I have taken to heart the request of our Primate to step back and reflect before diving into the seething mass of commentary and critique that the Primates’ Communiqué has stirred up. Leading the Litany of Penitence at two Ash Wednesday liturgies, and working yesterday on the mundane matters of finishing the Parochial Report, have given me some time to think. Reading the various contributions of many others has also helped me in seeing what I hope is a bigger picture. In what follows, I will try to lay out what I am beginning to see as the root of our present difficulties. In doing so, I fear I may join our Primate in offending some of my friends; but I hope that in what follows I am offering — to use the therapeutic language I usually avoid, but which I am now convinced has become appropriate — an accurate diagnosis, so that we can continue with an appropriate and productive course of treatment.
When Jefferson declared it to be a self-evident truth that human beings are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, it is obvious that the self-evidence did not extend to his own slave-quarters. It is also obvious that even though two out of the three human rights Jefferson held to be self-evident (life and liberty) were derived from the thinking of an English philosopher, it would take a war with England to establish the boundaries of a land in which, nearly a century later, that life and that liberty might be said to have begun their imperfect (and still less than complete) realization.
In our present situation, the Episcopal Church has effectively adopted in practice (although in less than perfect agreement) what I regard as a self-evident truth, articulated in the Koinonía Statement in 1994, “that homosexuality and heterosexuality are morally neutral.”
It is abundantly clear that this thesis was not universally accepted in 1994 (the statement itself being signed only by a minority), and can only be said to be accepted in the Episcopal Church today by an incomplete majority; and further, that it is not self-evidently true to a very large portion of the rest of the Anglican world. On the contrary, a minority of Episcopalians, and a majority of Anglicans would insist in no uncertain terms that not only is this not self-evidently true, but patently false. Same-sexuality is not morally neutral in their eyes, but always and in every circumstance morally culpable.
And this is where my sense of Lenten reevaluation and repentance come in. Those of us who support a neutral or positive view of same-sexuality have not made a case for our position in a way that is persuasive and convincing to the world-wide majority. (I acknowledge that the majority bears some fault in this; but my concern here is to confess my failings, since it is only over my own actions that I can be said to have control.) This is self-evidently true: a majority of the Anglican world have neither been persuaded nor convinced. Many and various voices have spoken, my own included, but there has been no systematic effort to produce a definitive examination and demonstration on this issue — at least one capable of moving beyond the impasse of asserting our conclusion as a premise.
Yes, I fear we on the liberal side have been just as guilty of petitio principii as the “reasserters.” We have been swept up in the knowledge of the rightness of our cause, forgetting that knowledge is capable of puffing up rather than building up. It is certainly true that we have not been well listened to in many places — but what have we offered those we most wish to persuade — who are convinced that same-sexuality is morally wrong — to listen to?
I fear we on the liberal side have been blinded by the splendor of the truth we seek to expound. And so we have moved beyond the essential first step of demonstrating the moral neutrality of sexuality — and the potential goodness of same-sex relationships — into issues of justice, inclusion and baptismal dignity. These are all very important issues — of far wider application, and of far greater Gospel import — but if the underlying question is not settled, they are, sad to say, beside the point to those who see same-sexuality as morally repugnant. (I realize that will sound harsh to my liberal friends, but I am trying to see this from the opposing point of view.) So we take offense when someone analogizes same-sexuality to murder, adultery or incest — failing to hear in this the traditional voice of the majority that judges same-sexuality as sinful — because we have already decided, for ourselves, that the underlying issue is moot.
Well, it is not moot for those with whom we are engaged, or if it is moot, it is moot in contradiction. This is revealed in the liberal misunderstanding concerning conservative opposition to Jeffrey John’s appointment as a bishop (and yes, the English appoint, while we elect — another distinction that seems to be as lost on the bulk of the Communion, as our own liberal understanding of the depth of our disagreements on sexuality falls short.) It is not simply that Jeffrey John is gay, and that his celibacy should let him off the hook, but rather that he espouses the very teaching that is at issue: that same-sex relationships can be morally good; and the conservatives believe that those who teach such things should not be bishops, as it is contrary to what the church teaches, and the bishops are the guardians of the teaching. Yes, that too is a circular argument — but as I said above, we have no control over what our interlocutors argue, only over our response.
So this is where our repentance comes in, repentance that is the first step to actions which I hope will move us away from the impasse of “yes it is / no it isn’t.” I would like to hope that there is a middle way between a revolutionary war and a mere capitulation to the Powers. Is the Anglican Communion worth the effort? Is schism the only answer — cutting the Gordian knot by destroying the bonds of affection, or ending the chess game by turning over the table? I would like to hope that there is another way forward, and I will share some of my hopes and fears in my next post, after further reflection.
— Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG