November 15, 2011

Anglican Disunion: The Issues Behind “the Issue”


A talk to the Albany Via Media Annual Meeting
St George’s Church, Schenectady, November 12, 2011
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Introduction

I’m delighted to be here, and the first thing I want to do is bring you greetings from “your sister who is in Pittsburgh” — the Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh, that is. Lionel Deimel asked me to bring that greeting, and I’m very happy to do so. You are not alone in this great church of ours, in being in a minority in a situation where patience and endurance, just as in the opening chapters of Revelation, is called for.

My plan is to speak somewhat formally at first and then break into a more informal discussion. My theme is Anglican Disunion: the Issues behind “the Issue.”

And I want to begin, as an historian, to ask, Was there ever union? What do we mean by unity as opposed to uniformity? I do believe we have a very deep union in the church, and I’ll be getting to that in my talk. But there is clearly a good deal of disunion on the surface of Anglicanism.

So let me start by asking, What is this thing called “Anglicanism”? Is there such a thing as “the Anglican Church”? What do we have in common with the other parts of the Anglican Communion? The old joke was, “The BCP and Wippell’s.” But there is no more common Book of “Common” Prayer throughout the communion, and Almy’s competes with Wippell’s...

We have the bonds of affection — but just how affectionate have they been in recent years?

So what do we have in common besides our genetic heritage as descendants of the Church of England (and let’s not forget our godmother, the Scottish Episcopal Church), with other siblings and our own offspring around the world? (While we’re not forgetting, let’s not forget that it was The Episcopal Church that is responsible for founding most of the Anglican provinces in Central and South America and much of the Pacific, and even Liberia in Africa). A number of these are now independent Provinces of the Anglican Communion, such as the Philippines, Brazil, and Mexico; but others are still part of TEC — Haiti still being part of our own Province II!

Let me first say a word or two about where I don’t think we find our identity. And that, ironically, is in the very “Instruments of Communion” which the Proposed Anglican Covenant appears to wish to install at the center of our ecclesiastical life.

The Windsor Report called them “instruments of unity,” which is not a little blasphemous since our unity is in Christ. But those instruments don’t in any case seem to have had the effect of improving unity. The four are the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Primates’ Meeting. These are all relatively recent entities not only in Christianity but even among Anglicans.

Obviously the Archbishop of Canterbury has been around since the late sixth century, But the office only began to function as anything like a voice in a “communion” with the beginnings of that “communion” when the Episcopal Church became an independent entity in 1785-89. Canterbury’s role at the time was to offer an unenthusiastic critique of movements in the formation of the American church (and I don’t mean just tinkering with liturgy but dropping two out of three Creeds and editing the third)— and the suggestions Canterbury made were not entirely accepted. (The Athanasian Creed didn’t make it back into our BCP until 1979!) Nonetheless, Canterbury, York, and Bath and Wells obtained the guarded permission of Parliament to extend the episcopate to us former rebels, only on the condition that neither the first bishops they ordained (White and Provoost), nor anyone they ordained (nor anyone ordained by anyone ordained by them) would ever minister within His Majesty’s dominions. So much for Canterbury being “in communion” with the nascent Episcopal Church. As Bishop Pierre Whalon points out in an excellent article in the ATR, for the first 80 years of TEC’s life, we were treated with benign neglect by Canterbury.

It was not until 1867 that the first Lambeth Conference was called, largely to deal with problems in the by then much more widely dispersed collection of provinces in the Anglican family. It was a full century after that, in 1968, that the Anglican Consultative Council, a representative body including for the first time laity and clergy as well as bishops, was created. Ten years later, in 1978, the Primates of the Communion gathered for the first time as a separate body.

Obviously these entities can hardly be held to be either “foundational” or “essential” or “definitional” of what it means to be the Anglican Communion, which appears to have gotten on well enough without them for much of its life. Yet since the Windsor Report they have loomed rather larger in the picture. And the pressure towards a single unified body has taken form in the Proposed Anglican Covenant.

I don’t want to get bogged down in the Covenant discussion — though I’d be happy to make it part of our open discussion. What I’d rather do is attempt to focus on some of the things that I do underlie what unites the Anglican Communion and our identity as Anglicans.

I’m sure you are familiar with the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral: the statement of four doctrinal and ecclesiological principles that chart out the boundaries for dialogue between churches wishing to join in closer common purpose and mission. The Quadrilateral thus describes the essentials, from an Anglican perspective, for church union or reunion.

I would like to suggest that alongside the familiar Quadrilateral we consider another structure that for want of a better term I’ve called the Anglican Triad (with apologies to those who use this term for what is often known, incorrectly, as “Hooker’s Three-Legged Stool.”) This Triad consists of three elements which I think are particularly characteristic of Anglicanism — not necessarily unique to it, but together constituting a unity which I fear is at present very much under assault.

For shorthand I will call these three elements Humility, Provinciality, and Variety. They stand in the via media between Humiliation, Provincialism, and Chaos at one extreme, and Pride, Centralism and Uniformity at the other. All three are well attested in foundational documents of the “Anglican Way.” (The Articles of Religion, the Prefaces to the English and American Books of Common Prayer) and in the work of those who first focused the Anglican vision, such as Richard Hooker. I’ll limit my citations to the Articles of Religion. (They are in the BCP, and I’ve always thought it good of the church to provide us with something to peruse during a boring sermon, if only to remind us that there are things more boring than sermons!)

1. Humility

“The church... hath erred.”(19, 21)

The admission that the church makes mistakes is profoundly revealing of the nature of the church we understand ourselves to be part of. It reflects the Pauline judgment that “our knowledge is partial” — that we “see as in a glass, darkly”; and it asserts an attitude of faith and hope — and one hopes, love — rather than of certainty and judgment. This admission of uncertainty renders all but the most fundamental dogmatic matters to some extent provisional. Understood in this way, Humility is not a weakness, but a strength. It stands midway between abject humiliation and overweening pride.

This acknowledgment that the church makes mistakes is followed by a corollary: mistakes can (and should) be corrected. The church is not trapped within an immutable legal structure such as that attributed to the Medes and Persians. This is why Anglicanism can embrace and advance the development of doctrine and moral theology. We are not stuck, because we can admit that we’ve gotten it wrong, and move on. This does not mean that every development will necessarily be correct — as the principle notes, the church makes mistakes, even as it changes. But the ability to admit to mistakes is the first step in correcting them. (Those familiar with 12-Step programs will at this point I hope recognize a resonance with the Serenity Prayer.) It is very easy for the church to become addicted to the need to control, the need to have a final answer, especially to control others through the claim of unassailable infallibility of judgment — to which Humility is a counterpoise and corrective.)

Humility stands as a meek (which does not mean “weak”) witness against domination by so-called consensus. As the Articles (21) testify, since individual human beings may err, there is no guarantee that an assembly of such errant beings will not also err. Humility points out that even an overwhelming consensus can be quite profoundly mistaken — Galileo can testify to that! So consensus in itself cannot form a term in an argument when a given proposition is being reexamined: to suggest that something must be true either because “we’ve always believed this to be true” or because“everyone says so” is simply a form of logical fallacy — for the truth of a proposition is established neither by being long held or popular: the church can err.

Consensus, after all, means a “common mind with little or no opposition” — so the moment opposition — a new questioning, a new challenge — appears, consensus ceases to exist, and the new proposal must be examined on its own merits against the possible errancy of the formerly unchallenged position. (This is, by the way, why Hooker rejected tradition as an authority in and of itself. He was wise to know that many errors have long lives.)

Anglicanism thus humbly rejects concepts of inerrancy and infallibility; for itself as well as for others. Even the Scripture is not held to either such standard, but is “sufficient” for the end for which it was intended: salvation (6). Human understanding, even of the Scripture, is likely to be fallible as well. And so our human understanding of the sacred texts is subject to a constant review, constant reexamination, as the church bears its responsibility as the “keeper of Holy Writ.”(19)

Humility also stands as a warning against the tendency to adopt unanimous statements for the purpose of apparent unity, in spite of real disagreement with one or more parts of the adopted document. This sort of curate’s-eggery produces the appearance of agreement that cloaks with a light whitewash the underlying division. Better humbly to acknowledge the division of opinion, as the collect for the feast of Richard Hooker puts it, seeking “comprehension for the sake of truth” rather than “compromise for the sake of peace.” For as solutions such as Lambeth 1998.1.10 and the Primates’ Communiqué from Dromantine showed us, such peace will be no peace, as different people then go off with their own interpretations of what was said or meant, but which in theory all agreed to. It may well be that the current Proposed Anglican Covenant is simply the latest in half-baked or watered-down solutions on offer — solutions for problems that don’t exist.

2. Provinciality

“The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this Realm of England.” (37)

Few things could be clearer than that the Church of England reasserted its ecclesiastical independence from Rome at the Reformation. It thought itself free and competent to do this, and believed it was returning to an ancient principle that had been more successfully preserved among the Eastern churches than it had in the West: the basic unit of the church is the national church or province.

It is sometimes said — it may be said in Albany; I don’t know... You will have to tell me! — that the diocese is the basic unit of the church. However, a diocese cannot be self-sustaining in terms of the essential thing that makes it a diocese, the requisite episcopate; it requires the participation of at least two bishops from other dioceses in order to continue to be a diocese with a bishop, in order to maintain its existence even at the basic level of ordination. In TEC polity even more is required: no diocese can obtain a bishop without the express approval of the majority of those already diocesan bishops, and of the lay and clergy leadership of a majority of all of the other dioceses, either acting through their standing committees or at General Convention. Can you imagine the outcry in our civil government if it were to be required that the governors and legislatures of a majority of all of the other states had to approve the election of a governor in any given state? So much for the claims that the polity of The Episcopal Church resembles Federal polity of the United States! No, the diocese is not the basic unit of the church. It is an organ in the body of the province, and cannot subsist on its own; it depends upon the province for its continued existence as a diocese.)

Some have lately taken to claiming that the idea of a “national church” is somehow novel. However, this understanding of the structure of church governance goes back to the earliest days of Christendom: to whom, after all, were those letters written in the opening chapters of Revelation: to Ephesus, Sardis, and Philadelphia and so on. True, these were city-states, rather than nations in our modern sense — but in the post-Apostolic era it was into national churches that they evolved, and so remained in the East, while in the West things took a different course, as the church fell under a too close alliance with the faded glory that was Rome. Even at that, the myth of Roman supremacy was largely that — a myth — and even in Italy the church of Milan maintained much independence for many years, to say nothing of the churches in Northern Europe and England, where the debates over who was in charge had raged for centuries prior to the tempests raised by Henry VIII’s dynastic dilemma.

In any case, from the days of the declaration of English liberation from the Roman yoke, Anglicanism became marked by this characteristic notion of national churchdom. On our shores this understanding was so well ingrained in our collective psyches that, as the preface to the 1789 Book of Common Prayer puts it “When… these American states became independent with respect to civil government, their ecclesiastical independence was necessarily included.” This attitude carried over to the time of the Civil War, when the leaders in the South felt that they had to form the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America, while in the North those who supported the Union had to pretend that no such thing had happened, and kept calling the role and listing the bishops and deputies merely as absent from sessions of General Convention. And at the end of the war, everything was neatly folded back, and everyone acted as if nothing had happened. The one bishop elected in the Confederate States was simply welcomed into the House of Bishops, no questions asked.

So much for the historical background to this concept of a national church. In practice, Anglican Provinciality is expressed through the concept of provincial autonomy. A significant element of our state of “disunion” is brought about because of this. We are now a very large collection of autonomous provinces, with independent churches now part of nations with very different histories, and very different cultures — as I’ll get to in our informal discussion. The world, and the communion, is very different to what it was in the mid-19th century, when every face at Lambeth was white. The world and the communion have fundamentally changed, and all of those cultural differences that were subsumed by colonial or missionary dioceses, are now finding their voice in independent churches — and this comes to a head when the bishops gather at Lambeth or any other setting. They bring their nationhood with them.

Now, autonomy has gotten a bad name in some circles recently. Autonomy should be understood not in terms of not wanting to have anything to do with anyone else, but rather in terms of the rights, powers and responsibilities exercised within and for a national church in terms of its ability to govern itself. It relates to the concept of subsidiarity: things should be done at a higher or more central level only when they cannot be accomplished more locally. Thus priests are ordained by the diocese for the parish; bishops by the province for the diocese; all governed at a national level by canons which leave a good deal in the particulars to the local structures.

Above all, autonomy, properly understood and exercised, is not the enemy of fellowship. It is, I believe, its precondition: for only the mature and independent can choose voluntarily to enter into truly adult relationships of interdependence and truly mutual submission. You have to be truly confident in yourself in order to have a deep relationship with other selves. You need a clear sense of who you are if you are to give yourself to someone else. Otherwise we get into dependence or codependency, or at its worst, tyranny or lordship of one over another, or many over a few.

Provincial autonomy is tempered by Humility, in that while each province asserts that it is fully the church, yet it does not assert itself as the only church. Rather than a “Branch” theory, this represents a more holographic understanding of the nature of the church’s fullness: the church is complete within each province, as Christ is fully present in every Eucharistic celebration, and in each fragment of the broken Bread — and yet there are not many Christs, but one. The external divisions between Christian churches insofar as they may lead to mutual non-recognition, constitute a scandal in that they impede the mission and work of Christ, and a failure to recognize that we do indeed share one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism; but it is not necessary that there be single world-church institutional structure take the place of a fellowship of independent and self-governing provinces. Instead of a human-instituted system of authoritative government, the provinces are called to a work of service and mission, together, in the recognition that the church is already “One” through its faithful response to the dominical command to baptize all nations. It is to be hoped that Christians may one day recognize this baptismal unity, and remove the various obstacles they have set in place that prevent our sharing in the one Bread at one Table. This unity in the two dominical Sacraments forms an essential element of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. If we could find unity in those, any institutional church structure would be for the purpose of mission, not identity.

Humility and Provinciality taken together reveal the process by which development in doctrine is both possible and limited within the Anglican Communion. This is both a possibility for change and a safeguard against error. Cardinal Newman came to believe that development of doctrine could only take place under the watchful eye of the Bishop of Rome. Anglicanism broadens the scope for the source of innovation and correction to the whole communion, the various national churches themselves being the determiners of what and how things are to change or remain the same: each determining for itself those matters that concern it. If I can offer an analogy: the RC Magisterium is like a boarding house where you eat what is set before you or go hungry; any change in the menu is purely up to the kitchen. The Anglican approach is more like a restaurant with a finite but various menu from which to choose; and the fact that I like mushrooms and you like asparagus should not keep us from eating at the same table.

An even better analogy might be to say that Anglicanism is like the parish pot luck supper in which each brings a dish in which all can share — but I can politely avoid the Jell-O mold you brought while you can forego my oxtail stew. Yet all are fed in one fellowship.

Provinciality means that changes and developments may be made within a province and need have no effect upon the governance of any other province. One example of this was the decision of the Episcopal Church to move forward with the ordination of women to the episcopate. No other province was forced to recognize or approve this decision, and it had no impact on the governance, rights, privileges, or responsibilities of any other province. As time passed, other provinces chose to adopt — or not adopt — this innovation: this is the process of reception, and it is not complete even now: there is at present no Anglican consensus on the rightness (or the wrongness) of the ordination of women to the episcopate. In the meantime any difficulties that may arise — such as the inability to license a visiting woman bishop to function as such in a province that does not [yet] ordain women to the episcopate (such as England), or to license or transfer clergy ordained by a woman bishop — are readily dealt with by the canonical provisions already in place within each of the provinces; it is a matter of record keeping that need engender any ill will or severance of communion, even if in the particular case it may mean our Presiding Bishop not being allowed to wear a miter in one or another church.

The principle, What touches all shall be decided by all, comes to play under the rubric of Provinciality. The Windsor report misapplies this concept, so I want to say a word on it. “Touches” does not mean, “having an opinion about” or “creating a situation which might lead to difficulties with a third party.” “Touches” means having a direct effect upon ones rights and privileges. The legal principle, Quod omens tanget, as the 16th century political philosopher Johannes Althusius clarified in early modern terms, is about rights, privileges and authorities of each province that can only be restricted by each province’s individual consent to the restriction. Thus, Lambeth 1998.1.10.e would have overstepped its bounds if it were anything more than the advisory recommendation that it is — a fact we tend to forget, since people treat it as if it were a rule laid down — since it would place a restriction on the right of provinces to ordain and bless whom they choose — and these are rights pertaining to each province that must be explicitly foregone by each, and which cannot be taken away even by all of the other provinces combined. All, save even one, is not all, and what touches all must be decided by all.

Provinciality thus provides a balance and a means to implement development in conjunction with Humility: it allows innovations to be tested locally before anyone else considers implementing them in their own locale; and there is no provision for them being globally mandated until all agree — at which point, of course, no mandate is needed as agreement has been arrived at by an organic process of reception. This is, of course, how the church has generally functioned through the ages. One could note, for example, that the adoption of vernacular liturgy by various national churches at the Reformation finally after several centuries had impact upon the very Roman Catholic Church that so bitterly opposed the development.

Going further back in history, the emergence of the Gentile church began in isolated communities, and it took some while — even after the conference of the Apostles in Jerusalem — for the church more widely to accept this innovation that non-Jews could be saved through Baptism. “What about circumcision? Scripture says you have to be circumcised!” There were some who held to that, until they became a tiny minority that faded away, as the church moved on.

After the collapse of an old consensus due to the action of the church in one place or a few places, a significant period of reception will be necessary before a new consensus is established. Ultimately, this movement from particular to universal is reflective of the Incarnation itself. Jesus was born in a particular place, at a particular time — he entered into human history in one spot, and yet that birth echoes to the edge of the cosmos and has filled the whole world. Things happen someplace before they can happen in every place.

3. Variety

“Every particular or national Church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish Ceremonies or Rites of the Church ordained only by man’s authority.”
(36)

This is where we confront the issue of disunity most directly. It must be admitted that Anglicanism has always experienced tension between uniformity and variety. However, as another example of the importance of Provinciality, this citation from the Articles demonstrates (and a reading of the Preface to the 1549 BCP will support) that the concern is for uniformity within a national church, and permits variety between or among them. Everyone in a church is to use its BCP, but the BCP in America — extensively modified when we became an independent church, even to the extent of modifying the Creed (and those of you old enough to remember the 1928 BCP will recall that little rubric that allows different wording for “he descended into hell” — that was one of the bones of contention with Canterbury back in the 1780s.)

It has also to be acknowledged that among the “issues” currently causing distress in the communion there loom two that concern rites and ceremonies: in particular ordination and marriage, neither of which, as the Articles say, “have any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God” (25), and so appear to fall within the rubric of permitted change. (This is an edgy argument, but I stand by it.) It will quickly be pointed out, however, that the limit on Variety in this regard is set by “God’s Word written”(20, 36).Some contend that the present innovations have crossed that boundary.

The question though is, Who is to make that determination if not the national church? If the rites and ceremonies in question concern only a given province and its governance — for under Provinciality, any other province is free to reject or refuse these rites and ceremonies, in principle or in the persons of those who take part in them — as indeed they do — then as with all such matters the error is limited to the province which has erred in the opinion of the others. No one else need by “touched” by these errors. Are rites and ceremonies — even if errant — matters over which to break communion — as a number of provinces have done, not just with the individuals immediately representing the innovations, but with any who even approve of them? It was no big surprise, after all, that Gene Robinson was not invited to Lambeth. But need the churches divide over this issue? If he is the problem, don’t invite him to the party. He understands; he is a grown-up who knows he is a controversial figure, and he won’t crash the party and grab a seat. In fact, he knows he scores more points being outside!)

Are these matters over which to shun Christ’s table, as some have done, when the Primates gathered and some would not share with Frank Griswold because of what he represented for having ordained Gene Robinson? How many degrees of separation do you have to have from the “error” in order to be “clean.” I believe these are not things to be divided about — not here, not at this Table. I hope that there is yet time for those who have walked apart from Christ’s open embrace and invitation to “take and eat” with their fellow Christians, to reconsider their breach of communion.

Ironically, even the Windsor Report — which has given rise to so much talk of “restraint” — suggests this very openness to Variety, to variation. It did this in part by bidding a moratorium on the ordination of bishops who live in same-sex unions until a greater consensus on the appropriateness of such a manner of life can be reached, and also in part by asking for further exploration of how this might be consistent with the traditional understanding of bishops as moral exemplars to the flock of Christ.

This leaves the door open for such developments — it did not say, “no how, no way, you’re wrong, go away” — it said, “could you please hold off on this while we discuss it further.” That leaves the door open for development; after all, a moratorium is by its own standards a temporary restraint rather than an outright prohibition — Windsor thus reveals that this is not a matter of fixed and immutable doctrine. One could scarcely imagine the church issuing a document calling for further study of the Incarnation while we waited to see how things come out, for example. Windsor therefore revealed that the “issues” of same-sex blessings and the ordination of bishops in such relationships, while in its view inadvisable, is not a matter of final doctrine: the old consensus is no more, even if a new one has not yet emerged. (143)

The difficulty with the moratoria is that they require a de facto acceptance of an “as if” — as if a consensus actually exists, but which in fact no longer exists, and submission to an authority that has yet to establish either its legitimacy or its trustworthiness.

For instance, the Windsor Report stated (127) that the “Communion has made its collective position clear” when actually only Lambeth and the Primates and the bishops of a number of Provinces had spoken. The “communion” had not made its position clear, because the “communion” has no means to do so. This set up an illegitimate and arrogant (in the strictest sense of the word) assertion. It is, after all, one thing for a club to enforce rules that all its members have actually agreed to; but it is quite another for gatherings of bishops meeting in bodies which specifically and historically state they have no power to legislate on matters of doctrine suddenly to begin to do exactly that, calling for obedience to a constitution that does not now and never has existed. This is not consensus.

When we more closely review the history of Lambeth’s positions on sexual morality, a clear pattern emerges. Three such issues have come before Lambeth over the years (marriage after divorce, birth-control, and polygamy), and on all three Lambeth first upheld but later reversed or radically amended its recommendations as the consensus changed. I invite you sometime to look up the 1908 Lambeth resolution on birth control, and the report prepared by the committee studying it, to see how adamantly opposed the bishops were to any suggestion that this practice of what the report called “preventative abortion” should be permitted. This position was modified in 1930 and by 1950 Lambeth not only said the pope was wrong but that birth control was good and should be used in some circumstances.

So for the present, one might ask, is this Lambeth walk really necessary? Do we trust that the bus-driver knows where we are going? Who hired this bus-driver? Is there even a bus? Isn’t it rather pointless and divisive to continue to draw line after line in the sand that time and tide will only wash away? Why not just allow the organic process to work rather than freezing a moment in time that incarnates the very things that divide us, that perpetuates our disagreements as permanently disagreeable?

Ultimately the burden of proof (as the Articles of Religion require) lies upon those who wish to make strict adherence to this one aspect of traditional sexual morality a matter of salvation. Although they may have at least one strand of the tradition on their side, those same Articles point out, as I noted, that tradition is often in error. At the same time, contemporary biblical scholarship is clearly tending towards limiting the scope of the negative judgments on same-sex acts to the same range of relationships and circumstances as mixed-sex acts: infidelity, abuse, rape and idolatry. The “reasserters”(as they call themselves) deny this. But they must do more than simply reassert, they have to address the arguments, and to date they have been unable to make their case— and it is the responsibility of the “prosecution” to do so. The “defense” need only demonstrate a reasonable doubt and show, as Windsor put it, that “...what is now proposed not only accords with but actually enhances the central core of the Church’s faith.” (WR 60) As I have argued in my own work on the subject, fidelity is a moral value, gender is not.

When it comes to offering an explanation in defense of this manner of life, since there are an unknown but real number of Anglican bishops living in same-sex relationships (all but less than a handful of them surreptitiously), and they are all serving (or retired from having served) as exemplars to the flock of Christ, isn’t that sufficient evidence of the rightness of their lives and a better proof than further merely theological debate on an issue which seems to have precious little theology to back it up? Do not the gifts of the Spirit count for anything? Do not actions speak louder than words? They were enough to convince Peter, and through him the church, that Gentiles were worthy of salvation.

And when John’s disciples sent to know if Christ was the expected One, he did not offer them a reasoned point-by-point from scripture, but rather he offered them himself and his acts — the acts of liberation from blindness, brokenness, and death. He ended with those telling words, “Blessed are those who take no offense in me!” (Luke 7:19-23)

I have, as you know from my bio, done a good bit of study on the subject of same-sexuality (the “issue” behind the issues, and over and under and beside the issues) — in particular as it relates to ordination and marriage — and how it can be addressed within a biblical, reasonable, and traditional framework; that it need not be seen as an unscriptural and unbearable innovation.

But matters are proceeding apace. The world is changing. The Global South objected to the consecration of a gay bishop with a partner, but Gene Robinson is no longer alone in that category even in the US House of Bishops (If he ever really was...). They objected to the idea of bestowing a blessing on a same-sex couple, and yet now in many states of this Union, including our own, the church is not only bestowing its blessing, but either seriously considering or already solemnizing the civil status of marriage.

In short, the process of organic development is afoot, it is not going to stop, and reception is or isn’t happening as I speak. In the meantime, the mainstream via media of the Episcopal Church is steadily reasserting our understanding of our authority to vary— to live out the variety of rites in our own context, which is very different from that in much of the Global South. As I learned intimately and personally at the conversation I attended in South Africa just a few weeks ago. The people in those places represented at that conference are free to maintain their various rules and traditions, suitable as they are for their contexts. I will say more in the open discussion about the extent to which the friction between the North and South has been exacerbated by misunderstanding and misinformation. But it is my sincere hope that corrections to those misunderstandings, and better information, through the mandated listening process and the Continuing Indaba — in both of which I have been involved — will assist to lessen the friction and perhaps even help calm the storms that have swept through our beloved Anglican Communion — not just the issue, but the issues behind the issues of Anglican disunion.

Some of this talk is based on an earlier blog post “The Anglican Triad.” I consider this the more informative and complete exposition.


22 comments:

Grandmère Mimi said...

Tobias, your talk is enlightening and informative. I know much more about Anglicanism than I did before I read your words. I see even more clearly now what a stranglehold further centralization of power and tightening of control would have on the work of the Spirit in Anglican churches. We may not get things right every time, but we should have the freedom to put further developments and ideas to the test.

MadPriest said...

Sister Lionel Deimel?
Yes. It may well catch on.

mrcatolick said...

" Well said "The people in those places represented at that conference are free to maintain their various rules and traditions, suitable as they are for their contexts..."

MrC

Rach said...

As a fellow continuing indaba person, this is very helpful - thank you.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks for the feedback.

Mimi, I feel a bit like Hamlet in the "Closet Scene" (quiet in the back...) when he asks his mother to look at the two portraits of Hamlet Sr. and Claudius and asks "What judgment would step from this to this?" The Covenant is a "Thing of Shreds and Patches" indeed, compared with the beautiful organic fabric of historic anglicanism.

MP -- do you know the song, Sisters, Sisters? Enough said.

Thank you Mr.C.

Rach, let's keep up the good work; it is helping!

Grandmère Mimi said...

Out, of the damned closet, Tobias! Out, I say.

Daniel Weir said...

Thank you. I am pleased that you have raised the reasonable doubt issue, something which I have raised in discussions of this matter.

Br. Chris said...

This is superb, Tobias. I particularly appreciate your debunking of some powerful romantic myths about Anglicanism, and replacing them with the much more important Humility, Provinciality and Variety. I would be interested in your take on one issue, or perhaps a set of inter-related issues, that you don't address directly here but that I've heard you talk about in conversation. So much of the acrimony that now exists within the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion generally appears to be based on fear. I know that I've had to fight this tendency in myself, e.g. "How dare they presume to tell us how to run our own church!", and I know that fear and anger seems to drive so much of the opposition to same-sex marriage, ordination of openly gay people, etc. What are your thoughts on how to deal with this?

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

GM, not only the stage, but the wardrobe...

Thanks Daniel. This is, I think, a very important point that does get lost some time -- some seem to feel that a form of irrefutable proof is needed for change, but that has not been the historic trend.

Thanks, Chris. The "Fear Factor" is very real -- recall the bishop at Lambeth who said, "But I don't want to marry a man" -- as if he would be required to do so if anyone was allowed to do so. However, the reality is that the perception (and reality) of Western Imperialism is so very powerful (and real) that it is incumbent on us in the West to pay particular heed to Humility. This is where the rhetoric of "Justice" I think does not serve well -- as it implies a universal "rightness" which, while we may feel it to be so, also takes on an aura of "this must change everywhere." My experience at the Ujamaa conference brought this home. Africans from Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Nigeria expressed in no uncertain terms the feeling they were being assailed to change what were for them deeply cultural values. (Also acknowledging, as I referred to in an earlier post the existence of same-sex behavior and a good deal of denial, as well as tension between being "Christian by day and 'traditional' by night." (I think, in fact, the awareness that a good deal of animist or traditional practice continues alongside Christianity leads to a certain over-compensation and 'righteousness' -- so there is a lot of internalized dissonance going on.

Which is why "softly, softly" is the best policy for the West. These are terribly sensitive issues, and blundering in full of self-righteousness is not the way to go. The West has not entirely recovered from homophobia, let's be clear; and is still riddled with racism, classism, and so on. So who are we, really, to tell anyone what to do?

Deacon Charlie Perrin said...

Excellent post Reverend sir. I am going to recommend it to my colleagues on the Anglodeacons list.

I particularly appreciate your comments on humility. It would seem most important for we who have been born and raised in the United States.

We have arrogance in our DNA that comes from the fact that our ancestors (those who came here willingly at least) were in some ways malcontents and came here because they didn't want to be there.

The idea of American Exceptionalism has become more a testimony to our worthiness than an appreciation of our good fortune. This is the pitfall that the "self-made" man too easily succumbs to.

And as it is with our country so it can be with our Church (of whatever denomination it may be).

All of us can and do fall short of the mark.

Once again, thank you for this post.

The Rev. Theolinda Knight (deacon) said...

The "issue underlying the issues" is not homosexuality, but feminine gender. Prejudice against homosexuals, whether male or female, stems from the perception that they distort the traditional boundaries. The same churches, both U.S. and foreign, which are so hostile to gay acceptance, werem and are, equally hostile to allowing women full humanity, full status as children of God and baptized Christians. Just look at rhetoric from the 1970s. Was any male primate from the U.S. refused the rituals pertaining to a bishop, such as wearing a mitre? No. Only women bishops. Women do not, usually, have the option of being closeted. Their gender is apparent, even under many layers of fabric. To restrict the discussion to a single
"flashpoint" issue blinds us to what is continually going on. To focus intensely on the dehumanization of 10 to 15% of humanity because of homosexual orientation means we are looking away from the dehumanization of fully half the human population, the female half, in large areas of the Anglican communion.
Theolinda (Teddy) Knight, retired deacon, Diocese of California.

Br. Chris said...

I very much appreciate your comments Tobias and the necessity of approaching this "softly softly," mindful of our own continued sinfulness. Then I think of Uganda, with the movement to impose the death penalty with those who have same-gender sex, and where one can be arrested and serve prison time for even knowing that someone is gay and failing to report it, and my blood boils. I have very hard time justifying a "softly softly" approach. Comments?

MadPriest said...

Jesus tells us, "if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also." But he gives us no advice on what we are to do if someone strikes one of the oppressed we are supposed to be working at all time to release from their oppression. This, Br. Chris, is something that I think about a lot. Sacrificing your own life is one thing, I can live with that. Sacrificing another person's life is a completely different ball game.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Good question, Br. Chris. The first thing is not to allow one's blood to boil, or at least allow it to cool off before attempting to engage with the Ugandan government or other leaders. Understanding that this is largely a political football is important -- it has little to do with any reality of homosexuality, which will continue to exist under the radar. It is primarily a way to say, We are not the West, with its corrupted ways.

The other important thing for Americans (and the British) is to remember just how recently we ourselves decriminalized same-sex acts. A bit of humility in reaching out to moderate Ugandans, to acknowledge that we too once thought that criminal sentences were the way to address the issue, that a lobotomy was an appropriate therapy, and so on, might help.

Being on a high horse about how "advanced" we are is not a posture from which to speak eye-to-eye with someone who is acting today as we did yesterday.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Theolinda, thank you. Misogyny is one of the important issues involved. In particular in cultures that perceive male homosexuals as "acting as women" this is at its clearest. The attitude to women as somehow not quite human is at the root of much of our present woes, and that strand of sexism runs through much of the Christian tradition, to its shame.

MadPriest said...

They are not acting today as we did yesterday. They are acting today as people whose actions we have no responsibility for acted yesterday. And it's been a heck of a long time since any government in England had laws that condemned gay people to death. Liberal niceness can cause more suffering than reactionary nastiness.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

MP, this is also precisely why I think it important we remain engaged in the discussions. If we lose our voice and bow out, we will have "passed by on the other side" and left the wounded ones suffering while we take pride in our ethical purity as good liberals. It is important not to lose the platform to witness, and the witness itself must be pitched so as to be heard. If it means standing with those suffering and accepting the same punishment, that may be the way forward -- it is the way Jesus took.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

MP, it is "liberal niceness" I am rejecting. I'm not as familiar with the English laws, but I know in the US that very harsh sentences (no, not the death penalty) were inflicted -- as were compulsory lobotomies and castration or hormone injections. These led to many suicides. (I seem to recall that Turing met his end in large part due to this sort of treatment. And that was not so very long ago...)

Grandmère Mimi said...

Being on a high horse about how "advanced" we are is not a posture from which to speak eye-to-eye with someone who is acting today as we did yesterday.

Aye, there's the rub - to approach with humility. Easier to say than to practice, but, nevertheless, quite necessary.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

The motto, GM, should always be OCICBW... It's a big help in approaching others with some new understanding. Gifts, not demands.

Lionel Deimel said...

Excuse me for coming so late to the party here. This post has been on my reading list since I read the first few paragraphs shortly after it was posted.

Tobias, your analysis is brilliant. It shows that someone who is not obsessed with the day-to-day church-war tactics can sometimes step back and see the big picture better than can the more engaged combatants.

I intend to do what I can to see that your essay is as widely read as possible.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thank you, Lionel. I hope at some point the folks from AVM may make the video of this part of the talk, and the open session Q&A available as well. Keep up the good work in Pbgh.