I am hardly the first to notice the contradiction between the restrictive portions of the recent House of Bishops’ statement and the closing point: “We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God’s children, including gay and lesbian persons, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ’s Church.” Surely, it would be more consistent with the rest of the document if the phrase “full and equal” were struck.
While I appreciate this closing acknowledgment of the dignity of gay and lesbian people (presumably because they are a part of the larger class of people described in the Baptismal Covenant, which is to say, human beings), and the call for justice (one hopes, not justice as understood in Nigeria or under Islamic law), and deploring violence (did anyone think the bishops favored violence?), and even the call for certain unenumerated civil rights — still, this closing does not seem to sit very consistently with the commitments made earlier in the document. This inconsistency reminds me of that which plagued the mind of Thomas Jefferson, the slaveholder who was able to proclaim that all men have an unalienable right to liberty, if not with a straight face, at least in neat handwriting.
At the same time, I acknowledge that worse things could happen to one than not being confirmed as a bishop, or not being allowed to marry as one chooses. In particular, I would like to suggest that everyone remove from their store of similes references to crucifixion unless related to someone actually being nailed to a tree. I think, in the current context, Matthew Shepard qualifies; and gay and lesbian persons in much of the rest of the world, particularly under the tender mercies of some Christian and Islamic leaders. But for most of us in the West, the application of this kind of hyperbole is becoming tiresome.
As is the language of “a crucified place,” a phrase that grates on my senses (even if it were literally describing Golgotha) almost as much as “the Christ event” and “a kairos moment.” Very few of our bishops have come within spitting distance of anything remotely approaching “a crucified place” except perhaps on a tour of the Holy Land.
However, these observations aside, I feel that our bishops have made an astute and politic decision. They have given the Archbishop of Canterbury everything he needs to say, “They really are trying — and I don’t mean trying my patience.” This will also give the Global South’s most rightward-leaning sector all they need to proclaim that their Demands had not been met, and that they and their episcopi vagantes will soon be forming a new and improved, and purified, Anglican Communion.
And then, perhaps, the rest of us can get back to the work of the church.
Tobias Haller BSG