterosexual marriage in western society.
In the end, the conservatives offer the advice that we must wait and delay and continue to debate. My cynical view is that the conservatives know that they have lost this debate in the Christian West and especially so in the democratically constituted Episcopal Church. That fully 70% of Episcopalians in the Pew survey felt that homosexuality should be "accepted" confirms that this is not an "elitist and liberal establishment" in the church that has forced this conclusion on the poor and helpless people in the pews. They must bring in the "whole Anglican communion" and the churches of Africa and the global south to press their case by finding a new realm in which they can seat themselves again in a comfortable majority rather than a fading minority. Having lost the local argument, they hope to delay by taking the argument to a global stage and looking for superiority of numbers elsewhere. They make the other "new" argument of the day that, not to do so is both racist and imperialist– odd phrases coming from conservative mouths, but a somewhat brilliant new spin that has been increasingly heard today from such inspiring theologians as Pastor Martin Ssempa.
On the other side, I do believe that the liberals offer a fascinating "recommendation" at least in the way that they present it. I think that it is worth quoting, as it has the ring of charity and truth about it:
"Our interpretation of Scripture has suffered from these divisions. We have all favored self-authentication and despised common patterns of discernment. We have all abandoned the discipline of concern for one another. We have failed to practice friendship and hospitality and have not labored for the most charitable interpretations of one another. It is no accident that we now debate marriage. For marriage is an example of the concrete discipline that most of us (liberal and conservative) lack: in marriage we practice common discernment over self-interest. Marriage cultivates concern for an another; it offers life-long hospitality; it enacts love; and it exposes our faults in order to heal them. It is the marital virtues that the church needs, not only with respect to the Bridegroom, but, just now, with respect to one another.
In Acts, the parties agree to maintain hospitality. Jewish Christians may not refuse table-fellowship with Gentile sojourners. Gentiles must refrain from blood, strangled meat, and unchastity (Acts 15:28-29) Here is what we propose: Conservatives maintain table fellowship. Same-sex couples must marry."
That's my entirely biased liberal first reading of the report. I am looking forward to reading others.
From Professor Deirdre Good:
With his permission, I have posted Willis Jenkins' introduction to the document presented at the House of Bishops discussion on March 20, 2010 on my blog:
It helps to counter two blogosphere misperceptions to our work so far: nothing new and no points of agreement.