The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

"Reflections" in a Jaundiced Eye

The release of the Lambeth Indaba Reflections strikes me as a good point at which to move on from my self-imposed refusal to opine on the goings on at Lambeth. After reviewing the "Reflections," I find that I have a few thoughts.

First, I think that both "sides" of the dispute have a right to feel as if they have been baulked by the Archbishop of Canterbury. We "reappraisers" (funny, I'm starting to find these terms helpful) have been again asked--or is mandated a better reading?--to sacrifice our GLBT brothers and sisters--who were, themselves, not heard, only talked about. "Reasserters" were asked to sacrifice closure--a clear determination as to TEC's status as amember of the Communion, a juridicial determination as to whether we were "apostates." Neither is offered a clear road forward. For reappraisers, if we do not honor the moratoria, we will be subject to the criticism that we have not let our yes be yes, and our no be no--that is, we will have seemed to accept the moratoria at Lambeth, but flouted them back at home. Such a course of conduct is, to my mind, lacking in honor, even where well intended. If we intend to reject the request for a moratorium, we should say so explicitly and frankly.

And yet--just as I was recurring to my prior theme that the Archbishop's seeming desire for a Covenant to recast the Communion as one Church, with greater central governance--a popeless curia, almost--may have led him to force a compromise to achieve that result, I ran across a surprisingly irenic post by Peter Ould:
there is huge frustration amongst revisionists that many parts of the conservative elements of the church simply haven’t bothered to engage with listening, even five years after the ACC in Nottingham and ten years after Lambeth 1998. When they hear statements such as "We do not have homosexuality in our country", what they hear is a refusal to even engage with the issue at hand. It is blatantly clear to all those with just a smidgeon of anthropological and sociological understanding that homosexualities exist in every single part of the world. The refusal to admit as much is not to take a clear moral stand on the issue, but rather is a pastoral failure of the highest order, because it is evidence of an unwillingness to engage with people where they are at.


Listening though is more about just hearing stories. It is also to do with, once having listened, building and affirming relationships. What is so often disappointing in the past few years is the failure of those who have had the opportunity to influence, who have had the public ear, to use that privilege to affirm the humanity and dignity of those they disagree with theologically. We all know the websites that refer to "polysexual sodomites", but it is not just the cruder forms of language in this discourse that are a sign of no real intent to listen and build relationships. . . . Do we need to concentrate on the way that some in our western society want a "plasticisation" of sexuality and cross-generational affection, when the leadership of Integrity and the like are joined with us in condemning paedophilic and ebophilic relationships of any form, consensual or otherwise?

Unless we as the conservative church are willing to admit that we have sometimes (often?) failed in the call of the Lambeth ‘98 resolution to listen to the experience of gay and lesbian people (and post-gay and post-lesbian, for the conservative church is still shockingly ignorant in how to deal pastorally in this area) then we have no right to ask those whom we disagree with to take such resolutions seriously themselves. What we need at this point then is a serious, critical self-examination. Can we truly say that in all cases we are the ones sinned against? Can we really stand clean in front of the Lord and argue that we have not ourselves sinned in this conflict?


And let us be clear on one thing. Confession in Scripture is never on the basis of "I will confess if my enemy will". You simply won’t find such a concept. Jesus calls us very clearly to first examine our own eye before commenting on the speck in our friend’s. The plank doesn’t come out at the same time as the speck - it is only in realising that we have a plank and first doing something about it that we gain any ability, morally or practically, to address the specks in others.
Ould then goes on to call upon GAFCON and the Global South to adopt the moratorium on border-crossing--to take the first step toward reconciliation.

Note that Ould does not show any agreement or sympathy with "reappraising" theology; he firmly believes in the righteousness of the theological position he holds on human sexuality. But he is willing to come to the table, and reason together--and not from a position of presumed moral superiority. This is critical; a conservative faction willing to admit that all moral righteousness is not on its side, to engage the best of liberal thought, and to stay at the table--this is an adversary who seeks to open a channel for discernment, and for the Holy Spirit.

As Ould points out, an immediate moratorium by the conservatives would stand as a pledge of good faith for the liberals, and one to which we would then have to formulate a response. I confess I am deeply troubled that the sacrifice will fall on those who have been so often marginalized, subjected to bigotry, and all in the name of Christianity. And yet, if the conservatives engage both in the explicit component of Ould's Modest Proposal--unilateral declaration of a moratorium on boundary crossings-and its implied corollary, begin to participate in a genuine Listening Process, in which we truly seek the good in each other, and to discern the will of God in our present circumstances, I should think we liberals must join them at the table.

Update, 8/14/2008: I do want to make clear that, just as Ould meant for the moratoria he advocated to be limited in time, so too any waiting period to be observed in response would have to be (a) similarly limited; and (2) dependent not just on cessation of incursions, but on mutual listening and an end to demonization and bigotry against our GLBT brothers and sisters. We cannot purchase ecclesial peace by selling them out. In any event, as the comments on Ould's post, and the usual suspects' sites show, this irenic post appears to be a non-starter--even Ould seems to be back-tracking, no longer pointing to the beam in his own side's eye, but speaking of it as a "Reasserter's" last tactic to avoid schism, and thus be sure of their side's righteousness when schism eventuates. Pity. For a moment, I seemed to see some real Christian caritas there...

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