2/19/2009

Gracious Restraint and Gracious Struggle

The letter from the Primates Meeting was titled, "Deeper Communion; Gracious Restraint." The restraint hoped for in that letter concerns three moratoria - on blessing same sex relationships, on ordaining as bishop non-celibate gay or lesbian persons and on cross-diocese or church interventions by bishops. In the case of blessings or ordinations the restraint concerns withholding the inclusion of gay and lesbian persons in the vocational life of the faith community. It is to say "no" to baptized persons who wish to offer their lives and relationships to God in Jesus Christ and to exclude them from full participation in the baptized community. In the case of interventions, the restraint concerns asking bishops not to do what they promised not to do, namely mess in the dioceses of other bishops.

The realignment crowd has been happy to suggest the two sorts of moratoria are different, and they are. The realignment crowd says the first two (blessings and ordinations) concern matters of morals, and the third (interventions) concerns interchurch discipline. In a back handed sort of way they are right: the first two are moral in character and the second a matter of self-discipline by the church.

It is patently immoral to withhold the possibility of thanksgiving, the offering of self and the blessing that come from such thanksgiving and offering from members of the baptized community. If we aren't able to seal by prayers of thanksgiving and blessing the vocations of gay and lesbian members of the church we ought not to baptize them at all, or work out some strange new way to take back their baptism.

These moratoria, under the guise of "gracious restraint" suggest that others - namely gay and lesbian persons - be put off by the gracious restraint of those who might permit or officiate at such occasions of thanksgiving and offering. Thereby the Church is effectively withholding the opportunity for sacramental action on the part of baptized persons. It is an immoral form of interdict.

The matter of episcopal discipline on the other hand is about good order in the church. Churches in the Anglican Communion will come to regret that the interventions of bishops from one jurisdiction in another went forward with minimal fuss. Even the most conservative Churches in the Anglican Communion have worked with the understanding that "outside" Anglican Communion organizations ought to be present in their jurisdictions with permission. For good reason missionary organizations of the various Churches in the Communion have sought permission and indeed invitation from bishops before sending mission personnel to serve in their jurisdictions.

Long before the plea for gracious restraint in ordaining gay and lesbian persons a bishops and blessing same sex relationships, there was the matter of ordaining women as priests and bishops. The operant motif of those efforts was not gracious restraint, but gracious struggle. Had there not been struggle there would still be no women priests or bishops. Had that struggle not been gracious struggle the results would have been even greater division than there was.

Bishop Barbara Harris celebrated twenty years as bishop this last week. At dinner during the Chicago Consultation there was a joyful acknowledgement of her remarkable ministry as bishop. Bishop Harris was crucifer at the Philadelphia Ordinations of women to the priesthood and became the first woman ordained bishop in the Anglican Communion. Hers has been a life of gracious struggle in support of justice and we have been the better for it. Had she exercised gracious restraint in her many offices and roles in the church, withholding both her critical judgment and her caring heart, the struggle for justice would have suffered. In my mind Bishop Harris images the possibility of grace and struggle being combined.

The call in the Primates letter for gracious restraint is a call primarily to bishops - that they refuse to allow their clergy to bless same sex relationships and refuse to approve, condone, or otherwise allow, the ordination of non-celibate gay and lesbian persons to the episcopate.

Supposedly the graciousness in that is that it allows time for the churches of the Anglican Communion and dioceses of The Episcopal Church or other churches in which such actions might take place to come to greater consensus on the matter. But there is no graciousness in all that, there is only the wisdom of serpents. Time is always the friend of delay, never the friend of action. When ever it comes, action in blessing will be too soon for those who believe gay and lesbian persons cannot be full members of the faith community until cured or inhibited from action. For those who believe gay and lesbian persons are full members of the faith community, delay is a cover for injustice or confusion.

But the real carriers of "gracious restraint" end up being gay and lesbian persons who carry the full weight of restraint, where God is calling them forward and the Church is restraining them by its actions. It may well be that some gay and lesbian church members are willing to refrain from asking for blessing or presenting themselves for ordination in order to give the Church more time for reflection. If that is a free will offering by those persons concerning their own vocational choices it is an offering and a sacrifice to be reckoned with.

The Letter from the Primates, however, makes no such request. The request is not put to gay and lesbian members of the church. The request concerns "the mutuality that should characterise the life of Christians and of Churches; of a relationship which exercises the self-limitation and gracious restraint born of true affection, and which should be marked by a spirit of humility and integrity." The request concerns church leaders, not the baptized. However, the effect of "gracious restraint" is to restrain the vocational aspirations of baptized members of the church. It is not an offering of self, it is an offering of the "other."

The Letter says nothing about the cost of all this for the baptized, only the "self-limitation" of the larger bodies.

Elsewhere on Preludium there has been a beginning discussion of some of these matters and in a separate post I will be taking elements of an exchange in comments and posting them as a beginning place for further discussion. In a reasonably restrained sort of way I hope readers will struggle with the issues.

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