On the matter of "Moral Equivalence."

I was struck by two quotes from the Archbishop of Canterbury, recorded by the Anglican Journal reporter Marites N. Sison on May 5, 2009:

The Archbishop said, “We now face a situation where in North America there are more than one body claiming the name Anglican.” “Given that the Communion has historically been very unenthusiastic about parallel jurisdiction in one area… in this very anomalous situation, is it possible that at the very least to have the kind of conversations that will allow such division as far as it is unavoidable, to go forward without too much destructiveness, bitterness and fallout and even litigation?”

He also explained that the point of the moratoria was “not to throw blame around the Communion, it wasn’t to suggest moral equivalence as some people suggest… it was to say, actions can be taken whose consequences have been divisive.”

A great deal is made at one time or another about the notion that the moratoria - on ordaining to the episcopate persons in same sex relationships, blessing of same sex relationships, and incursions by bishops of one diocese in the jurisdiction of another - are not morally equivalent. The Archbishop raised up the straw man argument that some "suggest moral equivalence" so that he could knock it down.

What in the world is this about? Few believe these issues are morally equivalent, whatever that means.

For instance, I believe it is morally appropriate to bless people whose stability of life, modesty of living and graciousness of relationship lead them to commit their lives and worldly goods to one another, and I care very little if they are of the same sex or not. When someone so blessed is considered for holy orders I consider such commitment a positive indicator of a manner of life that is a wholesome example to the people of God. Such commitment, blessing and manner of life seems to me a good thing.

The moral context of such blessing and ordination seems clear to me: Not all relationships are blessed, not all calls to ordination are valid, but when they are, we say so. The moral responsibility of the Church is to enjoy God's grace when it is present, by naming it and being glad for it.

The moral call to bless and affirm vocation is not a matter of ecclesial norms but a matter of pastoral and prophetic duty.

The moral character of boundary-crossing is a matter of a very different sort. On that I agree with the Archbishop. Where blessing and affirming involve the moral call to witness to God's graciousness in human relationships and vocation, crossing the boundaries between jurisdictions is an ecclesial matter. Such violations are about old established rule of behavior in the churches. They are about rules of engagement between bishops in communion with one another. It turns out that jurisdictional mucking about is tantamount to declaring a break in communion without actually saying so.

The moral problem present in the current situation of jurisdictional boundary violations is that of subterfuge. Those mucking about justify their actions by the call to restore the Communion to its full life, to mending the net. But in order to do this they must tear the net themselves. The incursions in the current troubles in the Anglican Communion have been accompanied by cursing jurisdictions as no longer Christian, as un-Godly, as heretic, and by suggesting that the curse cannot be lifted until there is repentance. Such incursions are thus double-minded, doing wrong things (as determined by ancient practice) for supposedly right ends, when in fact what they claim to do rightly makes matters only worse.

Regrettably we of the US know only too well the cost of such behavior. The classic example in our recent past for this is the strange notion that arose in the war in Vietnam, that in order to save a village we had to destroy it.

There is indeed no moral equivalency between spitting in the soup and the matter of blessing.

The first is about affirming loving care in others and affirming such love as wholesome; the second is about duplicity. The first is about blessing, the second is about cursing.

Some believe that, in terms of results, both have "moral equivalence," that is, both are divisive. It is true that blessing can be divisive, as can curses.

Perhaps the difference is that blessing does not condemn, but is by some condemned, and cursing condemns and condemns itself.

1 comment:

  1. And so we argue incessantly over these terms and these conditions. It gets us nowhere and it does nothing -- constructive.
    It is time to stop "mucking about" and get back on track. It is time to move forward in a Godly direction. It is time to declare that ALL people in the Episcopal Church have an equal right and an equal responsibility to full participation in all TEC liturgy and polity. It is time for a Bill of Rights for all persons.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.