September 26, 2007

Episcopoliticians At Work

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


janinsanfran said...

This may violate your comment rules, but I just want to say "Amen."

I agree this should give all the space to continue to try to learn how to do the work of the church.

June Butler said...

Tobias, you're more patient and sensible than I. And I'm not being snarky. I did say in my post that this was, very likely, the best the bishops could do.

Joe Rawls said...

I guess the purple shirt gets addictive after a while.

Anonymous said...


I note an Australian Associated Press (27 Sep 07) report that the head of the Anglican Church in Australia, the Most Revd Dr Philip Aspinall, Archbishop of Brisbane (who was the press spokesman for the Dar Es Salaam meeting) has welcomed the US Bishops' response.

"I believe that the House of Bishops has responded positively to all the requests put to them by the primates in our Dar es Salaam communique. Certainly they have responded to the substance of those requests. I would now like the time to undertake careful analysis of the House of Bishops response, but my initial reaction based both on my preliminary reading of the document itself and on my first-hand conversations with many of the Bishops involved is that the house has responded positively to the substance of all the requests made by the primates."

Plainly the willingness of the US bishops to limit the role played by gay and lesbian people in the life of their Church is at odds with their affirmation that they "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."

That said, the US church has done more than any other Anglican/Episcopal church to affirm gay and lesbian people, which should be acknowledged and applauded. The American bishops have done all in their power (a power limited by the polity of their Church) to bring oneness in Christ. Those who say it is not enough may do as they please.

John D Bassett said...

As always, Tobias, a thoughtful and well-written essay.

The Bishops essentially took a "Christian Liberty" approach to the issue, and I think it was an astute one both theologically and politically. They did not "repent", as the Duncanites had demanded, for either the consecration of Gene Robinson or permitting blessings. They never said these things were wrong, but merely that they had given offense to others and would be avoided in the immediate future. This may seem at first like a failure of nerve, but frankly I cannot think of any response more perfect for infuriating the the right and pacifying the middle. Who wants to be labeled either openly or implicity as "weak in conscience?" I somehow suspect that the people who were upset by eating idol-tained meat were more outraged than pacified by Paul's suggestion that he just would not eat meat sacrificed to idols because they had a silly obsession it rather than because it was wrong. In the same way, the last thing that the Duncanites want here is to be patronized. And I think that is just what the House of Bishops did to them.

Notice how they're howling! This is the worst possible response for them because it neither complies with their absurb demands for some sort of theological auto da fe nor does it show open defiance of the Tanzania communique. It sets them up for being triangulated out of the communion. The ABC and much of the rest of the Anglican world can say that the US church is essentially being cooperative. The African churches will have to either walk away and form some kind of parallel church, or they can just give up and admit that most of the rest of the communion, even if they are uncomfortable with gays or with the acceptance of gay people in the church, ultimately do not see this as the biggest issue in the theological universe.

And frankly as a gay man I have lived with so much many worse things within and without the church that not having any gay bishops in the immediate future is hardly a crushing blow to my self-esteem. I am certainly not the only person to remember the Port St Lucie Declaration. What progress we've had since then! If I did not leave the church then -- I did not even leave seminary -- why would I leave now?

In time I am confident that this will all seem as absurd to subsequent generations as the Jerusalem Bishopric and the Colenso controversy do to us.

Anonymous said...

THanks Tobias - I agree with much of this. I once told a dear lesbian friend that she just needed to be patient - and at the tears in her eyes I thought to myself, 'how dare I say that!' Easy for me, straight, male, etc. But the reality is that we ARE moving forward, both as a church (TEC) and even as a communion. I, too, think that the HOB gave the ABC what he needs - now the Global South will have the rope they need to hang themselves, along with the Moderator and his ilk. Let them go - my parish is healthy and doing ministry, even in Africa, despite all of this mess. The unity horse has been out of the barn for 1000 years, and it ain't going back in any time soon.
bless your ministry, friend -
Fr. Craig

Anonymous said...

they're trying to do what? to say just enough to get by? is that really what we want?

Anonymous said...

The most important thing to my mind, and what makes me willing to accept their action while holding my nose, is that almost all of the moderate and conservative bishops in the House agreed to this. There was a risk of having a revolt on the part of many of them but they clearly have signed on to a statement that, while it hurts many both gay and straight, infuriates the realignment crowd. And to have loyal conservatives agreeing with the liberals is, I think, a good thing.

Michael Cudney said...

Well said - thank you.
And like many I'm angry and very disappointed, but I can't help feeling that our bishops took the position they did in the belief that soon all be well. Here's what I believe will transpire: the GS vocal few will boycott Lambeth, thus giving the US and Canadians and others a great voice. After all, they seem as upset with the ABC and the CofE as they are with the US and Canada. And here we'll have Duncan and Iker attempting to break off and form something new [albeit without Canterbury, which has made it clear it won't support this kind of thing]. So by the time GC09 rolls around, TEC will be in a position to abandon B033 and get on with our real mission.
It's hard to sit and wait for something as crucial as equality and justice, but I know it will come. As Julian of Norwich reminds us 'all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well'.

Christopher said...

Fr. Haller,

On the whole I agree with you, but what seems to be lacking is something pastoral. I think this is the underlying reason for so much expressed on the Net. Our bishops certainly must do politics, but they are first and foremost called to be chief shepherds. A few personal words to lgbt Christians and to those who are having a hard time with God's inclusion of us would have went miles and yards.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the HoB statement was inconsistent at all. Certainly, it is not analogous to President Jefferson's attitude towards slavery. If crucifixion is hyperbolic for the bishops, certainly comparing them to slaveholders is equally inane. Personally, I think that crucifixion is an appropriate metaphor, although an incomplete one. Until straight Christians, such as myself, find a way to join in the sacrifice, the work remains unfinished.

C.B. said...

See I think it was a rather surprisingly honest and responsive.

It did clarify B033, and 30 bishops who had voted against B033 put aside their desires for the moment and agreed with the language of B033, in order, not consider going back, but to better consider the whole church as we go forward.

The Primates wanted us to make the "pause" permanent unless the AC changed its view. We said that would be true, but also reminded them that B033 had been put forth by the GC and GC still had the power to take it away. That's just the way it is here.

Some primates want to claim that DES was clear about what it wanted with respect to SSBs as if all the terms in the Communique were self evident. NOT.

Where did we fudge? Our reply assumes that the Primates are intelligent and respectful (i.e., Christians). Again, we told them - this is the way it is with us. We don't have authorized rites. A majority of us don't allow SSBs. Those that do only do so because they see a pastoral need for some sort of blessing. And you yourself have acknowledged that gays and lesbians have such needs that should be met. What in the world is dishonest about that?

It's not a crucified place, but a place of disagreement. I find it unnerving that Christians somehow think that Christ came to remove disagreements and that Holy Spirit is endlessly seeking unanimity. If this were so, God would not have devised evolution as the process by which the organisms on Earth came into being.

It's actually how God gets things done!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks to all for the comments. Briefly, I just want to highlight two things:

Christopher, I think the phenomenon at hand is that when the bishops gather as a group they are exercising a different function than the pastoral role they play on their own. As a Council they have other roles to play, and the pastoral one is applied more locally. In fact, part of the reason this note is posted in haste is that I am about to go off to a Town Hall meeting my bishop (+Sisk) planned before even going to New Orleans, as a debriefing from whatever might have happened there. He takes the pastoral office very seriously, and I don't think he is alone in this.

C.B., what you note is a large part of what Marhsall Montgomery's new blog Seminar on Conflict Ecclesiology is all about. Jesus himself said he did not come to bring peace, but a sword -- the sword of discernment, which often entails division of opinion, and cuts deeply to unveil hidden thoughts...

And now, off to the Town Meeting.

Christopher said...

Fr. Haller,

Again, I understand what you're saying, but that function is far more public and far reaching (beyond our own church even) because of media that the individual meetings of bishops with their diocese do not. I think in a media age, we have to be mindful of that reality, because it has evangelical implications in addition to the pastoral ones.

Unknown said...


I hope you can comment on what happened at the DNY Town Meeting in some way when you return.


Anonymous said...

I agree that an approach to pastoral care to GLBT folks are best carried out on a more local level, but surely something other than the same words spoken over again and again are what is needed?

I do not believe they are empty words or sentiments, but in reality appropriate pastoral response from within the Church is sorely lacking. Welcome and affirmation go a long way, but more could be done. After a few days of weeping and gnashing of teeth, maybe the time is coming when we should start doing something on a more grass-roots or (pew roots?) level. If something takes off, we might be able to apply it on a larger scale within our individual dioceses?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks again to all the commenters. I can say a word briefly about the Town Hall, which included not only Bishop Sisk but Bps Roskam, Taylor, and Donovan.

The issue of pastoral care came up bluntly from a priest who said he's getting a lot of flack from some of the gay members of his congregation. Another expressed similar concern. Bishop Sisk at first tried to point out more or less what I had said above, that the local priest is the main pastor in a situation like that. The priest in question said, basically, "But you could be a big help with a public statement of support." Bishop Sisk agreed, but then in his usual thoughtful way, noted that the "problem" is, in part, that the Diocese of NY is more welcoming and supportive -- and certainly some individudal parishes are -- than the Episcopal Church is, "on the books" and as a whole. That, he said strongly, is the reality, and we need to be honest with people.

So we do have to remember that this statement from the House of Bishops was a virtually unanimous one -- with apparently one or two "nays" (one of which was a liberal!) and the absence of most of the Network bishops.

I spoke with Bishop Sisk briefly after the meeting, as he had seen this blog posting. He said he saw my point about the "inclusive" language, but said he sees this as a starting point on which to build rather than as a complete reality. We also talked about how the "reality" of the liberal parish or diocese vs. a more middle-of-the-road church as a whole also scales up a fortiori to the Anglican Communion as a whole.

But we are not alone: apparently at the HoB meeting, the ABp of Wales said "we're with you" and in spite of reports to the contrary the new ABp of Southern Africa is not a conservative, and his election is, to quote Bp Roskam, "Very good news."

Anyway, that's the news from the Diocese of Lake Wobegon...

The Anglican Scotist said...

You say you noticed a contradiction. Supposing that there is indeed one there, it is another matter to conclude that it was intended or that the bishops voting agreed that it was there, even tacitly.

With TJ, there was no doubt.

But even thinking that some--or all for that matter--who voted for it noticed the contradiction, that would not make it an obfuscation much less a falsification.

That is, it could still express perfectly accurately an internal tension within the body of this church working itself out over time--in history "from below" if you will.

An earler generation might have called it "dialectical".

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear A.S., thanks for this. I think you are describing the situation accurately -- which is my goal as well. The "contradiction" most likely represents the actual division of opinion in the House. I hope to reflect on this at greater length in a follow-up. This is part of the dialectical process of movement -- which, as I noted in my essay over at the Seminar on Conflict Ecclesiology -- stands against the proposal for a covenant crafted as a conflict-avoidance or management by omission mechanism.

Christopher said...

I doubt if the contradiction is intentional or was meant to purposely do harm; it may indeed reflect reality working itself out, but it also reflects the eyes of those doing the talking, not those being talked about. This raises again the importance of having eyes from those about whom one speaks when composing such statements. And not just the eyes of one representative of such a class of persons, but several eyes. Intended or not, this statement has pastoral and evangelical implications. No amount of personal meetings with individual bishops can undo what a statement released for all the world does. That might not be fair, but that is the media reality. Our bishops need to become more mindful of this, something I've mentioned to more than one of them before. Even a small personal note may have went miles and yards. I think in comparison, the Canadian bishops have come across as far more pastoral.

Imagine had something similar been stated about the enslavement of Africans, or women, for example? Or even less dramatic, the leadership of those of African descent in this body, which has a vexed and sometimes nasty history right down to the marriage issue, not to mention issues surrounding ordination. Do you think these folks would have bought such statements, and I can imagine we made similar statements? No. They might stay, but they wouldn't buy it. And many did not stay. Hence, a divided church racially.

The ideal at the end against the actual reality in the rest of the statement are in contradiction. Yes, it may be dialectal, but if so, it's of a rather strong variety.

There is indeed an internal contradiction in this statement, and had it read something to the effect that the hope of this House is that gay and lesbian faithful are full and equal participants in the life of the Church, out of love for the wider Communion we refrain from these specific actions at this time, we recognize in refraining that we compromise our witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ to gay and lesbian communities and cause pain to those who are our own in the Body, and that we will work to pastor you concretely in these ways because we need you in the Body.

Simply because it isn't physical, does not mean that pain and suffering is not real; certainly resort to the Cross has been a way to strengthen those suffering for keeping on, and I'm not about to take that away or insist that others no longer frame their suffering in light of participation in our Lord's, nor accept others' interpretations about "crucfied places" which read a lot like using the Cross to justify harmful decisions made. Indeed this kind of psychological games, and that is exactly what this feels like, can be more damaging than physical harm as a number of psychological studies have shown.

It would have been more honest, more accurately reflective that a tension is being worked out, that we have some living in to do, that this living in will require putting flesh to words such as "private pastoral response" and such, and that for the meantime we are indeed living with some level of untruth in our actual lives together in terms of our claims about the gospel and gay and lesbian faithful.

Again, we can parse this out many different ways, but the average Joe Gay or Jane Lesbian in Soho or Davies or Castro (an actual "mission field" for my parish) will find our explanations to be obscufication.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I certainly agree that the statement could have been more honest, and in the long run that would have been more helpful. I think this is in keeping with things you and I have been saying in this and your own blog about being descriptive rather than proscriptive. A truly honest assessment, including an honest assessment of the real harm done (and the extent to which it contributes to even greater harm, as I tried to express) would have been much preferred to what the bishops eventually said.

I'm still thinking about my further comments along these lines, and will post shortly.

Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Christopher Evans said: "it also reflects the eyes of those doing the talking, not those being talked about."

Malcolm+ opines: It appears from the media coverage that Bishop Robinson supported the statement. I presume (if that is correct) that he likely had some reservations. But as the one member of the group who (openly) is also one of the group being talked about, his perspective would be helpful.

Can anyone direct to where Bishop Robinson may have commented more fully?

Christopher said...

Fr. Malcolm,

I also noted: "And not just the eyes of one representative of such a class of persons, but several eyes."

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I have followed up with further analysis at Where We Are.

Anonymous said...

Christipher said: "but several eyes"

Malcolm notes: Absolutely. Gene Robinson does not speak for all LGBT any more than he speaks for all bishops. And, at one level at least, his perspective as one gay person is not more or less valid than the perspective of another. The same can be said of his perspective as one bishop.

However, he is the only person at the meeting who is (openly) gay. As such, he does have a unique perspective it would be valuable to hear.