Monday, August 3, 2009

Williams, Wright and Others

August 3, 2009

It seems I picked a wonderful week to be at the beach. The Archbishop of Canterbury has published a piece calling homosexuality a ‘chosen lifestyle’ and urging that the Communion move forward with affirming a Covenant that would, in his view, have the effect of setting some boundaries for otherwise and formerly interdependent churches and result in a ‘two tier’ set of relationships among Anglican Churches.

Among the responses is one from Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham in consultation with the Anglican Communion Institute and Fulcrum, both conservative groups. He repeats the thought that theological work has not been done on the question of ‘identity characterized as a matter of sexual preference’.

A host of further responses may be found at Thinking Anglicans and elsewhere. I found the piece by Lionel E. Deimel particularly helpful.

I am distressed by the continuing difficulty that both the Archbishop and Bishop of Durham have in addressing the question of anthropology. They keep wanting to characterize the actions of TEC as based on questions of justice and rights for a beleaguered minority and therefore as a failure to observe biblical morality. The consequence of this stance is that they perpetuate the tendency of many Christians to ‘talk past’ each other with increasingly angry and loud voices. In the process they give aid an comfort to those who believe as they do that GLBT people are fundamentally disordered and their only option for right relationship is that of any person who is not in a heterosexual marriage. They leave parish priests who think as they do crying out against the leadership of the Episcopal Church and despairing of their ability to stay with it. Don’t worry, they say, there will be some way developed for parishes and individuals who wish to be in ‘tier one’ to stay with the communion. In taking this position they would say they are responding to the complexities of current relationships in the communion but are having the effect of fomenting further schism within TEC.

There is a way to keep the communion together and it is not too late, and that is for them to take seriously the profound shift in the anthropology that underlies acceptance of GLBT people as such. (We have done this before in recognizing the evils of slavery and consequent full humanity of non white people. We have done this before, and painfully, in recognizing the full humanity of women as other than chattel even though there are still many men who would like to define proper roles for women.) An acknowledgement of the seriousness of the conversation and placing it within the history of Anglicanism would not offer much aid and comfort to those whose most basic belief is that to be gay is a ‘chosen lifestyle’ or a ‘sexual preference’ and simply wrong as a matter of morality. It would require patient teaching about the fundamental conversation that the ‘Windsor Process’ was allegedly designed to promote without causing grave difficulty for people who cannot imagine any need for such conversation (and who have consistently ignored calls to engage ‘the listening process’.)

That would be the way of leadership that I crave to see and hear and one that would make sense of calls of moratoria and restraint and the like. What appears to be going on at the moment is dressed up in extremely long ‘essays’, ‘responses’ and the like, but is basically about getting a majority of the communion to repent of such wrong headed beliefs and move forward together clear and free of having to deal with challenges of GLBT people. Schism (along with further blaming, name-calling , false characterizations of those who take a different view as somehow less than theologically considered and therefore not quite Christian) will be the consequence of this leadership if they cannot find a way to reframe the conversation such that those with whom they disagree (i.e. TEC for starters) are taken seriously as Christians.

Such leadership would be able to offer comfort to those within the Episcopal Church who are despairing of their ability to stay within the TEC and the Anglican Communion by saying ‘your view is legitimate but you find yourself in a minority within your own church whose view is also legitimate.’ At the same time such leadership could say to parishes such as All Saints’, Atlanta ‘we don’t yet fully understand what you are doing or why you are doing it but we want to learn. We know that you are part of a significant majority within your own church at this point but ask that you continue to be charitable to those in Western Tanganyika and elsewhere in the communion who cannot understand and do not like what you are doing.’

I’m not optimistic that we will receive such self differentiated leadership soon enough to avoid separation. For now I will continue to ask that we support the Anglican Consultative Council through the work of the Compass Rose Society and the Office of the Anglican Observer to the United Nations, but am aware that we may have to cease that in favor of supporting the missionary work of planting Episcopal Churches in England and elsewhere.

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