March 2, 2007

Kendall Harmon is Right

or, of the danger of diplomatic language

There has been some interesting back and forth between Jim Naughton and Kendall Harmon, and a cloud of various witnesses in the comment sections at their respective blogs, concerning an alleged “loophole” concerning blessings of same-sex relationships.

Let me begin by backing up to Lambeth 1998.1.10. This resolution is capable of little spin, as I see it. It clearly states that same-sexuality is unacceptable and unbiblical. Because of this, the legitimization or blessing of same-sex relationships cannot be advised; nor can the ordination of any person involved in a same-gender union. I have some question as to whether by “legitimising” the Bishops were referring to civil or ecclesiastical law; but apart from this it is clear they intend there to be no blessings of any kind, nor ordinations — and I point out that the order of ministry is not specified.

The Windsor Report, however, backed away somewhat on both counts. In spite of the confusions about the extent to which the General Convention “authorized” or “allowed” for same-sex blessings, the one significant addition to the formula throughout this Report is the phrase “public rites.” It is also clear that the Windsor Report spends no small amount of energy in shifting its attention to ordination to the episcopate, from ordination tout court. There is some possible ambiguity at paragraph 23; but the thrust of the section beginning with paragraph 63, and the final recommendations, focus solely on the office of bishop — a focus no doubt drawn by New Hampshire.

The Primates at Dromantine continued this language, focusing on “public rites” and the episcopate. However, and this is where I agree with Dr Harmon, the statement adopted at Dar es Salaam returns to the language of Lambeth, and removes any reference to “public rites” (except in the footnote that references the Windsor Report); and in the final recommendations substitutes the request that Bishops “not authorise any Rite of Blessing.” The position on ordination seems to hold at the Windsor/Dromantine level, restricting ordination only regarding the episcopate.

I think it is important that we be very clear what we are being asked to do concerning same-sex blessings, and not try to weasel around the matter. If we do not choose to comply with the exact request, let us frame our rationale for not doing so, rather than pretending that we have complied.

Tobias Haller


21 comments:

C.B. said...

Forgive me Tobias - but please be a clearer - are you saying there is no loophole? Or that we need to have the loophole business cleared up so we can know to what we are responding and then respond forthrightly? And if the latter, just who is going to clear that up? Or should we pick a meaning and respond to that?

C.B.

Paul Stanley said...

Does any significance attach to the reference to authorization of any Rite of blessing? To my (lay and theologically untrained) ears, "rite" suggests some prescribed and formalized religious act, albeit not necessarily a public one. If so, then refusing to "authorize a Rite of Blessing" would not equate to "prohibiting ad hoc blessings". But perhaps this is a quibble? And I doubt it is wise to try to read the text too narrowly.

Tobias said...

C.B.,
It is so difficult with the shifting language of diplomacy, and the lack of clarity that seems to sweel up when a group of Primates gathers. I suppose in the long run what I am saying, as I tried to lay out in my earlier post on a proactive response, is that we ultimately should do what we think is right, not because it is agreeable to the Primates, the rest of the Anglican Communion, or anyone else. We have a number of concerns to balance, but I think an ethic based on the Gospel should guide us, rather than what appears a kind of Benthamite utilitarianism, or a timid consequentialism that leads to paralysis. It was, after all, Caiahphas who first espoused the notion it was proper that one should be made to suffer for the good of the many.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Tobias, for what it's worth, my Windsor bishop will not proceed to ordain a lesbian woman in a partnered relationship, because she will not declare that she is celibate. She has completed all the requirements for ordination to the permanent diaconate, but as of today, is not ordained, nor do I know of plans to ordain her. This woman is a member of my parish community.

The Windsor bishops have recently met at Camp Allen in Texas; they have not, as far as I know, issued a communiqué on their meeting. Bishop Katharine was not invited - she said that herself - but I have heard that African bishops were invited.

What the Windsor bishope are up to, I have no idea, but mine is not up to ordaining gays or lesbians in partnered relationships to any orders in the Episcopal Church.

Tobias said...

Paul, I think "rite" applies to any form of words, whether extempore or "by the book." I'm not sure how many on that side of the issue would accept informal rites -- or a kind of "don't ask, don't tell" regime. Not that that's what I'm advising.

Grandmère, I know there are many bishops -- not just "Windsor" compliant, who very likely take that view on ordination. I'm just trying to clarify here that at the Communion level, the post Lambeth requests have all been geared to the episcopate. Again, whether we comply or not is where the ball lied, square in our court. And I think a clear and direct answer would be better than fudging. Much as I like fudge; though perhaps pralines would be in order?
Much love, dear Mimi, and have a blessed weekend. Your brother in Christ, tobias

WannabeAnglican said...

I think it is important that we be very clear what we are being asked to do concerning same-sex blessings, and not try to weasel around the matter. If we do not choose to comply with the exact request, let us frame our rationale for not doing so, rather than pretending that we have complied.

We certainly agree on that. I fear and predict even on my blog that "weasel words will win." Let's pray I'm wrong.

Craig Goodrich said...

Tobias, I heartily agree that a straightforward, honest, and realistic response is (finally) called for. All the spinning and legalistic parsing that's been going on over the last few years is really unworthy of a serious church; at times it reminds me of my young son. ("You said not to throw the ball towards the house. I was just tossing it.")

If the bishops were to say, for example, that they could agree to withhold consent from any active homosexual episcopal candidate until GC09, but could not commit themselves beyond that date, and that while a majority would agree not to authorize any same-sex blessings, many in the HoB believed that their consciences constrained them not to agree to such a moratorium, it would at least clear the air and allow decisions both at 815 and in the Communion to be made on an equally aboveboard basis.

Let's hope that our bishops will adopt the same view that many of us in cyberspace have adopted: If we can't agree, we can at least be honest with each other.

bls said...

"I suppose in the long run what I am saying, as I tried to lay out in my earlier post on a proactive response, is that we ultimately should do what we think is right, not because it is agreeable to the Primates, the rest of the Anglican Communion, or anyone else."

Agree 100%. The Anglican Communion - or at least its slate of Primates - doesn't really deserve any particular consideration, anyway, given its remarkable silence in the face of the proposed Nigerian anti-gay legislation.

And we should say that, too.

Bill Carroll said...

The only case in which such a loophole could be useful is one in which we chose to accept the ultimatum. Let's reject the ultimatum, in which case the only loophole we need is the Gospel, which tears down the dividing wall.

John B. Chilton said...

And yet in his address to the General Synod this past week the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote:

http://www.anglicancommunion.org/acns/articles/42/50/acns4259.cfm
"we have suggested a similar voluntary moratorium by the bishops on licensing any kind of liturgical order for same-sex blessings (the understanding of the Meeting was certainly that this should be a comprehensive abstention from any public rites), at least for the period during which the wider discussion of the Covenant goes forward."

There's that pesky work "public" again. He's muddied the waters again. I've asked myself if I'm engaging in hair splitting or wordgames. I don't think so -- I genuinely want disambiguation and the way I in good faith read the ABC's statement is that it is not clear.

Tobias - am I missing something?

Marshall said...

All of the going back and forth, the parsing and speculation on documents, reminds me of the old folks song, "The Vicar of Bray." It is, in its way, a hopeful song, I suppose; but not really where we want to go....

Anonymous said...

What a wonderfully honest article, a breath of fresh air.

Leaders in the church who believe the gays and lesbians in committed relationships should be allowed to have their relationships celebrated by the church should have the courage and conviction to vote "no" to what is being asked.

Those who believe that such blessings are against God's revelation should vote yes.

Those with no convictions...well, they will just try to weasel though by playing word games. I have no respect for that. I am so glad someone in your position has the courage to tell everyone what is really going on. God bless you.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Marshall, you gave me a good laugh with your reference to "The Vicar of Bray". We can all use a laugh these days.

Charlotte said...

The Diocese of Central Florida, a Network diocese perhaps transitioning to a Windsor diocese, will not ordain any gay or Lesbian person to any orders whatsoever, including the diaconate.

Nor will it permit any gay or Lesbian person to serve in any capacity of ministry, nor on any vestry. I suppose they make some sort of exception for the celibate, but actually I have never heard anyone here ask whether a given person is in fact celibate.

In practice, the DCF ban reduces to this: that if you have enemies in the parish, they start a rumor that you are gay or Lesbian.

Rodney said...

Charlotte, so what does Central Florida do with our non-discrimination canons which explicitly inlude sexual orientation? I believe that canons specifies "access" to the process but if all gay aspirants are refused, then it's no longer access, it's discrimination (based on my reading of the canon).

John B. Chilton said...

Marshall, I like the "Vicar of Bray" reference (once I went to wikipedia and familiarized myself with the concept).

tobias concluded,

I think it is important that we be very clear what we are being asked to do concerning same-sex blessings, and not try to weasel around the matter. If we do not choose to comply with the exact request, let us frame our rationale for not doing so, rather than pretending that we have complied.

Yes - no weaseling, no pretending we've complied, no hiding behind ambiguity.

But - It remains unclear to me whether Tobias believes the request can be discerned. Is he saying we should come out with a clear statement of our own of what we think it means to proscribe?

In his reply to CB at the start of the comments, Tobias is saying it ain't clear.

Now sometimes when it ain't clear you can still guess what was meant. But in this case I can't guess what this group meant.

Tobias said...

Thanks for the further question, John. I think the language of the Communique is clear concerning same-sex blessings. The problem is that the discussions that led up to the document appear to have been less clear --- noting that the AB of C has reintroduced the lanugage of "public" rites once again.

So what I am saying is that regardless of what either the communique says, or how people interpret it, or what others say or said at the meeting, I think the Episcopal Church should take a definite and clear stand on this and all the other matters. I offered some concrete positions in my "Immodest Proposal" -- and will probably say a bit more about them in another post. As I said before, Do what you think is right, regardless of what others may say.

C.B. said...

Tobias - Yes I think we need to do what is right. But I think it is also important for us to say what it is the we think the Communique is asking us to do exactly. It is by that document that our response will be evaluated, perhaps for generations to come. Otherwise our response (if it is less than a total ban on public blessings) will be seen as weaseling. And if we do not think the Communique is clear we should say so, but say that this is what we think is right to do regardless.

I also think it is important to put out there clearly that there are those Primates including the ABC who are looking to ban ALL public rites indefinitely. Let's have everyone stop weaseling on both sides of this issue and on both sides of the Atlantic.

Tobias said...

Yes, C.B. I would offer a distinction between "weaseling" -- trying to wiggle out of what one thinks is wanted --- and the honest confusion that has arisen about what is wanted, because of comments from those (such as the AB of C) who should be in the know, but appear to be adding to the confusion.

That's why I suggest taking the comminque at its strongest reading: no rites at all; and responding in a way that lays out what we propose to do. (What that is remains to be seen, of course. My recommendation includes a willingness to hold back on "public" rites (in the sense that "public" is used in liturgy --- more on this in my next post, I think). Ultimately I don't think it matters so much what people think the communique says or means as how they take our response to it, once that response is made. That's why I argue for proactive rather than reactive response.

C.B. said...

Tobias you say - "My recommendation includes a willingness to hold back on "public" rites (in the sense that "public" is used in liturgy --- more on this in my next post, I think."

I will await that post before concluding anything one way or the other - but in the meantime I do think it is important what "people" think the Communique is asking - particularly, amongst centerists. People at the extremes may be impassioned by principle - but for a large group (for whom compromise is considered laudable and necessary under the circumstances) the center is a moveable feast. It can be reset depending upon the positions of the poles. If a ban on all public rites is understood to be an extreme request - perhaps your recommendation will read as a reasonable and principled option more readily to be embraced.

charpressler said...

Rodney, sorry to come back to you so late.

I don't know what the Diocese of Central Florida does in general about Lesbian or gay candidates for ordination. I know only one person who has applied; she has been refused. They certainly don't refer candidates to a diocese willing to ordain them.

Many gay and Lesbian people in the diocese are glad simply to be permitted to take Communion. There have been episcopal rumblings from time to time, to the effect that persons in "open and notorious sin" (which has only one meaning in the DCF) ought to be refused Communion. In fact, some years ago, Gay and Lesbian persons were repeatedly and publicly refused Communion in the Cathedral at Orlando. This was under Dean Richard Lobs. At that time, Bishop Howe stopped it, saying it was against the Canons.