Friday, March 19, 2010

Future Communion

There are many families who bring their children up with the expectation that they will marry their life partner rather than live together outside of matrimony. Recently Teresa and I have had the joy of participating in wedding celebrations of three very fine young couples who have deliberately chosen to follow such expectations. But what are parents to do when such expectations are not followed? Eject their children from future family gatherings? Threaten to disinherit their offspring? These days one does not hear of such things happening. Rather parents bite their tongues, keep praying for their children, and try to treat their married and unmarried partnered children equally in warmth of welcome and depth of hospitality.

Now that TEC has not only confirmed the election of Mary Glasspool, but also confirmed its commitment to be a church teaching an extended doctrine of marriage to include both heterosexual marriage and homosexual partnership, the Anglican Communion, with or without a Covenant in prospect, will make a decision about the future inclusion of TEC.

That decision may only be implicit: diaried meetings will continue, no one will be turned away, thus, de facto, the Communion will continue to include TEC. Predictably this will be accompanied by the self-exclusion of some member churches. The decision may be explicit: member church after member church may reject the Covenant on the grounds that they believe its adoption will mean the exclusion of TEC. Or, ++Rowan could make a statement to the effect that - like parents in my narrative above - he will continue to be in communion with TEC even though he disagrees with their theology of marriage. Such a statement could also be reason for further self-exclusion, but it would set a direction for the future meetings of Communion bodies. Then, of course, the Communion could make a decision otherwise: TEC will not be welcome because it does not share in the common doctrine of marriage as generally espoused across the Communion. But either way, there will be a decision.

Here I want to suggest that the Communion carefully consider all possibilities. It should realistically consider the impact of not moving to exclude TEC, or at least to confine its involvement to a 'second tier' of the Communion. But it should also consider being like the parents above when faced with the reality of difference in understanding within a family: with some pain because of the difference, nevertheless inclusion will continue. To exclude TEC is certainly reasonable: a Communion works best where common doctrine undergirds it. But inclusion has a reasonable argument supporting it too.

I think that argument goes like this. It is desirable to have a church pure in doctrine and in practice. But church history shows us how rarely this has been fulfilled, and how often fulfilment has been temporary rather than permanent. People stuff up. An global example is before our eyes right now: the Roman Catholic church, much admired for its doctrinal purity by many conservative Anglicans, cannot gain much traction out of the quagmire of paedophiliac scandal. Should it be shunned by the remainder of the Christian global community? Or should we continue to work relationally on encouraging our Roman brothers and sisters to follow Christ, repenting whenever and wherever some among them need to do so? Of course we should, and we would be doing so conscious of our ongoing disagreements with aspects of Roman doctrine, and with the pain of being out of eucharistic communion with Rome.

TEC has chosen a path. Some of us in the global Communion think they should repent of it. All of us need to recognise that that is not how TEC understands the situation: they are boldly pioneering a new way in Christ! (For as fine an apologia of this way as anything I have read, read Mark Harris here). Are we to revile TEC (as various commenters seem to do without hesitation) and exclude it from fellowship? Or, like parents in the first paragraph above, do we now swallow hard and bite our tongues? Do we give TEC the space to continue their pioneering journey, even though within our hearts we have grave doubt as to where it will lead? Might we offer this grace, not because we do not care about their doctrinal difference with us, but simply because God affords us grace, impure and imperfect as we are, in our own doctrine and practice?

There are many issues here. Posing these questions with a bias towards continued inclusion is by no means a last word on a difficult situation. What fellowship will TEC offer those in their midst who do not agree with this now confirmed new doctrine of marriage? Why not also pioneer a new way of being Anglican in North America which includes ACNA as a province? (Yes, I know that ACNA would need to cease talking about replacing TEC and ACCan. But could those commenters on the internet who call ACNA "wannabe Anglicans" cease talking in that way also?!). What will the future of the Communion be? Africa and Asia-less?

To return to my first paragraph. Life can be much more complicated than imagined there. The parents may open their home at Christmas time to all their children and their partners, married or unmarried. But it is always possible that the married children will not agree with such an inclusive stance, and the Christmas table will have empty seats. Who would be a parent then?


Rosemary Behan said...

Again Peter, your compassion is remarkable, and wholly to be praised. But the question needs answering, if it's the eldest child that doesn't bother to marry, what are the parents going to teach the younger children .. and how? You are advocating no discipline whatsoever, and I think we can prove by recent events, that that doesn't work either.

Not saying I have the answer you understand.

Peter Carrell said...

Well, if you do have the answer, publish it in a book before notifying the ABC - it's sure to be a bestseller :)

I think I would like to reflect further and one day soon write on "advocating no discipline whatsoever". But an initial thought, off the top of my head, in response to your very pertinent point, is that, in some families at least, the situation does not readily permit of 'discipline': for example all the children are well into adulthood, clearly making their own judgements about things, but no girlfriends/boyfriends are on the horizon; then the eldest moves in with his girlfriend ... would family discipline at that stage teach the younger (but mature) siblings?

But that is only one permutation of possible scenarios. Not all adults are mature etc :)

Anonymous said...

TEC's rebellion and disobedience is not primarily against other Christians but against the Lord. That's why I wouldn't push the errant kidult analogy.
It isn't simply a painful 'family matter'. It has severed itself from felloship by teaching and practicing false doctrine.
we can hope and pray that the prodigal will come to
his senses, but to argue that repentance isn't needed or there should be nodiscipline is to give up on being Christ's church.
Tec called RW's bluff a long time ago with the endless war of attrition but we have only suffered from seven years on non-leadership. And yes, some of us saw this coming in 2003.

Rosemary Behan said...

Peter, I KNOW I don't have the answers. But just as children are happier knowing there are boundaries, family 'rules' if you like, I also know that when your children are adults, you must maintain that. For instance, and I'm speaking from personal experience, if one of your adult children comes home for Christmas with his 'partner' as opposed to his wife, because this is a Christian home, they cannot stay in it together. If they wish to sleep together, they must do so elsewhere. I can assure you this DOES speak to all the children, adults or no.

Same with drugs .. are you suggesting there should be no discipline, that taking drugs, smoking pot for instance, should be permitted in the family home?

Some of my children are nearing their forties, but discipline is still part of their lives when they visit this Christian family home. I think that is essential, I would go further, it's a witness!

Just some thoughts off the top of my head I'm afraid.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rosemary and Anonymous
Yes the analogy is tricky when pressed in certain directions.
Here is a thought: the Brown extended family live at 1, 3, 5, and 7 Rata Place. Son at number 1 moves his wife out and new boyfriend in. Siblings and parents take umbrage, impose discipline, and the Christmas table is set for fewer places this year. But the rest of the street just says, "Look at the Brown family, what a funny old bunch they are".

Say we impose discipline on TEC; even more remarkably, say they accept it. But won't the world still call us all "anglicans" and mark us down for our squabbling?

Rosemary Behan said...

Well Peter, I think we’ve had enough discussion about this recently here ..

You are in my opinion, conflating two things. What you describe about the family in Rata Place, is a pastoral issue. Trouble is, in so doing you indicate that the family should NOT stand by their values but corrupt those values in order to be ‘loving’ towards a member of the family who disagrees.
By all means lets discuss that pastoral issue, for instance I think it’s entirely wrong for the son and new boyfriend not to be at the Christmas table if said son WANTS to celebrate the birth of Christ with them, but they should not be permitted to indulge whatever it is they do that upsets the family, WITHIN THE HOUSE of that family. That way the values of the family do not change because the values of the son have changed.

You ask about the view of the ‘world’ towards folk who are squabbling, but what about the view of the ‘world’ that sees a family with NO values?

Anonymous said...

The “we” and “they” approach of your blog is disturbing, especially from a province that is miniscule in comparison with TEC. This thread is precipitated by an impending consecration of a lesbian bishop without any acknowledgment that the Bible has nowhere a single verse proscribing female-female sexual activity.

Anonymous said...

Peter, our Lord has some very clear words for dealing with those who lay claim to the name of Christ but disobey his teaching: Matthew 18.17.

And he has clear words for his church when it is reviled for doing right.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 3:25 has evidently never read - or never read and understood - Romans 1:27.

As for "numbers": the minuscule, decling (see Titusonenine for details) and aging congregations of Tec should start listening to the majority of Anglicans if they wish to reamin in the communion.

(BTW, the idea of a female "bishop" is completely unknown in the New Testament.)

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks for thoughtful responses!

It is a tricky situation when a member of a family does not share, or no longer shares the values of the rest of the family, even trickier when some in the family are clear about how to respond and some are not, and even trickier when all are agreed that there should be a response, but no one can agree what the response should be!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @ 2:00 AM:
The ἄρσενες referred to in Romans 1:27 are males not females!

(BTW, the idea of a blog comment is completely unknown in the New Testament.)

Anonymous said...

Anon at 2:00 - my mistake: I meant the clear denunciation of lesbian desire or behavior in verse 26, not verse 27, which deals with male homosexual acts.

But I imagine even you realized that. Obfuscating timewasters and pedants are certainly known in the New Testament.

Not a few churches have gone astray on the great wide American continent. In the 19th century New England once-orthodox trinitarian congregationalism large succumbed to Unitarianism and Emersonian 'New Thought'. In the 20th century it was the turn of Episcopalianism. The conservative influences of the liturgy and the worldwide Communion connections slowed this down, but it was only a matter of time before the true underlying faith of American liberalism and individualism would come to the surface.
And that is what has happened here: that peculiar American combination of religiosity, individual striving ('I gotta be me') and third rate scholarship.

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 5:51 PM
As you claimed I had never read the Romans text, I'm at a loss to understand if you see yourself as obfuscating, a timewaster, or a pedant, or are making some reference to the New Testament text.

Please indicate where there is the "clear denunciation of lesbian desire or behavior" in
διὰ τοῦτο παρέδωκεν αὐτοὺς ὁ θεὸς εἰς πάθη ἀτιμίας: αἵ τε γὰρ θήλειαι αὐτῶν μετήλλαξαν τὴν φυσικὴν χρῆσιν εἰς τὴν παρὰ φύσιν
Maybe it's there in the prejudice you bring to the text, but it certainly isn't there in the text as presented.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 8:06 - as you know how to cut and paste from the Greek NT (and presumably read Greek), I'm sure you know how to consult an upper level commentary on Romans. Douglas Moo or Charles Cranfield (ICC) is a good place to start.

Quaerite et invenietis (Vulgate).

Peter Carrell said...

To the two anonymice battling exegetically

I am happy to take a comment or two more ... but not much more than that.

I do not see that the Communion's difficulty with TEC's decision rests on a sentence or so in Scripture: it rests on the doctrine of marriage which is founded in Scripture (many verses and many narratives) and shaped through the tradition of the church, with the related development of standard's of lifestyle expected of clergy (in some churches celibate singleness, in others celibate singleness or marriage) - this standard also having its foundation in Scripture.

Unless there were a single sentence in Scripture giving a partnered lesbian or gay person a pass on these requirements, whether there is one verse or no verse speaking prohibitively of same sex partnerships is a moot point.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your graciousness, Peter. One of the values of this blog is that you allow space for people who hold a different position to your own.

@ Anonymous 4:51 AM This is a public discussion where I hope we are all seeking together and with respect. I may very well have those commentaries in my library, but other readers here may not, and may not readily have access to them.

To respond to my comment not with an explanation, but by sending me and other readers here off to some “upper level” commentaries in itself acknowledges that there is NOT a “clear denunciation of lesbian desire or behavior" in Romans 1:26 or an “upper level” commentary would not be required. In fact those commentaries make clear various possible interpretations of this difficult passage.

If there is a “clear denunciation of lesbian desire or behavior" in this verse as you contend, please point to it.

Anonymous said...

Quaerite et invenietis is precisely the problem of your approach to Rom 1:26 – you’ll find it if you look for it there. But if you are not looking for a condemnation of lesbianism in Rom 1:26 then you will not find it there, because, although you can read it into that text having arrived to read it with a certain prejudice, you cannot derive it from the text as it is. Quaerite et invenietis indeed!

Anonymous said...

Anon at 12:17 opines:
"But if you are NOT looking for a condemnation of lesbianism in Rom 1:26 then you will not find it there..."
Exactamundo. As St Paul Simon reminds us, "A (wo)man sees what (s)he wants to see and disregards the rest."
I marvel at these "hermeneutical" prestigitations that Tec comes up with (after all, I can find nothing - zilch - nada - nix in the Bible condemning *American* lesbian bishops!) in the same way that Dr Johnson marveled at a dog walking on hind legs: 'not that it does it so badly but that it can do it at all.'

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 7:29 PM

Very droll. But not useful.

The claim was that Romans 1:26 has a "clear denunciation of lesbian desire or behavior". Peter is graciously allowing this useful discussion on his blog even though opinions differ to his own. No one is suggesting the word "American" is found in the Bible. Nor is this discussion an official statement from TEC as you suggest. It is a discussion amongst respecting Christians struggling with a difficult text. Join in, if you like, but without mocking and distracting the contributors.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 12:44 - ho gegrapha, gegrapha, to quote one who crept into the Creed as some have crept into the church. Your question wasn't serious but diversionary. Tec wants to keep little ACANZP on side in the global collapse of Anglicanism.
Maybe *you can answer my question: what do *you think of the Diocese of Central New York dispossessing the Church of the Good Shepherd, Binghamton, then selling the property to a Muslim group?
Pretty revelatory of their true character, I'd have thought.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous 7:50PM

The only questions being asked in this thread of comments are about disciplining family members - other than that I see no questions, serious or diversionary, than yours. Other readers will have to judge if yours, in the context of this thread, is serious or diversionary. I had never heard of this case, so googled it and found complex stories above my pay-grade to comment on. I did find an interesting point that said the Anglican Church of Kenya is a constituent member church of ACNA. Please could someone explain, comment, expand on that.