Wednesday, February 28, 2007
That this Synod
(a) commend continuing efforts to prevent the diversity of opinion about human sexuality creating further division and impaired fellowship within the Church of England and the Anglican Communion;
(b) recognise that such efforts would not be advanced by doing anything that could be perceived as the Church of England qualifying its commitment to the entirety of the relevant Lambeth Conference Resolutions (1978:10; 1988:64; 1998:1.10);
(c) welcome the opportunities offered by these Lambeth Resolutions, including for the Church of England to engage in an open, full and Godly dialogue about human sexuality; and
(d) affirm that homosexual orientation in itself is no bar to a faithful Christian life or to full participation in lay and ordained ministry in the Church and acknowledge the importance of lesbian and gay members of the Church of England participating in the listening process as full members of the Church.
We are told that the motion carried by a wide margin on a show of hands.
Personally, I could vote for something like this. It clearly affirms a biblical and traditional (and, IMO, reasonable) view of sexual morality, while at the same time distancing itself unmistakably from true bigotry.
But it is significant that our English cousins have done this, and so decisively. It takes much of the wind from the sails of those Americans who have speculated about and advocated for the creation of a new "progressive" post-Anglican alliance of which the C of E would be a part. Doubtless some Brits would sign on to this. But not, apparently, the lay and clerical leadership.
Sunday, February 25, 2007
So there is a degree of internecine tension in the "progressive" community. Some are advocating acquiescence to the demands of the Primates. The fact that the Presiding Bishop's name is on the communique supplies a good bit of the energy here. She still enjoys, from what I can tell, an enormous reserve of goodwill among those who were overjoyed at her election. She has political capital. But if she dipped into that capital just three days after her election when she appeared on the floor of the House of Deputies in that unforgettable moment and advocated for B033, she is really dipping into it now as she tries to sell this latest package. If I correctly understood her in the briefing of the '815' staff last Friday, her rationale is something like this: The tide of world opinion is heading only one direction, and that is toward an acceptance of homosexual relationships as within the range of normal, and deserving of all the rights that heterosexual relationships enjoy. Some Anglican provinces are in essential accord with TEC in recognizing this fact. Some Anglican provinces are not as "progressive" as we are, but show signs of openness to our way of thinking. And some, while adamantly opposed at a formal level, just haven't had enough exposure to the gifts that GLBT Christians bring to the life of the church. If we lose our place in the Anglican Communion, we will lose the ability to leaven the lump, and influence the process long-term. It is therefore worth swallowing some of our principles short-term in order to secure these long-term benefits.
It remains to be seen how persuasive this argument is. Several bishops of prominent urban dioceses have already expressed flint-like opposition to any compromise, any retrenchment, in the march toward "full inclusion." Even the prospect of links with the See of Canterbury being severed is not a sufficient deterrent. They would rather lose the Anglican franchise than "sell out" their "GLBT brothers and sisters."
I don't, as they say, have a dog in this hunt. But it gives me no joy to see my "progressive" friends (and others) faced with such an agonizing dilemma. Yet, many of them are inclined to be cynical toward expressions of empathy from someone like me. Comments on this post from last week bear witness to this fact, and I've received similar notes by private email. With some recent exceptions (look at this one), "reappraisers" tend to view "reasserters" as bigoted homophobes who have left their rational faculties in a roadside ditch and are utterly unfaithful to what is now being referred to simply as the Eighth Promise: "Will you seek and serve Christ in all people and respect the dignity of every human being?" It boggles their imagination that a reasonable, faithful person could have any view other than their own. It is an utter disconnect for them.
Communication is a tortuously difficult task even between two people who are committed to it. I've been married to the same woman for nearly 35 years. Despite the fact that we've been together our entire adult lives (we met in college), sharing all that history together, including the raising of three now grown children, and despite that fact that we completely cherish one another, it's not that one of us is from Mars and the other from Venus. One of us is actually from Pluto! We are that different, and communication is therefore that much of a challenge.
So if it's that hard in the supportive context of a marriage, it's amazing that we even try anywhere else. But I'm going to give it a shot. Speaking as a "conservative" (aka "orthodox" or "reasserter"--not, please, "neo-Puritan"), let me say that I believe that persons who find themselves capable of forming an intimate bond only (or primarily) with someone of the same sex are created in the image of God and objects of the love of God. I understand and acknowledge that their orientation is not a choice they have made, and that the orientation itself is morally neutral. When I renew my baptismal vows using the Prayer Book form, I mean every word of what I say.
Why, then, you might ask, do I not support the agenda of "full inclusion"? Because I also believe that God, the creator of human sexuality, has revealed the context in which sexual intercourse may be called blessed--and that is when it is between one man and one woman who are in a covenanted intentionally lifelong relationship with one another. Sexual intercourse in any other context, while it may, by God's generous grace, mediate significant glimpses of the cosmic reconciliation of which it is meant to be a sacramental sign within marriage, falls short of God's design and desire. "Falling short" is one translation for the New Testament word that is usually rendered "sin." The Christian community lacks the authority to invoke God's blessing on a relationship that--notwithstanding its particular qualities, and by its very nature--falls short in that way.
This has nothing whatsoever to do with the intrinsic dignity of GLBT persons. They bear the image of God as much as anyone else. They have the same range of strengths and weaknesses as anyone else, and the same range of gifts and disabilities. I welcome them fully into the life of the church. But I expect them, as I expect myself and everyone else, to be faithful to the "teaching and fellowship of the apostles" (which includes what God has revealed about sexual morality) and to renounce the "sinful desires that draw [them] from the love of God" (which would include any desires that fall short of God's revealed ideal). The only standard of sexual behavior that the church can commend is fidelity in marriage (defined as it has been traditionally understood) and chastity outside of marriage. Those who are engaged in behavior that, on its face, is dissonant with that standard, are not appropriate candidates for positions of visible leadership in the church. Is this a "hard saying"? You bet. Would I change it if I could? Certainly. Do I have that authority? Thank God, no!
So, you see, my "conservative" position is grounded squarely in the vows and promises of Holy Baptism--not just the eight promises that fall under the rubric of the Baptismal Covenant, but also the six renunciations and adhesions that precede it.
Friday, February 23, 2007
The PHOD writes:
[The Primates'] Communiqué...raises profound and serious issues regarding their authority to require any member Church to take the types of specific actions the Communiqué contemplates...
Bonnie is correct; the Primates have no standing to impose a requirement. That's why the Primates have set forth a request and not issued a requirement. Yes, it's a firm request, and it has all the earmarks of a demand, an ultimatum. But it's not a requirement. TEC has the freedom to ignore it or deny it.
...and whether they have authority to enforce consequences or penalties against any member Church that does not act in a way they desire.
Any party to any relationship has the authority to say what he/she/it will do in response to the behavior of another party. If the Primates don't have the authority to tell us how to behave, then neither do we have the authority to tell them how to respond to our behavior.
The type of authority for the Primates implicit in the Communiqué would change not only the Episcopal Church but the essence of the Anglican Communion.
I think Bonnie is correct here, but she and I would disagree on whether it's a good or a bad thing. The Episcopal Church is sorely in need of some change, and "the essence of the Anglican Communion" is, we have seen to our dismay, inherently unstable. It needs to be reconstituted. The Primates are leading the way in making that happen.
The polity of the Episcopal Church is one of shared decision making among the laity, priest and deacons and bishops. The House of Bishops does not make binding, final decisions about the governance of the Church. Decisions like those requested by the Primates must be carefully considered and ultimately decided by the whole Church, all orders of ministry, together.
I would gently suggest that Bonnie needs to read the request of the Primates more carefully. It is addressed to the House of Bishops, through the Presiding Bishop. They haven't made a request of the Episcopal Church; they have made a request of the House of Bishops. Individual Episcopalians, including the PHOD, might question the wisdom of their decision, but they're the Primates and we're not. So they get to decide who they want to talk to.
Some are asking ... Is it a good idea for our House of Bishops to do what they have asked? Is the House of Bishops the right body within the Episcopal Church to respond to the Primates’ requests?
See above. If the request has been made of the HOB, then the HOB is clearly "the right body" to provide an answer. Anything else would be...well...impolite.
Our baptismal promise to seek and serve Christ in all people must be very carefully considered when we are being asked as Episcopalians to exclude some of our members from answering the Holy Spirit’s call to use their God-given gifts to lead faithful lives of ministry.
This statement makes all sorts of suppositions that are neither self-evident nor universally shared. They are, in fact, contested, and they are contested in good faith. The attempt to exploit our baptismal vows to shame Episcopalians who share theological and moral convictions with not only a majority of the world's Anglicans but the vast majority of the world's Christians is itself shameful. We (numbering myself with the majorities I just identified) would answer that we are not endorsing the exclusion of any who are called by God to the episcopate, but that we operate from a premise that God does not call to leadership positions in the church those who are involved in relationships that by their nature inherently fall short of God's own moral vision--a vision of which we have no proprietary knowledge, but which is revealed by God for all to see. Rather than subverting our promise to "seek and serve Christ in all people," then, we are being true to our promise to remain faithful to "the apostles' teaching and fellowship."
Our promise to strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of all people binds us together.
I would respectfully disagree. It is our being "in Christ" (per St Paul) that binds us together.
The Episcopal Church has declared repeatedly that our understanding of the Baptismal Covenant requires that we treat all persons equally regardless of their race, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, disabilities, age, color, ethnic origin, or national origin.
This begs the question. To comply with the Primates' request would not cause the violation of any of the non-discrimination canons. The Primates are not asking the HOB with withhold consecration of episcopal candidates who are merely of a homosexual orient. They are speaking of anyone who is living in an intimate relationship outside of marriage as the Communion understands marriage (cf. Lambeth I.10).
To honor all of the Primates’ requests would change the way the Episcopal Church understands its role in the Communion and the way Episcopalians make decisions about our common life. Our church makes policy and interprets its resolutions and Canons through the General Convention and, to a lesser extent, the Executive Council.
Bonnie is mostly correct here. But, as I have said, I think the changes she fears are good and necessary. For the sake of the long-term wholeness of the Episcopal Church, we need to submit to this discipline.
As president of the 800-plus member House of Deputies, it is my duty to ensure that the voice of the clergy and the laity of our Church will be heard as the Church discusses and debates the Primates’ requests and that that process will not be pre-empted by the House of Bishops or any other group. I have already begun to work toward that end.
Well, to borrow a phrase from Ronald Reagan, "there you go again." The Primates are talking to the Bishops. If other parties get involved, they are horning in uninvited. If the Bishops desire the counsel of the House of Deputies, it is their prerogative to ask for it, either by calling a special General Convention or allowing the Executive Council to act as proxy, which is not completely outside its scope of responsibility. But the Bishops are under no moral or canonical obligation to do so. Something has been asked of them, and it is up to them to respond.
All Anglicans must remember that the second Lambeth Conference in 1878 recommended that “the duly certified action of every national or particular Church, and of each ecclesiastical province (or diocese not included in a province), in the exercise of its own discipline, should be respected by all the other Churches, and by their individual members.”
The other provinces of the Communion have no business dictating to us how we fund the pension plan, whether we use blue or purple vestments in Advent, or what lectionary we can use (though I wish I could find a reason for them to nullify the adoption of the RCL!). These are matters of internal discipline of the sort envisioned by Lambeth II. Upending two millennia of moral tradition is a matter that "touches all," so it must be "decided by all."
This has been the tradition of the Anglican Communion. To demand strict uniformity of practice diminishes our Anglican traditions.
This mischaracterizes the Primates' requests. No "strict uniformity of practice" is being demanded.
Our tradition of autonomous churches in the Anglican Communion, that come together because of our love of Christ and our common heritage, has allowed us to focus on mission and evangelism to our broken world which is in desperate need of the Good News of God in Christ. In recent times, however, we have spent too much of our time, talent and treasure debating if we ought to deny some people a place at the table to which Jesus calls us all.
This sounds full of a righteous sense of justice, but what does it actually mean? What table? Who's being denied? Who's doing the denying? Need I really say it again? I understand that the Episcopal majority sees a ban on partnered gays and lesbians in the episcopate, and a refusal to bless same-sex union, as a matter of gospel justice. But it doesn't help to merely restate an assumption that is neither self-evident nor universally shared. Argue your point, but don't just assume it.
Instead, we must listen to each other – really listen and not just read reports – so that we can hear the voice of the Holy Spirit moving through all of us and calling us to be more faithful.
I agree. Listening is good. But anyone in a listening process must be open to being surprised by what they hear. And we need to also remember that listening to one another isn't the only way we hear the voice of the Holy Spirit.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
For the most part, conservatives (those who call themselves "orthodox") are relieved and hopeful (though there are exceptions). Even Matt "Glass Half Empty" Kennedy (OK...I mean that in a playful, friendly way) has given it a thumbs up. I share that view. It may turn out to be a critical hinge on which the history of Anglican Christianity turns. Future seminarians will need to know about it (and when it happened) as they prepare for canonical exams.
Meanwhile, response from liberals (those who call themselves "progressive") is decidedly more diverse--one might even say, more interesting. Some are trying to see the Primates' Meeting in the most favorable (from their perspective) possible light. The Presiding Bishop was seated and present for the entire meeting. She was elected to the Primates' Meeting Standing Committee (which entitles her to a seat on the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates' Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council). Bishop Duncan was not asked to sit in as a "shadow Primate"--he said his piece and was dismissed. The Episcopal Church was not summarily expelled from the Anglican Communion, and no structure for a "replacement" province was set up. One frequent poster on the HoB/D listserv says over and over again that the ACN and AAC and Archbishop Akinola "got nothing of what they wanted," as if multiple repetition makes it true. He apparently hasn't checked with any of the principals.
As analysis and commentary find their way into cyberspace, however, "progressive" opinion is overwhelmingly negative. Most of it is angry, and some verges on bitterness. This very blog has received a "hate comment" in that vein for the post before last. The Bishops of New York, Washington, Connecticut, Bethlehem, Chicago, Minnesota, and California have averred their firm refusal to acquiesce to the Primates' demands that the HOB affirm Bo33 and agree among themselves not to authorize same-sex blessings in their dioceses.
It's not difficult to discern from whence comes the bitterness and defiance. It comes from having enjoyed a juggernaut of political success within TEC--and, to a degree, within the Communion--for a long, long time. The project of "normalizing" homosexual orientation and behavior has been prosecuted with steady success, both in church and society. To have that train now go off the rails at an international level may not be much of a surprise, but it is a huge shock.
But among the community of forces that have successfully--in part, and for the moment, at least--pushed back on what seemed like an unstoppable progression, there is also a distinct element of bitterness--bitterness that has festered and now manifests itself in an impetus toward revenge. For too long have too many Episcopalians prayed the imprecatory Psalms when they come up in the Daily Office rota and thought not of tyrants and oppressive social systems, but leaders of their own church. That, of course, is twisted in its own way, but I flag it not to endorse it but just to name it as part of the reality that's feeding the current dynamics.
Interestingly, some on the liberal side have realized this. Dean Tom Luck of Syracuse Cathedral wrote on HoB/D (and I copy here with his permission):
This is about generosity and the lack of generosity, power and resentment, mainly between heterosexual men as it turns out. TEC has shown more generosity to un-canonical actions by the left (the Philadelphia ordinations, blessing same-sex relationships, changing the words of the BCP to be inclusive, other non-authorized liturgical practices, giving Communion to people who are not baptized (which is still against the Canons)) than has been shown to the right (not allowing the 1928 Prayer Book, requiring or putting pressure on dioceses to ordain women etc.). For the past thirty years eggs have been laid, the chicks have come squarely home to roost, andThe Revd Mike Kinman echoed and expanded these sentiments in the same forum (and, again, I quote with permission):
schism within The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion is before us. I don't like it and my heart breaks that bishops must choose between pastoral care for faithful glbt parishioners and the Anglican Communion. But during the liberal ascendancy over the past thirty years TEC has treated ecclesiastical disobedience by the left as prophetic and good, and ecclesiastical disobedience by the right as un-catholic and bad, when in fact seeds were being laid that bring us to this time of reckoning. We are in this mess because we have not been willing to be generous witheach other, and our mess is now international news.
Certainly there are places where lines have to be drawn, but I believe part of the reason we are in this mess is that we on the liberal side have demonized those on "the other side" and pretty much had free rein doing so since the mid-1970s. Is it any wonder there is a counteroffensive on this scale? As you say, we reap what we sow. ... The difficulty with being an "inclusive, big tent church" is that inclusivity cuts both ways and in doing so creates tensions that sometimes have to be held because they cannot be resolved. That's one of the reasons I believe we need to approach this on all sides with a lot more humility, a lot less certitude. To not be so sure we are right and everybody else is wrong. To remember that nobody is good but God alone.These are healing words. Can I say it again? These are healing words. I'm saying this from the depth of my own heart. I speak for myself, but I suspect there are others who feel the same thing. Far too seldom in these debates have I felt like those who are my interlocutors have any empathy for my position. The posts I have quoted are among those rare instances. I commend both of these gentlemen for their observations.
And I will not neglect to add that there has been a huge amount of demonization originating from the "reasserter" side as well. I don't control anybody. I don't even know that I influence anybody. But it sure would be nice if that kind of thing stopped.
It's not all "process," of course. There are disagreements on matters of real substance. Communication on these issues should be transparent and in good faith. But we should not overlook how much of the tenor of our rhetoric, from all directions, flows from our woundedness--the wounds we have received from within the household of faith. I don't know what it will take to get past the substantive issues. But I do know what will guarantee that we never do, and that is the extent to which we cannot learn to fight nicely.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Ash Wednesday is one of those occasions which seems simple enough. Its meaning seems obviously, intuitively self-evident—until, that is, you try to explain that meaning clearly and concisely. Then it becomes complex, and fuzzy around the edges, and we’re not quite as sure as we thought we were that we understand it all.
There are several layers of meaning operating at the same time on Ash Wednesday. Part of what we’re doing, of course, is marking the beginning of the season of Lent. In the Prayer Book liturgy, the celebrant invites the congregation solemnly “to the observance of a holy Lent.” And Lent does not stand alone. It is not an end in itself, but the means to an end. It is supposed to get us ready to celebrate the Paschal Triduum—the three sacred days which connect us to the deepest realities of our lives as human beings: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Vigil of Easter.
The Easter Vigil is the watering trough of our identity as baptized Christians. It is the place to which we return time and time again for refreshment in the knowledge that we have been buried with Christ in his death that we may share with him in his resurrection. Lent originated as the “home stretch” of a long period of pre-baptismal instruction and formation. It is therefore an appropriate time for us to develop a sense of solidarity with those who will be numbered among the saints, those whose names will be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, at the Easter Vigil this year. We do well to hold them in our prayers, and to walk with them in these final days leading up to new birth, and thereby renew our participation in our own new birth.
The mystery of Lent is therefore much larger than a narrow focus on sin and repentance. But that is certainly where the emphasis is at the beginning of Lent, on Ash Wednesday. This is the reality which the ashes that will be applied to our foreheads signifies. Sin is the 900-lb gorilla in our jungle, the elephant in the living room, and it is ridiculous to ignore it.
Sin has a cosmic dimension. It infects every corner of the created universe. We are all therefore victims of it. Those who have had their lives uprooted by earthquakes and storms and the effects of climate change are certainly not victims anyone’s particular sin, especially their own, but they are surely victims of universal sin.
Sin also has a social dimension. In social sin, the victims are individual, but the perpetrators are corporate, a collective “we.” To give a rather extreme illustration: I personally do not either use or buy or sell illegal drugs. But as a participant in a national and international economy of which drug trade is a part, some of the money that flows through my pocket has at one time or another been used to pay for illicit drugs. So when a baby is born addicted to crack, I am part of the “we” that is responsible for that tragedy. That’s the way social sin operates. We are all both victims and perpetrators of social sin. Part of our repentance today is for that sort of sin.
Sin also has, of course, a very personal dimension. Each one of us is individually guilty of doing those things which we ought not to have done, and leaving undone those things which we ought to have done. And at an individual level, sin is wickedly deceptive. It is like the Trojan Horse,
sneaking into our hearts disguised as common sense or justice or beauty or love, and then spilling its vile contents into our souls in a desperate attempt by the Evil One to draw us away from God. The frightening truth about personal sin, individual evil, is that I cannot even trust my own feelings and intuitions. They are tainted, and cannot be relied upon apart from the objective standard of God’s revealed word. What “feels right” to me may be the very face of death itself, and I need to run 180 degrees in the other direction.
Turning 180 degrees around. That takes me to the third level of meaning that is operating today. Turning around is itself the very definition of repentance. When we run away from sin and evil, we find the open arms of Jesus waiting for us—Jesus, the Prince of Light and Life. Jesus, in his redeeming love, supplies us with the strength we need to persevere in our repentance. He does this through the witness of scripture, in the communal life of the church, and—most openly and gloriously—in the Mass, the sacrament of Holy Communion.
Jesus is not merely an example or a coach or a cheerleader. He’s more than just moral support.
He gives us his own self, his very life, the meat on his bones and the blood in his veins. To receive the ashes that mark us as sinners without also receiving the Body and Blood by which we are redeemed is to tell and hear only half the story. Before God, we stand overdrawn, bankrupt. But the miracle of gospel grace is that the creditor steps down into the place of the debtor, and pays the debt. The sacramental elements of the Eucharist are the sign and seal and actual conveyance of that payment.
We have the resources necessary to the keeping of a holy Lent, and a holy life thereafter.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
The Primates' communique, and the appended "schedule," will be dissected and parsed and exegeted ad infinitum in the days and weeks to come. The document certainly manifests the profound division among those who produced it, which, of course, reflects the division among those who lay claim to the Anglican inheritance. In a conflict of this sort, there are no winners. I am aware this evening that the news from east Africa is the source of grief to many who consider themselves mainstream Anglicans and faithful Christians. They are faced with a horrible dilemma: Betray core convictions which they believe are demanded by the gospel or lay aside their Anglican identity. Behind the carefully crafted language, this is what they are being asked to do. St Paul exhorts us to "weep with those who weep" (Rom. 12:15), and to the extent that it is possible for me to do so without sounding patronizing, I weep with them.
That said, it would be dishonest to imply that I share all their convictions about what lies at the core of the gospel, and believe them to be anything but mistaken about what they call "full inclusion." That's hardly a news flash. I just feel the need to say something about respecting the integrity and sincerity and goodwill of those who are, in the Stand Firm lexicon, "our worthy opponents."
And now, having said that, I feel at liberty to confess that I am very much buoyed by what has been revealed today. I was among those who counseled "reasserters" to have low expectations about this Primates' Meeting. In the seemingly interminable time when the only hard news was the release of the report of the "sub-group" on TEC's response to Windsor, the prevailing mood in the community of conservative Anglicans verged on despair. Against that backdrop, I know I am not alone in feeling like a great weight has been lifted. I find the result exciting not only from having had low expectations going in, but because it exceeds those low expectations by a wide margin. If the covenant proposal is a subtle cat, the "recommendations" attached to the communique are a transparent dog, and a hefty one at that.
Any ambiguity that may have been present in the "Gang of Four" report that was our meager diet for a while there is now evaporated. The specificity of what is being asked of TEC is stunning: Affirm that B033 really is a moratorium, and solemnly promise that same sex blessing rites will not only not be developed church-wide, but that such events will not even be authorized locally. In effect, the House of Bishops is being asked to unilaterally nullify C051. Process purists for whom democracy is a shibboleth will no doubt cry "Foul!", but those who are comfortable letting bishops actually do what they were consecrated to do won't have a problem--at least, not with the mechanism of the request, though many might with its substance.
The term Primatial Vicar is borrowed from the Presiding Bishop's trial balloon from last fall, but that's about the only aspect of the plan that has survived intact. As the Primates propose the arrangement, +Katharine will get to nominate two of the five members of a Pastoral Council, but that's the extent of her practical involvement. The Primatial Vicar himself will be named by the Camp Allen group of bishops, and will be accountable to the Pastoral Council, the chair of which will be a non-TEC Primate named by Canterbury.
There are those who have already complained that this requires TEC to abrogate its polity. Yeah, it does. And for good reason. One commenter on another blog (and I apologize for being too lazy to look up the comment and provide a link) has said that the Episcopal Church is in "receivership." I think that is perhaps an apt description.
The blogger Baby Blue wrote Sunday night, as we were all on pins and needles, that she had heard from a sympathetic source in Dar es Salaam that he was confident the process would end well, but that there would be "a cost." A commenter speculated that this source was CANA Bishop Martyn Minns. This seems plausible to me, since the CANA and AMiA churches and others who have associated with provinces ranging from Uganda to Korea to Bolivia are now having to deal with the fact that the pastoral solution envisioned by the Primates for those who are aliented from TEC involves reconciliation with TEC, and the standing down of foriegn bishops' border crossings. I am personally heartened by this provision, but I know it will be a horse pill for many, especially those who have only recently made a costly decision to separate. Of course, such reconciliation presumes an honest and fair (and expeditious) implementation of the Primatial Vicar arrangement, and no "funny business" on the part of '815'. Within this finely balanced set of exhortations, the cessation of legal action is the final piece of the puzzle.
This can work. Will it? One way or another, yes. But I'm not at this moment sanguine that the House of Bishops will comply with the demands that have been made--either before September 30 or at any time thereafter. If they don't--well, the "schedule" makes it pretty clear what happens next. TEC will lose the Anglican franchise, and it will be replaced. The Primatial Vicar structure will be the replacement-in-waiting.
No doubt some will say that this represents the end of Anglicanism, no matter what happens. If we have a covenant, if we have trans-provincial lines of accountability that actually have teeth, it will no longer be the Anglicanism we are used to. I won't argue with that. But rather than seeing these developments as the end of Anglicanism, I prefer to see them as the beginning. It may be that only now are we embracing that charism with which we have been gifted by a good and gracious God.
Monday, February 19, 2007
I have not yet read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested it. But I have given it a couple of looks, as well as monitored some of the initial reactions. The chorus at Stand Firm is, as one might imagine, overwhelmingly gloomy in its assessment. To some extent, I think it's because they were expecting a dog and what they got is a cat, and now they're upset because the cat won't bark. But if they had been paying attention to the clues recently dropped by Ephraim Radner (a member of the CDG) at Epiphany West and Archbishop Gomez just last week in a Dar es Salaam press briefing, they should have known a cat was on the way.
A "dog" would have been a doctrinal covenant that clearly addresses the currently present issue: sex. I won't get too deeply into the quagmire of whether Anglicanism is a "confessional" movement. I have always been under the impression that it's not, but my ecclesiological formation has always been on the Catholic end of the Anglican spectrum. In any case, what we have to consider now is a relational covenant--a set of ground rules for how the autonomous provinces are accountable to one another interdependently. In our present condition, this is something we need very badly.
There will be time in due course to get into the details, but let's cut to the chase here: Would this text, had it been in effect four years ago, have affected the chain of events that led to the consecration of Gene Robinson and the passage of C051 (that public rites of blessing for same-sex relationship is "within the bounds of our common life")? The answer is definitely, Yes. Whether it would have prevented those events is difficult to say, but at least General Convention 2003 would have had a clear-eyed view of the consequences, rather than have it be a matter of speculation.
One thing I like about the draft covenant is that is formalizes the status of the four Instruments of Unity. Episcopalian liberals have protested loudly for months into years now that the Instruments are "so-called" and have earned no deference. This covenant would remove that talking point from their arsenal. Member churches would be expected to "heed the counsel" of the 4IU. It also lends a lot more heft to the authority of the Lambeth Conference, which would function as a college of bishops, charged with "guarding the faith and unity of the communion."
Most significantly, it has teeth. (Cats can bite, you know!) The final paragraph spells out the consequences of a member church failing to live up to the spirit and terms of the covenant.
Saturday, February 17, 2007
I've been a little annoyed by commentators on both sides saying that 66% is a "passing grade," that the report gives TEC a "clean bill of health." I know there's been a lot of grade inflation since I was a student, but 66% used to be an 'F' and I believe it is still a 'D' in most places. Plus, even in the two categories where the report seems to say "You made it over the line," there are doubts, conditions, and assumptions. So it really isn't even a two-thirds score. Let's keep it real here.
That said, I will agree with Matt Kennedy and Kendall Harmon and others that, if nothing else happens in Tanzania by way of at least setting out a framework for a Communion-based structure of pastoral care for American Anglicans who are justifiably alienated from TEC, the meeting will be a disappointment. For now at least, though, I believe that will happen.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
In an earlier post today I characterized the reaction of conservative Anglicans (Americans, at any rate) to the sub-group (aka Gang of Four) report on the adequacy of TEC’s response to the Windsor Report as “nervous concern.”
Well, that turns out to be an understatement. It’s more like panicky anger.
Remember when the Windsor Report first came out in 2003? Remember how it was universally panned as toothless, inadequate, over-polite, etc.? Remember the death knells that were sounded for the Anglican Communion because TWR failed to firmly discipline the Episcopal Church? We’re hearing more of that sort of rhetoric today.
Over the course of the last 3+ years, the Windsor Report has been warmly embraced by conservative Anglicans. I believe the same evolution of sentiment can and should take place with respect to the sub-group’s report. (My reflections here arise from a phone conversation I had earlier today with Christopher Wells, and I am grateful for his typically lucid insights.) Here’s why:
- The report reaffirms Lambeth I.10 as the current and foreseeable teaching of the Anglican Communion on human sexual behavior. It is simply accepted as a given. This creates another documentary link in a chain of buttressing affirmations.
- By generously construing B033 as a de facto moratorium on partnered gay bishops, the report effectively “locks in” that understanding as the expectation of the rest of the Communion. There is no wiggle room; the Communion has taken us at our word and believes we have stood down on this. And they will hold us accountable: "The Group feels that the reality of the change of direction that some see in the resolutions of the General Convention can only be tested however by the way in which the Episcopal Church lives out these resolutions."
- The language with respect to the blessing of same-sex relationships is gentle but clear: The response is not satisfactory. To say that General Convention has not authorized such rites begs the question, because the place where such blessings happen is local and specific. So the “Gang” has not been fooled. TEC is not “Windsor-compliant” on that point. Notice that the report is so specific as to close any perceived loophole for the development and use of such rites even at a sub-diocesan level. What does that say about C051 from 2003? It says we’ve exceeded the bounds of the common life of the Communion.
- With respect to “regret” we’ve almost been damned with faint praise. In effect, we’ve been told, “Not quite what we were looking for, but close enough to give you the benefit of the doubt.” With that, we are, once again, locked in.
- By its thoroughness and even-handedness, the report encourages moderate bishops in the Episcopal Church to show their colors and join the
group. I'm talking here about people who would be reluctant to be painted with the “Network” brush, but who share many of the concerns of the Network about the necessity of remaining in communion with Camp Allen . Note in particular this sentence: "It is the duty of the wider Communion to nourish and encourage all those within the Episcopal Church who wish to embrace our common and interdependent life." Commitments like this (should the Primates adopt such language) will make it easier for the eventual realignment to include a much larger slice of TEC than would be inclined to enter any "interim ecclesial body" next week. Canterbury
Taking a medium-term historical view provides an arresting perspective. The center has shifted, and this report is a sign of the shift. A position that once would have been considered explicitly “conservative” in the Anglican universe is, by virtue of the evolved normative authority of the Windsor Report, now seen as middle-of-the-road. Conservatives should be doing back flips over the fact that many liberals in TEC are saying, “Look, told ya so! Two out of three ain’t bad!” when the “two” that we are apparently judged to have gotten right are inherently anathema to the liberal vision. To adapt an expression, “What’s right with this picture?”
So I say to my conservative confreres: Let’s settle down. Things are still breaking our way.
Got all that?
Here's what they said, in a nutshell (of my own design): Expression of Regret? Check. Moratorium on Partnered Gay Bishops? Check (a generous construction of B033). Moratorium on Same-Sex Blessings? Not so much.
On the last point, the report goes into a fair amount of detail, pointing out that while General Convention failed to act on the issue (having defeated the omnibus A161 in the House of Deputies), several proposals that would have affirmed same-sex blessings died in committee, and never made it to the floor of either house. De-merits for the former, points for the latter, the report seems to say, so it's kind of a wash. It also reminds the readers that only 16 or so of the 111 dioceses are proceeding with some form of authorizing same-sex blessings.
Oh...and there's a thinly-veiled slap on the wrist to border-crossing Global South bishops.
Initial reaction is pleased relief from the left, and nervous concern on the right. But remember: It's just a report. The Primates can do whatever they want with it.
This picture, found on the Anglican Communion News Service website, is interesting beyond words. From left to right (more accurately, from his own right, then proceeding leftward!): Bishop Duncan of Pittsburgh, Bishop Epting the of '815' staff, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Presiding Bishop, and Bishop McPherson of Western Louisiana.
There was not a a lot of hard news on Wednesday. I'm assuming that most everybody who might glance at this third-tier blog has other sources for actual news; I've hardly ever presumed to fill that role. And by the time anybody reads this, my summary reflections will be...well...yesterday's news. So it's an exercise in synthesis more or less for my own benefit. Anyway, part of the fun--if it can be called fun--of times like this is to look back on what has been written and judge it either prescient or woefully mistaken.
So what do we know so far?
- We know that volleys have been exchanged in the battle over whether TEC's Presiding Bishop finishes the meeting in the same chair in which she begins it, but that the question remains open. Archbishop Williams, through his spokesman Canon Rosenthal, has said, in effect, "She's here; she's staying." But I do not expect Archbishop Akinola to suddenly become all demure and deferential. There will undoubtedly be a procedural move against KJS once the formal meeting gets going (perhaps as I write).
- We may expect with virtual certainty that the Global South Primates will advance the commitment they made last fall in Kigali and attempt to birth an interim ecclesial body in America that will be "province-like" in nature and will move with all deliberate speed toward positioning itself to take over for TEC when GC '09 elects not to opt in to the Anglican Covenant. There seems to be a reasonable expectation across ideological lines that +Rowan will back some form of this plan. It would be consistent with the two-tier constituent/associate schema he put forward last summer in the wake of General Convention. The most telling detail will be how broadly it is structured. Will it appeal only to those dioceses that have already requested an alternate primatial relationship? to the dioceses and parishes of the ACN? to the "Windsor/Camp Allen" bishops? If the latter, it has a solid chance of picking up enough traction to reach a very interesting tipping point. If I were part of the '815' apparatus I would be nervous. Very nervous.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
My parish has, since 2002, sponsored a Chamber Orchestra festival in late January. We are blessed with fantastic acoustics for such music, and have been fortunate to be able to structure the finances so that the events pay for themselves, enabling us to offer this outreach to the community, in the tradition of St Martin's-in-the-Fields, London.
This year we commissioned an original work from local composer Max Simoncic. Our music director let him know what resources were going to already be on the stage for the previous work. He had access to those instruments, plus the organ. Mr Simoncic came up with a delightfully fun piece called, appropriately enough, St John's Celebration. Click here and you should be taken to a My Space site where an mp3 recording of the work will start playing automatically. (Note to Robyn: Some nice horn parts.) It's not a professional recording (it was done on my handheld digital voice recorder), but it's respectable.
Monday, February 12, 2007
I wish that were truly only literally, but, alas, there are signs that it is true in many ways metaphorically as well. On the eve of a meeting of the Anglican Primates that will certainly turn out to be important, even if it doesn't qualify as "historic," many Anglicans are in a binary frame of mind. There is only '0' and '1', nothing or something. Either the Primates will accept Katharine Jefferts Schori as a peer or they will send her packing. Either they will pronounce the Episcopal Church in good standing or impose severe discipline. Either they will hang the ACN dioceses and parishes out to dry, or create the makings of an alternative American province.
More fundamentally--and this is nothing new--there are many on the starboard side of the boat (which is to say, my side) who openly state that there are "two religions" in the Episcopal Church. The "orthodox" (conservatives) believe in the authority of scripture, the uniqueness of Christ, the bodily resurrection, and, among several other things, an ethic that recognizes (intentionally) lifelong heterosexual marriage as the only context for sexual intercourse that is not inherently sinful. Christian mission consists of calling people to repentance, faith, and discipleship in the fellowship of the Church. The "revisionists" (liberals) believe that scripture is understood best as a human document, Jesus is one of several ways to God, the Virgin Birth is poetic metaphor rather than an actual fact, Christ is "risen" but his body never actually came out of the grave, and in an ethic that sees sexual orientation not merely as a fact but as a creative divine gift, and therefore makes room for the formation of intimate homosexual bonds when both partners are oriented that way. Christian mission consists of social ministry and political advocacy to create a "just society."
Are there Episcopalians whose views are described by one of these two positions? Certainly. Can all Episcopalians be described by one category or the other? Certainly not. "Base two" cannot account for the theological views of all, or even most, of the members of the Episcopal Church.
The rhetoric of "two religions" is of understandable etiology. Decisions within the church are made, more or less, according to political processes. Political processes are by nature binary. You vote Yes or No on the proposition. You vote for the Democrat or the Republican. (Cut me some slack here; I know there are other parties, but let's be real.) The motion carries or the motion is defeated. (We don't call them "resolutions" for nothing; they resolve a question one way or another.) In times of church conflict, we lean more and more heavily on political processes, so we are all the more susceptible to binary thinking.
Binary thinking, and the binary rhetoric that flows from it, serves a political end by taking questions that are complex, as questions worth fighting about invariably are, and giving them simple answers. Everybody, of every political persuasion, does it; given enough time and energy I could cite numerous examples from both ends of the spectrum within TEC. Then, when those who generate the rhetoric start to believe their own propaganda, that things are actually that simple, as invariably happens, we get entrenched positions and intractable conflict. The polemics become veritably cosmic, with the forces of Good arrayed against the forces of Evil on the plain of Armageddon.
But there's a small problem with binary thinking. It very seldom is an accurate representation of the truth. Sometimes it's a helpful construct for the purpose of analysis and discussion and strategizing, but it is at best a crude model of actual reality. OK, that isn't such a small problem after all. It's kind of a big problem. Because not fully representing the truth is to actually purvey falsehood. And when the corporeal integrity of the Body of Christ is at stake, we need to have a fairly low tolerance for falsehood.
We can perhaps say that there is one religion in the Episcopal Church and still make a plausible case for being truthful. If the proverbial "man from Mars" and his cloned siblings were to visit every parish in TEC on a given Sunday, and then get together to compare notes, they would, in the midst of all the differences they witness, find plenty that is in common. No rational person can deny that. Or, conversely, we might say that there are many religions ("Let me count the ways") in the Episcopal Church and credibly contend to be telling the truth. The one thing we cannot truthfully say is that there are two--one on the side of the angels and the other in league with the legions of Hell.
If any find this disappointing, I'm first in line. There's an immensely gratifying feeling of righteousness that accompanies armoring up to smite the enemies of the Lord. I am dismayed and wearied by the need to constantly contend for even the most basic elements of Christian faith and practice within my own household of faith. That we should even be having to discuss most of what comes up at General Convention, for example, is beyond exasperating. It makes me want to weep and gnash my teeth. But the problem is, we work up a much more impressive lather at the prospect of crossing swords with our opponents within the Body of Christ than we do by the vision of combat with the real enemies of the Lord--the spiritual forces of wickedness the rebel against God, the evil powers of this world that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God, and the sinful desires that draw us from the love of God.
I wrestle daily with the temptation to surrender to binary thinking. It is very appealing. But I also pray daily for the grace not to give in. Something I wrote to my parishioners last June, right after returning from General Convention seem apposite here:
I recognize that Christians in good faith, desiring to serve the same Lord Jesus Christ whom I desire to serve, disagree with me. These people are not my enemies. Many of them are my friends. I do not think of them as “heretics” or “apostate.” Should the course of events place us on different paths—and I think there is a very good chance of that—I will grieve. The life of whatever church I’m in will be impoverished by not having them in it.I hope it is not thought either perverse or exploitative to say that I "need" liberals in my church. In a different, but analogous context, Edward Oakes, SJ observes,
When the Western Church fissiparated in the sixteenth century, the Reformers took a portion of the essential patrimony of the Church with them, and they thereby left both the Roman Church and themselves the poorer for it.I'm not happy about liberals in the Episcopal Church holding the reins of power, but if they disappeared, it would be a loss--a loss for them and a loss for me. I need to be intellectually challenged. I need to have my social conscience pricked. If the end game in the coming Anglican realignment creates circumstances in which they feel the need to exclude themselves, I will be sorry.
In the meantime, I embrace the discipline of not losing sight of all the fractions between '0' and '1' in the universe of the Episcopal Church. I do so in vicarious solidarity with those who cannot or will not see those fractions.
Sunday, February 11, 2007
Today (Saturday) there was an unusual event at the Episcopal Church of St John the Baptist, in Lodi, CA--the northernmost parish of the Diocese of San Joaquin. It began with a celebration of the Eucharist at which the preacher was Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies. After lunch, the program continued with an address by Mrs Anderson, a moderated panel discussion with questions and comments from the audience, a time of "Sharing the Good News from the Diocese of San Joaquin," and closing devotions.
I was present for the afternoon activities. The event was publicized as "a celebration for the whole diocese." However, it was not planned or executed in consultation with any of the official leadership bodies of the diocese, and the Bishop received personal word of it only after the general publicity had gone out. Interestingly, this "celebration for the whole diocese" conflicted with a diocesan choir festival at the cathedral in Fresno. Nonetheless, Bishop Schofield was in Lodi from start to finish, taking his place as a member of the audience, and saying nothing publicly. There also seemed to be a number of members of the media present, including a representative of Episcopal News Service. I would estimate that there were around 200 people in the room, but I could be off on that. Most seemed to be from the host parish, and the two other parishes in the dioceses that are affiliated with Remain Episcopal (connected with Via Media), the organizer of the gathering.
First, I need to say that nothing in this post is intended to be personally critical of Bonnie Anderson. I have high regard for her dedication, her faith, and her skill as a leader. She is winsome and really quite charming. I like Bonnie Anderson.
In her afternoon address, she began her remarks with "My name is Bonnie Anderson, and I am an Episcopalian!" A long (though not totally unanimous) standing ovation ensued. So much for the gathering being non-political, as I had been assured by one of its organizers. Then she laid out a vision for a church in which all the baptized take their ministry seriously, whether lay or ordained. She offered a brief account of the founding of the Episcopal Church. It was inaccurate in several details, but we can cut her some slack--it was a long day. I found it noteworthy that she made not the scantest mention in this context of the Church of England and the strong deference that is given to the Church of England in the founding formularies of our church. Maybe I'm hypersensitive, given that our relationship to the C of E and the other churches derived from it is a matter of some discussion these days. She then proceeded to explain how General Convention is organized and how it functions. She reminded the group that social ministry is not an option, but a mandate flowing from the commandment to "Love your neighbor as yourself." All well and good.
Before she was finished, though, the PHOD found an opportunity to express her disappointment at the action the San Joaquin convention took last December in approving the first reading of a constitutional change that removed all reference to the Episcopal Church. (Remember, +John-David is not only in the room, but in the first row of seats, just a few feet away from Bonnie.) In this context, she reiterated what can only be described as the "party line," to wit: People can leave and return to TEC as they see fit; dioceses and parishes cannot.
Next came the panel discussion. Bonnie, of course, was on the panel, as was the host rector, Father Rick Matters. Also serving were Michael Glass, a Bay Area attorney who works with the House of Bishops' Task Force on Property Disputes, Cindy Smith of St Paul's, Bakersfield (yes, Mark Lawrence's parish) and President of Remain Episcopal, and Nancy Key of Holy Family, Fresno, representing Via Media USA. There was no actual "discussion" between the panel members, all of whom represented the same point of view; rather, the floor was immediately opened to questions from the audience.
I won't attempt to give a comprehensive account. Suffice it to say that it was an exercise in the politics of demagoguery, by which I mean that complex questions were consistently given simple polarizing answers. For example, Q: "What will happen to ECCO [our diocesan conference center, including an outdoor columbarium] in the event the diocese leaves TEC?" A: (from lawyer Glass) "Don't worry. Since dioceses can't leave TEC, ECCO will stay with TEC." That may or may not happen. But an awful lot of billable hours will be rung up before anything happens, and California court decisions so far should be causing heartburn at 815 Second Avenue. Presuming Mr Glass is not stupid, one can only conclude that he was being intentionally misleading. He was protecting the interests of his client, as he should, but the questioner was ill-served.
Someone else asked, "When will the litigation begin and how much will it cost?" Fr Matters prevented this one from even getting to the attorney, who would have been obliged to dodge it anyway. "Let's just pray it doesn't come to that." Well...yeah. Let's do that. But was he suggesting that we pray that there is some sort of amicable non-litigious settlement? A nice thought, but not one that seems realistic in view of recent events in Virginia and slightly less recent events in southern California. Or perhaps my friend and colleague was suggesting that we pray for San Joaquin to step away from the briefcase containing the launch codes. That would be a worthy petition, one that, personally, is my prayerful hope. But it's difficult to reconcile such an intention with the fact that within the same booklet that contained the texts and music for the morning liturgy (for this non-political event), there is a page dedicated to Remain Episcopal's "Vision and Goals for 2007." One of the objectives stated there is to "preserve all congregations and their properties in the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin" (read, the continuing post-Schofield Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin). Another is to "lay the groundwork to plant at least one new congregation in 2008." Since when are para-church groups like Remain Episcopal in the church-planting business? Is that not rather outside their portfolio? What happened to the discipline of the Episcopal Church, which assigns this activity to dioceses and parishes? Elsewhere is a reprinting of a letter from Fr Matters to his parish in which he makes mention of preparing for a "smooth transition to a new bishop." I don't think he means "when Bishop Schofield retires."
My point is this: It sounds like Remain Episcopal, with the implicit endorsement of the "national church" (an amalgam that includes the Presiding Bishop, the Church Center staff, the PHOD, the Executive Council, and the CCABs (committees, commissions, and boards) is pretty much assuming that the split is a done deal. It's their privilege to do so and they may be right. But, if that's the case, let's not have any patronizing talk about reconciliation and it not coming to "that." It is difficult to escape the impression at times that they want things to "come to that." If so, then they are in the same dubious moral boat as those "conservative" bishops who--I have it on good authority--voted for Katharine Jefferts Schori for Presiding Bishop in the hope that her election would speed the process of Anglican realignment on its way. The rabid secessionists in San Joaquin and the Episcopalian corporatists of RE will have made common cause. Politics does indeed make strange bedfellows.
I've made no secret of the fact that I've got serious qualms about the proposed constitutional amendment. We are letting our viscera rather than our brains control our behavior. In my ideal world, we would, as a diocese, step back from the brink, develop a little godly patience, and let events take their course in an organic manner. We will eventually get what we want, but we will have come by it honestly. Speaking realistically, I don't think there's much chance of that happening, but I continue to hope. In any case, events like today will not make my work, and the work of those who stand with me in this place, any easier. We need the rhetoric to cool down on all sides.
Friday, February 09, 2007
Thursday, February 08, 2007
I see trouble on the way.
I see earthquakes and lightnin.
I see bad times today.
I was never a Creedence Clearwater fan, but their music was ubiquitous in my college environment (in the neighborhood of 35 years ago), so I imprinted on it. For some reason, as I survey the state of things Anglican today, this song came to mind. It doesn't so much describe my own mood as the collective angst that is out there less than a week ahead of next meeting of the 38 Anglican Primates.
It's been a fairly active news day. Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury and immediate predecessor to the incumbent, spoke yesterday at Duke University. He is realistic about the challenges that confront Anglicanism, and cognizant of the very real possibility that things will shortly spin completely out of control, and for this reason counsels perseverance in staying connected: "The duty of leaders is to stay at the table, contributing to the debate as long as it takes. The imperative of unity in fact requires all Anglican leaders to desist from threats to withdraw, or refusing to talk to others."
The Bishop of Winchester--fifth in seniority in the English hierarchy, a personal friend of Rowan Cantuar, and a sort of archepiscopal legate to the first meeting of the "Camp Allen bishops" last September--weighed in with his own advice to the Primates:
I hope that the ABC and at least a clear majority of his colleagues will recognise and support the Windsor-compliant bishops and dioceses of the TEC as a “college” of bishops, still formally within TEC but commissioned by the Primates both to hold together their own life (including by appropriate means that of the three Forward in Faith dioceses currently threatened with extinction by TEC) and to offer episcopal ministry to “Windsor-compliant” parishes in Dioceses whose bishops are unsympathetic to them.
This is not earth-shattering, and it isn't something we haven't heard before, but to have it be reiterated at this point in the development of events is significant.
Then came the news that the Church of Nigeria held a one-day synod, and issued a statement confirming their commitment to the position articulated some months ago by CAPA, the caucus of African Primates--a position that is not inclined to compromise at all with the regnant leadership of the Episcopal Church.
Lower on the food chain, blogster Sarah Hey of Stand Firm offered a grimly bleak assessment of the Anglican future in response to Lord Carey's remarks. And lower still, a posting your humble servant made to his diocesan blogsite Surrounded two days ago caught a good gust of wind and drew some fire--both hostile and friendly--all day yesterday.
This whole process continues to challenge and refine my thinking. The result is that I find myself drawn more and more into the core of those verities that Michael Ramsey of blessed memory, the 99th Archbishop of Canterbury (Dr Williams is the 103rd, Lord Carey the 102nd), explicated so beautifully in his classic The Gospel and the Catholic Church. Some 75 or so years later, it continues to be a compelling and imaginative sythesis of the Evangelical and Catholic pillars of Anglican faith and practice, demonstrating how the "Catholic truths" of order and sacrament are not in tension with but arise organically from the "Evangelical truths" of grace and faith.
Unfortunately, even though Ramsey was able to reconcile the two streams, latter day Anglicans are having to settle for holding them in an uneasy tension. In recent years, Evangelicals and Catholics have effectively made common cause in the face of the onslaught of the degradation of theological integrity in many of the first-world Anglican provinces, especially the Episcopal Church. I dare say, however, that Evangelicals are having the more difficult time in this present darkness because, as I have said before, their ecclesiology is not up to the task.
At the risk of over-generalizing, Evangelicals understand the institutional church as an assenbly of like-minded individuals who each have a personal relationship with God in Christ and come together for worship and mutual support and encouragement. It is a voluntary association. When that association fails to meet the needs of the individuals, for whatever reason, there is very little to hold it together. This is how Sarah Hey puts it at the end of her elegy to Anglicanism:
As a matter of integrity, of course one should not be a member of an organization, entity, religious institution, or body if that body holds core, foundational beliefs antithetical to one's own.
From one perspective, there is some element of truth in her statement, but the terms she uses are telling: organization...entity...institution...one's own. This is a very "private" view of the Church. It cannot sustain the stress emanating from a situation in which an entire church--the Episcopal Church--has been taken over by internal forces that are antithetical to its own nature. In my post on Surrounded I used the image of a kidnapping or hijacking victim. Upon further reflection, perhaps cancer is a more appropriate metaphor because it attacks from within. The Episcopal Church has a tumor, and that tumor is rapidly metastasizing. In an Evangelical ecclesiological paradigm, surgery is the only option. But the disease is clearly inoperable. Time to put the patient on hospice care.
But this is not, I hope, the only way of looking at what faces us. Most cancer victims will tell you that they get irritated when other people define them by their disease. "I am who I am. I may have cancer, but cancer does not have me!" they might say. Well, the Episcopal Church is not Katharine Jefferts Schori and her impoverished soteriology and christology. The Episcopal Church is not the theological and liturgical nonsense of Enriching Our Worship and the other atrocities of the SCLM. The Episcopal Church is not Gene Robinson or John Spong or Integrity. The Episcopal Church is my parish, and hundreds of others like it, where God is worshiped in a straight Prayer Book liturgy, the gospel is preached and taught in its scandalous fullness, community is formed and resources galvanized for bearing witness is word and deed to the inbreaking Kingdom of God.
Why should we define the body by the disease that it has?
A Catholic ecclesiology can more resiliently respond to the stresses of contemporary Anglicanism because it has an organic--somatic, actually--understanding of what the Church is. It is a family into which one is born, not an organization which one joins. In this view, there is much less of a rush to get out of Dodge just because the crazy wing of the family is running the town presently. The parable of the wheat and the tares is taken seriously. Harvest time approaches. God will do the separating. On this general theme, I highly recommend a careful read of this interview with Ephraim Radner. It is long, but worth the investment of time and energy.
Of course--getting back to the cancer analogy--the patient may die. If that happens, we will need to find a new "body." Or perhaps we can clone one from the DNA of the old one--free of the disease that killed it. In the meantime, putting the Episcopal Church on DNR status is one thing. Active ecclesiastical euthanasia in another.
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Monday, February 05, 2007
There are other issues on which the prevailing moral opinion of (Christian/post-Christian) society has shifted, he says, citing premarital sex and childbirth out of wedlock as recent examples. When couples come to me wanting to talk about a church wedding, they are virtually always already cohabiting. In my parents' generation, no one wanting a church wedding would be in that state. When my generation was young, the practice was widespread, but there was still enough stigma that pains would have been taken to hide the information from the priest. Nowadays, it's not that couples have courageously decided to not feel guilty. It simply never occurs to them. They are, in the parlance of classical moral theology, "invincibly ignorant."
Now (continuing to paraphrase Hobson), those neanderthals like myself who charitably and oh-so-winsomely contend for the old standard of delaying intercourse until after marriage, and believe that a couple ought to be married before they produce a child (and, by corollary, that a child deserves to be born into a home in which Mom and Dad are married to each other), have a rough row to hoe. We're swimming against the cultural current. But the most that we can be accused of is that we're relics of a bygone era who haven 't kept up with the times. We may be conservative morons, but we're essentially harmless because it's so easy to ignore us.
Not so with the gay issue, however. Those who assert--in agreement with the Roman Catholic Church, for instance--that homosexual orientation is an intrinsically disordered state, and/or that homosexual genital intimacy falls short of God's intention and design for human sexuality ("falling short" being a good working definition of sin), are seen not simply as moral Luddites, but as bigots on the order of the worst sort of racists. Homosexual behavior, as Hobson points out, has, in about a thirty year period, moved from being considered by society as almost unspeakably immoral, to being a status worthy of legal protection. Consequently, those who maintain what was the prevailing view within living memory are now on the receiving end of society's moral opprobrium, including legal sanctions.
This is a refreshing insight, and explains a lot. Where we should go with this information I can't say that I know. But it helps to be clearer about why we are where we are, and why the rhetoric has the tone it has.
What he said. (And what I've been saying all along.)
I'm not a movie critic, so I'm not going to presume to do an actual review. (Though, I will say, please do heed the 'R' rating and do not take pre-teen kids to this movie. It is billed as an "adult fairy tale," and it is just that, i.e. for adults. There is plenty of raw material for a long season of nightmares here, as one young family learned in the screening we attended--they had to leave about a third of the way through the film with a sobbing and frightened child.) Since there's no way I can ever effectively ditch the pastor's hat anyway, I'm going to go with the flow and offer a couple of observations about how Guillermo del Toro's work that has garnered Oscar nominations in six categories intersects with Christian faith and spirituality.
This is not, by any stretch, a "Christian movie." (There is a priest in the cast, but his role is peripheral, and not integral to the plot.) In other words, it's not a Matrix or Narnia-type story, with which you have to be pretty dense to see not only Christian themes but an explicit allegory with the very Paschal Mystery. It's within shouting distance, however, of a Tolkein-like Ring story, though without the epic dimension. Gospel themes can be clearly discerned by those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, but it's like the Gospel according to Picasso, with recognizable bits here and there and ordered into a narrative that cannot be even generally squared with the "old, old story," but which has significant areas of overlap.
Themes of good and evil, darkness and light, are present in stark relief. We see this in both the real world of conflict between government forces and an anti-Frano insurgency in post-Civil War Spain (1944), and in the sort of parallel universe that is only visible to the principal character, a pre-adolescent girl named Ofelia, a universe of fauns and fairies and subterranean kingdoms.
Ofelia's task is not only to escape from the hellish existence into which her widowed mother has unwittingly brought her, under the sway of a tyrannical step-father who is the very personification of evil, but to "return" to a fantasy-like world in which she is a princess, and which is groaning with eager expectation of her coming. Yeah, in this story, the messiah is an eleven-year old girl.
But at a critical point in the story, Ofelia turns into an Eve-figure. She literally eats forbidden fruit, and wreaks all kinds of havoc as a result. By the end, however, she's back in her messianic role, including the shedding of the blood of an innocent victim in order to open a portal between two worlds that had been estranged from each other.
Like I said, you can only press these connections so far, and then they break down. And I don't much care whether Senor Del Toro had them explicitly in mind when he wrote his original screenplay or not. In fact, I'd almost prefer to find out that he didn't, because it would be yet another illustration of how the key elements of the Gospel story are embedded even in the unconscious human imagination.
One final tidbit is worth pointing out. In the final scene, after having been shot by her trigger-happy stepfather, we see Ofelia finally being welcomed into the magic kingdom that has been awaiting her return. Yet, we also see her lifeless body being wept over by the symbolic "forces of light"--the republican guerrilla resistance. Is this an illustration of the sometimes disjunct relationship between believing and seeing, between faith and empirical experience? Does it mean that Ofelia imagined the whole thing after all (as her mother kept trying to tell her)? Or that her "body" died while her "soul went to heaven"? None of the above? Should I quit trying to figure it out and go to bed?
Good movie, but scary. It was pretty pathetic for a couple of fifty-somethings to be hiding their faces in each other's shoulders on several occasions. We just can't take each other anywhere anymore.
Saturday, February 03, 2007
From the email signature of a friend of mine, definitely worthy of repeating: "The liturgy, like the feast, exists not to educate but to seduce people into participating in common activity of the highest order, where one is freed to learn things which cannot be taught." (the recently late) Aidan Kavanagh, OSB in Elements of Rite.
The vestry of St John's was blessed to be led in a Quiet Day today by Bishop Schofield. He addressed us on the theme of forgiveness. Rich stuff, and timelessly appropriate.
On the HoB/D listserv, I managed to open up two veins late this afternoon just before the Vigil Mass. One had to do with whether the Primates' Meeting actually possesses anything that can be recognized as "authority"--anywhere, actually, but particularly of a sort that Episcopalians are obliged to pay attention to. This is timely, in view of the Primates' Meeting that is barely more than a week away from opening. As you might imagine, the considered opinion of that listserv, taken collectively, is "Hell no!" And as you might also imagine, I dissent from that.
The other itch that I scratched had to do with the lamentably widespread (in TEC) practice of publicly and formally offering Holy Communion to any and all, regardless of whether they have even been baptized, let alone "in love and charity with [their] neighbors, and intend[ing] to lead a new life, following the commandments of God and walking from henceforth in his holy ways" (BCP). The rationale given for this usually has something to do with the "radical hospitality" of Jesus, and that it's his table, not ours, so what business do we have turning anybody away? This is, of course, fuzzy thinking ("sloppy agape") of the highest order. Here is what I wrote:
At the very least, explicitly offering Holy Communion to the unbaptized is an unambiguous and serious violation of canon law. It is not a mere pecadillo; it is a major breach of ecclesiastical discipline.
But it is much more than that. It is a profound theological and pastoral error--veritably, a sin. In the parlance of the 39 Articles, it "overturneth the nature of a sacrament." Baptism culminates in Eucharist, and Eucharist is grounded nowhere but it Baptism. To use a computer metaphor, Baptism is the "operating system" for the Eucharist, which is an "application." Ever try to launch Word without first opening Windows or Mac OS? It doesn't work. Together, the two sacraments manifest the heart of the Paschal Mystery. Apart, the theological significance of both--their "sign value"--is eviscerated. The theme of hospitality is not central to the Eucharist, it is ancillary. Offering Communion to the unbaptized is letting the ancillary tail wag the substantive dog. It is motivated by good intentions, but is, in fact, allowing sloppy sentimentality to trump sound theology.
The very fact that we are having this discussion--not that it is actually being practiced but that it is even being talked about--is emblematic of why TEC is dribbling off the court of worldwide Anglicanism and the Catholic tradition and turning itself into a boutique liberal protestant sect.
So far, this one hasn't generated any heat, aside from a couple of appreciative notes off-list.
Friday, February 02, 2007
I'm just back in the office after the noonday Mass for the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple (aka Candlemas), wherein we were particularly mindful in our prayers of the nearby Roman parish whose dedicatory feast this is--the Church of the Presentation. After the liturgy, one of the attendees spoke of a passing conversation she had with a co-worker as she was slipping out of work a few minutes early in order to come to church. The co-worker, who happens to be a member of the Church of the Presentation, inquired
"Where are you going?"
"To church for Mass. It's a holy day today."
"Oh, your church has Mass for Groundhog Day?!"
Thursday, February 01, 2007
My day began, as usual, when the announcers on the local NPR station told me it was 7:00 AM. By that time I had already reached over groggily to push the Snooze button five times. Nothing out of the ordinary there.
It's fund raising week on public radio, so I push the Snooze button yet again (not my usual custom) and turn my attention to morning ablutions and getting dressed. About thirty minutes later I make my way downstairs, check my email and glance at some of my favorite blogs and websites (more on that later). At about 7:50 I sit down to read today's edition of the Stockton Record, my only source for local news. I always scan the obituaries carefully. Parishioners have been known to die without telling me, and I like to be ahead of the curve on such things. (If you're wondering, I'm not a coffee drinker. Pretty odd for a Brazilian, I know.)
By 8:15, I'm in my Ford Escape for the five minute drive to St John's. Just enough time to make my entrance into the office, greet the Parish Administrator, who is always there by 8:00, and get my laptop plugged in and turned on. By the time Windows and Outlook are launched, the five-minute bell is ringing from the lantern tower of the church. (I had to disillusion an employee at the Chinese fast food restaurant on the next block last week with the information that there's nobody climbing several flights of stairs and pulling on ropes--it's all electronic.) Time to go over for Morning Prayer.
I am joined by Kim, the Parish Administrator, and Jim, a man from the neighborhood who made his appearance for the first time three Sundays ago, and has been at every daily service since, as well as the Sunday liturgies. I can't remember noticing in previous years that the Epistle passage from Galatians quotes a long section from the Old Testament passage from Isaiah. The lectionary is proceeding through those two books in course, so the concurrence is purely coincidental, I would imagine.
After Morning Prayer it is my habit to eat breakfast at my desk (sliced Parmesan cheese, an Atkins low-carb bar, and lots of water) while, once again, looking at my email and habitual websites, including the three listed as links from this blog, plus Stand Firm and Drell's Descants. In order to keep up with what the worthy opponents are up to, I regularly take a peak at Praeludium, Telling Secrets, and Father Jake. Now, at this point, I should probably acknowledge that I may be addicted to the internet. I've not done a rigorous self-diagnosis, and I'm certainly not ready to go into recovery. But I'm definitely not in denial either.
After some brief exchanges with Kim and the Junior Warden (who was in the office in his capacity as assistant to the newsletter editor; it's that time of the month) over some administrative concerns, it's 9:30 when I settle in to finish writing the sermon I will deliver this Sunday afternoon (yes, right at kickoff time in the one Super Bowl I was actually planning on watching since, when they're winning, I'm a Bears fan) at the institution of a new Rector in a nearby parish. But I don't get very far, on account of the aforementioned addiction. The little beep from Outlook that tells me I have a new email message diverts my attention, and I see that a friend wants me to look at an article he has written, hopefully for publication, and give my constructive feedback as soon as possible. The subject matter is interesting, I'm flattered to be asked, and I feel I owe it to him as a friend, so I drop my agenda and look at his article.
By the time I finish reading it and inserting my comments, it's nearly 10:30. I bang out two or three more sentences in the sermon, but then I have to head off to the Stockton Rural Cemetery for a graveside service. The guest of honor, represented by her cremated remains, is a woman whom I am told by the friend of hers who made the arrangements was baptized and confirmed at St John's, where they were best buddies. Then she went away to college at Stanford and never returned to live in the city of her birth. She became a reporter for the Washington Post and eventually was more or less the dean of journalists covering the U.S. Senate, and was quite well known, though I must confess never having heard of her. She was an only child, never married, and her only living relatives are distant. A group of about ten of her contemporaries gathered for the brief graveside rite from the Book of Common Prayer. I tried to pad it with some impromptu opening and closing remarks, and speak slowly, so as to make it seem a respectable length. (By the way, I'm not completely joking when I say I have more parishioners at that cemetery than I have in church--the place, like St John's, is as old as Stockton, over 150 years.)
I return to the parish office and report on my interesting time to those who are there, now including, in addition to Kim and the Junior Warden, the editor of our newsletter and the Associate Rector. I then create another two or three sentences in the sermon before heading home for lunch. (OK, if you must know: Sliced deli turkey with shredded Parmesan cheese melted on top and a slice of sprouted whole grain bread.) While I eat, I watch part of a DVD episode of the first season of 24. I know how it all turns out, of course, but now that I know who the bad guys really are, I'm looking for telltale clues that I missed the first time around. That's pretty silly, because there aren't any.
I am about ready to change clothes for my Wednesday walk (my exercise regimen consists of two brisk four-mile walks and two Bowflex workouts per week), when the magnetic pull of the home computer sucks me in, and before I know it, twenty minutes are gone--mostly, though, because I had to restart in order to regain the seemingly lost DSL connection (thank-you, AT& T), and I did manage to get the dishwasher unloaded during the reboot wait.
By the time I take my walk (nothing eventful there), change, and get back to church, it's 2:30. Once again, I plow into the Institution sermon, but only after a somewhat lengthy conversation with one of our deacons about a less-than-happy pastoral situation with a parishioner that she has learned of. By 4:00, after having been diverted yet again by the newsletter editor's request for something to fill a blank column (I dig something up from my electronic files and edit it down to the required length) I've actually got a manuscript printed out and I'm over in the church standing in the pulpit delivering it (that's how I work out the kinks). When I get back I find that I need to return a phone call from a neighboring rector. He wants to schedule lunch this week, so we make it for tomorrow. He's a friend of long standing, but we are on opposite sides of the divide in the current unpleasantness.
At 4:30 I turn my attention to part of the preparation process for the sermon I will deliver on the First Sunday in Lent, some three and a half weeks hence. Yes, I know that sounds a little anal-retentive, but so be it. At any given moment, I have about six Sunday sermons in various stages of gestation. This generally keeps me from panicking about deadlines and makes my Saturday evenings more relaxed. I keep myself focused on this task and ignore the signals of incoming email and wrap it up just as the five-minute bell is ringing for Evening Prayer. My only companion in the evening office is Jim.
When I emerge from the church, I am met by a transient who requests help getting out of town--to Sacramento, specifically. He doesn't look familiar, but says that I had helped him (with cash) to get out of Stockton a couple of weeks ago. If he had known better, he wouldn't have told me that, since I don't encourage repeat customers for such assistance. I pretty much tell him just that, but I am bothered that he shows signs of mental illness (the "echo" is too strong in Stockton and hurts his ears; it's not so bad in Sacramento). He professes fear that he would be attacked if he went to any of the shelters (not an unreasonable fear, unfortunately). I try to sound as discouraging as I can, and allow myself to get distracted by the the Junior Warden and the previous Junior Warden who want to show me the progress they have made cleaning up a store room in the undercroft. When I get back up, "Ronald" is still there. I try to sound discouraging once again and go back into the parish office to take care of some routine end-of-month personal organization chores. I tell myself that if "Ronald" is still on site when I get out, I would take him down to Greyhound and get him a ticket. He is, and I do. This is tricky territory, because I'm not convinced I'm helping him. He needs to be in the mental health system, but I'm pessimistic about my ability to make that happen. So now at least he's off my turf.
It's 6:15 when I pull into my driveway at home. Brenda, as usual, is already into her evening round of piano lessons. I turn on the oven and start the task of sorting the trash (recyclables, green waste, and regular garbage) for tomorrow's pickup. Then I take some pork tenderloin I had bought when I did my weekly shopping on Monday, freeze half of it, take the other half and insert some whole garlic cloves into it, sprinkle it with a little salt and some BBQ dry rub, add a red bell pepper and a sweet onion, and put it in the oven, now at 450 degrees. I then start the evening's work--the semi-monthly task of reconciling credit card statements and paying bills. About ten minutes before the pork is done, I douse it with some garlic and habanero pepper sauce.
At 7:40, I take my dinner to my upstairs den and consume it in front of the last twenty minutes of a CSI:NY episode. Then, back to bill paying. About 9:15 I finish the trash chores and load the dishwasher. By this time, Brenda is off to do errands for and minister to her 90-year old ailing mother in an assisted-living facility. (She gets back close to 11 o'clock.) Then I sit down to write this post. That's my day.