In 2003, Gene Robinson was elected Bishop of New Hampshire within the Episcopal Church in the USA (TEC), and a couple of weeks ago, Eva Brunne was elected Bishop of Stockholm within the Church of Sweden. Both +Gene and +Eva are homosexuals.
This has created quite an uproar in some circles, and many arguments have been used in attempts to show how wrong this is. I won't bore you with them all; my readers are surely well aware of them.
One argument does have some merit to it, namely the argument that this will impede ecumenical relations between churches, especially between Protestant and Orthodox churches, but also between Western and Third World Protestant churches. The Danish Christian newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad published an article about the issue on June 6, and the Swedish blogger Per Westberg commented on the article the same day. There is, admittedly, a rift between the Orthodox and many Protestant churches. This rift has, however, officially been in existance since 1054, even before any Protestant churches existed, and unofficially several centuries longer. This is, of course, a shame. During the ecumenical processes of the last half-century or so, attempts have been made to bridge the gap, but success has only been minor and has concerned details. The main achievement of the ecumenical discussions have been the discussions themselves. And I'm not running them down; being able to sit at the same table and discuss issues calmly is a very good thing in itself.
But when Conservatives on either side accuse proponents of female clergy or homosexual rights of sabotaging the ecumenical relations, they are, surely, exaggerating. Far greater questions lie on the table - the Eucharist (or Communion, if you prefer), the Filioque dispute, the status of the Saints etc. Since we haven't been able to solve these - or even make a dent - why protest so vocally over the minor questions that have been raised now?
I doubt that the real issue at hand is Ecumenism; Ecumenism is apparently only being used as yet another argument in the attempt to bury the questions of women's and LGBT rights. The relations between Protestant churches can also be affected. This is already the case within the Anglican community, where several African church leaders, notably the Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, are actively working against TEC and +Gene. ++Peter is even leading a secessionary movement, taking seceding American parishes and dioceses under his wing, in open defiance of Anglican structure and tradition.
African Lutherans are probably in the same mind frame. This was seen in 2005, when bishop Walter Obare of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya ordained a Swede, Arne Olsson, as bishop of the splinter movement Missionsprovinsen (the Missionary Province), which had come into being as a reaction to the alleged liberalism of the Church of Sweden. No big reactions on the election of +Eva have yet been heard, but it's probably just a matter of time.
The problems have been there all along, but the development during the last decades have been detrimental, I must admit. What is, however, the core issue here? Can ecumenical relations exist, if they mean that one of the churches involved has to pretend to be something it isn't? Shouldn't we rejoice in that which is common to us all, and agree to disagree about that which is not? Shouldn't the love of God and the grace of our Lord Jesus be enough as common ground for us to stand on?
Why should the relatively minor questions about human sexuality be elevated to such heights, and be allowed to carry the blame for wrecking the relationships between Christians? That is absurd. At the bottom of it all lies different attitudes toward those who are different, different attitudes with mainly cultural, not religious, background. If these questions are raised now, instead of being swept under the rug as before, is it the question raiser or the rug sweeper that should be blamed for the increased tension?
Neither, I hope - since they both should sit at the table addressing these issues, too...