Sunday, March 25, 2007

A Motion to Reconsider

In the wake of the mind-of-the-house resolutions passed of late by the House of Bishops, I participated in a comment thread on the blog Daily Episcopalian, tended by Jim Naughton, the communications director for the Diocese of Washington. It has a predictably liberal perspective, quite unapologetically. But I'm convinced that Jim is not totally depraved--not only because I'm not a Calvinist, but because he is a baseball fan, and is therefore not far from the Kingdom of God. When my comments began to draw a number of responses, Jim very kindly invited me to to a "guest piece" of sorts on his blog. It has now been posted there, and by prior agreement, I'm also putting it up here. Hope springs eternal.

In my comments in response to this post on Daily Episcopalian, I suggested that the House of Bishops had just kissed off the only live option for maintaining some semblance of institutional unity among those who have—until recently, at least—identified themselves as Episcopalians. Jim wrote me off-line, saying in effect, “So we’re at an impasse. What do you think will work?”

I am grateful for his kind invitation to offer a “guest editorial” on his fine blog. My initial response was along the lines of “Define ‘work.’” That’s an important question because it’s a step toward articulating a goal, and one element in the current unpleasantness is certainly a disparity of goals. As I organize my own thinking, I have found a particular analytical map to be helpful (not infallible, just helpful). It is predicated on the assumption of an omnipresent tension, a polarity, between the values of truth and unity. It presumes that we all value both truth and unity, but we do so in different ways and to different degrees.

On both ends of the ideological-theological-ethical spectrum are those who tend to let truth trump unity. For Liberals (progressives, re-appraisers), the operative truth is the gospel mandate for full inclusion, radical hospitality, toward “all sorts and conditions” of human beings in the life and ministry of the church. For Conservatives (orthodox, re-asserters), the operative truth is the gospel mandate for personal holiness and righteousness, taking God on God’s terms, and not trying to remake him according to our own specifications. For both groups, the goal is to have their operative truth triumph and become the ruling institutional norm.

In the middle, then, are those whose default mode is to hold their perception of truth with such a degree of humility as allows the equally important gospel value of unity to live and move and have some being. This group straddles the center line, and includes people who are on both sides of the divisive issues. For this group, the goal is to find a way to remain visibly and organically connected with one another, even in the face of radical disagreement about some pretty basic questions. (Full disclosure: I number myself in this category—to the right of center, of course. I do, however, sometimes make common cause with conservatives of the “truth before unity” variety, and hold many of them in high esteem.)

Of course, these categories are not absolute or rigid. They are porous at the borders. Even “Truth Liberals” and “Truth Conservatives” can seriously care about unity. But it’s unity on their terms; they’re not willing to surrender a vigorous prosecution of what they believe to be the demands of truth in order to maintain unity. They want to control the institutional apparatus of the church. They don’t necessarily want to unchurch those who disagree with them, but the losers must be willing to play by the rules of the winners. By the same token, both “Unity Liberals” and “Unity Conservatives” can have a profound respect for truth, and none them would embrace unity at any cost. Everyone has a “line in the sand” somewhere. (For what it may be worth, I believe many Unity Conservatives feel as though the House of Bishops crossed that line with their resolutions.)

So, as Jim has invited me to write about what I think might “work,” the way I’m going to interpret “work” is through the lens of the goal of the “unity” party—that is, What might enable those with disparate points of view to remain under the institutional umbrella of the Episcopal Church in some way? The “Truth Liberal” take-it-or-leave-it offer is, “We don’t bend our polity one millimeter, and we don’t flinch for a nanosecond in the ‘full inclusion’ of our LGBT members, even at the cost of cashing in our membership in the Anglican Communion.” The corresponding “Truth Conservative” position is, “We don’t back off one whit from traditional Christian sexual ethics, and we remain in communion with Canterbury, even if that means creating a ‘replacement’ Anglican province in the territories now covered by the Episcopal Church.” I respect and honor those who hold both points of view. Many of them are my friends. But trying to bridge that gap is a task for someone with more intellectual horsepower and political moxie than is available to me. I must address my appeal to the “unity party” (not having any idea if there is anyone left out there who so self-identifies, and how many there might be), speaking as a member of that party who holds conservative (orthodox, traditional, re-asserter) views on the questions about which we contend with one another.

Many are no doubt asking, “Why is unity that important, anyway? This marriage is over. You’re kicking a dead horse. Why not just go our separate ways, pursue mission as we believe God has shown it to us, and leave one another alone?” I have three responses—one spiritual, one emotional, and one practical:

Unity is itself a “gospel truth.” The epistle for Lent IV—with its emphasis the ministry of reconciliation that the Church has received from her Lord—was particularly compelling for me this year, coupled, as it was, with the deep reconciliation signified in the parable of the Prodigal Son. God clearly wants all those who call themselves disciples of his Son to be visibly one. Any divisions, any “brand names” (denominations), among Christians, break the heart of God.

And the corollary is this: Any schism is incalculably more difficult to mend than it is to create in the first place. Just as with marriages, trial separations between Christian bodies more often turn into divorce than into reconciliation.

It’s my church too! This is an anguished, feeling-laden cry. As we look schism in the eye, there is not one set of lips—Liberal or Conservative, Truth or Unity—on which it could not plausibly be heard. Let me speak very personally, in the hope that, with some appropriate translation, my experience might be emblematic of others’. I’m clearly on record that I am an Episcopalian, not for its own sake, but as an instrumental means of being an Anglican. At the end of the day, I will choose to remain Anglican even at the cost of remaining Episcopalian. Yet, I love the Episcopal Church with every fiber of my being. The effective moment of my “conversion” was when I sat down in a college music department practice room in 1971 with a piano and a copy of the Hymnal 1940. I thought to myself, “Where have these hymns been all my life? If there’s a church that actually sings them, I need to be in it.” I have lived and served in five different dioceses, in both lay and ordained states. I’m the graduate of an accredited seminary of the Episcopal Church. All three of my now-grown children attended an Episcopal school in Baton Rouge, LA and all three are graduates of Sewanee—The University of the South, very much an Episcopal institution. The 1979 Prayer Book has formed me spiritually for three decades now (and I think it’s the finest of the genre within Anglicanism). I have enthusiastically displayed the Episcopal shield logo on a long succession of Chrysler minivans. I’ve been a deputy to two General Conventions, and read General Ordination exams four times. This is as much my church as it is anyone else’s. I have no desire to leave it. It is my home. Yet, even as a “Unity Conservative,” I have my limits. They are now uncomfortably in plain sight.

Let’s not give God’s money to lawyers. I know some good people who are lawyers, and I realize they do necessary work, but wherever trial lawyers gather, tragedy has already struck. This is not the venue to debate the substance of the “justice issue” of church property. The only point I want to make is that, if there is not an institutional solution to our disputes, there will be endless rounds of court battles lasting decades and costing tens of millions of dollars. That’s not a “should”; it’s just an “is.” It does no good to point fingers or assign blame. It will be a tragedy for which we will have to answer on the Day of the Lord. However one conceives of the Church’s mission—whether it’s the MDGs or open-air evangelistic crusades—it’s mission that will suffer for the sake of billable hours. Everyone, on all sides, will lose the credibility of their Christian witness.

So now what do we do? If you’ve read this far, I’m sorry to have to tell you: I don’t know! I and many others are feeling devastated after the HOB meeting because the Pastoral Council/Primatial Vicar plan was the last best hope. It has the potential to keep even some “Truth Conservatives” on board because it provides a much needed layer of insulation between them and the behavior of official church leaders, all the while maintaining some degree of formal ties (the name “Episcopal,” the Pension Fund, informal relationships, history and heritage, even participation in General Convention and service on CCABs).

All I can think of to do is implore my co-partisans in the “Unity Party”—those on both sides of the divide—to “seriously lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions” (BCP, p. 818). We need to bend. All of us. Beginning with the knee joint. For the sake of unity, we need to be willing to live in a church that irritates us. We’ve got to be willing to swallow some horse pills. My sense is that many “Unity Conservatives” would be willing to say to our LGBT members: “While we cannot condone the blessing of committed relationships other than heterosexual marriage, because anything else falls short of God’s design, neither will we harass, condemn, or judge you. We will let you live in peace, and be available to you with informal pastoral support. And we will remain in an Episcopal Church in which many (most?) believe that God is calling us to something more overt, as a faithful minority, even as we disagree about God’s call.” I, at least, could say that—but no more. Trust me, that much is a horse pill! But unity is important enough for me to swallow it.

What horse pill are “Unity Liberals” willing to swallow? Not being one, I can’t answer that question. But I can suggest that “Unity Conservatives” might welcome something like this: “Just because you don’t support the goal of ‘full inclusion’ doesn’t mean you’re homophobic, and those of you who can’t accept women as priests and bishops are not misogynists. We understand the need for some degree of ‘insulation’ from what church leaders are saying and doing, even while we don’t agree with your perception. We believe conservative dioceses should be able to elect bishops that reflect their values, and have those elections consented to. And while we don’t share many of the views of our Anglican brothers and sisters in the developing world, our unity with them is so precious to us that we are willing to lay aside some of what we consider to be true.”

This would not be an ideal church for either Liberals or Conservatives. It would be annoying. It would be messy. It would be profoundly costly—in a spiritual, not in a financial sense. It would therefore be real. It would mean letting go of our American idolization of democratic and parliamentary processes. The “majority” would need to learn to serve, rather than to rule, and the “minority” would need to be humble enough not to exploit the graciousness of the majority, but to replace mere obduracy with self-differentiated openness. Such a church would have a chance, at least, of making the sort of witness in the world that God expects of us. It might just work.


Marshall Scott said...

A lot here, Dan; a lot of thought and a lot of struggle.

I am with you, I think, as a Liberal who indeed believes Truth and Unity somehow will integrate, rather than being polar, or polarizing us. I have said to you before that I hope this can happen. I appreciate and value the thought that this will take time and needs time. I'm not worried really that I will have to "lay aside some of what [I] consider to be true:" I would only hope that the larger Communion can be as inclusive of the Episcopal Church as I want the Episcopal Church to be inclusive of you, and of those who, in commitment to Truth, question whether they can maintain Unity.

My fear, of course, is of those who do not want to take time, both within and beyond the Episcopal Church; and those who do not want to accept any in the Episcopal Church accept those who align with a specific framework of Truth. Between those two concerns, I fear others will take the intiative away from those like you, and I hope me, who think Truth and Unity, and also Reconciliation, are all Gospel mandates.

Anonymous said...

Dan, I posted this at Daily Episcopalian also. I've tried to edit out references to you in the third person.

First, just a thank you. I think is a good piece that advances the conversation, as well as the cause of Christ. I still find myself disagreeing with what you have said, often passionately, but I recognize a brother here, as well as many parishioners and brother and sister clergy that I respect.

I think I fall somewhere in the truth liberal range of your typology, though with a concern for unity (John 17!). I am also concerned that wherever this conversation (and argument) leads us, we are able to maintain charity and "the highest degree of communion possible."

I agree with you about some of the costs of schism, especially about staying out of court whenever possible. I also agree that the witness of the Church would be impoverished if some of those across the divide were to leave us. I don't sit well with Spongian theology (though I think it is less common than some conservatives let on). An evangelical and Anglo-Catholic witness, at its best, helps keep us true to the creeds, to the integrity of our sacraments, and to our witness to the Gospel and the need for both personal and social conversion. I see myself as a radical Catholic in the tradition of Dorothy Day and Conrad Noel. I have no interest in the fashionable and facile liberalism of the true revisionist. Most conservatives who know me find it hard to question my orthodoxy on any point of the Creed. People in the conservative camp who have heard me preach are often surprised to find out that I'm not on their side.

As a truth liberal (or truth radical Catholic) who cares about unity but not at the price of truth or integrity, I'd be willing not to impose my views on parishes and dioceses (so long as conservative dioceses make provision for dissenting parishes). What I'd not be willing to give up is a rite for same sex blessings in the BCP and the full access to all the sacraments and orders of ministry for all, regardless of who their partner is.

But I'd be more than willing to try to find ways to honor the conscience of all, so long as it was done in a way consistent with the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church, which you and I have sworn to uphold. I suppose I would need assurances, that the minority (in TEC) would not abuse conscience and would not seek to subvert our polity. But I agree with you that the majority (like the minority) should seek to serve rather than to rule. I would also be willing to listen to you and try to provide you assurances that I have not yet offered, insofar as I could do this without sacrificing my own integrity and conscience, or (what I have no right to do) sacrifice the integrity and conscience of LGBT Christians.

At the same time, I am very pessimistic that the Anglican Communion will hold together (or even that it should hold together). And this is tragic, but the breakup of the Anglican Communion may be the only way for God to do what God is going to do next. Whatever insitutional arrangements are reached, I hope that I will have fine, thoughtful priests like you as ecumenical partners, if not (and I hope you continue to be) as priests of the Episcopal Church.

Trey said...

First of all, thanks for your post. It is interesting and it's part of the process we need to have to try to reconcile and mend our church that is clearly in need of help.
Borned and raised an Episcopalian, I fell away from the church as I grew older. It wasn't until the nomination of Bishop Robinson did I feel I could come back to the church. That I would be welcome. And I am so glad I did. I've found a very warm, inclusive parish that believes in the radical hospitality of Jesus' love.
I wanted to share that with you to give you some background on where I'm coming from. I believe in one, apostolic and catholic church and the idea of a shism scares me. I'm not sure where I stand in our construct between Unity and Truth. But I have two comments I wish to share.
1) I can swallow the horse pill you offered for Unity Liberals with a slight change. While I will respect Conservative's rights to not support the full inclusion of all God's childrens, I won't support their ability to restrict it. If they don't want a woman priest, or a gay biship, then fine. But they can't tell other people that they can't have them.
2. If the primates really thought the Pastoral Council/Primatial Vicar was a viable option, then they haven't really listened to us as a church. They haven't taken the time to understand how our church governance works to try to figure out how to provide pastoral care to those who feel alienated. Could they have proposed a more accomodating plan that would have fit within the governance and structure of our church? Could they have met with the leaders of our church (both clergy and laiety) to determine a path forward? As a church, we've spent a lot of time trying to respond to the concerns of the larger communion, but how much time has the communion spent trying to understand our concerns?

Anonymous said...

given that as I understand it the canons of TEC outlaw discrinination on the basis of sexual orientation as well as race or gender, the inclusion of SSBs in your BCP or the removal of the gender specific clauses in the canon on Holy matrimony would make it difficult for Dan to continue in TEC surely.
For if having sworn to uphold TEC canons, discipline and worship ISTM it would be difficult for a evangelical or traditional anglo catholic priest to refuse to conduct a SSB or marriage service for a same sex couple who approached him or her. The canons would seem to not grant them the right to refuse on the grounds of sexuality an otherwise qualified couple.
Would you support a conscience clause?

Anonymous said...

...or is it that the anti-discrimination canons refer only to discernment to office???

Anonymous said...

Fr. Dan,

I run more towards conservative, and therefore Unity conservative, values than I do towards liberal ones. I understand the need for moral boundaries, that there has to be a line drawn between acceptable and unacceptable. From my perspective, though, using homosexuality as that boundary pretty much puts me way outside the acceptable limits of moral behavior, even though I believe I'd be welcome in any conservative church. Since we're talking about a salvation issue, I'm going to wrap my perspective around a baseball bat so that I can explain gently why I see a fundamental disconnect on this issue.

I kill people. I kill people directly, over the sights of a rifle, and indirectly, by providing direct support and leadership to those who are doing the killing. I kill people across the full spectrum, from legitimate self-defense to what could charitably be called pre-meditated murder (we prefer the term "ambush"). For the most part, these have been the sanctioned killing of those classified as "combatants"; however, I have, at least in thought (up to but not including the trigger squeeze), killed innocent civilians for the simple reason that they were peceived as a potential "threat". (people in Iraq have an annoying tendency to stop patrols and convoys. Usually this is to try and get something or sell something. Occasionally it's so they can steal something or say thank you. And every once in a while, they want us to stop right in front of Mr. IED...).

I am a professional Soldier. This is what I do.

By the standards used by some against gays, I am as unrepentant a sinner as they are (even though I have, and do, repent for the things I've done). I've been a Soldier for over 21 years, and I expect to be back in Iraq sometime in the next 12 months. This brings me to the paradox I see.

Homosexuality, in my mind, just doesn't peak as high on the "sin-o-meter" as killing a person does. Gay sex is pretty trivial compared to shredding a person into so much ground meat with shrapnel. The idea that two people in a truly loving, committed relationship, no matter how flawed I consider it to be, is somehow worse than deliberately firing a three-round burst into a man's chest just doesn't make sense -- the first one at least falls in the shadow of the Great Commandments; on the other hand, I have a few doubts that "love your enemies" had 5.56mm bullets in mind.

Even so, the gays are told that they will be, at best, tolerated within a narrow space, while the guy with blood on his hands is not only welcomed, but "thanked for his service". I've even got "official" dispensations - from St. Augustine of Hippo's arguement that the killing of heretics might be justified, through St. Thomas Aquinas' "Principles of Just War". I've even got the documented possibility that I might, MIGHT, be forgiven the way another group of soldiers were when they arrested a young man, whipped the skin off his back, marched him across town, and executed him slowly while they mocked him and gambled for his possessions. Then again, there are days I'm afraid I've got a pretty good idea of what I'm doing.

I have to admit that I just don't understand the whole homosexuality thing; then again, I don't need to. I've heard that it's an unnecessary evil (as opposed to what I do); since I get the same arguement, I can't buy that. Just because it's unnecessary for me doesn't invalidate the notion that it's not necessary for them. The arguement that same-sex marriage is fundametally and fatally flawed doesn't hold a lot of water, either -- military marriages tend to get tested on the first deployment, and a lot of those... shatter. (I personally have been married for sixteen years. My marriage ain't exactly what you would call perfect, either.) Matter of fact, when it comes to my personal judgement, life-affirming wins out over life-taking every time.

That's pretty much why I can't go with the classic conservative "reasserter" stance (I hate that term; I consider myself a reasserter) -- if I'm welcome to full inclusion into the church, everyone else had better be as well. For me to assert otherwise would make me a hypocrite.

I'd really like to apologize to you if you're offended by all of this, but I can't. I do apologize, though, for any "bruising" I may have caused, and I will understand if you decide to delete this post.

Guy H. Butler
Chief Warrant Officer
United States Army

Anonymous said...

Fr. Martins

Your suggestion for the “Unity Conservative” side, if I understand it correctly, is essentially, “don’t ask, don’t tell.” It’s a solution I’ve struggled with myself, from the standpoint that we’re all sinners and fall short of God’s intentions, and why single out this particular sin?

The problem is, progressives don’t accept that gays fall short of God’s intentions, nor do they consider gay behavior to be sinful. Therefore, gracious as this solution might appear to some that lean orthodox, it is a total non-starter for institutional ECUSA. For a completely typical example, read the first comment at Jim Naughton’s blog by Bill Carroll, one of the most thoughtful, if most strident, progressive commenters.

On the other hand, although you admit you don’t know what bitter pill “Unity Liberals” ought to have to swallow, you get one shot to influence the choice and come up with: they won’t call us names any more. And, if you read the second comment on Daily Episcopalian, you’ll see that even that innocuous suggestion is unacceptable to the party of inclusion.

I’m sorry, Father, and with respect: color me underwhelmed.

Anonymous said...

+Stacy Sauls whom no one would immediately jump and call conservative states in the ENS interview that it might be possible to work out a form of APO that would be acceptable to TEC. I remember that in November, ++Jefferts-Schori's original offer of something along those lines apparently failed, not because of the provisions for the dioceses but because of individual congregations. Since no real published word came out of that meeting, I don't know if that is true. But I think there are possibilities if the "Center", so to speak, is willing to hold. I am what you might call a "Unity Liberal" Much of that comes from having basic epistemology issues as well as a developmental hermeneutic for reading scripture (That comes from an MA in history where I know my subjectivity enters into the questions I both ask and the my interpretation of the past) but I do believe that people of good will can do anything if they are committed to it. I also worshiped at the altar of the "Green Monster" as a kid where my daddy held season tickets along the 3rd base line. I learned in 2005 that miracles can happen. I denied and denied and told my husband "You don't understand" even unto the last inning of the 7th game.

Anonymous said...

I'm not convinced that it was ever difficult to conceive of a way to keep ECUSA/TEC together - it is just that it was at a cost that many in ECUSA did not and do not want to pay.

All the orthodox ever wanted was protection - that their orthodox priest would not be deposed, that they could call a new orthodox priest when that one left, that they could not be reduced to mission status (including because their parishioners did not believe it good stewardship to fund causes at the diocesan or national church level they think wrong), that their church building would not be padlocked at dawn, and that if they agreed to remain in ECUSA under those protections, ECUSA would not renege as soon as the mortgage on the property was paid off. I've probably left a couple of things off, but every one of those was and is a real concern.

How could this be offered? ECUSA could have allowed a separate parallel structure for orthodox - within ECUSA. DEPO with some real powers, and that cannot be yanked on a whim. Would this require consitutional or canonical changes? Sure - though I do not see why a special convention could not have put us on that track years ago, other than ECUSA did not want to do it. Both groups could come together for work on mutual missions. I don't believe that the vast majority of the orthodox would complain of being in communion with the whole of the Episcopal church under these mutually respectful conditions. In other words, unity could and can be achieved by giving room for the two views of truth to exist without persecution.

It is not hard to conceive of. It is only hard to conceive of some bishops giving up any power in their geographic area. It is only hard to conceive of some folks ceasing to try to force the orthdox to accept their theology or leave. And those folks are in the majority in TEC. Indeed, the HoB seems to have settled it at Camp Allen. That is the line that was crossed

Before and after the ABC's reflections called for an amicable separation, I have heard a number of times "what would this look like"? It looks like some people giving up some power voluntarily. Asking this over and over again will not change the answer one doesn't want to hear.

Further, it is a false argument to complain that this violates the current canons. Our church has only taken the canons seriously on occasion anyway, but they also can be changed. We do not worship the canons, nor are they immutable. They are no excuse for not doing something people want to do, only an excuse for people who do not want to do something.

That is my view.

Anonymous said...


Great stuff. I've tried posting at Jim's site for a while now but seem to keep having type key problems.

Anyway, I appreciate the attempt at defining "horse pills." In my mind, there must be both "horse pills" and "soothing balm" involved.

By that, the "horse pills" symbolize the difficult to swallow things "my" side must give up, while the soothing balm symbolizes the loving reassurances that "my" side is offering to the "other" side for the sake of unity. I hope this will spur all of us to think long and hard over what horse pills we are willing to swallow and what soothing balm we are willing to offer. It takes both sides to move this conversation forward. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Chief Warrant Officer Butler, thank you for your service to the Church by providing some much-needed perspective.

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