Saturday, June 5, 2010

Pot-holes on Road to Persuasion

Rather than ask whether it is perfect in fact and in reconstruction of Anglican history, but whether it is likely persuasive of the centre ground of the Anglican Communion, we are drawn in the Presiding Bishop's response to the Archbishop of Canterbury's Pentecost letter past some distractions (much commented on across the internet) to this passage, the engine room of her argument:

"The baptismal covenant prayed in this Church for more than 30 years calls us to respect the dignity of all other persons and charges us with ongoing labor toward a holy society of justice and peace. That fundamental understanding of Christian vocation underlies our hearing of the Spirit in this context and around these issues of human sexuality."

Here ++Katherine Jefferts Schori sets out an honest summary of the theology propelling the majority of TEC's bishops and standing committees to endorse the ordination of a same sex partnered person as bishop, as well as leading TEC's General Convention on a trajectory towards formal promulgation of liturgies for blessing same sex partnerships.

That is, an understanding of baptism as a covenanted call to Christian vocation in which is enshrined a recognition of the dignity of all persons and the refusal to discriminate on grounds of sexuality "underlies our hearing of the Spirit in this context and around these issues of human sexuality." Immediately notable here is the absence of reference to Scripture, and the way in which hearing the Spirit is shaped by the prior decision of the church to institute its particular understanding of baptism in relation to vocation.

To make these observations does not necessarily mean Scripture is irrelevant to TEC's understanding of baptism, nor that its decision some 30 years ago was not itself Spirit-led. But it is to observe that some important factors around persuading the middle ground of the Communion are absent.

In the argument presented here is no clear sense of Scriptural mandate to bless same-sex partnerships, nor is there a connection with other Anglican understandings of baptism in relation to vocation. I suggest that persuading the middle ground would be more likely through reference to Scripture, and through reference to a wider Anglican understanding of vocation (for example, that understanding that would distinguish one lifestyle from another in discerning vocation). In other words, if this letter is a road to persuasion there are some pot-holes in it. I think, in the end, the Archbishop's letter is unchallenged in its hold on the centre ground by the Presiding Bishop's letter. The course of the Communion will not be changed by a letter which fails to front up the challenge of demonstrating from Scripture that same sex partnerships may be blessed in God's name.

Further I suspect (and am not alone in this view, reading across the internet) that Presiding Bishop understands the weakness of her position in respect of leading the Communion on a course different to the one charted by the ABC. I say this because of her penultimate paragraph:

"As a Church of many nations, languages, and peoples, we will continue to seek every opportunity to increase our partnership in God's mission for a healed creation and holy community. We look forward to the ongoing growth in partnership possible in the Listening Process, Continuing Indaba, Bible in the Life of the Church, Theological Education in the Anglican Communion, and the myriad of less formal and more local partnerships across the Communion – efforts in mission and ministry that inform and transform individuals and communities toward the vision of the Gospel – a healed world, loving God and neighbor, in the love and friendship shown us in God Incarnate."

Here the option is kept open of TEC being more openly positioned in the world of Anglicans as 'a Church of many nations, languages, and peoples', a potential alternative Communion of Anglicans. The looking forward is not to resuming a full role in the spheres of the Anglican Communion in which they now have a lesser role. Rather the forward look is towards a variety of important Anglican networks and processes which to be blunt are not the 'top table' of Communion fellowship (cue outraged comments from those running the Continuing Indaba!?). In fact the key words may be these, "we will continue to seek every opportunity to increase our partnership in God's mission for a healed creation and holy community", which could be code for more effort put into those (non-Anglican) churches around the world which have made similar decisions to TEC.

In the future history of the Anglican Communion, this letter could be the decisive document indicating the emerging of a two-stage Communion, if not two Communions from the events of the first decade of the twenty-first century.


Howard Pilgrim said...

Peter, sometimes you can be distinctly exasperating! Three times you posted variants on the same criticism of the PB's letter -that it fails to persuade you as a representative of "centre-ground" Anglicans around the world. Having initially praised the letter as an honest theological declaration, you then damn it for failing in the one thing you most demand from it, "to front up the challenge of demonstrating from Scripture that same sex partnerships may be blessed in God's name."

Oh dear, this animal is not a cat, which is what I wanted; in fact it's a dog.

A pastoral letter addressed to her own province as its leader, as its title states?. Yes, it is not so bad at what it claims to be. An argument from scripture that will persuade a far-off but rather persistent critic
of her province's policy? Naughty PB! You didn't even try - see me after class ...

Peter Carrell said...

Me? Exasperating?

OK will leave the letter alone for a while at least.

Plenty of other comment around on the internet.

If it is solely intended for TEC then it is a great letter: theologically correct for its local context, favourable to the history of that context, and already drawing a chorus line of support from people and groups determined that TEC shall not veer from its pathway.

So, yes, I maybe wrong that it is also intended as a message to the Communion ...

Howard Pilgrim said...

Right then, Peter, having pulled you away from your temporary fixation on the deficiencies of ++KJS, it may be a good time to question you about one of your own, which is to say your frequent demand that those of us advocating full acceptance of faithful sexual relationships within the Church have an obligation to justify this policy from holy scripture alone.

I have two substantial objections to your demand:-

1. It goes against Anglican theological norms. In classical Anglican theology (Hooker et al), we find revelation of God's will for us through a combination of reason, scripture and tradition, in that order. You seem to frequently reverse that order (when you are not simply asking for a scripture-alone argument) by arguing that in view of a 2000-year traditional condemnation of homosexual relationships, only a clear demonstration from scriptural grounds that God had declared them legitimate could justify any change to the tradition. For you, the longevity of the tradition is your mainstay, followed by scripture as you read it, with experience out of view or highly suspect. So one way to respond to this is to dismiss your demand as Puritan rather than Anglican, along with your claim to represent mainstream Anglicanism. It may be, of course that you do actually speak for the majority of Anglicans, but that this majority has abandoned classical Anglican hermeneutics, and that the neo-Calvanist invasion is triumphant. :-(

2. What you demand may be impossible, in principle, and therefore not from God, who does not demand the impossible from us.
a. To the extent that the scriptures say nothing at all about faithful homosexual relationships as such, we are not going to find them either condemned or endorsed. Scriptural endorsement could only come as support for faithfulness and other general relational virtues.
b. Apparent scriptural condemnation of some aspects of homosexual behaviour is a subset of Israel's law, as I argued in a recent thread. Abandonment of that condemnation is part and parcel of abandoning the whole legal code: almost impossible to justify from within the code itself. I am thinking here of the difficulty Paul and other Early Christians must have faced in responding to a demand from Jews loyal to Torah that they show a justification for abandoning Torah observance from within Torah itself, especially given the Mosaic insistence that Torah is given to Israel for all generations. Paul's arguments are mainly from the prophets, and probably most convincing to those who already shared his convictions, which brings me to -
c. You seem to demand persuasive arguments, meaning ones that will force you to change your convictions, rather than explain how we justify our our own to ourselves. One can only try, but it would be helpful if you painted your goalposts in bright colours so we know they are not shifting. Otherwise, another aspect of an impossible task for a theological Sisyphus.
The reality, of course, is that we will live out our convictions, in the light of scripture, and if you are eventually impressed enough, you might find scriptural reason to change your mind. And ++KJS will keep on writing letters to the faithful, on her own terms. :-)

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard,
I would like to (i) wait a few days and see if any other comments arrive 'from the centre', (ii) to formulate a post in response, rather than a comment, (iii) immediately assure you that this is (a) not about me, personally as an individual, but about the whole of ACANZP remaining intact, and the Communion as well, (b) not about 'Scripture alone' but about a common Anglican view that Scripture is central to our life (and, therefore, what attention to Scripture needs to be paid in persuasive arguments).

Write to you soon ...

Tim Harris said...

Not too keen to buy into this one, but to respond to Howard's:

'In classical Anglican theology (Hooker et al), we find revelation of God's will for us through a combination of reason, scripture and tradition, in that order.'

Not sure how you can conclude that, when Hooker is pretty clear:

“What Scripture doth plainly deliver, to that the first place both of credit and obedience is due; the next whereunto, is what any [one] can necessarily conclude by force of Reason; after this, the voice of the church succeedeth... (Laws, Book V, 8:2)

I'd suggest far from abandoning classical Anglican hermeneutics, Peter appears to be somewhat closer to the mark in this regard in terms of his theological method.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks, Tim!
I would not want to be out of sync with the Blessed Hooker.

Howard Pilgrim said...

Context changes everything, Tim, with the Blesssed Hooker as much as any writer. Your quote from Book 5 of the "Laws" relates specifically to the ordering of divine worship rather than life in general and moral responsibility in particular. The nature of law in general is set out in the first two books where his view is much more nuanced, with reason having a more prominent role in partnership with scripture, and tradition trailing well behind.

For instance we find statements such as this in Book One, XV.1:- "Laws being imposed either by each man upon himself, or by a public society upon the particulars thereof, or by all the nations of men upon any or every of these; there is not amongst these four kinds any one but containeth sundry both natural and positive laws. Impossible it is but that they should fall into a number of gross errors, who take only such laws for positive as have been made or invented of men, and holding this position hold also, that all positive and none but positive laws are mutable ... Positive laws are either permanent or else changeable, according as the matter itself is concerning which they are first made. Whether God or man be the maker of them, alteration they so far forth admit, as the matter doth exact." God-given laws (including Lev.18:22?) are subject to alteration as contexts change and their intrinsic nature makes evident? I am by no means a Hooker scholar, but he has much to teach modern Anglicans in his long dispute with the Puritans.