Monday, August 18, 2014

What to do when your parish has a gay rector

An Ethical Musings' reader sent me the following query:

I attended a small Episcopal church today – the last Sunday before a married gay Rector is in charge.

My brother in law and I discussed his concern that gay sex is a sin and he cannot take Communion from a sinner. He is not a homophile; his concern is only that a married gay Rector is a sinner. He quotes the Bible, he has prayed for guidance, he has gone on the internet to research this issue, et al. Gay sex is his issue.

I told him that this is an issue of controversy and many leaders of all religions have taken seriously the issue of gays and their roles. The Church, as have other churches, have made the decision that gay priests who are married contribute to the faith and can perform all rites of the Church – a prayerful decision, not one of political correctness.

Here is my response:

If your brother in law cannot receive Holy Communion from a sinner, then he is unable to receive Holy Communion – ever. There is no bishop or priest who is not also a sinner. Attempting to construct a hierarchy of sins is exceedingly difficult, probably impossible. If for the sake of the discussion one accepts that gay sex is sinful, then is that more sinful than a nominally celibate cleric lusting after his/her parishioners of the same (or opposite) gender, frequently and repeatedly committing mental adultery, even as s/he distributes Holy Communion? If for the sake of the discussion one accepts that gay sex is sinful, then is a married gay or lesbian priest more sinful than is a priest in a heterosexual marriage, but who is truly gay or lesbian, who frequently and repeatedly commits mental adultery with parishioners of the same sex, even as s/he distributes Holy Communion? The questions that one must answer in constructing a hierarchy of sins are endless.

Once the taxonomy of sins is complete, one might draw a line separating the acceptable sins (those that a cleric can commit and continue to function) from the unacceptable sins (those that a cleric may not commit and continue to function). Who is to draw the line? What are the criteria for deciding where to draw the line? (This process is similar to the distinction that the Roman Catholic Church has drawn between venial and mortal sins.)

The Church is a human institution, comprised of pilgrims who are also sinners. Sometimes the Church makes great choices, e.g., the full inclusion of people regardless of race. Sometimes the Church makes sinful choices, e.g., its support of slavery for centuries. In either case, the Church, imperfect as it is, remains the body of Christ. Time will reveal, with clarity, whether the Church’s decision to include fully gays and lesbians is right or wrong. In the meantime, the Church, imperfect as it is, remains the Church.

I, for one, am confident that the Church's full inclusion of all people, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation best incarnates God's love that welcomes and embraces all of God's children.

(Incidentally, questions and suggestions for future Ethical Musings' posts are always welcome.)


Takk for Alt said...

George, once again your logic is sound, your conclusions appropriate, and your tone measured and reasonable. Thank-you for all that you contribute in your ethical musings to the overall conversation of ethics. Wally

CT said...

This dates to the Donatist controversy in the 4th century. Eventually the church declared to be a heresy the notion that the validity of a sacrament depends upon the priest's holiness and state of grace.

As a practical matter, if a diocesan bishop decides that a priest is living in a notorious manner, the bishop may inhibit the priest from performing priestly functions while the judicial process of the church ensues. This does safeguard the integrity of the church from scandal. However, bishops exercise this prerogative very cautiously. Few if any bishops in The Episcopal Church would consider inhibiting a priest simply because the priest is gay.

Anonymous said...

One aspect you don't mention in your discussion is that of repentance. One might expect that a pastor who commits mental adultery (or a multitude of other sins) recognizes it as a sin and repents of it, prays for forgiveness and for the resolve not to sin again. My understanding is that the concern of those who worry about (specifically) married gay pastors is that they don't recognize or believe that the intercourse they engage in within their marriage is indeed a sin. It's one thing to take communion from the hand of a sinner (we're all sinners), but perhaps another to take it from the hand of an unrepentant sinner. I'm not sure exactly how/why that works out differently theologically, but I think that's the argument. (One might also, in response, point out the doctrine of ex opere operato, which I think is part of the Anglican tradition)

George Clifford said...

As remarked in CT's comment, the validity of a sacrament is not contingent upon the holiness of the officiant. Most clergy (like most people) are guilty of sins for which they are not repentant. Singling out particular sins and arguing that those sins require repentance (and true repentance entails both sorrow and genuine amendment of life) before one is worthy to administer the sacraments is bad theology.