The Anglican Communion and Homosexuality

Listening and Mission

Ian T. Douglas and Michael Poon

Introduction

Mission is the central theme of this book. God’s mission of reconciliation and the proclamation of good news to all people is the task of the Church in this and every generation. The passion of the debate over human sexuality is rooted in a common desire for service to God’s mission. As the authors of True Union in the Body? note at the very beginning of that work:

The call to bless same-sex unions arises because some (mainly in the West) believe this is an appropriate and loving response to people who seek the Church’s support, and so should be an important feature of the Church’s pastoral practice and a vital part of the Church’s contemporary mission. Many, however, see it as a major challenge to the Church’s identity, potentially overturning her traditional understanding of scriptural teaching about human sexuality and faithful Christian discipleship. Especially in the non-West there is the added fear that it effectively undermines the Church s mission in their context and denies the gospel.

One of the most telling parts of the 1998 Lambeth sexuality debate was during discussion of the amendment (Resolution V.35) proposed from the West Africa Region which stated ‘homosexuality is a sin which could only be adopted by the church if it wanted to commit evangelical suicide’. In response, Bishop Roskam of New York said, ‘If affirming homosexuality is evangelical suicide in [Africa], to condemn it is evangelical suicide in my region.’

Given a shared passion for mission and yet such differences over sexuality, it is important to begin by thinking about listening and mission. The two essays that follow set out guiding principles on these themes. The first is by Ian Douglas, a mis-siologist well respected in The Episcopal Church USA. The second is by Michael Poon, a leading theologian of the Global South who is the chair of the Global South Theological Formation and Education Task Force. Ian and Michael worked independently and then shared their essays with one another. They have then written a brief response to one another as a way of modelling conversation among fellow Anglicans. These appreciate difference yet seek commonality in service to God’s mission together.

Ian Douglas explains recent developments in Christian thinking about mission and explores the Bible’s teaching about mission. He shows that both of these lead us to focus on the mission of God (missio Dei). At the heart of God’s mission, he argues,is reconciliation and restoration of relationships. Today, we find ourselves in more and more relationships because we live in a globalized world and Anglican Communion. Drawing on studies of identity and identity politics he shows that ease of communication and travel can hide from us the complexity of who both we are and who other Anglicans really are. We can also forget the ways we are usually both powerful and powerless in different ways in all our relationships. Often, instead, we view ourselves and others in simple categories based on theology, colour, sexuality, nationality, gender etc. These single identities can then become the cause of increased conflict based on these differences. Part of the mission of God is therefore to restore these broken relationships. To do this, he argues, we need to learn to share our common experiences and feelings with one another and to listen to one another across our differences. This can help us discover and show the unity we have in Christ who is both human and divine and in whom we are reconciled to God and one another.

Michael Poon draws on the work of a historian and a missionary to help us recover the importance of listening and mission. These dual callings are rooted in the Word become flesh. They therefore should take place in face-to-face loving human encounters in which we connect with people in their lived reality. He is concerned that the revival of the language of missio Dei threatens to abstract us from this local, concrete inter-personal activity. It can also give us a sense of privilege as agents of God’s mission which can then become part of a centrally imposed ideology and set of policies. He warns that the ‘Listening Process’ on homosexuality risks falling into similar traps especially if we fail to listen to the past and the different meanings of homosexuality in different cultures (a matter explored more fully in Chapter 5).

These two writers share a conviction that listening and mission belong together and are both to be shaped by the mystery of the Incarnation. They find themselves agreeing that, in the words of Dr Poon: ‘listening and mission are ways in which the Christian community engages the world’ and that ‘listening and mission are ways of being present in the real world in its broken and gifted experience’ and ‘can only be acts of love’. They offer, however, different understandings of what this means in practice and of the value of focusing on the mission of God (missio Dei). Douglas focuses on the impact of globalization and the need - especially when meeting people from different contexts - to understand our varied and complex identities. He believes that through sharing our response to these differences (especially their impact on our personal, interpersonal, institutional and cultural power) we may engage in genuine listening and share in God’s reconciling mission. Poon calls for us to focus not on abstract categories and processes or on the impact of globalization on these but rather on the concrete. It is here, he believes, that tensions such as those Douglas identifies are resolved. By loving our neighbour through listening to them and being fully present to one another we can discern how our differences become distinctive contributions to the life and mission of the Church.

Ian and Michael thus have disagreements - which two theologians do not! - but there is also significant common ground. This basis of common ground is vital for the rest of the book as we enter into areas where there is deep division which matter so much because we have so much common ground.

Bibliography

Chapter 1 – Part 1

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Batts, Valerie. “Is Reconciliation Possible? Lessons from Combating ‘Modern Racism”, in Douglas, Ian. T. (ed), Waging Reconciliation God’s Mission in a Time of Globalization and Crisis, New York: Church Publishing, 2002

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Douglas Ian T. “Biblical overview of mission” in Alkie, S. and Newell, E., What Can One Person Do: Faith to Heal a Broken World, New York: Church Publishing, 2005

Duraisingh, Christopher. “Encountering Difference in a Plural World: A Pentecost Paradigm for Mission”, in Douglas, Ian T. (ed), Waging Reconciliation God’s Mission in a Time of Globalization and Crisis, New York: Church Publishing, 2002

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LeMarquand, Grant. “From Creation to New Creation: The Mission of God in the Biblical Story” in Douglas, Ian T. (ed), Waging Reconciliation: God’s Mission in a Time of Globalization and Crisis, New York: Church Publishing, 2002

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Chapter 1 – Part 2

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Resources

Michael Poon ‘Till they have Homes: Christian responsibilities in the 21st Century,” Global South Anglican, http://www.globalsouthanglican.org/index.php/weblog/comments/till_they_have_homes.

Kevin Ward - Gay people as missionaries: an interrogation of the silences

 

See Also

James Tengatenga ‘Hospitality that Listens’
http://www.anglicancommunion.org/listening/world/docs/doc2.cfm