April 30, 2008

Highest Degree of Communion Possible...

... before it melts

The Archbishop of Canterbury's office has sent an e-mail to Bishop Robinson telling him he won't be allowed to preach or exercise priestly ministry in England. This is not the first time such admonitions have been issued. Though the part about preaching seems a tad dodgy canonically, as far as priestly ministry goes, this is all in keeping with the English rules on such things. As an openly gay and partnered person, Gene could not be ordained to the priesthood in the Church of England under its current laws. (Of course, it is the openness and honesty that is the problem here; Lord knows there are many gay partnered clergy, and even a few bishops, gracing C of E pulpits and sanctuaries; and when I say, "Lord knows," I really mean He does, and I don't know who these folk think they are fooling.) In any case, that's why he would not be allowed to function as a priest at present. He is in much the same position women priests from abroad were in before the C of E permitted the ordination of women to the priesthood.

Some have found Rowan's action to be harsh and unnecessary. Others have asked about how doing this in an e-mail tallies with the English equivalent of Miss Manners. It does seem that Rowan is handling the situation ham-handedly -- and, I might add, in a way that will actually serve the progressive cause and create a myriad of press opportunities and reports.

Hmmm... Perhaps not so ham-handed after all?... What if Rowan is just letting things play out as they will, and allow the wrong to condemn itself, the absentees to absent themselves, those who are willing to assemble to assemble, and find a way forward? Perhaps Rowan is wise after all to know that those who will not sit at table, and eventually walk away from it, weren't interested in it in the first place. Could Rowan be exercising the wisdom of the willow?

In the long run, perhaps the one showing how to maintain the highest degree of communion possible — putting up with exclusion and denigration, yet offering to do as much as he can in patience and civility and fellowship — is Gene Robinson. He is modeling how the Communion ought to work, in willingness to engage with those who would seek to expel him from it. He is showing the way to true Communion modeled on Jesus' teaching not to judge others. Hopefully, before it melts.

Tobias Haller BSG


R said...


As always, you cut through the smoke to God's grace, which is at work here, with or without ++Rowan's help!

And, as expected, it is Gene who shows the most grace. Having endured what he has to endure, he seems to understand this grace better than do many of us -- myself included.

Cany said...

I don't know if Rowan's "ham-handedness" is willow or not... but what I do think is that this decision will tip the cart, spill the apples, and those apples are headed towards Gene.

Intentional or not, I think this can only benefit Gene.

Repeatedly, Gene is slapped by Rowan and displays grace in his increased strength. I agree with Tobias: more grace than I am capable of understanding.

This is incredibly difficult to watch and heartbreaking.

Marshall Scott said...

I have thought (and have suggested elsewhere) that Archbishop Williams is playing "cowboy poker;" and those who stay longest at the table will ultimately win, even though it may well be bruising in the process.

I think, too, that much of this is for his Church of England constituency more than anyone else; for whether or not he can be held responsible for division in the Communion, he is certainly directly responsible for events in England. I don't agree with his decision, but can appreciate that he might well feel such a bind.

Anonymous said...

While +Gene is bearing witness in the marketplace at the conference I hope he remembers to wear his bulletproof vest. This kind of issue can attract unbalanced people bent on violence. I'm sure he knows that.

Richard in Illinois

Jan said...

I appreciate your insight. I am continually impressed with Gene Robinson.

Anonymous said...

My experience of the C of E is very limited, having visited only three parishes there. Serving at one, however, was as openly gay a priest as ever I have met here in the US, and his partner was ringing the church bells as we entered! So while Rowan's gambit may indeed be just that, the C of E's prohibitions are not being uniformly applied in England, as far as I have seen, and to claim otherwise is extremely disingenuous.

Erika Baker said...

always so even handed, I admire that!
But... wouldn't ++Rowan have given a better and clearer message if he had allowed Gene to preach but not the celebrate the Eucharist? He might really have pushed the boat out and explained that CoE current laws make this impossible.

I would still like to believe that he doesn't show indirect preference for the conservatives, but it's getting harder.

June Butler said...

Could Rowan be exercising the wisdom of the willow?

Perhaps, but does the end justify the means? Even if Rowan is exercising the wisdom of the willow, he doesn't come out looking good. Truly, I don't see an end game for him except resignation. By the time he's done with exercising his wisdom, how will he hold his head up? What will he say? "I meant it all for good. See. Here's what I intended." I don't think that will fly.

Anonymous said...

We have guest lay preachers in the US. Occasionally we have guest ordained preachers from other denominations (beyond ELCA). And we have lay leaders of Christian education classes. Does England do the same?


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the additional thoughts. It may be, maybe just may be, that Rowan is playing by the game, "the way to show that rules are bad is to show what happens when you enforce them." By playing the game as he has, most of the hard-core troublemakers will not be at Lambeth, which I see as a good and wholesome thing, as no one has excluded them, but they have held themselves aside due to the presence of others.

As to how he comes out of it at the end, Rowan may actually not be worried about what people say about him, but sincerely committed to doing what he thinks is right. This may well be the wisdom of martydom -- the cross that the Greeks see as folly and the Jews as a scandal.

Strangely, the film Priest just popped into my head. The main character certainly didn't follow the rules about his own sexual behavior, but one of the fascinating sub-plots is how his fidelity to the sacred seal of the confessional leads to an ultimate resolution -- and the only person who seems capable of forgiving him is the abused child.

It seems to me that Gene's forgiveness and compassion in this situation is a marker of respect for the Archbishop's difficult situation. As a mindgame -- where would we be if Rowan had shown the ill grace to play the knee-jerk liberal to the extent that Carey played the hide-bound conservative (against all propriety of office)? Of course, we'll never know; but as I survey the present scene I find that most of the Communion is hanging together in such a way that the real listening process has a chance of happening -- and those who were not of a mind to listen have walled themselves off in what will soon become a dead-end; without anyone having had to break open a cask of Amontillado.