Lambeth: A Modest Proposal

Let's be clear on one thing. Nothing has been "settled" at Lambeth. Nothing and nobody has been "decisively rejected".

The Lambeth Conference is an advisory meeting with no juridical authority whatsoever. It does not legislate. It offers advice. It's a kind of purple-frocked, hydra-headed Ann Landers. Individual Anglicans and national churches are quite free to take its advice or to tell the bishops (politely) to get stuffed. Those of us who take the latter course are entirely within our rights and, indeed, have a moral obligation to do so when that advice conflicts with our own informed Christian conscience.

The conference meets every ten years. Does anyone remember what advice it handed out ten years ago? Twenty? Forty? I don't.

I am really getting tired of the whole myopic "sexuality" discussion. In a month or so I will be sixty years old and that is too damn long to hang around the doors of a musty old church while the folks inside loudly debate whether they want you or not. I am getting to the point where I no longer care.

So I propose a simple solution based on past history:

There are as many references in Scripture to the sin of usury as there are passages which may (or may not) refer to homosexuality. As for tradition, virtually every Council of the Church, beginning with Nicaea, defined usury as the taking of any interest whatsoever and forbade it to Christians under any circumstances as a mortal sin. As Roger Fenton wrote in 1612, "This hath been the generall judgment of the Church for above this fifteene hundred yeeres, without opposition, in this point. Poor sillie Church of Christ, that could never finde a lawfull usurie before this golden age wherein we live."

And it was not considered a light offense. The 16th Century Bishop of Salisbury, John Jewel, thundered "If I lend 100 pounds and for it covenant to receive 105 pounds, or any other sum greater than was the sum I did lend, this is that, we call usury; such a kind of bargaining as no good man or godly man ever used; such a kind of bargaining as all men that ever feared God's judgment, have always abhorred and condemned . . . It is the overthrow of mighty kingdoms, the destruction of flourishing states; the decay of great cities; the plagues of the world and the misery of the people. It is theft, it is the murdering of our brethren, it is the curse of God, and the curse of the people. This is usury, and by these signs and tokens ye shall know it."

A few hundred years later investing at interest is considered a virtue and nobody, but nobody, in the self-proclaimed bible-believing, tradition-loving, morality-upholding brigade so much as raises an eyebrow. They're raking it in right along with everybody else.

What happened? It was John Calvin, that dreary despot dear to the evangelical heart, who found the way out. Breaking with 1500 years of Catholic social teaching, he simply redefined usury to mean only EXCESSIVE interest, and what's more, announced that that is what it had always meant. The burgeoning financial world of nascent capitalism breathed a great sigh of relief and within a couple of hundred years they had everybody believing it.

So I suggest we take a leaf out of the old reformer's book and simply proclaim that "homosexuality" really means "EXCESSIVE homosexuality" and that while EXCESSIVE homosexuality remains a sin, plain old ordinary homosexuality is just an every-day event and always has been. It really would be a splendid compromise. The Geneva busy-bodies could have a grand old time defining what is or is not excessive (once a week? every three days? quarterly?) and the rest of us could get down to the business at hand:

"I [am] frightened by the possibility of being numbered among the goats on the left hand of the Sovereign Judge who will hurl his condemnations; and this not because they have robbed or committed sacrileges or adulteries, nor because they have done something forbidden; nothing of the sort attracts condemnation on them, but their having failed to care for Christ himself in the person of the poor." -- St Gregory of Nazianzus.

---Ted Mellor, August 10, 1998


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