Bishop James Jones of Liverpool (I went to Anglican seminary with him) has given a speech in favor of gay marriage. You can read about it in Ruth Gledhill’s article here.
I do not wish to comment on the issue of homosexuality itself, but to observe another matter which is brought to light by the bishop’s speech. When I criticize liberal Anglicans, conservative Anglicans will sometimes comment in sympathy and distance themselves from the liberal stance of many of their fellow churchmen. Especially Evangelical Anglicans will huff and puff and declare how very wrong people like Bishop Robinson or Bishop Kate Schori are.
While it is good that many Anglicans still want to uphold the traditional faith and morals of the Christian religion, it is unfortunately true that their views are built on the same philosophical and theological foundation as the liberals with whom they so vehemently disagree.
It’s like this: both the liberal Anglicans and the conservative Anglicans rely on the ‘three legged stool’ of their authority theory. The ‘three legged stool’ is made up of Scripture, Tradition and Human Reason. This sounds good in theory, but when sat on, the stool collapses. This is because, while Scripture, Tradition and Human Reason sound like a good foundation for authority we have to come back and ask, “But who interprets Scripture? Who picks the Tradition we consider authoritative and who criticizes the reasoning that is going on? Without a higher agreed infallible authority one can interpret Scripture however one wishes, pick and choose which Traditions one likes and use human reason to come up with any conclusion one happens to like.
As a result conservative Anglicans use Scripture, Tradition and Reason to come up with a conclusion that prohibits homosexual marriage while liberal Anglicans use Scripture, Tradition and Reason to come to exactly the opposite conclusion. The conservative will bleat, “But that’s the point! They’re ignoring or distorting Scripture! They’re deliberately distorting and changing the tradition! They’re distorting and abusing human reason!” Meanwhile the liberals say, “Those conservatives! They insist on the letter of the law in Scripture, but miss the Spirit of the Scriptures which are always loving and accepting. They insist on a hide bound view of Tradition–not seeing that part of the Tradition is to change and grow and accept new things! How can they use human reason to hurt their fellow gay Christians and deny true love?”
At the end of the day conservative Anglicans and liberal Anglicans who have been duking it out in the ecclesial culture wars can only step from the ring bloodied and exhausted and say, either “Well, I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree” or “Right. Time we parted ways” then tootle off to start a new denomination.
Finally, the bitter battles within Anglicanism seem to receive all the attention. It is often overlooked that the same battles are being fought within all the major Protestant denominations. The conservative Evangelicals like to think they rise above it, but the same battles are going on in those circles too as a new generation of ‘socially aware’ Evangelicals are stepping on to the leadership stage. The new wave of Evangelical leaders, like James Jones in Liverpool, will be nice, dynamic and articulate guys who will simply plead for tolerance in these matters, and just as the rest of Protestantism has historically followed the Anglican lead, so they too will go the way of the world in these current debates.
Why will they do so? Because they too are sheep without a shepherd.