In my previous post, O Theophilus, I wrote concerning what I perceive as the failure of the Episcopal Church to make an adequate, concerted, and persuasive case for steps in the direction of affirming persons in same-sex relationships. A number of people have commented on this post, and I have responded; but I would like to raise and address some of those concerns here before continuing with my proposals.
A few have suggested I have fallen into the liberal fallacy of “if only you will listen to me you will agree.” This was very far from my intent; in fact, it was this very liberal tendency I was addressing. I do not believe that reason alone will convince everyone of the rightness of my point of view; but I do believe it is incumbent upon me to make the best use of reason I can, in order to reach those open to such a reasonable approach.
It is the large number of undecided, moderate Anglicans who are hungering for a better case from the progressive side — and it is to these I am hoping we might address our arguments, as they are crafted and refined. There will be those who are beyond reason; real homophobia and bigotry — and let us be honest and acknowledge they exist — require therapy, not mere discourse.
At the same time, I by no means intend (as some have suggested) to abandon the “incarnational approach” that is so important in bringing people to a change of mind or of heart. (I was encouraged to hear our Primate reflect a similar note in her address to the staff at 815.) But I must point out that the incarnational approach — if it assumes, “once you get to know me you will accept me” is also false. I’m sure we’d all like to think, “To know me is to love me.” And personal presence can be a very powerful — and I would say essential — part of the ongoing process of engagement; but that presence must also be combined with a willingness to debate and defend on the topic at hand.
An incarnational presence is not always going to convince, even when it is accompanied by eloquent teaching. You will all recall, no doubt, that an incarnational presence can lead to a crucifixion. Moreover, Jesus noted, in his parable of Lazarus and the rich man, that those who have not heeded the weightier matters of the law inherent in such notions as “love your neighbor as yourself,” and the prophetic call to justice, will be unmoved even by the resurrection.
I can give one concrete example from my own experience. At the last General Convention I had an extended conversation with an English Evangelical who began the conversation by saying to me, “Some of my best friends are gay; but you are wrong, and you are going to hell.” My response was an aggressive: No, I am not wrong; but you are, and you will go to hell yourself if you persist in judging others; and here is why. As the evening wore on, I was able not only to reject his premise, but challenge every argument he brought to the fore — clearly not to the extent of convincing him, but to the extent of making him realize his arguments were not nearly so airtight as he had supposed.
It was also helpful to be able to say, “You are talking about me when you make these accusations.” However, if that is all I had said, I doubt it would have shaken his thinking; after all, he said right at the beginning that some of his best friends are gay; it’s just that we’re going to hell. It was the willingness to argue as well as be a presence that made the difference. He said he’d never been confronted in this way before, and made to think about what he was so blithely saying about who was going to hell, as well as a number of his other favorite arguments. I heard the next day from several people who know him that this conversation was profoundly important for him — and he was grateful for thechallenge as well as for the presence.
In short, we need to do both. We are in a Hillel moment here: it isn’t just about us, but about others, too. The “easy” ways at either end, capitulation or revolt, seem to me to lead in the wrong direction. How can we speak to and for the gay and lesbian persons suffering real persecution in so much of the world (far worse than not being allowed to be a bishop, or have their relationship blessed!) if we either give in completely, or separate off into our own private sanctum. “If I am not for myself, who will be? But if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” So what do we do?
A sketch of a response in four movements
1. Of the Process of Engagement
1.0. I have never cared for the language of “the listening process.” It sounds altogether too passive and casual. So I prefer to call for a process of engagement. This has several elements.
1.1 Assemble a theological critique of the current position on same-sex relationships. You will see that I do not frame this as a defense as much as a re-examination of the case made by the prosecution. I take as my basic stand the notion that guilt must be proven, not innocence; and as the Archbishop of Canterbury has acknowledged this week, in some even of the best of the traditional argumentation there are rather significant lapses in logic and theology. It is these lapses and inconsistencies that can and should be exposed and corrected, for in some cases the whole argument hangs by a slender thread indeed.
1.2. Develop a positive theology of human sexual relationships built on the unitive function of human sexuality (which is universal and lifelong and eternal) rather than the traditional approach based on procreation (which is neither universal nor lifelong nor eternal). There is ample Scriptural, traditional, and theological material to support such a theology.
1.3. Insist and mandate that in any discussion of the issue of same-sexuality, in any parochial, diocesan, provincial or international forum, gay and lesbian persons, both lay and ordained, be involved. It will be necessary for the Executive Council or the General Convention to assemble a team or bureau of such persons, equipped with the material produced in steps one and two above in order to carry out this mandate.
1.4. As these steps will require funding, I suggest that a portion of the funds formerly committed to the Anglican Consultative Council be directed to this effort. As the “listening process” is a mandate of the ACC, this use of funds is in keeping with the importance of addressing an issue that, if nothing else, is capable of leading to the utter collapse of the Anglican Communion as we know it. If the Anglican Communion is worth the effort, it is also worth the expense.
1.5. Insist that representatives of The Episcopal Church, or the church itself, not be threatened with dismissal or exclusion from any of the councils of the Anglican Communion, or the Communion itself. Such exclusion is both repugnant to the Gospel, and the common sense that if we are to reach a common mind it will only be through the meeting and engagement of those who disagree. Peace achieved through the excision or exclusion of persons with whom we disagree is reprehensible.
2. Of Lambeth and the Primates
2.0. I trace the current division and turmoil, and the beginnings of the tearing of the fabric of the Communion, not to the General Convention of 2003, but to the Lambeth Conference of 1998. There, through a manifestly disordered process, in which both members and the chair acted inappropriately, a resolution was adopted that did not represent the true mind of the Anglican Communion in its present lack of consensus. Moreover, since its passage, resolution 1998.1.10 — which itself uses the language of recommendation and advice — has been treated by some of the Primates and others as if it represented a unified “teaching” — rather than a statement of a traditional view that is no longer universally ascribed to, and which is under discussion. This unilateral transformation of the Lambeth Conference into a magisterial body is contrary to its charter, and lacks the consent of the various Provinces of the Anglican Communion. I therefore suggest:
2.1. The Primates and Bishops of the Anglican Communion be invited to express their repentance for having breached the bonds of affection that constitute the historic basis for this fellowship of autonomous churches, in having sought to substitute coercive constraint, violation of provincial autonomy, and threats of exclusion in their place.
2.2. That pending such an expression of repentance, The Episcopal Church continue to work with those Primates and Bishops who wish to continue in such a fellowship, in keeping with the historic constitution (in large part unwritten) by which the Anglican Communion has heretofore exercised its unique ministry in the whole Body of Christ.
2.3. That if it is desired to assemble a teaching body for the further exploration of a pan-Anglican doctrinal statement on any matter, and recognizing that not only do the ordinals of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England and the 1979 Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church both confer the office of teaching to the presbyterate, but that many of the greatest theologians of the church’s past have been laity, and that the diaconate is charged specifically with bringing the needs of the world to the attention of the church: that any teaching body so assembled consist of priests, deacons and lay persons as well as of bishops; and that any decisions or positions reached by this assembly receive the assent of each and every constituent Province of the Anglican Communion (alike working through provincial assemblies consisting of all orders of ministry) before being considered to be “the teaching of the Anglican Communion.”
3. Of ordination and election of bishops
3.0. I do not believe anyone has a need or a right to be a bishop. I also believe that the episcopate is for the good order of the church. At the same time, it is unjust to exlude persons or classes of persons without good cause. I recommend:
3.1. That the Episcopal Church commend and urge its Bishops with jurisdiction and Standing Committees to withhold consent to the consecration to the episcopate of any person whose manner of life is inconsistent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
4. Of the blessing of same-sex unions
4.0. The church teaches that the nuptial ministers are the couple themselves, whose vows are blessed, not constituted, by the church. One of the earliest western marriage liturgies, in the sixth century Gallic tradition, consisted of a blessing of the couple in their home. I therefore suggest that:
4.1. Until a wider consensus is achieved on the rightness of blessing same-sex relationships in an ecclesiastical setting, The Episcopal Church not proceed with the development of a liturgical rite, or its authorization.
4.2. Recognizing that priests are ordained to pronounce God’s blessing, and that no further authorization is needed for a priest to bless than there is to preach; and that the liturgy “The Celebration of a Home” in the Book of Occasional Services is authorized for use in this church, without further permission from the Bishop being necessary; and that this liturgy provides for the blessing of the residents of the household; that it be recognized that the use of such liturgy is within the ambit of pastoral care.
4.3. The the church include in its studies and discussion the issue of the role of the church in those civil jurisdictions in which same-sex relationships are licensed, and the larger issue of the interaction between civil and ecclesiastical law in this area.
I realize that this first draft of proposals may not please everyone. I am not sure it pleases me entirely. But it is a good faith effort to lay out a way forward that is, I think, far more in keeping with the traditional Anglican way of working than is evident in the statement from Dar es Salaam.