June 1, 2006

Comprehension

I've had a short essay published in the June issue of Episcopal Life, dealing with the current issues. It is called A comprehensive view...

An additional thought came to mind early this morning, in relation to the civil rights movement. Now, let me say right up front that I make this analogy not because of "rights" but because of "civil." There is no "right" to be ordained -- though there is a right for the church to ordain those whom the church discerns are called. But back to the "civil" part. What we are talking about is how we can live as a civitas: a civilized society in which differences are comprehended under the Sign of Love, not Judgment.

Anyway, I was thinking about the matter of the back of the bus. To put it bluntly, I am willing to stay on the back of the Anglican Bus. I am willing to accept the reality that my ministrations as a priest would not be acceptable in parts of the Anglican Communion, even in some parts of the Episcopal Church. But as long as I get where I need to go, the back of the bus works for me; for I trust that the day will come when those in the front will be willing to say, at last, "Come up higher." I am willing to "take the lowest seat."

The problem at present is that I get the feeling that some in the front of the bus don't want me on the bus at all. They'd rather I walk. What I ask of them is a willingness to let me stay on the bus. I am not asking them to leave; I am only asking them to let me stay. Because I believe the bus is going where we all want to go.

In short, my compromise is to say, Let us live with this imperfect agreement on these matters of rites and ceremonies, while relying on the perfect unity that comes in, with, and through the blessing of Christ. Let Christ be the focus of our unity and our goal -- not our own treaties and contracts.

Tobias S Haller BSG

16 comments:

John said...

Thanks for both of those pieces. Food for thought, I think.

pax et bonum

Susan Isaacs said...

Hi I just found your blog. Great to know you're out there. There are more every day. Susan

Doug Worgul said...

Amen. And amen.

Marshall said...

Interesting comment, following an interesting article. On the other hand, I think you've mixed a metaphor in an interesting way. The call to "come up higher" is, of course, based on sitting at table; and, clearly, there are some out there who don't want you (us, thank you) at the table literally, much less "up higher."

I'm not happy about it, but I'm beginning to accomodate to the thought that the Communion will not stand in the form it has. However, I've had a hopeful thought about that on my own, based on Romans 12: that if we see the Body not as institutional unity but as organic unity, perhaps divisions may be less scandal and more providential. Certain of our own organic systems are only compatible in working relationships, but not in actual contact. I've said more about that on my own blog at http://episcopalhospitalchaplain.blogspot.com/2006/06/varieties-of-gifts.html

Tobias said...

Thanks Marshall. I do believe we are on the same Pneumatic Network: in a posting on the House of Bishops List last week I made these comments:

I have, I hope, respectfully but firmly dissented from the Lambeth Resolution 1998.1.10, significant portions of the Windsor Report, and the Dromantine Statement. The latter, in particular, is very troublesome in most respects. I disagree with them on the basis of a historical awareness of how things actually work in the church. I do not accept the historical fiction that consensus emerges without the changes taking place in one part of the church being accepted or rejected over time elsewhere: I support the time-tested doctrine of reception. And I have yet to see a convincing argument (instead of an assertion) as to why what happened with the ordination of women could not happen with the present issues. (Exactly the same safeguards are in place, as far as I can see.)

I have sought to avoid introducing emotive language such as "a death wish for the Communion" into the conversation. I do not see death before us; rather regretfully I see some likely division in the present Anglican Communion, and a realignment or departure by those who are unwilling to consider these developments. I may be mistaken in this, but my guess is that the spokesmen for the "Global South" are not interested in being part of a Communion in which views inimical to their own are allowed to exist. I do not, in this case, consider them "the weaker brethren." This is not a matter of adiaphora: the eating of meat offered to idols. What I see is their portion of the Body saying to another, "I have no need of you." It is we who are being spoken of as being cut off, after all. Perhaps we are in this case the eye: perhaps we see something the arm or leg has missed...

For this is about the Gospel, and offering loving insight and correction to those whom I believe to be enmired in a misunderstanding as complete as that which led to the trial of Galileo, though this time regarding human beings instead of merely heavenly bodies. And the answer and the way forward is, to quote Augustine from his 7th sermon on 1 John: "Once and for all, a short rule is laid down for you: Love, and do what you will. If you keep silence, do it out of love. If you cry out, do it out of love. If you refrain from punishing, do it out of love. Let the root of love be within. From such a root nothing but good can come." I trust in this with all my heart. All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of thing will be well.

rmf said...

Thank you for your comments. As one who is very interested in the notion of comprehensiveness I am wondering what your position on the possible comprehensiveness within Lambeth I.0 might be.

Tobias said...

Dear RMF,
IMHO, I think Lambeth 1.10 fails because it is not a comprehensive document. The original proposals of the study group, which make for excellent reading (and are still referred to in the first resolve of the resolution) are much more expansive and hopeful than the resolution itself. The clauses on "incompatible with Scripture" and opposition to "legitimizing or blessing" same-sex couples' relationships, or ordaining their members, are simply unacceptable: no comprehension is here permitted. This is exactly the sort of "consensus by legislation" that we should have hoped to avoid.

I have ever since Lambeth 1998 been arguing for the true Anglican principles of local variation and development: no one is forced to ordain or bless anyone they don't want to in any other province of the Communion. I hopt that some day the light of the Gospel will dawn throughout the world, and people will finally see what a terrible mistake they made in this regard -- but I cannot force that to happen. This is what I meant be staying on the back of the bus.

I fear my use of this phrase may be a case (as in the old New Yorker "fillers) of "block that metaphor." I would not want to push the analogy too far or too literally, as a few have done in response to what I wrote.

I didn't mean this to imply accommodation: after all, the accommodation that the far-right wants is not that we (and by we I mean the Episcopal Church) stay on the back of the bus doing what we do as we think best, but that we get off the bus entirely.

What I am arguing is that we continue to do what we have done: no moratoria, no compromise; an apology by all means, and a call for further dialogue -- but we intend to stay on the bus even if it means staying in that roped off section. This will not, I know, be enough to please the far-right: I've already seen the reactions to my reflection on the T1:9, for example. As far as those folks are concerned, the metaphor doesn't work, becuase it is about where the bus is going: we folks in the back aren't welcome, because we want to take over the bus. I've said time and again I have no interest in forcing a gay or lesbian bishop on anybody who doesn't want one -- that was the point of my essay in Episcopal Life. Problem is, these folks don't want to have a gay or lesbian bishop anywhere: it's part of their iceberg of false doctrine, and it pollutes the whole ocean, rather than just damaging the odd liner that happens to run into it.

So I do, I think, understand the real situation -- and am reaching out, not to the far right, but to the big and generous middle, who I think are more numerous than the far right imagine.

Peace to all....
Tobias

rmf said...

"The clauses on "incompatible with Scripture" and opposition to "legitimizing or blessing" same-sex couples' relationships, or ordaining their members, are simply unacceptable: no comprehension is here permitted. This is exactly the sort of "consensus by legislation" that we should have hoped to avoid."

These clauses are not the entirety of the resolution, however. What about the other clauses in the resolution that contradict or soften these clauses? Taken as a whole with these you cite, don't they point to a comprehensive approach?

rmf said...

p.s. I am speaking about the comprehensiveness of the entire resolution, not of the individual clauses making it up, which I read as being at loggerheads in places.

Tobias said...

Dear RMF,
As I see it, the problematic clauses are not softened by the clauses calling for dialogue. To some extent they represent "poison pills" that render the rest of the document unworkable.

Moreover, a close reading of section (c) the resolution, reveals that at least some of those who voted for it see it as referring to dialogue only with those homosexual persons who have essentially submitted to the standard teaching: who have sought "pastoral care... moral direction and... transforming power." I realize that many who voted for this resolution did not read the text in this way -- they thought this was a generous olive branch offered to gay and lesbian folks. However, I do not think that was the way those from the Global South read it, based on other comments from that quarter. As in the recent dustups with Changing Attitude in Nigeria, it is clear that the leaders of the Church in Nigeria are perfectly willing to talk with any repentant homosexual -- but repentance and transformation is the goal of this dialogue.

I, for one, am tired of statements reaffirming the obvious fact that I am a full part of the Body of Christ and eligible for its pastoral ministries. That came, I believe, with baptism.

So I see Lambeth 1.10 as not even so good as the famous "curate's egg" ("Parts of it are very good...") Even the appartently "good" parts are condescending and ambiguous.

rmf said...

For the moment i can address only a bit of your last comment, which I appreciate , as i am pressed for time. :O

Including within the I.0 resolution the "obvious fact" that lbtg are full members of the body of Christ is quite siginifcant, because this alone forces us to read the resolution in light of this acknowledgment.

I am surprised a bit that you immediately interpret the listennig process as its detractors do, because this would naturally short circuit the entire process.

I will also note briefly that the resolution states only that homosexuality is incompatible with Scripture; and that this must be interpreted in light of the listening process that is to incorporate knowledge from other areas including biology, psychology, and medicine.

It is instructing, as I also read it, to read Scripture in light of this new knowledge.

Furthermore, how exactly is homsexuality "incompatible"? AS +Griswold noted shortly after this resolution, this is indeed the question.It instructs us to use information from other parts of God?s plan to arrive at a fuller understanding of what we are reading. The question of Scriptural interpretation, in light of reason/the listening process, comes into play on this issue at this precise point in the resolution. How is homosexuality incompatible with Scripture? To what extent? In what circumstances? To what degree? In what contexts? In what parts of Scripture?

The resolution is not stating what understanding of homosexuality emerges after this listening process and reading Scripture in light of this process. It does, however, point to this framework. Given this framework, it is certainly possible that some churches will interpret one way; and that others, will interpret another. This would be a classically Anglican outcome.

Tobias said...

Dear RMF,
I hear what you are saying, but I think you are simply putting the best possible spin on an ambiguous document. I don't like such documents, and as a matter of principle will vote against anything that has a clause in it that I can't support: as I know it will come back to bite me. I think many of the American bishops at Lambeth who voted for this resolution did so with this kind of positive spin in mind -- and then found the whole thing thrown in their faces.

The same thing happened, you may recall, with the Primates' Dromantine statement. Bishop Griswold understood it one way (he voted for it, after all), and was called chided by the more conservative Primates for duplicity.

Frankly, if there is to be a moratorium, I think we should cease all inter-Anglican conferences apart from the ACC for 25 years, and see what happens!

Jim Strader said...

Tobias + - Thanks for your fine article. I wish you the very best of Christ's presence and the Holy Spirit's patience as you participate in GC '06.

It seems to me that, as other readers have mentioned, your willingness to remain "in the back of the Anglican bus - while well-intentioned and reasoned - requires that there are other Episcopalians seeking to live into their vocations as you live into your. There are lay and ordained people who are either striving to sit on the bus alongside of you or who are presently seated at the back with you (ordained women, gay and straight male and female aspirants, economically/academically disadvantaged young adults). All of them will have to abide with the moratorium you are suggesting. Some of them have been seated in the back rows for quite awhile now. I infer that some of these people are willing to wait but you haven't (at least directly) asked them for their opinions. Should we not be part of the conversation? This is, in fact, a major disconnect with the entire ?listening? process that is allegedly taking place in the Anglican Communion. Gay and lesbian persons are rarely if ever part of the spoken conversation, especially at theological meetings in the provinces of the Global South, or even in dioceses in the Episcopal Church.

You will, as you must, speak and act upon your own conscience as a deputy from your diocese. I pray that you, and the other members of the House of Deputies, realize that you hold the vocational hopes and dreams as well as the baptismal privileges of many persons throughout the Episcopal Church in your trust. I encourage you to continue to discern that it is likely that some of the deputies and bishops you will be working with in the coming days aren't interested in reaching the same Anglican destination you seek to reach. It may be, regardless of the events of GC '06, that there are leaders in this denomination and the broader Anglican Communion who seek to open a new Anglican bus company in the provinces of the Episcopal Church. They implicitly threaten to raise up their own Episcopal Church unless this general convention fully assents to all of the Windsor Report's provisions. We may not as a Church be able to continue to hold new Anglican wine in proposed restrictive (orthodox?) organizational, ecclesiological, and scriptural wineskins in the coming days.

All God's Blessings on your path,
Jim

Tobias said...

Dear Jim,

As I feared, and referred to earlier in my responses to comments, my analogy has been misunderstood.

By "back of the bus" I did not, repeat not, mean to imply returning to a time of repression and injustice. I firmly oppose the suggested moratoria on ordination and same-sex blessings, and will not vote for their adoption. I support full and open inclusion of gays and lesbians in all orders of ministry, and favor the adoption of same-sex blessings. As a practical reality, reflecting the Anglican tradition of reception, and in order to promote broader acceptance over time, I believe such rites should be authorized on a diocese by diocese basis. This is what I meant by "local option" in the essay in Episcopal Life.

So what did I mean by the "back of the bus"?

I meant the situation in which we find ourselves at present: being out of favor with a large portion (about one-third as I reckon) of the Anglican Communion. The consequences of our not adopting the Windsor Report (whatever that means) may lead to our bishops not being invited to Lambeth, for example. So it is the "Anglican bus" as a whole I'm talking about, not the status of gays and lesbians, women, or disadvantaged people. Some have suggested that the whole Episcopal Church is to be placed in the back of the bus, so to speak, if we do not enact the moratoria. (Others have suggested we'll be thrown off the bus entirely, and some have even called for that explicitly, though I think it very unlikely given the super-majority of the Primates that would be needed to accomplish such a division in the Communion).

So it is in this respect that I am willing to "suffer wrong for doing right." I don't think that's "good" -- I wish following the gospel had no negative consequences -- I just think it is a sad fact of where the sorry-assed Anglican Communion is right now. I know it will change, and I will work for that change with every fiber of my being. But I believe the way to do that is the constant patient witness of enduring unmerited punishment.

Hope this clears up the misunderstanding.

gordon said...

Dear Father Tobias,
I like what you had to say and I understand the "back of the bus" analogy.
But their is a component of our social justice efforts in TEC which some folks don't understand.
It gets on my last nerve when a well meaning person at church says, "there shouldn't be an Integrity. People should be mixed." The person who said that has never attended an Integrity meeting. I've also been told, "we can't be focusing on the gay thing all the time." Even if the "gay thing" hasn't come up in months and months in a conversation this gets said. I think it's important to invite our straight supporters to Integrity meetings or provide some other mechanism of having our stories heard. When they haven't walked in the shoes of someone not like them, they have difficulty understanding where we're coming from.

Tobias said...

Dear Gordon,
I agree. Part of the point of diversity is that people are different. As Paul makes clear in Ephesians 4, we are all "one" under God and yet to "each" some special gift is given, and the body works because the organs have different functions.
The witness gay and lesbian people can offer in their relationships is fundamental to theology: it is not a mere incidental. A faithful gay or lesbian relationship can show that mutuality does not need to be based on a fixed gender-role; that indeed there can be a communion of equals. The idea that two men or two women are "the same" in anything other than their sex misses the great reality that each human being is a divine difference in his or her own right, and that the fundamental difference is in our personhood, not our substance. At General Convention I tried to relate this to the doctrine of the Trinity, which is One in substance but distinct in personhood --- and this applies to the Anglican Communion as much as it does to personal relationships.
Thanks for your comment....
Tobias