Thursday 23 February 2012

Gay Priest and Fundamentalist Kickback

In a small piece in today’s Sydney Star Observer here, I read of the spat that has developed between Sydney Anglicans and the Diocese of Gippsland in Victoria where the local Bishop has appointed an openly gay man in a relationship as the new priest for the Parish of Hayfield. Of Rev David Head, Bishop McIntyre said, “He was ordained over 30 years ago, has exercised good and faithful ministry in that diocese up until January this year, and he fulfils all the current criteria to be determined canonically fit to be licensed in an Anglican diocese anywhere in the world”. But the Anglican Church League (ACL), a conservative evangelical group based, where else but Sydney, has called on the bishop to rescind the decision calling it “dismaying”. On their website the ACL describe what they do among other things: “The ACL is active in Sydney Synod affairs. It offers advice to Synod members about people suitable for election to committees and other bodies which influence the quality and direction of Church life” [my italics].

So basically, the ACL is getting all upset by the appointment of a 30 year ordained priest who has been ministering faithfully within their communion for three decades and wants to prevent him from continuing his ministry in this new parish because he's gay. Never mind the fact that the people of the parish want him and like him and never mind the fact that the bishop has stated, “He was appointed by me on the request of the people of the parish in which he now serves because they believed his ministry experience and gifts made him the right priest for the job, and they believed him to be called by God to that ministry, as do I.”

Why on earth do conservative Sydney Anglicans care so much about what is happening in other dioceses, and even in other countries? What do they object to? Fundamentally, their objection is to the notion of acceptance of a gay life as being a legitimate life. They believe that such a life is anything but legitimate and that in fact, it is set against God by its very existence; the hallmark of a sinful human nature. In declaring such things, they rely on traditional interpretations of the sledge-hammer verses I speak of in BGBC. That gay people ‘have abandoned the natural for the unnatural’ and that male male sex is, wait for it, ‘an abomination’.

This slavish and decidedly unscholarly adherence to centuries-old interpretations of scripture has become tiresome. I wrote BGBC in part to say to the fundamentalists of the church that they need to stop being so myopic and start reading some scholarship that explains what these texts are about. They also need to read some scholarship from the world of science that can explain to them what we know now about sexuality and gay sexuality in particular. Some of these people are not stupid; in fact, some of them are incredibly intelligent.

So it’s not really about intelligence is it? It’s more to do with conserving an established order, concreting in forever an attitude to faith that does not change or grow. If they broaden their view of the Bible, what will become of them? What will become of the other teachings of the church? Will it mean that anything goes? These are the fears at the heart of fundamentalism. The fear of an adult faith that is comfortable engaging with the search, the quest, the not knowing all the answers, the suffering of humanity, the humanness of Jesus, the idea that God is bigger than anything they can imagine. The alternative? A childish faith; one  wherewe are told by an authoritarian church steeped in dogma what to believe, how to behave, how to be, how to connect with the Spirit of God.

 No thank you. To David Head and partner Mark – blessings and peace and good health and a wonderful ministry be upon you in the lovely Parish of Hayfield.

Pax et Amor - Stuart

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