Yes, Yes, and Yes!

If it looks like an Anglican, and smells like an Anglican, and talks like one on the Via Media, then it’s probably an Anglican

I found this on the Covenant-Communion Website.  It is so strangely timed because I was just about to write an essay saying pretty much EXACTLY what he said because I felt it needed to be said.  Thank you Matt Gunter for this sane statement as General Convention comes up; where the future of TEC is held in a precarious balance.  Let us all pray that God is not yet done with the Anglican Communion

Fence-Sitter’s Lament

Matt Gunter's avatar

“I’ve been accused of picking up splinters in my backside from sitting on the fence with regard to the bless-ability of same-gender sexual unions (SSU). I suspect I am not alone. And even if there are few who are truly straddling the fence, there are certainly many who still have one hand on the fence even if they have come down more or less on one side. These are the “Yes, buts” and the “No, buts” and there are many of both. But, given that so many others seem so confident of the rightness or wrongness of SSU one might wonder how anyone can “waffle” so.

1a. For all the talk of how much we’ve talked, I have seen little evidence of genuine conversation and precious little deep and sympathetic listening.

2a. I find most of the usual arguments – scriptural, theological, or otherwise – for SSU to be tendentious and thus convincing only to those who are already convinced or want to be convinced.

3a. Any scriptural argument in favor of SSU is less than straightforward at best, as even some of its proponents admit, e.g., Walter Wink and Luke Timothy Johnson.

4a. Too often, arguments in favor of SSU are accompanied by theology that is suspect measured against the creeds we confess.

5a. Related to #4, too often, those arguing for SSU offer no comprehensive sexual ethic that has any continuity with what has heretofore been considered faithful Christian discipline. Indeed, much is dismissive of anything like that discipline or is indistinguishable from what one might hear from Oprah or read in the heirs of Dear Abby.

6a. I am put off by the smug certitude of many proponents of SSU who seem convinced that their perspective is so self-evident as to not require rigorous defense. Which is not to suggest that a similar spirit is absent from those defending the tradition. More on that later.

7a. Even assuming SSU can be shown to be compatible with Christian faithfulness, the Episcopal Church has done a clumsy job of it such that, ironically, it has become harder for that presumed compatibility to get a hearing. Many who were open to considering it have become less open. Consecrating Gene Robinson before/without revising the marriage canon was an end-run around the hard work of building a new consensus that such revising was meet and right so to do. However uneven, difficult, and drawn out it seemed, there was the beginning of a conversation that might have led to a consensus if that conversation had not been prematurely cut off. One does not need to be narrowly conservative to wonder if some inconvenient bits of the Book of Common Prayer and our Constitution & Canons got finessed.

8a. Our understanding of abstractions like love, holiness, justice, etc is provisional. So is the interpretation of scripture. This side of the kingdom they will be incompletely understood, let alone lived. Thus, it is in the widest communion possible that interpretations and definitions of Christian faithfulness, however provisional, are best discerned. As an Anglican, I take the Anglican Communion to be the most adequate body for such discernment. Until or unless there is a consensus that SSU fall within the realm of Christian faithfulness, I support the moratoria on bishops in SSU and on authorizing official rites of blessing of SSU.

And yet . . .

1b. I am haunted by the story of Stephen Thyberg who occasionally attended my congregation, St. Barnabas, in the mid 1980’s while a student a Wheaton College (an Evangelical school in a nearby suburb). Though I did not arrive here until 2000, according to the newspaper clipping in my files, young Thyberg, who it turns out was gay, left the college campus one day and stepped in front of a train. According to witnesses, he assumed a posture of prayer as he waited for the train (where, I wonder, did he hope it would take him?). I do not know if he was consumed with self-loathing, if he despaired of being able to contain what he considered to be sinful desires, was rejected by his family, feared that rejection, or some combination of the above, but the burden seemed unbearable and led him to a drastic and tragic means of resolution.

I know this is not a unique story. In spite of my lingering reservations, I wonder if the Church is not obliged to listen more carefully and sympathetically when its gay and lesbian children come pleading for a hearing. Many have tried to live into the traditional discipline and have found it to be not a dying to self that leads to life but a dying that leads only to death. If liberals have not done a very good job of explaining how SSU fit into the logic of Christianity, conservatives have not done a very good job of demonstrating how the traditional discipline is good news for gays and lesbians

When Jesus declared that the Sabbath was made for humans rather than the other way around, I wonder if part of what he was declaring was a rejection of moral calculations that find such collateral damage acceptable. Perhaps we need to “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’”

2b. I know gays and lesbians who are desirous of living into the fullness of God’s will. I know gays and lesbians who robustly affirm the creeds and traditional Christian discipline in other areas and expect SSU to conform to the expectations and disciplines that have traditionally been the marks of Christian marriage. I know gays and lesbians who have lived into those expectations and disciplines faithfully for many years, often with little or no communal or ecclesial support.

On the one hand, acknowledging the existence and faithfulness of such relationships can take us only so far. By analogy, one will not “convert” a Mennonite to the justifiable use of violence by telling her she needs to get to know more church-going Marines. On the other hand, one cannot simply disregard the testimony of sisters and brothers in Christ.

3b. As noted above, I find many of the arguments in favor of SSU theologically and scripturally inadequate. However, not all arguments for rethinking the church’s teaching are theologically/scripturally shallow and self-serving. A distinction can be made between those who make the case in ways that are theologically and biblically responsible and those who do not. Eugene Rogers, for example, has written what I think is the best sustained argument for rethinking the Church’s teaching on same-gender relations in Sexuality and the Christian Body. His main conversation partners are a Russian Orthodox theologian, Paul Evdokimov, Karl Barth, and Thomas Aquinas. His reflections on the vocation of marriage have informed most of my wedding sermons since I read his book. Jeffery John’s booklet, Faithful, Stable, Permanent, is also quite good. He is more willing than most in TEC to critique other attempts at making the case as inadequate. He concedes, for example, that male – female complimentarity has a certain obviousness about it that cannot be dismissed. Another gay theologian of solid orthodoxy, is James Alison.

There are others whose theology and/or biblical scholarship I respect a great deal who have argued for rethinking the Church’s teaching – Luke Timothy Johnson, Catharine Pickstock, William Placher, John Milbank, Tom Breidenthal, and Rowan Williams to name a few. Though on the surface their conclusions are the same, they each start from a place very different from those like James Nelson, William Countryman, or John Spong. I do think the discussion would be very different if the approach of the former group was more common in The Episcopal Church than that of the latter.

Of course, there are others whom I respect a great deal who have argued against changing the Church’s teaching, e.g., Tom Wright, Marva Dawn, Richard Hayes.

4b. Those of a more traditional bent have hermeneutical and authority challenges of their own. Absent a Magisterium, we are all left to make sense of scripture and tradition in a context in which there is no straightforward, authoritative hermeneutic. This is a reality with which all of us outside the Roman Catholic Church have to grapple. We all need to give more attention to the hermeneutical principles by which we configure scripture such that some passages have more authority than others and some are relativized.

5b. The fact that many have managed to get around the traditional understanding of remarriage after divorce is a case in point. One can repent of a divorce, but sexual relations afterward are a different matter. It was not long ago that remarriage after divorce was a clear no-go. C. S. Lewis wrote on this late in his life:

“Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not commit adultery”—I can understand that a man can, and must respect these ‘statutes’, and try to obey them in his heart. But it is very hard to find how they could be, so to speak, delicious, how they exhilarate. If this is difficult at any time, it is doubly so when obedience to either is opposed to some strong, and perhaps in itself innocent, desire. A man held back by his unfortunate previous marriage to some lunatic or criminal who never dies from some woman whom he    faithfully loves . . . can [he] find the prohibition of adultery anything like honey?” (Reflections on the Psalms, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1958, p. 55)

If pastoral accommodation can be made for remarriage, why not for same-gender unions?

6b. I have been appalled by the meanness and small-heartedness expressed by many opponents of SSU. The classic Christian concept of loving the sinner, hating the sin has become almost unusable since so often it has been used as a thin veil for contempt. There does often seem to be something more visceral than rational motivating much of the reaction. That’s not to say “liberals/progressives” have been paragons of charity in all of this.

7b. Rowan Williams once suggested that part of what provokes such heat around this issue might be that there are so few other “markers” of faithfulness by which Western (particularly American?) Christians can distinguish themselves from their unbelieving or indifferent neighbors. We live in an affluent, over-indulgent society where gluttony and greed are woven into the fabric of our lives. The way we earn and spend money, the cars we drive, the homes we live in, the clothes we wear, and the amount of stuff we accumulate, etc. is quite indistinguishable from others in our neighborhood. We have few qualms about being titillated by R-rated sexualized and violent entertainment. There is little evidence that we are kinder, gentler, or more patient than the average American. What, then, becomes the means of assuring myself that I am really a serious Christian? That I follow the rules when it comes to sex?

8b. I am aware that representatives of the stream of Anglicanism with which I most identify—high church/catholic—were on the wrong side of the debate about slavery in the first half of the 19th century. They appealed to scripture and tradition in language very like that of contemporary traditionalists in arguing against SSU. According to the Bishop of Vermont, Henry Hopkins, the anti-slavery movement had to be rejected since it was “opposed by the unanimous voice of the Universal Church and is at war with the manifest sense of Scripture.” Despite John Newton and William Wilberforce, the same was largely true for those in the Evangelical and Broad Church traditions. Slavery and our divisions over sexuality might not be morally equivalent, but the similarities and the recognition that I experience some of the same tensions as my High Church forbearers are instructive and give me pause.

9b. This is an issue that beggars all analogies. Given the moral dimension, it is not just another advance of civil rights like that for African Americans or other racial and ethnic minorities. The scriptural, theological, and moral issues are quite different from that of women’s ordination.

On the other hand, SSU is different from other acts that have traditionally fallen under the category of sexual immorality. Same-gender attraction is an orientation that for many if not most is irreversible, yet is, in all other ways conformable to disciplines that we would identify as sanctifying and leading to human flourishing.

And so . . .

I am distrustful of those who seem so certain as to be unable to acknowledge the credibility of the concerns of those with whom they disagree. I do not deny that many of good faith have come down on one side or the other. And I do not begrudge them that. After all, Dante consigns to the vestibule of Hell folk like me who cannot commit. But, I do not understand how this issue has become for many on both sides a fundamental determiner of faithfulness. I also recognize that the fact that I am a married straight man makes it possible for me to indulge my indecision in a way that I might be less able to otherwise. Still, I am caught between the two and remain more or less sitting on the fence picking up splinters of indecision.”

If you’re an Anglican, or are watching in anticipation at where we are going, and you resonate with this, I’d encourage you to leave a comment with your name and diocese.



  1. Don’t we all?

    Tony, I’m not so sure that he would say that he is completely undecided. Just that he is open to the mind of the whole Communion, but only the mind of the Communion and not any individual revisionist reading.

    I’m in the “No, but” category myself; but I am still waiting the direction of our consular bodies for direction and “resolution”


  2. Yes, resolution would be nice. Though, as an of the chart “P” on Myers-Briggs, whatever that’s worth, resolution’s not my thing.

    Hell might freeze over, or the Cubs win the World Series (they might amount ot the same thing), before I make up my mind. Which would put gays and lesbians in a bind if it were simply up to me. People on both sides of the fence can thank God that whatever resolution looks like it won’t be of my making or timing.

    But, I do caution against premature resolution which is a scourge in most things. And I insist we treat each other with the costly charity with which God has treated us.


  3. I too do not a proverbial dog in this fight. Though, one could certainly argue that all Christians will be affected in some way by the decision that is rendered. That said, I found this essay to be particularly enlightening. While I can share Tony J’s frustration with the lack of resolution, I appreciate the humility that the writer has approached his understanding of both sides with. I especially enjoyed his use of Rowan Williams on point 7b. This, IMO, is the biggest issue facing the Western church. Wherever one falls on the gay marriage issue, we should all reevaluate what it is that sets us apart. I don’t mean that in any condescending or prideful way. Simply what makes Christianity worth following personally? If all that one can come up with is a list of outdated mores, be they valid or not, then it might be time to question the value of Christianity in ones life.


  4. I still remember when +Wright said “2/3 of the world want to talk about debt relief and 1/3 about sex” Sounds about right.


  5. I’m tired of it too. I hope my weariness came through in the piece.

    I agree with Reed that we have definitely spent time and energy on this issue disproportionate to its significance to the gospel.

    The problem is that the question cannot be avoided. In a church as diverse as the Episcopal Church, let alone the Anglican Communion, there are people all over the map – not just as to what they think, but whether they are prepared to think much about it at all. How do we hold that together? It would be much easier if we were congregationalists or freelance Christians who did not have to take into account a larger body.

    Who’s to blame for our still talking about this? Gays and lesbians who want the Church to rethink its teaching? The defenders of the tradition who are convinced that changing the teaching or ignoring it would be unfaithful?

    My parish is very involved with the church in the Sudan. Three of us are going there for a short time in a couple of weeks. What the Episcopal Church does regarding SSU affects their mission – and even their safety – there. The government in Khartoum has tried in the past to impose a version of radical Islam on the country. It is all too willing to smear the Episcopal Church of the Sudan with guilt by association with the Episcopal Church and its “sexual immorality” since both are part of the Anglican Communion. Our sisters and brothers in the Sudan would love for us to stop talking about sex and focus on the life and death issues they deal with day to day.

    All that said, I agree with Reed that this is in many ways a great distraction from the many needs of the world. And, as I suggested in 7b, it seems to be a way to avoid other of our own sins that we would rather ignore.

    My hope is that we can have the kinds of conversations we need to have regarding SSU and still continue to do the ministry in the world to which God calls us.


  6. I don’t believe this issue really has anything to do with SSU. In the end, I think it follows a more broad question: how far will we go to pursue equality in the anglican communion.

    The balance seems to stem on a desire to hold the sovereignty of the church and the rights of a few members of the church. Which is worth fighting for?

    In a dialogue with some of my fellow theophiliacs, I proposed this to be an issue of the church’s calling. I am a proponent of SSU – as I believe it is an issue of philanthropy. To deny equal rights is to claim lesser than church politics and vague theology.

    One might ask, “Is this an issue worth splitting the Anglican Communion over?” I say ‘yes’. I believe doing what we are called is greater than uniting at philanthropy’s deficit.


  7. I think that some of your words are strange words to use in an ecclesiastical context. “philanthropy?!” I would ask you to define the term as you use it and then explain how it is that this is a Christians highest calling.

    Plus “equality” is a loaded term. All are held “equal” by virtue of their faith and baptism; but the issue under discernment – because it is still under discernment, not finalized – is whether a homosexual union is theologically sound enough to be accepted by the Church. As Matt argued above, and I would agree, there needs to be comprehensive theologies of sexuality and relationship to back up SSU; otherwise we have reduced our witness to a nice institution among many to talk about god in a nice way, but not in any way that would exclude any behaviour. We are all called to judgment before the risen Christ, including homosexuals.

    Nobody is arguing for the “sovereignty” of the church. That is a misread of the consular nature of Anglicanism. Nobody actually has “sovereignty” over any one else. The question is one of the bonds of love. I’m sure that if a bishop in Africa were to start calling for the persecution of gays by the church then you would believe that should be corrected by us on account of our common life in Christ and the instruments of unity? Of course, and if that happened that bishop should be rebuked by the larger Communion.


  8. Excellent post, Mr. Gunter. As someone who is completely for SSU being sanctioned and allowed in a secular context, who thinks that gays and lesbians in committed relationships should receive the social and legal rights and privileges of marriage, I am not so sure that they should be sanctioned by the TEC (of which I am a member).

    I have two thoughts as to why there is so much vitriol and hatred on either extreme of this issue (but especially on the opposing side ;)).

    First, I believe there is patriarchal bigotry against homosexuality built into the fabric of society, and I believe it unfortunately is latently present in much of the rhetoric of the opponents of SSU. I think we have all seen the raw and ugly reality of homophobia.

    Your example, Mr. Gunter, of divorce is a good example of seemingly double standard that we often apply to sexual ethics that, I think, is partially due to this societal bigotry.

    I am in a real “who can cast the first stone” quandary on the homosexuality issue. One only has to read the first 2 verses of Romans 2, to know that we have no business ramming Romans 1 down the throats of anyone. Paul says to me, yeah, there’s alot of evil in the world, people, but we’re all tied up in, and so who are we to judge anyone?

    Second, in some senses this battle is over hermeneutics and authority more than sexuality. Especially in the larger context of the Universal Church, what is at stake in this debate is the fundamentalist/literalist understanding of the Bible. Now if this were the only thing at stake, I would gladly endorse SSUs, just so I can drive a stake through the heart of that particular hermeneutic demon, but alas, there are real people involved (on both sides), and love must be the order of the day, not exorcising the demons I create with my own opinions and hurt feelings.

    So, I am going to pray for the unity of the body of Christ, love the sistren and brethren (of any sexual orientation, or hermeneutical opinion) who are members of my faith community, and work for peace and justice in the world.



  9. Daniel wote, “One might ask, “Is this an issue worth splitting the Anglican Communion over?” I say ‘yes’. I believe doing what we are called is greater than uniting at philanthropy’s deficit.”

    At the 6:30 Eucharist this morning I prayed again, “your holy Catholic Church. That we all might be one.”

    There are certainly plenty who would agree with you. It’s clear that many who disagree with you regarding SSU agree with you that being right (Holy) is more important than being One (and Catholic). I don’t think they are seperable. Being a Christian is a matter of believing, becoming and belonging. It’s the belonging part that modern Christians tend to miss, having drunk deeply from the well of individualism.

    The Church is not about abstractions like philanthropy, or love or justice, or peace, or whatever. To the extent that it is about such things it is about embodying them as a community that is a sign and foretaste of the kingdom in which the wound of the original schism of sin and brokeness is fully healed. Schism – between humans and God, and humans and humans is the orginal sin played out in the fist 11 chapters of Genesis. It is that Schism that Jesus comes to heal. Or as Ephesians has it, it is the barriers and enmity of that schism that he breaks down.

    The mission of the church is reflected in one of the prayers in the Marriage Rite in the Book of common Prayer: Make their life together a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair.” Splitting the church is a counter-sign that undermines whatever aspect of the gospel it hopes to preserve/advance.

    Hanging together, actually learning to love – the church is a school of love that is often a school of hard knocks – learning to listen, to offer ourselves to one another, bear one another’s burdens and the burden of one another, to actually be the community envisioned in Romans 12, Phippians 2, Ephesians 4 is harder. But I beleive it is the more excellent way.


  10. I agree with you, James, that much of this is a question of hermeneutics. The challenge is that while literalism is clearly – and clear to more and more people all the time – inadequate, there isn’t much of an attractive alternative out there. That is what we will be struggling with for a generatin or two. What replaces the Protestant sola scriptura that is not the Magiterium of Rome?

    I also agreee with you that there are so many stones lying around that trying to discern who threw the first one is futile. And even if one could finger the original stone-thrower, it would not absolve the rest of us of our participation.

    To change the metaphor, but get at what I think Paul wants to remind us in Romans, we all have fingerprints on the hammer and the nails.

    Lord have mercy
    Christ have mercy
    Lord have mercy


  11. Matt~

    I can’t really formulate why, but your previous two posts have profoundly affected my view of the “One Holy Catholic Church”.

    I will have to reserve further comment for a later time.


  12. Hmmm… So, Matt Gunter is sitting on the fence wondering who is right and who is wrong about SSU? I also noticed that some question the epistemology of those who disagree with their own opinions concerning SSU? Forgive me if I do the same.

    When one questions another’s view concerning SSU that presupposes that he knows how to determine right from wrong. It further presupposes that there is a difference between right and wrong. Such an objective and absolute right and wrong presupposes an absolute standard to make such judgments.

    So, what is your standard for truth? Why is SSU either right or wrong?

    Wait, perhaps you think SSU is like spinach. Perhaps you think it is simply a matter of taste. Some like the taste of spinach and some hate the taste of spinach. There is no objective fact that spinach tastes good or bad. It is subjective. The taste depends on the person who eats it. But, if moral values are like spinach then SSU could be wrong for me, but right for you. It would simply be a matter of opinion. At that point, how can you challenge my opinion if it differs from yours? How could you challenge me if I oppose what you propose? Furthermore, how could you prove to me that war, capital punishment, or stealing your property were wrong? If all moral judgments are merely matters of opinion or matters of taste, then everyone must be allowed to follow his own tastes. Ultimately, this leads us back to the need for a standard.

    I am guessing that everyone who frequents this blog (but not necessarily all who simply visit) will agree that God bears the standard of truth that determines right from wrong. The question of whether or not SSU is right or wrong is ultimately a question of what God’s standard has to say about it. But what does that standard look like?

    Is it the Apostle’s Creed?
    Is it the Nicene Creed?
    Is it something else?

    I say it is the Bible. (I know… I know… you are not surprised) If I am correct, then the next question is, “Does the Bible forbid SSU?”

    This seems to be a very confusing question for most of you. You have confused this question with, “Does the Bible forbid people from being homosexuals?” Consider the idea that a person could be a homosexual without ever engaging in any form of homosexual activity. We all know people who have abstained from sexual activity. For instance, Roman Catholic nuns are not married, and we assume that most of them do not engage in sexual activity of any kind. It is important that we note the difference between sexual orientation and sexual activities. A person could engage in homosexual activity even though he has a heterosexual orientation.

    Does the Bible forbid homosexual activity? Yes! Absolutely!

    Does the Bible forbid homosexual orientation? Good question…

    Does the Bible forbid partnerships among those with homosexual orientation? Hmm…

    That seems to depend on what the united couple intends to do with that partnership?

    Are they going to use SSU to sanction homosexual activity? I am guessing that most of them will.

    In Leviticus 18:22 homosexual activity is called an abomination. In Lev. 20:13 homosexual activity demanded the death penalty. According to 1Cor. 6:9-10 homosexual activity prevents one from going to heaven. According to 1Tim. 1:10 fornicators (which includes homosexual activity) are said to be “contrary to the sound teaching of the Gospel.”

    So, the Bible forbids homosexual activity, but what about SSU or gay marriage?

    (For the sake of space and to avoid boring you I will close this without fully developing all of my evidence, just note that there is more if you are interested.)

    In Mark 10:6-8, Jesus quoted from Genesis re-establishing God’s pattern for marriage as being a bond between a male and female. In the same passage, he further stated that marriage causes the married partners to become “one flesh.” Since this seems to involve homosexual activity, then it is wrong because the Bible forbids homosexual activity.

    So, according to my understanding:
    1. Marriage causes two to become one flesh.
    2. When two of the same gender become one flesh it is homosexual activity.
    3. The Bible forbids homosexual activity.
    4. Therefore, the Bible forbids the marriage of two of the same gender.


  13. Roger,

    I do wonder from my brief interactions with you if sometimes you think that we just sit around in a circle and come up with up with our own beliefs ex nihilo Make no mistake, Scripture is still and ever will be the primary source of theological reflection and authority in my life. That, despite the fact that Jesus Christ is the fullest revelation of the Father.

    I have read the passages you have quoted and have prayed long and hard about them. I myself, am a supporter of the Churches traditional teaching on matters of sexuality.

    There are, of course, complicating factors. If after you’ve read my pieces on sexuality on the blog (there are at least 8 of them) and you still have questions then I’d be happy to talk about them.


  14. Adhunt wrote:
    I do wonder from my brief interactions with you if sometimes you think that we just sit around in a circle and come up with up with our own beliefs ex nihilo

    Throw in a few long bright colored robes, an ocassional chant of the Nicene Creed, some organ music, and you almost have it. 🙂 – just kidding –
    Adhunt wrote:
    Make no mistake, Scripture is still and ever will be the primary source of theological reflection and authority in my life. That, despite the fact that Jesus Christ is the fullest revelation of the Father.

    I cannot actually explain my concept of this group, but I can tell you that I do not see this group as monolithic. Each of you is different from the others.

    I believe you are seeking a safe place to share views and opinions that are still being processed even after you write them, sometimes hoping your words will strike a chord with a larger crowd of witnesses and sometimes hoping that your words are not even noticed by all of this group.

    If it matters to any of you, I do not see any of you as either religious heretics or spiritual phonies.


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