2/23/2007

Further reflections on the Primates Meeting

It is Thursday, the day after Ash Wednesday. The immediate flurry of anxiety, angst, and aghast reactions are beginning to subside and we are all looking around at the landscape. The first thing to say is the landscape appears pretty bleak.

Bleak Recommendations:

The immediate reason for this has to do with the following sentences in the Key recommendations of the Primates,

"The Primates request that the answer of the House of Bishops is conveyed to the Primates by the Presiding Bishop by 30th September 2007. If the reassurances requested of the House of Bishops cannot in good conscience be given, the relationship between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole remains damaged at best, and this has consequences for the full participation of the Church in the life of the Communion."

Quite a wide variety of commentaries on these sentences read the request as the polite form of an ultimatum, and ultimatums do not good neighbors make.

One good friend said today on the phone, "Well, what did you expect? What did you expect from 38 people who have no authority except their own assertion of authority? When they demand answers, give them one - 'You have no authority here.'"

Core Bleakness:

Deeper, and not so much deeper actually, lies the core bleakness.

The Primates Meeting asserted again that Lambeth 1998, Resolution 1.10 is the "standard of teaching," but the one that sticks and is quoted in the Communiqué is that the Conference, "cannot advise the legitimizing or blessing of same sex unions." (Primates Communiqué, 2007, para 22) They conveniently downplayed other sections. The so called Listening Process got one paragraph (13), and cites research. I am unaware that research is at all like "listening to the experience of homosexual persons."

Of the things that Lambeth 1.10 said, here are the ones that have made it through the memory filter of the Primates. I have deleted the sentences that have been discounted in the intervening years. Here is what is left:

  • "In view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage;"

  • "…rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture."

  • "Cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions."

The deep bleakness is in what has been collectively remembered about this so called "standard of teaching" and appears once again in the Primates Communiqué. Part of Lambeth 1.10 has become a litmus test for moral correctness: No sex except in marriage; no sex for homosexual persons because Scripture is against it; no blessings of any sort for those in such relationships. All of this seems non-negotiable. No wonder the other parts of Lambeth 1.10 are simply dismissed as sops to political correctness.

The core of the bleakness here is clear: this ossified "standard of teaching" dooms any conversation, any change, any hope. Gone are the platitudes that this isn't about gay people, but about biblically based Christianity. This stuff is anti-gay.

These three remaining statements from Lambeth are touted as absolute moral teachings. Hogwash! This is a mess of straw. And so long as we cannot readdress or even discuss these "standards of teaching" there is little to commend "full participation of the (Episcopal) Church in the (Anglican) Communion." This is pretty bleak.

The Bleakness of the Task:

The Communiqué ultimatum, disguised as a "request", to be "conveyed through the Presiding Bishop" to the House of Bishops is what is now on the table. It is bleak fare, cold and uneatable porridge. But at least the Primates got something right in all this: They can only make a request, and that request is that the Presiding Bishop bring the matters to the House of Bishops. Those matters being: (1) "an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorize any rite of Blessing for same sex unions in their dioceses or through General Convention, and (2) confirm that the passing of Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention means that a candidate for Episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent…"

In the Anglican Journal, the newspaper of the Anglican Church of Canada, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison is reported to have said, "the prescriptions offered to The Episcopal Church 'and the willingness of the presiding bishop to take that proposal back to the House of Bishops' was what 'saved the day.'" My sense is the Archbishop is right.

So the day was saved, and now we can look at what it took to save it. The answer is, not much. Bringing the matters back home buys time for US to discuss it all, which is right and proper and indeed absolutely necessary. At the Primates Meeting, after all her protests, some of which are recorded in the Communique itself, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori could do no more than say she would bring the matter home. She could do no less.

But now it is coming home. There is no way that the House of Bishops can speak for the General Convention and its actions in future meetings. So part two of the first request is simply impossible for the House of Bishops to make covenant about. They might covenant to block legislation there, but they cannot promise to deliver.

On the first proposition, concerning "an unequivocal common covenant," this would provoke a crisis in the Episcopal Church of remarkable proportions. I am not sure, as some are, that this would be a constitutional crisis, but I am sure it would be a political one. IF the Bishops could indeed agree on a "common covenant" that in turn would block an action by the whole of Convention in a permanent way, it would spell the end of this particular noble experiment in church governance. Remembering that the bishops too must one day return home to constituencies made up almost entirely of persons NOT bishops, persons who in turn exercise considerable constraints on the ministries and conveniences of the bishops themselves, I would be surprised if such exercise of Episcopal power would be allowed to go unrewarded.

And, of course, there is the problem that it is already clear from bishops' statements that there is not going to be "an unequivocal common covenant."

On the second point, the Bishops can meet all day and all night and make any statements they want about what they think B033 means and how it is to be interpreted, but should they "confirm" that it means something more than what it says, there is no reason to think that their "confirmed" reading would not be challenged in practice and in trial.

What a bleak business.

The Presiding Bishop is getting considerable criticism for "signing off" on the Communiqué. I think that criticism is misplaced. The Communiqué is in all likelihood a fairly accurate recounting of the discussions the Primates had. Its "Key Recommendations" are what the majority of the group seem to have come to, with Lord knows how much pressure. The discussion and results are what they are. The Presiding Bishop was asked to bring the request to the House of Bishops. I am sure she will.

Options:

The Bishops could affirm or deny the requests, and deal with the consequences. But why must they? Suppose the requests were determined to be misplaced – that they belonged not to the House of Bishops but to the whole deliberative assembly of Synod (General Convention)? Suppose, even better, that the forced choice between conscience and communion was rejected? Suppose the Bishops said, we choose a better way – conscience and communion?

Then again, who gave the Primates the power to make such requests with such veiled threats concerning consequences? Whatever happened to the Anglican Consultative Council that at least has a constitution and membership?

The light, good friends, is not in the bleak run that is before us. We have other things to do, ones that are of the light, and they will shine into this darkness and illuminate these troubled times.

The bad news is we now have to deal with this mess. The good news is WE have to deal with it.

On a personal note (as if these opinions were not personal enough), I was interviewed by Alan Cooperman of the Washington Post and the one thing I said that made it into the article ws this: "part of the courage needed for he future is to stand by what we believe is right, and stand by the consequences." I think that is true.

On further reflection, I think the Episcopal Church will be just fine. Sorry about the broken dishes.

22 comments:

  1. I am watching to see how much courage our bishops can exhibit. Do they have the courage to say, "thanks for your ultimatum, now it will be sent to General Convention"?

    I also fear that we will see more of the "lets give this a chance" nonsense that got us B033.

    Your quote in the Washington Post, was great, by the way. Hopefully some bishops saw it, too.

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  2. Bill Carroll23/2/07 8:26 AM

    The forgotten sentences are the ones they inserted to get bishops who knew better to vote for Lambeth I.10. The remembered sentences were always the real purpose of the resolution, which was railroaded through, with the help of Archbishop Carey, for the purposes of a future realignment, i.e. schism.

    Similar conciliatory sentences may be added to future proposals in order to keep "moderates" and "liberals" concerned about the Communion on board. Let this be a lesson to them.

    One prays that the bishops will have the grace to say "no," to the ultimatum. Barring that, one prays that they will remember the polity of the Episcopal Church this time (no Port St. Lucie, no B033) and remind the primates that nothing can be done without the House of Deputies concurring. Let's also pray that the Deputies realize what a mistake B033 was and reject any ultimatum given to them by bigoted primates.

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  3. Mark Harris siad:

    "Suppose the Bishops said, we choose a better way – conscience and communion?"

    This is the specific outcome which TEC has been demanding all along. It is also the specific outcome which was decidedly rejected in Tanzania. TEC has failed to persuade, and can not by force of will impose its definitions on the wider comunity.

    In effect TEC is demanding communion on its own terms. It seeks a communion of shared symbols, and shared ritual - but not of shared doctrine which can give life to the symbols and rituals. It seeks unity in sacrament, but only a sacrament devoid of shared doctrinal content. This is a meaningless basis for unity. TECs doctrinal innovations are simply beyond the pale of recognizable Christian teaching. Diasagree if you like, but that is the judgment. It is not going to be reversed.

    So TEC has to decide whether it will submit or not. And do not be deceived: to make no decision by Sep 30th is to make a decision. TEC has had three years to address this subject. It will not receive an extention to 2009.

    Personally, I think TEC should "Let its No be No." There is honor and integrity in this response. Dissimulation profits no one.

    carl

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  4. christopher+23/2/07 9:46 AM

    If no one else is going to do so, TEC should perhaps issue a statement on how "standards of teaching" are adopted in this Province - or not.

    How a 1998 Lambeth resolution has come to be equated with, say, the Creeds as a defining issue of faith truly remains an unholy mystery.

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  5. christopher+23/2/07 12:12 PM

    "TEC...seeks a communion of shared symbols, and shared ritual - but not of shared doctrine which can give life to the symbols and rituals."

    The doctrine we all share as Anglicans is quite clearly reflected in the Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral - and has been for more than a century.

    To simplify:

    The Holy Scriptures...contain "all things necessary to salvation" and are "the rule and ultimate standard of faith."

    [Note: That "all things necessary to salvation" are contained in the Holy Scriptures clearly does NOT mean that ALL things contained therein are necessary to salvation.]

    Those elements of our shared life and doctrine deemed vital by Anglicans for ecclesiastical unity are drawn from the Holy Scriptures and the life and witness of the Church, namely the Creeds, the Dominical Sacraments and the notion of Apostolic Succession as reflected in the Historic Episcopate.

    Anglicans have always debated - often rather vigorously - about what else contained in the Holy Scriptures or the tradition of the Church might be necessary or helpful. But never has a fine-point of hermeneutical difference the likes of Lambeth 1.10 been made the central focus of global church unity.

    It is to THIS novelty in the life of the Anglican Communion that this and other Provinces must now respond.

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  6. I'm sorry, Mark+, that you find the message so bleak; millions upon millions throughout the world, for thousands of years, have found in Christian teaching a source of strength and hope.

    You remark, "No sex except in marriage; no sex for homosexual persons because Scripture is against it; no blessings of any sort for those in such relationships. All of this seems non-negotiable." Yes, indeed, the Judaeo-Christian sexual ethic is extremely narrow; people have been having terrible problems with it for quite a long time. That's how the Tablets got broken. But the teaching has remained.

    One thing that puzzles me about your reaction, and that of many other progressives, to the Communique is the general impression that this is something quite new and different. But the requests in the Communique are merely repetitions of the requests in the Windsor Report; the Primates are simply asking for an unequivocal clarification of commitments that were already made in principle at GC06 in response to Windsor. Why the sudden shock?

    And on usurpation of authority, the Primates are not telling the Episcopal Church that it has to do anything at all. They are simply saying, "If you want to remain a member of this organization, this is the requirement." If I want to be a member of the local Garden Club, or of the House of Bishops, or of the US Congress, those respective bodies have requirements that I must meet to become or remain a member, but in no sense do they "tell me what to do" or usurp authority. Again, I'm not sure I understand the cause for resentment here.

    Anyway, the world is not really such a bleak place. Do something to get your mind off all this nonsense for a bit and you may gain a brighter perspective.

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  7. To Christopher+ who said "How a 1998 Lambeth resolution has come to be equated with, say, the Creeds as a defining issue of faith truly remains an unholy mystery" I ask, what is the mystery, and what is unholy about it? Surely, if something is held up as normative in biblical history, and if Jesus holds sex exclusively within marriage up as normative (as he did, no matter what tortuous arguments are made to the contrary), there is no reason why these should not be held up as essential to the faith--and certainly as a standard befitting the episcopacy. Look at the NT, Gentile inclusion per Acts 15 demanded, not ceremonial obedience, nor confession of Chalcedonian understandings of the Incarnation (of course!), but adherence to sexual purity! So convoluted is the thinking of the left about so-called Core Doctrine and doctrine/understanding in general that it would take a long time to unravel what is a hopeless mess, not the least of which is a tendency to champion the primacy of praxis when it suits their needs and then champion belief--and a reductionist view of belief (only the Creeds count!)at that--when it serves their interest.

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  8. From Archbishop Hutchison's latest remarks in the Anglican Journal, it sounds like he really didn't want her to sign the communiqué and would have joined her if she hadn't.

    Anglican Journal: Archbishop Hutchison ‘discouraged’ by primates’ communiqué

    "Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said that he had been “profoundly discouraged” by the communiqué issued by Anglican leaders warning the U.S. church of consequences if it did not abandon its liberal stance on sexuality, and had found it “tempting” not to sign it.

    Archbishop Hutchison acknowledged that some Canadian Anglicans are “angry” that he signed the communiqué, but explained that he had taken his lead from U.S. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. “I told her (Bishop Jefferts Schori), ‘It’s all about you. If you decide not to sign, I won’t sign. I’ll be there with you.’” He added that Bishop Jefferts Schori had told him that not signing the communiqué would send a message to the church and to the world “that at great expense and effort, we have accomplished nothing and we have nothing to say.”"

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  9. “I told her (Bishop Jefferts Schori), ‘It’s all about you. If you decide not to sign, I won’t sign. I’ll be there with you.’” Where's the integrity in this? Either he thinks it's right to sign it or not?

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  10. christopher+23/2/07 6:38 PM

    Anonymous said:

    "Surely, if something is held up as normative in biblical history, and if Jesus holds sex exclusively within marriage up as normative ... there is no reason why these should not be held up as essential to the faith..."

    I have complete respect for your position, believe it or not - assuming you are not just being selective and are equally committed in your hermeneutic to clear biblical - read: dominical - prohibitions against divorce and remarriage. Are you?

    I remain nonetheless concerned about the assertion - yours in this case - that the Creeds are not "the sufficient statement of the Christian faith," as stated in the Quadrilateral.

    If you want to add a fifth point to these long-accepted Anglican standards for ecclesiastical unity, then please say so - and suggest an alternative name for the revised document at the same time.

    Otherwise, all we disagree about is how the Church - guided, one trusts, by the Holy Spirit - interprets in its life and liturgies how the Holy Scriptures serve as "the rule and ultimate standard of faith." I respect your views on this, but clearly - clearly - we move to a secondary level of doctrine in such a discussion, as the Archbishop of South Africa recently reaffirmed. Or is his thinking "convoluted" as well in your view?

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  11. Canadian Archbishop Hutchinson said (according to Tourjoursdan) "that at great expense and effort, we have accomplished nothing and we have nothing to say."

    Maybe that's the way it is. We have had conversation with those who differ and no common ground on homosexuality (and possibly on other matters) has been found.

    We have nothing more to say to each other except Goodbye - God by with you!

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  12. "The doctrine we all share as Anglicans is quite clearly reflected in the Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral - and has been for more than a century."

    Acceptable doctrine does not consist of any and every concept which may be stuffed into some corner of the Nicene Creed no matter how tenuous or credible the connection. The Creed does not exist in a vacuum. It summarizes well-developed doctrine. It is not a collection of words whose meaning may be warped at the discretion of our post-modern world.

    Should we test this theory that the Creed is sufficient? Then let us simply ask this question: Did Jesus physically walk out of the tomb on Sunday morning? Not a spritual resurrection, nor a metaphorical ressurection, but a dead body restored to life. There is no doubt the Scriptures present exactly that occurance. And the Creed says: "The third day He rose again acording to the Scriptures." How many liberals then - heck, just Bishops and priests in TEC - believe the tomb was really empty?

    Yet both sides say the Creed. How is it then sufficient to define shared doctrine?

    carl

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  13. Craig, what do you consider to be Christian teaching on remarriage after divorce?

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  14. christopher+24/2/07 12:32 AM

    Carl,

    You didn't affirm your unqualified rejection of remarriage after divorce. Your doing so would help all of us following these discussions better understand your biblical hermeneutic.

    To the point you do make: Over a hundred years ago, the Anglican Communion explicitly affirmed the Nicene Creed as "the sufficient statement of the Christian faith." THE sufficient statement. Long before that, the Ecumenical Councils did so. We do not need to test or debate the fact that the Creed itself is sufficient as a statement of faith.

    As to the contents of the Creed: A "resurrection body" - in this case, that of our Lord - is, of course, not merely "a dead body restored to life," as you say, but let's skip over that issue for the moment.

    There are indeed some who struggle with parts of the Creed. Nonetheless, the Episcopal Church completely affirms the Creed, and we say the Creed every Sunday. This common, prayerful act reaffirms our received tradition and reminds us of the essentials of our faith. If you want to police the occasional doubts and questions of everyone who is heir to this tradition, best of luck. The fact remains that the Episcopal Church affirms the Nicene Creed and, with it, the other points of the Quadrilateral, that venerable, Anglican standard for church unity.

    If, however, you truly want to declare the Nicene Creed insufficient as a statement of the Christian faith, just say so. That would be rather bold, but it would be honest.

    It seems, though, that your actual concern is with the means by which we - all of us, the Church - discern our common application of the Holy Scriptures as the "rule and ultimate standard of faith." Fair enough, Carl. This is one of the most difficult tasks given the Church, and disagreements over this - primarily this - have resulted, as we all know, in a great number of Christian denominations. It seems your concern is about how to draw communal boundaries of this sort in an "acceptable" manner. The question is: acceptable to whom exactly?

    The great gift of Anglicanism to Christianity hitherto has been the tradition's willingness to work things out together, over time and always in fellowship and dialogue with each other. Sometimes, this means accepting a level of diversity in thought and practice with which some are uncomfortable, because it seems to relativize their sense of certainty in the rightness and righteousness of their convictions. But the very Godhead - the Blessed Trinity - exists and moves and works eternally in both Unity and Diversity. What better example could we follow than this?

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  15. Since the Primates have turned Windsor from a report for discussion into an edict that must be obeyed, any response by the House of Bishops ought to be premised on full compliance by all.

    In other words, TEC should make a moratorium on gay bishops and on rites of blessing contingent on Nigeria, Rwanda and the others "repatriating" the American congregations under their oversight. A deadline of Dec. 31 might be reasonable.

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  16. "Surely, if something is held up as normative in biblical history, and if Jesus holds sex exclusively within marriage up as normative ... there is no reason why these should not be held up as essential to the faith..."

    Of course, this ignores the fact that polygamy was commonplace (i.e., normative?) throughout the vast marjority of biblical history. So was marriage-plus-concubine.

    I suppose you'll agree that these are both essential to the faith, then? Somehow I think not....

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  17. Share Cropper said...

    Canadian Archbishop Hutchinson said (according to Tourjoursdan) "that at great expense and effort, we have accomplished nothing and we have nothing to say."

    Maybe that's the way it is. We have had conversation with those who differ and no common ground on homosexuality (and possibly on other matters) has been found.

    We have nothing more to say to each other except Goodbye - God by with you!


    Huh? That's a real stretch of what the conversation in the article was.

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  18. BLS,
    Please read more closely: 'and if Jesus holds sex exclusively within marriage up as normative'

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  19. nlnh asks, Craig, what do you consider to be Christian teaching on remarriage after divorce?

    Similar to the Eastern Orthodox teaching: that it is sinful and deserving of repentance (primarily for the divorce in the first place) and cannot as such be blessed by the church, but as a charitable accommodation to "hardness of heart" the second marriage can be recognized by the community and should not be dissolved. But a divorced- and-remarried man is not, in at least all the EO churches I know of, eligible for Holy Orders.

    Note that this is similar to the handling of polygamy by missionaries in polygamous societies such as modern Africa and the 19th century Navajo, where additional polygamous marriages are forbidden to the convert but the existing situation is accepted, with the understanding that the polygamist may participate fully in parish life but is ineligible for Holy Orders.

    Note further that if the official policy towards homosexual couples were similar, this entire conflict probably would not have arisen.

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  20. Sorry for the late response but I was without power for the better part of Sunday.

    Christorpher said:

    "You didn't affirm your unqualified rejection of remarriage after divorce. Your doing so would help all of us following these discussions better understand your biblical hermeneutic."

    I was not requested to do so, but I am willing. There are two valid biblical grounds for divorce: adultery and desertion. A man who divorces for other reasons should not remarry.

    "If, however, you truly want to declare the Nicene Creed insufficient as a statement of the Christian faith, just say so. That would be rather bold, but it would be honest."

    The Nicene Creed can never be a sufficient statement of faith if it is forced to stand alone. It requires a prior understanding of developed doctrine. Otherwise two men can say the same words and mean completely different things. Simply stating "I believe in the resurrection" says very little these days when the meaning of "resurrection" can be altered to fit modern sensibilities. But then how does the Creed define shared doctrine?

    Could the Nicene Creed separate Calvin from Pope Pius IV? Both men could say it with a clear conscience. But could they possibly use it to prove shared doctrine? Could it form the basis of unity between them? It could not, for the meaning behind the words each speak derive from entirely different theologies. Yet the Calvinist (like me) and the Roman Catholic have more in common then the conservative Christian and the progressive Christian. The theology that progressives impose on the Creed strips it of its Christian character.

    The Creed is being expanded to admit non-Christian doctrine into the Church under the guise of diversity. There is not the occasional doubt about the reality of the resurrection. There is wholesale denial of it. That is not diversity. That is apostacy. The resurrection is not peripheral to the Christian faith. It is at the center of the Christian faith. No man who denies it can properly be called a Christian

    carl

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  21. From Rowan Williams' address to General Synod:
    "Now there is a case for drawing back from doing anything much, for accepting that we are no more than a cluster of historically linked local or national bodies. But to accept this case – and especially to accept it because the alternatives look too difficult – would be to unravel quite a lot of what both internal theological reflection and ecumenical agreement have assumed and worked with for most of the last century. For those of us who still believe that the Communion is a Catholic body, not just an agglomeration of national ones, a body attempting to live in more than one cultural and intellectual setting and committed to addressing major problems in a global way, the case for ‘drawing back’ is not attractive."
    Dan

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  22. To those who call me "apostate" *, I'm always tempted to say "Sticks and stones may break my bones..."

    It's just that---especially since I am also QUEER---I don't want to give them any ideas! ;-/

    [* Not that I "deny the resurrection", mind you---it's just that I'm more than willing to share Christ's Body&Blood with those who struggle with what exactly this mind-boggling concept means]

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