Friday, June 4, 2010

Is the PB's Letter Persuasive? Let's See

For the Presiding Bishop's Pastoral Letter to work as a 'rebuke' (as commented on my post below), it needs, I submit, a good argument in its engine room. After all, the ABC commands the centre ground and retains the respect of moderate Anglicans. His letter is centrist and moderate. It does not ask the centre ground to reject or eject TEC, simply to accept that too much difference between TEC and its fellow members of the Communion exists for TEC to be given a full say in crucial faith and order decisions, and in representing the Communion ecumenically. (And, lest we forget, ditto, other moratorium breakers). Why would moderate Anglicans at the centre of the Communion not follow this modest (but significant) lead of the ABC?

Whether the PB realises it as clearly as this or not, the engine room of her letter needs a good argument to turn the ABC's argument around. He is the captain of a decent sized ship (the SS Communion) and has proposed a slight change in course. No need for the crew to mutiny. She is the captain of a tugboat racing alongside the SS Communion, trying to prevent the change in course. What is going on in the engine room of the tugboat?

Some things are happening there which are distractions, in my view, as arguments. They look like auxiliary engines, but they actually contribute no extra horsepower to her main engine. These distractions include her words about past events in church history such as the Synod of Whtiby and the spiritual violence done there in the name of 'uniformity'. I do not think the average Communion minded Anglican wakes up worrying about that. More likely is the thought that it is a jolly good thing that the date of Easter got sorted out for British Christians and their spiritual descendants! Nor is it helpful to talk about 'singular' understandings being imposed with a colonialist critique. On the one hand it is the proper aim of theological discourse to seek to arrive at an agreed understanding, that is, at singularity. On the other hand it is simply impossible for arguments to be received as persuasive outside the United States which critique others in the world for colonialist or imperial proclivities. No, we need to go to the engine room of her letter. I think it is here:

"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."

In my next post I will explain why I think this is the engine room of her argument and why it does not amount to an argument with sufficient persuasive power to change the course of the Communion. The least difficult thing to then show is the fact that, in the end, I think the Presiding Bishop of TEC, ++Katherine Jefferts Schori understands that, and thus her letter, finally, is a recognition that the Communion will move ahead on the course the ABC is charting.


Kurt said...

Well, perhaps you are right, Fr. Carrell, that “the Communion will move ahead on the course the ABC is charting.” But it won’t much matter to many moderate and progressive Anglicans and other Christians throughout the world. As you know, TEC did not consecrate the first openly lesbian bishop. TEC is not the only denomination to respect the personhood of gay people. We were not even the first church with “the historic episcopate” to ordain a woman a priest (though we were the first to consecrate a woman a bishop).

Perhaps “the Communion” will simply become less and less important to many of us for whom it once was, shall we say, relevant. No longer something to be terribly concerned about, or to expend significant resources on, etc. For example, under your scenario, I can see TEC remaining a nominal member of the AC but devoting more energy and resources to work with other organizations such as the Church of Sweden and the European Old Catholics, for example. (After all, most Episcopalians are in many ways closer to them than to most Anglican evangelicals in the world).

There are plenty of Anglicans (and non-Anglican Christians, too) throughout the world who identify with TEC and many of its theological and sociological positions. We will grow closer together in the coming period. Those who “move ahead on the course the ABC is charting” will have less and less relevance to our day-to-day experiences as we witness for Christ in the manner which we believe the Holy Spirit requires.

In fact, I would guess, for many Anglicans in New Zealand and Australia, the ABC and the AC will become less and less important in the coming years, as the AC becomes more and more conservative, rigid, fundamentalist, and narrow. People will just ignore it and go on with their lives. They will work with, and support financially, Christians in other denominations who share their values. Denominationalism will mean less, I think.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Rev.Z said...

Hi Peter,
I agree with you that the Whitby issue and the consideration of Colonial injustice were distractions from the main article. As a non-moderate Anglican I couldn't help but feel they added little to the argument and only pointed the finger at those who went before us, in the best way they knew how!

I found one thing sadly lacking from the engine room ..
"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."
I am pleased to respond with a hearty "Yes we are called to love all people, regardless of sexual orientation, yes we are to respect the dignity of all human persons, yes we are to labour toward a society of justice and peace...
BUT the fact that our baptismal vow also sees us die to the old sinful life and alive to a new one of transformation in Christ by the Spirit to bring about the holiness that ++Katharine mentions remains lost to TEC. This is my greatest sorrow. The absence of personal transformation from sinful ways, to be Christian or "Christ-like" doesn't really register as long as we are doing nice thing to other people. Is that all Jesus was about?


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Kurt
You could well be right!
I am not so sure that the ABC's course for the Communion will lead it to some kind of extreme conservatism; just keep it on a central pathway.
A final response is to say this: if some kind of correction of course of the Communion did not take place (i.e. if no censure of TEC takes place), would the Communion remain intact? In my view it would not.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Zane
A non-moderate Anglican?
Too many cream buns being consumed at morning tea?

Canon Neal said...

The other thing missing in her engine room argument of the Baptismal Covenant is that the Baptismal Covenantbegns with the question and answer: Will you contiue in the Apostles' traching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers? (I will, with God's help.)

In other words, the apostles' teaching and fellowship, etc., are the entryway to "respecting the dignity of every human being."

By acting unilaterally as TEC has done and against the request of the larger Church, they (we) have failed to continue in that fellowship.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Margaret G
Thanks for message. Much appreciated.

Suem said...

I think it is just an acknowledgement of where we are. She does indeed point out that other churches and denominations have heard the same message and are moving in the same direction as TEC. She also points out ( and there has been little comment that I can find on this) that some churches( such as the C of E, ironically enough!) officially condemn the ordination of LGBT priests and bishops but have an unwritten policy in many diocese of knowingly ordaining priests in same sex relationships, on a tacit understanding of silence. The ABC knows this.
What price integrity?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Suem,
Rather than try to understand the nuances of the C of E's situation (which seems indefensible on certain tellings of it), I would simply observe that TEC is and should be commended for its honesty about what its beliefs and practices are.