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."



Try this on:

"So long as the Church Catholic, or even the Communion as a whole does not ORDAIN WOMEN TO THE PRIESTHOOD, a WOMAN cannot without serious incongruity have a representative function in a Church whose public teaching is at odds with HER GENDER."


Anglocat said...

Agreed. I trust my revulsion at this Rube Goldberg "logic" was clear. As one of my favorite politics blogs says, "wev."