Monday, September 29, 2008

The First Christmas

September 29, 2008

Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan will be back at Al Saints’ in December for a program we are co sponsoring with the Dykes Foundation ( They will focus on the work in their book The First Christmas which is something of a sequel to The Last Week. They have some helpful insights into the theological meaning of the birth and infancy narratives calling them ‘parabolic prologues’ to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. They do some thorough work on the genealogies, making sense not only of their content but also of their placement within the stories. They also continue working effectively on their theme that Jesus was in some respects a ‘counter-Emperor’ whose claims were true in contrast to those of the Caesar. They do address the (differing) ways in which Matthew and Luke make use of the Old Testament, but fulfillment of Jewish expectation is not their primary theme. For a contrast to these views (although not a contradiction) you might try N. T. Wright in Jesus and the Victory of God.

Borg and Crossan are also good on emphasizing the Jewish context for reading and understanding the gospels. This is very much the theme of our series of classes called ‘This Rabbi and Jesus’ which got underway yesterday taught by Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin. He leads a community called Kol Echad and you can learn more about it here: His sclasses are themselves intended as a preparation for this year’s Ann Evans Woodall lecture to take place on the Thursday following All Saints’ Sunday. This year the lecturer will be Amy Jill Levine ( whose most recent book is The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus (Harper, 2006). Altogether this fall provides a feast as we consider Jesus’ question to Peter in Mark 8, “Who do you say that I am?”

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Financial Crisis

September 25, 2008

The Archbishop of Canterbury has been busy lately offering a cautious criticism of unregulated financial markets ( Not so the Archbishop of York whose criticisms were not cautious in the least ( and asking for renewed commitment to the Millennium Development Goals and the eradication of poverty on the eve of the General Assembly of the United Nations. ( I am cheered by the attention being given to the current economic crisis and especially his renewed attention to the eradication of poverty where so many are busy appearing to either protect their riches on one hand or assign blame to the greedy on the other. I hope that the President and Congress take their time to structure any rescue package thoughtfully and carefully to make sure it achieves the desired goals and minimizes the unintended consequences. There is much that I have not yet grasped about the proposals floating around at this point but this I do ‘get’: the billions of dollars we are talking about eventually and somewhere become real money that buys bread and cheese and the like. It is the same real money that is going to pay for our war of aggression and in some way shape or form bear the reality of our various national deficits. We are right to be concerned about economic managers who think that all this money will appear by magic as a gift of that mythical (idolatrous?) god we call ‘the market’. In the end, one way or another, those billions result from our labor and the taxes we are able to pay, or some kind of profit from taking a stake in the financial services industry, a form of socialism that does not inspire me.

I’m looking forward to hearing our presidential candidates discuss these issues and think there is no time like the present. Maybe during the long scheduled and expensive-for-donors-who-make-gifts-to-fund the debate this Friday?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Rites for Same Gender Couples Continued

September 24, 2008

It is clear after only one day of preliminary conversation and response that naming such rites as ‘marriage’ is still immensely controversial (even when the resistance is more emotional and intuitive than rational) and so stands a good chance of getting in the way of our getting to the important issue of consideration of liturgical rites. I’ve therefore revised the proposal (with a little help from my friends)to show proper form and what I believe to be a required explanation, as follows:

Resolution to enable the development of liturgical rites for same gender unions

Resolved: This 102nd Annual Council of the Diocese of Atlanta approves the following resolution to the 76th General Convention of The Episcopal Church, meeting in Anaheim, California in 2009; and be it further

Resolved: This council directs the Secretary of Council to transmit the following resolution to the Secretary of the General Convention:

Resolved: The House of __________ concurring, the 76th General Convention of The Episcopal Church authorizes the Standing Liturgical Commission to develop appropriate rites for the celebration and blessing of the sacred unions of gay and lesbian persons, taking into account the variety of civil arrangements for such unions available in the regions served by the church; and be it further

Resolved: that such rite or rites shall be presented at the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church.


In light of events following the Lambeth Conference of 2008, it is clear that our charitable restraint and response to the Windsor Report in the matter of our declining to develop a rite or rites to allow the celebration and blessing of sacred unions for people of the same gender has not had the effect of preserving unity and civility between those who believe such unions may be good and moral and those who cannot conceive as such a possibility being within the bounds of Christian faith and the Anglican Tradition. It is also clear that while a great many Episcopalians remain undecided about their own beliefs in these matters, they recognize both the desirability of allowing those who desire to make such commitments in the midst of their community of faith to do so; and that the reality that the cost of our charity has been at the expense of one clear minority within our church; and further that there is no compelling reason that these brothers and sisters should have to continue to bear the burden of that charity.

Further, the development of such a rite or rites by and for the whole church will allow a restoration of decency and order from diocese to diocese under the guidance of each bishop, the ensuring of theological integrity to such rites and the capacity of the church to ‘sanction’ and declare such committed relationships among people of the same gender to be both moral and fully within the bounds of our common life.

That said, I believe that the trajectory of where we are heading (maybe in a generation of two) is toward marriage. I am not among those who really mind what we name these unions, nor do I have a problem with naming them marriage. I rather suspect that the resistance to the idea is residual unwillingness to allow gay and lesbian relationship s to be somehow ‘equal’, preferring something that is, in effect, ‘separate but equal’. It is also possible that such unions might be something other than an emulation of a heterosexual institution. That remains to be seen even though I fear that we will have to go on talking about these matters until that question is resolved by a developing consensus one way or the other.

What I know now is that when I participate in celebrating a union (with all of the nuances of not pronouncing but rather invoking blessing and so on) people will come up afterwards and say things like ‘what a lovely wedding’ regardless of what the invitation named the ceremony. There is a certain level on which if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then it is a duck.

Comments welcome and encouraged as ever.

Blessing Animals and Others

September 24, 2008

Along with many parishes we ask God’s blessings on animals around St. Francis’ day each year. (We are usually a little early in order to avoid conflict with our fall parish weekend at Kanuga.) We do this in the context of a 9 am celebration of the Eucharist and it is a moving and important event for many.

Part of the annual event which is not so fun is the conversation that arises each year in which someone will say something I first heard said in all seriousness at a clergy meeting in 1982: “We bless hunts. We bless ships. Why can’t we bless people who love each other?” The response should be obvious to anyone who gives such statements and question a moment’s thought. First, we don’t actually bless such things. We ask God’s blessing on something particular (‘the safety of all who sail in her”) just as we can ask God’s blessing on anything that is not immoral. What we don’t do is pronounce blessing as a sacramental act (akin to pronouncing absolution) in the life of the Church. I realize that this distinction makes little difference to most people but it is an important one. We pronounce blessing on all people, including those who identify themselves as LGBT or a host of other things at almost every Eucharist. We also pronounce God’s blessing on marriages, currently defined in our constitution as a union of man and woman. The church determined along time ago that there was no moral ambiguity in such a blessing.

At All Saints’ we will ask or invoke God’s blessing on the relationships of gay and lesbian people pending some level of consensus in the wider church about the (moral) status of such relationships. I’m looking forward to and working for that day but the cheap analogy between ‘blessing pets’ and blessing ‘people who love each other’ demeans the seriousness with which we take both possibilities.

Annual Council

September 24, 2008

The 102nd Annual Council of the Diocese of Atlanta will meet in Decatur on November 14-15, 2008 and among other things will consider resolutions. It is fairly common for dioceses of the church to ask the General Convention to act on certain matters on behalf of the whole church. In our Diocese it is most normal (and generally preferred) that any resolutions to come before the council be presented by convocations or geographical gatherings of parishes, but may be submitted by any clergy or lay delegate.

I plan to ‘shop’ the following resolutions for consideration by the mid-Atlanta convocation and also see whether there are other delegates who might be interested in sponsoring such resolutions with me. I’m sure that they will need editing and putting in the proper legislative form, but the substance of them is to move the church towards the end of doing what we need to do both to meet the pressing pastoral needs of our lesbian and gay members and to provide ecclesial recognition and ‘sanction’ for such life-long, committed relationships in the life of the church and removing any ambiguity about the morality of such relationships in principle.

I am among those who are wearied of and by our conversations about human sexuality over the past thirty years and believe that the only way to bring them to a close (at least in our official councils) is to address them with clarity and do what we need to do. Our parish has been blessed by relative calm since we decided ‘officially’ that we do not believe that gay and lesbian relationships are sinful by definition. If that position is correct, and we continue to see the fruits of the Holy Spirit in many gay and lesbian relationships suggesting that we are on the right path in our belief, then certain things follow. One of those is that such relationships should be affirmed and celebrated in the communities of faith of people who desire such celebrations.

We are currently living with a number of anomalies that would be clarified by making it possible for us to recognize marriage between people of the same gender, currently prohibited by our constitutional definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman. We have a situation in some states where clergy are permitted to bless gay and lesbian unions but not their marriages performed by their states. We also have a bishop who is in a relationship not yet officially sanctioned by the wider community of the church.

We have held off making such moves out of consideration for the wider Anglican Communion and for the comfort of the more instinctively and intuitively conservative members of The Episcopal Church and have done so at the expense of moving toward the affirmation and full inclusion of gay and lesbian people. Anyone who has been in relationship with our more conservative brethren and sistren over the years know that there is no placating them in this area and that anything other than condemnation is considered ‘unscriptural’. We also know that while their beliefs about the evils of homosexuality are most certainly well within the bounds of traditional Anglican faith and practice, their claims to be the only upholders of biblical ethics over against ‘liberals’ or ‘revisionists’ are spurious, exclusive and (intellectually) dishonest. They are choosing the route of ‘reform’ or ‘schism’, depending on your point of view, but in any event are bringing about a division of some sort in the Anglican Communion made manifest in an ugly attempt to size power in the face of what appears to be a leadership vacuum.

Those conservatives (including many friends and some in my own parish) who have stayed away from this ugliness have found that while they are in varying degrees and fro varying reasons less than thrilled about the affirmation of GLBT people, that such affirmations really don’t negatively affect their lives in any way except that they see their friends fighting with each other over something that is not worth splitting the church. My hope is that enough such people would recognize that there are no ‘half measures’ that will end this conflict that so many on both sides believe to be so fundamental to the fidelity of the church.

So here are my proposals that I would prefer to submit unadorned by ‘whereas’ clauses and ‘background information’. Your thoughts are welcome.

Resolution to enable the recognition and blessing of marriage between persons of the same gender in The Episcopal Church

Resolved: That the Diocese of Atlanta request that the General Convention begin the process changing our constitution to allow a definition of marriage that includes marriage between people of the same gender; and further

Resolved: That the Diocese of Atlanta request that the General Convention authorize the Standing Liturgical Commission to develop a marriage rite appropriate to and for gay and lesbian persons for use in those states where such marriage is permitted.

Resolution to enable the celebration of same-sex unions in The Episcopal Church

Resolved: That the Diocese of Atlanta request that the General Convention authorize the Standing Liturgical Commission to develop a rite or rites appropriate to the Celebration of same-sex unions.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Guns and Public Safety

September 23, 2008

A hearing is to be held today on House bill 89, an extraordinary piece of proposed legislation that will have the effect of allowing the carrying of concealed weapons in many public places, the more worrying of which include bars, houses of worship and college campuses, athletic events and areas of courthouses not directly involved with court hearings or a jail. It also removes any prohibition against or sanction for consuming alcoholic beverages while carrying a loaded and concealed firearm.

The leaders of our public policy network and I attended a meeting of concerned clergy about this issue and both would be wiling to answer any questions or concerns you may have. Jan Woolford can be reached at and Margaret Daniel at and I am grateful to them for staying on and with this issue.

I can only assume that there is some philosophical agenda behind this proposed madness. I observe but do not understand at a visceral level the attachment so many have to guns at a level that seems to me to reach that of idolatry. This proposed change in state law seems to me to be more about some odd version of ‘rights’ over reason and presume that serious concern about this will transcend party lines.

I grew up in a house that had guns for sporting purposes and I remember the village policeman coming by from time to time to ensure that the guns and ammunition were kept safely and under lock and key. This procedure allowed my father to keep his license to own the things. I enjoyed shooting at targets with a rifle on a shooting range and found (after the fact) that Joanna enjoyed it too this summer at the Athens Y Camp for girls. In my former parish I knew of a t least one member of the vestry who was a serious collector of guns. That became apparent as we discussed joining a coalition of Northern Virginia Episcopal Churches who were attempting to address some really flabby laws in Virginia that allowed significant trafficking of guns through the state to murder and crime capitals in the Northeast. I don’t consider myself a fundamentalist on some questions about owning or using guns but the emotional heat that gets generated around constitutional questions gives me the willies. Lots of worked up people frothing at the mouth are usually being manipulated by some very calm back room operators with an agenda. (We see it in the church all the time, --more so in the blogosphere).

I hope you will join me in keeping an eye on today’s version of gun insanity and doing what you can to prevent it.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Robert Duncan

September 19, 2008

So our House of Bishops has voted to depose the Bishop of Pittsburgh for ‘abandoning the communion of this church’ by a vote of 88 to 35 with 4 abstentions. He was received immediately as a ‘bishop at large’ by the province of the Southern Cone. A quick search of the web will lead you to many statements including a number that call the deposition illegal or unethical without suggesting any grounds for such claims. Bishop Duncan who I remember as a superb chaplain at the University of North Carolina has apparently made a number of statements and taken a number of actions by which he has placed himself beyond the bounds of the Episcopal Church and declined an opportunity to refute or deny those statements in the House of Bishops of which he was a member until yesterday.

The confusion will continue as the Diocese of Pittsburgh moves towards a vote to ‘realign’ with the Southern Cone (apparently the Diocese of Fort Worth is also quite a way down that path). The standing committee of the diocese (with one dissenting member) supports that path and we will have a situation similar to that of San Joachin pretty soon with two entities claiming to be the church in the area and doubtless legal wrangling over property. Those who wish to leave the Episcopal Church also wish to take over the ‘brand name’ of Anglicanism and do not want to forgo what they see as ‘their’ property when they leave. There are many in the wider Anglican world (and within the Episcopal Church) who support them and abhor our affirmation of gay and lesbian Christians. That continues to be the issue underlying this turmoil, complicated by large amounts of money supporting a conservative cause and course of action.

I find the whole business very sad and think it would make sense to recognize that we are looking at a world-wide division with progressive Christians in the Anglican minority. If leaders in England, Canada, Australia etc. and were to stop hoping that they could ‘dodge the bullet’ we could probably get on with an equitable (and non litigious) separation.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Crystal Ball on the Church

September 11, 2008

At a recent rector’s forum I was asked for my ‘crystal ball’ prediction as to what was going to happen with the Anglican Communion. I said I did not know but that I thought the current confusion would continue for some time as those who see themselves as reformers continue their apparent desire to establish a new church (which of course they see as ‘reformed’) with something other than Canterbury as its ‘center’ and with a doctrine that whatever else it contains is fundamentally about opposing any affirmation of gay people and will be rid of the contaminating influence of the Episcopal Church.

I don’t really know more than that now except that I think we are going to end up with two Anglican Communions who (mostly) neither talk to each other nor like each other much. Certainly in this country we are going to see an increasingly formal ‘split’ as places like the Diocese of Pittsburgh move forward with their ‘realignment plans’, and we will continue to have the doublespeak about nomenclature.

A recent issue of The Living Church (September 14, 2008) contains an article by a priest called David Handy that makes this clear. (I knew him slightly at Yale and we crossed briefly in the Diocese of Virginia. I remember him as extremely bright and as a former Wycliffe Bible Translator who came into the Episcopal Church through the influence of a professor at Wheaton College.) He calls his ‘reader’s viewpoint’ article (p.40-41) A New Reformation is Coming and looks for a “whole new kind of Anglicanism”. He writes “Freed at last from the shackles of our Constantian past, this post-colonial, post-Western, post-Christendom Anglicanism will be much more uncompromisingly biblical, much more theologically coherent, and much more ethically rigorous than the old Erastian kind ever was.” He begins his article by looking to a bright future and talking of the God of love, peace and hope. There is much that is attractive to me in his vision but he goes off the rails and reveals his true bottom line with the statement: “The deep tear in the fabric of the Communion has continued to widen, primarily because of the intransigence of the heretical advocates of the unbiblical ‘gay is OK’ delusion.” And there you have it: blaming, drama, inflated rhetoric, exclusive claims to correct biblical interpretation and quite possibly, hate dressed up as love. With that at its core the ‘New Anglicanism’ fails to attract me. I will continue to seek ways to proclaim good news in a post-colonial, post-Western, post-Christendom and probably post-modern world apart from what I hear as hateful.


September 11, 2008

From time to time I am asked why I am not an American citizen and the answer is that I cannot take ‘the oath’. Whenever there is an election I am reminded that I am disenfranchised. As an alien, I have the privilege of paying taxes, (if I was an appropriate age I could be drafted for the military,) but I do not have a vote. I do not begrudge my host country this reality. At the same time I have been gone from England too long to be afforded an absentee (actually proxy ballot) there, a law that I do begrudge as having no logic except that it is presumably administratively tricky in some way.

I also do not begrudge America asking that those who are afforded citizenship become true Americans. That is understood as requiring a renunciation of all other allegiance. I wish that was not such a blunt instrument. I know a number of English people who have taken citizenship who point out that telling the American government that you are renouncing all other allegiance does not mean that the English think you have renounced your citizenship there does not help me. I wish there was some ‘dual’ option, but there is not and the oath does not allow wiggle room. Here it is:

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate,

state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen;

that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic;

that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same;

that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law;

that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law;

that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and

that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.

The Election and The War

September 11, 2008

It has seven years ago today that we saw people pouring out of the tall office buildings that surround the church after the bombing of the twin towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington. Life has gone on. We invaded Afghanistan with wide public support and to initial effect in our pursuit of Al Qaida and Osama bin Laden. We then (perhaps without learning the lesson of Hitler’s opening of the Russian front in WWII) turned our energy and attention to Iraq and the rather sickening sight (at least in retrospect) of Colon Powell seeking to have his Adlai Stevenson moment at the United Nations showing the world the perilous threat of Saddam’s Weapons of mass Destruction. I presume that there were many in the administration in those days who believed, on balance, that such weapons either existed or were close to coming into existence. We now know, of course that they didn’t exist and that there were clearly a number of intelligence reports over a period of time that made that case but which were (willfully?) ignored by senior politicians in England and America. Even before that came to light it was hard to get a sense as to why we were really in Iraq. There were plenty of (shifting) rationales but I never heard a compelling reason for taking the extraordinary step of America and its allies (notably England) being the aggressors in a massive war. We knew than and know more now about the young policy types from the Nixon administration (Wolfowitz et al) who were now senior enough to try and put their theories to the test. I remember asking journalists Judy Woodruff and Ray Suarez in a meeting with some Episcopal clergy in 2003 why they thought we were really in Iraq and their answers added up to saying that no one really know but that our political leaders were clear ‘believers’ that the invasion was the best thing we could be doing. I wanted then, and I want now, leaders who will do better than that in the matters of life and death with which they deal.

I opposed this war (in contrast to the first Iraq war and our invasion of Afghanistan) on moral grounds. But we lost some parishioners from All Saints’ in those days allegedly because I did not speak out forcefully enough against it. My own view at the time was that railing against a war that was underway was tilting at windmills and that the best we could do was pray that something good could be brought out of this terrible thing. Maybe Iraq post-Saddam could be a better and more free place for those who live there. I was skeptical of the talk of ‘nation building’ and skeptical about how self serving were our motives where oil was concerned, but maybe something good could be brought out of this war. Later I learned that we could join the great spiritual tradition of lament and we put together a service of prayer for peace, (basically music and silence with some written meditations) which I still use in my own prayer. (Our recent performance of Karl Jenkins’ The Armed Man was a direct result of that desire to find ways to lament the war.

That is the same view I have taken with every subsequent morally questionable decision (including, most recently, ‘the surge’ of troops being sent to Iraq even as our allies continued to bail.) it appears that this last one has brought about a measure of quiet or at least been a catalyst for some Iraqi Sunni people to find the backbone to resist the radicals in their midst who would keep going the cycle of violence and bloodshed. I remember the criticism that the then Archbishop of Canterbury took from Margaret Thatcher and others for reminding the British nation of their need to repent during a service of thanksgiving at the end of the Falklands war in the 80s. He did not buy into the jingoism and political capital that was being claimed as a result of ‘victory’. I give all credit to General Petraeus and our troops under his command for their part in bringing about a reduction in violence, but Iraq is still a long way from ‘peace’; and claims of ‘victory’ (such as we have heard from the G.O.P.’s V.P. nominee in recent days) in the face of all the bloodshed of the long years past, is not something that makes sense to me.

I’m delighted that eight thousand or so of our troops will be coming home and not replaced before Christmas. I’m happy that there is some chance of our escaping a long term entanglement of large numbers of troops with some possibility of being able to leave a relative degree of stability even if it does not last very long. And I hope that we will have a President committed to getting the rest of our troops out of Iraq in short order. I hope that General Petraeus or someone with his kind of tactical vision can take command in Iraq where it seems we will need to be for quite a while longer if there is really a meaningful way to deal with Al Qaida if that idea has any meaning.

Monday, September 8, 2008

More on Rio

September 8, 2008

In the early 80s the Diocese of North Carolina entered into a companion relationship with the Diocese of Belize. Much was made of the Central American refugees that were flooding the country and the needs of the Church. I was greatly amused by the irony that the shop in the lobby of the hotel where we were meeting had a full window display of a magazine (now defunct) called Connoisseur. On the cover was an article about the beautiful beaches of Belize and the wonders of snorkeling in that country.

In the divine comedy or economy of God, my laughter has come back to haunt me. Yesterday’s travel section of the New York Times had an article on the restaurants in an up and coming area of Rio called St. Teresa.

Of course, this is the area in which the Cathedral is found.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Hatred, Fear and Homosexuality

September 4, 2008

There is something about Richard Norris’s Notes on the Current Debate regarding Homosexuality and the Place of Homosexuals in the
that seems a little unreal to me, helpful though I believe the piece to be. This unfinished work (Published in the Anglican Theological Review) is an extended essay on the moral question of homosexuality (If it is wrong, what exactly is wrong with it and how would we know?) He draws on Scripture, Aristotle, Aquinas and Kant as he makes his way through a complex argument that appears to allow for some measure of choice (at least in the sense that we cannot know for sure that a homosexual orientation is entirely due to some genetic or other predetermined factor) and at the same time seems to be moving toward finding that being homosexual is a morally viable option. One of his respondents, Thomas Breidenthal believes that he allows some measure of choice (rather than fate) in order to allow a genuinely moral conversation and the possibility that making choices as a homosexual can be a moral ‘good’.

What is unreal or at least unaddressed is the fear and hatred that homosexuality engenders in some people. On Sunday August 24, 2008 someone left a placard tacked onto the main door of St. John’s in College Park for everyone to find as they arrived for worship saying ”homosexual priest in the pulpit of this church are an abomination! 666” (grammar as reported in the press). A blogger responding to a news report that Jeffrey John, Dean of St. Albans and a man forced to resign a nomination to be a suffragan bishop in England by the Archbishop of Canterbury and his advisors is a candidate for election in a diocese of the Welsh Church opined that he and his ilk were all “going straight to hell.” The existence, let alone affirmation of GLBT people, is profoundly upsetting to the world view of many and all the logical debate in the world does not seem to touch that part of humanity, however useful the debate may be.

Norris deals with the interpretation of Scripture right off the bat dismissing, among other things any notion that we can understand and evaluate scripture based on its ‘plain meaning’. We know that some (perhaps especially in the Global South?) either have not grasped or are unpersuaded and choose not to respond to such critiques (See entry for May 26, 2008.) Victoria Matthews opines in response to Norris that his conclusions are unlikely to be embraced by evangelicals until a door is opened to them in Scripture. The argument that many moral questions are neither addressed directly, nor answered definitively in Scripture she believes will fall on deaf ears. I’m not clear why the whole sweep of the story of scripture as the story of God’s love and our ever expanding understanding of it (with the Council of Jerusalem by which gentiles were included in the new dispensation offered as ‘exhibit A) is not that window.

Ellen Davis of Duke and the incomparable Margaret Farley of Yale (see her Just Love: a Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics (Continuum, 2006) both have helpful and accessible responses on the larger questions of scripture and ethics in this regard. Others also seek a broader context such as the reality of the church or the status of men in black communities. It is really an interesting read (available in our parish library) and useful contribution, but unlikely to satisfy those who have staked their careers on becoming Ugandan and Nigerian Bishops and the like in the USA. If only they would publish something thoughtful in response that takes seriously the challenges of scripture and the social sciences, treating them worthy of response rather than straightforward condemnation.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Blessing of Same Gender Unions

September 3, 2008

At our last General Convention deputies passed a resolution that promised that they would exercise ‘caution’ or some such thing in the election of a partnered gay or lesbian to the Episcopate. One of our deputies voted against it as he was not willing ‘to achieve unity at the expense of gay people’; another told me that he voted for it because it bought time without really committing us to anything.’ This is the basis for the Episcopal Church agreeing to a ‘moratorium’ on the consecration of any GLBT people as bishops. The basis for our moratorium on the blessing of same gender unions is that there has been no official move in convention to develop or allow such liturgies. What is happening now, we say, is that some bishops are allowing a ‘pastoral response’ to some of our members. Neither of these measures or moves will ever satisfy those who insist that the church must provide no affirmation of any kind to homosexual people unless they realize that intimate relationships are not open to them if they wish to be faithful and fulfilled Christians. That being the case, and given that people of such a belief (or at least willing to go along with leaders who hold to such a belief with passion) are moving ahead with their quest for ‘parallel jurisdictions’ and the like, then what is stopping us having a conversation about whether or not we should be developing liturgies for same gender unions and changing our constitution to allow the possibility that marriage, expressed legally, can be entered by two people of the same gender?

At the moment, our ‘muddling through’ appears not to be working very well for us. We have a bishop in a relationship that is only sanctioned by virtue of his consecration as bishop. We have bishops and clergy in at least two states where parishioners are getting married by the State and the church says ‘we cannot bless tht union’ getting us into all kinds of logical problems. (It is arguably worse in England where as I understand it, clergy may enter into official partnerships as long as they promise to be celibate.) We are in a situation where our gay and lesbian members cannot celebrate their commitments to one another in the church building (on the basis that we are attempting to honor where the rest of the church and of our diocese find themselves and not do anything that could be construed as ‘illegal’ or against the spirit of where we are as Anglicans and so on.) But if none of this ‘charitable restraint’ is to make any difference then I think we should move full steam ahead to doing what is right and seek to persuade the church as a whole to move forward decently and in order on this matter. For that reason I am making a personal contribution to an organization called ‘Claiming the Blessing’. You can find out more about it here:

An Anglican Future?

September 3, 2008

News reports suggest that the Gafcon Boys, (I’m sure there are more respectful ways of describing these men, but this captures the source of their authority –a conference they called to set up an alternative structure within Anglicanism in order to cleanse it of those who believe that homosexuals are people who can partake of the transforming love of God without that being defined by them; and that they are all men) still using words like ‘desperate’,’ dire’, ‘critical’ and so on to describe the need of faithful e Episcopalians for their intervention over against ‘liberal bishops’ (most of whom are in fact simply trying to be Episcopalians) are apparently planning to take their cause to the Anglican Consultative Council and seek permission to establish a parallel province of Anglicans in North America. This of course is what they have wanted for along time and has been condemned as a course of action for those claiming catholic principles from at least the fifth century until the Windsor report and its aftershocks. If the ACC approves such a move (and I can only presume that the GBs are counting votes) then the only way they can in conscience approve such a move is to declare that the Episcopal Church does not exist as part of the world wide Anglican Communion (also, of course, what they have wanted for along time.)

The Virginia judge who is making preliminary rulings on a number of matters of law regarding eleven Virginia parishes has made another ruling that the statute designed for churches splitting over slavery is applicable there and that what is happening is not, in effect, individuals leaving the Episcopal Church, but actually a ‘church split’. As I understand it, other states do not have that strange statute or its equivalent on their books. I wonder if Canterbury recognizes this movement as a church split and if not, why it wouldn’t say so; and if so, who is splitting from whom? Canterbury clearly believes that he has no role in sorting this out so the mess will continue for a while.

I’m, OK ‘living with tension’, ‘lack of resolution’ and so on but am wondering if it would not be altogether more Christian to resist my urges to fight and instead to let any parish that wants to secede to leave with the property that it currently holds in trust for the mission and ministry of the diocese in which it sits. I realize that is only half the issue. The other half wants to be part of the Anglican Communion. Maybe we should recognize that the Communion has no coherence at this point, an eirenic Lambeth notwithstanding, and that we should form our own ‘Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans’ preferably by a less grandiose and pretentious name, with a less unfortunate acronym, in which we know that many parishes throughout the world, if given genuine freedom, would choose to join. We could predict that for the most part the split would be along the fault line of those cultures that recognize such a thing as a homosexual orientation and who read scripture accordingly and those who don’t. My hope that we could continue together under one ‘tent’ is apparently intolerable for those fomenting schism. What is the alternative?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


A friend put me on to a book that is part reflection on preaching and part a commentary on 2 Corinthians. It is We Preach not Ourselves: Paul on Proclamation by Michael Knowles (Brazos, 2008), a professor of preaching at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Ontario. He writes:

…to preach after the manner of Paul requires, first, that we be so convinced of Christ’s love and so uncertain of human –even religious—endeavor that we yield to the priority of interior over exterior, unseen over seen, and eternal over transient that Christ’s death and especially his resurrection exemplify. It requires that we enter into the dynamic of divinely imposed death and resurrection to such an extent that we begin to yield up our prerogatives of self-determination, social dignity, and cultural identity, and thereby become conformed to the reality of Christ, with the new life that this entails. (p.226)

In a way what Knowles thinks is the task of the preacher who would proclaim the gospel with the force and balance of Paul is also the task of any Christian. I find my self left unclear as to how to achieve the kind of balance that Knowles articulates as he finds his way through the various dimensions of Christian life discussed or implied in the Corinthian correspondence. But he has left me asking again what makes a good sermon. I have long believed in preaching rather than sermons, by which I mean that I value the conversation in a community over time more than the occasional (although most enjoyable) tour de force. I am not a very good ‘visiting preacher’ as a result. Over time we can preach “ a little law and a little grace” (as I once told a parish search committee.)

Everyone has heard sermons we think are good and others that we judge to be dreadful. In that sense we all place ourselves in the position of being experts and critics. It is rare that we find the high doctrine of preaching articulated by Bonheoffer at his most Germanic when he opined that the duty of one who hears a sermon is to “listen and obey.” He apparently believed that a sermon should never be discussed.

I know that I look for something that qualifies as a ‘so what?’ in a sermon and I look for something that takes me beyond the obvious meaning or straightforward reading of a text which I assume is available to me by hearing it and thinking about it for a minute of two. I don’t enjoy hearing the story re-told unless the re-telling offers me some new insight of consequence. I am suspicious of stories that are designed to move me but which bear no obvious relation to a point. I am suspicious of sermons that offer ‘four steps to a better life’ or ‘three ways to forgive those who have hurt you’ or other such staples of self help literature. It is not that I don’t appreciate the wisdom; it is rather that I’m not sure that such sermons capture or proclaim God’s liberating grace in the gospel.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and some conversation about what makes a good sermon in your view. If you have heard “something that sustains you through the week”, can you offer an example? If you have been challenged in a way that altered the direction of your life, what was that like? If you have heard consolation in a time of trouble, what was the content of the preaching that gave you that sense?