In order to promote stability, provide guidance and protect the vulnerable; there are many questions to be answered in connection with our discussion of sexuality issues. I have suggested that the Executive Council and the House of Bishops develop a list of concerns and consider possible responses. This would organize the discussion in the hands of those who have been elected to represent the membership and allow the rest of us to focus on the mission and ministry of the church.
To facilitate this possibility, I have considered the various comments and questions I have heard and provided the beginning of a list of issues to be addressed below. I hope others will submit their questions for the list and that Executive Council members and Bishops will consider developing an inclusive process to coordinate this discussion. Send suggestions to: Ralph Spence
ISSUES RELATED TO SEXUALITY AND RELATIONSHIPS
1) Theological reasoning for changes in traditional teachings on sexuality and relationships
2) Guidelines for the prayerful support, encouragement and pastoral care referred to in D-039
3) Guidelines for counseling and expectations for commitments and responsibilities between partners
4) Guidelines for those who experience bisexual desires or confusion in their sexual identity
5) How to protect the stability and well being of children that have connections to these relationships
6) Possible threshold of financial conditions that would justify avoiding marriage
7) Other conditions that would justify avoiding marriage where it is a legally accessible option
8) Conditions where blessing relationships would be considered when marriage is not legally accessible
9) Personal accountability of those who join in sexual relationships outside of marriage
10) Protection provided for partners in relationships who may become emotionally or financially dependent
11) Legal jurisdiction for disputes in relationships blessed by the church
12) How to confirm dissolution and the possible consequences
13) Changes needed in the Canons and Book of Common Prayer
14) Recommendations for ordination and benefits
15) Policy toward those who decide to leave ECUSA
16) Policy toward those within ECUSA who disagree with changes in traditional teaching on sexuality
17) Policy toward those within the Anglican Communion who disagree with changes in traditional teaching
18) Position of the church toward public policy issues related to sexuality and relationships
19) Policy of the church in areas where existing criminal codes prohibit homosexual behavior
20) Public policy position the church should take regarding laws prohibiting homosexual behavior
Additional Thoughts for Discussion
The question has been raised, "How do we make decisions that allow one group to be included without excluding the ministry of another that has opposing beliefs?" Given our differences, I wonder how our church can include all our beliefs as we search for God's truth. If we truly value our diversity, and wish to promote harmony and peace, we need to clearly articulate a vision for future policy on issues where members do not agree. I have given the responses received some thought and one possibility for living out the vision of being an inclusive church is described below. Unfortunately, there are aspects of this approach that challenge us all and I would be happy to consider other possibilities.
If we are willing to accept some ambiguity in the Episcopal Church in our search for God's truth, then maybe it is possible that two opposing interpretations of scripture could be recognized at the same time. There would need to be a solid theological basis for both interpretations and neither should be subjected to ridicule or threat. In the sexuality discussion, we could consider the traditional view that homosexual activity is wrong, as well as the view that it may be appropriate behavior for some members within committed relationships. The theological basis for our traditional teaching would be recognized along with the possibility that our understanding of homosexuality has changed and exceptions to those teachings should be allowed.
Based on these theological foundations, there could be ministries within the church that respond to various needs. In this discussion, there could be ministries that provide pastoral care and support to homosexual couples and there could be ministries that help individuals that have confusion in their sexual identity. Even though the sexual orientation of many is well defined, there may be others that are bisexual to some degree. Recognizing these differences, criteria could be established so that some ministries would be directed towards those with no choice in their sexual orientation, while other ministries would assist those who seek guidance in determining their sexual identity.
If only God has the authority to judge which interpretation of scripture is correct, members could be encouraged to reach their own conclusions through examining the theological basis for both and considering the fruits of the supporting ministries. In this discussion, the recognition of homosexual relationships could be qualified by the understanding that, because we cannot judge the traditional interpretation of scripture to be wrong, the church cannot assure God's approval. Also, since the scriptural basis for marriage between male and female is not in question, individuals that have a choice in their sexual orientation could be encouraged to seek heterosexual relationships.
Ministries should not undermine one another and the church should not create any bias or incentive to follow one interpretation of scripture over the other. In our discussion, there are responsibilities as well as benefits related to the marriage of a man and wife. If steps are taken to recognize homosexual relationships and seek benefits, then the church should insure that financial and legal commitments similar to those found in marriage are also applied. If there is no legal jurisdiction, the church should have homosexual couples join in contracts that outline mutual commitments and assign authority for mediation. These measures will help protect individual partners who may become dependent or vulnerable and the church would avoid creating bias by condoning sexual activity in relationships where partners can evade financial and legal commitments.
As stated, this is a very simple outline of one possible way to allow the ministry of groups with opposing beliefs to each have a place at the table within the vision of being an inclusive church. Within that vision, there should be no attempt to prevent individuals from considering a particular interpretation of scripture and each ministry should stand on its own merits without the supporting authority of the church. The examples used above to develop guidelines for sexuality issues are oversimplified; however, they may indicate a way toward reasonable possibilities.
While each of us tend to look at things from our own experience and needs, this discussion may shed some light on why it is often difficult to be inclusive and so important that we listen to one another. In order to become a truly inclusive church, it seems that some may have to give up the idea that the church is primarily a supporting community of similar beliefs and others may have to abandon the notion that the church is a tool for advocating beliefs that are not shared by all. As previously stated, before we can live out the vision of inclusivity, it may be helpful to make sure that we all share the same definition of what an inclusive church truly is.
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