12/14/2007

The Archbishop’s Two Messages

The Archbishop of Canterbury has sent out two messages, one and Advent message to the Primates which he hoped would be shared with the bishops and people of the church, and the other a Christmas message to the Anglican Communion. That one comes with no directions for dispersal. The difference between the two is quite startling.

The message to the Primates continues the Archbishop's slow dance around the issues troubling the Anglican Communion. It is a difficult document in that it leaves us with little to go on except that: (i) he thinks the Episcopal Church (TEC) has gone about as far as it can go at the moment, (ii) he is puzzled why bishops in TEC can't just make decisions concerning ordinations and blessings on their own, (iii) that Bishop Robinson (who the ABC calls Gene Robinson, finding it difficult to acknowledge that Gene is indeed a bishop) is still not invited as a diocesan to Lambeth, and (iv) there may be bishops uninvited to Lambeth still, as well as bishops uninvited to engage in the life of the Communion, on the basis of their enthusiasm for the Windsor and Covenant process. The letter is something of a mess and a disappointment.

The message to the Communion is much the better letter. It soars. At its close he asks, "Let us ask ourselves honestly whose company we are ashamed to be seen in – and then ask where God would be. If he has embraced the failing and fragile world of human beings who know their needs, then we must be there with him." Meditations like this is why so many of us have had such hopes in the ABC.

Applied to the current mess in the Communion, I suppose I need to spend more time with Archbishop Akinola, Bishop Bob Duncan, Bishop Martin Minns, and (since I am not in their exalted company) perhaps Matt Kennedy and Greg Griffith (actually that could be fun). Perhaps BabyBlue, who I find myself beguiled by, could serve coffee. But then that would also mean, I suppose that the Archbishop of Canterbury might do well to invite Bishop Gene Robinson, bishop of New Hampshire, to his party.

I still think the ABC ought to invite every sitting bishop and every bishop serving in a recognized diocese to the Lambeth Conference. Yes, this would exclude bishops working in jurisdictions not their own without canonical grounding in a specific diocese of the Province in which they are ordained, deposed bishops re-upped by other provinces, various bishops working in non-diocesan jobs, etc. It would be up to Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda to show that their bishops serving in the US are in fact bishops in specific dioceses in those Provinces. If they are, then they ought to be invited as well.

The conversation at Lambeth might then mean some honest exchanges between the awful bishop of Harare and other bishops from Central Africa, bishops Minns and Robinson, Duncan and Chane, etc. There would be fascinating exchanged between bishop of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada and those Provincial Archbishops who have bishops mucking about in their dioceses. We could let a thousand flowers bloom. Some would wilt early, but others would flourish.

Bishops Cox, Bena, Fairfield, etc would have to stay home, being retired. The deposed bishop of Recife would have to stay home being deposed. Various Provinces would have to clean up their act concerning the placement of various bishops serving in special capacities… Bishop of the Armed Forces, Ecumenical Officer, etc. But when the flurry of clean up was over only those who were deposed by their Province of origin, retired, ungrounded in a recognized diocese of a Province in the Anglican Communion, or so criminal in behavior that they could not get visas to come to England for the meeting would miss Lambeth.

"Whose company are we ashamed to be seen in?" is a fine question. A hint of the answer, my friends, is found in Jesus' remark, "Blessed is the one who takes no offense in me." Practice not taking offense. It seems the least we can do. We get to use it this word on Sunday.

The Advent Letter to the Primate is still filled with affront and seeming offense. It is not a letter of blessing. The Christmas letter to the Communion asks the right question and gives the right answer and is a blessing in itself. The Archbishop gave us a much better Christmas present than he did an Advent one. Then again that is right on the mark, since we Anglicans are an Incarnational people much more than a Second Coming crowd.

23 comments:

  1. "(who the ABC calls Gene Robinson, finding it difficult to acknowledge that Gene is indeed a bishop)"

    Don't read too much into this; it's just cultural differences. "Bishop N", "Dean Y" - where N and Y might be Christian name or surname - is still a relatively new convention in English/Welsh church circles. The Archbishop was probably just referring to the man in the clearest way possible. (supply your own joke here).

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  2. I only got through about half of the ABC's advent letter before I had to get on with my life, and had reached the limit of my patience. Not having read the Christmas letter, I'm fed up with the AC. Rowan is looking for a much more hierarchical body than I'm a part of and much higher degree of uniformity than I believe is necessary. If that's what membership in the AC requires, then I suggest that we excuse ourselves to be merely "Friends of the AC" or something.

    Your graciousness in accepting two very different letters is representative of a degree of Christian growth that I have not yet reached (... being much younger of course! :)

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  3. i would have a lot more hope if the ABC meant what he said about homophobia in the Advent letter. but, in fact, whatever the teaching of the communion is on homophobia, everyone is free to just ignore it.

    it is the duplicity about this which is bothersome to me: the sense that liberals are expected to accept empty promises from reactionaries, and reactionaries are entitled to control our lives in return.

    i want to see the reactionaries stand up and actually proclaim their support for an end to homophobia and to work for full civil equality. if Americans are not supposed to ordain gay bishops out of respect for Nigeria, then i want Nigerians to stand up for gay rights in Nigeria, out of respect for America.

    but instead it's all a one-way street, coupled with a lie about fighting homophobia to make it appear two-way.

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  4. How about letting Matt Kennedy & Greg Griffith serve the coffee while BB socializes? This is a (relatively) new millenium.

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  5. Thanks for this Fr. Harris. I've posted my reaction here:

    http://julianlong.net/wordpress/?p=81

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  6. "he is puzzled why bishops in TEC can't just make decisions concerning ordinations and blessings on their own"

    I count the above as spin, unless I am really, really misreading you. What I see Williams saying is that it makes no sense to trot out the claim, as KJS and others have, that 'others don't understand our polity, you see, because the House of Bishops does not speak for the whole church therefore we have to wait till GC." Without saying as much--and I studied with Rowan in Oxford, so I know him and Oxbridge speak, too--he is saying that the HOB has abdicated its role to (these are my words now) guard the unity of, and acceptable limits of diversity within, the church. We all know that there is no canonical prohibition for the HOB doing any number of things on its own: calling for a moratorium on SSB's in any form, or for a moratorium on ordinations of partnered homosexuals, or--for that matter--they could ask for VGR to step down to become compliant with Windsor or to take a vow of celibacy. They could take a stand in any number of ways. His point is that the HOB have abdicated their leadership role. And I agree with him. They should never have trotted that line out. Better to simply admit: "We are moving ahead with this new agenda." So it is quite mistaken to write as if Rowan doesn't understand our polity. It's a complete manouver, an evasive action, or delay tactic, on the part of TEC.

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  7. Coffee? Hmph. How 'bout Whiskey?

    ;-)

    bb

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  8. lapinbizarre...you are quite right...I was thinking only tha babyblue is the only one among us with a cafe...but (see her post below) she has upped the ante and suggests whiskey. Since I presume the cafe does not serve whiskey, perhaps Matt and Greg could bring the whisky, and BB and I could drink their health and socialize. M and G could also provide some decent cheese and crackers. It is a new millenium indeed.

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  9. dear younger Donna McNiel... well younger, yes, but much? I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now... what with being invited for a whiskey and all (see bb post below.)

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  10. "the sense that liberals are expected to accept empty promises from reactionaries, and reactionaries are entitled to control our lives in return."

    Reactionaries? Maybe Akinola's strident rhetoric makes him an over the top reactionary. But please don't forget that many mainline Christians, who are neither shrill nor mean, think that the ground on which the so-called traditional sexual ethic rests is solid, solid, and solid. We are not reactionary if that means melodramatic, or unhinged, or unprincipled. We are acting, we think, with the wisdom of the ages and hope that the broadest possible base of Anglican wisdom will, somehow, ring true in the ears of ECUSA's leaders and tell them they have mistaken legitimate pastoral concern and anguish for LGBT for theological truth.

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  11. I'm very disturbed that +Rowan seems to be demanding that anyone participating in Lambeth must agree that the creation of an Anglican Covenant is a good idea.

    Personally, I think the idea of a Covenant is well-intentioned stupidity. If we can meet, no Covenant is necessary. If we cannot, no Covenant will work.

    If I might be permitted a shameless plug, I have a post about this very matter on my own blog: http://simplemassingpriest.blogspot.com/2007/11/irish-draft.html

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  12. 4 May 1535+14/12/07 7:25 PM

    Anonymous, w/ respect to your earlier comment on the HOB--

    You are, certainly, correct that the HOB can do any number of things, some or all of which might meet the wishes of the Primates, etc. As I wrote earlier this afternoon on Thinking Anglicans, however, I think there is an honorable sense in which the HoB can properly say "This is our understanding now, but we will abide by the action of General Convention." It seems to me it would be perfectly possible, but fundamentally wrong for one house of a bicameral legislature to meet, when the legislature is not in session, and decide then and there that it would not even consider proposals from the other house on a particular topic once the legislature actually met. What's wrong about it, I think, is the refusal to actually participate in the legislative process. Consider Article 1, Section 6, of the Constitution (quoted word for word from Article 1, Section 5, of the US Constitution), which provides that neither House can adjourn for more than three days, or to another city, without the permission of the other: the two chambers are stuck with each other, and to decide in advance not to consider a matter brought forward by the other chamber would be, I think, tantamount to not meeting at all. So while a bishop as one who possesses the charism of oversight in the Church Catholic may possibly be convinced that this or that idea is correct, as one who possesses an office and jurisdiction in TEC, and a vote in its convention, he or she has a duty as a legislator to actually take part in the debates of the legislature and to abide by their results.

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  13. Virginia Gal14/12/07 9:24 PM

    To anonymous - my brother or sister in our Lord Jesus Christ, and all the faith traditions of the God of Abraham:

    "But please don't forget that many mainline Christians, who are neither shrill nor mean, think that the ground on which the so-called traditional sexual ethic rests is solid, solid, and solid."

    While one must admit that the majority rules, it does not mean its members are always correct.

    Since you have identified yourself as a mainline Christian, I must assume you consider yourself as a Protestant. By its name and nature, the Protestant Reformation was a reaction to Christian disagreement with the established Church in Rome. And do remember, the recently quoted Martin Luther was quite a rebel in his time!

    The TEC stand on homosexuals in general, may be right. Or wrong. But please remember - God has not stopped sending us messages, and in His wisdom we evolve in our understanding of His intentions. I am guessing your views on human slavery are quite different than Christians of other centuries (sorry, that is an overused comparison, but for good reason).

    If mankind had insisted that our spiritual lives, and belief in God, was dictated by the rule of the majority - well, you probably wouldn't be a Christian. Our Jewish borthers and sisters were a minority, and Christianity was not an instant hit with Jews OR Gentiles.

    We sometimes make all of this too complicated, but in many ways it is simple: the Church is constantly changing, and always has. Reinterpretation of Scripture has changed life throughout the course of Christian history. Please, continue to keep an open mind, and let God decide if those now in the "minority" will become the majority. He will do so anyway :-)

    Blessings of the season to you and all you love, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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  14. Counterlight14/12/07 11:20 PM

    Well, ++Williams was clearly ashamed to be in Jeffery Johns' presence.

    I'm losing patience with this man, and I'm becoming more convinced that he's out of his depth and would be better off in Academe.
    Like his predecessors, he is stubbornly resisting the pressures to be some kind of arbitrator, an Anglican Pope. I could appreciate that if it was not for the fact that he speaks out of both sides of his mouth. It would be one thing if he was a skilled politician speaking to differing constituencies, but he's not. He always sounds irresolute and easily bullied.

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  15. It's easy enough to speak of "traditional sexual ethics," I suppose. That way, you don't have to consider the actual people involved.

    But what about the people involved, anonymous? What are gay people supposed to do? Remain celibate for life, so that you can feel secure in your "traditional sexual ethics"? That's a real, not a rhetorical, question, BTW. Anyway, do you know what TEC's position on same-sex relationships is? This: "We expect such relationships will be characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God...."

    I don't know about you, but it seems to me to track pretty well with "traditional sexual ethics" - well, except that it's better.

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  16. Virginia Girl
    Please read more closely. I did not say "majority rules" had anything to do with the rightness of the traditional position. I only said that a majority, as I see it, are quite quiet in living out their faith--are not shrill, mean, etc., and therefore not deserving of the abel "reactionary"

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  17. To 4 May 1535+:

    Again, you are stating the obvious. We all know that we are bicameral. La de dah. The bishops could, without hindering or violating the legislative process, or overstepping their authority, take any number of positions collectively. They could, to use a trivial example, say "We will not ordain anyone who hasn't had 3 years of Greek." True, they may not be able to enforce certain stances with much force. But the point, maybe the deepest point, is that the bishops have an enhanced responsibility as teachers of the church and they should use it. To say that only the bicameral legislative process can guide our church, or that canons alone guide our church, is just not the case, nor should it be.

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  18. bls asks "What are gay people supposed to do? Remain celibate for life, so that you can feel secure in your "traditional sexual ethics"?" To which, one answer is, 'Many have remained celibate for life, trusting God, the wisdom of the Scriptures, and the lives of many who have gone before them.' I would be the first to say that the Church can do much more, and do much that it does better, to make singleness more joyfully livable. But, having listened for 3 decades, long before Windsor, to the stories of gays and lesbians, in private in my Anglican evangelical world for the most part, I think celibacy can be joyfully lived out, and should be so lived, in obedience to the gospel.

    As to your citation of the expectation that TEC listed in its acknowledgement of same sex couples as members of the church (N.b. not an endorsement )) I can only say it really isn't too the point.

    Last, I use 'traditional sexual ethic' to refer to what our BCP and canons have, for the longest part of their history if not all of it, along with the NT, as widely and historically interpreted, said about the place for sex being within heterosexual marriage. Yes,I know that putting this way makes it seems like the "position" or "idea" is more important than the "people" who are affected by it. But my hope is that we will come to true pastoral sensitivity and helpfulness by following the best and most faithful sexual ethic. I will say "it is unfair that some cannot enjoy the experience of Christian marriage." But this, to me, is a plea for pastoral help, and true community that enables people to follow the gospel.

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  19. Hi, Anonymous--

    Sorry, I don't mean to keep stating the obvious--too many years of teaching introductory theology courses, I suppose. But you do point to at least one actual area of our disagreement. Taking your example, if a knowledge of Greek were not a likely subject of coming legislative controversy, then yes, I agree that the HoB could take a position on the issue without violating the legislative process; if, however, the bishops knew that knowledge of Greek was a controversial matter about which the GC was likely to be asked to make some decision, then I do think such a prior agreement would be violating the legislative process.

    I don't think that the bicameral legislative process or the canons alone guide the church, and I do think that bishops, simply as bishops, have a teaching role. But as a bishop in TEC--or for that matter in the CofE--the bishop's exercise of the episcopate, including but not limited to the charism of teaching--is governed by the Church's Constitution and Canons. For example, he bishop has the charism of discernment of ordinands, but the canons notably restrict its exercise. I knew a fellow once whom Bishop Pike had ordained deacon and priest in his (the ordinand's) living room, because +Pike was sure the man should be a priest. And he seemed to be a good priest, as far as that goes: but +Pike was still acting beyond his authority _as a bishop of PECUSA_. And, to close in on my point, one of the bedrock principles of Anglicanism is that the bishops are not, all by themselves, the ones who get to make the rules about the exercise of the episcopal charismata. Phrases like "submission of the clergy" and "royal supremacy" are suggestive of the direction in which the balance of power shifted, and I am not persuaded that the nascent Episcopal Church, in creating the House of Bishops, intended to give back anything that the Reformation had taken away (remember that it took some time before they were even given equal legislative status with the Deputies).

    As bishops, our right reverend fathers in God have all the authority that appertains to that dignity: as office holders in dioceses created by General Convention, as legislators in that Convention, their exercise of that authority is constrained: as it should be.

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  20. It is a patent falsehood that all gay people are called to either celibacy or a false "marriage" to someone of the opposite sex. To invariably counsel only those two - and to ever counsel the latter - is not pastoral help, but spiritual violence. As long as you refuse to accept that, you can be of neither help nor spiritual use to gay people, and your mission has failed.

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  21. "To which, one answer is, 'Many have remained celibate for life, trusting God, the wisdom of the Scriptures, and the lives of many who have gone before them.' I would be the first to say that the Church can do much more, and do much that it does better, to make singleness more joyfully livable. But, having listened for 3 decades, long before Windsor, to the stories of gays and lesbians, in private in my Anglican evangelical world for the most part, I think celibacy can be joyfully lived out, and should be so lived, in obedience to the gospel."

    Here's my suggestion: You folks in the "Anglican evangelical world" should find some heterosexual volunteers to act as models for us gays and lesbians in living joyfully celibate lives.

    Because I don't know any people like this, and gee: you'd think I would, being gay myself. In any case, if we're expected to live a lifetime without partnership, surely some generous straight folks can find it in their hearts to live through the experience with us. Or, rather, to blaze the trail; you guys go first, we're right behind you!

    I'm sure it's quite easy to suggest this for others - without really giving any good reason, I notice - but I'd really be convinced if you'd do it yourself. Step right up.

    BTW, I don't really think that speaking of "holy love" is merely an "acknowledgment of the existence of gay couples in the church." I can't imagine anybody who would.

    Anyway, the very point is that we don't agree with you that what you suggest has anything to do with the Gospel. That is "to the point."

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  22. AmerInParis26/12/07 8:35 AM

    In response to the comment that one can live joyfully celebate and the response of another that a few straight people should volunteer to set us an example, I'd like to add that to truly set an example in this hypothetical experiment they should not be volunteers. To truly set us a proper example, they would need to have someone in the church tell them that they HAVE to be celebate because God wants it that way.

    Yes, you don't have to be in a committed relationship to have a worthwhile life, but IF God wants me to be celebate, I'd prefer that be between me and God.

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