Thoughts to think on…

From the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Presidential address to the Anglican Consultative Council-13, June 20, 2005:

The debate over sexuality is a story that can be told more than one way. One story is this. The churches of the ‘North’ are tired and confused, losing evangelistic energy. For a variety of reasons, they have been trying to reclaim their credibility by accepting and seeking to domesticate the moral values of their culture, even though this is a culture that is practically defined by the rejection of the living God. A history of over-intellectual approaches to the Bible and the communication of the faith has led to a disregard of the Bible’s call to transformation. The revolt against the plain meaning of Scripture’s condemnation of same-sex activity is a symptom of this general malaise.

Another story is this. The churches of the North have been made aware of how much their life and work has been sustained in the past by insensitive and oppressive social patterns, with the Bible being used to justify great evils. Whether they like it or not, they inhabit a world where authority is regarded with much suspicion; it has to earn respect. In recent decades there has been a huge change in the general understanding of sexual activity. Can the gospel be heard in such a world if it seems to cling to ways of understanding sexuality that have no correspondence to what the most apparently responsible people in our culture believe? It is not enough, some have said, to stick to the words of the Bible; we have to go deeper and ask about the logic and direction of the Bible as a whole. And when we do that, we may find that it is not so impossible to reach a position that can be taken seriously in contemporary culture.

Two stories, and so for some we have a problem of the Church accepting a set of false premises, a wrong and unbiblical picture of human nature; for others a problem of communicating with human beings where they actually are, in terms they can grasp. Many issues are involved here, not only the presenting question about homosexuality. Perhaps the most difficult is how we make a moral assessment of modern culture in the developed world. And for many of us this is complicated. Modernity has brought great goods; yet in vital respects it has promoted a picture of humanity that is deeply flawed – individualistic, obsessed with rights and claims and uninterested in bonds of obligation or the need for sacrifice for the good of others: precisely the world that has produced our current nightmare of international injustice. So the question is how far the concern for reaching an understanding with the world about sexual ethics is based on uncritical acceptance of the values of a culture like this.

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