Sam Candler on “choice” in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s essay

General Convention / Religion

My friend Keith points out in the comments on the blog entry immediately preceding this one that the Archbishop of Canterbury makes a strange rhetorical choice (to our ears) of describing the experience of being gay or lesbian as being, at one level at least, a lifestyle “choice”.

Sam Candler, the Dean of the Cathedral in Atlanta has picked up on this usage of the Archbishop’s and sees in his writing a sign of a more fundamental issue:

“Though descriptive, Archbishop Rowan’s essay also dips into diagnosis and prescription. In some of these matters, he will be open to theological critique. A primary critique will certainly be directed toward his repetition of the common perception that homosexuality is a ‘chosen lifestyle.’ Within two paragraphs, he uses ‘chosen lifestyle’ and ‘choice’ three different times.

The Episcopal Church’s General Convention resolutions concerning homosexuality have never claimed that homosexuality was simply a choice, or, much more, a ‘chosen lifestyle.’ Rather, Episcopal leaders have realized, over time, that being gay or lesbian was definitely not a choice for those members of our Church. Indeed, for many heterosexual persons, the realization that homosexuality is not chosen at all – no more than heterosexual persons choose their heterosexuality—has been the turning point in their ability to recognize God’s grace in homosexual relationships.

Obviously, the most prescriptive of Archbishop Rowan’s remarks is his suggestion, again, that the Anglican Communion of churches might develop a ‘two-tier’, or, less provocatively, a ‘two-way’ structure of formal Anglicanism. One way of being Anglican would stress the values of local faith and theology, and local autonomy; the other way would stress the values of more global, and probably more ordered, forms of the church.

I find it curious that Archbishop Rowan repeats the language of ‘choice’ not only in relation to homosexuality, but also in relation to Anglican Communion matters. He suggests that there may be those who will, in good faith, decline a covenanted structure. He implies that those who ‘elect this model’ will also ‘not take official roles in the ecumenical interchanges and processes in which the ‘covenanted’ body participates.’

It is the way that Archbishop Rowan uses ‘choice’ which is bothersome, as if it would be as easy for someone to choose a homosexual lifestyle as it would be them to choose a certain way of being Anglican. At their deepest levels of identity, neither homosexuality nor Anglicanism is a choice. In particular, Anglicans have claimed that Anglican Christianity is a gift; and part of that gift is a joint realization of local grace and global grace. I understand that certain formal parameters of an Anglican Covenant have yet to be developed, notably any ‘two-way’ system. However, it seems to me a distinctly un-Anglican maneuver to sever local autonomy from global communion. Those very poles, taken together within one orbit, are exactly what define the structure of the wider Anglican tradition.”

Read the full article here.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. WmPaul says

    The choice to which Williams refers seems to me to be the choice to enter into a same sex partnership. Objections to Williams may still be raised that limiting gays to celibacy alone is objectionable (tho think about John 9:3 and the long history of celibate gays in the church and their good witness). But the comments by Candler et al simply shoot down something Williams did not put up.

  2. Christopher says

    What many have come to understand is that homosexuality is for some a part of their created nature and that nature expressed in a committed relationship carries possibilities of good fruits. There is a moral choice to enter such a relationship. That choice seems to be on the whole for the good of the persons therein. It is time for us to question the morality and its fruits of a Communion, however, that is willing and has put up with a lot of nasty behavior toward gay persons and now wants to suggest that the civic sphere allows for better treatment than in Christ’s own Body. This says something is off about the present teaching.

  3. Christopher says

    BTW: Scott Gunn addresses this head on. It is a moral choice to enter such a relationship and at the same time is an expression of a given created nature in his estimation, the result of which is possibility of good fruits. We must preserve the freedom of moral choice and that these choices when good will actuate nature and develop persons in virtues, that is, reflections as Christlikeness.

  4. Thanks Christopher – I saw Scott’s piece yesterday. You’re right to commend it.
    Thanks too for your piece yesterday on the way true catholicity stems from our relationship and movement toward Christ. I think you have that just right.

Comments are closed.