December 31, 2007

Poon and Conflict Within

Thinking Anglicans is once again documenting the disagreements between the leaders of the self-styled Global Anglican Future conference and others in the Global South consortium. It appears the Gaffers have invited themselves to the Holy Land for a pre-Lambeth caucus without checking with the Anglican Primate of that Holy Land; who, it appears, has suggested that meeting after Lambeth might be better.

Meanwhile, Michael Poon's initial question, "What's all this then?" has been "slapped down" by an unnamed Primate and his amanuensis (the telltale trail of metadata seems still to be a type of forensic evidence some in the Global South are not yet skilled in erasing).

This back and forth all seems to me to be the consequence of people taking upon themselves the mantle of judgment; the habit of being judgmental soon comes to be applied within the group as much as outside the group. It is a bad habit, wherever directed other than towards ones own behavior. This is why Jesus said to love rather than to judge. It is a teaching simple to say but hard to practice.

Meanwhile, this effort to end the "paralysis" in the Anglican Communion has instead produced tremors and jitters rather than useful motion. Incompetent and self-appointed physicians have no right to peddle their nostrums — and the rest of Anglicanism would be foolish to swallow their treatments: ineffective at best, and toxic at their worst.

Tobias Haller BSG

December 29, 2007

Psalms for Unity, Service and Blessing (133 and 134)

O how good and pleasant it is, when brethren live together in unity.
It is like fine oil upon the head, that runs down upon the beard,
Upon the beard of Aaron, and runs down upon the collar of his robe.
It is like the dew of Hermon that falls upon the hills of Zion.
For there the Lord has ordained the blessing: life for evermore.
Behold now, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, you that stand by night in the house of the Lord.
Lift up your hands in the holy place and bless the Lord; the Lord who made heaven and earth bless you out of Zion.

a setting by Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG, 1991

MP3 File

View or download the sheet music here.

December 28, 2007

A thought for 12.28.07

The Common Cause Partners are just one more example of a same-sects relationship.

Tobias Haller

Do You Know the Way to San Joaquin

"I may go wrong and lose my way..."

Well, contrary to my advice in the previous post concerning patience, things are humming in connection with the decidedly hasty actions of +John-David Schofield and his diocese's convention, exacerbated by the speed with which the former Episcopal Bishop has chosen to displace the vicar of a mission that had been under his care.

The so-called reasserter blogs are strangely quiet with regard to this move --- perhaps out of embarrassment, or due to the extent to which this action rather undercuts the case being made in Virginia; or perhaps they are just keeping Christmas rather than leaving it alone.

Speaking of leaving it alone, there is no doubt who is cast in the role of Scrooge in this current reenactment. Bishop John-David has acted in haste, even before the California Supreme Court renders a decision on where property rights fall, and clearly contrary to the recommendations of more judicious, though no less conservative, minds.

Progressives are taking up the cry for agitation, with questions as to why the Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies aren't doing more, or doing more publicly.

It appears to me that the "problem" of San Joaquin and its erstwhile Bishop has not yet fallen to the Presiding Bishop for response, but rather into the lap of the Review Committee charged with making a determination and recommendation. It appears to many observers (including observers with little or no stake in the outcome) that +JDS has renounced the Discipline of The Episcopal Church in no uncertain terms (why, after all, should he seek to place himself "under" another Primate and remove his diocese, contrary to the discipline of The Episcopal Church?) and has thereby abandoned communion with it. I take it as evident, his asseveration that this may only be "temporary" notwithstanding, that he has no interest in being or remaining in communion with a church he has recently described in such a negative light, as "an apostate institution that has minted a new religion irreconcilable with the Anglican faith."

The Review Committee consists of Bishops Henderson (USC), Ohl (NwTx), Jones (VA), Rivera (Oly) and Waggoner (Spo), The Rev. H. Scott Kirby (EauC), The Rev. Carolyn S. Kuhr (MT), Mr. J. P. Causey (VA), and Mrs. Deborah J. Stokes (SoOH). (See page 33 of the Journal of Convention 2006). Their action, described under Canon IV.9.1 as a "duty" is now expected. I hope they may already have begun to carry this duty out, so that the Presiding Bishop can move the process to the next step, which will require the consent of the three most senior bishops with jurisdiction.

Those are the rules, folks. This is no time for guerrilla actions, but for due process and care and clarity. In the meantime, we can also do all in our power to encourage the faithful Episcopalians of the central valley of California, the remaining members of the real live Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin.

Tobias Haller BSG

December 21, 2007

Patience, Patience

from a sermon at St James Fordham • Advent 3a
Tobias Haller BSG

... Into the midst of this royal purple season of Advent, a rosy intrusion makes its way, and the day takes on a rose-tinged hue — including the vestments. We are given a verbal and visual command: Lighten up! We set aside for a moment the stern admonitions of John the Baptist, calls to repent and flee the coming wrath of God. And we turn to a gentler vision of a more upbeat world to come, a world foreseen by the prophet Isaiah, a world whose reality began to take shape in the ministry of Jesus, a world in which blind people see, lame folk walk, lepers are cleansed, deaf people hear, dead people are raised, and the poor hear the good news.

This is the lighter side of Advent, the rose-colored glasses view of the life of the world to come: a laid-back, sunny afternoon kind of Advent, fresh with the surprising fragrance and color of a rose blooming on the verge of winter, the thirst-quenching miracle of a spring appearing and welling up in the middle of the desert of our lives.

But there is another nickname for this Sunday, and it captures the other side of the Advent spirit. This Sunday is also known as “Stir up” Sunday, because of the phrase in the collect of the day: “Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us.” Now, that’s a more familiar kind of Advent, the Advent of breathless expectation, of the imminent nearness of the Lord’s coming. As Saint James says in today’s epistle, “the coming of the Lord is near... the judge is standing at the doors!” and it’s as if the door has opened and a sudden draft of frigid air has invaded the cozy warmth of our living room, setting the candles to flickering, and causing us to draw our scarves up around our shoulders.


However, lest we jump immediately to our feet, Saint James, somewhat paradoxically, also tells us to be patient. “Be patient, beloved, until the coming of the Lord.” ... The patient waiting that Saint James counsels is not mind-numbing waiting in lines at city hall, the bank, or the crowded shop in which everyone wants to pay with an expired credit card or with a check but no i.d.! It is not the anxious waiting by the telephone or the mailbox for a long-delayed but promised call or letter. No, the waiting patience Saint James counsels is the patience of a farmer waiting for crops to grow. “The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.” That’s a very different kind of patience, a very special kind of patience, the patience of expectation, the patience of hope. For hopeful expectation is not merely waiting, it is waiting with a purpose and for a promise, a promise not of what we will do, but a promise of what will be done for us.

The purpose of a farmer’s wait, as well as its promise, is the crop. The farmer is purposeful in preparing for the crop, and looks to the promise of the harvest on the basis of his past work — the work of planting, and on the basis of God’s present and future work, the work of growth, nurtured through the sending of the early and late rains to nourish the seed as it lies in hiding underground and mysterious. There, in hidden darkness, it sends out roots long before the green blade spears its way through the clods of soil, and the miraculous sprouts of spring reveal what has been going on beneath the earth; and then on through the growth and ripening of summer to produce a crop a hundred-fold greater than the mere handfuls strewn upon the soil the year before. And this work of waiting, this waiting game, takes patience. It takes hope and confidence and trust — confidence and trust in the knowledge that while nothing may appear on the surface of the field until spring comes, that long before, throughout the patient waiting winter, God’s secret work is being done underground.


We too, the Church of God, are in the waiting game as well. We sow the seed of the word of God in the fertile soil of the world, a world hungry for the bread of the good news, hungry for spiritual nourishment, but impatient and demanding in its clamorous hunger. Some religious leaders in our world respond with similar haste and impatience. And it isn’t only terrorists who push God’s hand as they imagine they can hasten God’s judgement, or fanatical cultists who seek to speed the day of the Lord with nerve gas or bacteria.

Some even in our own Anglican tradition have fallen into the impatience of haste, the urge to take upon themselves the mantle of the just judge, to purify the world (or the Anglican Communion, at least) by getting rid of those deemed less than righteous by their standards, who use the word of God not to feed the spiritually hungry, but as a hammer to batter those they judge as sinful. In doing this they have neglected the wisdom of Saint James. He warned the members of the church not to judge each other, not to grumble against each other, but to stand patiently before the tribunal of the Lord, the only truly and completely righteous one, the one and only just judge of the world.

This is the Advent time in which we live, the secret, growing, waiting time of the Church. We live in the in-between time of purpose and promise, the time between the coming of our Lord as a child to Bethlehem, and his coming as righteous judge of the world and all who dwell in it. Whether we experience this in-between time as frustrating because we don’t see anything happening, or not happening fast enough, or as full of purpose and promise will depend in large part on our relationship with God and with each other.

If we are full of the spirit of vengeance, the zeal for judgment, we will find the waiting difficult. If we are full of the impatience that will not allow the subterranean work of God to accomplish God’s goals in God’s good time, if — obsessed with self-study and self-examination — we insist on digging up and digging up the seed to see how well it is doing, so that it never gets a chance to put down roots and grow; if we become consumed with grumbling about each other, judging each other, or angrily tapping our feet at God’s delay and forbearance, we will find our lives filled with anxiety and grief. But if we adopt the patient hope of the wise farmer’s waiting, placing our trust in God’s ultimate victory over all that is less than perfect even in our selves, indeed most especially in ourselves, if we carefully set our hands to our work of husbandry and watchful care, concentrating on the work God has actually given us to do — to feed the hungry with earthly and heavenly bread — we will find at harvest time a rich reward.

We will find that all the things we thought were wrong have been taken care of — by God. We will find that the people we thought so dense and dull, so blind they couldn’t see what was right in front of them, will see clearly — and we ourselves will see things that we missed while we were busy picking splinters from our brother’s eyes.

We will find that we can walk in places we had once avoided, or that we thought off-limits, and that those who couldn’t walk at all are dancing in the streets to music we didn’t even know was playing.

We will find that all the people thought impure, all the lepers afflicted and stigmatized, will be freed from the marks of separation that distinguished the in-crowd from the outcasts, and no one will be able to tell who was who, we will all be so changed, so transformed into a new likeness.

We will find that those who seemed deaf to God’s word will be the most attentive audience of all; and we will find that all of us, dead in our sins, will be more alive than we ever dreamed or imagined possible, as we sing and rejoice together at the harvest of the good news, a harvest as paradoxical as a spring flowing in the desert, as unexpected as the blooming of a rose on the verge of winter, as miraculous as the birth of God in a manger or in our hearts. +

read it all at Ekklesiastes.

December 14, 2007

John's Advent Birthday Song

This is a version of my text of the Benedictus conceived as an English folk-song. Apologies for the sound quality, which does seem to sound as if the singer and brass are inside a tunnel somewhere outside of Leeds.

MP3 File

Here are the words (the tune was suggested by by friend and colleague Richard of Caught by the Light:

Bless’d be the God of Israel
who sets his people free.
He has raised up a Savior from
the branch of Jesse’s tree.

His prophets promised us of old
that we would find release
from bondage and captivity,
and come to know his peace.

Our forebears heard his promises,
as by himself he swore
that one day we would worship him
in righteousness once more.

And you, my child, shall be the one
to clear your Master’s way,
who’ll guide us out of this dark place
and lead us into day.

So God will let us know of grace,
in saving us from sin,
a light that shines in darkest night
from death our souls will win.

All praise to God the Father, with
the Son and Spirit One,
as was, is now, and will be, while
eternal ages run.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Come thou Long Expected Advent Letter

Well, the Archbishop of Canterbury has issued his Advent letter, strangely enough a day after his Christmas greeting.* The form and content of the Advent letter perhaps make it clear why it was delayed: it is no brief greeting but a rather detailed examination of the situation in which the Anglican Communion finds itself. For the Archbishop of Canterbury it represents something of a breakthrough in clarity, even though the situation it describes remains rather fuzzy; it is rather like a very sharp photograph of a painting by Monet — perhaps of a cathedral in the late afternoon sun.

So what can we draw from this letter. I think a few points are worth noting.

  • The Episcopal Church has done about all it can do in relation to meeting the demands placed upon it by the primates. This will not be (and has not been) enough to satisfy some of those same primates; so there is at present no consensus as to how well TEC has complied with those demands.
  • The decisions of the Lambeth Conference, while not canonical, represent the "mind" of the Communion even if they do not represent a consensus. There is thus a some tension between a general agreement, a majority view, and a true consensus.
  • The major problem now is that there is no consensus about a process by means of which a consensus can be reached: we need to have a covenant, but until we have one we have no way of deciding how to get one, unless everyone agrees — and those who don't agree are ipso facto no longer part of the consensus. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • Lambeth 2008 will be the forum for all of this to come to a head, and any invited who refuse to come have abdicated their place at the table, and perhaps in the Communion. Those who are not invited are not being invited because they represent, in different ways, breaches in the status quo ante of Lambeth 1998.
  • We are in this together and we should stay together. We just need rules we can all agree to, and then we'll all agree.
  • More committees and commissions will be formed to continue the dialogue as we continue to work our way through these differences of opinion. When we've decided we've got enough in common to stay together, we will stay together. Those of us who are still there, of course.

This admirable clarity being acknowledged, the Archbishop still does not appear to grasp that the House of Bishops in the Episcopal Church is an equal partner with the House of Deputies in the General Convention. They do not have any "decisive" power to operate contrary to the decisions of that Convention; although as part of that Convention they do hold an absolute veto power over any decisions of that Convention (as, of course, do the Deputies). If this is what the Archbishop means (that the Bishops alone can hold the line at GC 2009) then he is spot on. But if not, it appears the place of Bishops in our governance is one of those things that simply will not penetrate the Archbishop's psyche. They are not the primary theologians of the church; and in the Episcopal Church they are only one strand of its governance. At least the Archbishop has finally acknowledged that this may be a matter in which there is a difference between what TEC believes and what he thinks is believed "elsewhere in the Communion." And yes, it does need to be addressed.

So, where does this Advent letter leave us? About where we are. No further forward, no further backward. The Archbishop has admirably described the present situation, more precisely than he has heretofore. And the way forward, in his eyes, is further engagement and dialogue rather than separation. Several balls have been cast into several courts, and whether any are kicked back remains to be seen. I do not look for this Advent letter to find wide approval among those itching for decision. It is good, in Advent, to be reminded, "woe to those who look for the day of the Lord."

Tobias Haller BSG

*Update: According to Jake, whose more thorough commentary I commend, the Advent Letter to the Primates was actually sent to the Primates earlier, but only released now when it was assumed that all the Primates have received their copy.

Further Update:
Jake has received an e-mail from no one less than Venables himself, who declares that he, as a Primate, received the Archbishop's Letter at the same time as everyone else, on December 14. This would certainly explain his having made assertions the week before which the letter shows to have been profoundly mistaken. I do not, by the way, share Jake's assessment on this question, as I see the ABC's letter as a strong rebuke to the nonsense in San Joaquin and elsewhere.

December 10, 2007

The Entrails of Primates

It appears my reading of the situation, outlined a few weeks back in House of Cards, was correct. According to a note from Deacon Rosenthal of the Anglican Communion Office, the Archbishop of Canterbury

has not in any way endorsed the actions of the Primate of the Southern Cone, Bishop Gregory Venables, in his welcoming of dioceses, such as San Joaquin in the Episcopal Church, to become part of his province in South America.

Now, this announcement would have been helpful last Friday, in time perhaps to hose down the restive Fresnonians with a cold draught of temperance and restraint. Why was this word of caution not issued sooner?

Might I offer another insight concerning Archbishop Rowan Williams in light of this? I don't think he wants to be a leader. (Quiet, please, in the back row; I'm serious.) I mean that he sees his role as a monitor, a guardian of unity but not its enforcer, one who wants people really to do what they think best and then to offer his assessment afterwards. Perhaps this is a form of leadership; though it reminds me of the old game of Hot and Cold we played as children, and seems a needlessly time-wasting way to lead.

What is paradoxical in all this is that Rowan, apparently (and explicitly) not wanting to impose his own views, by playing his cards so close to the chest they become subcutaneous, has engineered a situation in which people hang upon his every arched eyebrow. I mean that quite literally; at the Chicago Consultation one of the English participants mentioned how often people will say things like, "I said such-and-such to Rowan last week and he winked and nodded." This is communication by innuendo, in which Rowan has become like one of those elfin fairy-tale characters (well, he is Welsh, after all) given to winks, nods, and cryptic gnomicisms.

The irony is this: I don't honestly think Rowan wants the power; that much is true. But his efforts to repulse the "greatness thrust upon him" have produced a strange kind of power, not unlike that held by certain imperial persons of history, followed about by a suite of stenographers taking down passing comments, and passing those comments to the wider world, in which they take on lives of their own, including one instance that led to the assassination of one of Rowan's predecessors.

My advice to Rowan, if he wants it, is to set aside the Delphic mode for the Socratic, at the very least. If he wants to remain on the sideline as an umpire rather than as the quarterback, let him adopt the voice of one who issues challenging questions rather than proffering quizzical hints. Apart from that, all I can see on the horizon is the old way of augury, in which wise men sacrificed animals to various gods, then examined their entrails for portents and signs. In this case, it will be the retrospective analysis of Rowan's career, after he has retired from the scene, which may at last show the true trajectory of his intents.

Tobias Haller BSG

December 8, 2007

The Immaculate Deception and the Vacant See

Well, it seems the leadership of the Diocese of San Joaquin have gone and done it. That is, the Bishop and a majority of the clergy and laity have voted to change the diocesan constitution and to realign themselves, their souls and bodies, with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. Souls and bodies they may have charge of; it remains to be seen what becomes of the real property and assets, and the loyal Episcopalians (clergy and lay) who remain.

Now, of course, this is a deception; a baseless fantasy movement. Dioceses cannot so realign themselves motu proprio, on their own, any more than a man can divorce his wife or a wife her husband by saying thrice, "I divorce thee!" The church is governed by laws, and this lack of a capacity to divorce is all the more clear, constitutionally speaking, in cases such as that of San Joaquin, which began its life as a missionary diocese and was only granted full status in the 1960s. Contrary to the imaginings of former Bishop of San Joaquin John-David Schofield, the canonical silence on the subject of how dioceses become independent does not signify consent, but inconceivability. Anyone familiar with the history of The Episcopal Church should know that, and numerous canons make it clear: the territorial limits of the United States play a definitive role in determining the relationship of a domestic diocese with the only legitimately constituted Anglican presence in our portion of North America, which is to say, The Episcopal Church.

John-David wishes however to continue in his illusions, and has nourished many of his clergy and lay leadership on this addictive brew. Regardless of these dreams, now that he and they have removed their allegiance to The Episcopal Church, and allied themselves with the distant Cone of the South, it is abundantly clear that they have abandoned the communion of The Episcopal Church, hold its laws and its leaders in contempt, and declare themselves the true believers and possible martyrs to the cause. And the end will come, no doubt about it. The inevitable canonical process of the real Episcopal Church will now begin to be engaged, and the see of San Joaquin declared vacant; a number of clergy will be adjudged to have abandoned this communion and they too will be deposed.

Tobias Haller BSG

The Gospel via Chicago

They came from as far as the antipodes: primates and bishops, laity and clergy, theologians, journalists and politicians, gathering in Chicago at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary for three days of intense discussion, planning, and strategizing. Theologians and canonists read papers (which will be available on the web in relatively short order), the assembly divided into small groups and regathered into plenary, and much newsprint was marked. Why? A modest goal — To help the church recover its soul, as a community of neighbors, a fellowship of diverse members unified by the love which called them together, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Chicago Consultation, as it is being called for short, addressed the prevailing boundary issue that has beset our church and our Communion over the last decades, and most irritably over the last six years: the place of GLBT people in the church’s life and ministry.

In plenary sessions and small groups, we challenged ourselves to find a way forward that would be grounded in the powerful message of Jesus’ call and care. We focused on the the full inclusion of those whom some have determined to be inappropriate minsters of the Gospel, embracing the mandate and charge which comes with the highest authority, and in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?”

Lambeth is coming, little more than half a year away; and it too will be a forum which will provide the bishops, albeit non-legislatively, an opportunity to consider and reconsider their own past actions, and to recognize that the so-called consensus of 1998 was far from complete even then, and has demonstrably revealed itself no longer to exist, having led to increasing conflict, dissent, and in some cases, division.

Further away on the time-line is the next session of the General Convention. This will provide us with the opportunity to reevaluate the usefulness of resolution B033, and address the underlying issue of the appropriateness of moving forward in our growing recognition that same-sex couples, particularly in those parts of our country where the civil authority already recognizes the value of their relationships, deserve the church’s full support in ordering their lives in consistency with the Gospel principle: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

This is the only “agenda” guiding the Chicago Consultation: to call and help the church to live the Gospel it proclaims.

Tobias Haller BSG

For more information, see Inch at a Time, Preludium, and keep an eye on Episcopal Café.

December 4, 2007


I will be away at a conference for the remainder of this week, and so will likely not be posting anything new to the blog during my time away.

December 1, 2007

A Daft Anglican Covenant

Saturday Satire

Bishops can go anywhere they wish and do anything they damn well please. No one need take notice of any bishop under any circumstances, no matter where they are or what they do. Like God, they shall aspire to be incomprehensible and invisible. 1

For the purposes of this Covenant, all Provinces shall remain in “Communion” with one another; which shall mean being best friends forever, or until someone says or does something someone else doesn’t approve of.

The four instruments of communion shall be: Castanets 2, English Horn 3, Autoharp 4, and Thumb Piano 5.


1. Which should please everyone no end; or world without or with end, whichever comes first.

2. In Galilee.

3. The English have a tendency to horn in on everything. This is the concept of primus inter pares, or “The Primate has gone all pear-shaped.”

4. The Autoharp is a favored instrument of reasserters and reappriasers (or re-anythings, really): it will automatically keep harping on the same thing over and over without any additional input.

5. This is the most decisive instrument: The thumbs can be up, the thumbs can be down.

Tobias Haller BSG

No Chocolate, Still....

The Diocese of Washington has made their annual electronic Advent Calendar available online. Do pay a visit and sample something with no calories, other than those provided by the Holy Spirit.

November 26, 2007


A certain strand of Evangelicals lay claim to a particular doctrine of the Atonement as if it were the only explanation for the phenomenon of salvation. At our last General Convention this emerged in a strangely-worded resolution that was rejected — not because the Episcopal Church rejects the doctrine of the Atonement, but on the contrary, because we are, as a church, loath to pin its undeniable efficacy to one particular theological explanation.

My thinking on this endlessly rich subject has some sympathy with a number of the various propositions — including the substitutionary one dear to Evangelicals. I am also in sympathy with them in placing the crux (pun intended) of the act of salvation at the cross — although I take the wider view that this is the climax and not the entire drama.

For anyone interested in a reflection that represents my thinking, not as a theological tract, but in a more discursive form, I commend the sermon I preached yesterday at my parish, The King and His Cross. As I say, it is a sermon, not a treatise. But I hope that in it I make my general position clear: that I see the Atonement as effecting a real change in the universe through the exercise of a faculty that exists in the universe only by the grace of God, and which, in itself, reflects and literally embodies the nature of God.

Tobias Haller BSG

November 21, 2007

House of Cards

Bishop Venables, the leader of the Southern Cone has made a move towards offering oversight to the disaffected of Canada as well as of the Lower 48. He has insisted that his actions are in accord with comments to him, personally, from the Archbishop of Canterbury.

I am loath to call Venables a liar, even though I find it hard to imagine the Archbishop approving the kind of takeover he explicitly described as "unhelpful" in relation to CANA. I am beginning to wonder if what we have here may be a failure to communicate. I am not the first to note the vagueness of Rowan-speak, which coupled with the Archbishop's stated view that he is not in charge and cannot give unilateral direction, may lead to misunderstandings.

For instance, I can imagine a conversation in which Venables, noting that the Primatial Oversight Plan favored by Williams had failed to fly, suggested he might, on his own, extend the right hand and crozier of primatial fellowship to disaffected dioceses or parishes northward beyond the Cone. I can then imagine Williams saying this was well within his range of action -- not intending approval, but merely observing that there was no Anglican InterPol to stop it -- which Venables then took to be a positive encouragement rather than a neutral statement of fact. As it stands, the ABC's only trump card is the one with the invitation to Lambeth written on it -- and that will likely only trump those who choose to continue to play that game. As I have suggested, his recent comments about disinvitation to those who balk at Windsor would well apply to border-crossers as well as blessing-bestowers. And in his inscrutability, he plays his hand very close to his chest -- as well he might if this is his high card. For in the meantime, it appears many have either already folded or left the table. This may become a form of Solitaire -- or as the English call it, Patience.

Does this make sense to anyone else? It would certainly explain some of the goings-on without holding anyone to be mendacious -- merely indulging in the time-worn human practices of hearing what one wants to hear, saying less than one means, and ruing the upset that ensues when these two collide.

Tobias Haller BSG

November 19, 2007

That's Father Smith, I think...

Another amusing personality test... with a hat-tip to Mimi

Host and Guests

Jonathan Petre of the Telegraph opines that the Archbishop of Canterbury will be targeting gay-friendly bishops for disinvitation to Lambeth.

This strikes me as spin on the ABC's bare words, as he reports them. He cites, for example, only the standing rejection of Gene Robinson, not of Martyn Minns, and ignores the distinction the Archbishop has made between the bishop who is the object of the controversy, and the one whose consecration was itself held to be "unhelpful." The ABC was, it seems, attempting to forestall controversy, it is true, but controversy from both ends of the spectrum. It takes two to tear the fabric. If what the Archbishop is interested in is upholstery or haberdashery. This solution would make for an interesting Vestry or session of Parliament -- just invite the people who have no opinions.

Of course, perhaps the Archbishop has remembered something many have forgotten. Lambeth isn't about solving problems or passing legislation. It isn't about establishing doctrine, but about sharing the fellowship of Christ, and finding ways to make God's presence in the world all the more visible. On these counts, Lambeth has been less than successful in recent years.

So, rather than trying to arrange the seating so that no-one who disagrees with anyone else need sit across from them, I would suggest the Archbishop should follow the laissez-faire approach: after the fashion of our Lord himself. Jesus had the wisdom to invite all, to allow those who are too occupied with their own matters to absent themselves, to allow those offended when they hear who the other guests are to withdraw, or to think inwardly, "He wouldn't have invited so-and-so if he knew who they were." Let Lambeth find its own level, naturally: those who wish to share in the fellowship will come; those who don't, won't.

And as in the gatherings over which Jesus was the pure and spotless host -- and still is -- the purpose is to celebrate -- not to legislate.

Tobias Haller BSG

November 16, 2007

More Fission

First it was Duncan, and now San Joaquin. I wish folks would stop misrepresenting what happened to The Episcopal Church during the US Civil War.

Here is the capsule history as simply as possible:

With the creation of what they thought to be a new nation, the dioceses of the Confederacy felt that they had, necessarily, to become a separate "national church" -- just as PECUSA had necessarily become independent from England at the Revolution. (See the Preface to the US BCP.) While England eventually recognized the latter (as the national independence became de jure as well as de facto, the United States never recognized the secession of the Confederate States, and neither did the Church. The roll of the absent bishops continued to be called. This is why, when the war was ended, an amicable return of the absent (not separated) dioceses was possible. As far as PECUSA was concerned, they had never left -- there was, in short, no division of the Church. Moreover, the secession was based solely on political considerations, not on doctrinal differences.

So the present situation does not apply in any respect.

Tobias Haller BSG


With Wild Abandon

“New occasions teach new duties.” So goes the proverbial saying. It would also appear that new occasions teach new violations of duties. Of late a number of bishops and dioceses of the Episcopal Church appear to be heading in a secessionist direction. Unlike the last secession, necessitated in the minds of the dioceses in question by the secession of their respective states from the Union, or the even earlier separation, again necessitated in the minds of the founders of The Episcopal Church by the independence of the United States — in this case we are seeing what is referred to as a “realignment,” based not on geography or nationality but on notions of doctrinal or disciplinary affiliation.

We have a Canon (IV.9) in The Episcopal Church concerning abandonment of the communion of this church by a bishop. This Canon came into being as an ad hoc reaction to the departure of a bishop to the Roman Catholic Church. Over the years, the Canon has been amended to cover various other forms of departure. The crucial factor in this Canon is that it concerns renunciation, not mere violation, of the discipline, doctrine, or worship of TEC — which is covered by other canonical regulations. It is a form of saying, “Your rules no longer apply to me.” Nor is this Canon intended to address — although it might cover it — someone who has simply abandoned the faith of Christ altogether. Clearly no one is suggesting that a bishop who becomes a Roman Catholic has abdicated the doctrine of “the Church.” But such a bishop has clearly and openly renounced and thus abandoned — by action if not by express word — the discipline of “this Church” — The Episcopal Church.

The Diocese of Fort Worth is in the process of considering a resolution that includes a clause “dissociating itself from the moral, theological, and disciplinary innovations of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America.” What form this dissociation might take remains unknown, although there has been a move afoot to realign the diocese with the Church of the Southern Cone.

There is a procedure for clergy to transfer their membership to other provinces of the Anglican Communion. Many have made use of this in recent times. There is also a procedure for a priest or deacon or bishop to renounce the Ministry of The Episcopal Church. There is no procedure for a diocese to do so. It appears that the intent of the Bishop and some of the clergy of the Diocese of Fort Worth is to separate the diocese itself from the discipline and worship of The Episcopal Church. This has all of the appearance of renunciation and abandonment on their part — not of the faith of the Church, but, as the Canon says, “the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship of this Church”; that is, The Episcopal Church. Two out of three appear to be at play in this current proposed action.

The Bishop and Clergy of Fort Worth cannot have it both ways. They are either under the discipline of TEC, or they reject it; and rejection, in this case, constitutes abandonment.

Way with Words

Meanwhile, the Diocese of Virginia is engaged in a court battle with a number of parishes who had similarly attempted to withdraw themselves from participation in the life of the diocese and The Episcopal Church — while retaining use of church properties. They have appealed to an 1860 statute governing the “division” of a church into two or more branches.

It appears to me that they have gotten hold of the wrong end of the stick — or the branch. The statute uses “division” to refer to decisions made by a church hierarchy to split itself into two or more denominations — as happened during the Civil War with a number of American churches, though, significantly, not with The Episcopal Church, which never recognized the separate establishment of a Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America any more than the Congress recognized the legitimate establishment of the Confederate States themselves.

The dissident parishes are claiming that the word “division” can be applied to the present state of disagreement in The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. This argument, which I find it hard to believe anyone could take seriously, would, if applied consistently, lead to the total dissolution of any church in which there was any significant level of disagreement on any given topic.

I earnestly hope that the court will find in favor of the diocese and the Church. To do otherwise would mean the overthrow of what it means to be an Episcopal, rather than a congregational, church. The statute is about division of a church — not division in a church. It is about a church’s considered decision to divide; not division of opinion on any matter whatsoever.

Tobias Haller BSG

November 12, 2007

White Smoke, of sorts

The Episcopal Diocese of New York held its 231st Convention this past Saturday, some four hundred voting clergy and laity plus about an equal number of alternates and supporting folk, and visitors from Africa, India, and England -- pressed together and packed down a bit in the half-closed-off and under-renovation but still humongous Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine.

We heard some stirring addresses: in particular Bishop Sisk challenged the state of the state we are in, when leaders of state seem not to know what is or is not torture. A resolution strongly condemning such equivocation was overwhelmingly adopted.

On the white smoke front, I am pleased to report that I was elected to an additional term as a Clergy Deputy to General Convention (2009) and also as a clergy member of the diocesan Standing Committee. The former will allow me to continue to be a burr under a few prelatical saddles, and contribute what I may to the ongoing life and direction of The Episcopal Church at a national and international level. The latter will allow me to address the interesting paradox of having a seat on a standing committee. I imagine it saves a good deal of wear and tear on the chairs, and keeps meetings short and to the point.

Tobias Haller BSG

November 9, 2007

Balance vs Integration

I received a very interesting email today from the Rev. Dr. R. J. Voyle of the Clergy Leadership Institute, concerning the appreciative inquiry technique. I've always liked this approach, but the email in question was particularly interesting in light of the current woes in the WWAC. Here is part of what the email said:

...Seeking balance is a guaranteed way of living in a state of tension, pulled between the two different demands. This state of tension also leads to continual worry and vigilance over whether one or other of the demands is being neglected. Similarly, church leaders often get caught in the midst of trying to balance the competing demands of their congregational programs. If you seek balance you will not have peace.
Rather than seeking balance we need to integrate our lives around our core life-giving purpose. This is the place where we can simultaneously say Yes! to God, our Neighbor, and Our Self. It is the life-giving hub which energizes all aspects of our lives, bringing peace, harmony, and passion to all that we do. In congregations the Church’s core purpose is the hub from which each church activity derives its specific purpose. Without a commitment to a unified vision the church dissolves into series of life-draining competing entities.
“Getting integrated” requires that both individuals and groups know their core purpose.

It certainly strikes me that Rowan Williams could use the benefit of coaching from this group. Rather than seeking to balance all of the conflicting claims and counterclaims, he might better hold on to the core values for which the Anglican Communion has long been known and recognized.

As I said recently in another context, we gather at the table because of what each of us brings to the table, and what we derive from that gathering: no one comes empty-handed, but all are given more than they can ask or imagine when they are open to the multiplication of gifts. It is not for any of us to tell any others to leave the table because we might not like their gift.

Tobias Haller BSG

Wave (Goodbye) of Support

The Church Times reports that four English bishops have come out in support of the movements of Bishop Duncan "in but not of" Pittsburgh.

The Bishops of Chester, Chichester, Exeter, and Rochester issued a statement on Tuesday in support of the Rt Revd Robert Duncan, the Bishop of Pittsburgh, after the warning letter sent to him by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori.

In a characteristically veddy English fashion, the bishops appear to be more concerned with the character of the language in Bishop Jefferts Schori's letter than its import. Not pastoral enough, don't you know. (Have these bishops ever seen an actual shepherd at work?) Bishop Forster at least is careful to note they don't necessarily agree with the actions taken in Pittsburgh. Of course, they don't necessarily disagree either.

However, about the same number of bishops in the US are also of a similar mind with Duncan, so it looks like there's a positive wave of support for allowing bishops and their dioceses to do as they please regardless of their ordination vows "to this Church" or canons "of it." Please note, when our canons speak of "this Church" they mean The Episcopal Church -- not the Church of All Outdoors these bishops fondly imagine themselves to represent -- or serve. Or disserve.

One problem is that the English Four have misunderstood the Archbishop of Canterbury's letter to Bishop Howe in precisely the way I thought they might -- mistaking his reference to parishes within a diocese to apply to dioceses within a Church. They seem to think that dioceses have the freedom to disassociate from their respective provinces when and if they decide to do so. I'd like to see any of them try it in Merrie Olde England.

I must have missed the chapter in Hooker's Laws of Ecclesiastical Anarchy.

Tobias Haller BSG

November 2, 2007

7. Remedial Reading

Previous articles in this series (The Sex Articles — see the links in the sidebar) examined the various “causes” or goods or ends of marriage, as laid out in the preface to the marriage liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer, and how these same goods or ends might conceivably find a place within the context of a same-sex relationship. I have argued that such a relationship is capable of providing mutual joy, comfort, and human society no less than a mixed-sex marriage, and is capable of fulfilling some of the ends of procreation, certainly no less than an infertile mixed-sex marriage. In the previous article I addressed the symbolic weight assigned to marriage in the Christian tradition and explored a number of ways in which similar symbolic value can be borne by a same-sex relationship that is equally loving, permanent, and faithful.

I have noted that our present Prayer Book marriage liturgy reintroduces these arguments in favor of marriage — arguments which had been removed in the 1789 revision (the prevailing rationalism of the day felt a supporting case for the institution was unnecessary). However, one of the “causes” from the 1662 version (in use at the time of our ecclesiastical and civil independence) was not restored. This is ironic, because it is the “cause” with a strong scriptural basis, playing a significant part in the most extensive biblical reflection on the institution of marriage, and offering a rationale for the continuance of an institution to which the apostolic church in general gave otherwise only luke-warm endorsement. This is marriage as a “remedy for fornication” — as described in Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians (7:1-9, which I cite here from the Authorized Version):

Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency. But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment. For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.

This passage is significant for a number of reasons, not least for the way Paul describes celibacy as a gift not all possess. Paul recognizes that sexual desire is not only powerful, but that it has an appropriate outlet for those who lack the gift to contain themselves in celibacy: marriage. It is in large part from this biblical source that we see marriage described in the Anglican tradition (Articles of Religion XXV, XXXIII) as a state of life allowed in Scripture. The purpose of the authors of the Articles of Religion was not to find Scriptural validation for an institution that had existed in most human cultures in one form or another (validation was dealt with in the expansive Preface to the marriage rite); rather it was to distinguish marriage from the Two Sacraments of the Gospel, and to assert that it was permitted to clergy.

Paul similarly explicitly permits, rather than commands, marriage, and clearly wishes all could be celibate, as he is. But he recognizes the inappropriateness of demanding celibacy from those incapable of living within its constraints.

From the Pauline perspective, then, marriage is, among other things, a license to have sex. It authorizes something that without such authorization would be sinful. It is, in short, for the vast majority of people, who approach the altar as former virgins, a way of blessing sin — and thereby removing its sinfulness. They are permitted to perform (or continue to perform) what before would have been (or was) sinful. Marriage may not cover a multitude of sins, but it covers at least one: fornication (loosely, and from a biblical perspective rather incorrectly, defined as “sex outside of marriage.”)

Stopping the allowance

So can a similar allowance be made for same-sex relationships? Some will at this point say that same-sex relationships cannot be permitted now because they were not “allowed” in Scripture then. They hold that the prohibitions on homosexuality render such an approbation permanently impossible. I will address these negative texts more extensively in the following reflections; here I want to deal with the absence of approbation rather than the purported prohibition.

To understand the biblical (especially the Pauline) view, we must recognize that marriage was a civil institution, a civil option for Jews and Christians. Paul, in particular, recognizes it as the civil option, as well as the moral one, as it counters promiscuity and prostitution (both legally permitted and regulated under Roman law, though widely held to be moral failings). Paul allows participation in this civil institution of marriage even if he does not encourage it.

Same-sexuality fell into the same category as prostitution under Roman law — regulated and in some cases permitted, but seen, especially by Stoics and other moralists, as a failing. Same-sex marriage was not a civil norm in the cultures amongst which Judaism and Christianity came into being. Although same-sexuality existed in many cultures of the ancient world with which Judaism and Christianity were familiar — including, in spite of the protests, Jewish cultures — the phenomenon of lifelong and exclusive same-sex relationships was very rare (or to be more precise, rarely recorded, so that there is little evidence of it), and civil recognition in the form of marriage even rarer. Mixed-sex marriage, on the other hand, was a recognized institution — and although the differences between Jewish, Roman and Christian marriage customs were in some conflict (as Jewish law allowed polygamy and divorce, and Roman law forbade polygamy though it allowed concubinage and divorce), the early Christians accepted the Roman rule and Jewish ideal of monogamy, but frowned upon concubinage and divorce, largely following the opinions of the more moralistic philosophers and legislators of the time.

Thus the marriage of which Saint Paul speaks is marriage as it existed in the civil state, under Roman hegemony, which in the time of Augustus and Tiberius exalted values of hearth and home — even if the emperors themselves often failed to live up to the principles in practice. There was, in Paul’s time, no equivalent for same-sex marriage, even had he been of a mind to recognize it.

Applying old advice to a present situation

So it is very unlikely that Paul understood or grasped the possibility of people wanting to live in a life-long same-sex union. Some have suggested that Paul was aware of sexual orientation, but I find there to be little evidence to support even this claim, let alone any awareness of whatever same-sex marriages might have existed. There are still, after all, a few skeptics around even today who deny that sexual orientation exists, or who say that there is no need to grant “special” recognition to same-sex relationships since all people are free to marry a person of the opposite sex. (It is especially ironic that some who on one hand will deny same-sex orientation exists will on the other posit that Paul knew about it and rejected it.)

Regardless of such glib dismissals, many others have recognized that homosexual orientation, and the desire to which it gives rise to express one’s a love for a person of the same sex in a physical way, is not any more likely to be combined with a gift of celibacy than is heterosexual orientation. (Some conservatives claim that homosexual men are “by nature” more promiscuous than heterosexuals. Their evidence derives largely from anecdotal evidence, or discredited research.) But many have noted — even among the conservatives who reflect upon this issue — that it is irrational as well as unjust to suggest that gay and lesbian persons should be held to a standard in effect stricter than the one applied to heterosexuals; that is, to demand permanent celibacy for all gay and lesbian people, especially while tolerating less than punctilious observance of the same biblical standard for mixed-sex couples, many if not most of whom engage in premarital sex, occasional affairs, or serial monogamy through the unbiblical provision of divorce. For even if many people are promiscuous, there are others who wish to be faithful.

A more tolerant view within church or state does not necessitate the recognition of same-sex relationships as either marriage or matrimony, that is, as either civil or sacred in exactly the same way and to the same extent as mixed-sex marriage. But some form of recognized permanent commitment can be seen to be appropriate as an application of Paul’s teaching that “it is better to marry than to burn” to a situation which Paul himself may well have found inconceivable. Some, such as the Rev Fleming Rutledge, have reflected on the question in this way:

I have great respect and reverence for people who maintain celibacy if they are unmarried, divorced or widowed. This certainly remains the classical Christian standard. However, I do not believe that many people are granted the gift of celibacy. Even St. Paul, who put a high value on celibacy, recognized this in his teaching on marriage. I therefore believe we must find a way to support healthier lifestyles for Christian gay people who are beset every day by invitations to participate in the anonymity and promiscuity of the street, the bathhouse, the bar and the club. We will do well, I think to make an honored place for the devoutly Christian gay people who sincerely want fidelity and stability in their lives insofar as that is possible for them. These couples are in the distinct minority and it seems to me that we should support them in their wish to carve out a more responsible style of life. I therefore agree (I think) with those who say that we should be discussing the possibility of some sort of blessing for gay couples who fit this description not because the culture is demanding this, but because the church has been thinking about this for some time now. (From a December 2003 presentation to a parish facing division on the issue of homosexuality).

Although she stops short of supporting same-sex marriage, then, Rutledge is willing to recognize the human damage caused by unreasonable expectations or requirements, and the moral danger of a double standard (as evidence shows only a “distinct minority” of heterosexuals actually adhere to the rules of stability and fidelity). However, if “marriage” can be understood in the many forms the institution has taken (some of which would now be held to be immoral if not illegal) it appears to me that it is quite possible to apply Paul’s allowance — “If they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn” — to a situation he would not have been capable of imagining — at least in his own time.


What would Saint Paul do — today? Is this a reasonable question, and to what extent are speculations about what Saint Paul might have thought or done — apart from what we actually know he said or did — relevant to the present discussion?

We do not know what Saint Paul would say today, assuming he were supplied with all the relevant information concerning human sexuality and psychology of which he was ignorant. Doubtless Saint Paul, in his own culture and time, would not have applied this rule of “let them marry” to same-sex couples. There is no evidence that he had any awareness or understanding of sexual orientation. On the contrary, his only extended comment on male homosexuality in Romans 1 describes it as an unnatural perversity attendant upon idolatry. (Aside note: I follow Saint Augustine, On Marriage and Concupiscence 2.20, in thinking “their females” who have “exchanged the natural use for the unnatural” are not lesbian. Rather, they are women who allow their husbands to use the opening that is “along side the natural” i.e., generative, one; the husbands then, having abandoned what is “natural with females” turn on each other and “similarly” take advantage of this newfound versatility. This is how Augustine reads the passage, and in support of this reading I suggest it to be unlikely for a biblical or rabbinic Jew — and Paul was both — to think lesbian sex and gay sex are “similar” — one was subject on rabbinic grounds to chastisement, the other on biblical grounds to capital punishment. Saint Augustine himself regarded lesbianism as a far less serious matter than male homosexuality: see Letter 211.14 where he refers to women’s “shameful frolic and sporting with one another” as unseemly for married women and thus much more out of place in nuns! Similarly, the [vague and inaccurate] term sodomy classically referred to all sorts of non-procreative sexuality whether between men and women or only between men, or men with animals — but with very few exception not generally to lesbian sex. “Homosexuality” as a category including men and women is a relatively modern invention; the Mediterranean cultures of the ancient world regarded lesbian sex as in quite a different category altogether from male homosexuality — as, indeed, these cultures regarded women and men very differently in most aspects of life.)

Still, some argue that Paul knew about homosexual orientation and intended explicitly to reject it. Those such as N.T. Wright and R. Gagnon, who argue that Paul must have been familiar with Plato’s Symposium, and Aristophanes’ myth to explain varieties of sexual orientation (or at least preference), are on very shaky ground, as Paul’s writings reveal little or no familiarity with Plato — as if he would take such pagan (and satirical) speculation seriously even if he were familiar with it! However, Paul may have known nothing of Plato at all, as Plato was, outside of Alexandria, long out of fashion in the philosophical world with which Paul was likely familiar — including that of the Stoics, whose thinking is consistent with (though not necessarily a source for) what Paul concludes in Romans 1.

Rather than making questionable surmises about what Saint Paul might say, given his particular gifts and limitations, we should instead look to him for the moral value of what he said, concerning the role of sex within the context of the only kind of faithful, life-long sexual relationship with which we know he was familiar, as a means to cement the relationship and prevent wandering outside it.

Now that we have a better and more accurate understanding of the reality of sexual orientation (quite apart from whether it is genetic — which is actually irrelevant to the discussion), it makes more sense to apply the underlying principles of Paul’s teaching accordingly, much as we apply other underlying principles of scriptural wisdom to changed cultural contexts.

It seems to me that it is better for the church, and for society, to encourage the recognizable biblical virtues of fidelity and mutual support in same-sex relationships, than to hold all gay and lesbian persons to a rigid standard few heterosexuals are able to maintain.

A summary

Thus far I have examined the traditional rationale for Christian marriage and sought to examine the ways in which this rationale can be applied to same-sex relationships. There should be no doubt that from the secular perspective of civil marriage, the state has no compelling interest in prohibiting same-sex marriage any more than it would have in prohibiting mixed-sex marriage in which the couple is incapable of having children. On the contrary, the civil interest in a stable society represents a positive rationale for the provision of civil marriage to same-sex couples, as a preventative to promiscuity (to the extent, of course, that people remain faithful to their vows: no covenant will of itself cause obedience).

When it comes to children, there is no indication (on the basis of many studies and meta-studies) that same-sex couples are any less able to raise their own, adopted or foster children than mixed-sex couples, regardless of any biological connection with the parents. Society provides ample role models apart from biological or foster parents — and in any case many children spend much of their childhood and infancy under the care of adults other than their parents. Need I also note that Scripture provides one particularly striking example of foster-fatherhood. Clearly an increase in the number of stable same-sex couples could be a boon to finding loving homes for unwanted or orphaned children.

When it comes to the religious and moral values imputed to marriage, I have shown that the ability to bear children is universally held to be optional — that is, no Christian tradition of which I am aware requires fertility prior to allowing marriage, or childbirth within marriage as a condition for its continuance. Procreation is thus not an essential element of marriage.

I have demonstrated that the concept of fleshly union is ambivalent, and that the argument against same-sexuality from a purported complementarity of the sexes is specious; and that same-sex couples can enjoy a mutual union that expresses joy, delight, and the self-giving love that is the object of marriage. I have shown that such relationships are capable of bearing symbolic weight in reflecting the goodness of God in relationship to the church, but more importantly the ideal of Christian love within the church. Finally, in this essay, I have reflected briefly upon the stabilizing influence that the recognition of same-sex relationships might provide within ecclesiastical as well as social contexts.

Although I have touched upon them briefly in these essays and in the responses to the many comments these articles have elicited, I have not directly addressed the purported scriptural objections to same-sexuality, which some would hold to render moot all of the discussion up to now. In the next sections of this reflection I will address the content and force of the scriptural case — both against and for same-sexuality — at greater length.

Tobias Haller BSG

The Scriptural discussion begins in the next section of this series, Scripture and its Witness.

Further Update: This post and those that follow, expanded and supplemented with much additional material, form part of Reasonable and Holy, published by Seabury Books and available on order from Church Publishing Incorporated.

October 27, 2007

The Child is Father of the Man

or, some things never seem to change...

After my mother's death, my youngest sister Mary Beth gathered together, and sorted and bundled, all of the various bits and pieces of paper my mother had saved over the years. On a recent visit, my sister presented me with my "packet" -- which was really quite astounding as it contained many things I'd long forgotten, but which my mother had tucked away.

Among these items were two "progress reports" from my kindergarten classes at P.S. 236, in Baltimore, Maryland. I read the teacher's comments with some amusement, and share them here as a remarkable indication of how little some things can change. I invite others who may be blessed to have such documents to do the same -- or at least to look at them for an amused few minutes.

The January report reads:

Toby brings new information to our group and makes helpful suggestions concerning our work. He is gradually learning to respect the efforts of those who are not as capable or as quick to comprehend as he is. Occasionally he has ridiculed work not as good as his own and we are discouraging this.

Things were under more control by June, perhaps helped by a change of venue:

Toby seems to have adjusted well to his new classroom. He takes an active and enthusiastic part in our activities. Toby needs to learn to use a quiet voice during work periods, in consideration of the other children who are working.

Toby has a good background of information which he has shared with us to add much to our activities. He is well liked by his classmates and gets along nicely with them.

So, that's the early documentary evidence, from certified employees of the Baltimore Department of Education. To echo Robert Burns, I'm glad these "gifties" turned up, to allow me to see myself as others saw me half a century ago. Thanks Mom, and thank Mary Beth -- and thanks Mrs. Carroll and Mrs. Ackrill.

Tobias Haller BSG

October 26, 2007

Still Orthodox after all these years

Take the Eucharistic Theology Quiz. Thanks to Jared.

Eucharistic theology
created with
You scored as Orthodox

You are Orthodox, worshiping the mystery of the Holy Trinity in the great liturgy whereby Jesus is present through the Spirit in a real yet mysterious way, a meal that is also a sacrifice.













October 25, 2007

Defender of Faith

Archbishop Williams has delivered an interesting address in which he takes on one of the leading atheist spokespersons of our day, Richard Dawkins. I commend the whole essay to you. (Hat tip to Episcopal Café.)

I've often felt, reading Dawkins, that as Rowan suggests (via Prince Mishkin) Dawkins is arguing against someone else's ideas, ideas that haven't been in the mainstream of Christianity for hundreds of years, and certainly not my idea of God or the nature of God.

It strikes me that it would be like me criticizing a contemporary physician for the absurdity of believing in humours or disease caused by the Evil Eye, or taking on an astrophysicist for believing in astrology.

What Dawkins fails (it seems) to recognize is that just as the physical sciences have advanced over the last two or three centuries, so has the Queen of Sciences -- theology. And rather than addressing the conclusions of the best of today's theologians, Dawkins is attacking what might at best be called "unpopular religion."

Ultimately, Dawkin's attack is upon a "straw God" that many contemporary Christians don't believe in. Contemporary theology -- and the best of classical theology -- does not simply equate God with a kind of meddlesome super-being. God is more (pace Anselm) than merely the Best Conceivable Thing, but is beyond and behind all "thingness" as the ground and source of all things. As, to be fair, I think Rowan's predecessor Anselm would agree. (After all, being the source of all things is better than being just a thing among other things; so as I can conceive that this quality is one that should well go on the list of ontological goodies, it makes good sense as a character of God's being. Though as St Basil [Fawlty] might whisper, "Don't mention Gaunilo's Island. I did once but I think I got away with it.")

See what Rowan has to say. This is the sort of thing he is really good at.

Tobias Haller BSG

October 23, 2007

Of Course We Could Have Been In New York

Yesterday was a holiday of sorts, a gathering of disparate bloggers, most of whom had never met each other outside the virtual pub of Mad Priest of Newcastle Jonathan's Of Course I Could Be Wrong. I neglected to bring my camera, and so have in the best blogger tradition swiped this picture from Allie.

It was a wonderful time, and I hope we can do it again. You can read more about it at Father Jake's World-Stopping Emporium. I've taken advantage of his links to add some of the folks for whom I didn't have links on my blogroll. What a joy to make these connections more actual as well as virtual!

States of Things

Archbishop Rowan has clarified the intent of his earlier note to Bishop Howe, and this clarification is to some extent helpful, as it corroborates my suspicion that the Howe communication was a nonce letter and not intended as a formal policy statement. Still, it is disturbing to note even in this communication a persistent subtle diminishment of the “national church.”

It isn’t really a matter of “units” as such. Talk of “basic units” gets a bit odd, as we could say the basic unit of a church is a brick, but no one worships in a brick! So while I acknowledge the Ignatian notion that the sacramental fullness of the church can be found in the liturgy with all orders of ministry present — a notion celebrated by Bishop Zizioulas — yet when it comes to polity the province is the smallest church entity that can exercise all of the functions of a church — including the creation of new bishops.

So the Archbishop has clarified that what he was getting at is that priests must relate to the wider church through their diocese. What he doesn’t mention is the similar fact that bishops (and dioceses) no less relate to the communion through their province. There is an organic unity here that works on up through the various levels, about which I will speak more below. For the nonce, though, let me note that in support of the Archbishop’s view concerning priests, the defining canonical point for the licensing of foreign clergy both in TEC and the CofE is not merely that they are validly ordained and related to some bishop or other, but that they are a “member of a church in communion” with the receiving church. Yes, their membership is through a diocese (hence the need for a letter dimissory), but it is the connection of that diocese with a church — which is to say, a national, provincial, or particular church — with which the receiving church is in communion that makes the ultimate difference in their being licensed or not. Dioceses simply do not stand alone, apart from the national or provincial church, and they derive much of their competence to function from participation in the larger body.

Of course, bishops as individuals may well relate directly to Canterbury when he invites them to Lambeth — but even this invitation hinges to a large extent upon their being bishops of a church that is a member of the Anglican Communion. This importance of the national church is what appears to be missing, or downplayed, in Archbishop Rowan’s thinking.

The Fractal Church

We are at a point where the integrity of Anglicanism as a specific form of polity is in danger. I put this in the framework of the equilibrium of systems: the “equilibrium point” of Anglicanism (as opposed to that in other systems of church government) has been, from the at least the time of recognized ecclesiastical independence of Scotland and the US, to reside at the provincial level. We have never had a higher governing body to oversee the relationships of the various provinces. Anglicanism’s global identity has been that of a communion, a fellowship of autonomous provincial churches — neither a “world church” like the Roman Catholic Church, nor a federation like the Reformed Churches.

At the levels of polity below the international, Anglicanism (at least in the US and England, as well as a number of other provinces) has a fractal quality. Fractal structures, for those not familiar with them, are structures that replicate certain features at various scales. This gives them a certain organic robustness and resiliency. The Episcopal Church has such a structure — from parish to diocese to province — which has not yet been effectively mirrored to the communion level. That is, at every level we Episcopalians have governance by clergy and laity together — but then the interprovincial level gives us things like Lambeth and the Primates. Now, this is in part because — while The Episcopal Church has preserved lay involvement, inherited from England, at all levels (in part via Bishop White’s familiarity with the US Congress), and the Church of England continued its lay involvement (originally through the Crown, then King-in-Parliament, and later in the Synod) — not all of the other provinces in the Anglican Communion share in this particular aspect at either local, diocesan, or provincial levels. Generally speaking, the churches of the Communion that related most directly to England or the US (as opposed to churches arising out of the ventures of missionary societies) tended to preserve this kind of involvement by the whole People of God.

And that is, I firmly believe, part of the problem for many of those provinces in understanding how either The Episcopal Church and the Church of England function. Churches in which bishops are elected only by other bishops, or in which the Archbishop has ultimate veto power, will not well fit into a larger entity at a level of scale resembling that in the provinces in which the laity and clergy are more intimately involved in provincial government.

Rather, these churches are accustomed to their own more clericalized fractal hierarchy: the parish priest who sits in the diocesan house of clergy; the diocesan bishop who sits in the house of bishops; the primate who sits in the Primates meeting — it all seems very logical, but it leaves out that intrinsic element so vital to Anglicanism in its founding expression: the involvement of the whole People of God in the government of the church.

I think we are in definite need of some form of an Anglican Congress, involving laity and clergy as well as bishops, at the level of the Communion. Though the ACC is a move in that direction, it has been subsumed by the pressure towards the episcopate in Lambeth and the Primates.

A fractal structure may help to restore some of our equilibrium: the balance we have enjoyed over the last two centuries or so is being pressured by various forces. This is, I think, the fundamental “tear in the fabric” that results when provinces have a different internal structure that is not replicated at the higher level: it is not just that some provinces have done things not all provinces approve of, but that we arrive at these decisions in very different ways, and yet have no overarching superstructure to govern the resulting tension — we are merely pulled back and forth in the quest either for more elasticity or more rigidity.

A properly fractal solution would be to work for an Anglican Congress — not more power to Lambeth or the Primates. The authority of such a Congress would have to be decided, of course, and agreed to by all — if, indeed we decide we need that level of governance. It might be good to begin by exploring the variations in polity in and between the member churches. A common agreed upon code of canon law might also be helpful, though it might equally be decided to take more of a live-and-let-live approach as far as internal affairs go.

Speaking practically, though, I would suggest that an Anglican Congress might be something a bit larger than the present ACC, with perhaps three persons in each order representing each province. My hope would be that this would be a body for discussion and implementation of broader global concerns, not primarily the place to hash out disagreements between the provinces — which I really do think are best handled ad hoc between the disagreeing parties, even to the extent of impaired communion. (I don’t think all problems have to be solved in the short run; some will take care of themselves in time.) So I see the primary utility of such a Congress as a more effective means at communication and mission organization. In fact, I think Anglican Mission Congress should be the proper name.

The dangers of final decisions

Ultimately, we may be dealing with a case of Schrodinger’s Church: we have been able to maintain our state of being neither congregational nor curial as a communion, but if we force the question, we may find that we will collapse into one form or the other — and Anglicanism’s experiment will be over. That, I think, would be a great loss to the Body of Christ.

Tobias Haller BSG

October 22, 2007

Strange Advice

What a very strange letter from Archbishop Williams to Bishop Howe.

The diocese and diocesan bishop come before the "abstract" provincial or national church? Really?

Then where do these independent concrete entities come from? Whence these supremely autonomous bishops? If you need three bishops from the surrounding dioceses of the province in order for an individual diocese to consecrate a bishop, plus the consent of the Metropolitan --- doesn't that give the lie to the autonomy of a diocese? Aren't bishops "of" the church since they come "from" the church? Isn't the diocese simply one organ in the body of the Province? Speaking of which, if the province is just an abstraction, I wonder why we need Primates. Or why we should be so keen in listening to them.

The letter seems to describe an odd sort of fibrillation at the heart of the church, whereby the orderly connection of authority in an organic process arises from parishes (which must remain in union with their bishop) but then skips a beat at the middle stage of the Province and jumps right to a novel view of the Anglican Communion as a collection of dioceses in personal communion with Canterbury. I say this is novel because the only individual dioceses that at present fit into that model are the odd extra-provincial few like Bermuda and the Iberian churches. And they are odd precisely because they aren't Provinces, or parts of Provinces.

What has become of the reality of "this realm of England" and the basis of the independence of the national church from a global one, in the creation of the Church "of England"? Why should England matter, so that if the Diocese of London wanted to remain Papist, why should it not? What of the principle of subsidiarity and mutual interdependence? What of the Anglican Consultative Council, made up of representatives of the provinces, not the dioceses? What of the due deference to "superior synods" -- and at present the highest synods in Anglicanism are provincial, not diocesan?

I thought the Archbishop was interested in preserving the Anglican Communion rather than balkanizing it. I thought he was trying to get away from the church as a loose confederation or federation (with emphasis on "diocesan" rights playing the role of "states" rights in this ecclesiastical setting). I thought he was interested in the provincial structure of our communion, as it has been described up until know as a fellowship of churches, not a collection of dioceses -- and moreover that was the reason such trust was placed in the Primates rather than trying to hold a bulkier "Anglican Congress" -- a general synod of all the orders of all the dioceses.

Of course, it is always possible he didn't mean this letter to go beyond the immediate application he had in mind: as an effort to keep individual parishes from wandering from their Floridian bishop; thus echoing the language of Ignatius of Antioch. But if that was his intent, he could simply have used the language of the Panel of Reference regarding the union of parishes with Canterbury only through the diocese, and the importance of dioceses only (with those few extra-provincial exceptions) being recognized through their Province, in accord with the English canonical principle that Canterbury and York determine what "churches" (not "dioceses") are in Communion with the Church of England. This comes as literally the last word in the English canonical supplement: "Rule 54(5) of the Church Representation Rules provides that 'if any question arises whether a Church is in communion with the Church of England, it shall be conclusively determined for the purposes of these rules by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York'."

Tobias Haller BSG

October 19, 2007

6. Clash of Symbols

A section of the continuing reflection on sexuality begun with Where the Division Lies.

In this essay I will examine an additional feature of marriage: its use as a metaphor or symbol for the relationship between Christ and the Church (or between God and Israel). This will include a reflection on the nature of symbolism, the extent to which reliance on such symbols can be helpful as well as misleading, what it is about marriage that serves as a symbol of these relationships, and whether that quality can be applied to same-sex relationships as well.

The ambivalent nature of symbols

Much has been said and written over the years about the nature of symbols, and their relationship to what they symbolize. Part of this discussion involves sacramental theology. It is fair to say that all sacraments are symbols, but not all symbols are sacraments. Beginning with the broader category, I accept the standard definition of a symbol as something that stands for something else. Symbols (in order to function as such) have some likeness or relationship to what they symbolize, and/or some common context which allows them to be understood as signifying something other than themselves. Thus, a king and his royal authority can be symbolized by a crown, a crest, or a throne — though none of these would be effective as symbols in a society that had neither kings, crowns, crests or thrones. The degree of relatedness between a symbol and its object — for example, between a king and his headgear — can be quite remote as long as the culture understands the connection between them. But outside of the culture in which a symbol makes symbolic sense, it may be unrecognizable, or require explanation — and thus be ineffective as a symbol.

Moreover, one symbol may have a different or even contrary meaning in another culture, and other cultures may have different symbols to represent the same object. One need not go as far afield as the Cargo Cults or the mysterious soda-bottle of The Gods Must Be Crazy to find examples of ambivalent symbolism. It is well known that hand gestures (as a form of active symbol) are just as variable as language — and a gesture that is acceptable or innocuous in one society can be obscene or offensive in another. Symbols are as often conventional (not “natural”) as they are ambiguous (not “clear.’)

A sacrament, for the purpose of this discussion, is a symbol that does more than effect a mental recognition in the observer, but actually effects a real change. Even here the “natural likeness” is not essential for a sacrament to do its work — wine is visually more like blood than bread is like flesh, yet both serve in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Yet in some cultures bread is an unheard of novelty rather than a daily staff of life, and wine may similarly be an exotic substance. And as one ecclesiastical wag once put it even in his Western context, “I have no difficulty in believing that the eucharistic host is the Body of Christ - but I do have difficulty recognizing it as bread.”

Picking up the royal imagery above, and recalling all of the fuss and bother concerning its misplacement in The Prince and the Pauper, the Great Seal of England in a real sense embodied a kind of sacrament — the real present power of the monarch in an efficacious manner — yet the Pauper used it to crack walnuts! The crucial note here is that even with a sacrament, its sacramental nature must be discerned. Even so-called “natural” symbols can be misunderstood apart from a cultural context, through which they are invested with efficacious power.

It is not my concern here to debate the question of whether marriage is or is not one of seven sacraments (as in the Roman Catholic teaching), but rather to reflect on the function of the marital relationship as a symbol for the relationship between Christ and the Church, or in the Hebrew Scriptures, between God and Israel. I think at the very least we can recognize that unlike the bread and wine of the Holy Eucharist, a marriage does not effect the real presence of the relationship between Christ and the Church; rather the grace of marriage (if we are to take it as sacramental) concerns the love and fidelity of the couple, which is analogous to or metaphorical of the love of Christ for the Church. This is, in short, a poetic symbol.

Finally, it must be acknowledged that symbols — even sacramental ones — have clearly defined limits. Even in the undoubted sacraments, we do not believe that all bread and wine is holy because Christ instituted that some bread and wine should be the means to experience his anamnesis. I raise this as a preventative to any suggestion of idolatry, in which the symbol comes to supplant what it symbolizes. Idolatry, as someone once said, is treating things like God and God like a thing. I would also suggest that idolatry can consist in treating things about people as if they were divine, and treating the truly divine image of God in humanity as if it were merely a thing. In the present context, it is possible both to make too much of marriage, and too little.

Marriage as ambivalent symbol

Several biblical authors use marriage as a symbol for the relationship between God and Israel, and Christ and the Church. But, as with many of the issues surrounding sexuality, the picture is far more complex than mere equivalence. Not only is marriage only one of many symbols for this relationship, but the marriage symbolism itself is ambivalent, capable of standing for both good and bad relationships between God and God’s people.

There are many earthly phenomena — and Jesus assures us (Matthew 22:30, Mark 12:25, Luke 20:35) that marriage is an earthly phenomenon! — that the biblical authors use (in addition to marriage) to represent the relationship between God and Israel or Christ and the Church: monarch and people, tree and branches, father and children, shepherd and sheep, master and slaves, head and body, cornerstone and building. These symbols all depend on the cultural understanding of those to whom they speak. As noted in an earlier portion of this series of essays, the Letter to the Ephesians collects and intertwines a number of these symbols, in addition to marriage. As Paul himself recognizes, his blending of these symbols gets a bit confusing, as he spins out the various cultural themes of leadership and authority, the relationship of one to many, the nature of organic or bodily union, and love and care.

Thus the Scripture does not single out marriage as a unique symbol for the divine/human relationship — and one can carry the analogy or symbol too far — as some have suggested Paul does — as if women should literally treat their husbands as if they were God. Nor should one carry away from this symbolic usage the notion that because marriage is a symbol for the divine/human interaction it is therefore in itself divine — it remains, according to Jesus, a terrestrial phenomenon. (Luke 20:34-35) So to confuse the symbol with what it symbolizes is a category error. More than a few theologians have of late wandered off in a direction more suggestive of pagan notions of hieros gamos than is warranted by strictly orthodox theology. This includes suggestions that the relationship of a male and female somehow more perfectly embody the imago dei than either does individually. This is very shaky theological ground upon which to tread, as I noted in an earlier section of this series, for it undercuts the doctrine of the Incarnation. Much as I may disagree with him on other points (especially when under the undue influence of Aristotelian science), this is a matter on which I am concur with Aquinas. (ST I.Q93.6d)

It is also important to point out that in addition to the multiplicity of symbols for the relationship between God and people, Scripture uses all sorts of marriages as analogies for equally various divine/human interactions. While Paul uses the marital relationship to reflect the love and care of a husband for his wife (“as his own body”) in Ephesians, there are less positive images to be found elsewhere.

Perhaps most importantly, the prophetic literature uses polygamy as an image for the relationship of the one God with many worshipers, or many peoples. Thus God is portrayed as a Middle Eastern “Lord” (Ba’al — the Hebrew root for marriage is related to this word for “Lord,” explicitly contrasted at Hosea 2:18 with “my man.”). As such a Lord, God is portrayed as having more than one wife in Jeremiah 3 and Ezekiel 23. These relationships, as well as Hosea’s relationship with Gomer and the (possibly other) woman of Hosea 3, reflect the failure of God’s people in the failures of these various sexual relationships. So close is the affinity (in the Hebrew mind) of idolatry with harlotry that it is on occasion difficult to tell when the text intends literal harlotry rather than figurative. (The most frequent use of the root for harlot in the Old Testament is as symbolic of or in connection with idolatry.) We ought also to note that the putative author of the Song of Solomon was notorious for the range of his sexual interests — yet that did not prevent the Rabbis and medieval churchmen from spiritualizing the account into a rhapsody for the devoted soul’s love for God. The male in this analogy is free (as he was under Jewish law) to have multiple female partners, but each woman is to be singularly devoted to her husband. In the medieval Christian adaptations of this text, it was not found at all strange for men to cast themselves as “The Bride” of Christ.

The use of this symbol

The question is: Given that heterosexual relationships can be used as such multivalent symbols, positive or negative, single and plural, and even with a degree of sexual ambiguity, can faithful, monogamous, life-long same-sex relationships also serve in symbolic capacity — towards good? I will explore the negative imagery in later reflections on Leviticus and Romans, but will note here that the same linkage between idolatry and harlotry is made there between idolatry and some specific forms of same-sexuality. But what might a faithful, loving same-sex relationship (as opposed to the cultic activity described in Leviticus or the orgiastic in Romans) stand for as a symbol — not in the cultures of those times, but in our own?

It is clear that the prevailing biblical symbol for heterosexual relationships is intimately (!) connected with the assumption of male “headship” — thus the related analogies with master and slave, head and body, and so forth, assume a cultural notion of male authority, likened to the authority of Christ over the church. So powerful is this imagery that men become “feminine” in relation to God — as C.S. Lewis noted in his emendation to the conclusion of Goethe’s Faust.

But what of Christ — who voluntarily (and temporarily) assumes the position of a subordinate — not only in the great kenosis of the Incarnation, but in the symbolic act of the Maundy footwashing — while remaining Lord and God? When Jesus assumes the position of a servant to wash his disciples’ feet, he is also assuming the position of the woman who washed his feet with her tears. It is no accident that Jesus uses this powerful acted symbol to show his disciples the danger of assuming the position of authority over rather than assuming the position of service to. (It is perhaps ironic that in the Roman Catholic Church only men are to take part in the Maundy ritual as either foot-washers or as those whose feet are washed. How much more powerful a symbol it would be if a bishop were to wash the feet of women?)

Jesus is secure in his knowledge of himself, yet is free to set aside the role of authority to assume the role of a slave, a role played elsewhere in the passion narrative by a woman. As is obvious, in a same-sex relationship there are no stereotypical sex roles for the partners. They are, like Jesus, free to take upon themselves, in a dynamic interchange, various opportunities to love and to serve. This flexibility is no doubt one of the reasons same-sexuality is seen as a threat to entrenched systems of automatic deferral to culturally established hierarchies. Like Christianity itself, same-sexuality “turns the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) by challenging the “natural” roles assigned by culture. Same-sex couples are thus capable of being truly natural symbols for the mutuality of equals, free from the traditional roles assigned by the culture to men and women. Whether the culture sees this as a threat or a promise will depend upon what they value.

Further, as procreation is not an end for same-sex relationships, the relationship itself become the locus for its intrinsic goodness: that is, it is not dependent on the production of a result extrinsic to the relationship itself. Thus the partners do not serve as means to an end, but as ends in themselves — all being done for the good of the other, in mutual submission and love. Thus same-sex unions can be symbols of mutual dedication to the beloved, rather than as utilities geared towards some other goal or end. In this sense, same-sex unions function analogously with celibacy as signs of an eschatological end to “how things have always been” — upsetting the old dichotomies of “slave or free, male and female.”

Nothing in this is to suggest that all same-sex couples are successful in this kind of mutuality, or that a mixed-sex couple is not equally capable of it (when they are willing, like Christ, to set aside the presumptive roles granted by culture). My purpose here has been to show that, as with marriage, it is the quality of the relationship, not its mere existence, that serves as a symbol.

We find the locus of that symbol in the moral purpose of sexuality, which resides in mutual joy and respect, and the enhancement of society both between the couple and in the larger world. This is an enactment of the human moral mandate towards love and fidelity, mirroring the love and fidelity of God; and this is a moral value of which same-sex couples are capable. Procreation, on the other hand, does not have any moral value in and of itself, though it can be accompanied by the moral values I have just elucidated. But in itself it is a biological process, not unique to human beings. Procreation alone — divorced from its moral context as part of a loving human relationship — does not symbolize anything of moral value.

Thus the symbol we have before us — the union of a loving couple regardless of whether they are fertile or not — is consistent with the Gospel, with its mandate to love one’s neighbor as oneself. As this mandate can be applied to marriage (Eph 5:28) so too it can be applied to faithful, monogamous, life-long same-sex unions. Such unions can be symbolic forces for the upbuilding of society based upon this divine mandate. It is to that upbuilding that I will turn in the next section of this series of essays, as I examine the final traditional “good” of marriage.

Tobias Haller BSG

The series continues with 7. Remedial Reading.

Further Update: This post and those that follow, expanded and supplemented with much additional material, form part of Reasonable and Holy, published by Seabury Books and available on order from Church Publishing Incorporated.