The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Company One Keeps

Many self-styled reasserters who hold to traditional church teaching on the subject of same-sex marriage (and indeed relationships generally) feel unfairly branded as "homophobic" by us "reappraisers." They argue that what is often decried as prejudice in fact reflects fidelity to scripture and tradition.

Well, I can see that if you are a believer in a certain vision of scriptural authority, that position would seem right. And I don't doubt that this position compels many who are acting in good faith, and yet who strive to be pastoral toward gays and lesbians--I've previously commended Peter Ould's more irenic writings, to take one example.

But there is a vehemence, and a nasty edge to many prominent reasserters in their denunciation of homosexuality, as well as in their willingness to go beyond ecclesial and moral positioning and support bigots who advocate secular persecution of gays and those who care for them. Even Andrew Goddard, in 2007, acknowledged discomfort with the anti-gay atmosphere he has sometimes encountered.

To take an extreme but sigificant example: CANA, "a mission of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican)." Founded by Archbishop of All Nigeria Peter Akinola, and his "missionary bishop" Martyn Minns. Akinola's personal homophobia has been documented by himself: "The way he tells the story, the first and only time Archbishop Peter J. Akinola knowingly shook a gay person’s hand, he sprang backward the moment he realized what he had done."

This prejudice has been elevated into Anglican Communion politics by the Report on the Listening Process submitted by the Church of Nigeria as part of the Windsor Process. The Nigerian "listening" consisted mostly of decrying the people they were supposed to have been listening to, and urging their impisonment:
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.

In Nigeria the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act 2006 is passing through the legislature. The House of Bishops has supported it because we understand that it is designed to strengthen traditional marriage and family life and to prevent wholesale importation of currently damaging Western values. It bans same sex unions, all homosexual acts and the formation of any gay groups. The Standing Committee of the Church of Nigeria has twice commended the act in their Message to the Nation.
Minns, by the way, when he was trying to convince his flock to depart TEC, denied a report that Akinola is "an advocate of jailing gays", which he described as "not true." The Nigerian Listening Process Report belied Minns' words after he made the statement; prior to Minns' statement, Akinola had released a similar statement himself.

This was brought back to mind for me today when I saw over at Thinking Anglicans Abp. Akinola's latest paean of praise, in which his own "Diocesan Communicator" lauds him with a level of adulation that is rather startling:
Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but anyone who does not think that Akinola’s primacy is a resounding success will have an uphill task for a better comparison, as the Church has never had it so good. In fact, Archbishop Akinola has succeeded in putting the Primacy of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) at a level that will take a very long time to equal nationally, regionally and globally. By the foregone indications, he has immensely endowed the future generation of Anglicans in many unprecedented ways.
Perhaps the best we can do is pray for a worthy successor who will be humble enough to continue the good work already started by building on the foundation already laid. Such a successor will, of course, have to identify those areas of the vision that call for a general review, taking cognisance of today’s peculiarities and faithfully implementing them so as to take the church to the next level.

As always, Father Jake has more.

Friday, August 28, 2009

St. Augustine's Day

Today the Episcopal Church commemorates St. Augustine of Hippo, the learned, disputacious, and ultimately very human "Doctor of the Church." His Confessions tells the story of his coming to faith, and sketch out his theology; his City of God goes further in, and sketches the respective roles of Caesar (who reigns over the City of Man) and Christ (who reigns over the City of God). But Augustine did not preach American-style separation of Church and State, although separation can be found in City of God.

He came to eschew many human goods for fear of diverting his attention from the love of God, and lived a life of denial that, to many modern eyes is excessive. And yet, he knew his own teperament, his sensuality and emotionally labile nature. Augustine could love easily, and could even--as his charitable remarks regarding Faustus, the greatest Manichean disputant, and one fervently opposed by Augustine, show:
he might still have held the truth of piety, had he not been a Manich├Žan. For their books are full of lengthy fables concerning the heaven and stars, the sun and moon, and I had ceased to think him able to decide in a satisfactory manner what I ardently desired—whether, on comparing these things with the calculations I had read elsewhere, the explanations contained in the works of Manich├Žus were preferable, or at any rate equally sound? But when I proposed that these subjects should be deliberated upon and reasoned out, he very modestly did not dare to endure the burden. For he was aware that he had no knowledge of these things, and was not ashamed to confess it. For he was not one of those loquacious persons, many of whom I had been troubled with, who covenanted to teach me these things, and said nothing; but this man possessed a heart, which, though not right towards You, yet was not altogether false towards himself. For he was not altogether ignorant of his own ignorance, nor would he without due consideration be inveigled in a controversy, from which he could neither draw back nor extricate himself fairly. And for that I was even more pleased with him, for more beautiful is the modesty of an ingenuous mind than the acquisition of the knowledge I desired—and such I found him to be in all the more abstruse and subtle questions.
(Conf. Bk. V, ch. 7 v. 12).

This is pretty fair-minded, considering the virulence of Augustine's campaign against the Manichees (who were so completely suppressed that, until CRC Allberry's translation of a part of a psalm book in 1938--a rarity, and about the only one I own--almost all that was known of them was Augustine's own broadsides against them. More background here. If CP Snow's fictionalized depiction of Allberry, his close friend, as Roy Calvert in The Light and the Dark is accurate on this point, Allberry had a personal devotion to Augustine, whose faith he could not share, but whose honesty he respected profoundly).

Augustine was one of the first advocates of religious tolerance by Christians as opposed to religious tolerance for Christians. Alas, as the Western Roman Empire fell, and the candle of civilization seemed to be in danger of going out, Augustine became an increasingly strident advocate of coercion of heretics. Still, by the standards of his day, and in view of his cultural context--look how belief in free speech radically diminished after 9/11 before you judge Augustine too harshly!--he was a deep thinker, a lover of truth and of reason as a guide to finding truth.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Death of a Titan

Senator Ted Kennedy died last night, felled by the brain tumor diagnosed in summer 2008. Others will write of his storied, 46 years long career in the United States Senate, of his remarkable ability, despite the increasing toxicity of American politics, to reach across the aisle and forge alliances with Republicans to deliver legislation, of his plethora of bills passed into law, and of his leadership of the liberal wing of the Senate. Others may focus on his difficult, sometimes messy, personal life, getting one last shot in at an old political foe. (These will be, I suspect, mainly those who did not know him).

I remember his leading the charge against the confirmation of Robert Bork, starkly pointing out the implications of the stunted vision of constitutional rights Bork had espoused if ever it commanded a majority on the Court. Senator Kennedy
declared that
Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, and schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of Americans.
[The Times suggests that this characterization was somehow unfair; however Bork had, in his writings, declared that only purely political speech was entitled to constitutional protection, had also described the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prior to its enactment, as embodying "a principle of unsurpassed ugliness," a quote he tap-danced away from under Kenendy's questioning. Bork (see previous link) did deny the existence of a constitutional right to privacy, and did essentially hold the view that, as Kennedy said, the Constitution did not protect the citizenry from the abuses Kennedy listed.]

Also, I'll remember Ted Kennedy shouldering the burden of being the last knight of Camelot, and of passing the legacy on to our current President, in his last great public appearance, a surprise appearance at the DNC last year:

Watch CBS Videos Online

The burden of the Camelot Mystique may have contributed to the shadow side of Kenendy's life. Certainly, no one else in the family has come close to the late Senator's bearing of the legacy. Like Porthos at the end of The Man in the Iron Mask, he lays down the burden, saying only, "Too heavy for you."

Monday, August 24, 2009

St Bartholomew's Day

Today is the Feast Day of St. Bartholomew the Apostle, of whom our Rector is fond of telling us, almost nothing is known. (Tradition has him going off to India, being flayed, and standing around rather insouciantly with his own skin in his hands, but, yes, pretty much nothing known of him. No, really.).

Although, I can for one give thanks that his name is commemorated in a place of great beauty and holiness, where God is worshipped and the poor housed and fed every day of the year.

Not a bad memorial, St Bartholomew!

(photo credit:
David Shankbone)

Monday, August 10, 2009

On Taking the Leap of Faith

My friend Nathan Humphrey has answered, in a manner far more gracious than the way in which I initially posed it, my question regarding whether the Covenant is, from a progressive standpoint, a suicide pact. As is his wont, Nathan skillfully finds a way to pose the question to both sides of the debate, urging us to transcend anger, frustration, and distrust:
It doesn't really matter, then, that some people are attracted to the Covenant because they want to use it as a bludgeon. If it's a real Covenant, then that means that those who enter it will be equally responsible to be committed to each other. What this means for the various agendas of either left or right is uncertain: In the current political atmosphere, the left is betting that a Covenant would hinder their agenda, while the right is betting that a Covenant would further theirs, but God has a funny way of turning the tables on both the left and the right if given half a chance. And that's what a Covenant does: it gives God a chance to work in all of our lives at once, rather than only here or only there. I can't say how God will resolve our current conflicts. But I can say that if we trust in God and demonstrate our trust in God through a Covenant, greater things than we can either ask or imagine will happen.

So, for instance, with Gamaliel's counsel in Acts 5:38b-39: "[I]f this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!" If SSBs and all that is of God, then it seems to me that it is better that we all be committed anew to each other in a covenanted life as God works it out than that we should be impatient and untrusting, either of each other or of God, and try to go our own way and do what we're sure is God's will and to hell with the rest of the world.
There is much wisdom here. I would suggest, however, that there are two difficulties here which need to be addressed. The first is, what are the terms and conditions of the actual Covenant, and will it allow for the Primates or other juridicial bodies to be used as means of oppression? The current draft suggests perhaps so; but we do not have a final text, yet, and therefore speculation is premature. How can we agree to a Covenant in the abstract?

Perhaps a more fundamental problem can be gleaned from traditional contract law theory. (I'm a lawyer, remember? Deal). In The Paper Chase, fictional contracts Professor Charles W. Kingsfield, Jr. described a "spectrum of relationships" across which, with varying levels of difficulty, parties could reach functioning agreements. To his students' surprise, relationships which were the most intimate were the hardest; those where the parties thoroughly distrusted each other were marked by greater (external) civility and, far more importantly, cooler and thus more pragmatic levels of dealing with each other. Interestingly, C.S. Lewis, in Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, posits something rather similar--the smaller the doctrinal difference, the more heated the debate.

Here, of course, we have a combination of family-level intimacy (bad for cool negotiating) and a lack of trust (surprisingly helpful). But the problem is that the entire Covenant process has been on a "trust me" basis, with the Archbishop of Canterbury as the only negotiator. In other words--and here we're back with Lewis at pp. 20-21)--neither side feels heard, and thus each keeps shouting the louder.

Which leads me to ask: During the period in which the Covenant is knocked into its final form, why shouldn't the Archbishop, or some neutral figure, launch a series of reconciliation dialogues with TEC, the Church of Canada, his own progressive wing--and the reasserter wing? Not, I beg, the much-vaunted, but ultimately meaningless "Listening Process," which reasserters have watered down to the point of hilarity. (Remember Nigeria's response, which can best be summarized as "Shut up. I'm listening to you.") No, real face-to-face discussions at which we seek to find out what we need from each other, not to reach doctrinal agreement, but to maintain some form of relationship across the lines of doctrinal conflict--and let these discussions shape our relationships, whether Covenantal or "two-track" Communion.

A Covenant, in short, is a contract, and the best contracts are organic, drafted with the actual needs and desires of the parties taken into account, even though neither side ever gets all that it wants. A contract of adhesion--one imposed from above by one party, in a take-it-or-leave-it fashion, as the Covenant is now, is usually only grudgingly accepted, and rarely is a basis for a healthy, ongoing relationship.

So what, at this stage, do I say in reply to Nathan's response to my question? That he has convinced me that we are far too early in the process to refuse to do the hard work to try to keep relationships alive, and that we need to be more active in seeking to find out if accord is possible, and what that accord can and should look like. Also, that we owe it to God and to each other to approach this work in the spirit of Christian optimism and faith, and not in a spirit of fear.

I would urge, though, that all parties--liberal, conservative, "reappraiser" or "reasserter" start thinking in terms of directly engaged discussions with each other, with a goal of finding what common ground we can stand upon. That could provide the context for a Covenant, and create the meeting of the minds necessary for a contract to really exist.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Shaw and Schori

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has been has been catching a lot of flak (I know; big surprise) for her opening statement at General Convention 2009 that:
The overarching connection in all of these crises has to do with the great Western heresy – that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God. It’s caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus. That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of being. That heresy is one reason for the theme of this Convention
Interestingly, her view in this matter seems to me quite consistent with the Gospels, a thought that is captured for me in Bernard Shaw's Preface to Androcles and the Lion:
If we ask our stockbroker to act simply as Jesus advised his disciples to act, he will reply, very justly, "You are advising me to become a tramp." If we urge a rich man to sell all that he has and give it to the poor, he will inform us that such an operation is impossible. If he sells his shares and his lands, their purchaser will continue all those activities which oppress the poor. If all the rich men take the advice simultaneously the shares will fall to zero and the lands be unsaleable. If one man sells out and throws the money into the slums, the only result will be to add himself and his dependents to the list of the poor, and to do no good to the poor beyond giving a chance few of them a drunken spree. We must therefore bear in mind that whereas, in the time of Jesus, and in the ages which grew darker and darker after his death until the darkness, after a brief false dawn in the Reformation and the Renascence, culminated in the commercial night of the nineteenth century, it was believed that you could not make men good by Act of Parliament, we now know that you cannot make them good in any other way, and that a man who is better than his fellows is a nuisance. The rich man must sell up not only himself but his whole class; and that can be done only through the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The disciple cannot have his bread without money until there is bread for everybody without money; and that requires an elaborate municipal organization of the food supply, rate supported. Being members one of another means One Man One Vote, and One Woman One Vote, and universal suffrage and equal incomes and all sorts of modern political measures. Even in Syria in the time of Jesus his teachings could not possibly have been realized by a series of independent explosions of personal righteousness on the part of the separate units of the population. Jerusalem could not have done what even a village community cannot do, and what Robinson Crusoe himself could not have done if his conscience, and the stern compulsion of Nature, had not imposed a common rule on the half dozen Robinson Crusoes who struggled within him for not wholly compatible satisfactions. And what cannot be done in Jerusalem or Juan Fernandez cannot be done in London, New York, Paris, and Berlin. In short, Christianity, good or bad, right or wrong, must perforce be left out of the question in human affairs until it is made practically applicable to them by complicated political devices; and to pretend that a field preacher under the governorship of Pontius Pilate, or even Pontius Pilate himself in council with all the wisdom of Rome, could have worked out applications of Christianity or any other system of morals for the twentieth century, is to shelve the subject much more effectually than Nero and all its other persecutors ever succeeded in doing. Personal righteousness, and the view that you cannot make people moral by Act of Parliament, is, in fact, the favorite defensive resort of the people who, consciously or subconsciously, are quite determined not to have their property meddled with by Jesus or any other reformer.
Well, one might ask, where does Shaw--let alone Schori--get that from? Surely it is consistent with, one might even state compelled by, to pick but one source, Matthew 19:16-24:
And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?

And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,

Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?

Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.

But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.

And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
Shaw, like Schori, is trying to articulate the more that Jesus demands of us before we can rest easy. Shaw's point, that personal righteousness within the rules of a corrupt society is no more than what John the Baptist demanded of publicans and soldiers before the sdvent of Christ, is, I think, well taken, as his larger point that such "righteousness" can be, viewed in isolation, a way of eliding the broader scope of Jesus's teaching--a way of cutting it down to a comfortable size. Hence his .statement that "after 2000 years of resolute adherence to the old cry of 'Not this man, but Barabbas'.....'This man' has not been a failure yet; for nobody has ever been sane enough to try his way. But he has had one quaint triumph. Barabbas has stolen his name and taken his cross as a standard."

If the Presiding Bishop is a heretic she appears to me to be in good company.