Monday, July 5, 2010

Australian Leg of Down Under Visit

Michael Bird's report and reflection, as posted on Virtue Online, includes this report of ++Schori's address in Brisbane:

"As it goes I got the opportunity of hearing Jefferts Schori speak on the Australian leg of the Rainbow Tour. She spoke to a gathering of 120-140 people at Christ Church in St Lu-cia Brisbane, Australia. A mostly receptive audience with a handful of evangelical ministers in attendance as well. To her credit, Jefferts Schori is a very engaging speaker, full of wit, charm, and eloquence. She is a master of working an audience and a superb communicator. Her talk went for 40 minutes and covered four areas.

First, she spoke about the history of the civil rights movement in the USA. This made it clear that gay rights stands in a trajectory with black rights and women's rights. In other words, the inclusion of gay clergy at all levels is not singularly a theological issue as much as it is a civil rights matter. She asked, "What is the normative human being?" and argued that no gender, race, or orientation is normative for all human beings. She spoke a lot about TEC canons and regulations including a 1985 canon that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation. Then 1989 saw the first openly gay priest ordained in TEC and she made clear that it was not considered a matter of doctrine. Most of all, she argued that TEC is obligated to affirm gay partnered relationships when they show signs of 'holy living'.

Second, Jefferts Schori spent time talking about how TEC elects its bishops. She noted that each diocese has its own canons and processes that must be respected. Furthermore, the presiding bishop has no power of veto over appointments. Jefferts Schori said that the presid-ing bishop has no power to intervene in a diocese except on moral grounds. This caused me to cough up a laugh with an embarrassing loudness that made people nearby turn around and look at me to see what I was smirking at. I couldn't conceal my jolted laugh-ter since I know about Jefferts Schori's legal representations in the Diocese of South Carolina that constitute a pre-emptive strike against Bishop Mark Lawrence.

Third, attention was given to changing views of marriage in TEC. Jefferts Schori summarized Paul's view of marriage as "don't bother about it" because Jesus was coming soon and the world was going to end according to Paul.

She rightly noted that marriage as a sacrament did not begin until the 1100s and that was usually for the purpose of legitimating an heir. The original Book of Common Prayer purposed the purpose of marriage as being to avoid fornication and for a child-bearing. In contrast, TECs Book of Common Prayer sees marriage for the purpose of mutual joy which can include child bearing but not necessarily requiring it. The Presiding Bishop also noted that between the 1100s to the late 1800s the blessing of friendships was common, especially for knights, and the intimacy of their friendship was never examined in such a blessing. All this served to demonstrate TECs unique theology of marriage that can accommodate committed long term same sex relationships.

Fourth, she addressed the matter of incursions into TEC's episcopal jurisdiction by Afri-can, Asian, and South American bishops. She noted that ordaining bishops to work in North America occurred in 1999/2000, three years before Gene Robinson was elected. She also mentioned that the Sydney Anglicans have a congregation in New York City (the abdominals.). I had another one of those embarrassing smirks on my face when I heard her appeal to the council of Nicea that forbade wandering bishops from operating out of their own area of jurisdiction. Since when did TEC regard itself as bound by the authority and regulations of the ecumenical creeds and councils?

Several TEC bishops have brazenly denied and denounced every single line of the Nicene Creed at one time or other. If Jack Spong is free to disregard the creeds and councils, why not anybody else? The irony here was most amusing. Anyway, Jefferts Schori spoke earnestly about the "gospel of liberty" that is compromised if the issue of gay and lesbian inclusion is not adequately addressed. She recognized a diversity of views in the church. She was adamant that she wants to keep talking and dialoguing with those who do not agree and does not insist that everyone follows the TEC on this matter.

Several questions followed which addressed her specific views of sexuality and Scripture. I learned that Jefferts Schori expects to be invited to the next Primates Meeting. There was a question about whether TEC's actions would prove to be worth it given the rupture that it has caused. She said she believed it was worth it because dioceses and provinces have to be allowed to determine how they will minister in their own context.

The impression I got from Jefferts Schori's lecture was: (1) TEC is not going to budge on the issue of gay ordination and same sex blessings, it is a done deal from their end of things; (2) The only real authority in TEC are the canons and by-laws, everything else including Scripture and Tradition is up for negotiation; (3) Whatever "Episcopalianism" is, it is not recognizable as orthodox Christianity, and truth be told, it seems clear that they rather like it that way; and (4) Christianity simply provides a vocabulary for talking about spirituality in the postmodern American context, and terms like grace, gospel, redemption, sin, salvation are no longer used with any currency that is recognizably Christian."

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