Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Archbishop's Credibility Gap and the Destruction of Anglicanism

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent Advent Letter raises some questions that need to be open for debate, two in particular

  • The paragraph regarding “the common acknowledgement that we stand under the authority of Scripture” is deeply problematic, despite its beginning with a quote from the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. The Archbishop goes deeper than that “definition” (“the rule and ultimate standard of faith,” with which, but the way, few progressives, including this one, would quibble). He says Scripture is

    the gift shaped by the Holy Spirit which decisively interprets God to the community of believers and the community of believers to itself

    At best, that fragment of a sentence should read

    the gift shaped by the Holy Spirit which interprets God in and with the community of believers and continually forms and re-forms that community itself.

    The Archbishop completely objectifies, makes passive, “the community of believers,” which, for this Anglican, is about as far from Anglicanism as one can get.

    The other problem is his final sentence in that paragraph.

    Radical change in the way we read cannot be determined by one group or tradition alone.

    That is Roman Catholic Theology pure and simple, and it’s is simply hogwash. At the very least it begs the question, what is “radical change.” I defy the Archbishop to prove that the ordination of Bishop Gene Robinson is a “radical change” in the reading of Scripture by Anglican standards. He ought to have at least asked the question rather than made the pronouncement.
  • Here’s the other problematic paragraph:I acknowledge that this limitation on invitations will pose problems for some in its outworking. But I would strongly urge those whose strong commitments create such problems to ask what they are prepared to offer for the sake of the Conference that will have some general credibility in and for the Communion overall.

    Earth to Archbishop, the credibility of the “instruments of communion” are already shot, literally, to hell. To be fair to him, this did not begin on his watch, but on his predecessors at the previous Lambeth Conference. The very reason Lambeth 1.10 cannot be “ the only point of reference clearly agreed by the overwhelming majority of the Communion” is that 1.10 had and has no credibility because of the process at which it arrived. I would also defy the Archbishop to give actual evidence outside the Primates Meeting that the statement is actually true. It is not true simply because he “repeatedly” says it is true.

    This raises the whole question of attendance at the Lambeth Conference itself. I have supported our bishops’ attendance despite Bishop Robinson’s lack of an invitation because I felt it was and is important that we “be at the table.” I still lean in that direction, but I also think it is important that someone play “devil’s advocate” here.

    What if the table is in itself so distorted that nothing good can come of it? What if the table is, by design, not credible. And it is clearly not given that despite three previous Conference’s promise to listen to the experience of lesbian and gay persons, there is no evidence whatsoever that the next Conference intends to do so. If nothing else, the one person who could be there as an active participant in such a listening process from the side of gay and lesbian persons is not being allowed to participate. If our bishops’ are to go to the Conference are they willing in no uncertain terms, to protest strongly this state of affairs and state that they will do everything in their power to see that the conversation happens at the Conference?

    Second of all, is not the Conference a set up. The Archbishop says in his letter that the primary purpose of the Conference will be to work on the Anglican Covenant, presumably to bring it to a final draft. Presumably the Covenant will then be presented to the Provinces of the Communion for their constitutional assent. Is there any reason at all to trust this process? Is not, rather, the evidence that this Covenant will be seen after the Conference as the norm for the Communion as Lambeth 1.10 has come to be seen? Will not the Covenant be presented to the Provinces as a litmus test, i.e., vote for it or you’re out of Communion? Does not the trajectory of the Archbishop’s own writing not lead in this direction? Do we really want to participate in our own exclusion? Are our bishop’s so certain that they can effect the Covenant language so that it is not innocuous to our constitutional make-up as TEC? Do they not remember how out-voted they were in 1998, despite all their efforts to bring something more palatable to the Conference (the report of the sub-section)?

I believe these are the issues that should be open for debate among us. For myself, every time I am ready to “be at the table” (even though I, as an ordained person who is also an openly gay man living in a partnership, will not “be at the table” even vicariously), I am seriously concerned that we are being invited to participate in our own destruction. And I wonder if membership in the Lutheran Federation is not a better worldwide alternative than what is left of the Anglican Communion. The Communion may survive the next Lambeth Conference, but it appears to me that Anglicanism may very well not.


RSchllnbrg said...

Don't suppose you caught this from the Archbishop this week ... Thought you might "enjoy it" too.

I have no problem with gay clergy who aren’t in relationships, although there are savage arguments about the issue you might have heard about. Our jobs mean we have to adhere to the Bible – gay clergy who don’t act upon their sexual preferences do, clergy in practicing homosexual relationships don’t. This major question doesn’t have a quick-fix solution and I imagine will be debated for many years to come.

From an interview in Oi! Magazine, as posted here:

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Michael. I agree with all you say here, and am especially concerned about the way in which Lambeth is being presumed to have the power it is only in the process of seeking: Lambeth 1.10 is already given juridical status (in spite of all denials to the contrary) and it is on that basis that we are now in the fix we are in. Had we simply treated Lambeth (and the "episcopal" instrument the Primates Meeting) for what it and they is and are rather than as what some people would like them to become, we would not be in this mess. Law is not now and never was the way forward, especially not law imposed without consent. No one ever "agreed" that Lambeth resolutions represented (or represent) the "mind of the Communion" -- on the contrary, they can only conceivably represent the mind of those who voted for them.

Thanks again,

Clark West said...

I think you are exactly right--the theology and eccesiology here are extremely troublesome and I am rather amazed at the assumptions being made. You have highlighted some of the problems with it, for which I am grateful.
At the end of the day, my own feeling is that the Archbishop's position is untenable: though he has written some of the most progressive trinitarian theology of sexuality out there, which has been used by folks like Eugene Rogers to develop a theology of sexuality inclusive for gay and lesbian Christians, he has insisted that this is his 'private' opinion which has no bearing on his rather imperial pronouncements about what the 'Anglican Church' (sic) believes. Public adherence to one thing, private belief in another--isn't this precisely the problem with the closet? I am perfectly serious in suggesting that Rowan Williams has a kind of eccleisology of the closet--a position other conservatives have argued for for some time. As a priest in TEC, I tried this for awhile, until I realized that my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters were right to challenge me and the church on this public/private distinction. The laity see through this 'pulling of punches' and have every right to question our integrity and honesty when we do not come clean with our own theological and moral commitments.

Now the other possibility is that Rowan has changed his 'private' theological mind on these matters. But I have not yet seen him willing to admit this 'publicly'--I think he owes us at least this if it is the case. The first comment here on this post of yours alludes to some of his thoughts which seem to suggest that he is not entirely clear what he believes! I cannot see how a clear articulation of his own CURRENT theology of sexuality could be an overreach of his power--simply time to come clean so the rest of us can see how his mind has changed, if it has! Anything less, for me anyway, gives him no theological credibility anymore, a statement which grieves me to write, as I have long considered him one of my theological heroes.
Anyway, the response to your post over at Titus One Nine simply re-affirms that all the talk about how its not about 'welcoming' gay and lesbian persons into the church, but about how we interpret scripture is a bunch of bunk. The vitriol over there and at Stand Firm ain't going away, no matter how many times Rowan tells us this is not the issue. I think he has made theology itself an idol, and a certain kind of theology at that, which he holds to no matter how ugly the reality is which stares him in the face.
Thank you for your witness, Michael. One day at a time, we'll fight the fight. I am deeply grateful for your nimble refutation of archbishop Rowan's words.
Yours in Christ's love,

Unknown said...

I've linked to your site, Michael. I think that there is an interesting moment here where the American orthodox and the American progressives find themselves in the same fox hole (which reminds me of that moment before Bishop Schori came on to the floor of the House of Deputies when the orthodox and the progressives found themselves on the same side - though for very different reasons).

We think in terms of theology or in justice - we are making our arguments from the same starting place. We are reformers, though with very different goals, obviously. We are still all reformers and think that what we believe with inform our decision-making. Do you see what I mean? So if you are motivated toward reforming an institution toward "full inclusion" or if you are motivated toward reforming an institution toward "biblical values" (I'm trying to use the language of the folks who use it) we are still going to be working toward reform.

What I see happening here - in which we are all in danger of being trapped in - is a rebuttal of institutional preservation. Just like Bishop Schori coming on to the floor of the House of Deputies to stop what was about to happen (a clear line in the sand, as it were) do we now see Rowan Williams do the same thing?

Note how he calls the Bishop of New Hampshire "Gene Robinson." I found that frankly shocking, for even though I obviously disagree with his lifestyle choices and a church that endorses it, I don't question the fact he is a bishop. Am I suddenly to the left of the Archbishop of Canterbury? Of course Gene is a bishop! Everyone knows that. To not invite him to the party can only be meant to pacify the orthodox (which isn't going to happen) and inflame the progressives. Who wins? The institutional preservationists. That's not peace-making, that's peace-keeping and it's dysfunctional. It makes matters worse.

What I don't get is how 815 fits into this. Obviously the view there is for full inclusion. So why isn't the Presiding Bishop willing to leave the Bishop of New Hampshire at home and go to Lambeth?

In Bishop Schori's testimony in the Fairfax Court she was questioned about what a division would mean. I'm going from my memory so please take that in account - I'm trying to be honest here. But I can recall her making the case that if there is a division it will call into question whether the Holy Spirit really is doing a new thing regarding what I would call the innovations in the church and what you probably would call "full inclusion." If recall correctly, she was making the case that a division, a schism in the church would mean that the spirit is not doing a new thing after all.

If this is true, then of course you would do everything in your power to not have a schism, marginalize those who are "causing the problem" (i.e., Gene Robinson or David Anderson, for example) and preserve the institution at all costs. This would then build a "coalition" between Canterbury and 815 - both will not want a schism, though perhaps for very different reasons.

In which case, it would behoove the progressives to align with 815 and oppose the division over property. If there truly is a schism, it has theological consequences.

But what about our conscience? Is it worth throwing those who have put their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor under the train to preserve the institution? It might, if it means verifying that the spirit is doing a new thing. And it would mean getting firmly involved in Lambeth - as Ian DOuglass is doing, in shaping the agenda of that meeting.

But at what cost? I frankly think this is a soul-ripping experience.


Gary (NJ) said...

For the umteenth time Mary, it's NOT a 'lifestyle choice', any more than heterosexuality is, it's the way we were born. And as far as I'm concerned, any church that is NOT gay inclusive has not really understood the message of Christ. The spiritual rape and psychological damage that churches have wrought on GLBT people over the centuries has been uncalculable. They (and maybe you) will have much more to answer for than any gay person ever will.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I think a key to understanding this is Roman Catholic ecclesiology, where the Pope is replaced by the Insruments of Communion. It is not Anglican. If you then look back at interviews etc. you can see this does fit this Archbishop. For him the Communion is the Church.

It seems to me that the only response to this is resistance.