By Greg Jones
The 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution 1.10 which many have cited in the recent divisions over human sexuality — as being the normative Anglican teaching — also committed the entire Anglican Communion to something called the ‘listening process.’ According to the official Anglican Communion website, Lambeth 1998 “recognised that there are people who recognise themselves as having ‘homosexual orientation’ and that that they look to the church for pastoral care, moral direction and God’s transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships.” As such, Lambeth 1998 1.10 says,
We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we 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.
This is as important as any other teaching of the Church affirmed at that conference. The Primates of the Anglican Communion meeting in 2005 called for a facilitator to monitor and check up on the process “to honour the process of mutual listening, including ‘listening to the experience of homosexual persons’ and the experience of local churches around the world in reflecting on these matters in the light of Scripture, Tradition and Reason.”
At the last Primates meeting further movement on the process was called for, and the Lambeth 2008 meeting of bishops is supposed to have a study guide to consider from all of the findings.
In all the focus of the past fews years on the Episcopal Church’s supposed shortcomings, it has frequently been ignored that several provinces of the Communion have not at all fulfilled or participated in this process — thus ignoring the supposedly ‘normative’ teaching of the Communion on the matter. Notably, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, the Southern Cone, and a couple others perhaps, have markedly rejected the process, just as they have rejected key portions of the Windsor Report.
The mother Church has done significant work in the process, however, and one of the valuable British submissions, in my view, is this report from the Royal College of Psychiatrists .
The Royal College of Psychiatrists is “the professional and educational body for psychiatrists in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.” Their findings mirror reports from the American counterpart organization.
The value of such a report goes to the area of ‘reason.’ If Anglican theology is to include reason — which includes ‘reasoned response to experience’ — then the findings of a prestigious scientific organization do have obvious possible implications for our theology.
The importance of the listening process is that there is a complexity to the moral issues of the day, especially those that currently divide the Church, which invites far more consideration and discernment. It has long been the Anglican way to employ the gift of reasoned discourse in our discernment of God’s will.
I believe that it would be as hard to discern the meaning of Scripture without faith in Christ as it is to discern its meaning without the gift of reason.
We have been through this kind of thing before — which is what makes today’s situation so disappointing. After all, Copernicus discovered that the earth was not the center of the universe and the Roman Catholic authorities tried to squelch his findings in the name of Scriptural literalism. When Galileo put forth Copernicanism — he was charged with heresy, made to recant, and spent his life under house arrest.
Yet, today, even the Roman Catholic Church fully acknowledges that Copernicus was right, that Galileo was wrongly treated, and that the earth does rotate around the sun. Amazingly, the Roman Catholic Church — and all we else who agree with Copernicus — have managed very well to cherish the Gospel and profess Christ as the incarnate, crucified, resurrected and ascended Lord — whether the earth rotates ’round the sun or no.
The use of reason and the willingness to reinterpret Scripture in light of certain ‘scientific’ findings is not inherently wrong. It is not inherently a capitulation to culture or the adoption of paganism.
The calling we all share — who love Christ and call Him Lord — is to set our hope on Him, and pray that our minds will be illuminated by the Holy Spirit as we discern how to live rightly. Anglicans have always believed, I always thought, that not every scenario is scripted in Scripture, nor is every letter of the Law the self-evident vehicle through which the Spirit of the Law is mediated. As such, we have always sought to learn God’s will for our lives by the careful interpretation of Holy Scripture, in light of the traditions of the Church and the gift of reason.
The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones (“Greg”) became a member of Christ’s Body at St. Columba’s in Washington, D.C., and he was educated at the University of North Carolina and the General Theological Seminary, where he is on the Board. Greg is husband of Melanie, father of Coco & Anna, rector of St. Michael’s Raleigh, and author of Beyond Da Vinci (Seabury Books, 2004). He blogs at fatherjones.com.