Friday, July 15, 2011

Squaring the circle

In the post below we have a resolution of our church's General Synod Standing Committee about a commission being set up to lead our church towards resolution of the situation in which we are formally undecided about ordinations of partnered gay ministers. This commission will face a numbr of challenges. Arguably these challenges cumulatively constitute the proverbial challenge of squaring a circle. I reserve the right to change my mind, but today this is how the challenges look to me:

(1) How to permit what a significant part of our church (let's say at least the three dioceses which are planning to bring motions to General Synod in 2012) wants in respect of an ending of the moratorium on ordaining openly gay ministers, while not driving a wedge through the life of our church?

(2)  How to define 'chaste/chastity' (a word used within our current canon on ministry standards) in respect of same sex partnerships? I note in recent days two quite different approaches by US bishops to same sex partnerships, one insisting that partnered clergy in his diocese get married, the other insistently refusing to tell his clergy what to do (see, e.g., here). 

(3a) How to be a theologically inclusive church? In my experience a lot of our ACANZP talk of inclusiveness is about including certain groups of people but not all people. 'All people' actually means including those who believe that Christians in general, and ministers in particular should be either single or (heterosexually) married. It is not, I hasten to add, that I think we as a church have set out to have a limited vision of inclusiveness, it is just that I do not think we have yet engaged rigorously with the true meaning of inclusive in respect of our church and the diversity of its life.

(3b) Another way of expressing this challenge is, How do we remain catholic and avoid becoming sectarian? 'Sectarian' here would be a church which had ended up making attitudes towards homosexuality the defining issue in respect of who receives a bishop's licence.

(4) It would not surprise me in the least if this particular challenge was overlooked: the challenge of being a church in a Communion seriously considering a Covenant in which we seek as much interdependency with one another as possible.

Simply musing as I see things today I venture a couple of predictions in the light of the challenges above:

(P1) ACANZP will end up with a something or other (i.e. a resolution or canon or guidelines) which is focused on permitting individual dioceses to make their own way forward as their bishop(s) and synod are agreeable.

(P2) ACANZP will open up, to one degree or another, the possibility of (for want of a better term) alternative episcopal oversight.

Something like P1 and P2 together could keep us from schism.

P1 would be in keeping with the lovely Anglican concept of 'all may, none must, some should' re a course of action and would respect the fact that (say) the Diocese of Polynesia may wish to move in these matters differently from the Diocese of Aotearoa; the Diocese of Wellington differently to the Diocese of Waiapu, and so forth.

Consequential on P1, there is an argument for P2 to be instituted by General Synod because P2 would allow those who, because of P1, felt at odds with their own diocese's polity. A conservative parish within progressive diocese X or a progressive parish within conservative diocese Y could, depending on the precise details of 'alternative episcopal oversight', work out (just to focus on) ordinations which continued the particular character of the parish.

Nevertheless I am talking about 'squaring the circle': I am not predicting that we will resolve challenges (1) - (4) above satisfactorily to all. If we cannot square that particular circle, then P1 and P2 may never surface.

On the other hand I have had experience of how things work in our pragmatic church. It would not be completely surprising if the commission raced straight to recommending P1 and P2!!


Bryden Black said...

Well Peter; now we really are trying to probe the crystal ball’s opaqueness! But well worth the effort of course, if only to canvas some of the real possibilities down the track ...

I want for now only to focus upon section 3, and by asking a rather basic question: What if the very terms of the debate are wrongly founded? I have written in a published article in a collection in Australia that the very language we use will determine the kinds of outcomes available - or not, as the case may be.

That is, specifically: the discourse of “inclusiveness” and “diversity” is to be naturally found in a modern and postmodern, autonomous cultural world. Whereas; the language of “catholicity” and “created differentiation” properly inhabits the world of the Christian Faith.

See Bryden Black, “Whose Language? Which Grammar? ‘Inclusivity’ and ‘Diversity’, versus the Crafted Christian concepts of Catholicity and Created Differentiation” in Brian Edgar & Gordon Preece, eds, Whose Homosexuality? Which Authority? Homosexual practice, marriage, ordination and the church (ATF Press, 2006), pp.151-167.

If that truly is the case, then “circles” belong in their sphere, and “squares” belong properly to forms that permit harsher angles. And yes; that’s one more time what Paul was himself getting at with Rom 12:1-2. So; if the ACANZ&P is to seek and find “the will of God” for our Islands, then a far deeper metanoia is required than that derived from a few skimpy huis! Let alone a commission ...

Father Ron Smith said...

"How to define chaste/chastity"

Peter, surely there can be no double standards - one for 'gays' and the otrher for 'straights'?

Unchastity in relationships involves infidelity to one's partner in a recognised partner-ship - however that partnership is constituted.

No authority today would deny a committed heterosexual monogamous partner-ship the joy of sexual love. What many enlightened people today are asking is for committed-partner relationships to be made available to both hetero- and homo-sexual monogamous couples. Is that too much to ask?

Perhaps the word 'marriage' has been too heavily laden with given meaning - excepting, of course, that the 'marriage of the Lamb' has an other meaning from that of a heterosexual couple. Could there not then be another meaning given to the relationships of committed homosexual, partnerships? Would that satisfy your need for some sort of distinction?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,

One question, Ron, is why stop at homosexual partnerships? If chasteness is about fidelity, on what theological grounds would a bishop differentiate between a same sex partnership and an incestuous partnership, each of which demonstrated 'fidelity'?

Father Ron Smith said...

On your last question Peter, I thought the answer would be quite obvious: Incest is against the Law of God and the Law of the Land.

Peter Carrell said...

"The Law of God", Ron ... now we ARE talking on the same page re the Christian understanding of human sexuality. I wonder what else the Law of God has to say ...