The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Monday, July 27, 2009

Surrender, Dorothy!

From the Archbishop of Canterbury comes this most disturbing document, "Communion, Covenant and Our Anglican Future," subheaded "Reflections on the Episcopal Church's 2009 General Convention from the Archbishop of Canterbury for the Bishops, Clergy and Faithful of the Anglican Communion." (If I'd known this was coming, I'd have saved the title Reflections in a Jaundiced Eye for it. Ah, well. Turns out Florence King beat me to it, anyway).

In that earlier post, though, I'd suggested that both "sides" of the dispute have a right to feel as if they have been baulked by the Archbishop of Canterbury. This continues to be the result of Archbishop Williams' lucubations. I for one am appalled at several rhetorical moves in the Archbishop's writing that suggest to me that the Episcopal Church is being asked to submit to subordinate status within the Anglican Communion, while remaining its milch cow.

1. The One Way Door

First, in no place of his reflections does the Archbishop note the repeated,and indeed now systemic breach of the Winsdor recommendations which were intended to serve as reciprocal promises to the moratoria asked of TEC. As I have recently pointed out, the much-vaunted "Listening Process" has been paid only the barest lip service; the requested suspension of incursions by other provinces into TEC have not been even paid lip service. The defamation of the Episcopal Church and the claim that it is not a Christian Church likewise go unaddressed, as does the pain of gays and lesbians who find their relationships derogated by the Archbishop to "a certain choice of lifestyle" which "has certain consequences" for membership in the Christian community. (Williams par 9). Indeed, the Archbishop explicitly rejects the arguments for same sex marriage rites (let alone consecration or ordination) based upon justice or civil rights. (Id. par 4-6).

Weirdly, there is a fleeting reference in par 20 to "the current appeal for a moratorium on cross-provincial pastoral interventions," but with no reference to the status of these interventions.

But what does Williams find worth responding to? Despite describing "[t]he relationship between the Episcopal Church and the wider Communion" as "a reality which needs continued engagement and encouragement," the Archbishop finds that "The repeated request for moratoria on the election of partnered gay clergy as bishops and on liturgical recognition of same-sex partnerships has clearly not found universal favour." Everything else that he finds commendable at General Convention (and it's a healthy list), fades into irrelevance: "My way or the highway."

In other words, the only party to comply with the morotoria shall be swiftly put in the dock for possibly not continuing to comply; the violators shall go unrebuked--indeed, unmentioned.

2. The Shape of Things to Come

Additionally, the Archbishop's rejection of the case for same sex rites is pitched in a way that makes future success well-nigh impossible:
7. In the light of the way in which the Church has consistently read the Bible for the last two thousand years, it is clear that a positive answer to this question would have to be based on the most painstaking biblical exegesis and on a wide acceptance of the results within the Communion, with due account taken of the teachings of ecumenical partners also. A major change naturally needs a strong level of consensus and solid theological grounding.

8. This is not our situation in the Communion. Thus a blessing for a same-sex union cannot have the authority of the Church Catholic, or even of the Communion as a whole. And if this is the case, a person living in such a union is in the same case as a heterosexual person living in a sexual relationship outside the marriage bond; whatever the human respect and pastoral sensitivity such persons must be given, their chosen lifestyle is not one that the Church's teaching sanctions, and thus it is hard to see how they can act in the necessarily representative role that the ordained ministry, especially the episcopate, requires.

9. In other words, the question is not a simple one of human rights or human dignity. It is that a certain choice of lifestyle has certain consequences. So long as the Church Catholic, or even the Communion as a whole does not bless same-sex unions, a person living in such a union cannot without serious incongruity have a representative function in a Church whose public teaching is at odds with their lifestyle.
Clearly, Cantaur has raised the bar--we need to bring around not just a majority of the Communion, but its entirety, and, seemingly, that of our ecumenical friends, the RC Church and (I suspect) the Orthodox. So much for Article XXXVII; the Bishop of Rome hath jurisdiction not only in this relam of England, but in this realm of the United States! And so do a lot of other people. Who knew?

Moreover, the Archbishop asserts--absent any citations, and I think this is because there are none--that to allow the local settlement of these issues "would be to re-conceive the Anglican Communion as essentially a loose federation of local bodies with a cultural history in common, rather than a theologically coherent 'community of Christian communities.'" (Williams para 18). Er, that's a pretty slim difference, and the notion that we've been "theologically coherent" is a bit steep. Certainly the Archbishop is going well beyond the classic Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral here.

But how lovely he makes it sound:
For those whose vision is not shaped by the desire to intensify relationships in this particular way, or whose vision of the Communion is different, there is no threat of being cast into outer darkness – existing relationships will not be destroyed that easily. But it means that there is at least the possibility of a twofold ecclesial reality in view in the middle distance: that is, a 'covenanted' Anglican global body, fully sharing certain aspects of a vision of how the Church should be and behave, able to take part as a body in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue; and, related to this body, but in less formal ways with fewer formal expectations, there may be associated local churches in various kinds of mutual partnership and solidarity with one another and with 'covenanted' provinces.
Williams par. 22.

After all, the Archbishop is merely describing "two styles of being Anglican, whose mutual relation will certainly need working out but which would not exclude co-operation in mission and service of the kind now shared in the Communion." Moreover, "[i]t should not need to be said that a competitive hostility between the two would be one of the worst possible outcomes, and needs to be clearly repudiated."

Of course! Those who refer to our Presiding Bishop as a heretic, and call us the Episcopal Organization, and a social justice club--or, to quote Robert Duncan "Babylon" for short--would never be hostile or competitive.

In other words, Americans, we'll take your money and mission efforts, but please--do keep your lowly, second-class place.

3. Enabling Bigotry

Beyond the description of homosexual committed partnership as "a certain choice of lifestyle" which "has certain consequences," this vision is one which sacrifices the interests, dignity, and position of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters on the altar of unity and centralization--the Archbishop concedes that any of the centralization he describes can only claim about a half century of history, and yet we should in the interests of such unity reduce the acceptance of our brothers and sisters to the lowest common denominator within the Communion.

In return, the Archbishop offers a tepid, non-specific condemnation of anti-gay bigotry. Of course, he immediately denatures that already weak sauce by finding within the expressed need for "penitence" on the part of the Communion no implication for the discipline of the Church:
10. This is not a matter that can be wholly determined by what society at large considers usual or acceptable or determines to be legal. Prejudice and violence against LGBT people are sinful and disgraceful when society at large is intolerant of such people; if the Church has echoed the harshness of the law and of popular bigotry – as it so often has done – and justified itself by pointing to what society took for granted, it has been wrong to do so. But on the same basis, if society changes its attitudes, that change does not of itself count as a reason for the Church to change its discipline.

Simply put, this seemingly moderate document asks TEC in the politest possible way, to buy peace with the tears and blood, if the Church of Nigeria has its way) of our brothers and sisters. If we love them, we will answer firmly "No deal!" Or, more pointedly, "here I stand. I can do no other."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

My World With John Houseman

When I was a boy, I stumbled on the film and series The Paper Chase, and was quickly engrossed in it--something about the relationship between the professor and his students, the thrust-and-parry of the dialectic, and the way in which a welter of details could build up to a picture of right and wrong, gripped me. When PBS broadcast the old series, and added panel discussions of legal questions to fill out the hour, I was even more hooked. I began looking for books on law in the library, and found a handful of Supreme Court reporters containing decisions of the 1970s (in a funky red binding I've never seen since) and formed my political views from reading the opinions of Justices. I quickly learned to distinguish the pompous nonsense of Warren Burger and the tendentious writing of William Rehnquist from the often blunt but always grounded reasoning of William O. Douglas. I grew up a lawyer and a politics addict in a family that had neither on either side.

In high school and then much more in college, I found theater, and loved acting, working backstage, even assistant directing. That's when I discovered the enormous contribution Houseman made to the theater, both before and after his collaboration with Orson Welles. I saw Houseman lecture twice; once at Molloy College and once at Fordham, where I got to meet him. He was charming; funny, self-effacing, anecdotal, and with great manner with a punch line. I've read his memoirs, and they convey something of that quality.

So why do I mention this now? Because I've just finished the two volumes of a three volume biography of Welles published to date by Simon Callow. They are awfully good, and in volume 1, Callow draws off a deathbed interview with Houseman. The stories are more tinged with sadness as Callow tells them; he feels for both men, caught in a highly emotional partnership, which grows and dies in a few concentrated years.

And Houseman? His own feeling that he was a chameleon, playing a series of roles in his early life is one which any lawyer--or, I should think, actor--can identify with. We lose ourselves in the parts. But, at some point,we have to find the essential person behind the personae. I don't know if Welles managed it. The last volume of Houseman's memoir suggests that he did.

And me? Ah, that would be telling.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Back in DC

The recent er, exposure, of South Carolina Mark Sanford, John Ensign, and, now, Rep. Charles Pickering, Jr., have brought to light their membership in a secretive mutual aid society and frankly pretty weird "Christian" organization (I'm pretty sure that approving references to Hitler, Genghis Khan, and a worship of secular power earn you scare quotes).

According to Jeff Sharlet, members include Senators Don Nickles (R., Okla.), Charles Grassley (R., Iowa), Pete Domenici (R., N.Mex.), John Ensign (R., Nev.), James Inhofe (R., Okla.), Bill Nelson (D., Fla.), and Conrad Burns (R., Mont.), as are Representatives Jim DeMint (R., S.C.), Frank Wolf (R., Va.), Joseph Pitts (R., Pa.), Zach Wamp (R., Tenn.), and Bart Stupak (D., Mich.). And that's in addition to Pickering, Sanford and Coburn.

Hmm...theocracy, neo-fascism and adultery, with a Christian veneer. Sounds like a Russ Meyer film that never was.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

And Away We Go...

Yesterday's vote by General Convention to affirm that “any ordained ministry” is open to gay men and lesbians (as the New York Times puts it; the actual text of D 025 does not overturn B 033 but does significantly undermine its authority) has already been seized upon as by Bishop N.T. Wright as " telling the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other 'instruments of communion' that they were ignoring their plea for a moratorium on consecrating practising homosexuals as bishops." Bishop Wright goes on to state that:
They were rejecting the two things the Archbishop of Canterbury has named as the pathway to the future — the Windsor Report (2004) and the proposed Covenant (whose aim is to provide a modus operandi for the Anglican Communion). They were formalising the schism they initiated six years ago when they consecrated as bishop a divorced man in an active same-sex relationship, against the Primates’ unanimous statement that this would “tear the fabric of the Communion at its deepest level”. In Windsor’s language, they have chosen to “walk apart
For all my very sincere respect for Bishop Wright, I have to ask, who is he kidding?

TEC is one of the very few churches to actually observe the Windsor Report's recommendations to date. While we have complied with the request "to effect a moratorium on the election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges," both in fact and in policy, what has happened to the reciprocal requests made of those provinces who took exception to TEC's decision to grant consent to the consecration of V. Gene Robinson?

The requested moratorium on cross-boundary interventions has been flouted by Nigeria, Kenya, the Southern Cone, and Uganda. (A helpful timeline is here). Now, the various Anglican spin-offs are trying to create an alternative North American province to entirely supplant TEC as the "Anglican entity" in the United States. I think we can call that one Windsor recommendation most effectively dustbinned.

Well, how about the Listening Process? You know, the joint provincial agreement that "We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ.” To take but one example, Nigeria, the final report--ten years after Lambeth 1998--stated "The Primate of all Nigeria has said “Our argument is that, if homosexuals see themselves as deviants who have gone astray, the Christian spirit would plead for patience and prayers to make room for their repentance. When scripture says something is wrong and some people say that it is right, such people make God a liar. We argue that it is a blatant lie against Almighty God that homosexuality is their God-given urge and inclination. For us, it is better seen as an acquired aberration." It commended the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act (2006) "because we understand that it is designed to strengthen traditional marriage and family life and to prevent wholesale importation of currently damaging Western values." The Act, according to the Church of Nigeria, "bans same sex unions, all homosexual acts and the formation of any gay groups."

Nice listening, folks. Very in the spirit of Lambeth. But aberrational, right? Not according to conservative 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. Despite the fact that there exist texts like Goddard and Walker’s "True Union in the Body" which attempt to engage with the best arguments in favour of monogamous gay unions, some conservatives insist on producing writing that condemns not the best examples of gay life, but the worse. Do we need chapters of books denigrating the promiscuous lifestyle of some, when our opponents are actually those who believe very strongly in "Permanent, Stable, Faithful"? 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?
Sadly, Ould's principled remonstrance has not garnered any support--anti-gay slurs abound on "reasserter" websites and TEC is subject to widespread ridicule, accused of being un-christian, mockingly referred to as TEO [for "the Episcopal Organization," d'ye see, because, of course we can't believe in GOD if we want to include the you-know-whos].

For Bishop Wright to accuse TEC alone of "walking apart" reflects at best stupendous ignorance coupled with arrogance, and at worst confirms my suspicions that, for reasserters, rules, agreements and other strictures only count when they are directed at TEC, and not at themselves.

There's more to be said about Bishop Wright's misguided column, but Rev. Scott Gunn does an admirable job of saying what needs to be said.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, meanwhile, seems to be ready to join Bishop Wright in holding only one side--TEC--accountable. It would be of a piece with his abandonment of his friend Jeffrey John, whom he forced to resign promotion to a bishopric to appease the conservatives in the Communion. If schism is indeed upon us--and I think it clearly is--Dr. Williams may go down as its Neville Chamberlain.