July 19, 2009

Convention Retrospective

I alluded in my last post to some of the highs and lows of the recent session of General Convention, for the most part in the non-legislative portion. I’d like in this post to expand on a few others, as well as to share some thoughts about what went on in the legislative sessions.

A delicate dance of symbols

A great deal has already been said about the import and impact of D025, and whether it repeals, rescinds, rebuffs, or in any other way changes the status of the church regarding 2006-B033.

Much of what you think of D025 will hinge on what you think of B033. In my opinion the earlier legislation did not enact a du jure moratorium on openly partnered gay/lesbian bishops but it had a de facto effect in that direction. Clearly the operative concept in B033 was urging restraint. It was persuasive rather than prescriptive. How much such urging or persuasion was really needed, in light of the awareness many bishops and standing committees have of the ill regard in which some in the rest of the Anglican Communion hold us, is the operative question.

I think it fair to examine that question in some detail: How likely has it been since 2006, or is it now, that an openly gay or lesbian bishop could have been or is likely to be elected any time in the near future? To posit an answer to that question, I want to simply state a few things I believe to be true (not that I wish them to be true) as premises for or evidence in to coming to a conclusion.

  • Gene Robinson’s successful candidacy and election was based in large part on the role he had played in New Hampshire for many years preceding it, and the high regard in which he was held by the people of that diocese, and in the wider church. He was not elected because he is gay, but in spite it. Although his election seemed to be a clear statement that one’s “manner of life” need not prohibit one from being called and chosen as a bishop, the affirmation in that action was not of Gene’s private (but acknowledged) life, but of his manifest public (though personal) gifts. Which, of course, is how it should be.
  • Most dioceses do not, it seems, elect bishops “from within” or at least not immediately from within—that is, a person from a diocese may be elected after a sojourn in another parochial or seminary setting in another diocese. This is a general impression; I’ve not done a statistical examination in detail, but it seems to be the case.
  • Many dioceses appear to put together slates of nominees on the “full menu” model—as a hat tip to diversity, in the full knowledge that a gay or lesbian candidate may be more a symbol of a diocese’s progressivism than a choice earnestly desired. Much as some might want to deny it, tokenism is alive and well. It actually does serve a positive purpose in indicating which dioceses may be more welcoming to such candidates in parochial settings as well as the episcopal seat.
  • Minority candidates of whatever flavor appear to fare better in suffragan elections than in diocesan. There may be a stained-glass ceiling.
  • There is still considerable reluctance among many bishops to rock the Anglican boat, even among moderate progressives. An examination of the signatories to the “Anaheim Statement” reveals a few bishops anxious to hoist such a pennant.

All in all, these premises lead me to believe that the election of an openly gay/lesbian bishop as a diocesan is probably unlikely in the next decade. A suffragan may be more likely, but even there, I doubt within the next triennium. There will be the occasional candidate, but I don’t foresee an election any time soon.

Of course, I could be wrong.

The sum of all this is to say that B033 was not really a necessary action, in spite of the earnest appeals for its passage. What was needed, it seems, was something like Mr. Chamberlain’s piece of paper, though in this case—and opposite to the Munich Accord— with a reality to back it up. A de facto moratorium already exists, simply due to the tenor of the church, then as now. So the difference with D025 to B033 lies not in the actual election of bishops, but in the willingness or unwillingness to make statement in support of or opposition to an idea.

What has changed with D025? Not a withdrawal of a legal prohibition, but a change in attitude. Restraint no longer needs to be “urged” because the natural (and unnatural) restraints already in place will likely be effective in mitigating against the election of an openly gay or lesbian person as a bishop.

Still, D025 is a step forward, even if also as largely symbolic as B033. It indicates that a door that for the last few years has been closed is at least now ajar, even if no one will swing it open and pass through within the near future.

The marriage of true minds

Resolution C056 on same-sex blessings was similarly a small step forward, though greeted with much consternation in some circles. One of the low points for me in this Convention was hearing a conservative deputy for whom I have a good deal of respect and affection (and with whom I share a number of views on other matters) declare that the passage of this resolution covered us with shame. The folks at Fulcrum have nit-picked the resolution and held it up as a complete repudiation of the various utterances of Windsor and the Primates. I will not enter into that particular logomachia, but it seems to me that C056 does little more than call for liturgical and theological study and provision of pastoral care—both of which appear to me to be within the ambit of the original Lambeth 1.10, though clearly pressing that envelope to its utter limit.

The most ironic position from the conservatives was summed up by one deputy who repeated the tiresome, “We haven’t done the theological work” argument. How odd then to speak against a resolution that calls for doing more theological work! That this involves liturgy is inherent in the issue at hand, which is about marriage and blessing—very odd it would be indeed if liturgies were not to be collected, developed, and studied, as this is how liturgical theology works. As to the range of generosity in the pastoral response—particularly in places where the civil law is already doing its part of the work—it appears that it will stop short of Windsor’s Rubicon: the authorization of public rites. It is a well established principle that only the General Convention can “authorize” rites, even though Bishops have the rubrical permission to “set forth” novel liturgies, explained in the Constitution as the capacity to “take order...for the use” of such special forms. Bishops will, I trust, be careful to make clear that this is what they are doing when they provide “generous pastoral responses.”

So, again, this is not revolutionary but evolutionary change. And most of the opposition comes precisely for that reason, as anyone with eyes to see can perceive where the trend will lead, sooner or later. The rearguard actions of many in the Anglican Communion will not in the long run be successful. While I know of many who once held traditional views on such issues, who later came to a more progressive position, I don’t know of anyone who has gone the other way. (Those who think Rowan Williams is an example of the latter don’t take account of his reasons, which have to do with his prevailing, and some might say Quixotic, desire to hold the communion together, and a hierarchy of values in which unity is dominant. I will say more on this, and my conversation with him, in a separate post.) In short, the process is not only evolutionary, but osmotic. Like the arrow of time, it goes only one way. As with almost all controversies with which the church has been embroiled, the “Traditionalist” (not traditional) position eventually fades away, or hardens into a sectarian nub. The circumcision parties of any age have their day, but eventually the church moves on, leaving behind those who have married the spirit of a former age instead of moving with the Spirit of Christ in whom novelty and creativity are the active principles.

Points of Personal Privilege

I was startled early in the Convention when I heard myself quoted on the floor by a young deputy from Massachusetts. The topic was the decision of the legislative committee on Prayer Book and liturgy to amend the reference to John Henry Newman in the now widely expanded calendar of commemorations from “Bishop” to “Priest.” He took this as an insult and cited my earlier post concerning Fr Avery Dulles of Fordham University having been created a cardinal, and my whimsical but heartfelt desire to congratulate a “parishioner”—Fordham University lying within my parish bounds. I was so startled at hearing my name come over the sound system in that cavernous hall that it took me a moment to make the connection. Did the deputy think the proper title should have been Cardinal? Like Avery Dulles, Newman was a Cardinal Priest, so honored for his theological work. [Correction, thanks to Scott Gunn: Newman and Dulles were both Cardinal Deacons. The Cardinal part of their designation has nothing to do with their Ordinal status ;-) But in any case, neither were bishops.] The motion to overturn the amendment failed.

I only spoke once on the floor of the Convention, on the last day, to offer a point of order on a second reading of a Constitutional amendment which ought to have been approved in a vote by orders but received only a simple majority. (I tried to get to the microphone as fast as I could, but was too late to stop the voice ballot.) The President graciously accepted my correction, and the matter was reconsidered and voted on properly. Now our Constitution officially provides that when TEC enters into a full communion Covenant or Concordat we will not have to amend the Constitution each time we do so. Thus the Moravian concord approved at this Convention will not require further constitutional tinkering.

Further reflections anon.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Ed said...

In the paragraph following the header "The marriage of true minds," this sentence needs some help: "The folks at Fulcrum have nit-picked the resolution and held it up as a complete repudiation of the various utterances of Windsor and the."


Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks, Ed. I left out the word "Primates" in my haste.

Phil said...

As with almost all controversies with which the church has been embroiled, the “Traditionalist” (not traditional) position eventually fades away, or hardens into a sectarian nub. The circumcision parties of any age have their day, but eventually the church moves on, leaving behind those who have married the spirit of a former age instead of moving with the Spirit of Christ in whom novelty and creativity are the active principles.

This is dead on, except that the "sectarian nub" will comprise some 1.5B people - the vast majority of the Church; and except that ECUSA is not the church; and except that ECUSA has transparently married the spirit of the present age, as it was openly urged to do from the floor of the convention - and, you may note, marrying the spirit of the age is mentioned in Scripture, and not positively.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Tobias, thank you for your clear explanation of what happened at the convention and what is likely to happen in the near future.

In my Diocese of Louisiana, in practice, nothing much is likely to change. My prayer and my hope is that whoever is elected as our new bishop will not attempt to take the diocese out of the Episcopal Church, however, I don't believe that is likely to happen. Our present bishop, Charles Jenkins, is firmly anchored in the Episcopal Church.

It was wonderful to see you again, and I enjoyed our chance encounters at the lunch table in the cafeteria in Anaheim. Plus, I now have a signed copy of your book, after giving my first copy away.

Paul (A.) said...

"We haven't done the theology" is a codephrase for "I haven't read the theology and don't want to know about it".

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Phil, that remains to be seen. Change is going to be afoot in the RCC and the rest of Protestantism; and in case you don't know it, there are closeted gay bishops in all branches of "catholic" christendom, and those doors will swing wide or the inhabitants will eventually suffocate.

I could of course point to the fate of innumerable rigorist movements, as you do to laxist ones. However, I do not think the present movements of TEC are laxist, but are carefully framed, and will represent not the spirit of this age, but of all ages, properly understood.

Grandmere, thanks for the note. It was such a joy seeing you in Anaheim, though those first days were rather stressful for me given my additional responsibilities. Still, it was lovely to share the lunch and the other moments in passing. Sorry, though, to hear of Jake's fate in the cutbacks, which have struck James as well (after 23 years on the staff).

Thanks, Paul -- that is it exactly. I suspect they realize that when people really do the theology they come up with a very different answer. And it isn't the answer they want...

Grandmère Mimi said...

Oh, Tobias! James, too! After 23 years! I am so sorry. Please extend to him my love and my sympathy and assure him of my prayers during his transition.

Chip said...

"something like Mr. Macmillan’s piece of paper, though in this case—and opposite to the Munich Accord— with a reality"

Did you mean Chamberlain who paraphrased the versicle from Evening Prayer on his return from Munich?

Phil said...

Tobias, there are sinners of many types in Catholic Christendom and beyond, and have been for 2,000 years. There is a large disconnect between saying "there have always been gays in the church" and "change the church's teachings, because gays can't survive in it otherwise." History says they can, along with the rest of the sinners. Some of us find Christ to be not suffocating, but liberating.

I'm sorry to hear what's happened to Fr. Terry, James and everybody else affected by budget cutbacks. Thank you for mentioning James so that I can pray for him, also.

Chris Ashley said...

Dear Tobias,

Ashley, of Massachusetts. ;-)

I learned immediately after that session closed that both I and the rest of the Massachusetts deputation had been misinformed about Newman's orders. Because we thought he'd been made a bishop in Rome, it seemed odd and possibly prejudiced not to name him as such. Of course, the concern was factually misplaced. I had also forgotten that Dulles was never a bishop, which is even harder to excuse, as I'd heard the matter clearly explained in class a few years ago.

I'm sorry if I embarrassed you at all. Goodness knows I embarrassed myself enough.

Rick+ said...

An excellent cool-headed analysis, Tobias. This matches my sense of the matter, following the decisions of General Convention at a distance. Thank you for putting it together so well.

Christopher said...

This is the most fair and balanced assessment I've yet read. So much spin is out there. I do think that the tone and language counts to something of an attitude adjustment. Incremental steps, development. A more pastoral presentation. A sense of self as a Church.

plsdeacon said...

It is interesting that, prior to 815, B033 was touted as agreeing to the moritorium on ordaining men or women sexually active outside of marriage to the episcopate. Now we hear that D025 didn't overturn the moritorium, because the moritorium didn't really exist.

Actually I agree that it is unlikely for us to have a GLBT bishop in the next few years. It hasn't really been that long that we have been ordaining GLBT to the priesthood so it will take a while for the GLBT people to "percolate" to the election committees. Robinson had an edge because he was a priest before he determined he was gay.

Phil Snyder

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Chip, thanks for the correction. I'm not sure why I thought of Macmillan, unless it was the 'tache.

Phil, the fact is that the church's teachings do change, and those who insist they can't or don't, particularly in matters of moral theology, tend to be left behind in backwaters eventually deemed heretical. I admit the same is sometimes true of laxist movements. But while I can name any number of rigorist movements as examples of my point, I can think of none that have thrived. There are any numver of things considered serious "sins" in prior times no longer considered so, and I think this is what will happen with homosexuality in time. (Even in Orthodoxy the subtle changes and relaxation on digamy is a small indication of the process.) There will still be those who insist such things cannot change, but they will be seen as increasingly isolated from the main flow of Christianity. I realize you find that hard to imagine, but history shows us many such changes. (BTW, the prayers are appreciated.)

Chris, thanks for the note. I was not embarrassed, but I was a tad confused. This is probably a good exercise in epistemic humility. I am far from free of error myself, as my confusion of the mustachioed Prime Ministers above indicates...

Rick and Christopher, thanks.

Deacon Phil, I think it important to realize that B033, while not a moratorium, was as much of one as could be adopted under our rules. It was widely accepted as such, as "sufficient" to the intended end rather than precisely what was asked for. The effective word in the resolution was "urge." The present resolution no longer "urges" -- so that is the difference. I think that is what I'm saying here, and I think it is true.

BillyD said...

Actually I agree that it is unlikely for us to have a GLBT bishop in the next few years. It hasn't really been that long that we have been ordaining GLBT to the priesthood so it will take a while for the GLBT people to "percolate" to the election committees.

Uh, no. We've been ordaining gay people to the diaconate, priesthood, and episcopate for as long as there's been a Church. A certain proportion of those were (wait for it!) non-celibate. What "hasn't been that long" isn't that we started to ordain gay people, but that we started ordaining people who weren't lying about it.

Ormonde Plater said...

An addendum about the Diocese of Louisiana:

We haven't elected a bishop "from without" since Leonidas Polk. I don't know about other dioceses, but there's a distinct bias in these parts against furriners.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks for that BillyD. And you too, Deacon Plater. In this as in other things Louisiana is a very special place!

IT said...

So sorry to hear about James. BP and I were with Mimi, and met him along with Prior Aelred outside the Convention Center on the middle Friday. Please give him our regards.
I send all good wishes for a window opening as this door shuts...!

Anonymous said...


When the "world awoke with a groan to find itself Arian," are you saying that at that point in time the Nicene party was a "sectarian nub"?

In this day and age, at exactly what point in time is the RC Magisteria going to line up with your idea of the "church" and change their teachings on divorce, contraception, abortion, women's ordination, and homosexuality? Or are they a "sectarian nub"?

The Southern Baptist Convention presently has eight times as many members as TEC. I think they could be fairly described as a rigorist movement (on many different fronts). Are they a "sectarian nub"?

I'm just trying to figure out what you're saying. I can think of all sorts of laxist movements that have faded and all sorts of rigorist movements that have thrived. So we have some sort of a disconnect here. The idea that there is some unidirectional evolutionary (step-by-step) movement to doctrinal development is false on its face. Theological movements come and go and come again. The ebb and flow often mirrors the Bay of Fundy in its extreme fluctuations. Few ideas simply fade into history never to be seen again.

The conservatives need to get over the notion that they are blessed by God because their congregations are growing while others are not...or that their cause is right because the majority of Anglicans in the pews (world-wide) are on their side. Liberals need to get over the notion that the "trajectory of history" somehow favors them. Neither is a valid way to determine truth / orthodoxy.

As to GC2009...I think you're correct to say that TEC never honestly embraced the moratoria in the first place. Now again, they're trying to "have their cake and eat it, too." Pushing the envelope to the breaking point is not the same as keeping the moratoria in good faith. I think you more or less admitted to that. The ACNA conservatives, for their part, viewed TEC as holding to the moratoria only in some technical sense...and with their fingers crossed behind their backs. That's all the excuse they needed to break faith themselves. Only the Communion Partners appear to have acted honorably, holding consistently AND in good faith to all three moratoria. But alas, their infernal fence-sitting grates on my nerves!

All the best, my friend,


plsdeacon said...


Yes, yes. The Church has been ordaining men who are sexually attracted to other men for centuries. But, up until about 20 years ago, we have expected them to remain celibate. The first ordaination of a man in a sexual relationship with another man is not that long ago. So, there is a relatively small pool of partnered GLBT men and a smaller pool of women to choose from.

In any case, I hope that the next openly GLBT bishop elected is otherwise qualified and elected because of his/her qualifications and not because someone wants to make a political statement.

Phil Snyder

BillyD said...

Has anybody seen any research about long term Episcopal numbers? I'm not talking about the last ten years or so, but since, say, 1785. When did we experience our peak in terms of percentage of the population?

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Dear Peshat,

As I was saying, the changes I am speaking about concern matters of moral theology more than doctrine. So your Arian reference is off the mark. Think more along the lines of the Donatists or the Manicheans -- moral rigorists (although with a doctrinal edge) who faded to oblivion. Real contrary examples (thriving rigorists) might help clarify your case.

I do think the RC Magisterium is going to change its teaching eventually on many of the matters you cite. Probably not abortion. It has already effectively undercut the teaching on divorce through a legal fiction. I expect to see women priests within the next two decades, and soon after a change on the other sexuality issues, including contraception. They just need to do the theological work they haven't done yet. They have realized the poverty of the anti-WO position, and forbidden all attempts to discuss it: a sure sign that the end is near. As with the Lambeth resolutions, it would be helpful to look at the items condemned in the 19th Century and compare them with things allowed in the present. A Syllabus or Errors in one age can become a virtual Catechism in another. Even positions widely condemned in the 50s are acceptable now (take Teilhard de Chardin, for example.)

Meanwhile, in spite of growth elsewhere, the RCC in the US is closing churches apace. Benedict XVI has said he wants a more obedient, if smaller, church -- and he may get his wish.

As to the SBC, it was revealed it had been wildly inflating its membership stats, and has suffered a far more precipitous loss than TEC. The Alpha Program in England has quietly hushed its negative position on homosexuality as they've found that it was causing severe losses in the younger generation.

If you could provide an example of a rigorist movement that thrived and remained dominant, that might help me understand better what you are getting at. My reading of Church history reveals a trend towards more open development. Yes, there are occasional rigorist reactions, but my thesis is that they tend not to last very long. It may be a case of two steps "forward" and one "back" -- and I use scare quotes because I'm not saying either one is "right" -- just that this is what I observe happening. I am, in short, not a progressivist. I hope that addresses your concerns over trajectory. I quite agree that the rightness or wrongness of a position is not to be determined by the number of adherents. I merely observe that institutions that favor purity, rigor, and so on, tend to form backwaters or self-limiting structures. Since rigorism is so often based on negativity, it tends not to be productive and positive.

As to GC, I think giving in to the moratoria at all was a mistake, and certainly appearing to do so while not really doing so could only be seen as duplicitous, when I think it was merely cowardly. Now I think we have recovered our honor, and our status -- even if it means further tension and division. As the Rabbi Paul said, division is necessary in order to discern the truth. And as another Rabbi said, No pain, no gain.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Deacon Phil,
Even though gay clergy were supposed to be celibate, many of them weren't, Anglican as well as RC and Orthodox. They were not "open" about it, though within certain circles it was well known, rather as in the British secret service. Don't ask, don't tell, was the rule.

But we're getting off the subject here. More to the point is BillyD's qustion about church statistics. I believe the hey-day for TEC in terms of "market share" was the 1950s, though in the colonial period there was no doubt a major portion of population who were at least titularly Anglican. I'd love to see a graph on this, particularly compared with other faith traditions. The recent Pew study is very helpful in addressing trends related to church of origin and of destination. TEC remains a major "influx" church, though still not keeping pace with deaths and departures. The RCC is bouyed by waves of immigration, but loses a good number of those "born" to it.

plsdeacon said...

Fr. Tobias
(Since you are calling me "Deacon Phil," I find it fitting to return the honor :) )

Actually, I was agreeing with you that the reason that no other openly gay bishops have been approved is not because of some restraint (we've all seen how well Americans - not just progressive Episcopalians exercise restraint at anything (grin)), but because there has not been an election and the reason there has not been an election is a shortage of qualified GLBT priests who are ready to move into the ranks of bishops. The reason for that is that we have not openly ordained GLBT persons as priests until rather recently.

I know (we all know) that there have been gay priests and bishops who were not celibate - just as there were hetero priests and bishops who had sex outside of marriage. That is not the issue. There have been clergy that engaged in theft, murder, arson, rape, drug dealing, and any number of sins or crimes. I believe that the collar is a red flag to the devil and that clergy are targeted because striking the shepherd scatters the sheep.

Post colonial America, I believe that you are right that the 50's or 60s was our high point in terms of reported members (your actual membership may vary) and "% of market share."

Scott Gunn said...

One minor correction, while we're getting Newman's status sorted out: I believe Newan was a "cardinal deacon" not a "cardinal priest".

I was initially swept up in the fervor over Newman and tweeted outrage at the edit from "bishop" to "priest", assuming that he was a bishop, since that's the order of almost all cardinals. But I did some googling, after someone raised questions, and learned that, indeed, he remained a priest.

As not so many people know, there are three kinds of cardinals: deacon, priest, and bishop. Confusingly, these ranks have nothing to do with orders. Until 1918, a holder of one of the minor orders could be incardinated. Now, one must be a priest or a bishop.

So there it is. My trivial (literally) contribution to this grand contribution on the meaning of General Convention.


Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thank you, Scott. I've made the correction above.

BillyD said...

a shortage of qualified GLBT priests who are ready to move into the ranks of bishops. The reason for that is that we have not openly ordained GLBT persons as priests until rather recently.

You still do not appear to get it, Phil. There have already been GLBT priests who moved into the ranks of bishops (does the name Otis Charles ring a bell?). The number of gay priests in your circle of acquaintances - either out of the closet or not - has nothing to do with the number of qualified gay clergy in ECUSA.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thank you, BillyD (BTW, I've added you to my blog roll....)

I think what Phil (I added the "Deacon" in part to distinguish from the other Phil upstream, though I do also honor the ministry and the minister) is getting at is the "open" part. Gay and lesbian priests have only been open about their sexuality in some places and for a fairly short amount of time, with a few notable exceptions. Even today I know of many gay and lesbian clergy who are closeted, some even in fairly liberal dioceses. They just don't want the hassle.

My rough estimate would be that for every openly gay/lesbian priest there are probably five to ten more in the closet. Same goes for bishops. (You can do the math). The figure may actually be higher in England. I suspect it may also be higher in the RCC.

The issue, for me, as for Phil, is whether a faithful and permanent same-sex relationship is sinful or not. In spite of Scripture's silence on the subject, Phil aligns with the traditional judgment that it is; I choose to see change on this as a positive development in the tradition, in keeping with standard judgments in biblically based moral theology (which generally tend not to hinge on taboo as in the Law, but on identifiable virtues such as fidelity, love, honesty, generosity, and so on, in the manner of Jesus' and Paul's teaching).

In the meantime, whether one agrees with my assessment of the morality of same-sex relationships on an equal basis with mixed-sex relationships, I still think I am correct in my assessment that change is at work, whether one likes the change or not, and in fifty to a hundred years people in most of Christendom will look back on these debates with some bemusement, much as we look at the prudery of Victorian missionaries insisting indigenous people dress in frocks and vests, to cover their "indecency." There will probably survive some small sects who think otherwise, much as we have sects today who shun buttons and scrupulously observe the sabbath, to say nothing of Orthodox Jews who keep shrum (though there are even gays and lesbians among them!) God bless them. I could, of course, be wrong. But I do not think so.

And so, good night...

plsdeacon said...


Exactly so. The number of openly gay clergy in the Church does impact when the next openly gay bishop will be elected and confirmed.

I agree that this will probably be settled in 50-100 years, but I disagree on the direction - imagine that! (grin)

Phil Snyder

MarkBrunson said...

There has been absolutely no convincing evidence that committed same-sex relationships are in any way short of the image of God's Love, or even objectively disordered and harmful.

There is ample evidence that preaching such a position endangers and kills people, leaves them in miserable, unfulfilling lives, drives them from God and leaves them in darkness and misery, as well as enciting weak-minded, weak-willed individuals to violently attack and kill GLBT's.

It's a question - quite simply - of whether you have enough faith in God's mercy and goodness to risk erring on the side of mercy and compassion, or whether you are so fearful of a vengeful and uncomprehendingly violent God that, like Snyder and the other orthodites, risks others for a "law" that costs you nothing to enforce.

Anonymous said...


First off, let me apologize for not getting to "Holy and Reasonable." I'm starting a new job soon, halfway across the country, and packing and moving is taking up most of my time.

My point in bringing up the Arian-Nicene dispute is that, at times, the legitimate church has found itself in the minority. Perhaps, in fact, it is always so found. Indeed, it may very well be that one of those groups we snidely term quaint and backwater...and dismiss as esoteric if not downright heretical in their theology...is the group which in God's eyes is closest to the heart of Christ. You referred obliquely to the Amish, with their disdain for buttons and other "ostentatious" decorations. Just look at the model they were for us recently, in what godly forgiveness ought to look like, in taking to their hearts the widow and family of the assassin of Amish school children!

Also, I'm not sure one can easily distill out movements based on moral theology from those having other motivations. Changes in ecclesiastical moral stances do not happen in cultural, philosophical, or theological vacuums. Surely, you have heard the conservatives note that the present squabble is not over sexuality at all. That same-sex activism is just a symptom of a much larger fight over basic tenets of soteriology, christology, and the authority of Scripture. (Even if you yourself hold without exception to every point of the creed...many of your co-laborers do not.)

Your own movement, whatever it might be called (the full-sacramental-inclusion-of-all-the-baptized movement?), cannot be said to have begun before, what? the 1970's? You could, I suppose, date it from the openness of the 1920's, but the Stonewall riots of 1969 (or even the consecration of Gene Robinson in 2003) might be a better signpost. At any rate, you haven't hit three hundred years, so maybe you should take it easy on the Donatists.

I quite agree with you that in 50 or 100 years those who contend against your present "movement of the Spirit" may find themselves in the distinct minority world-wide (and not only within the friendly confines of the TEC). They may be seen as quaint and heterodoxical. That may not necessarily mean, however, that they are not those "favored by God." You might not get your comeuppance until you stand at the pearly gates.

I could be wrong, but I see your movement as fueled by cultural change...and not by exegetical discovery or the impetus of the actual Holy Spirit. Though we conservatives may appear to all the world as narrow-minded, mean-spirited bigots...at least some of us are truly motivated by intense love for ALL the baptized. You included.

Come, let us reason together,


Anonymous said...


To grant you a few examples of where I’m coming from:

The Donatists, as I said, lasted for a good three hundred years. The Jansenists had a heyday of about a hundred years, and in some sense, continue to this day in the Old Catholic sect. The Protestant Reformation, which in large part was a rigorist movement, has a few adherents remaining last I checked. The Puritan movement endured for a couple hundred years and is still widely influential in several denominations (including those Anglicans of a Reformed slant). Likewise, the various surges of Evangelicalism (1740's, 1820's, 1920's, 1950's) have been in a more rigorist vein.

You mention the Manichaeans as a rigorist group, but I would be tempted to list them as quite the opposite. Augustine, during his Manichaean phase, felt personally disconnected from his fleshly body of sin...and could thus do as he pleased. Many Gnostic groups, if one discounts the ascetic leaders (the elect, pure, perfect) and talks about the rank and file, may have been laxist groups. They didn't leave behind many writings. The Catholics certainly accused them of such. The Albigensians, Cathari, Paulicians, and Bogomils might all be seen in this light. (The British term for the crime of sodomy, "buggery," comes from the Bulgarian Bogomils.)

Medieval Catholicism (notwithstanding some fine Scholastic theologians) was in many ways a de facto laxist movement, at least in terms of clerical behavior.

The Radical Reformation produced some aberrant licentiousness, such as under John of Leiden at Muenster.

These movements all faded. (I realize you will probably not wish to identify in any sense with such antinomian groups, but neither would most modern conservatives relate themselves to any virulently legalistic historical groups.) Can you name me a theologically orthodox laxist group? The Latitudinarians, perhaps? I'm afraid it's going to be a very short list. By and large in the past, laxist groups have operated on the extreme periphery of the official church (or clandestinely within it). It is only in modern times, it seems, that they have come out in the open, front and center, and taken positions of leadership, espousing laxist policies in outspoken fashion.

As always,


Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Dear Peshat,

You appear to me to be once again rather perversely misreading what I've said. I thought I made it clear that I wasn't speaking about who is right or wrong (in the eyes of God) but about the status of rigorist movements in terms of their long term endurance and dominance. I think the examples you give continue to demonstrate the point I was attempting to make: I have nothing against the Mennonites, and applaud their sense of discipline and commitment and generosity; the Donatists obviously were heretics; and the Jansenists questionable --- but my point was not about right or wrong but the role played in the wider sphere, and the tendency of rigor to induce brittleness and inward divisions and schism. As I've said, that doesn't mean that laxist sects suffer the same fate (indeed part of the nature of sects of whatever stripe seems to be along those lines) or that truth must always be in the majority. Much of the rest of what you say is interesting, but quite beside the point I was trying to make.

And until you have read my book I think you should refrain from making judgments about the form of argument. For what it is worth, you make a grave error in thinking that the desire to bring gay and lesbian persons under the same rules of chastity as strait folks is "laxist." It is, if anything, a very conservative position.

But this has once more wandered rather far from the primary topic of this post, the actions of General Convention. I urge you, once settled, to peruse my actual argument and read with an open mind. Your comments here seem to be based largely on a failure to read with care and understand what I am saying. That may be my fault, though others appear to be able to engage with the discussion rather than with a phantom generalized "liberal" position which I do not hold.

BillyD said...

I think what Phil (I added the "Deacon" in part to distinguish from the other Phil upstream, though I do also honor the ministry and the minister) is getting at is the "open" part. Gay and lesbian priests have only been open about their sexuality in some places and for a fairly short amount of time, with a few notable exceptions. Even today I know of many gay and lesbian clergy who are closeted, some even in fairly liberal dioceses. They just don't want the hassle.

At the risk of beating a dead horse, the number of out gay priests in Deacon Phil's (or anyone's) circle of acquaintances is not a barometer of the number of out gay priests we will have tomorrow, or an indicator of when we will next consecrate a gay bishop. I suppose we could also be presented with another situation in which we think we have consecrated a straight bishop (maybe some time ago), only to find out that s/he wasn't so straight, after all. People don't always stay locked away in their closets, even when those closets are located in the sacristy. :-)

plsdeacon said...


The point is not that we have ordained gay bishops or priests before. We have. The point is that we have not ordained an openly gay man or woman who is known to be sexually active before Gene Robinson and we did not. We have not knowingly been ordaining men or women involved in a homoerotic relationship for very long, so the number of openly gay and openly active priests is rather small. A small portion of priests become bishops and the number of openly gay priests is percentage of the total number of priests. So, numerically, it is unlikely that an openly gay priest will be elected to be a bishop (leaving aside the moral issue for now).

Let's try a quick thought experiment. Assume that we changed the way that a bishop was chosen from election to a lottery of all priests who have been ordained for 10+ years and are less than 60 years old. Assume that open and sexually active GLBT people make up 30% of TEC clergy, with the greates number being ordained within the last 8 years. So, only 5% of clergy in TEC are openly gay and have been ordained for 10 years or more. That gives us a 5% chance that a gay person will be elected bishop. This is not a moral question but a statistical one - if we talking about ordaining an open and sexually active GLBT person to the episcopate.

Phil Snder

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Phil, I think this is an accurate assessment, and is largely what I was trying to say earlier in terms of likelihood (rather than desirability or not). Where there is a liberal "preference" towards a gay/lesbian candidate it will likely be more a preference to nominate (and therefore demonstrate liberality) rather than necessarily an earnest desire to elect. That is my somewhat cynical assessment of the state of things.

IT said...

homoerotic. Phil, do you consider your marriage "heteroerotic"? Hmmm, how many bishops are in heteroerotic relationships? I think I shall use that term more widely.

And perhaps I am stupid as well as ignorant, but it seems to me that a church that has found way to accept female clergy, divorce, and contraception, and make that work with the Bible, shouldn't have such a problem with homosexuality, especially given the ambiguity of the scriptural citations on the subject. Which inevitably leads me to conclude that the problem isn't scripture, it's the "ick" factor of what other people do. SO much easier to point at the minority for something the majority will never want.

(I am reminded of the following exchange:
Captain Renault: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!
[a croupier hands Renault a pile of money]
Croupier: Your winnings, sir.
Captain Renault: [sotto voce] Oh, thank you very much. )

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

IT, a valid point, though again, I note we've drifted far from the main topic.

The focus on taboo, which forms much of the basis of the Law of Moses, ought to be transubstantiated by Christians, just as it is by the Prophets, and in the primary exposition of the Law in the Ten Commandments, and the Summary of the Law, with an understanding of moral value located in relationship to God and neighbor. As Paul himself observed, all those commandments about "do not touch, do not taste, do not handle" have only an appearance of piety, but are of no real moral value in the end. The real sins are within: envy, hatred, wrath, and so on. Many who pride themselves on punctilious rightness in observing the external rules fall deeply foul of wallowing in the more deadly sins of the heart and mind.

plsdeacon said...

Since this thread is not about the blessing same sex unions, I won't discuss them here. In other threads I will.

I use the term "homoerotic" to denote sexual relationships between two people of the same sex. I find it easier to type than "sexual relationship between two people of the same sex." I do not use the term to insult or harass. Do you have another term you would prefer me to use?

Phil Snyder

Grandmère Mimi said...

Phil, same-sex relationship works for me.

MarkBrunson said...

The basic confusion is that this has never been about mere sex.

The simple facts - as opposed to theological speculation or Bible-story "proofs" - is that the so-called traditional teachings on homosexuality are deadly. The facts on the ground, the daily reality, is that these teachings, when embraced, result in no good whatsoever - those who are convinced it is "just a phase" and go on to marry someone of the opposite sex, who they then proceed to trap in as miserable a life as they've built for themselves; those who are convinced that God cannot love them, so that they mutilate themselves, kill themselves, turn from God and humankind in bitterness and despair, or throw themselves into the sort of lifestyle held up as proof of the "deadly" nature of the homosexual "lifestyle" - after all, why take care of yourself, seek to live a conscious and conscientious life, and be responsible and healthy when you won't be accepted, anyway?

This is the REALITY of the orthodite teaching on sexuality. It is the true culture of death, and provides no - absolutely no - proof that it works, is based in reality, or has any value whatsoever.

The real-life results of their teaching also is to arrogate to themselves a level of comprehension of God that no human being in their right mind could possibly claim. How can anyone take seriously someone who can tell them, in all sincerity, "You don't know anything at all about yourself, your relationship with God, your body, your mind or your life history. You are insane to your very soul! However, I've read this book and studied this theology, so, even though I've never met you, and neither have the people who wrote either the book or the theology, I know you completely and what's best for you!"? Why are we even having a conversation about who's in the wrong in this case?

Anonymous said...


Forgive me if I misread you. I've been dead tired, and I'm sure it's more than possible. But please watch the rhetoric. Neither you nor I know each other well enough to say the other does anything "perversely."

Judging from your positions on social issues, your blog topics, your colleagues, and your stated hermeneutic, I can't see how anyone would not evaluate you as generally liberal. I had no idea you would not identify yourself in such manner. I realize you have some conservative tendencies, that you actually opposed the candidacy of Kevin Thew Forrester, for example.

I completely understand your reaction to my calling your position one of laxity. I should have chosen my words more carefully. But understand, Tobias, that bringing homosexuality under the same rules of chastity as heterosexual relationships is not a conservative position until you have proven that they basically are the same in the eyes of God, and thus should be treated the same. (No conservative I know would construe your position as a conservative one. I haven't read your whole argument, so I don't know how far you go towards proving the required sameness. I will keep an open mind. Don't expect me to see you as a "rigorist" in the meantime.)

And if you would, please explain to me how you can compare one side to a.) the circumcision party, b.) Victorian prudery, c.) Amish fashions, and d.) sabbatarianism and still not be inferring right from wrong?

By the way, I have seen many people change from progressive positions to traditional values. Those who undergo religious conversions often change their convictions wholesale. Some people change when their economic situation changes. Others do so when they become parents. I think you are correct that the general trend--all things being equal--is toward greater humanism, and thus progressivism. But part of our duty, as Christians, is to buck the trend toward humanism and encourage a different sort of progressivism, one informed by biblical parameters.

One final salvo and I'll be done. The "Spirit of Christ" certainly can include novelty and creativity, but it is marked as well by reliability and consistency. We all need to learn to balance those out whenever discerning where the winds are blowing. Jesus is the Alpha AND the Omega. In one sense, he is as conservative as it is possible to get, and in another, far outstrips our ability to to even dream of progressing.



Anonymous said...

Just curious as to whether this represents a change in your thinking:

4.1. "Until a wider consensus is achieved on the rightness of blessing same-sex relationships in an ecclesiastical setting, The Episcopal Church not proceed with the development of a liturgical rite, or its authorization."

--Tobias Haller (2/26/07)

"That this involves liturgy is inherent in the issue at hand, which is about marriage and blessing—very odd it would be indeed if liturgies were not to be collected, developed, and studied, as this is how liturgical theology works."

--Tobias Haller (7/19/09)

Take care,


Erika Baker said...

"But understand, Tobias, that bringing homosexuality under the same rules of chastity as heterosexual relationships is not a conservative position until you have proven that they basically are the same in the eyes of God, and thus should be treated the same."

If I may - this is getting a little tedious. You keep challenging Tobias on issues he has answered comprehensively in his book.
You haven't had time to read it, that's fine. But how about you continue this conversation when you have and when you are in a position to make more appropriate comments?

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Dear Peshat,

You have misread me and I do forgive you. Perhaps your tiredness explains. I used the word "perversely" as you appear to be an intelligent person and I am puzzled at your continued misunderstandings. Perhaps you read with too much of a hermeneutic of suspicion or a generalized belief that you understand what I'm saying or have said based on arguments of some who you think share my conclusions.

For instance, What do you actually know of my "positions on social issues" apart from the one issue of same-sex marriage. My "stated hermeneutic" is the classical Anglican hermeneutic, informed by St Augustine: Liberal perhaps in comparison to fundamentalism or inerrancy, but not generally considered liberal within Anglicanism. My opposition to KTF is characteristic of my point of view rather than anomalous. As to whether I have framed my argument to "bring homosexuality under the same rules of chastity as heterosexual relationships" -- I'm happy to say that reviewers (some still unpublished but shared privately) who have read my book see it as doing exactly that, from a conservative and biblical perspective. As Erika suggests, perhaps you might see that once you have read it. But you will have to set aside your obvious prejudice that such an argument is impossible.

A second illustration: you won't accept that I'm not talking about right and wrong when I say so. (I was brought up not to contradict people when they try to explain what they mean, with a "But you _said..._" Part of communication involves clarification, but clarifications being given they should be accepted. In the examples you cite, I wasn't talking about right and wrong but about rigorism's tendency to form sectarian rather than dominant structures. To take your list, I think the circumcision party was wrong (although they had scripture and tradition on their side) and Victorian prudishness was wrong (nakedness in itself not being a moral wrong); but the Amish I think are right -- at least for themselves, and I don't think they would force their fashions on "the English"; and the failure to observe the Sabbath is, to my mind, a great detriment to the life of the church in our time as well as a contributor to the collapse of family life; though I have little hope for revival of Blue Laws.

A third and final illustration --- you bring up something I wrote 2 1/2 years ago completely out of context, and you miss the point I was making back then. The advice I gave back in 2007 was about the church developing an official rite; in the present article I am referring to a decision made last week, the "developing" part of which (if it refers to the national level) I would still say is a mistake, if that is what it means. It was against such national development that I was writing in 2007. I continue to advise against it. I think it better to allow liturgies to develop on the local level and have those liturgies gathered and studied (which is within a possible interpretation of the resolution; if that is how it is taken I do not oppose it.) However, the context of my comment in _this_ article was about the absurdity of calling for further theological study apart from liturgies, since ultimately it is a liturgy we are talking about.

So, in short, on three significant points you have misread what I am saying. Misunderstandings happen all the time, but when they pile up with this level of frequency I am at a loss as to how to respond. I can only suggest that you read with greater care and set aside some of the assumptions you obviously have about my opinions so that you might perhaps come better to understand what my opinions actually are. That would make for a much more enjoyable dialogue and save us both the annoyance of talking at cross purposes.


Caminante said...

'Sorry, though, to hear of Jake's fate in the cutbacks, which have struck James as well (after 23 years on the staff).'

I am so, so sorry to hear this. I don't know why but I was afraid he might be affected. I am sorry for him, for you... and argh, he was the one coordinating all the information on the covenant partners (Mexico, IARCA, Liberia, et. al.) and who now is going to do it???

Anonymous said...


For my own part, I was not really to the point of "reading" so am unsure how I could "misread." To the extent that I have, I again apologize.

You don't often articulate particulars concerning your positions on social issues. You are in print as being pro-choice, and there is a distinct impression given of being in favor of women's rights and gay rights in general (not just SSM). You also think certain human rights trump the First Amendment right to freedom of religion. Plus, I take it you voted for Obama. Most people would deem that enough evidence to paint you as basically liberal on social issues. Heck, I take pretty liberal stances on welfare, affirmative action, gun control, capital punishment, and the environment. Are you ashamed of progressive positions? (I am pro-life on abortion and euthanasia, but am so because I see them as a good deal more progressive than their alternatives.)

I'll take up your hermeneutic at length when I have the time. Let me clear up one matter first, however, and this is just my own personal stance:

Everyone who grants any authority whatever to the Word of God written...if they agree that in some sense it is sacred Scripture...allows for some amount of limited inerrancy. No one I have ever met actually, consistently holds to plenary verbal inspiration. (At the very least, most fundamentalists read the unambiguous Greek word for "wine" and translate it as "grape juice.") The mainstream Evangelical "Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy" denies "that inerrancy is negated by biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations."

There all kinds of gradients of inerrancy, and you hold to one of them. Which one we may in future attempt to determine. I'm not sure exactly where I fit on the spectrum, but I find it "tedious" (to use Erika's term) when people dismiss out of hand theologians who work under a rubric of inerrancy. It is a distinctly American phenomenon. It does not happen in the U.K.

As for seeing the point of the thesis of your book...I think it stands to reason that I'm probably not going to be convinced before I ever start to read. That's not arrogance or intransigence--it's not an indication I have an axe to grind--it's merely a description of my starting point. And for what it's worth, I have never seen your task as impossible...just extremely difficult. You're going up against a well established tenet of the faith. Would you honestly respect me as a serious student of Scripture if I thought ahead of time that overthrowing tradition would be "a piece of cake"?


Anonymous said...


You were brought up never to second guess others' descriptions of their own positions. That's right noble. I can respect that. I brought myself up—I can't really blame anybody— to find the truth at all costs (while attempting to be nice about it, of course). People don't always know their own state of mind, their own motivations, or how their expressions come across to others. Sometimes people know you better than you know yourself. Sometimes they know what's good for you better than you know it. Part of the purpose of communication is to be challenged in one's thinking and to discover how efficiently one has expressed him or herself.

If you would like, I will gladly take you at your word and move on. But even now when I read what you had to say, it strikes me that you intended to be negative toward "traditionalists" and to proclaim the conviction that your stance was right (and by inference theirs was wrong). There's no shame in that.

Perhaps mine was not a good argument, but thus far you have not addressed it. I do believe there are plenty of "rigorist' movements that have indeed been dominant (if that's how you want to put it). Almost all of our current Protestant denominations began as rigorists of a sort: Lutherans, Anglicans, and the Reformed churches coming out of the Reformation. Baptists and Presbyterian as non-conformists and the Methodists as pietists breaking off from the Church of England. Instead of fading, each has become steadily more progressive. (And I wonder if the seeds of assimilation are not also within the ranks of the current schism. I know that at least the AMiA plays around quite a bit with the emergent movement [Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Phyllis Tickle] and are also associated with the Church Army from the U.K. [whose titular head is Desmond Tutu]. For a group that wants nothing to do with the notion of gay inclusion, they're not exactly acting like it.) My guess is that gradual assimilation into progressivism will be more of a problem for the ACNA than any internal squabbles between Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals.

I, too, have a soft spot in my heart for sabbatarianism. I have seen it practiced, and it seems a strongly effective spiritual discipline. But I'm not at all sure I buy that you included them because you had a soft spot in your heart for exclusivist "traditionalists."

As for my question as to whether you had changed your mind concerning the development of liturgies for same-sex blessings...IT WAS A QUESTION!
No more, no less, no hidden agenda, no "gotcha" moment, no nothing untoward at all. How on earth can I "misread" you by asking a question? And how on earth can I take something "out of context" that's printed for all to see on your blog? You are well aware of the context. I am well aware of the context. Sounds to me like the context was well covered. (By the way, thank you very much for your clarification. That's all I was after!)

I think maybe--just maybe--you have misread me !! (That's ok. It happens.)

Seriously, I don't care one whit, this time or any other time (or repeatedly for that matter) whether we miscommunicate. I don't care to lay blame. I only care to continue the listening process until the tangle works itself out.

And that’s a fact!


Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Peshat, I really don't have the time to continue this meta-discussion about the discussion. Suffice it to say it remains clear to me that you continue to misunderstand and mischaracterize what I've said. For instance, I would never characterize myself as "pro-choice" because that term has implications I find unacceptable. So it depends on what you mean by it.

I appreciate your comment on inerrancy, though I find the Chicago position logically absurd as it essentially says, "Scripture is without error except in those cases where it is in error." As to nature,If it cannot speak rightly of the things of this world, which can be seen, why should we expect it to be correct about that which cannot be seen?

I will address your "argument" which was neither good nor to the point. The "rigorist" movements you describe only survived in any dominant position by ceasing to be rigorist. I think that is in part what I was saying. Perhaps had I used the example of monastic life you would have grasped that I have no negative judgment towards rigorism per se, but was merely speaking to the reality of the life-cycle of institutions. The more austere monastic communities tend to be smaller and "tighter" -- they may endure for a long time, but they do not tend to become popular or dominant, though they have their moments on the stage.

But your continued insistence that I don't mean what I say, or don't rightly understand what I'm saying, is merely insulting at this point (Do you really think I'm against Orthodox Judaism?) and renders further conversation unprofitable.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough, Tobias.

There was absolutely no desire on my part to insult.


JCF said...

an openly gay man...known to be sexually active...Gene Robinson


This infuriates me, Phil! >:-0

We do NOT know Gene Robinson "to be sexually active". He has NEVER stated himself to be so, as such.

Gene Robinson and Mark Andrew are spouses, Yes.

But how ANY two spouses express their intimacy---unless they tell us---is none of our business and should NEVER be assumed (presumed).

I know that you can't accept that +Gene and Mark are married. OK.

But can you at least accept that these are two persons who made PROMISES to each other, and RESPECT those promises enough to not go intruding on their privacy w/ offensive, prurient phrases like "sexually active"? Criminey!