Bigotry or Obedience?

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As you have, no doubt, read in the newspaper or seen on television, the Episcopal Church in the United States seems to be breaking up. Just last month, several prominent Virginia parishes voted to leave the church.

Why? Well, the media would have you believe that the sole issue driving the split is homosexuality, or even more narrowly, the ordination of a homosexual bishop in New Hampshire: “There they go again, those anti-gay bigots.”

But the issues behind the Episcopal Church’s disintegration are much broader and deeper than just the matter of sexual behavior. They have to do with acceptance of scriptural authority. But characteristically, sexuality is the aspect of the matter on which the media has chosen to focus.

On Christmas Day, for example, the New York Times ran a front-page attack on Anglican Bishop Peter Akinola. Bishop Akinola is a Nigerian bishop under whom many former Episcopal churches are now uniting. The Times made its agenda clear in the article’s subhead, which referred to Bishop Akinola as “an anti-gay Nigerian.”

Let’s face it: This is not front-page news because the New York Times editors are concerned about church splits. I doubt they would have covered Martin Luther if the Reformation were going on today. This is front-page news because the Times can use it to make Christians look bigoted. Why else would they lead off the article with a description of how Bishop Akinola was once taken aback to find that he had just shaken hands with a homosexual? As one who has ministered to homosexual prisoners and AIDS victims for twenty-five years, I do not endorse his reaction, but it sounds like naïveté and inexperience.

What I do take issue with is the Times and other critics telling us we are bigots. I have been in those prisons and seen our people ministering to AIDS victims over the years. I don’t see these critics there. I see our people doing this day in and day out.

In any event, it’s telling that the Times would choose to draw attention to something like this rather telling you what is really behind it. In leaving the Episcopal Church, many of these congregations are enduring public scorn and potentially devastating financial loss—including the loss of their church buildings, pastors’ pensions, and so forth. Why? Because, in conscience, they must remain true to Scripture and their convictions. The issue is orthodoxy, not homosexuality.

Bishop Akinola gets to the heart of the matter in a profound and thought-provoking essay: “The point here,” he writes, “is not of separating from sinners . . . but objecting strongly to yielding to the . . . worldly spirit of a materialistic, secularist and self-centered age, which seeks to mould everyone into its own tainted image.

“Our argument,” the bishop continues, “is that if homosexuals see themselves as deviants who have gone astray, the Christian spirit would plead for patience and prayers to make room for their repentance. When Scripture says something is wrong and some people say that it is right, such people make God a liar.”

That’s the real issue here, and that’s the issue Christians must continue to focus on. There’s certainly room for discussion of Bishop Akinola’s views and how he relates to homosexuals. But let’s not forget why he and the U.S. churches now under his oversight are doing what they’re doing: It is because they choose orthodoxy. They believe in the Word of God, and they will obey it. That’s what we all need to be concerned about, whether the media gets it right or not.

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From BreakPoint®, January 10, 2007, Copyright 2007, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. “BreakPoint®” and “Prison Fellowship Ministries®” are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship Ministries