The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

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.

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