Article Title:Bishop: Archbishop at odds with church on gays
Author or Credit:Bishop Richard Randerson
Published on:10th June 2004 - 12:00 pm
Story ID:284
Text:Missing from the Weekend Herald report of Archbishop Whakahuihui Vercoe's vision of a world without homosexuality was the clear statement on the subject agreed to only a month ago when the Anglican General Synod sat in Rotorua. The opening section of that statement said that “this General Synod acknowledges and honours the contribution that gay and lesbian Anglicans make to the life and ministry of our Church”. The motion was agreed to unanimously by the synod which comprises more than one hundred Maori, Pakeha and Polynesian members. In Anglican circles an archbishop is vested with all the mana that pertains to an elected leader. Policy in the Anglican Church, however, is set collectively by the General Synod. The personal views of an archbishop will be carefully weighed, but the agreed view of the synod is paramount. Homosexuality is an issue on which churches around the world are deeply divided. Within Anglicanism matters have been brought to a head by the consecration of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire. Bishop Robinson is gay and lives in a committed relationship with a same-sex partner. In the light of this action a special commission has been set up to examine issues of Anglican unity worldwide. The bishop of Auckland, John Paterson, and Dr Jenny te Paa from Te Rau Kahikatea theological college in Meadowbank, are both members of this commission. The debate hinges around two issues : the nature of homosexuality, and the interpretation of the Bible. With regard to the former, one question is whether homosexuality is by nature or by choice. It lies outside my area of professional competence to judge the relevant research on this issue, but it seems clear from many reports that experts are divided. It seems equally clear that while there may be some for whom homosexuality is a choice, for many it is not. A study conducted last year by Dr Robert Spitzer, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, found that reorientation therapy had a high success rate among those who voluntarily undertook it. But Robert Epstein, editor-in-chief of the American magazine Psychology Today, believes that only in about a third of cases is such therapy successful. There are also harmful side effects for gays and lesbians if the view is conveyed that their condition is undesirable and that they “ought” to sign up for help to escape. In terms of the biblical evidence, only a handful of texts might be regarded as relevant to homosexuality, and scholars have different views as to how they should be interpreted. But there is a deeper question : could those who wrote the various sections of the Bible 2000 to 3000 years ago be expected to have a 21st century understanding of homosexuality, any more than they might of genetic modification? Another question is to how great an extent biblical views were shaped by the social attitudes of the day, rather than by abiding principles. In a patriarchal society, for example, the clear and explicit teaching of St Paul that leadership resides with males may reflect more the thinking of his day than the deeper biblical emphasis on the equality before God of all people irrespective of gender, nation or race. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, needs to be as careful in distinguishing his personal views from those of the Anglican Church worldwide as does any local archbishop. But in the 1980s Dr Williams established at Oxford University an institute for the study of Christianity and sexuality. His research led him to conclude that biblical teaching on sexual relationships puts as much emphasis on bonding, with its essential ingredients of love and fidelity, as it does on human reproduction. Archbishop Williams asserts that a relationship should be measured not by its outward form but by its inner essence. His emphasis on bonding as a central criterion led him to the view that faithful and committed same-sex relationships may also be acceptable in the eyes of God. Since evidence does not support the conclusion that homosexuality is contrary to nature for some people, it is inappropriate for Archbishop Vercoe to describe it as unnatural, an abomination, sinful and immoral. Such judgments are not only inconsistent with a gospel of love, but in addition they inflict enormous psychological damage on gay and lesbian people trying to make their way in a society where homophobic attitudes are all too frequent. Since stating publicly last year my support for the appointment of the Bishop of New Hampshire, I have been surprised by the number of appreciative comments I have received from two sources : first, from members of the gay community who have said it is the first time they have ever felt publicly affirmed by a church leader, and second, from older parents who have a gay or lesbian son or daughter. The latter have felt the church's condemnation as the condemnation of their own flesh and blood. Archbishop Vercoe states that he regards gay relatives as still being his blood, his kith and kin. That seems a much healthier affirmation from which to start than a ringing statement of condemnation. It is in fact the point from which the General Synod agreed to start in Rotorua last month. In the second part of its resolution it called for a new study which would involve listening actively to the opinions of gay and lesbian persons, both practising and celibate, as a prelude to making recommendations. In The Dignity of Difference Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes: “The test of faith is whether I can make room for difference. Can I recognise God in someone who is not my image? If I cannot, then I have made God in my image instead of allowing him to remake me in his”. Rules that judge and exclude and fail to treat people as individuals are not the mark of the Gospel. Both church and society are at their best when they encompass difference and are enriched by it. Richard Randerson is Dean of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Parnell, and Assistant Anglican Bishop of Auckland Bishop Richard Randerson - 10th June 2004    
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