``Part of the angst of the Anglican Communion,'' Hughes says, ``is that the U.S. bishops came home and ignored'' the Lambeth declaration that homosexual behavior is ``contrary to Scripture.'' ``Scripture'' means much more than the Bible's scattered disapproving references to homosexuality. Those references reflect the social norms of certain groups in Palestine two millennia ago. Rather, says Hughes, ``scripture'' is shorthand for a rounded theological reflection about sexuality, personhood and the complementarity of men and women. Such reflections begin with Genesis: ``Male and female created he them.''
The Episcopal church does not hold, and Hughes does not believe, that ``it is morally wrong to be homosexual.'' Furthermore, ``There are single gay clergy all over our church and they serve with distinction.'' ``It is not,'' he says, ``a question of whether one can be gay and a Christian.'' The question is ``what is appropriate sexual activity for Christians.''
``Maybe,'' he says, ``God is leading us to a new understanding that is more compassionate. I am open to that.'' But there is, he insists, ``a sort of hubris'' in those who will not bide their time while the church reflects. ``I am tired of people asking 'What is your opinion?''' What matters is theology, not opinion.
Concerning ``the right ordering of human sexual behavior,'' the Theology Committee of the Church's House of Bishops writes tentatively: ``Persons of all sexual orientations are created in the image of God, and they are full members of the human family.'' And many thoughtful Episcopalians wonder ``whether some forms of homosexual activity might be open to God's blessing in ways the Church has not previously recognized.''
Tentativeness is not for the real provocateurs, the progressives who believe, above all, in progress. Their faith is in the tendency of things to get better, and therefore in the probability that the newest ideas are best.
Hughes worries that some Episcopalians' progressivism is what C.S. Lewis called ``chronological snobbery'' -- the belief, Hughes says, that ``our time is the brightest time.'' Hughes, whose cathedral is 15 miles from the Mexican border, also thinks that chronological snobbery is sometimes compounded with geographic condescension -- the complacent certainty that ``our part of the world is better.'' That is a provocative mentality at a moment when the typical member of the Anglican Communion is a 40-year-old African woman living on $10 a month.
Her bishop, and the bishops of most Anglicans, could be provoked to disassociation from the small splinter of Northern Hemisphere clergy who want to force the entire Communion to accommodate their agenda for social change.
George Will's e-mail address is georgewill(at symbol)washpost.com