One of the most important events in 20th century Physics was Albert Einstein’s decision not to explain away the non-result produced by the Michelson-Morley experiment. (The experiment was an attempt to measure differences in the speed of light between an observer moving in the direction of the light’s emission and one moving away. There was no measurable difference even though the experiment was repeated again and again with increasing levels of accuracy and precision.)
Einstein started his thinking toward Special and General Relativity by postulating that each observer’s experience must be treated as valid. By so doing, he constructed a physics that would require that the speed of light was exactly the same for all observers, whether they were moving or not. Einstein then was able to suggest experiments that demonstrate that his ideas were correct.
But the key point in all this was that he accepted the experimental evidence of the Michelson-Morley experiment as valid, even though it seemed to make absolutely no sense within a Newtonian (and deterministic) framework. Einstein decided to trust in the report of the observer and by making that decision he was able to gain a radical new insight into the nature of reality. He did the same sort of thing when considering the Eotvos experiment. He began by taking at face value the experimental result that inertial and gravitational mass were exactly the same. And from that he reasoned his way through the Principle of Equivalence – that is the idea that underlies all of the mind-bending thinking of General Relativity.
Now – as to the experience of GLBT Christians:
- I believe that people come into the Church by the graceful gift of faith and in entering the Church, the Holy Spirit begins a process of regeneration and transformation.
- I believe that all Christians are being transformed into the people God wants us to become.
- I believe that gay and lesbian people come into the Church as fully and as totally as I do through a relationship with the Risen Lord Jesus.
Gay and lesbian people report that they find themselves transformed by their encounters with the Risen Christ. But they do not uniformly find that their sexuality or sexual orientation is transformed.
- If we believe this report, then what does this tell us about God’s desires for them?
To amplify these points: I have Gay and Lesbian friends and parishioners who I know are taking their faith very seriously. I am told by them that they find their lives being transformed. They are more honest, more compassionate, more loving, and more prayerful than they used to be. They show forth the gifts of the Spirit as listed by the Apostles Paul and Peter (1 Corinthians 12:8-11, Ephesians 4, Romans 12 and 1 Peter 4:11).
They remain gay and lesbian. They do now desire to express that orientation in a way accountable to the discipline of the Church (as do heterosexual couples). And no matter how many times people tell them that they are mistaken in their belief that God accepts them with their sexual orientation intact, they insist on following their own strong and informed conscience. By strong and informed conscience, I am using the terminology of Moral Theology. Another way to say this would be to say that the people who are having this experience are conscientiously and scrupulously presenting their whole selves to God, and are honestly asking that God’s will would be done in them and their lives. And that having done that, they are not experiencing a change in their sexuality.
I find myself wanting to take a page from Einstein’s book. What insights might we gain as a Church if we were to take their experience seriously and consider it theologically? Einstein discovered that his generation’s most cherished views were wrong and the most successful scientific method ever invented was wrong. But he was willing to go to a place that Science was initially unwilling to go because he stubbornly insisted on following after and seeking Truth.
There have been any number of calls for the Anglican Communion to enter into conversations with its Gay and Lesbian members in a way that does not presuppose the outcome of that conversation. To date that has not happened. It seems to me that if we are serious in our belief that the Holy Spirit acts within the Church to lead us into all truth, then we have no alternative but to listen to see what the Spirit is saying to us in the lives of Gay and Lesbian people. I have no doubt that there is great learning here. I do not presume to know what that learning is. I am, however, reminded of a quote I heard in a favorite sermon: “Listening conversation that starts with a predetermined outcome is neither conversation nor is it listening.”
Modern thought has been changed in fundamental ways because of Einstein’s (and other scientists’) service to truth, even though that truth might destroy what has always been believed. The Church, which has been given the gift of presence of the Spirit of Truth, has nothing to fear from the Truth no matter how surprising or unexpected it might be.
Lord Kelvin, speaking at the end of the nineteenth century, claimed that Physics, as an enterprise of discovery was drawing to a close. With the exception of two experiments (one of which was the Michelson-Morley experiment) everything in the Universe was thought to be well understood. Even as Lord Kelvin uttered those words, Einstein and Planck were at work, stubbornly motivated by a belief that truth, no matter how seemingly inconsequential or inconvenient was worth pursuing. Their subsequent work led directly to our present understanding of Relativity and Quantum Physics.
Our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters are much more valuable to God than electrons or photons. How much more seriously should we as a Church be listening to them and trying to make sense together of their experience of Jesus in their lives? Pray that the listening process called for by Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference can finally begin in earnest. There is much to be gained by listening and little that I can see to be lost.