Thursday, 30 January 2014

GAFCON statement: saying 'no' to ongoing theological reflection?

GAFCON's response to the statement on Pilling by the CofE College of Bishops, contains the following assertion:

We cannot therefore allow our time and energy to be sapped by debating that which God has already clearly revealed in the Scriptures ...

There has been intensive debate within the Anglican Communion on the subject of homosexuality since at least the 1998 Lambeth Conference and it is difficult to believe that the bishop’s indecision at this stage is due to lack of information or biblical reflection. The underlying problem is whether or not there is a willingness to accept the bible for what it really is, the Word of God.

There is, in other words, no further need for theological reflection on the phenomenon and experience of same-sex attraction and relationships.  Why?  Because "God has already clearly revealed in the Scriptures" what the Church's teaching and pastoral response should be.

This assertion brings to mind the judgement of one of contemporary Anglicanism's most significant moral theologians, Oliver O'Donovan in A Conversation Waiting to Begin:

By its very logic, moral intuitionism will be indifferently radical or conservative.  Once the moment of moral insight is detached from the discursive project of reflection and deliberation, it can rebound off the wall at any angle whatever.  The intuitionist appeal to a "discernment" on the revisionist side called forth an equal and opposite move - all the more so since an antirevisionist "discernment" could claim, with much greater prima facie plausibility, to be in line with the unwavering testimony of Scripture ... On this side as on that, the immediacy of the insight tends to make the interpretation of Scripture seem superfluous.

The GAFCON statement, in an ironic echo of advanced progressive thought in the most liberal wing of TEC, declares that there is no need for on-going Scriptural and theological reflection on the matter of same-sex attraction: 'we' already know the answer.  It seeks, to use O'Donovan's words, "to make the interpretation of Scripture seem superfluous".

To close down theological reflection and debate is no small matter.  Above all, it undermines the Church's living engagement with Scripture: 'we' don't need to engage because 'we' already, instinctively know what Scripture teaches. This touches on a point raised by Anglican Down Under, on what it means to for a local church to be authentically counter-cultural.  Not allowing "our time and energy to be sapped by debating that which God has already clearly revealed in the Scriptures" can result in the local church being significantly shaped by cultural presuppositions: because 'we' instinctively know what Scripture teaches, 'we' don't need to prayerfully turn to Scripture to discern its message.  At this point societal homophobia can all too easily be endorsed as cohering with the Church's historic understanding of same-sex acts.

One further point about the GAFCON statement.  It refers to the need for the proclamation of the Gospel in war-torn South Sudan and in "the affluent but morally disorientated nations of the developed world".  That the societies of the developed world experience moral disorientation is self-evident.  A deeply entrenched materialism and consumerism has ensured this ... although, of course, our suspicion will be that GAFCON's concern is not so much with materialism. 

But, is it only the societies of the developed world that experience moral disorientation? Is communal violence not a sign of moral disorientation?  Or laws denying the human dignity of gay people? Or entrenched social and gender inequalities?  The fact that these moral disorientations characterise some societies in the developing world surely requires comment.  Or is moral disorientation solely a matter of societal acceptance of same-sex relationships?


robbbeck said...


Yet another instance of the two sides of the same coin battling it out.

Thanks for flagging and for adding O'Donovan's important comments.


Rob Scot said...

Spot on. Thank you for drawing attention to this. I've re-blogged this post over at my own blog.

BC said...

Robb, many thanks for the comment. Yes, it is indeed a strange irony that both 'right' and 'left' mirror each other in the belief that theological reflection on this issue can be abandoned.

Thanks too for the wonderful O'Donovan quote in your blog piece.

Rob, many thanks for linking to the piece on your blog. Much appreciated.