Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Anglican Communion: Next Steps

The Mad Priest posted a comment on my blog that has started quite a bit of soul searching by the progressive Episcopalian community. In response to my post of the Church of England General Synod vote on the Anglican Covenant, Mad Priest had this to say:

A disciplined TEC will gain more support and the schismatics will lose support because Americans will see any such move as an attack on America and will side with those being attacked. Other than the loss of status abroad and a few freebie trips that TEC's higher officials enjoy at present there will be little noticeable change in the American Church.

As I keep saying. The primary concern of TEC should not be itself, which is strong enough to weather this storm, but their weaker brethren abroad whose forseeable future is very bleak as they will have to make the decision of leaving the church they love, without any other home to go to, or living a lie.

The truth is, although I am 100% behind TEC's recent policies, their unilateralist decisions are not a sacrifice for Americans but a sacrifice for their supporters throughout the world who had no say in the decisions. That is why I believe TEC has a primary duty to the spiritual welfare of those fellow travelers outside of the States.


He elaborated on this comment on his own blog here.

In response, several bloggers have taken note. Nicholas Knisely had this to say:

If I'm reading this right, it would appear that one of the reasons the Episcopal Church should be willing to stay in the Communion rather than just walking away on its own is that by doing what needs to be done to remain, we would be taking on the role of the loyal opposition.


And Father Jake has really taken these comments to heart as well:

Saying to hell with the rest of the Communion and just breaking off to do our own thing is not an option. We have a responsibility to stay at the table, even if it is in some diminished capacity. Boycotting Lambeth is not really an option, as we would be abandoning our brothers and sisters around the globe.

It's not just about us. It really never was. But now that we've started this thing, we have a duty to see it through to the end, even if it means having to take a few lumps along the way.

The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. That mission does not end at the US border. We do not exist for our own benefit alone. We exist for the sake of the world.


So, in light of this responsibility, what should the Episcopal Church do? I offer the following thoughts:

First, another response by the House of Bishops that speaks of polity and the independence of the Episcopal Church will not be helpful. We have made our points about polity and independence. It is time to offer a way ahead to reconciliation within the Communion.

Second, we need to end our obsession with Archbishop Akinola and the most vocal Global South Primates. They are not the audience for our response. I doubt even defrocking of all gay priests would be enough for them. Instead, our audience includes Anglicans across the world who want to preserve the Communion, members of our own Church for whom the issues of the day are of no import, and yes, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the majority of the Primates. This audience will not demand capitulation, but it will expect a respectful (and yes, compromising) response.

Third, we need to stop talking about the issues of same sex unions as if they were political issues that can be decided by majority votes. These are theological issues, that deserve theological attention. Quite frankly, the TEC has moved in a direction without such a formal theological process--at least not one that gets much attention today. The Canadian Church's St. Michael's Report was quite useful. The House of Bishops should start a serious and open theological discussion and study among Episcopalians on all sides of this issue. If we are to move in the direction of recognizing same sex relationships (which I think we should), we need to do some serious theological work--now. And we should invite Anglicans in other provinces to participate.

Fourth, I think the House of Bishops can offer at least something to the Communion in addition to a willingness to engage in a serious and open theological examination of the issues. The House of Bishops can clarify what we all know what was intended by General Convention in 2006--that at least until the next General Convention, a majority of the House of Bishops will not vote to approve a bishop that would cause angst in other provinces. And, I think that the House of Bishops could agree to wait for the next General Convention, and the results of the theological discussions, before proceeding with official rites for same sex blessings.

If we care only for the Episcopal Church, we need not do any of this. If we are about our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in the rest of the Anglican Communion, we need to take heed of what the Mad Priest has to say.

16 comments:

Phil Snyder said...

As a person on the conservative/reasserting/traditionalist side of the question, I agree with your actions. However, I doubt that those in power now will want to back down from the "prophetic" actions. If TECUSA had taken the step you outlined - e.g. considered the rest of the communion and spend time in theological rather than political study - then Gene Robinson would never have been approved by GC and we would not have moved forward with blessing same sex unions. In fact, GC said that ordaining practicing homosexuals and blessing same sex unions was something that should not be done at the TECUSA level, but something that needs the approval of the Anglican Communion (Resolution B020, GC 1991).

I approve of your suggestions, but I fear that TECUSA and the political groups that support its direction will not.

YBIC,
Phil Snyder

Michael Cudney said...

There has been a TREMENDOUS amount of theology done over the last thirty years! Whole books written, reports issued.
Pick up a copy of 'Gays and the Future of Anglicanism' edited by Andrew Lindzey and Richard Kirker, or download 'To Set our Hope in Christ' at http://www.episcopalchurch.org/documents/ToSetOurHopeOnChrist.pdf

Please don't say the theology hasn't been done. It has. You can choose to ignore it, as many have. But there is solid theology behind TEC's moving forward towards full inclusion for all God's children. It's just that some can't get beyond their own homophobia [and let's call it what it is] to grasp that.

bls said...

I agree with most of what you say here.

There still needs to be a "local option" about same-sex unions, though, I think, so that rites can be developed and worked through. The Windsor Report had nothing to say about this anyway.

What's more important even than that is that clergy need to pay much more attention to pastoring gay people - both singles and couples - and stop making us the scapegoats for everybody else's anxieties over matters sexual and otherwise. Gay people exist and need spiritual direction in our lives; this is what the outcome of any debate is going to address, anyway.

*Christopher has spoken of "vows" in opposition to official "blessings" - and while I can't speak for what he means by this, I do think that's what needs to happen now. There wasn't a "Sacrament of Marriage" in the Church until the 11th Century; individuals in reality marry one another with the Church as witness. *Christopher has also written some rites for the unions of gay couples, and the church should pay some attention to those.

I agree that working all these things through will be much more beneficial than slapdash attempts at mollifying this constituency or that one. We need depth and real heart, not band-aids.

But this is a local, pastoral issue, and an important one. Official "blessings" are much less important than real pastoral help.

Mike Bertaut said...

Welcome, Mr. Blanchard, to the Moral High Ground! We've been kind of lonely up here in reasserter land, and we are thrilled to have you!

Seriously, your suggestions make sense, but from the beginning I have had little hope that our current crop of Bishops would ever move beyond the political to the Scriptural on this issue. All the theological studies of the last 30 years, while interesting (to Mr. Cudney), have not been convincing to a majority of the Communion. If, let's say, 10% of every TEC congregation read them and said, "Yep, our 2,000 years of Christian tradition and at least 1,500 years of Jewish tradition before was dead wrong. Homosexual Relationships are definitely a cause for celebration and blessing." then all this would have been settled across the communion years ago. But that has not happened. When I talk to real supporters of this issue, I repeatedly hear the same thing, "Well, I think those people ought to be able to get the same love and respect I do. It's only fair after all."

Unfortunately, faith is not about "fair." It's about Jesus, his respect for the Jewish Moral Law (as opposed to the Civic and Temple Law) and how the Church put that into force from the begining. Clearly it's not "fair."

I thank God every day that He is not "fair" else I'd have zero hope of salvation.

KTF!...mrb

bls said...

And now you understand, Mr. Blanchard, why gay people get annoyed and impatient with the church and take actions such as have been taken.

When people like Mr. Bertaut simply dismiss us with comments like the above - assuming for themselves, without any discussion or debate, the "Moral High Ground" - then what can anyone do? As somebody said above, there has been quite a bit of theological work done on this topic - see James Alison, for example (this article in particular) - but it simply doesn't matter to many.

In fact, it's quite obvious to me that we will win the argument - although it may not be for another 50 years. Meantime, what about us?

Chuck Blanchard said...

To all who have commented so far:

Thank you. With the exception of a few comments on T19 that call TEC a poison and a cancer, I am pleased that this post by a humble layman is causing such a good discussion both here and at T19.

I agree that lost of theological thinking has gone on these issues, but with the exception of the work done before GC2003 (which recommended against same sex blessings), there has not been a formal theological process done by the TEC as a body. Instead, as bls notes, we have addressed these in an ad hc manner. While this process will not persuade the blogging reasserters, it may persaude many in the Communion that there is enough of a theological argument to allow diversity within the Communion.

Given where other provinces of the Anglican Communion are at on these issues, perhaps the place to start is with the issue that the Canadian Church just address--are these issues "core" or is there room for a diversity of opinion within the Anglican Communion. If not, then local option both within the Communion and the TEC makes sense.

I understand that there is a history here--much of it unfortunate, but I also think that Christians should never give up the opportunity for reconciliation.

bls said...

BTW, Mr. Bertaut: I'm fairly sure that a majority of Episcopalians - far more than 10%, in any case - do agree with TEC's position on this issue. If not, we'd see a far bigger reaction than the tiny 4 or 5% who are attempting to leave the denomination.

The real fact is that gay people have been dismissed by the so-called "orthodox" as irrelevant until the consecration of Gene Robinson in 2003 - and that attitude itself is the reason that these folks were so shocked.

John Stamper said...

Quick note to Michael Cudney:

Please don't call anyone who disagrees with you on this issue (e.g. Phil Snyder) a homophobe. That's not helpful. It's very much like calling a person who questions Israel foreign policy a Jew-hater, or taking someone who criticizes Affirmative Action and calling him a racist. Sexist, racist, antisemite, homophobe -- these are words used to kill debate by claiming that the other person is bad, rather than engaging his ideas.

Actually, Phil's a nice and thoughtful guy whom you might enjoy talking to if you gave him a chance.

My guess is that Phil did not mean that no one who voted in favor of VGR at GC 2003 had ever done any private theological reflection on the matter. He didn't say that.

What is true is that taking this step was incredibly momentous, given its defiance of Lambeth 1998 and indeed 2000 years of church tradition, and therefore there should have been a period of CORPORATE and INTENTIONAL theological discernement initiated by the church prior to taking the step. Take a look at Chuck's paragraph that begins "Third...." and you'll see what Phil was refering to. You are right that some books had been written favoring SSBs in the 80s and 90s, but it is not true that a formal process of corporate discernment was initiated by ECUSA and had been completed prior to GC 2003. Indeed, to the extent that anything like it had been done, such processes had come back advising that this NOT be done.

Mike Bertaut said...

to BLS:

Sorry if I angered you, my first comment about the "moral high ground" I thought obviously flip, I apologize if it made you feel as if I was dismissing you. Nothing could be further from the truth. Perhaps it was in bad taste, either way, not my intention to hurt anyone's feelings.

Having said that, the discussion remains important to me, I would never, ever dismiss ANYONE as any less than a full-fledged child of God, and all GLBT folks are worthy of both.

But in this case, what I think is really not the issue.

No matter how much we try to argue away the reality, it remains that homosexual sex has been defined as against the Moral Portion of Old Testament Law. Jesus clearly spoke to many in support of the Jewish MORAL code (not the civil, not the ceremonial/temple code, but the MORAL code which includes the 10 Commandments), and his followers in setting up the early Church held on to that prohibition in practice and text.

It would be the most arrogant of statements for me (or anyone, for that matter) to assume that I am in a better position to assess this reality 2,000 years later. So I won't.

I'm not in a position, nor is their Scriptural support for me to hate anyone. All are welcome in the Church in my opinion. But behaviors are not people, and the attempt to blend that is the undoing of morality at its most base level.

Just my 2 cents. Sorry if I hurt your feelings, but reality is what it is.

KTF!....mrb

obadiahslope said...

Bls,
I am not so sure the WR was silent about "local option" for SSBs.
Here's a relevant par:
"144. While we recognise that the Episcopal Church (USA) has by action of Convention made provision for the development of public Rites of Blessing of same sex unions, the decision to authorise rests with diocesan bishops. Because of the serious repercussions in the Communion, we call for a moratorium on all such public Rites, and recommend that bishops who have authorised such rites in the United States and Canada be invited to express regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached by such authorisation. Pending such expression of regret, we recommend that such bishops be invited to consider in all conscience whether they should withdraw themselves from representative functions in the Anglican Communion. We recommend that provinces take responsibility for endeavouring to ensure commitment on the part of their bishops to the common life of the Communion on this matter. "

Mike Bertaut said...

To all: God Bless!

I am grateful to bls for the recommendation of Mr. Allison's article, I found it lucid and meaningful in the reading.

I do, however, respectfully disagree with two of his assumptions upon which he built the article.

The first is that Catholic Doctrine from the Council of Trent, which served to suggest that there is no such thing as irredeemable, or "intrinsicly" evil or abberated behavior. (Taking aside the fact that the publications of Trent, which dragged out over 50 years without really resolving anything except how wrong those heretic Protestants were, Oh and that Grace from God is not sufficient for salvation, were wrong) In effect, any theologian worth his salt would point to the fact that they were verifying that God changes lives, prior to saying that he really wouldn't do that if you weren't in alignment with Rome. Reading it as if it was somehow an endorsement of any behavior is at least, a stretch, and at most, a mis-interpretation. What they were trying to prove, was that salvation was a process that was dependent on the Church to direct, not that any particular behavior was redeemable after the fact.

Curiously, I agree completely with Mr. Allen when he says that grace is something bestowed by God, that allows us to be met right where we are. Oddly enough, that is in direct opposition to current Roman Teaching which again is emphasizing the "Treasury of Grace" that God has bestowed ONLY to the Roman Catholic Church. But that is another matter. I would never begin to suggest that any GLBT is less worthy of God's grace than any other person, as I do not believe Trent in the first place, i.e. that Grace is connected to our behavior in some way.

Here's the most sensible thing he says:
"It is lived (the homosexual life), very intensely, by many young people for whom working out whether it is a matter of “I’m just like this, and so I must be this in the richest way possible” or whether it is rather a matter of “I’m not like this, but I suffer from very grave temptations which in some way I must overcome” is a gravely tortured experience. Evidence suggests that more and more young people are overcoming this conflict by working out that they just are “like that”, and it is starting from this that they are going to risk constructing a life."

Returning us, essentially, to the debate of hard wired versus choice. I've been through the material a hundred times, the sum total of identified physiological connections to sexual orientation of EITHER type is exactly, Zero. There is no physiological reason that I am a straight man, any more than there is any physiological reason that my good buddy (also Mike) is not.

Thus, in the absence of the physical, we are left with the spiritual. And the prohibitions on behavior, although they may be completely unreasonable, exist within this tradition. Reason is not the measuring stick for faith, never has been.

So you see, I am at an impasse. And not because I chose to be, because that's the way it is.

Just my 2 cents....

KTF!...mrb

bls said...

As everybody knows, Mr. Bertaut, Jesus never said a thing about homosexuality.

He was pretty adamant about divorce, though, as I recall....

bls said...

Obadiahslope, the question really has to do with the word "public," doesn't it? Why is that word there? There must be a reason.

bls said...

As for James Alison: I think you miss the point about what he's saying.

Here's the key point:

"The problem is that, for the characterisation to work properly within the doctrine of original sin and grace, it would have to be the case that the life of grace would lead the gay or lesbian person to become heterosexual in the degree of his or her growth in grace. That is to say, in the degree to which grace makes us more patient, faithful, generous, capable of being good Samaritans, less prisoners of anger, of rivalry and of resentment, just so would it have to change the gender of the persons towards whom we are principally attracted. The problem is that such changes do not seem to take place in a regular and trustworthy way, even amongst the United States groups which promote them with significant funds and publicity. As the senior representatives of such groups indicate: at most, and in some cases, a change in behaviour is produced, but the fundamental structures of desire continue to be towards persons of the same sex."


And even the leader of Exodus International agrees with that last point now.

obadiahslope said...

bls,
We can only try and read it from this par, unless you have access to one of the drafters. "public rites' includes whatever it is that " bishops who have authorised such rites in the United States and Canada" have authorised. That would include the SSBs in New westminster most clearly. They are certainly public. I think that by "public rites" they take aim at marriage-like ceremonies. You might have wriggle room for "private rites" performed at home, I guess. I am not sure you can do marriage-type rites privately though. They are done "in the sight of God and this congregation". So while I agree there is a grey area, I think this par speaks against most if not all the SSB ceremonies as they are conducted in Canada and possibly the US. But you are over there, not me.

bls said...

Well, even if that's correct, most of us believe that in this area, anyway, the Windsor Report goes too far.

There's no need to "apologize" for recognizing the unions of faithful partners. The Windsor commission is hereby invited to express regret for even suggesting such an absurd and abhorrent thing.