Wednesday, February 17, 2010

To have and to hold, from this time forward

One way of viewing TEC-and-homosexuality in relation to the rest of the Communion is this: TEC has done the right thing consecrating Gene Robinson, taking itself to the verge of authorising formal blessings of same sex partnerships, how long before the rest of the Communion 'gets it' and catches up?

But here is another view of TEC-and-homosexuality: it has gone about things the wrong way; it has not sorted itself theologically on homosexuality and it has confused majorities at General Convention with the mind of God for the church today.

Hold that comment, "Peter you do not know what you are talking about ...".

Here is a thoughtful bishop within TEC (my italics):

"While I do believe that a case for the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people that rests on faithful arguments from Scripture, theological anthropology, etc., can be made, the fact is that this church has not officially done so. Not that our official theology is deficient, but in fact, we have none, other than the traditional teaching still theoretically in force that love is to be sexually expressed only within the bonds of Matrimony between husband and wife. Of course, there are plenty of theologians writing theologies, lots of people composing liturgies of same-sex blessings, and partnered gay clergy are fairly commonplace. But while there are General Convention resolutions that anticipate such developments, no official teaching backs these actions. ...

... It is my conviction that wherever one is on the spectrum of opinion, to have no theology for full inclusion, while more or less practicing it, is worse than having bad theology. Bad theology cries out for better theology. No theology, however, calls the whole enterprise into question."

This bishop is Bishop Pierre Whalon, the Bishop in Charge of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe. He astutely observes some of the effects of this lack of theology (my italics):

"It is precisely because we then provided no rationale as a church for this change that we were asked to practice "gracious restraint." It is not that the whole rest of the Anglican Communion disagrees with us—that is simply not true. But even those elsewhere who agree with a full inclusion position do not on the whole support how we have gone about it. While General Convention is the final arbiter of what The Episcopal Church believes, simply relying on bald resolutions and election results does not spell out its teaching. ...

... In a peculiar way, political implementation basically has gone before theological acceptance.

This political, non-theological way of going forward is great ammunition not only for the schismatics within our church, and their foreign partners busily violating in deafening silence the third Windsor moratorium on cross-border interventions, but also for those supporters of punitive measures against gays in Africa. It seems lawless. In other words, it gives the appearance that shadowy avatars of some putative "gay agenda" really do rule our church behind the scenes, instead of Scripture and communal Reason, informed by Tradition."

The final paragraph is no less stirring in its challenge than what has preceded it (my italics):

"Some have said that the moratoria will end when we act to end them. Such an action, undefended, would only perpetuate the present anomie, and raise a real question about a “General-Convention fundamentalism”—“the majority voted it, therefore God said it, and that settles it.” Rather, we need to continue to keep "gracious restraint" until we have done the necessary work in order to end it. We do not have to wait for the rest of the Communion to approve our arguments, of course. But it is terrible that we as a church have continued to avoid that work, and all therefore continue to pay a heavy price, both within and without The Episcopal Church. If we go on blessing same-sex unions and consecrating people in those partnered relationships, and yet continue to refuse to do that work, will that mean that we cannot justify our actions? And if we cannot, then what — in God's name — do we think we're doing?"

Read the whole essay at Anglicans Online here.

Now you know someone like Pierre Whalon is onto a well made point when Jim Naughton views it sympathetically (see here and here with the second including a reply by Bishop Whalon and both pieces generating interesting discussion in the comments).

This is grist to my theological mill: if we are to be a communion of common minds on homosexuality then we need to have a theology which we hold together in order to move forward; or at least have a theology which we agree to disagree on. Bishop Whalon exposes the emperor's clothing in respect of TEC's theological work on homosexuality. If they have not done that work and owned it officially, we can be sure other provinces in the Communion are well behind!

Postscript: reading the comments at the initial offering of Episcopal Cafe (Jim Naughton) makes my Anglican heart sink! Apparently Anglicans do not need to arrive at a theology agreed by its General Synods or Conventions. Indeed it might be dangerous to do so because one such theology would lead to 'Inquisition'. On other matters, e.g. the ordination of women, we do not have that theology, but we are fine to have pressed ahead. But what takes the biscuit is a line 'We would never get agreement - those absolutists will never agree, no matter how long we run a theological commission on these matters.'

Umm, on the last point, such disagreement could be due to other reasons such as the improbability of securing agreement on a sound theological argument when tested against the full weight of church processes, as opposed to putting sound bites on the internet and getting a publisher sympathetic to one side of the argument to publish a book making the argument.

Personally I remain convinced that good theology is worth doing as Anglicans, and pragmatism is a recipe for ultimate disaster for any Anglican province, let alone the whole Communion. I say that, incidentally, as a member of ACANZP where there is too much pragmatism, and the resultant bite marks are beginning to be seen on our posterior!


Kurt said...

I’m sure that we Episcopalians (and Canadian Anglicans) have made our share of mistakes along the way, and the good bishop may well be right in the offered criticisms. Obviously, additional theological work would be helpful. However, I think that for some people there would never be enough theological reflection to convince them of the essential rightness of the TEC/ACofC position. “Not enough theological work” is simply an excuse for them.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

I was elected to the Vestry of our parish, to serve a three-year term.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Kurt
Congratulations on being elected to your Vestry!

While it is true that some Anglicans "not enough theological work" may have the feel of an excuse to other Anglicans, it is not unreasonable for an Anglican to ask what kind of theological endorsement has been given a significant new step in the life of their church.

Anonymous said...

Yet once again, the last sentence of the post notwithstanding, this post is about homosexuality and the bad “them” (TEC). Why not make the last sentence the focus of your post? Apply the bishop’s criticism to your own context.

The peak of your GS theological reflection was undoubtedly the report on ordaining women (made at the time when NZ clergy average theological training was at its zenith). If you haven’t read it – it’s a quick, light, bed-time read. The most interesting part of it is the seeking of the opinion of the NZ Liberal Catholic Church (not to be confused by your readers with liberal Catholics – the “Liberal Catholic Church” is an autonomous denomination that can best be described in simple terms as the Theosophical Society at prayer)! TEC would never contemplate using the Liberal Catholic Church as a theological resource, but if it did, I’m sure that this site would join many others in crying FOUL!!! Yet not a whisper when NZ does this.

From this pinnacle of theological acumen of your greatest minds reflecting on ordaining women it’s all down hill through theological reflections on divorce, parallel jurisdictions, diocesan structures (how many dioceses is Tikanga Maori again? Sorry what a colonial question – until it landed in your courts), multiple primacy, multiple-but-equal bishops in one diocese, multiple cathedrals in one diocese, worship innovations…

Criticism within TEC appears perfectly appropriate when done within TEC. Where is the same level of openness, and honest, humble, competent discourse and critique from a bishop or even you within your own province? What kind of theological endorsement has been given these significant new steps in the life of your church?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
One reason for focusing attention on TEC is this: whether TEC likes it or not, its actions have the capacity to make or break the present shape, structure and strength of the Communion.

There are many things wrong with our church in these islands - I scarcely need draw attention to them when commenters such as yourself are already very well informed about them. But last time I checked the Anglican Communion was not about to divide over things happening here.

Unknown said...

This reminds me of what Bishop John Gladwin was fond of saying to traditionalists in his own diocese: "we need to do the hard work" on these issues.

He was, of course, a champion for "Changing Attitude" - both the principle and the campaign group. It is interesting, and revealing, to see an American bishop saying that the hard work is being ducked by the advocates of that same change.

Daniel Weir said...

As I read Bp Whalon's comments - and his response to the comments of others - it seems that the problem isn't that theological work hasn't been done, but that the General Convention of TEC has not endorsed/adopted/whatever a theological statement about the full inclusion of LGBT people in TEC. I hope that GC will adopt such a statement, perhaps as it addresses the question of liturgies for the blessing of same-sex unions.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Fr Daniel
I think John Richardson might agree with me on this point: theologies abound in our church in favour of this and or that, but when they are missing from the official narrative of the church, events may treat the minority unfairly. Were TEC to do the 'hard work' at Convention level of endorsing a theology supportive of same sex partnerships I am confident it would have to also acknowledge the plausibility of theology which, working from tradition and Scripture, is not supportive of approving same sex partnerships. Thus the minority conservatives within TEC might be treated a little better than they seem to be ...

Anonymous said...

I had missed the part in your post that poor theological reflection is only bad when it tends to break the present shape, structure and strength of the Communion. I thought you were saying that it isn’t a numbers game, so in your church, just because the numbers are less, wouldn’t poor theological reflection be significant especially for a blogger down under because it has the capacity to make or break the present shape, structure and strength of your church? Finally, whether you like it or not, your church and several significant leaders within it have had the capacity to contribute well beyond your size to the making or breaking of the present shape, structure and strength of the Communion.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
Try as I might I cannot find where I said or implied that "poor theological reflection is only bad when it tends to break the present shape, structure and strength of the Communion". Poor theological reflection is bad fullstop. But its capacity to damage the church may vary from context to context.

What I am trying to say is that it is fair for Communion-minded Anglicans far from TEC to take an interest in TEC because its actions (including its theological work or lack of theological work) have a significant capacity to build up or divide the Communion.

Some NZ Anglicans have been and are contributing to the life of the Communion in significant ways. I certainly hope they are reflecting well theologically but I would be surprised to find them being avid readers of this blog!

Anonymous said...

Why would you be surprised to find them being avid readers of this blog?

Anonymous said...

Where does theological reflection cease to be faith seeking understanding and start to be homophobia seeking rationalization?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
I would be surprised to find that ACANZP's most Communion influencing people were avid readers of this blog because (a) they are very busy people, (b) they have never given me any indication that they read my blog (by contrast some other members of my church have been kind enough to say that they do read this blog)!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
A good question: "Where does theological reflection cease to be faith seeking understanding and start to be homophobia seeking rationalization?"

One answer is that it could be at the point where we cease to engage with Scripture as the Word of God revealing to us the requirements of right living and begin to engage with our natural tendencies in emotions and rationalizations.