September 30, 2006

The Truth About Cats and Dogs

The Mad Priest reflects upon the origin of the Cat as the means to render human folk humble. Noted, and seconded.

As my Thought for the Day, I offer the following:

Dogs are like people as people wish people were.
Cats are like people as they really are.

—Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
The cat pictured is the late Oxford Deodatus

September 26, 2006

Yes, Minister Redux

A few folks have expressed dismay at ++Cantuar's appointment of ++West Indies (he who absented himself from Communion with Cantuar at Dromantine, and who has been trumpeting from the Global South for a while now) to the committee set up to work on the Anglican Communion Covenant. However, it is a well established principle of power politics that one can sometimes most effectively deal with problematical persons by appointing them to committees charged with addressing the problems to which they contribute by their irascibility.

It works in the parish all the time, and even though ++Rowan comes from an academic background, I think such things are well known in the realm of academia. And certainly in the Yes, Minister world to which I have alluded before! Remember how Sir Humphrey always made a point of getting Hacker deeply involved (and feeling so awfully flattered to be so) in the very matters in which he was in danger of upsetting the apple cart?

The old saying about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer might come into play were it not for the reluctance I have for portraying any Christian as an enemy (even if they don't accord me the same courtesy!).

— Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

September 24, 2006

Fresh Air from Southern Africa

Archbishop of Southern Africa Njongonkulu Ndungane has issued an elegant rebuff to the Global South Communiqué in which he first of all establishes that he in no way approved of this document, even though it was presented in such a way as to suggest his approval — an approval widely reported in the press.

He goes on to say,

...There is no doubt that the tensions within the Anglican Communion, arising from actions within North America, raise serious and problematic concerns for our future. Yet I am deeply disturbed by the tenor of our approach, as reflected in this communiqué. To me, at least, it appears in places that there is a hidden agenda, to which some of us are not privy. For example, I am unable to understand why there seems to be a deliberate intention to undermine the due processes of the Anglican Communion and the integrity of the Instruments of Unity, while at the same time we commit ourselves to upholding Anglican identity, of which these, as they have continued to evolve over the years in response to changing needs, are an intrinsic part. Thus, for example, recent meetings of the Primates, in which the Global South played a very full part, requested various actions from the Archbishop of Canterbury, which he has been assiduous in pursuing; such as setting up the Lambeth Commission, the Panel of Reference, and now the Covenant Design Group. Yet there seems to be an urgency to obtain particular outcomes in advance, pre-empting the proper outworking of the bodies for which we called.

Patience is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. As Peter writes in his second letter, 'Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.' We do not want the best of Anglicanism to be cast aside, and so to perish! And to allow the due processes of these bodies, and the Instruments of Unity, to be followed through will take such a short time in relation to the life of God's Church over two millennia.

I must also say that I am disturbed by the apparent zeal for action to be taken against those deemed not in compliance with Lambeth Resolution 1:10, with a readiness to disregard ancient norms of observing diocesan autonomy. Though this was upheld within the Windsor Report's recommendations, it is of course a practice that was adopted in earliest times by the universal church. It was thus ironic that that the feast of Theodore of Tarsus fell during our meeting: as Archbishop of Canterbury, in 673 he summoned one of the most important Synods of our early tradition. In addressing both the rights and duties of clergy and religious, its decisions included the requirement, already acknowledged elsewhere, of bishops to work within their own dioceses and not to intrude on the ministry of others. We are in danger of giving the impression of being loyal Anglicans, and loyal members of God's One, Holy and Apostolic Church, only where, and insofar, it suits us!

We must also be careful to avoid creating, in effect, episcopi vagantes. This is a difficult and complex area, which Resolution 35 of the Lambeth Conference of 1920 addressed when it said, 'The territorial Episcopate has been the normal development in the Catholic Church, but we recognise that differences of race and language sometimes require that provision should be made in a Province for freedom of development of races side by side; the solution in each case must be left with the Province, but we are clear that the ideal of the one Church should never be obscured.' In our time too, we must do all that we can not to obscure that ideal of the one Church.

I am also more than a little wary of calling into question the election processes of another Province in the way the Communiqué suggests, in relation to the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church. This introduces a completely new dimension into our relationships within the Communion, the reciprocal implications of which we have not considered. I would feel more confident if we addressed this question as a part of the more comprehensive reassessment of the nature of the Communion for our times, which is underway not least through the work of the Covenant Design Group.

An added concern for me is the apparent marginalisation of laity, clergy and bishops in the debate within the Global South. I was particularly glad that circumstances allowed me fully to consult both my fellow bishops, and our Provincial Synod, immediately in advance of the Kigali meeting. For a fundamental and indispensable element of our Anglican identity is that we are both episcopally led and synodically governed. I long for a consultative process that fully engages the whole Body of Christ, recognising that 'to each one, the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good' (1 Cor 12:7). Primates do not have sole monopoly on wisdom and knowledge at this crucial time, nor indeed at any other!

There is much, much more, and I could go on quoting. But please read the whole statement. It is a breath of fresh air, a bold proclamation of the Spirit.

Hear, hear!

—T S Haller BSG

September 19, 2006

Consenting Adults

What’s really wrong with B033

Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention surely has its faults. I have before addressed the fact that it can at most be taken as a strongly worded recommendation, since to do otherwise would be unconstitutional, and violate the principle of collegiality upheld in the Windsor Report, “What touches all must be approved by all.” Consent by bishops and standing committees is within their right, and no legislation short of a Canon to that effect can coerce them to act otherwise than they are free to do.

However, there are two moral problems and one canonical fault with B033, even as it stands, on which it falls short. First of all, it clearly had to be written in such a way as to avoid the suggestion that there was anything wrong with the election and consecration of Bishop Robinson. This church has made its position abundantly clear that though we may regret the consequences of that action, the action itself was proper. And so this resolution takes up a consequentialist ethic — a position of moral weaknesses. For to refrain from an act one believes to be good out of fear of negative consequences — especially consequences as relatively mild as presenting “a challenge” to the wider church — brings us into the ethically muddy world of utilitarianism — the principle of Caiaphas that weighs morality in pounds of flesh.

The second moral flaw is similar to the first: it is an extrinsic ethic — it is not about the goodness or evil of the act of consent, but what others might think about it. This surely falls well below the standards of Christian morality.

However, the more serious problem with B033 lies elsewhere, in its canonical form.

Our canons expect dioceses to elect persons of godly character, sufficient learning, and sound faith as bishops. Participants in the electing diocese’s convention sign a testimonial to that effect, which in addition assures the church at large that the election took place in due and lawful form.

However, the standing committees of consenting dioceses are expected to have neither direct knowledge of the election procedures, nor of the bishop-elect’s manner of life and learning. Rather, all that the canons expect them, as laid out in the testimonial they sign, is an attestation that they “know of no impediment” to the ordination. This is, essentially, an agnostic statement; it does not designate approval as such, merely lack of knowledge of an impediment.

Now, impediment is a quite precise canonical word; and it means something which renders an act impossible — so impossible that if one were to proceed with the act it would be null and void. This is why marriages contracted in spite of impediments (such as insufficient age, existant spouses, or defective intent) can be and are annulled — no marriage took place because the conditions necessary for it were not present.

A very few people have claimed that a noncelibate gay or lesbian bishop can’t really be a bishop because they cannot be “received by the whole church.” These few believe that the sexual practice of a person is an impediment in the strict sense. This is, however, Donatism in almost crystalline form — not a heresy exactly, but an error that leads to schism. For if a failure in the moral character of a minister rendered the ministry null, who could amongst us sinners, after all, be a minister? Donatism was rejected by the church because it was destructive of an orderly exercise of ministry among and by people all of whom are sinners. No, a moral failing is not an impediment.

Nor were consenting dioceses asked to make such a moral judgment — until B033. And that is where the problem lies: it places this discernment of the character of the ordinand not in the hands of the electors (as the canons expect) but in the hands of the consenters, forcing them to discern qualities that might challenge the wider church, rather than remaining focused on their own personal lack of knowledge of any impediments to the ordination.

Which brings me to the recent election in South Carolina.

Intentional neglect?

An impediment, say, in marriage, could be any of a number of things: lack of canonical age, existence of another spouse, and so on, as I noted above. I also mentioned another impediment, “defective intent.” If a person preparing for marriage were to say to the priest doing the pre-marriage counseling, “I of course remain free to terminate this marriage if my spouse gives me cause; and intend to do so,” or “I reserve the right to have relationships with others if I am really strongly attracted to them,” the priest would quite rightly say, “Then you do not have the proper intent for marriage.”

A priest who is about to become bishop takes an Oath, in the same manner as at priestly ordination but in a different context, stating, “I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, disciple, and worship of The Episcopal Church.”

South Carolina, in preparation for its election, developed a survey instrument on an assortment of topics for the candidates to submit as part of their review. Here is how bishop-elect Lawrence answered some of the questions.

19. The church should not divide over this [homosexual conduct] issue. Strongly disagree.
20. If the Diocese of South Carolina does not become separate in some formal way from ECUSA, I intend to resign my orders as an Episcopal priest. Unsure.
21. If the Diocese of South Carolina separates in some formal way from ECUSA, I intend to transfer from this diocese to an ECUSA diocese. Strongly disagree.
Bishop-elect Lawrence’s responses are troubling. He appears to say (I will stand corrected if the double negative of question 19 confused him) that the church should divide over the issue of the rightness or wrongness of homosexual conduct. This in itself would appear to be countenancing schism, the technical name for division in the church. The bishop-elect is “unsure” as to whether he would remain in orders if his diocese does not separate from the Episcopal Church — and such insecurity is incompatible with an Oath. Finally, he intends not to remain with the Episcopal Church if South Carolina separates from it. That is, at least, how his answers appear. He surely deserves an opportunity to correct any misapprehensions, or wrong conclusions one might draw from a survey such as the one to which he responded.

Whether these survey responses by bishop-elect Lawrence constitute an impediment — and if he stands by them — thus remains to be seen — and needs to be seen — and will have to be judged by those preparing to give — or withhold — consent. Surely his statements are troubling on the surface. But I served on a committee with him at this last General Convention, and he seemed to me to be a man of high principle and conscience. I would pray that he would carefully examine his conscience and his principles in this present instant, and if there is any defect in his intent, mend it, or otherwise not place himself in the perilous position of taking an Oath he may not be prepared to maintain.

— Tobias S Haller BSG

September 18, 2006

The Widow and Her Church - A Parable

There was a certain rich widow who was a member of a congregation for the whole of her life. She dearly loved her parish, and over the years she had endowed it with many gifts, most especially a window of fine stained glass, much admired by the people round about.

But there came a time when a new pastor came to the parish, who knew not the ways of those who had gone before, and who changed many things that had been customary in the service. And the widow was greatly displeased. And so she went to some of her friends of the congregation and beseeched them to confront the pastor, and demand that he no longer do such things as he had done, but rather restore the customs which had long been in place among them. But the pastor refused to do so, for he noted that the greater part of the congregation approved of the changes.

And so the widow and her friends demanded that the pastor recognize their claim, and cede to them their portion of the building, that they might worship separately in accordance with the customs they had known, with a pastor of their own choosing. And the widow further demanded that if this could not be done that she should take from the church the pew in which she had been accustomed to sit, together with the stained-glass window, several ranks of pipes from the organ, two or three of the cushions, and one of the chalices, and she and her friends would go their way in peace.

What, I say to you, shall be done for this widow and her friends?

—Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

September 10, 2006

Conversation and Appeal

Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." — Luke 12:13

On the eve of the meeting in New York between various sides in the present internal dispute in which our church is mired, the dissidents have issued an Appeal to Canterbury.

It appears to me that the Seven Bishops who issued this Appeal have not been listening very carefully to the Archbishop, who has said time and again that he will do nothing — and feels he cannot do anything — outside the existing legal structures of the church; hence this call for a meeting among those who can actually try to make some make-do effort under the solicitous Sir Humphrey-like watchful eye of a representative from England.

Speaking of which, this all does seem to resemble a lost episode of Yes, Minister in its own perverse way; particularly the tortures suffered by the English language in the efforts to twist ++KJS's language into the vilest heresy (worthy of schism or at least replacement with a Commissary), and to nuance the already highly nuanced prose of ++Rowan into a stark declaration of support for novel independence.

I still pray for a good outcome; and do not think the Dissatisfied Seven have done themselves any service with this Appeal to an authority who has already said, "Who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?"

—Tobias Haller BSG

September 5, 2006

The Church and the Churches

A colleague made a comment earlier today that got me thinking — as his comments often do. He referred to his longing for the visible union and reconciliation of the church. Needless to say, such longing for church unity forms part and parcel of many of our efforts and our hopes; and certainly the very least we hope for is an end to conflict, and vigorous cooperation in the works of mercy.

But what got me thinking were the unspoken questions behind the assumed goodness of an institutionally united church: What if the evolution of the church in its different branches is not contrary to God?s will and design, but a living out of an organic coming-to-be that is beyond our present understanding? What if the imperial model for the church — a single entity with a single hierarchy — is an accidental inclusion from the days of its birth rather than an essential element to be preserved into its maturity? And so this sends me back to the Scriptures to look more closely at the imagery of diversity and organic development that form so rich a part of the Pauline vision of the church. And what I find there is an image of a body in which not all the parts are the same, but in which different parts serve different functions. Even when split by factions, the splitting and the factions have their purpose: to aid in discernment, and to come to the truth.

I by no means suggest that Paul was a Hegelian: but as one schooled in the rhetoric of his time, he knew that the purpose of debate and division was to lead to a better understanding — to come to one mind through the analysis that takes things apart and sets them in opposition. Lately Archbishop Rowan Williams has been quoted as saying that only the united church can truly discern the truth: but isn?t it also the case (as the Articles affirm!) that a united body can be very much mistaken, and that to discern the truth (as yet to be revealed) some division and debate must inform us?

So I return once again to my favorite image for the united church: not united in a single institutional hierarchy, but in each of its divided elements united

by a common turning
to One Lord,
through One Faith,
in One Baptism,
for One Mission
— with each of the various evolved traditions bringing its gift to the party, its skills and insights to the well-being of the whole. What treasures old and new might we then all enjoy together: the mystical insight and deep tradition of the Eastern Orthodox, the fine thinking of Augustine and Thomas — but of Teilhard too, the fervor and biblical regard of the Reformers, the wit and wisdom of the Anglicans: all in one banquet of spiritual delights with room and to spare at the table for the new arrivals who will find this new church a place of peace and not of conflict.

— Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG