Thursday, August 14, 2008

On the Gulf That Separates Us

As many of you can tell from looking at the links to the right, I like to survey many viewpoints in the process of deciding what to write here. Up until now, I have not added any of my own observations about the significance of the 2008 Lambeth Conference. In the course of reviewing the comments of many others on the Conference, however, I am once again struck by the wide degree of difference they exhibit. Earlier, I wrote about “The Gulf That Divides Us”; now I want to take note of “The Gulf That Separates Us.” In other words, we probably could all agree on what are the issues that divide us—that cause all the controversy and disagreement with one another. But I am not so certain that we are aware of the degree to which the Weltanschauung, or “world-view,” of each side evinces the separation that is between us.

Let’s begin with the following observations by the Anglican Scotist. He is assessing what “sacrifices” will be needed, if any, in implementing the moratoria called for by Archbishop Rowan Williams and the Windsor Continuation Group at Lambeth:
There is simply no sense in turning our advantages in political power and moral theology into more self-righteous hypocrisy; the church has plenty of that as it is. Abusing our power will not leave us happy in the end. Perhaps it is worth considering whether we should take on the poverty [++Rowan] Williams requires of us, whether we should take on this poverty even if it should bring mourning with it, even as the thirst for righteousness goes unabated. The last bit from the quote above grabbed my attention: it seemed to imply poverty of spirit can go with the prophetic calling. There is no inconsistency between answering the prophetic call and the moral standard of the Beatitudes.

In plain English that must imply consenting to the moratoria does not mean betraying our gay brothers and sisters. Though it seems impossible, foolish even to try—like the camel going through the needle's eye—nevertheless there is a way, there must be a way.

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.’

From my own viewpoint I can readily concede that the Scotist’s side has the current political advantage: there is no one more dedicated than Louie Crew is to seeing to it that supporters of LGBT rights are elected as deputies to General Convention, and I have already written about the liberal ghost that even yet haunts our House of Bishops. But “advantages in moral theology”? This seems to me mere wordplay, a stringing together of concepts that do not reveal the writer’s underlying thoughts. (For example, what would an “immoral theology” look like?) The Scotist’s further remarks seem to indicate that he is claiming a moral superiority for those whose theology includes LGBT civil rights to be married and ordained:
Again, in plain English, here are some tentative suggestions about what this might come to in concrete terms: at the very least, the work of building a case for the actions of GC2003 should continue. And we might well admit that the theological case for those actions can be made better, clearer, more persuasively. If the rest of the Communion is to brought over to our side—seeing that right wing assistance from the developed world will not soon abate—the making of a more cogent case should be a priority.

Then we should also bring agitation for civil rights for gays in Nigeria et al to the fore; that issue should receive a much higher profile in the affairs of the Communion. And there will be sacrifices—as when pastoral affairs at the parish level grind against moratoria at the Communion level. Father Dudley is something of an icon here—it being safe to assume the CoE sets a tenable pattern for unofficial, parish-level rites around blessing SSUs. The real sticking point will be around the election of another partnered gay bishop. Still, it seems there may be a number of ways forward; e.g. the bishop is gay, but becomes partnered only some time after election. There is no logical inconsistency here that should prevent assent to moratoria.

The Communion qua institution will see things as an institution, but it is surely true that the life of the church is largely outside the bounds of the necessary institution, and it is there we might find the life of the Spirit, in a type of exile looking forward to the day when institution and Spirit are brought closer together. It will take a lot of work.
Whoa, Scotist—you just jumped the tracks. First, you suggest that the “theological case” for consecrating a partnered gay bishop needs to be “made better, clearer, [and] more persuasively.” But I thought you before had claimed to have a morally superior position with that theology. (Is the problem just that you have not articulated it clearly enough so that everyone can perceive just how superior it is?)

Next, you suggest that there be “agitation for civil rights for gays in Nigeria”—right after you concede that “right wing assistance from the developed world will not soon abate.” Presumably you would acknowledge the strong cultural taboo against homosexuality that is ingrained in many African countries, including Nigeria, and which unites their Anglicans in opposition to the TEC agenda, along with the "right wingers" in the developed world. But do you really think that marches for gay civil rights could occur in present-day Nigeria just as they once did for blacks in Birmingham and Montgomery? And whom are you nominating to organize and lead those marches?

Then, you offer a means for skirting around the moratorium on gay consecrations: just have the bishop marry his partner after he receives his miter. That hardly seems to be claiming the moral high ground, does it?

You conclude by indicating the problem is that the Holy Spirit is “in exile” from the institution which the Spirit is supposed to be leading, and that it will take a “lot of work” to bring them together again. Now I’m really confused, because I thought that with your “political advantage” in the Church, and leading it with your advantage in “moral theology,” you were claiming the right to lead the Church because the “Holy Spirit” was guiding your every move! So how can the Spirit be at one and the same time leading the Church and in exile from it?

What I take from this contradictory presentation is that according to the Scotist, his crowd is firmly in control of TEC, but they have “a lot of work” to do to counteract the “right-wing” forces, both in the developing world as well as here in the United States, who are determined to oppose their “Spirit-led” and morally superior program. So his message is: “Roll up your sleeves, and let’s get to work! We’ll organize some civil rights demonstrations in Nigeria (well, maybe here in the United States, then), we’ll slip a few gay bishops by them who don’t disclose their relationships until after they’ve been consecrated, and in the meantime, we’ll articulate some really superior version of our already morally outstanding LGBT theology, which will show up those right-wing aborigines for the fundamentalist numbskulls they are.” (OK, I’ve taken some satirical license here, but you get the point.) Notice that this worldview is all about TEC; although the Scotist’s post focuses on what should happen in the aftermath of Lambeth, the rest of the Communion, and Archbishop Williams himself, are there just as obstacles to be overcome:
Many on the Anglican left who supported GC2003 or the like have, in fact, followed Williams up onto the high wire, remaining within an institution lurching rightward in hope of something better coming in the future: extending the reforms of GC2003 et al would be all that much harder were the Anglican Communion to split. "Moratoria or marginalization" is clearly the message, whether it can be enforced or not.

This sort of message is not too surprising from Williams. He is not sympathetic to political liberalism, and although there is an element of liberation theology in his work, he does not seem to have been formed by anything analogous to the Civil Rights movement in the US—which seems to me to have decisively impacted the moral sensibilities of Episcopalian bishops. Liberation themes in his work—I have Resurrection in mind—could well indicate Williams will not tolerate acting so as to cast off provinces in the developing world, come what may, even if their primates and policies are offensive for one reason or another. He would rather call for sacrifice and toleration from the developed world than lose them—and from a certain scriptural point of view that kind of strategy is cogent.

That is to say Williams intentionally burdens the Episcopal Church, Canada, and any province sympathetic to GC2003 et al with the task of bringing the other provinces "on board." He simply will not assist; it is not in his job description, and it would risk driving away just the provinces with which he most wishes to keep in communion.

Got it? The Anglican Communion is the problem, not the solution, because it won’t repeal Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10, and because it won’t sign on to our program. Now let’s look at a spokesperson for the opposite side, the esteemed Baby Blue, in a comment she left over at StandFirm:

One of the things Rowan said at the final press conference is that he is going to be contacting those GAFCON bishops who were not at Lambeth directly, to listen to their views regarding the topics covered at Lambeth. He is not going to wait for them to come to him - he’s going to straight to them. Again, this has infuriated the progressives in TEC who see those bishops as having opted themselves out of the Communion.

Oh, they’ve opted themselves out, but not from the Communion but from control by the long arm of TEC, as the TEC leaders found out when the Sudanese bishops drew a line in the sand in the early days of the Lambeth Conference. It was a wake-up call for those bishops to discover first hand that TEC is of a different mind on scriptural truth and moral life than they could have ever imagined. It was clear that they drew back once that was made clear and Rowan seems to have sided with them in the end.

And the GAFCon bishops and primates are the embodiment of the proverb that the enemy of your enemy is your friend, at least for Rowan Williams. It was clear that TEC and even the ACC office were running a different communications offensive than Rowan Williams and his Lambeth team. The fact remains that the Lambeth Communications team put up more conservative/moderates than the TEC team did—their team basically gave us a steady diet of one progressive after another. The conservative Episcopalians, upon realizing they would not be invited by the TEC apparatus, then began instituting their own press conferences to counterbalance the one put on by 815.

Jesus said we should be gentle as doves and cunning as serpents. Often we side with one of those and not do both. We [often] go [so far] overboard in our gentleness that we are shocked by the tactics of our opponents. And sometimes we are so cunning that we become cynical and hard-hearted and can’t see when those we thought were lost are found.

Finding a way to do both—being both smart and kind—is a full-time endeavor. For Rowan Williams, he has been wounded deeply by this development, a development that his weary staff seemed unprepared to handle. But TEC has been right there, running a first-line offensive and we should remember that, lest we suddenly find ourselves inadvertently and suddenly engaged in friendly fire at the wrong person.

For BabyBlue, as with the Scotist, tactics are important: in the Gospel to which she refers, Jesus says: “I am sending you out like sheep surrounded by wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” But the vantage point of her world-view is from a wholly different perspective: it is from the standpoint of the Anglican Communion as a whole. And far from being seen as an obstacle to progress, the Archbishop of Canterbury is viewed as being besieged by all the forces that are vying to reduce him to a tool for their purposes. The key to his survival, she says, lies in his accommodating the GAFCON primates in their struggle to work themselves free of domination by TEC and its allies—in recognizing that TEC is really his enemy, and that as another enemy of TEC, GAFCON is ++Rowan’s best friend at this juncture in the Communion.

I think this juxtaposition of two viewpoints is illuminating, not just from the perspective of one side or the other. It tends to show that TEC is in a struggle to maintain the historical domination—in terms of finances, number of bishops, and dictation of agenda—it has enjoyed in the Anglican Communion. That domination was challenged at Lambeth 1998 in a way that TEC’s leadership considered shocking, and having shown what they thought of Lambeth at GC 2003 (and again at GC 2006), they went to Lambeth 2008, well-furnished with talking points and misinformation, determined to win converts to their view by any means possible. They now see the Archbishop of Canterbury as having temporarily thwarted their plans with his indaba groups and his refusal to allow any resolutions to be voted upon, and they are determined that he shall be marginalized for the future. So they do not see Lambeth 2008 as a loss, or a defeat—instead it serves only as regrettable evidence that the Communion is an “institution lurching rightward,” as the Scotist has it. Far from being a setback, Lambeth 2008 serves as a rallying cry to the troops: it calls for “a lot of work” and for sharper, cleverer tactics: “Though it seems impossible, foolish even to try—like the camel going through the needle's eye—nevertheless there is a way, there must be a way.”

And in the end, it may even call for giving up on the Communion, and walking apart from it, even though “extending the reforms of GC2003 et al would be all that much harder were the Anglican Communion to split.” (I have added the italics to highlight the point of view here.) But if that is where the “Holy Spirit” takes us, says the Scotist, so let it be: “. . . it is surely true that the life of the church is largely outside the bounds of the necessary institution, and it is there we might find the life of the Spirit, in a type of exile looking forward to the day when institution and Spirit are brought closer together.”

The only question that remains, it would seem, is how long it will take for the two sides to come to the realization that they are actually walking apart, and that they have been doing so for some time now. Probably that realization will come with the battle to adopt a covenant: TEC has signaled that it will accept only a covenant that is descriptive, and not prescriptive. But that time is at least ten years off, and so it may come sooner, over a breakup of the Primates' Meeting, the formation of a new North American Province, or even over a matter of financing the Communion’s deficit. What is certain is that if TEC cannot mold the Communion to its will, it will cast the Communion aside as outdated and irrelevant to its purposes. It will then form its own mold and invite other progressive churches to join it. There is no longer—and many have been saying it for years now—any other path for TEC to take. The gulf that now separates it from those who hold fast to the teachings and traditions handed down to the fathers is unbridgeable. Congratulations, ++Frank: you and your cohorts have listened with your heart, and your "vast and diverse center" may at last have coalesced into something with a mind of its own. Like the ancients' concept of a planetes, or "wanderer", that strayed randomly through the heavens, TEC has left the Communion which used to revolve around it, from which it used to derive its identity and purpose, and is headed off into the void for parts unknown.


  1. The Scotist wrote,

    "Williams will not tolerate acting so as to cast off provinces in the developing world, come what may, even if their primates and policies are offensive for one reason or another."

    This was obviously a reference to certain African Bishops.

    If one substitutes "developed world" for "developing world," does that not present the other worldview?

  2. Mr. Haley,

    Your wry observations, including this one couched as a question, "That hardly seems to be claiming the moral high ground, does it?" are most apt. They expose the very phenomenon which has repeatedly and continually reinforced my perception that those on the Scotist's side of the issue do not really refer to the Holy Spirit when they invoke the name, but rather the other one, the Unholy one.

    IMHO, to engage in dissimulation of the sort suggested by the Anglican Scotist is the fruit of the spirit which that person heeds and, at least in the present instance, serves. The only explanation I can imagine for many others' not recognizing this is that they have learned, probably through long indoctrination in TEC, to confuse secular civil rights with the Gospel. This is not to say they are wholly unrelated, but rather that the achievement of the former must, for a Christian, be accomplished in conformance with the latter—not something many of those of us with a long history in TEC (mine is about 38 years as I write this) have heard preached from the pulpit, but something which all the faithful need to learn.

    God's blessings and my best regards

  3. UP, I am not so sure that it would express the current TEC world-view. I don't think TEC cares what the Archbishop of Canterbury thinks about them. They regard him as a useful tool only insofar as he helps them advance their agenda. Since he did not do that at Lambeth 2008, he is currently in their doghouse.

    That said, I think your proposed substitution does accurately describe the Archbishop's reluctance to do anything that might cause any province to leave the Communion.

    Martial Artist, I agree that a confusion of civil rights with the message of the Gospel lies at the heart of the current difficulties. No one is contending that LGBT's are not equal with all the rest of us sinners under the Gospel, or that we should not love them as we love ourselves; but we cannot, under the Gospel, glorify anyone's sin and use it as a qualification to be a bishop, priest, or deacon. Yes, Jesus dined with the greedy and sinful tax collectors, but at the same time, he called them to repent of their predatory ways. But now I feel another post coming on . . .

  4. The policies of my Episcopal Church (TEC) and my fearless leaders offend me "for one reason or another."
    By "other worldview" I meant my own, which might also be shared by those "offensive" primates.