November 30, 2008

Advent Calendar from Washington

The Diocese of Washington has created an online Advent Calendar for your edification. It is available in the Spirituality section of the diocesan website. Enjoy.

November 28, 2008

How Provincial (?)

The Church Times reports on the scheduled Wednesday unveiling of the Anglican Church of North America as a new province. The question, of course is, province of what? As noted in the comments at Thinking Anglicans, until someone or other declares it a province, it is just a collection of individual bishops, clergy and laity, formed into whatever subdivisions they imagine helpful to the existence of a church. Contrary to the assertion, the portions of former Episcopal Dioceses in this mix have all left behind the still-functioning, though diminished and in some cases needing restructuring, dioceses of The Episcopal Church. Also included are a number of groups that left TEC in earlier generations, some more than a century ago (The Reformed Episcopal Church), now coalesced in the Common Cause Partners. (One can be forgiven, in the midst of all of these associations, for thinking of the scene in Life of Brian where distinctions have to be made between the various splintering factions attempting to subvert Roman rule.) The new "emergent" province is part of a larger constellation that calls itself the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans — which includes a broad collection of entities and individuals around the world.

I have noted that it is unlikely the "Anglican Church in North America" will be recognized by Canterbury -- and they seem to have partaken of preemptive sour-grape-consumption in saying already, in the GAFCON Jerusalem Declaration, that they don't need Canterbury to be Anglican. But surely, as observed at TA, they need to be recognized by somebody if they are to be a Province, rather than a free-floating exercise in autonomous ecclesiarchitecture. For provinces are always provinces of; to use a Hebrew language analogy, a Province is always in the construct state, the state of being possessed by or related to some other entity.

So, at present it is best to describe it as part of a looser assemblage, a Fellowship. One assumes that word was chosen with care by the Fellowship of Confessing Anglican folks, and in the knowledge that that is how the Anglican Communion (centered on Canterbury) describes itself. So, it seems to me, preparations are already afoot, should a "Province" not be recognized by Canterbury, to form a new Acantuarian Anglican Communion altogether. And I think perhaps some, even of the most separatist-leaning of the present Anglican Communion provinces in the Global South, may wish to maintain a foothold in both Communions. Or am I misreading the tea-leaves.

Whatever the case, they had best be reminded of the danger of attempting to board a vessel while keeping one foot still firmly planted on land.

Tobias Haller BSG

November 26, 2008

Act of Toleration

One of the most common charges leveled at “progressives” or “liberals” when they make any criticism of, or raise any objection against, a “conservative” or “reactionary” is that they are being hypocritically intolerant or exclusive. This happened here in a comment left on one of my earlier posts. This accusation of viciousness gives me the opportunity to make a number of observations on the matter of vice and virtue.

First, tolerance is, properly speaking, not a virtue but a political strategy or policy. Tolerance, in this political sense, is the willingness to allow others to express opinions or hold beliefs with which one (or the majority) disagrees. Thus the Church of England eventually came to tolerate the practice of Roman Catholicism, without in any way affirming it.

Second, there is a difference between toleration of the right to hold an opinion or belief, and any suggestion that this need extend to action. Thus, I am perfectly tolerant of the opinions of Bishop Duncan, Iker, &c., but I do not approve of those of their actions which I believe to be illegal under Canon law.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, tolerance is not a religious virtue, though it may call upon the exercise of some of those virtues, such as patience and fortitude, as well as charity. But I do not expect the Roman Catholic Church or The Episcopal Church to be tolerant of those who wish to remain members while teaching things at variance with their corporate beliefs. Thus, while it may be intolerant of the Pope to discipline a Jesuit for teaching something at odds with the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, he is well within his rights to do so. The same goes for The Episcopal Church, though this authority is very rarely exercised. I would thus say that TEC is relatively more “tolerant” of the expression of contrary opinions than is the RCC; that is, we rarely discipline clergy merely for holding or even teaching a contrary opinion, at least if it stops short of action such as attempting to lead a parish or diocese into secession.

Fourth, the fact that one tolerates an opinion need not mean that one agrees with it, nor, on the contrary, does disagreeing with an opinion — even strongly — mean that one is intolerant. Toleration has to do with people’s rights to have opinions, not to be right.

Thus I can strongly disagree with Duncan and Iker without being intolerant of them; but at the same time I do not have to tolerate actions I believe to be illegal.

Which brings me to the whole idea of inclusivity. Someone once said that anything can be tolerated but intolerance — but I’m not sure that is true. As I note, the English eventually came to tolerate the existence of a relatively intolerant body, the Roman Catholic Church, as long as its intolerance was directed towards the discipline of its own members — a thing they have every right to do; that is, the Roman Catholic Church does not have to put up with (i.e., tolerate) its clergy teaching doctrines at odds with the magisterium.

The same can be said of inclusivity — which I also do not see as a virtue in and of itself, though, like toleration it may call upon the exercise of real virtues. Obviously it is difficult to include within any body a person set upon the overthrow of that body — this is why the political freedoms granted to Americans stop short of any right to foment revolution or insurrection.

It is quite true that many speak of inclusiveness as if it were a virtue in and of itself. I do not accept that theory. The same goes for tolerance. Neither of these things requires or implies agreement with what the one being tolerated or included thinks or says. It is neither intolerant nor exclusive sharply to critique any notion advanced or position argued. And if a state, or a church, is required to exercise discipline when an opinion or a teaching goes beyond the pale into insurrection or disobedience, well, the state or church has the right no longer to tolerate the behavior, and to exclude the member.

So, I do not disagree with the Roman Catholic Church, or the Mormons, or the more conservative segment of TEC, for example, for being “intolerant” or “exclusive” — they have every right to be so! However, I think they are wrong — and I have every right to critique them in the strongest language — though, I think, I am really rather forbearing in my tone. Of course, I could be wrong on this as well.

Tobias Haller BSG

November 25, 2008

A Push or a Caution

Episcopal Café reports that Ruth Gledhill of the Times has scooped a story on the continuing saga of the dis-integrating Anglican Communion. It seems the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council is thinking about some way to discipline the Church of the Southern Cone for its adventures in North America, about which I've commented a number of times.

Whether this action will be taken as the caution it should be, and throw cold water upon the December 3rd unveiling of the New Improved North American Province, or simply push the separatists over the edge remains to be seen. What we have already seen is a tendency to be willing to cross borders, real and virtual.

Tobias Haller BSG

UPDATE: Episcopal News Service questions the accuracy of the "leak" -- at least so far as the meeting has progressed. Ah, Ruth, whither thou goest, I think I will not go. Again.

Tilting at the Windmills of His Mind

As has been amply reported, Bishop Iker of Fort Worth has been inhibited by the Presiding Bishop (following the due canonical process on the recommendation of the review committee and with the consent of the three senior bishops) for having abandoned "the communion of this Church" — "this Church" of course referring, as it always does in our Canons, to The Episcopal Church.

Surely there can be no doubt that Iker is out of communion with TEC — I mean, isn't that the point of removing all references to TEC from the diocesan constitution, and joining the Southern Cone? That the Church of the SC is a member of the Anglican Communion (for now) is irrelevant to the abandonment canon, since it refers not to the Anglican Communion, but to communion with TEC. (There can be churches in Communion with TEC, or the C of E for that matter, that are not part of the Anglican Communion, such as the ELCA in our case. Communion is not transitive, as anyone who has been involved in ecumenical discussion well knows.)

The Bishop and Standing Committee of what still calls itself "The Episcopal Diocese of Forth Worth" has issued a response to the PB's action. They make a good deal of fuss about the inhibition, which, as they rightly note, is of no actual effect to the extent that Jack has already hit the road (virtually, not in actuality, as he is still geographically in Fort Worth, not the Southern Cone.) All the inhibition actually states is that Iker is not to execute any episcopal functions in The Episcopal Church. Iker makes much of his indignation, but one wonders why, if he has no intention of trying to pretend to be still the bishop of a diocese of The Episcopal Church.

The strangest part of the FW response, to my mind, is the closing word of the Standing Committee. They accuse the Presiding Bishop of "border crossing." Clearly the "borders" involved here are the mental borders of allegiance, not the geographical borders of this earth, or the canonical borders of the provinces of the Churches of the Anglican Communion. It has already been noted that the Church of the Southern Cone is in express violation of its own Canons in attempting to take extraterritorial dioceses under its wings. And as is well established, there is no provision in the Constitution and Canons of TEC to allow a domestic diocese to become independent of this Church once it has entered into union with it. Even missionary and overseas dioceses of TEC can only become independent with the consent of the General Convention. And bishops cannot "resign" from the House of Bishops without the consent of that House. To think that a domestic diocese can simply, motu proprio secede from The Episcopal Church is an exercise in cowboy fantasy.

But then again, the whole thing is rather fantastic, isn't it?

Tobias Haller BSG

November 24, 2008

Bibliomancy 101

Over at Facebook — and yes, I have an account, and find it restful to chat with folks and see what's a-doing, but I don't spend my life in an alternate reality (unless you count the Church) — Bob Griffith posted a game involving taking the book nearest you, opening it to page p, and then counting sentences and reporting on the text of the nth sentence. I did so, the nearest book at hand being the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (the old edition). And here is what met my eye:

In 787, Lichfield was made an archbishopric, but the arrangement lasted for only sixteen years.

I am not into bibliomancy or even any other form of artificially assisted prophecy — I have enough trouble dealing with all those sycamore trees — but I can't help but wonder if this could be prophetic of the GAFCON New Anglican Province's fate?

— Tobias

The Dividing Line, A Sermon

Saint James Fordham • Proper 29a • Tobias Haller BSG

When the Son of Man comes in his glory… he will separate people from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

Someone once said that the world is divided into two sorts of people: the sorts of people who divide the world into two sorts of people, and those who don’t. Well, it would seem from today’s readings that the Son of Man, when he comes in power and great glory, will turn out to be exactly the sort of person who divides the world into two sorts of people: those who are blessed by his Father, and those who are accursed. There is no middle ground, no room for compromise, and no appeal. This is nothing other than the Last Judgment...

Read or listen to it all. (Please forgive the occasional cough on the audio; I was recovering from a chest cold!)

November 22, 2008

Reminder about the Communion

As the Duncanian coalition of former Episcopalians and never-were Episcopalians coalesces or congeals into form in a few weeks, they appear to remain hopeful that whatever they are will be recognized as a new Province of the Anglican Communion.

This is unlikely, for two reasons.

First, one would assume that to be a member of the Anglican Communion one needs to be in communion with the Church of England. That is determined, according to English Canon Law, jointly by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the two English Primates.

Second, to be listed on the schedule of Churches or Provinces that are part of the Anglican Consultative Council requires an affirmative vote of the Council and the assent of two-thirds of the Primates of the already existing member Churches or Provinces.

Both of these seem unlikely. In the first case, the Archbishop of Canterbury has already indicated his not wanting to depart from the long tradition of geographical integrity that has formed a part of Anglicanism since the Reformation. (See Article 37 of the Articles of Religion.) His personal "nightmare" as he mentioned in a speech some years ago, is having St Mary's Anglican Church across the street from St Joseph's Episcopal Church -- members of two different provinces of the Communion in the same location. (Previous rare exceptions on the basis of history, as in Europe, or because of cultural or linguistic differences, as in some Church of South India parishes functioning in the US, are anomalies -- and more important, are engaged in a cordial and mutual relationship; not the antipathy and lack of communion we are seeing develop with Duncan et alia.) Archbishop Rowan has to date steadfastly refused to recognize any of the extant bishops of this constellation, though he is of course quite willing to meet with them to talk. But it seems unlikely he will back a second province for disaffected Anglicans in North America.

Secondly, it is very unlikely two-thirds of the Primates would want to see such a development, as it would open the door for similar adventures in their own Provinces.

Of course, there will be a parcel of Primates who will go ahead and recognize the New Duncanian Thing, whatever the ACC or Canterbury and York say about it. There have long been signals from the Global Southerners that they think they can do without Canterbury, and they may soon have to see what that is like.

What such a blend of partial recognition (by some Primates but not enough to change the Constitution) and nonrecognition (of and by Canterbury) will lead to remains to be seen. My prognostication is a temporary division in the Anglican Communion As We Know It, as some, but not all, of the Globally Southern and Their Friends in Other Places create some boundaries between themselves and the rest of the Anglican Communion. Such a separation may not, in the long run, be a bad thing. One reality I've learned in parish life is that trying to keep unhappy people involved doesn't solve their unhappiness or promote the happiness and effectiveness of others.

Tobias Haller BSG

November 19, 2008

And why we did it

Stuart commented with a question on the post below, concerning the Diocese of NY passing a resolution supporting the state's movement towards marriage equality. He asked

When we were discussing the resolution, some wondered why there wasn't a parallel resolution committing the Diocese to begin the process of creating a public rite for blessing the marriages same-sex couples.

It's a good question, and deserves an answer. I gave an answer in the comments below, but want to expand a bit here. I can best do this by offering what I planned to say in the debate if those of us planning the floor-fight felt it was needed. So here is what I was prepared to say:

I want to note that this resolution concerns civil marriage equality. It is not about Holy Matrimony. As such, it concerns the lives of thousands of New Yorkers, only a few of whom are Episcopalians, and many of whom may have no religious affiliation whatsoever.

So why should we make such a statement? I am reminded of the words of a great Archbishop [Temple]: The church is an institution devoted to the welfare of those not yet its members.

I also draw your attention to the language of the 1976 resolution of the General Convention [A-71], with particular focus on the words equal protection of the laws and provided in actuality. Thirty-two years later, we are being given an opportunity to answer the simple question, "Do you mean it?" And I close with the words of Christ: "Who among you, if your child asks for bread will give him a stone; or if he asks for a fish, give him a snake?"

So a major concern for me in all of this is the recognition that civil marriage equality concerns not just Episcopalians, but all the scattered churchless children of God who are seeking to establish their lives in stable and committed relationships, with all the rights and responsibilities they entail.

But, to get back to Stu's question, Why not matrimony? Here is my rationale:

  • First, this is for me largely a question of sequence, a sequence which echoes the development of marriage in church history. Civil marriage comes first, then the church "adopts" it. As you may know, there was no formal "marriage" in the church until about the fifth-sixth century, and the earliest church involvement was basically a blessing of the couple's civil marriage, with particular prayer for safe childbirth. The earliest liturgies took place in the home, and only gradually moved into the church. So, as with evolution, "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" -- or something like that!

  • The second factor is theological: the church has long taught that the ministers of marriage are the couple themselves -- that is, they minister the rite to each other, and the church functions as witness and blesses the marriage -- the church does not "make" it; the couple do.

  • Third is the principle that the church only legally performs marriages when such marriages are civilly valid. There is even a Prayer Book rubric to that effect, in the first paragraph on page 422. So it makes sense to see the civil aspect established prior to the church acting as if it could perform the civil aspect of a marriage.

  • Fourth, at the same time, and pending such developments, nothing in the meantime prevents a bishop from permitting the "blessing" of anything whatsoever within her own diocese. There was an effort to restrict this right at GC 2006, via a legislative moratorium on the authorization of same-sex blessings, but it was defeated in part because I rose to point out that this would require a Constitutional amendment, since Article X gives bishops this right.

  • Fifth, also at the same time, priests are ordained to bless -- it is one of the "faculties" bestowed at ordination to the priesthood, and there is no "except" clause; the bishop need not ask clergy who or what they are blessing any more than the bishop need review every sermon a priest delivers -- preaching also being a "faculty" licensed by ordination. I realize we are getting into a bit of "don't ask / don't tell" here (for bishops who want to at least appear to toe the line drawn out by Lambeth and those Windsor folks; and yes, this is not an ideal situation -- but it presents a real opportunity for couples and congregations, and is in keeping with the 2003 GC resolution that acknowledged that such things were happening, and that those who took part were operating within the legitimate scope of action at their disposal. At least that is how I took the resolution.

  • Sixth, formal liturgical change at the national level does need to be authorized by the church as a whole, even though individual dioceses and parishes can put into effect what I describe above. In fact, I think a bottom-up or grass-roots model for liturgical development is to be preferred to the top-down model for liturgical development. There was no "Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music" in the early church, and each national and local church developed its liturgies over time, with certain forms and prayers rising to the top by a natural process of recognition and popularity. However, in these latter days, liturgies only gain full status as "of the church" when recognized by the church in GC.

So, taking all of this together, I think we are proceeding in the proper sequence: work for the recognition of civil marriage equality first, at which point the church can then actually "perform" marriages (to the extent they perform them); and in the meantime continue to live in the less than perfect world of informal blessings, at the same time working for a full acceptance of such rites. If we time this correctly, the formal rites should be ready by the time civil marriage equality is a reality in most parts of the country. I realize this is a slow process; but it looks like the Northeast and the West will be there within a few years. (I expect a reversal in California.) It may well take a generation in the South. In the meantime, since marriage is governed by states, it will not be long before it is appropriate for General Convention to pass a resolution to the effect of permitting churches to perform same-sex marriages in states where such marriages are permitted under civil law. Such a resolution came to GC in 2006, and it may be back again in 2009. Even though I support the resolution, it is more to make a point than in hopes of its passage.

My point is that I am working towards what I hope will be true, full marriage equality in church and state. This will not be easy; and I think to an extent we cheat ourselves by "making do" with blessings of civil marriages and of couples who desire only that blessing -- much as I support them, they are not the final goal.

Tobias Haller BSG

Update: A listing of all known relevant diocesan convention resolutions since 2007 is available at an Integrity-monitored site "Be It Resolved." I'm happy to see the pressure is building for marriage equality and an end to B033. An account from Lisa of the resolutions passing in Missouri is particularly heartwarming! — Tobias

November 17, 2008

Cars and Effect

How about this: rather than just giving the Big Three car makers a pile of money for nothing, that the government invest in them, or give them a loan, with several hefty strings attached. How about insisting that these automakers, in addition to building the trucks and SUVs that have legitimate use in rough country and snowbound dirt-road sections of the US of A (though hardly in most suburbs and certainly not in most cities, where they are marks both of vanity and insufficiency, as well as inefficiency), that a truly fuel-efficient, small, and affordable car be placed at the top of the agenda. Perhaps not quite so small as the Tata Nano, or even one of those strange little French cars, or even the original Volkswagen — though that's getting close in terms of size and intent.

Then it will be time to call upon our people to step up to the plate and buy and use this car — let's call it "The American Eagle" and make it a patriotic point to own and use one, not out of vanity but out of pride and shared values. An all-electric model for city use would not be a bad idea, either. How about it?

Tobias Haller BSG

Sur le pont d'Avignon

on y danse, on y danse...

There is due to be announced in short order the creation of what is being billed as a new and improved second Anglican Province in North America, consisting, among other things, of the some of the people, clergy, and former bishops of the dioceses of San Joaquin, Quincy, Pittsburgh and Fort Worth.

As Mark Harris has pointed out this would represent a very small fraction of the total membership of The Episcopal Church, even if the departures from these dioceses were total — which none of them are; the dioceses will continue as part of The Episcopal Church, though reduced in numbers for the time being. This is not to say it is insignificant, only to point out that what it signifies is not a great division in The Episcopal Church.

It may herald, however, a beginning of a larger schism in the Anglican Communion. For the time being the main extraterritorial ally of the former members of these four dioceses is the Church of the Southern Cone, which is, among the churches of the Anglican Communion, one of the smallest and most thinly spread. Again, this is not to play any sort of numbers game, as if numbers alone were significant of anything other than their numeric reality. But that reality will be important for future viability. If other provinces (and I'm thinking of those in the GAFCON continuum) sign on to this new Anglican Communion, it remains to be seen if they will also be able to maintain a presence in and connection with the other and older Anglican Communion — the one with Canterbury as first among equals; or unequals, as the case might be.

Some are beginning to liken this situation to the Great Schism that split the East from the West back in the eleventh century. It seems to me, however, since the focus appears to be more on leaders than on doctrine (all protests to the contrary notwithstanding) that the analogy to the other Schism sometimes called "Great" — the one that split the papacy in the fifteenth century — provides a better analogy.

Schisms by nature are not irrevocable. Time may heal all wounds — even, as someone once said, it wounds all heels. Fifty or a hundred years from now, it will be for those of that time to make a judgment on how sound were the reasons for those who felt a need to make this present split. In the meantime, the rest of the Anglican Communion should take this as an opportunity to refocus its attention on the mission to which it is called, which is not its own preservation as an institution, except to the extent that institution serves the cause of God, and cares for God's people, and God's world.

Otherwise this famous "bridge Church" risks becoming like the one in Avignon, which was little better than a dance-floor.

Tobias Haller BSG

November 15, 2008

We Did

I am very happy to report that the following resolution was adopted today by the Episcopal Diocese of New York:

Resolved, That the 232nd Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, in keeping with Resolution 15 of the 217th Convention of the Diocese, which made "known to the President of the United States, to the United States Senate and House of Representatives our support of full civil rights for all American citizens irrespective of sexual orientation," calls upon the Governor and the Legislature of the State of New York to ensure civil marriage equality in this state by enacting the necessary legislation to permit same-sex couples to marry; and be it further

Resolved, That copies of this Resolution be sent to the Governor, the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the Assembly of the State of New York.

Many of us were wearing the "I do" buttons in support of the resolution, and an old friend from my days on the Liturgical Commission noted, "Tobias, you know it should say, 'I will.'" I responded, "No, this is what the Father of the Bride says...!" Touché.

In its explanatory material the proposers noted the 1976 General Convention resolution A-71, that "homosexual persons are entitled to equal protection of the laws with all other citizens, and calls upon our society to see that such protection is provided in actuality."

I was prepared to speak in support of the motion, stressing the importance of living up to our own promises, but the vibes in the room were rather positive, and no one spoke against the resolution; it carried by a large majority on a Yes / No hand-sign vote. Next steps: The state Assembly has voted to support marriage equality in the past, but the Senate, until a few weeks ago controlled by a conservative majority, has blocked action. The Governor has already indicated his support for this legislation. Many of us in the Diocese of New York, however, felt it important to let our electeds know that there is more than one opinion on this subject in the sphere of organized religion.

Tobias Haller BSG

November 12, 2008

Civil Union Division

A parable

Once there was a restaurant that served a wide range of foods, some with meat, and some not. A group of vegetarians asked the restaurant if they would mark the menu with indications as to which dishes contained no meat. The owners said they would not do that, but would provide a separate menu listing the vegetarian dishes. Some of the vegetarians also said they didn’t want to eat in a restaurant that served meat at all, and took up a collection to start their own restaurant.

In response to my two previous posts touching on the Roman Catholic support for the adoption of Proposition 8 in California, the conversation has wandered away from the original theme — the role of the church, and the extent of its mendacity and bad faith, in this political action — and turned to the larger question of, “Why marriage rather than civil unions?”

The question was framed by commenter Rick, who opines that CU

is an innovation whose more open and evolving nature may more flexibly address questions of how gays and lesbians see these relationships.

He bases this suggestion on his recognition that same-sex couples

are of course already there, and many have custody of children from prior heterosexual relationships. So there undoubtedly need to be social institutions and structures to address the reality. The great question is whether we should shoehorn these relationships under the rubric of marriage, or, if there is indeed something distinctive about them, whether we should create new structures to address newly-recognized realities.

He also asks about the suggestion that the notion

that couples living together, not only may get married, but should get married, one that should be imported into all relationships? I don't argue; I only ask the question. The idea of marriage is a large one, with far-reaching implications for behavior in the net of interrelated ideas — not only fornication, but incest, adultery, divorce, annulment, separation short of divorce, marriage by estoppel, sexual fidelity, exclusivity, and duration. Legal marriage is much more a set of restrictions and responsibilities than rights, and its legally enumerated contours don't even begin to address unwritten social and religious norms. I only ask the question: Are they really desired?

He then observes

One distinctive characteristic of homosexual couples is that, if one or both has custody of children, there is always a “third,” whether divorced or deceased or in prison, whether an active outside parent or a sperm donor, or anything in between, there is always someone of the opposite sex somewhere in the background. How to deal with that inevitable “third man” or “third woman”? I don't know. But it seems a matter that might possibly be better addressed in the context of civil unions than in importing the norms of divorce and custody from our current marriage law, where such is the exception, not the norm, and only comes up in the context of a breakdown of marriage.

Let me begin by responding to his final point, which I think betrays the root of his difficulties in coming to clarity on this subject. The existence of a “third party” for same-sex couples with children may be inevitable, but it is neither “distinctive” nor “characteristic” of same-sex couples taken as a whole. It is, as with mixed-sex couples, a factor only affecting some same-sex couples. And, just as with mixed-sex couples, it only involves those with adopted children, or children from a previous relationship.

This addresses Rick’s thinking about the purposes of law — and whether it makes sense, in his terms, to “shoehorn” same-sex relationships under our current marriage laws. Noting for the record that marriage laws vary significantly from state to state, still in general it seems that the laws, as written, do not in every particular of their statutory limits have application to all marriages. Obviously only marriages with children will be affected by provisions of marriage concerning children; only marriages that end in divorce will be touched by the divorce regulations. There was a time in many places where adultery was a criminal offense, and obviously that portion of the law only concerned adulterers.

So the current marriage law contains provisions that apply only to some marriages, in certain situations. Given that, why create a new “Civil Union” law — on the pretext of greater uniformity — when no such uniformity exists in the present law? Same-sex couples can be covered perfectly well under the existing marriage laws (as indeed they are in Massachusetts, and were for a time in California), the provisions on adoption, custody, divorce and so on coming into play as needed.

In short, there is no need for “separate but equal” — a separate menu, to employ my parable — even if such a separate status could truly be equal. It simply leads to an unnecessary multiplication of the laws to no apparent end other than the ability to say, “This is not that.” Thus the sole purpose is to make a separation, not to create equality.

Is separation desireable?

Rick also asks if gays and lesbians really want marriage rather than provision for civil union. It is quite true that there are some gays and lesbians who want to have nothing to do with “marriage” — feeling it to be a heterosexual artifact with little or no relevance to them. (I would also add that there are no small number of heterosexuals who feel the same way.) They are represented in my parable by the strict and doctrinaire vegetarians. However numerous such constituencies, it is also clear that there are many same-sex couples who do want to marry — just as there are many vegetarians who for social reasons wish to dine with their non-vegetarian friends. Apparently there are some thousands of same-sex couples who have taken advantage of this opportunity in the short time it was permitted under California law. My point here is that in a free country people should be permitted to make such determinations without the interference of mob rule to the contrary, unless some good reason can be shown to prevent such relationships being granted civil recognition.

Civil action is civil action

Which brings me to the other question Rick raises: What’s wrong with civil unions? Well, it seems to me to be relatively clear that a civil marriage is a civil union. It is not a religious ceremony — and no one is saying that any religious body is either forced to perform a religious ceremony for a couple joined under the civil law, or to recognize such a civil marriage. In fact, many churches are by their own law forbidden to do so — there are many civil marriages that cannot be recognized by a church. For instance, the Roman Catholics would not ordinarily recognize as a valid marriage one in which one of the parties was divorced, not having obtained a statement of nullity. Episcopalians are not permitted to perform a marriage where neither of the parties is baptized. (The fact that an Episcopal cleric can perform a marriage in which one of the parties is not baptized is recognized as a peculiar development, and stands in some conflict with the canon on marriage. But that’s a topic I’ve expanded on elsewhere). In short, there are any number of religious restrictions that do not apply in the civil sphere.

So is all of this a logomachia — a battle over words? It would seem so. Some of my conservative correspondents have noted they really don’t care if civil unions are permitted — or even civil marriage, which they will of course not recognize as marriage. And an air of inevitability hangs over the question as a younger and more tolerant generation arises, fewer and fewer of whom are interested in being part of intolerant religious bodies.

The whole idea that marriage is a religious institution is what is strange to me in all this. Marriage — in its many and various forms throughout history — is a human phenomenon with many manifestations, including variations in number, gender, and duration. Even the so-called Judeo-Christian teaching on the subject is a false summary, as Jewish law allowed polygamy, and mandated divorce and even incest in certain cases, while Christian law forbade all of these.

However, in our culture at least, this has been forgotten, and “marriage” has come to be seen primarily as a religious rather than a civil institution. Some suggest going with that flow and reserving “marriage” to the religious, and “civil union” to the civil sphere. My sense is that this is too much a case of toothpaste and tube, and we are left with a term used in both the civil and sacred realms. But it is at least clear that civil marriage is a civil union — and the law should reflect that.

To reiterate: In terms of how people should be treated under the law, there is no difference between a mixed-sex couple and a same-sex couple apart from the gender of the parties: and under the equal protection provision, to treat such couples differently on the basis of sex is a constitutional violation.

As the courts will eventually rule.

And then we can all go home.

Tobias Haller BSG

November 9, 2008

Gospel Challenge Results

Well, it looks like no one got deeply into the Election Gospel Challenge this time around -- a tribute to the efficiency of the volunteers who gave their time at the polling stations, no doubt. So here is the prize badge, for anyone who wants to claim it is free to do so!

It is based on a sketch I did in the late 70s, of the Archangel Michael. Can't remember why or what the source was. — Tobias Haller BSG

November 8, 2008

taiko to kiku o mimashita

Last night, James, Jonathan and I went to the Bronx Botanical Gardens for a special evening of chrysanthemum-viewing and Japanese-drumming-listening. I'd never been to the Garden after dark, and it was a perfect evening, with the haze of the city lights and the overcast sky producing a dome over the dome of the Haupt Conservatory.

People wandered the courtyards with classes of sake and beer, in awe of the splendid and devoted craft of the kiku artist, who works for weeks to produce an array of perfect blossoms in varying forms. A number of different types of display were on view, from cascading waterfalls of blooms coming from a single carefully pruned plant, to the stately stand of a dozen or so heavy-headed blossoms tall and erect at an absurd height, to the mountains of hundreds of blooms on a pillow-domed framework.

Then there were the exciting rhythms of the small taiko drumming ensemble, with flutist, working to a fiery pitch in the light drizzle. An altogether unforgettable evening.


November 7, 2008

Lying Bishops

On the previous post, a Roman Catholic priest commented with some apparent pleasure that he actively supported Proposition 8 in California, saying he distributed educational materials from the California Conference of Catholic Bishops. I went to the Conference of Bishops website, and found one flier available in several languages. It is indicative of the kind of deceitful misdirection I have grown accustomed to from the Roman Catholic hierarchy. It was a one page flier, available at the Conference website.

It begins, and I quote,

This is the complete text of Proposition 8. There is no fine print:

“Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”

Compare that with the actual text of Proposition 8 from the Voters Guide produced by the state:

This initiative measure is submitted to the people in accordance with the provisions of Article II, Section 8, of the California Constitution.

This initiative measure expressly amends the California Constitution by adding a section thereto; therefore, new provisions proposed to be added are printed in italic type to indicate that they are new.

SECTION 1. Title

This measure shall be known and may be cited as the “California Marriage Protection Act.”

SECTION 2. Section 7.5 is added to Article I of the California Constitution, to read:

SEC. 7.5. Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

Now, you may well argue that this is a trivial distinction. However, the lack of anything on the flier to indicate that this is not simply a new law, but a Constitutional Amendment is, to my mind, a very serious omission. Some might have taken the issue more seriously were they reminded this was a Constitutional matter.

At the very least, however, the statement, “This is the complete text,” is patently untrue, and, as I suggest, misleading as well. The Spanish language version of the flier is even worse, truth be told. Instead of saying “There is no fine print” it says, “No hay mas de esto.”


Tobias Haller BSG

November 5, 2008

The Sweet and the Bitter

I am very pleased at the results of the Presidential election, in particular its decisiveness. I was also moved both by McCain's and Obama's speeches last night, and believe that there is a way forward as a nation.

However, I am deeply saddened to hear today of the passage of discriminatory propositions and constitutional amendments that will, for a time, close or keep closed the access all adult, unrelated, consenting couples by rights ought to have to contract marriage.

I commend my California friend Richard's comments at his blog. I do not live in one of the states where minds continue to remain firmly closed against this issue, and hope that in New York, with recent changes in the legislature and the Governor's mansion, we may soon see the East Coast continue to lead in realizing the value of recognizing committed same-sex partnerships as beneficial to society. Some day, perhaps only twenty or thirty years from now, people will look back on yesterday's defeats with a shameful blush. For, as Richard says, they are well worth being ashamed of.

Tobias Haller BSG

Being Jesus' Kin

My sermon on the feast of St James of Jerusalem is posted below with the icon recently dedicated at Saint James Church Parkton, Md. Here is an excerpt:

Clearly something happened to James between the time he thought his brother was crazy and the time we see him as a leader of the church, and hear of him as a martyr to the faith.

Historians differ as to when the change in James came about, but we know that it did come. Was it during Jesus’ preaching ministry? Was he perhaps converted by hearing some golden teaching from his brother’s lips, to be as astounded as the crowds from his hometown were at first, suddenly struck with the challenging question, “Where did he get this wisdom?” and recognizing that it could only come from above?

Was it from hearing of Jesus’ final days in Jerusalem, of how he endured the way of the cross, and bore its weight, and perished on that green hill far away? Or was it from hearing the word brought by the women to the others — the word that death had not conquered after all, and that Jesus was risen from the dead?

Or was it in that more personal experience, that first-hand experience, the one Paul wrote of, when Jesus appeared to James after his resurrection, and, like Thomas and the others, James came to believe because he had seen the risen Lord, not simply his brother now, but his Lord and his God?

Whatever the time and place and circumstance, James entered into a new relationship with Jesus at that point. Although a relative by flesh and blood, he became a brother of Christ in Spirit, when he became a Christian.

In doing this he became part of that larger family that includes us too — for all of us here are brothers and sisters of Jesus, by adoption, through the waters of baptism. I can tell you from personal experience as a pastor that many people come to Christ kicking and screaming, and I’ve wrestled with a few! Some of you may be such cradle Christians; others may have come to faith in youth or adolescence, or even in adulthood.

But all of us who did not walk with Christ, like Paul himself, are untimely born; and though untimely born, still we are born indeed — born again through water and the Spirit, into our new family of faith.

Read it all.

Tobias Haller BSG

November 3, 2008

More on Sydney

A number of important comments on the Sydney lay / diaconal presidency have been made below in response to my last post, and I'd like to elevate some of the discussion to this level.

Brian commented:

The role of a presbyter is in his or her eldership. It does not consist in his or her authority to 'celebrate' the Eucharist. The scripture does not require any presidency at or celebration of the Eucharist but, rather, that it be done decently and in order, with understanding and faith.

To allow other believers (deacon or otherwise) to break the Eucharistic bread does not deny to presbyters their role as elders, teachers and shepherds of God's people.

and I responded,

What you say presents an interesting theory, but it runs counter to the Ordinal, which is rather specific about the role of the Presbyter in presiding at the ministration of the sacraments. You are quite right about the Scripture, however, being silent on the subject. It would be more helpful in your cause if you could point to any biblical text which showed any lay person or deacon presiding at the breaking of the bread. I am not aware of any such passage in Scripture, which usually portrays this action being led by Jesus or Paul. And Paul's description of the irregularities at the Corinthian love-feasts would appear to argue against the possible disorder caused by letting just anyone take charge.

I have, by the way, no objection, as it is allowed in the Ordinal, to see deacons and lay persons assist in the celebration -- but assisting is not presiding, and the Synod's reading of its own regulations does not meet the standard of interpreting the language as written.

Finally, another aspect of the problem is the attempt to divide leadership in the worshiping assembly from leadership in the role as teacher and pastor. This hardly seems wise, even if possible, and I think leads to the very kinds of disruptions that undermine decency and good order.

Obadiah Slope posted this comment:

In your last comment to Canberra-Brian (I think), you raise the issue of dividing leadership in the worshiping assembly from leadership in the role as teacher and pastor.

This is the heart of the argument FOR lay administration by its supporters in Sydney. They want each of the clergy in the congregation to be able to lead in communion, and preaching.

One solution would be to priest each of them, as you would in TEC.

In Sydney, the model will be one priest and several deacons (in a large parish), all preaching and leading in communion.

The difference is largely about nomenclature IMHO.

I'm grateful for Obadiah's comment, but I'm afraid I still don't understand the rationale. I've also been forced to reexamine the Scriptural side of the discussion, and want to add a bit more there.

The fundamental problem, it seems to me, is the failure to accept the biblical basis for leadership in terms of both office and order -- bishops and elders are called to a ministry of leadership, pastorship, teaching and in the ministration of the sacraments. There is no indication of diaconal or lay presidency at the eucharist in Scripture, as far as I can see; and as I noted earlier, the disorders of Corinth seem to argue for greater regulation, not less.

Deacons are called to another ministry entirely, as the Ordinal makes clear. But this goes not just for the Ordinal but the Scripture; even in the pastoral epistles there is a clear distinction between those who are called to lead and those called to other ministries. Or if I'm missing something, where is it?

Sydney's action seems to be based on a quibblesome reading of a canon, concerning deacons assisting in ministration of the sacraments, and the provision for deacons to administer baptism.

Equating baptism and eucharist is a strange thing to do; though both are sacraments, baptism is essentially personal (though it involves the congregation) while the eucharist is by definition communal (though it involves the individual). The ministrations themselves differ profoundly. As I've noted, in our tradition lay persons can administer emergency baptism. The Roman Catholics go further and allow emergency baptism by a non-Christian, but they don't allow a non-Roman Christian even to receive communion (with rare exceptions), much less celebrate it. So the Sydney position seems to have elevated a Red Herring to the level of doctrine.

Further, and equally problematic, is the historical dimension: having a single presbyter surrounded by deacons would be all well and good -- so long as the deacons didn't preside at worship. The biblical analogy for this model was to Priests and Levites -- and remember what happened when some uppity Levites got the idea to usurp the priesthood! Moreover, being quite biblical on this, even preaching is not properly a diaconal ministry -- note the explicit commission of the deacons in Acts 6:2. The actual model Obadiah describes is more like the Metropolitan church in which the bishop is surrounded by a college of presbyters -- but that's just the point, they are presbyters, not deacons.

So yes, in one way it is a problem of nomenclature -- but as such, why not then simply take the logical step and make anyone who presides at the liturgy a presbyter? Sydney seems to have some desire to separate the historic (and biblical) connection between office and order, and seems to be caught in a device of their own invention if the necessity is to comply with an idea that only the incumbent can be a priest.

Tobias Haller BSG

The Election Gospel Challenge

OK, so we know there are going to be long lines at the polls tomorrow. I mentioned to my parishioners yesterday to remember to bring something to read while waiting in line. In one of those mot d'escalier moments it just occurred to me what they ought to be reading. So here is

The Election Gospel Challenge

Bring a Bible or New Testament with you when you go to the polls tomorrow. When you get in line, start reading at Matthew 1:1 and don't stop until you're at the point where you actually have to stop to sign in or do whatever is needed at your polling place. (If by any chance you get through Revelation, then start again at Genesis!) Note the verse at which you stop. Then let me know. The person who gets furthest along in the text will receive only the intangible reward of having your name listed in a blog post here, together with the verse -- which we hope will not be "Judas went and hanged himself" -- and a custom designed badge to place on your blog or web-site.

Tobias Haller BSG

Bleeding Heart Liberals

One of the many issues we face for the future of the church will be its viability, which is to some extent related to the size of its membership. However, I do not think it wise to fall into a consequentialist ethic based primarily on the numbers of our members, their increase or decline. Like the abundance of possessions, this is really not the point.

For doing the right thing may cause a loss in membership, and doing the wrong thing can lead to growth. No small number of observers appear to me to be making an explicit judgment that the loss of members in the Episcopal Church, which one frequent poster to the HoB/D list refers to as a “hemorrhage,” is being caused by the trends promoted by TEC leadership over the last decade or so; that these are both bad things; and that to reverse the former we should change the latter.

I have no doubt that some people have left TEC on account of its “liberal” trend. But that in itself is not a proof that the trend is wrong. I have pointed out a number of times that there are very conservative church bodies that have also lost significant numbers of their membership over the last decades — so connecting liberal trends with inevitable decline is, in itself, questionable. I take no joy in seeing any church decline; but parishes and dioceses also decline under conservative leadership. And churches also decline due to conflict within them.

There is more at work when we look at the larger picture. Many reports have been written charting some of the complex reasons for decline in many if not most religious bodies over the last decades. These do not appear, for the most part, to be based on the teachings of any particular church, liberal or conservative, but fundamentally on a crisis of faith in the wider population, dismay at hypocrisy and wrongdoing within the churches, and the increasing secularization of society through decline in the protections churches once enjoyed — such as the blue laws that favored a quiet Sunday. I know that my parish loses more due to the soccer field and the Sunday workplace than to antagonism towards Gene Robinson.

So I very much doubt, all things considered, that a shift in teaching on the part of TEC in a more conservative direction will stop the “hemorrhage” any more than continuing to hold fast to working for the full implementation of the Gospel (which is what I think we’ve been doing in this so-called liberal trend) will speed many more losses.

Some will continue to depart, no doubt, because they can no longer abide in a church in which same-sex couples are given the same honor and celebration that they enjoy for their own relationships. If I believed they were departing from the Church with a capital C, and risking their salvation, I might be worried for them. But I think in the long run those who cannot abide because of their convictions are better off leaving; and so are those who remain because of their convictions. And I am more concerned with those who are not churched being drawn into a welcoming church, than I am for those who are merely shifting their denominational allegiance. That, to me, is real evangelism.

It may be, that like the woman who suffered long with her affliction, TEC will only be healed of its hemorrhage when it has the courage to reach out to grasp the hem of Christ’s garment with full confidence and faith, choosing to follow him regardless of how many may take offense at him, and flee.

Tobias Haller BSG

Comprehensive Hooker

Herewith a link to a sermon on the Feast of Richard Hooker, from a few years ago.

Tobias Haller BSG

November 2, 2008

Proposition 8: Unfair and Wrong

If you've not seen this powerful reminder of how far we've come and how far we need to go -- and how far some would like to take us backwards to a society based on injustice, inequality, and bigotry, please click on the appropriate arrow.

Bigots have always thought themselves to be fair, enlightened, and right -- even when they are unfair, ignorant, and wrong. Those who support Prop 8 are no better than any other bigots. That religious sects are among those attempting to "proposition" society should not surprise us: religion is often a comfort to bigotry and a haven for hypocrisy. Kyrie eleison.

Tobias Haller BSG

On the Dole Fiasco

Why is it that people who claim the high moral ground so often stoop to wallow in mendacity?

Tobias Haller BSG

November 1, 2008

A Short Rumination on All Saints' Day

Have you ever observed the extent to which people appear not to notice that so much of what the church is recorded to have gone through in Acts and the Epistles (I'm thinking of the debate on whether Gentiles should be part of the Church, and the discussion on eating meat offered to idols, or other unclean food) would not have been necessary if Jesus had actually said some of the things the Gospels record? We know the Gospels post-date the Epistles in terms of time of composition, so were these passages in Jesus' teaching retrofitted? Or were they recollected? Were the apostles not listening attentively when Jesus told them to baptize all nations, and not to worry about whether food was clean or unclean?

Perhaps that's it after all. There is ample evidence before us even now that the Church is slow to put the teachings of Jesus to work.

Tobias Haller BSG