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The Church: 18a. Pastoral Care and the Mission of the Triune God (Part I)

[This is the first of five posts.]


Discussion over homosexuality in the Anglican Communion—and I suspect in other mainline denominations as well—has taken a slight turn recently.  It is as sensible a turn as it is disingenuous.  The change in discussion is from debating whether homosexuality is sinful in one form and circumstance or another to how to care for persons who have homosexual inclinations.  This is a very sensible discussion to have, since ministers and congregations need to know how to address this matter not only as a moral issue but also as a matter of pastoral care.  The only people who still need to ‘dialogue’ and ‘explore’ whether homosexuality is or is not sinful are those who have not kept up with their reading: Scripture speaks clearly to the issue in both Testaments, and the Church has had a consistent witness to the clear teaching of Scripture up until the modern debacle in theology due to following culture (thanks to the likes of Paul Tillich and John Macquarrie, by no means theologians of the Church) rather than the Word of God.[1]  Yet a discussion of pastoral care for sinners is, indeed, well worth having.  The proposal here is that guidance for pastoral care of sinners can be found in the Triune God’s mission.

The Nine ‘D’s’ of Disingenuity in the Dialogue

The Church of England has been holding ‘Shared Conversations’ on issues of sexuality and marriage that are part of a larger process (of what?).  The final such meeting takes place in July.  Then the House of Bishops is to determine sometime in the autumn whether they will make a motion on the issue for the General Synod in the spring.  The focus of late has been a ‘Pastoral Accommodation,’ which has in view the pastoral care of persons in same sex relationships without going so far as to affirm same sex marriage.  Somehow persons involved in all this seem to think that the question of whether homosexuality is a sin can be set aside while pastoral matters are addressed. 

While pastoral care is the focus in these five posts, the matter as it is being addressed in the current discussion is equally disingenuous.  This disingenuity needs to be unmasked at the outset.  Alas, it is a masterful gambit, a grand strategy for affirming a particular viewpoint despite Scripture and the Church’s clear tradition.  It involves, first, a move of distraction: focusing on pastoral care for certain persons without acknowledging their need to change.  This would be like embracing persons in incestuous relationships in the church merely because they need love without addressing their sinful behaviour.  By distracting the conversation to that of pastoral care, the hope is that relationships and compassion will somehow make the behaviour itself acceptable in the community.

Distraction is but one set of moves in the game of disengenuity.  Others are to:
  • delay (with the hope that the pressure of a certain trajectory of culture will win the day),
  •  deny (the clear teaching of Scripture)
  • demean (the teaching of the Church through the centuries altogether),
  • dialogue (as though personal interaction with sinners—knowing their ‘stories’—removes the matter of sin under discussion),
  • distort (by arguing that calling something sin is not a theological but psychological disorder—nothing more than a phobia),
  • dilute (by watering down theological ethics, such as the virtue of ‘unity,’ to a mere matter of fellowship and affirmation of diversity rather than finding peace with God),
  • dishonour (by contravening the clear declarations of the Primates), and
  • deal (by bribing others with funds and positions of power in order to gain a foothold in orthodox sectors of the Communion).

Having noted that pastoral ‘accommodations’ and care are being used to distract the Anglican Communion from the major issue—to acknowledge that Scripture and the Church have always taught that homosexual practice is sinful—we nevertheless turn to a theology of pastoral care.

[to be continued….]

[1] See S. Donald Fortson and Rollin G. Grams, Unchanging Witness: The Consistent Christian Teaching on Homosexuality in Scripture and Tradition (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2016).