Peggy Noonan, notable US reporter, writes in Disconnect: It's the Policies that there is a disconnection between President Obama and the American people at the moment which is not as some are making out - not due to his personality, his perceived lack of emotion when making certain pronouncements, his soaring rhetoric - but is due to his policies. The disconnect is actually about substance and not about style. Substance, for a politician, comes when laws are enacted. At that point 'the people' tend to 'get it' about what is really going on. We are not stupid! We understand that politicians get carried away when making speeches, especially when those speeches are made in pursuit of office. We make allowances for the disconnect between rhetoric and reality. But what disturbs the American people right now, Noonan argues, is the disconnect between proposed legislation and the will of the people. It is the President who does not 'get it', this difference between what the law may make real on healthcare, for instance, and what the people want to happen.
Meanwhile, also in the US, a court hearing is taking place about marriage in the State of California. Might 'marriage' be inclusive of all couples, straight and gay, or not? Despite the will of the people of California voting for marriage to be between a man and a woman, the hearing will consider the matter against the values of equality for all enshrined in the US constitution. Gung ho for the State of California judiciary ruling for inclusivity is Susan Russell, leading Episcopalian (and Californian) priest. Her latest blog reflection is here.
My sense of where the whole of TEC is at on this matter, which is, let us not beat about the bush, about a redefinition of marriage as commonly understand throughout history and across all cultures, is that it is not wholly with Susan Russell. But it is heading that way. And that has me thinking about TEC in relation to the Anglican Communion. Might it be fair to characterise the situation as one of 'disconnect'? And, pace Noonan, is it possible that the disconnect is not due to personalities (Akinola, Schori, Jensen, Williams, heaven forbid that they should ever be in a lifeboat together trying to work out how to be saved from peril on the seas!!) or to rhetoric, but to theologies?
The thing is, Americans as Americans when trying to work out social policy rightly reach for their Constitution, call in a lawyer or two, and seek through legislature or judiciary or executive office, or any combination thereof, to work out the best way forward for themselves. Mostly this has been extraordinarily successful and one of the reasons why millions of people not in the USA try to emigrate there. But Christians as Christians when trying to work out how we should live normally reach out for the Bible, call in a theologian or two, and seek through our synods, commissions, presbyteries, and councils to work out the way forward.
That reaching out for the Bible is common to all Christian traditions, not just the preference of 'fundamentalists' or 'literalists'. At the root, for example, of Roman Catholic theology and Eastern Orthodox theology is ... the Bible. How we use the Bible varies across traditions. Some will call in more theologians rather than less to interpret the Bible, some will draw in more resources from past interpretation of the Bible (i.e. tradition), and some will be more rational in the way they weigh up what the Bible says, but, at the end of the day, Christians work out decisions theologically and that theological work engages with the Bible. That's what Christians do, and it is what makes us distinctive from atheists, Muslims, Hindus and Star Wars fans!
So if one group of Christians heads in a policy direction which is doubtfully grounded in the Bible, there is likely to be a disconnect with those who remain (or believe they remain) firmly grounded in the Bible. On the specific matter of the definition of marriage, it is doubtful that anyone, even the most brilliant theologians among us, can ground into the Bible a redefinition of marriage which includes two men or two women. This is a different matter from whether or not one can ground into the Bible a theology of acceptance of the differences between people, or a theology of tolerance of the frailties of people as relational beings (the theology which acknowledges the need to permit remarriage after divorce being extended to acknowledge the value of faithful, stable same-sex partnerships). These theologies can be grounded into the Bible - though not all will agree, there is and will be much debate - and there are prospects that over time, with patience and grace, we might as a Communion find common accord on such theologies. (We might not; but we might). But redefining marriage? I cannot see the Communion ever agreeing to that. Not because the Communion is intrinsically homophobic, but because such redefinition is intrinsically difficult, if not impossible, to ground into the Bible.
Now I could be wrong on these matters! I could be "misoverestimating" the lead TEC clerics such as Susan Russell are giving. But what if the future of TEC as a whole is with rather than against Susan Russell, moving beyond a theology of tolerance of diverse relationships to a redefinition of marriage: would there then be a disconnect between TEC and the Communion which is substantive?