[ACNS source: Anglican Media Sydney] Readers cannot fail to have noticed reports of the recent lively debate in the Anglican Church on the appointment of bishops who are or have been practising homosexuals, and also on the blessing of same sex unions.
The Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, Dr Peter Carnley, provided his own views on the matter recently (http://www.anglicancommunion.org/acns/articles/34/75/acns3490.html). I have been invited to respond to Archbishop Carnley.
Let me commence by pointing out where I agree wholeheartedly with him. We both affirm "the uniquely normative and authoritative place" of the Scriptures within the Christian tradition.
As Australian Anglicans, Dr Carnley and I are bound to this view since it is spelt out for us in the second of the Fundamental Declarations in the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia. That is, "This Church receives all the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as being the ultimate rule and standard of faith given by inspiration of God and containing all things necessary for salvation".
It may be difficult for those looking in at this Anglican debate to remember that Christians don't regard themselves as in any way free to make up their religion. What we are all doing is struggling to obey the living God who has spoken to us through the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Scriptures.
So this Anglican debate boils down essentially to the question of the authority Christians give to Scripture, and they way they read it.
Where I find myself in tension with the views of Archbishop Carnley is his suggestion that a plain understanding of God's purposes for humankind as man and woman, and our sexuality in marriage is not clear in Scripture and that many people allow the Scriptural text to provide simply a "pre-packaged answer".
Rather, the historic understanding of the Christian faith, not just by Anglicans but by Christians throughout the world, is caught well in the Lambeth Resolution for which ninety percent of the bishops of the Anglican Communion voted in 1998. This Resolution 1:10 rejected "homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture" and further it stated that it "cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions".
Dr Carnley describes this resolution as "cautiously reaffirming received teaching". I do not think his word "cautiously" captures either the tone or the intent of that resolution.
Since Lambeth, the minority who vigorously opposed the Lambeth decision have worked with equal vigour to overturn it. In various places they have pushed the boundaries, seeking to break out and away from this Lambeth decision.
Our Creator does have a view on sex and the expression of sexuality. It is to be found in those texts Dr Carnley refers to as 'ancient texts' whose meanings are 'hotly disputed'. That is a massive overstatement.
The texts teach that God created men and women and blessed them in life-long, heterosexual marriage. So important is the positive teaching that it is reinforced by the negatives against all other forms of sexual activity outside this norm. This has always been the plain meaning and reading of the Scripture and the historic understanding of the Christian church.
This teaching is stated positively in the opening chapters of the book of Genesis. It is reaffirmed in the teaching of Jesus who specifically endorsed the statements of those opening chapters. It is stated negatively in Jesus' strong words about those who break up marriages. When the apostle Paul brought the message of God to the non-Jewish world, various ritual and ceremonial practices were abolished, but not the teaching related to marriage and sexual practices.
Obedience to the word of God is not a theoretical or academic matter. It is a matter of deepest obedience to the One who made us.
By the grace of God there is forgiveness for breaches of God's standards and divinely empowered strength to live chastely. But we fail God and we do no service to our fellow men and women by saying or implying that God's standards are other than they are, or that they are less than they are.
Dr Carnley implies there is something fundamentally different about modern times and sexual expression. Doubtless many things about modernity are different from antiquity, but our sexual make up and sexual drive are not among those differences. Whatever adaptations changing times may necessitate, changing God's standards of sexual behaviour is not among them.
Even passing knowledge of the sexual mores of young people in western societies indicates a potentially 'lost generation', lost because of a loss of moral compass. In a way, the sexual behaviour of modern westerners resembles the promiscuity that characterised much of the Roman world. Around us we see despair and purposelessness among many of our younger contemporaries. We in the Christian churches serve them best by telling them God's truth, with humility and love, but a love that is robust and genuinely caring.
It is in humility, not arrogance, that a Christian affirms to his or her sisters or brothers that this is the way to please God. There should also be no doubt that leaders in our churches should be above reproach and be those whose lives exemplify the very biblical and Christian teaching that they are duty bound to give.
[Dr Peter Jensen is the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney]