August 31, 2007

1. Where the Division Lies

In the debates over sexuality, a number of arguments have been advanced on both sides. I sometimes feel that the debaters are talking past each other, and that they are coming from totally different conceptual worlds. The problem appears, then, to lie in the premises (or assumptions) that underlie the varying points of view. If we are to come to a resolution of our differences — and it is a big if — it will be important that we begin with certain agreed-upon principles — if we can — and work step-by-step through to that resolution. So what I would like to begin to do in this and succeeding posts to this blog is to begin to unpack and challenge what I perceive to be the underlying premises or assumptions of the traditional view, in an effort to get behind the “reassertions” to find out if there is an actual basis of agreement from which a different settlement might be reached — or if we really are thinking and working from two radically incompatible bases.

In these reflections I want to deal with all of the apparatus of Scripture, reason and tradition. I will in part be challenging the rational basis of a negative view of same-sex relationships because the traditionalist assertion often goes beyond a merely religious disapprobation — that is, many if not most of those who think homosexuality is wrong do not see it as wrong merely in a religious sense — the way, for example an Orthodox Jew might say that it is wrong to eat pork, but not hold a Gentile to that standard — but wrong in a moral or ethical or even legal sense, rightly subject not only to sectarian reproof, but secular regulation; in short, not only immoral but illegal. This is not to say that all who hold any number of things to be immoral wish them to be illegal: in a pluralistic society we recognize that morality is not always subject to legislation. However, in the present case, there are more than a few religious conservatives who are also willing to see (at the extreme) state sanctions against same-sex relationships, or (at a minimum) a denial of state approval in recognition of such relationships.

In order to make this case, it is clear that the voices of the tradition have gone beyond a simple religious basis for their opinion. The primary evidence for this lies in the arguments often advanced in light of an apparent awareness that a scriptural case alone does not bear sufficient weight to “settle” the matter — for if it did, no appeals to natural law or assertion of the complementarity of the anatomy of the sexes (to cite two common examples) would be necessary.

I would like then, to turn to the various arguments advanced, and examine the premises upon which the traditional case is most often made. It is important first of all to tease apart the general from the specific by asking what, specifically, is held to be “wrong” about same-sex relationships, and “right” about mixed-sex relationships.

As a starting point, most of those who oppose same-sex relationships oppose all such relationships, regardless of aspects of fidelity, mutuality, and so on — thus issues rightly and widely recognized as “moral” are held to be irrelevant. At the same time, the conservative view recognizes that these values do exist, and are necessary in a mixed-sex relationship; that is, as commonly put, sexual relationships are appropriate only within the context of a faithful, life-long, loving, mixed-sex marriage. So it appears that the argument from the conservative position is reducible to the irreducible fact of the sex of the couple — the sex difference must be present for a sexual relationship to be capable of being moral, so that even if a same-sex couple possesses all of the other moral values, the lack of sex-difference still renders the relationship immoral.

What this must mean, logically, is that there is some character or quality inherent in the sex-difference that is morally determinative in and of itself, viewed apart from any other aspect. There are two such qualities often advanced as premises:

  • that the purpose of sexuality is procreation, and only heterosexual sex is capable of it;
  • that heterosexual sex represents a joining of two distinct complementaries
In a subsequent post I will address the first assertion.

Tobias Haller BSG

Update: The discussion continues with Pro-Creation.

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

Wrong Reason

In response to the previous post a discussion ensued concerning the difference between Richard Hooker’s conception of reason and of that of the Enlightenment. I suggested that Hooker’s use of the word is broader than that of the Enlightenment philosophers, but actually quite close to a contemporary understanding of reason as “rationality” — the ability to understand, think, and communicate. In short, this is not very far from what people today would call “common sense.” This understanding is far less rigorous than the “right reason” of the Stoic and later philosophers.

“Right reason” in the sense that Hooker uses the term is always contextual. It is not divorced from the world-view in which it finds itself, unlike the Enlightenment’s notion of an autonomous or pure reason. It is a rational faculty that is common to all people (other than infants and the mentally challenged), and it is in large part exercised in that community, rather than in autonomy. As Hooker put it,

Reason is the director of man’s Will by discovering in action what is good. For the Laws of well-doing are the dictates of right Reason. Children, which are not as yet come unto those years whereat they may have; again, innocents, which are excluded by natural defect from ever having; thirdly, madmen, which for the present cannot possibly have the use of right Reason to guide themselves, have for their guide the Reason that guideth other men; which are tutors over them to seek and to procure their good for them. In the rest there is that light of Reason, whereby good may be known from evil, and which discovering the same rightly is termed right. (I.7.4)

The problem with notions of “right reason” in a natural law context arise when defined as “the faculty which allows all people naturally to understand as good that which is good.” This can lead to the “no true Scotsman” fallacy:

No Scotsman drinks Irish whiskey.
But McPherson drinks Irish whiskey.
Ah, but then McPherson’s no true Scotsman!

For example, in the sexuality debate, it leads to the assertion that no rational person could see same-sexuality as good — and that therefore those who make the “choice” in favor of that “lifestyle” do so under the influence of a corrupted culture, or a deficient moral sense (the inability to see as bad that which is bad), or from mere perversity intentionally to do what they know is wrong. The failure here, of course, lies in the fact that those who oppose same-sexuality may equally be influenced by cultural or religious conditioning, a moral blindness (the inability to see as good that which is good) or even a willful perversity that desires wrongfully to control others with whom they disagree.

This is not to say that there may not be many moral principles that can indeed be held in common — but comparing the lists of such moral principles drawn up in various places and times shows that they differ considerably, particularly in the area of sexuality and the structures of family life; and so it is probably best to accept the fact that moral reason is strongly conditioned by culture — undercutting or at least minimizing the idea that a truly universal natural law or reason can be discerned from the examination of actual life.

As a Christian, I prefer (on the authority of the One who gave it) the Summary of the Law and more particularly the Golden Rule as rational rules of thumb for the discernment of morality. I hope to post a longer article on that subject shortly.

Tobias Haller BSG

August 25, 2007

Hooker’s Ladder

Hooker’s Stool or Tripod is one of the great myths of Anglicanism, at least as far as the attribution of it to Richard Hooker. Hooker would have been quite surprised to see some of the explanations of this principle expounded in his name.

The stool or tripod of Scripture, Tradition and Reason, alleged to be Hooker’s, doesn’t stand upright. When one examines Hooker’s actual argument — which extends over many pages — with care, it is plain that his attitude towards these three elements is uneven. First comes Reason, both historically (in time) and naturally (for without Reason we could not understand anything, including the Scripture).

Unto the word of God… we do not add reason as a supplement of any maim or defect therein, but as a necessary instrument, without which we could not reap by the Scripture’s perfection that fruit and benefit which it yieldeth… If knowledge were possible without discourse of natural reason, why should none be found capable thereof but only men; nor men till such time as they come unto ripe and full ability to work by reasonable understanding? — III.viii.10

But Reason can guide people only up to a certain point. “Natural” religion has its limits (at a kind of theism), and it cannot supply the details which only Revelation can provide — the eternal Gospel of salvation in and through Christ. This is where the Church (preceded by God’s chosen people Israel) comes in, with the Revelation and eventual recording of God’s Truth in Scripture. The saving message transmitted by Scripture to us in these latter days could not be discovered by Reason alone, although Reason is essential to understanding the saving message. The two work together in harmony.

Ultimately, when it comes to authority, Tradition doesn’t figure at all in Hooker’s scheme. That’s the surprising thing one discovers in reading Hooker’s Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. Now that the Church has been commissioned as the keeper of Holy Writ, Hooker argues that

what Scripture doth plainly deliver, to that the first place both of credit and obedience is due; the next whereunto is whatsoever any man can necessarily conclude by force of reason; after these the voice of the Church succeedeth. —V.8.1

Tradition, or custom (as he usually calls it), is to be looked to or retained only when no good reason for change can be brought forth. If good reason can be shown, then, Hooker says, away with Tradition! He eloquently states,

Neither councils nor customs, be they never so ancient and so general, can let [i.e., prevent] the Church from taking away that thing which is hurtful to be retained. Where things have been instituted, which being convenient and good at the first, do afterwards in process of time wax otherwise; we make no doubt but that they may be altered, yea, though councils or customs general have received them. —IV.14.5


All things cannot be of ancient continuance, which are expedient and needful for the ordering of spiritual affairs: but the Church being a body which dieth not hath always power, as occasion requireth, no less to ordain that which never was, than to ratify what hath been before... The Church hath authority to establish that for an order at one time, which at another time it may abolish, and in both it may do well... —V.8.1,30

So, as an alternative to the stool or the tripod, I offer the following analogy. Hooker’s so-called stool is really a ladder: the twin legs of which are Scripture and Reason; the rungs are Tradition. When a rung is worn or broken, it may be replaced, but it must always be supported at both ends. And let us not forget that ladders are for climbing; they are not an end in themselves. For at the top of this ladder (upon which sometimes we appear to climb, but more often are being carried in rescue) there awaits us a Wisdom which puts all our human argument to utter shame.

Tobias Haller BSG

August 24, 2007


a thought:

Some of the Primates appear to think the TEC House of Bishops has the kind of authority they think they have.


Of Faith and Theology

It has been said a number of times by a number of people in our current storm that much of the turmoil stems from the failure to articulate a theology concerning same-sex relationships prior to authorizing them, or electing a bishop who happens to live in one.

This seems to me, in addition to reflecting the difference between an idealist and a realist mentality that I sketched out in an earlier post, to place too high a premium on the value of theology — to treat it as primary rather than secondary. (I leave for another time the question of whether this is even properly speaking a theological issue rather than an ethical or moral one. And this is not to deny that I think a good case can be made, and should be made.)

But even in other areas of our life in Christ, I would like to suggest that it is not theology that lies at the heart of the Church, but faith. Faith comes first. Theology then succeeds as an effort to rationalize and understand that which is admittedly beyond our full comprehension. Theology is always asymptotic.

Faith bears a relationship to theology similar to that which exists between π and its enumeration in digital form. To develop the analogy: consider π as standing in for God as God is, and the enumeration in digital form (3.1415...) as the work of theology. π is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. That is what it is — or rather, that is a description of what it is. But its value transcends our capacity to enumerate. Nor can it be constructed with a straightedge and compass — it is beyond both geometry and arithmetic. Which does not mean that people have not sought over the centuries various ways of coming to better and better approximations, all the while realizing that the elusive reality can never be exactly expressed by billions of digits, even though simply represented by that modest lower case Greek letter.

Anselm famously said that theology was “faith seeking understanding.” The faith comes first — faith in the God whose existence we cannot prove, Anselm’s own ontological effort notwithstanding. Faith comes first and then the seeking; and the seeking never quite completely finds. We do not give up on the theological quest, however, as Aquinas was said to have done after his transcendent vision of God — for he felt he had accomplished the goal all his theology was straining after but falling short of grasping. What we realize is that it is our faith — our relationship with God (and perhaps it is as well to remember that π itself is also a relationship rather than a thing!) — that our faith is both the basis for our theology, and the place of repose when our theology has reached its limits. It is not in our understanding that we will find God, but in our Love.

Tobias Haller BSG

Ghost in the Machine

It came as no surprise to me to see that, according to a report in The Church Times, Archbishop Akinola’s recent agonized public letter was apparently ghosted, or at least very heavily edited, by someone other than the Archbishop. That it seems to have been Martyn Minns also comes as no surprise. (He is, after all, the Archbishop’s North American Representative.)

The reason I was not surprised lies in the text itself. Anyone who has heard the Archbishop speak or read transcripts of interviews with him, or any of his doubtlessly authentic writings, could see the difference in style between those texts and the agonized letter immediately. One could easily say the same concerning Archbishop Orombi, whose ghost writer is probably much closer to him than Abuja is to Fairfax. It does not take computer analysis to recognize such differences or similarities in style.

However, it would be quite wrong to suggest that these archbishops are no more than sock puppets for an American conservative point of view. It may be that the holy ghost writers, far from putting words into the mouths of those for whom they perform this not-so-unusual editorial function, are helping to restrain some of the more exuberant language in which the archbishops have been known to indulge, and to help frame their ideas in a form more palatable to a broader audience. So there is no need to raise the specter of colonial imperialism to join the ghost of authorship. Doubtless Akinola and Orombi both agree with the sentiments and ideas expressed above their names, whether the words are their own or not. Theories of verbal inspiration aside, it is ultimately the meaning that counts.

And it is the meaning that is wrong. As I said in my previous post, The Episcopal Church is not going to hell in a handbasket. Erroneous or heretical views may be expressed by individuals from time to time — and this happens among self-styled reasserters at least as often as it does among reappraisers, and in churches other than The Episcopal Church. But in spite of the publicity — and book sales — attendant on these fringe episodes, they remain precisely that — the reflections of a “heretic fringe.” There is no doubt some overlap between those who favor a revised understanding of the moral status of same-sexuality with those who embrace the odd heretical view; but there is also significant overlap between those who are opposed to such a revision and those who embrace heretical views.

For example, some years ago in the early stages of discussion on sexuality, the House of Bishops Theology Committee issued a document that stated that the divine image in humanity is incomplete without both male and female. (Karl Barth and John Paul II both made similar statements in their arguments against same-sexuality.) This erroneous idea contradicts the doctrine of the Incarnation, which asserts that the divine image in humanity is complete in Jesus Christ, and present in every human being. (The Angelic Doctor addressed this error at I.Q93.6.) It should serve as a warning to all concerned to see how far from orthodoxy some can wander — apparently without noticing it — in their efforts to “reassert” the church’s tradition on sexuality.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter to me where bad ideas come from — or good ones for that matter. Whether the words come from Abuja or Alexandria, from the Vatican or Cape Town — or even from the Bronx! — their meaning and significance must be weighed for their concordance with the heart of the gospel as revealed in Jesus Christ, and in accordance with his teaching. He is the standard of Truth against which all our theories must be tested.

Tobias Haller BSG

August 22, 2007

Why Others Stand As Well

In an interview entitled, “Why We Stand,” published on the web site of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, former church history professor the Rev. Dr. Leslie Fairfield, describes his view of the present division in The Episcopal Church. In doing so, he presents a fair view of his own faith position, but paints a barely recognizable picture of those with whom he disagrees. As one of those, I would like to take this opportunity to offer an alternative portrayal.

Fairfield dates the origin of our present division into “opposing camps” to the early 19th century, and the introduction of biblical criticism — with its scholarly examination of Scripture, leading to conclusions that challenged ideas such as Moses’ authorship of the Pentateuch, and developed theories about how the Gospels were composed. However, he might as easily have traced this stream of critical thinking back to the time of the Enlightenment, or even earlier to the Renaissance, when thinkers such as Erasmus began to grapple with the text of Scripture in critical and scholarly ways. Which is not to say that even earlier scholastics and theologians of the Patristic era did not also engage in a critical examination of the texts, using the reasonable tools at their disposal to harvest the benefit of close inspection. The church has been wrestling with Scriptures for as long as those texts have been in its keeping.

Fairfield, however, loses this long historical view of the church’s theological richness, and instead focuses on what he calls “Modernism.” Unfortunately, he then proceeds to attribute to this movement a whole range of opinions (as “logical conclusions”) that few, if any, of those who consider themselves progressive would think either logical or defensible.

Fairfield produces Bishop James Pike — last century’s favorite whipping boy — but fails to acknowledge the origins of Pike’s doubts in his own personal loss, and the extent to which Pike was seen as a peripheral and tragic figure, allowed to keep his seat in the House of Bishops more out of charity than conviction. Bishop Pike no more represented the mainstream of Episcopal thought then than Bishop Spong does now.

On the contrary — speaking for myself but knowing I represent a goodly number of those tagged “re-appraisers” — I can affirm each and every statement that Fairfield describes as “Classical Biblical and Anglican theology” and reject the doctrines he attributes to Modernism.

It is often said that you can only have a reasonable discussion with those with whom you disagree when you can state the opposite side’s case in language they recognize and affirm. Fairfield doesn’t really want to engage in dialogue, however. He already thinks he has the Truth sown up, and any who disagree with him are beyond the pale. He feels “there is no halfway point... between these two opposing religions” — and so has created not simply a straw man but a straw church to assail, rather than a reasonable articulation of the opposite side with which intelligent debate might be undertaken. This is tragic, in that it obscures the things about which we really do disagree — which have little or nothing to do with his caricature of Modernism, in which few progressive Episcopalians will recognize themselves portrayed.

Rather, we will stand upon Christ’s Gospel — which teaches us that we are to love God and our neighbor as ourselves; which means, in part, to give to every human being the respect and dignity worthy of one who bears the image of God; to take the Scriptures seriously and as authoritative indications of God’s will — but as inspired, not dictated, and requiring the employment of the wealth of rational and spiritual tools at our disposal in order to, as Richard Hooker said, “reap by the Scripture’s perfection that fruit and benefit which it yieldeth.”

Here we stand — ready to worship the One God — in Trinity of Persons, Incarnate in Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world — with any who will stand with us on the basis of this Faith.

Tobias Haller BSG

This essay appeared in somewhat different form at Lionel Deimel's website.

August 13, 2007


Off for a brief "vacance" and a time of limited interneting. Peace to all in the meantime...

August 10, 2007

As we have always taught...

My brothers, you descendants of Abraham’s family, and others who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent. Because the residents of Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize him or understand the words of the prophets that are read every sabbath, they fulfilled those words by condemning him. Even though they found no cause for a sentence of death, they asked Pilate to have him killed. When they had carried out everything that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead; and for many days he appeared to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, and they are now his witnesses to the people. And we bring you the good news that what God promised to our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” As to his raising him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, “I will give you the holy promises made to David.” Therefore he has also said in another psalm, “You will not let your Holy One experience corruption.” For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, died, was laid beside his ancestors, and experienced corruption; but he whom God raised up experienced no corruption. Let it be known to you therefore, my brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you; by this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. Beware, therefore, that what the prophets said does not happen to you: “Look, you scoffers! Be amazed and perish, for in your days I am doing a work, a work that you will never believe, even if someone tells you.” (Acts 13:26-41)

This passage from the early history of the church is a reminder of several things:

  • Those in the position to understand the scriptures sometimes don’t, and those with the authority to interpret them are sometimes wrong.
  • Sometimes those who are sure they are doing God’s will are working at cross-purposes with God.
  • God still somehow makes the best of things. Sometimes these things are amazing and completely unexpected and unbelievable.
  • So God takes a long time to do so — from a human perspective. (“A thousand ages in thy sight are like an evening gone...”) Even though David’s words had been sung for fully a thousand years, they only came to realization in Christ, and then were seen (by those with faith to believe) to mean something different from what people thought they meant all along. Much of the world still rejects this interpretation, even after 2,000 more years.
  • Jesus came to bring liberation from sin, which obedience to the law of Moses could not accomplish.
  • This too may take a long time to sink in.
  • There is abundant evidence to show that the church has changed, developed, and evolved in many of its teachings over time, not just on moral questions but on doctrine. (A clear articulation of the Trinity and the Incarnation took about 400 years. The canon of Scripture itself remains unsettled to this day between the various branches of Christendom. There are many acceptable theories concerning the Atonement.)
  • Scoffing is not an appropriate response to the possibility of a new understanding of God’s purpose or plan. A humility that admits one may be mistaken, even after having believed something to be true for a long time, or with great personal conviction based on one’s own experience, is advisable.
  • We don’t have all the answers. God does. And even though God has revealed much, we still dare not claim to have understood perfectly — our knowledge is as partial as our love is imperfect.
  • It appears there is a relationship between our ability to love one another and our ability to understand one another.
  • God commanded the former. Perhaps we should work on that as a way to accomplish the latter.

Tobias Haller BSG

Friday Cat Blogging

The late Oxford Deodatus contemplating assisting in the preparation of the calendar, but also concerned about the avian distractions on the balcony.

August 7, 2007

Vetting the Problem

Over at the Anglican Communion Institute Inc. website, a rather strange posting has appeared. "Why Theology Should Precede Change" by a Dr. Jacqueline J. Keenan, critiques "To Set Our Hope On Christ" for relying on outdated science in its comments on same-sexuality.

First of all, I second Dylan's observation that Keenan's paper has nothing to do with theology. Second, and more importantly, it musters an array of papers which do not in fact completely counter what little "To Set Our Hope On Christ" actually says about the state of science:

Altogether, contemporary studies indicate that same-sex affection has a genetic-biological basis which is shaped in interaction with psycho-social and cultural-historical factors. Sexual orientation remains relatively fixed and generally not subject to change. [2.22]

Nothing Keenan presents directly counters or refutes either of these carefully nuanced statements. Yes, there have been some more twin studies, and all they show is that there appears to be some biological or genetic basis, and that rearing and upbringing very likely have a strong influence on the high correlation (far higher than random) of twinship and sexual orientation. That is more or less what the first sentence says. Then the fact that adolescent boys often appear to go through a same-sex "phase" but later become exclusively heterosexual (or so they claim...) hardly should surprise anyone. Or that women's sexuality appears to be more "fluid" than men's. After all, just how strong are those social pressures? The fact remains that few people who seek to change their sexual orientation are able to do so; even if some percentage of the poplulation find their sexual orientation changing of its own accord.

More importantly, however, the major questions TSOHOC raises have little or nothing to do with the etiology of homosexual orientation; which, as any moralist will tell you, is actually irrelevant to the subject.

The only thing science appears to be telling us that has any relevance at all, is that same-sex orientation appears to be a universal and natural part of the human condition; that is, that a certain percentage (whether 1%, 10% or 50%) of all people have such an orientation; and that therefore such orientation is not, in and of itself, "unnatural." Sexual orientation, whether towards the same or different sex, it is not arbitrarily and consciously "chosen."

The theological or moral question -- Whether same-sex relationships are morally good or not -- is not one for medical doctors or psychologists, or veterinarians, to rule upon.

Tobias Haller BSG

August 6, 2007

More on Idealism and Realism

Some clarifications on the foregoing...

I didn't intend the schema to categorize the "liberals" as the "realists" and "conservatives" as "idealists" -- the situation is much more complicated, and I did not intend this as an outline of the two surmised "camps." There are progressives and conservatives among those who favor the development of a covenant, for example, and I'd suggest they all tend towards idealism. I find myself (a progressive at heart) torn from side to side as I go down the list, and on a number of points don't find my own view represented at all.

I suppose I should have made the caveats in the opening paragraphs more emphatic, as I find that progressives are often quite as idealistic (or absolutist) in their own way and to their own ends as conservatives. So I did not mean this to be a binary presentation at all, but rather a kind of chart to the field, which includes a lot of variety, and is far from exhausting all possibilities.

For example, the reason I assign Kendall Harmon's terms as I do isn't because I think all the people who might call themselves "reasserters" in a binary choice are idealists, but because the idea of reassertion comes from an idealist sensibility (i.e., the Truth has been revealed and only needs to be expressed anew in each age) as opposed to the "reappraiser" notion that the transcendent Truth itself is only asymptotically apprehended. This perhaps reflects the limitations on these labels themselves. I am actually far less interested in the labels than in the world-view by which the line of thought is informed.

Hope this clarifies what I was trying to think through, which is the ways in which idealism and realism can be found in many different human approaches to many different things.

Idealist and Realist

It has been said that there are two groups of people in the world: those who divide people into two groups and those who don’t. I’ve been reflecting for a time on some of the issues facing The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, and it seems to me that it is possible to group the responses to these issues under convenient — if inaccurate — headings.

Many who favor the development of a covenant for the Anglican Communion appear to me to be taking an idealist approach: they are describing a church structure that does not yet exist but which they feel sure should exist for the good of the Church. Many, who are concerned about the development of such a covenant, if not entirely opposed to it, seem to be taking a more realist approach: describing present church structures in an effort to determine where the difficulties have arisen. As my friend *Christopher describes it, it is a difference between prescription and description.

It occurred to me that while it is hard to define these categories in definitive ways, it might be possible to cast a broader net to communicate the kinds of differences in approach I am trying to describe.

[Added note: My effort here is not to create categories into which individuals might fit, but rather look at how idealism and realism are expressed in many and various ways in different contexts. An individual person might be very idealistic about her politics, but intensely pragmatic about childrearing. More importantly, I do not mean the following categories to reflect directly the categories "liberal" and "conservative." People on both sides of the ecclesiastical divide can be equally idealistic or realistic in various ways.]

Let me begin with a specific example and then provide an attempt at a “cloud of witnesses” in which I might hope to surround the area in which I think the categories might become clearer.

Measures Taken

Bertolt Brecht’s play, The Measures Taken, charts the course of a Communist cell working in prerevolutionary China. I composed music for a production of this play when I was in college, and what fascinated me about the play was its objectivity: both ardent socialists and fervent Republicans could point to it and say: yes, that’s what communism is all about. [In keeping with my comment above, note that the play is about Communism, and the tension between idealism and realism in that context. An idealist Christian is very different from an idealist Communist!]

The play describes the problems that arise when one of the cell members, the Young Comrade, can’t seem to grasp the point of the cell’s purpose: to promote the revolution. The Young Comrade instead spends his time trying to help individual people in their misery. For example, in one scene set on the banks of the canal, the cell is sent in to agitate the barge-pullers into forming a union to demand better wages and, more importantly, shoes that will help them keep their footing better in the muddy banks. The Young Comrade, taking pity on the workers, instead of agitating them, gathers up rocks from the hillside and runs about putting them under the feet of the barge-pullers to keep them from slipping and falling. This completely undercuts the cell’s efforts and they are forced to move on to their next effort.

It is interesting to reflect on this in light of the issues before us. In the following chart I’ve attempted to list some “off the top of my head” reactions. Others may think I have listed things exactly opposite to the way they should be. Some may find this a frivolous exercise; but I hope it might hold a mirror up both for myself and others in the present discussions to assist in seeing why it may be that we can come to such different conclusions when faced with the same situation. And so, in no particular order, here are some various distinctions between idealism and realism in a number of different areas of human endeavor.







ecclesiastical structure

hierarchical, oligarchic

communitarian, conciliar








literal revelation

contextual reception










historical method

retrojection of present onto past

explanation of present from past






situational or utilitarian




social model









prevailing fault

ignoring evidence

misinterpreting evidence

opt/pessimism test

“Glass is half empty”

“This is a glass containing half of its capacity.”

chief virtues

fortitude, hope

prudence, charity

notable vice



heretical tendency






mode of operation






k-harmonian category









metaphorical stance



theological school



the church

“founded on a rock”

“a pilgrim people”


big picture





creation story

genesis 1

genesis 2

christ event



new testament book



spanish painter

el greco





With a very large FWIW...

Tobias Haller BSG

August 4, 2007

The Bridge Spider

Crossing the pond’s bridge in the breezy morning
I saw a glint of sunlight suspended in
the air — a single strand of spider’s silk
tethered at my end to the bridge’s base
but pointing off towards the trees across
the windblown pond, as straight as any sunbeam.

I could not see the other end on which
the spider drifted on the shifting wind,
though moving on the bridge I tried to catch
the sun’s reflection on that silken beam.

The wind was fresh and as it shifted course
it blew the unseen spider side to side
above the pond — the only sign of this
the shifting angle of the shining silk
tethered at my end to the bridge’s base.

The spider did not know where it was going —
only the opportunity of the wind,
the tether of its silk, the chance of landfall
on the farther shore — or of watery
failure. But it trusted in the wind.

Help me, Lord, to trust your Spirit, which
has borne me up thus far, to thank you for
the gift of skill to spin my course. I know
not where you send me, but I trust the wind.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


August 3, 2007

The Ideal and the Real

Over at Betwixt and Between, *Christopher has been continuing to make wise observations about our present crisis, and I am continuing to think more on this as well. (Danger, Will Robinson, danger!)

In looking over some of my past thoughts on the subject, I came across the following, written in 1988, and it seems to be well relevant to the present situation.

In the Oath of Conformity the ordinand promises to engage to conform to the "doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church" -- not some idealized holy, catholic, and apostolic church, but the real, tangible, institutional Episcopal Church. In much the same way the parties who join in marriage promise to remain faithful not to some ideal married state, but to each other, in the real, tangible, though sometimes flawed union of "for better, for worse." Obedience to discipline only when you agree with it is rather like a marriage of convenience.

As I say, I will continue to reflect on what I am seeing as more and more a clash between idealists (who, ironically, in their ideal efforts bypass the real discipline at a local level in favor of a yet-to-be-constituted authority at some "superior" level) and realists, in the divergent ways of pre/proscription and description.

Tobias Haller BSG

August 2, 2007

Geographical Reality

In response to my previous post, Rick Allen has left a thoughtful comment which I think deserves a more prominent response. He asks

Why [is] discipline...appropriate at the diocesan and provincial levels, but not at the level of the communion. What is it about the unit of the "Nation" that should make it independent of the norms of the whole, and be immune from types of uniformity which the provinces are competent to legislate for their dioceses?

This question conveniently refocuses us on the whole issue of the distinction between "what is" and "what [some think] ought to be." The present fact is that in the Anglican Communion the highest judicatory or basic unit is the province (or to use the old and somewhat inaccurate language, "national or particular church." This is inaccurate to the extent that some churches, such as TEC still have some international jurisdiction as the result of missionary or colonial history.)

This principle is actually quite traditional, and well noted in the canons of the Ecumenical Councils. Of course, just because it is a tradition doesn't mean it is correct. It might at first glance seem to be a relic of an earlier time in which people didn't travel, and there were no means of communication faster than a letter carried by horseback.

But ask yourself, to what extent are the current problems in the Anglican Communion a result of a clash of cultures -- a clash made possible by those new means of travel and communication, between cultures quite different in different nations in terms of their attitudes? To what extent, particularly with regard to sexuality, are we seeing the differences between cultures that have embraced engagement with the findings of social and biological science (as well as previously ignored portions of the tradition), as opposed to those which are refusing to acknowledge that the church may be as mistaken about sexuality as it was about cosmology (see Case of Galileo, et al.)? And to what extent are these differences geographically delineated? Surely it is no accident that the term "Global South" has been adopted -- nor that conservatism in the US is also to a large extent geographically distributed.

So the idea of a coalition of national churches may be arbitrary, but it is what we are. It is out of what is that what will be must come.

Tobias Haller BSG

August 1, 2007

Plus ça change

There is an old saying about going away for a week and returning to find a changed world. Having been away for a week I find, upon my return, not so much a change as a continuation. Still, a few incidents have spiked above the background and I’d like to comment on them here.

The Church as Social Network

The Anglican Communion Network held a meeting at which it adopted a number of statements, most of them in the “continuation” mode as opposed to that of “change.” Part of that continuation is the gradual dis-entanglement of the Network from what its Moderator seems to be coming to regard as rather a lost cause. And that is what until now has been known as the Anglican Communion — the one with the Archbishop of Canterbury as first among equals. Protestations notwithstanding, the Network seems to be heading, along with the “Global South” towards the creation of a new and alternative Communion, no longer centered on Canterbury.

This has led one long time member of the Network, Dr. Ephraim Radner, to sever his relationship with it. I am not at all surprised, other than by how long it took Dr. Radner to see which way this particular convoy was heading. Dr. Radner, with whom I disagree on much but with whom I have had a number of helpful conversations over the years, represents what the hard-liners in the Network call the “Communion conservative” point of view. I suppose that I should call myself a “Communion progressive.” That is to say, both he and I see the Anglican Communion — in its historical form centered on Canterbury — as a gift to the church that is well worth preserving, imperfect and errant though it be. The Network seems instead to have adopted the Pure Society model for the church, in which unity is preserved only through allegiance to an agreed-upon and determinable truth.

A number of things strike me about this distinction. Classical Anglicanism, in the Elizabethan Settlement, represented comprehension rather than compromise: a capacity for sometimes strongly divergent views to be accommodated within a single household. Sometimes, as in the case of Eucharistic doctrine, this was managed by including opposing theories in equal measure. Sometimes, as with the doctrine of the Atonement, it was achieved by not singling out any one explanation for special recognition. Ultimately, as in the Lambeth Quadrilateral, a sense of commonality was achieved through a summary rather than a point by point exhaustive confessional list. (We have our Lord’s own example for the wisdom of this course, in the Summary of the Law as opposed to its detailed enumeration.) Rather like the clouds of quantum physics, the truth we proclaim is not yet collapsed into particular form, but is held to exist somewhere within the bounds the church has marked out as most probable. Our knowledge is incomplete, but sufficient.

The crucible of pluralism

It also strikes me that we are seeing, in the development of the Network, the final collapse of a geographical rootedness to the church. We are entering the world of the virtual church, the Church of the Five Faves, the church not of geographical and terrestrial space, but of affinity: Ecclesiastical MySpace.

It should not come as a surprise that this is happening in America. Although the Netherlands should be recognized as the antecedent for Christian pluralism, it was in America that disestablishment and separation of church and state were not only held to be foundational in principle, but gave to the adherents of the various sects all of the elbow room that Manifest Destiny could provide. As the preface to the first American Book of Common Prayer noted:

But when in the course of Divine Providence, these American States became independent with respect to civil Government, their ecclesiastical independence was necessarily included; and the different religious denominations of Christians in these States were left at full and equal liberty to model and organize their respective Churches, and forms of worship, and discipline, in such a manner as they might judge most convenient for their future prosperity...

Many of us, in the midst of this swirl of possibilities, have chosen to seek to hold to that earlier vision of Anglican comprehensiveness as opposed to sectarian divisiveness. We have seen the Anglican Communion as a way to remain united in essentials while allowing a tolerable variety on matters about which a complete consensus has either ceased to exist or has not yet emerged.

I believe that this Anglican Communion — the fellowship of autonomous churches in communion with the See of Canterbury — will continue to exist.

It will continue, but it will be changed.

Some who have been part of this Anglican Communion until now have already made it clear they see a different future for themselves. As they are not forsaking Christ, but only this fellowship, I can wish them Godspeed. They are not lost; merely detached. Time will tell if these branches will be grafted onto other stocks, gathered into a bundle, or planted separately, where they may thrive — or not. They may eventually be grafted back to the stock that gave them life. Whatever the future, let us not cease to be open to the possibility of restoration, and a vision of unity in variety that is truly Anglican.

Tobias Haller BSG

See the follow-up post for further discussion in addtion to the comments below.