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Sachs, William L.
Homosexuality and the Crisis of Angli-canism.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2009. X, 256 S. 22,8 x 15,2 cm. Lw. £ 58,00. ISBN 978-0-521-85120-6.
That the ordination of homosexual bishops has presented for the Anglican Communion a problem of schismatic proportions would be a difficult proposition to contradict. Whether the problem is altogether new or completely unaddressable presents an entirely distinct set of questions. In light of the former schismatic problem, William L. Sachs takes up these latter queries in his appropriately titled book, Homosexuality and the Crisis of Anglicanism. – In this book, S. rightly addresses not merely the problem of schism in today’s Anglican Church, but the tensioned conditions that have been a part of the historical Anglican Church – tensions that have given rise to the possibility of such schism in the first place. S. focuses on three eminently interrelated pressures that have allowed for the production of today’s developments: (1.) that between progressivism and traditionalism within the Church; (2.) that between the ideals of comprehensiveness and holiness within the Church; and (3.) that between the diversity and the proclaimed unity of the Church.
The current debate over homosexuality finds its home in an argument between what S. calls progressivism and traditionalism. Both of these interpretive standpoints, in fact, claim to be the true inheritors of the proper Christian faith. Progressives see the Gospel as a divine and justice-oriented movement outward: that the Good News is the inclusion of those once considered reprehensible – like Greek converts to early Jewish Christianity – into the Church and its divine mission. This now includes homosexual persons. Traditionalists, however, see the true faith as bound up to the traditionally espoused morality of the Church – that which separates the Church as a divine institution in light of the sinful horizons of the world.
This debate, however, grounds itself in a far older tension within the Anglican Church, namely, a debate between the comprehensiveness of the Church versus the holiness of the Church. From its inception as the state Church of England, the Anglican Church has struggled with the question of whom to include within the Church: whether it should serve the sacraments to the whole of English society, accepting persons in their current moral state with the hopes of granting divine direction to them or whether it should merely serve those who prove themselves morally worthy? The latter logic has bound itself to contemporary traditionalists indirectly in the sense that they perceive persons of homosexual orientation morally unfit to receive inclusion in the Church. However, the logic of comprehensiveness has found constitutive sway within progressive camps, for not only are homosexuals not considered morally degenerate, but their acceptance into the Church offers an avenue through which to extend God’s comprehensive, sacramental, and just love.
Both of the above conditions, however, are grounded within a greater historical tension: that between the unity and diversity within the Anglican Church, or what S. refers to as local prerogative versus the securing of a distinctively Christian identity through centralized control. Throughout the British period of colonization, Anglicanism has had to wrestle with the autonomy that it grants to regional Churches: whether they ought to be under the direct control of British Bishops or not. After the Revolutionary War in what is now the US and the refusal of pro-Revolutionary clergy to swear to oath the British crown, the possibility of an entirely and legally centralized Church became nil, even if the Anglican Church has eventually reunited under the idea of a moral unity. The question is whether this moral unity is enough.
As local Dioceses and parishes develop, they develop within a contextual world that opens certain possibilities while definitively closing off others. The possibility of the inclusion of homosexuals has tended to develop in the context of a liberalized Global North and its impossibility within the cosmological ideas of the Global South. Each, in their diverse set of beliefs, is nominally Anglican under the auspices of diversity allowed by the church structure. However, under progressivist and traditionalist claims to have the truth of the Gospel and their pushes toward the centralization of their positions as normative, the diversity of the church held together under moral unity is, and perhaps needs to be, called into question.
Aside from these historical tensions inherent to the Anglican Church, S.’s own reflections on the nature of this conflict are extremely interesting. He directs his complaints toward both progressivists and traditionalists alike: both have gone too far in their activist attempts at the centralization of authority within the church. That is, while most Anglican parishioners and clergy find some attraction to either one side or the other, neither is willing to go as far as ac-tivists in their promotion of schism. Such parishioners and clergy have, in fact, found ways of uniting in manners that activist clergy cannot, and this tolerance ought to be heeded by both progressivists and traditionalists alike. I will return to this point shortly.
Before that, and with this summary in mind, two brief analytic points deserve attention. This book is highly successful. It is thorough; it is fair; it is interesting. The only structural complaint that I have of the book concerns some of the discussions of homosexuality itself. Too often, the discussion seems forced into portions of the book where it does not structurally belong. The placement of these discussions stem from the highly analogical forms of argumentation that S. works through, namely, that the Anglican Communion has faced such formal schismatic troubles before even if the material constituting such problems was different. I think that an entire chapter dedicated to the reception and rejection of homosexuality in the Christian tradition, however scant, would have served the book better.
To return to S.’s conclusion, I must admit that, as an Episcopal who is in full communion with my church, I question S.’s preferred manner of dealing with this schismatic issue. S. is correct to note that activists have driven the agenda for too long and have too much power. He is wrong to note, however, that those of us on both sides who are not activists per se do and must have limits to our toleration. After all, for one side, the full humanity of a group of persons is at stake; for the other, their perceived integrity of the Christian faith. At some point, toleration must break down. As a theologian, however, I will consummately applaud in S. and his refusal to allow the Gospel to be reducible to this particular issue. In this regard, S.’s book is important not merely as a historical-ecclesiological piece but, implicitly, as a theological and Christological piece – one, moreover, that I respect greatly.