A panel of theologians in The Episcopal Church released on Wednesday a draft document on the divisive issue of same-sex relationships, detailing the positions of the "traditionalists" and the "liberals."
The 95-page paper does not serve as a statement but is a response to the call for The Episcopal Church "to treat the controversy theologically," according to Dr. Ellen Charry, editor of the document and associate professor of historical and systematic theology at Princeton Theological Seminary.
"Same-Sex Relationships in the Life of the Church" was drafted by the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops – a panel of eight who were evenly divided between traditionalists and liberals. Though they were requested to draw up one paper, the theologians have offered two, representing both sides of the debate. They determined early on that it was not possible to present one paper on the subject, said Bishop Paul Lambert of the Diocese of Dallas.
"So the conversation continues with two very divergent views, which in my mind, shows where we are as a Church on the matter of same-sex relationships," Lambert stated.
The project was commissioned in 2008 by the House of Bishops and since then, the panel has met several times. It is expected to be completed in 2011.
"The purpose of this project is not to create a new consensus or make a recommendation to the church," said the Rt. Rev. Henry Nutt Parsley, Jr., chair of the theology committee. "It is rather to express as fully as possible two contrasting theological views, both rooted in the teaching of the church and in Holy Scripture, in order that we might listen to and learn from both sides of the debate,"
In the "liberal" paper, the theologians argue that the church should marry same-sex couples because it "requires their testimony to the love of Christ and the church, and because it recognizes that same-sex couples stand in need of sanctification no less than opposite-sex couples."
"In grafting same-sex marriage onto the domestic rite, the church follows the pattern of God’s grafting wild, Gentile olive branches onto the domesticated olive tree of Israel (Rom 11:24)," they contend. "The church does so because same-sex couples need the sanctification that marriage teaches, and the church needs the marital virtues that same-sex couples are already receiving."
The four theologians argue that those who are gay or lesbian need same-sex relationships for their own sanctification "because neither opposite-sex relationships nor celibacy could get deeply enough into their hearts to promote lifelong commitment and growth."
They also note that same-sex marriage is not an issue of extended rights and privileges but one of "pastoral occasion to proclaim the significance of the gospel for all who marry, because marriage embodies and carries forward the marriage of God and God's people."
"To deny committed couples marriage deprives them not of a privilege but of a medicine. It deprives them not of a social means of satisfaction but of a saving manner of healing."
The liberal paper was written by: Deirdre J. Good of General Theological Seminary, Cynthia B. Kittredge of Seminary of the Southwest, Eugene F. Rogers of the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, and Willis J. Jenkins of Yale Divinity School.
The more conservative theologians recognize that a shift in public opinion has occurred in the last 30 years or so. They note that until recently, only a few churches in the United States – "mainly weaker and shrinking groups" – had taken the more liberal path on same-sex marriage. But the scene has changed in recent years with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America now allowing the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals and The Episcopal Church also taking the liberal path.
The traditionalists reject the link some have made between the civil rights movement of the '60s and the gay and lesbian movement. And they believe that some Episcopal bishops who lean conservative have lent their support to same-sex marriage because "they are afraid of being like the two Episcopal bishops in Alabama in 1963 who joined with six other local churchmen in writing an open letter to Martin Luther King, Jr., criticizing him for disobeying established laws and for not having patience to wait for change in civil rights to develop gradually and naturally."
"At the heart of our position is the conviction that the issue of same-sex marriage simply cannot be put in the same category as other social issues on which Anglicans and Christians in general have changed their mind," they assert. "We do not believe that acceptance of gay and lesbian marriage fits neatly into some narrative of successive liberation movements that emancipated serfs, slaves, child laborers, blacks, and now homosexual couples."
The group adds, "The argument is often made that the scriptural treatment of chattel slavery, the subordination of women, and the prohibition of usury are moral issues where subsequent reflection and experience led to genuine change in the Church’s teaching, and that the question of same-sex relationships poses the same kind of challenge to accept the wisdom of a new perspective.
"However, this comparison really does not work. With regard to the subordination of women, it is explicit in Genesis 3 that men’s ruling over women came about as result of human disobedience rather than as an original intention of creation. Texts that require the subordination of women can therefore plausibly be seen as concessions to human sinfulness, and reflect the disorder of humanity after the fall."
The traditionalist paper was written by: John E. Goldingay of Fuller Theological Seminary, Grant R. LeMarquand of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, George R. Sumner of Wycliffe College inToronto, Canada, and Daniel A. Westberg of Nashotah House.
Charry, the editor of the document, points out that the two groups of theologians did not arrive at two symmetrical documents because each "came at the issue with different purposes, needs, and perceptions of audience."
The issue of homosexuality has splintered the worldwide Anglican Communion – of which The Episcopal Church is the U.S. arm. Anglican leaders have affirmed moratoria on the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of partnered homosexuals and have also called for gracious restraint on those two areas.
In 2009, however, The Episcopal Church opened the ordination process to all baptized members, which would include homosexuals, and called for the development of liturgical resources for the blessing of same-sex unions.
This year, the U.S. body is also expected to ordain its second openly gay bishop in May.
For the full text of the papers, visit: http://www.collegeforbishops.org/