July 30, 2009

Reading Rowan — Part the First

I have promised a few people some thoughts on Archbishop Rowan Williams’ reflections on General Convention, “Communion, Covenant and our Anglican Future.” Before getting to that, and by way of introduction, I want to offer some more general thoughts, in part based upon the very limited conversation I had with the Archbishop during General Convention. Not only did it help me to understand him better (as I hope it did, and hope it did him me), but it also helped me better to grasp some of the points on which the two of us approach issues of the Communion from somewhat different directions. So I promise I will get to a detailed examination of his reflections on GC, but in this first post address some aspects of the Archbishop which I think make it somewhat easier to grasp his sometimes vague and always nuanced meaning. Some of these aspects don’t fit into the usual mode of American progressive thinking — or conservative thinking, for that matter — and this leads, in my opinion, to misunderstandings on all sides.

The Tragic View of Life

First of all, Rowan Williams does not shy away from pain and difficulty. He has a very mature understanding of the church and its dynamics — that there is an undeniably Paschal and sometimes tragic aspect to the life of the church and its struggles. He is well aware of the “toil and tribulation and tumult of her war,” and believes that this is something that the church must work through. Much as he might like, as a sensible human being, to avoid pain and difficulty, he knows the truth of the old rabbinic saying, “no pain, no gain,” and the gospel concept, “no cross, no crown.”

I have used the word quixotic to describe this in the past, and fear I have been misunderstood. I do not mean that Rowan Williams is like Don Quixote in the comical, satirical sense; but rather in that kind of wild and tragic nobility that faces the dark, satanic windmills of the powers of this world in the knowledge that whether they are giants or not they can still be dangerous to life and limb — if one chooses to tangle with them.

This tragic or elegiac view of things seems to me to have a particularly British underpinning. Let us not forget that Rowan is Welsh, a poet, and named for one of the most magical of all trees. There is a kind of brooding melancholy of what another poet Williams (Charles) called “the Druid woods,” to Rowan’s character, relieved by a sparkling wit from time to time — these two aspects together being a hallmark of the Bard. At times I wish that Rowan could move away from the tragic a bit to see the whole story more in the way that sunny Italian Dante did, as a divine comedy, with a happy ending after all. Still, this Paschal attitude gives Rowan the capacity to endure a great deal of difficulty, ambiguity, tension, and imperfection — things which progressives tend to find annoying and reactionaries unacceptable — and which his office as Archbishop of Canterbury in this particular age provides him an ample supply.

A Scholar’s Way

It should go without saying that Rowan has a scholar’s mind. He is accustomed to the quasi-monastic life of academia, in which people have to get along with each other even though they may have radically differing philosophies or beliefs. This urge towards a collegial life is reflected in his longing for an Anglican Covenant, and a Communion bound more tightly not by unanimity of opinion or even uniformity of action, but by a truly radical desire to stay together even in the midst of disagreements. It is utterly wrong to think that Rowan is more upset with the Episcopal Church than he is with Gafcon — schism and division are the things he dislikes most of all, and he is bending over backwards to find a way to hold things together in dynamic tension. (One may think him foolish to try to hold such differing views together; but there you have it. Perhaps he is also wise enough to be a Holy Fool, for Christ’s sake? Scholars make the best Fools.

As a scholar, Rowan also attempts to be very precise; sometimes too precise for his own good. He chooses his words carefully, and I suggest the greatest disservice done to him, in various readings of his reactions to General Convention, is the tendency to paraphrase or summarize or expand what he says in directions that seem to me clearly at odds with his actual intent, based on close and careful reading. People think they know what he means and so massage what he says to fit that predetermined meaning — this is never a good thing in communication, but with someone as subtle and careful as Rowan it is disastrous.

A Truth Teller

Finally, Rowan brings these previous aspects of his personality and skill-set to bear in attempting to “tell it like it is.” Sometimes, in so speaking, people seem to think he is talking about how things ought to be. For example, when Rowan says that some action or other is going to have consequences or create difficulties, he is not necessarily saying that the action should not happen — remember my first point about the Paschal nature of the church. It is not that he’s Hegelian — he’s not predicting a final synthesis; but he is observing that if such-and-such happens, there will be difficulties — and we will have to work through them. Thus his language is more descriptive than prescriptive. What some are reading as a stop-sign is more correctly understood as “Dangerous Curves Ahead.”

I will end this first section of my comments on Rowan here, with the concept of Truth — as I hope to say a bit more about that in the next blog post.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

July 27, 2009

Huntington’s Way

Today is the centenary of William Reed Huntington. The Anglican Communion might well take a leaf from his book — or any of his books — in order to address its present squabbles. Huntington was as interested in consensus as any of us today, but he realized that we are very unlikely to achieve consensus on everything. Instead he set apart four basic points of reference for unity: the four points that go to make up the well-known Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral.

The chief dilemma facing the Anglican Communion today is our lack of common mind on certain questions of sexuality. In spite of the assertions that Lambeth 1.10 represented a consensus or a common mind, both the intensity of the debate and the politics surrounding its adoption, as well as the significantly divided vote, indicate at most a majority view not a consensus; and had the resolution been divided and voted on clause by clause, I am convinced that the vote on certain of them would have been even closer. Had it not been for the countervailing weight provided by the promise of "listening," I have no doubt that some who ended up voting for the resolution would have opposed it. We are now 10 years on and I do not believe the same resolution would have been adopted by as wide a margin.

So our present divisions come from moving beyond the issues upon which we do have consensus by raising particular items of pastoral theology to the level of dogmatic theology. And, for those who have raised the issue, it isn't about Scripture (one of Huntington's four points) or even primarily the authority of Scripture, but the interpretation of Scripture, and the weight the church chooses to give to those interpretations (which is really what authority means as a fact on the ground.)

Ultimately it comes down to the principles around which consensus will be centered. It is always "consensus on or about what?" Approximately half of the Anglican Communion does not see the sexuality issue as Communion-dividing, even among some who do not agree on a progressive trend on that topic. The other half do see this as worth dividing over --- some more permanently than others.

So there is no consensus even on whether this is a matter over which we must divide.

Can we maintain some form of Communion in spite of that lack of consensus on these particular issues? Do we even have a consensus that an Anglican Communion (as it has long been understood — a fellowship of autonomous provinces or churches in communion with the see of Canterbury) ought to continue? Those who think we can't or shouldn't, won't. Those who are willing to accommodate each other will.

The question — as with marriage — isn't, how do you hold together when you agree? It is, how do you remain together when you don't agree? Those who think, misunderstanding Amos, that you cannot remain together unless you agree (KJV; Hebr: make an appointment), appear to be making their choice to walk apart. They do not want to remain together "for better, for worse" but only when all agree with them on all on which they alone deem agreement to be vital.

The Communion and the church cannot long survive such self-fulfilling prophets. Only those committed to each other with a depth of toleration and charity — in spite of disagreements — will form the basis of the future Anglican Communion.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

July 24, 2009

Reading Rowan's Mind

The Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) has composed a stunning and biting satire of Archbishop Rowan Williams which I commend to your attention. It seems to me to be a particularly vivid portrayal of the divided mind of a Primate. It even touches, in an uncannily accurate way, on some of the conversation a handful of GC Deputies had with the Archbishop on the patio in Anaheim. So accurately, in fact, that I need not here recount further details of that conversation.

However, I want to respond to a public comment the Archbishop made at the beginning of his sermon at the daily Convention Eucharist, in what he himself alluded to as speaking "simply and directly." He said that said he hoped the Convention would do nothing that might "push us further apart." He also observed, in something that seemed innocent at the time, but took on a more sinister connotation as time went on, that "if we felt we could do perfectly well without you, there wouldn't be a problem." Hmmm...

But back to the "pushing." I hope that the Archbishop would grant that reacting and being pushed are not necessarily the same thing, and that people ought to take some responsibility for their own reactions to other folks' actions, Newton's Third Law notwithstanding. The church as a whole, and the various local churches of which it is constituted are not mere passive subjects of external action, but entities with their own energetic concerns and capabilities.

Being offended and taking offense are subtly different things. John's choice to eat asparagus may offend Jane who despises the vegetable, even though she is not forced to eat it. But she has a choice and responsibility as to how she reacts: She can simply tolerate the presence of the disliked stalks, or stalk from the room in an irritable hissy fit. But which is more Anglican? Whatever, after all, has happened to the good old English custom of ignoring unpleasant realities. Many things, if left alone, will work themselves out in time. And even if they don't, the Anglican talent for simultaneously believing two impossibly contradictory things (about the Eucharist) before breakfast, is as true for Queen Elizabeth's settlement as that of the Red Queen of Looking Glass Land.

As I have said before, it seems to me the greatest damage done to the Anglican Communion, beginning with Lambeth 1.10, was the reaction to rather modest liberalizing trends in the "Global North" and parts of the Global South (such as S Africa), which need have had no effect outside those limited spheres. The silly talk of "unilateral action" or comparisons to the invasion of Iraq indicate a level of fantastic paranoia, as if, to quote Monty Python, huge soiled budgies are going to come flocking out of people's loos and interfere with their privacy. For "budgies" read "gay bishops" and for "loos" read "dioceses." Any diocese that doesn't want a gay bishop functioning within its bounds need neither elect nor license one. The old rules that limit bishops in that way are a long-standing part of our catholic ecclesiology and there is no need for special sanctions or prohibitions.

At the meeting on the patio, I did manage to present Rowan with a copy of my book. He said he would read it, but I don't know if reading it will be of much help — apart from its appeal for peace and toleration. Rowan's problem is not with the theology of sexuality or blessing or orders, but with the institutional structure of the church, and the question of how its unity is to be constituted, guarded, and maintained. We Americans have been pushing our answer: the dignity of every human being through the Baptismal Covenant; while Rowan has been pressing for the more ecclesiastical Anglican Covenant.

Need I point out that the former reflects a truly catholic consensus, while the latter may simply be a road to the creation of a new confessional sect.

Such are my ruminations on this afternoon, sparked by Adrian's insightful parody. Blame him if you must.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Only in New York

I was on my way to visit a parishioner in the hospital this afternoon, and as I approached the building, an Einstein Hospital van, used to transport staff from one of the scattered buildings on the campus (and across the Bronx) to another, pulled up. The doors slid open and two doctors in white coats stepped out. Both had intent, stern, New York doctor expressions, and hurried intently on their different ways. The first was carrying one of those "Human Organ" transport cases by the handle. The other cradled, between his vertically positioned hands, a clear plastic deli container with a large slice of cheesecake.

Only in New York.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

July 20, 2009

Some Comment about Sexuality and the Church

A video from the Chicago Consultation. I am the third speaker. Related videos can be found at You Tube and the Episcopal Cafe.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

July 19, 2009

Convention Retrospective

I alluded in my last post to some of the highs and lows of the recent session of General Convention, for the most part in the non-legislative portion. I’d like in this post to expand on a few others, as well as to share some thoughts about what went on in the legislative sessions.

A delicate dance of symbols

A great deal has already been said about the import and impact of D025, and whether it repeals, rescinds, rebuffs, or in any other way changes the status of the church regarding 2006-B033.

Much of what you think of D025 will hinge on what you think of B033. In my opinion the earlier legislation did not enact a du jure moratorium on openly partnered gay/lesbian bishops but it had a de facto effect in that direction. Clearly the operative concept in B033 was urging restraint. It was persuasive rather than prescriptive. How much such urging or persuasion was really needed, in light of the awareness many bishops and standing committees have of the ill regard in which some in the rest of the Anglican Communion hold us, is the operative question.

I think it fair to examine that question in some detail: How likely has it been since 2006, or is it now, that an openly gay or lesbian bishop could have been or is likely to be elected any time in the near future? To posit an answer to that question, I want to simply state a few things I believe to be true (not that I wish them to be true) as premises for or evidence in to coming to a conclusion.

  • Gene Robinson’s successful candidacy and election was based in large part on the role he had played in New Hampshire for many years preceding it, and the high regard in which he was held by the people of that diocese, and in the wider church. He was not elected because he is gay, but in spite it. Although his election seemed to be a clear statement that one’s “manner of life” need not prohibit one from being called and chosen as a bishop, the affirmation in that action was not of Gene’s private (but acknowledged) life, but of his manifest public (though personal) gifts. Which, of course, is how it should be.
  • Most dioceses do not, it seems, elect bishops “from within” or at least not immediately from within—that is, a person from a diocese may be elected after a sojourn in another parochial or seminary setting in another diocese. This is a general impression; I’ve not done a statistical examination in detail, but it seems to be the case.
  • Many dioceses appear to put together slates of nominees on the “full menu” model—as a hat tip to diversity, in the full knowledge that a gay or lesbian candidate may be more a symbol of a diocese’s progressivism than a choice earnestly desired. Much as some might want to deny it, tokenism is alive and well. It actually does serve a positive purpose in indicating which dioceses may be more welcoming to such candidates in parochial settings as well as the episcopal seat.
  • Minority candidates of whatever flavor appear to fare better in suffragan elections than in diocesan. There may be a stained-glass ceiling.
  • There is still considerable reluctance among many bishops to rock the Anglican boat, even among moderate progressives. An examination of the signatories to the “Anaheim Statement” reveals a few bishops anxious to hoist such a pennant.

All in all, these premises lead me to believe that the election of an openly gay/lesbian bishop as a diocesan is probably unlikely in the next decade. A suffragan may be more likely, but even there, I doubt within the next triennium. There will be the occasional candidate, but I don’t foresee an election any time soon.

Of course, I could be wrong.

The sum of all this is to say that B033 was not really a necessary action, in spite of the earnest appeals for its passage. What was needed, it seems, was something like Mr. Chamberlain’s piece of paper, though in this case—and opposite to the Munich Accord— with a reality to back it up. A de facto moratorium already exists, simply due to the tenor of the church, then as now. So the difference with D025 to B033 lies not in the actual election of bishops, but in the willingness or unwillingness to make statement in support of or opposition to an idea.

What has changed with D025? Not a withdrawal of a legal prohibition, but a change in attitude. Restraint no longer needs to be “urged” because the natural (and unnatural) restraints already in place will likely be effective in mitigating against the election of an openly gay or lesbian person as a bishop.

Still, D025 is a step forward, even if also as largely symbolic as B033. It indicates that a door that for the last few years has been closed is at least now ajar, even if no one will swing it open and pass through within the near future.

The marriage of true minds

Resolution C056 on same-sex blessings was similarly a small step forward, though greeted with much consternation in some circles. One of the low points for me in this Convention was hearing a conservative deputy for whom I have a good deal of respect and affection (and with whom I share a number of views on other matters) declare that the passage of this resolution covered us with shame. The folks at Fulcrum have nit-picked the resolution and held it up as a complete repudiation of the various utterances of Windsor and the Primates. I will not enter into that particular logomachia, but it seems to me that C056 does little more than call for liturgical and theological study and provision of pastoral care—both of which appear to me to be within the ambit of the original Lambeth 1.10, though clearly pressing that envelope to its utter limit.

The most ironic position from the conservatives was summed up by one deputy who repeated the tiresome, “We haven’t done the theological work” argument. How odd then to speak against a resolution that calls for doing more theological work! That this involves liturgy is inherent in the issue at hand, which is about marriage and blessing—very odd it would be indeed if liturgies were not to be collected, developed, and studied, as this is how liturgical theology works. As to the range of generosity in the pastoral response—particularly in places where the civil law is already doing its part of the work—it appears that it will stop short of Windsor’s Rubicon: the authorization of public rites. It is a well established principle that only the General Convention can “authorize” rites, even though Bishops have the rubrical permission to “set forth” novel liturgies, explained in the Constitution as the capacity to “take order...for the use” of such special forms. Bishops will, I trust, be careful to make clear that this is what they are doing when they provide “generous pastoral responses.”

So, again, this is not revolutionary but evolutionary change. And most of the opposition comes precisely for that reason, as anyone with eyes to see can perceive where the trend will lead, sooner or later. The rearguard actions of many in the Anglican Communion will not in the long run be successful. While I know of many who once held traditional views on such issues, who later came to a more progressive position, I don’t know of anyone who has gone the other way. (Those who think Rowan Williams is an example of the latter don’t take account of his reasons, which have to do with his prevailing, and some might say Quixotic, desire to hold the communion together, and a hierarchy of values in which unity is dominant. I will say more on this, and my conversation with him, in a separate post.) In short, the process is not only evolutionary, but osmotic. Like the arrow of time, it goes only one way. As with almost all controversies with which the church has been embroiled, the “Traditionalist” (not traditional) position eventually fades away, or hardens into a sectarian nub. The circumcision parties of any age have their day, but eventually the church moves on, leaving behind those who have married the spirit of a former age instead of moving with the Spirit of Christ in whom novelty and creativity are the active principles.

Points of Personal Privilege

I was startled early in the Convention when I heard myself quoted on the floor by a young deputy from Massachusetts. The topic was the decision of the legislative committee on Prayer Book and liturgy to amend the reference to John Henry Newman in the now widely expanded calendar of commemorations from “Bishop” to “Priest.” He took this as an insult and cited my earlier post concerning Fr Avery Dulles of Fordham University having been created a cardinal, and my whimsical but heartfelt desire to congratulate a “parishioner”—Fordham University lying within my parish bounds. I was so startled at hearing my name come over the sound system in that cavernous hall that it took me a moment to make the connection. Did the deputy think the proper title should have been Cardinal? Like Avery Dulles, Newman was a Cardinal Priest, so honored for his theological work. [Correction, thanks to Scott Gunn: Newman and Dulles were both Cardinal Deacons. The Cardinal part of their designation has nothing to do with their Ordinal status ;-) But in any case, neither were bishops.] The motion to overturn the amendment failed.

I only spoke once on the floor of the Convention, on the last day, to offer a point of order on a second reading of a Constitutional amendment which ought to have been approved in a vote by orders but received only a simple majority. (I tried to get to the microphone as fast as I could, but was too late to stop the voice ballot.) The President graciously accepted my correction, and the matter was reconsidered and voted on properly. Now our Constitution officially provides that when TEC enters into a full communion Covenant or Concordat we will not have to amend the Constitution each time we do so. Thus the Moravian concord approved at this Convention will not require further constitutional tinkering.

Further reflections anon.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

July 17, 2009

Coming up for air

The 76th General Convention has adjourned sine die and I admit to the customary exhaustion. This session of the Convention was very ably conducted, and managed to get through more business than any in my memory.

When I'm back to New York and settled in mind, body and spirit, I will reflect a bit more on my perceptions of what happened here in Anaheim. For this post I would just like to note that the Spin Doctors of the Church are already well at work, doing their oracular tasks and scrying the entrails of the General Convention while still warm. However, I believe that historical reflection, like revenge, is a dish best served cold. You will hear some very panicked reaction in the next few days (indeed, a certain Fulcrum is already teetering rather wildly) and language of abandonment of all that is good and holy, when from my perspective the actions of the General Convention are mild-mannered in the extreme, and need cause no histrionic outbursts. But more on that when I'm back in the peace and quiet of the beautiful Bronx.

In addition to the business of Convention, there were also the fringe events, not directly related to the actions and legislation. Here too there were high and low points. The lowest position goes to the extremely unattractive false prophets who stood outside the Convention center from time to time uttering their curses at our apostasy. High marks go to Jenny Te Paa and Rowan Smith, and others, representing a broader spectrum of the Global South than we tend to hear from in the popular church press. I was particularly happy to have dinner with Rowan Smith, and to have Jenny Te Paa express thanks for my recently published book. (I asked her if we might count on her for a jacket blurb if if goes to a second printing!) Somewhere in the middle must lie the brief face-time (or is it eyebrow-time?) with the Other Rowan, him of Canterbury. Again, more on that at another time.

And now to pack, and so I bid a good night to all, a blessed rest, and a prayer for safe travel for all who will be heading home over the next hours and days.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

July 6, 2009

The Church is Not Leviathan

God crushed the heads of Leviathan and gave him to the people of the desert for food... -- Psalm 74

The English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes, in his great work Leviathan, posited that the good of the corporate political body transcended the rights of the individual members as a way of ensuring the greatest well-being for the whole. This idea received more precise formulation in the work of philosophers such as Jeremy Bentham, and there were echoes of it in early communism as well.

We find an earlier instance of it in the language of Caiaphas: it is expedient that one should die for the many. And, of course, that makes moral sense so long as the one who dies is offering him or herself freely and without constraint, in utter freedom of choice to be an atoning sacrifice. But it is a horror and a crime when the many choose, compel, and constrain one of their number to suffer on their behalf, a scapegoat and victim without choice or freedom.

My point in this is to stress that the church as a body ought never tread the path of Caiaphas, speaking in terms of acceptable losses and victims and scapegoats for the greater good -- suggesting that the few should suffer for the sake of the many. In doing so the Church becomes false to its own ends, as well as to its beginning.

For the church exists for the benefit of each an all of its members, not for the many of its members against the few. Moreover, the church was made for humanity, not humanity for the church; it is not an engine fueled with human flesh, to be kept running at any and all costs, blind to its purpose as it consumes the very substance of which it consists, like Ouroboros eating its tail, or a horrific autoimmune disease.

But some will say, The church is the Body of Christ. And so it is. And the Body of Christ was not ordained to be lifted up, carried about, or adored, but to be put to the use for which it is intended: salvation. The church is not an end in itself, but a means to a greater end, a transcendent end. It is not an institution to be maintained at all costs, at the loss of its true self. It is the church as a whole that gives itself for the life of the world, if it is to be true to the one in whose name and by whose grace it exists.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Thought for 07.06.09

Being and doing in metaphysics share the same equivalency as matter and energy in physics.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

July 4, 2009

Thought for 07.04.09

One of the tragedies of institutions is that they so often betray their mission to preserve their structure.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

July 3, 2009

Off to Anaheim

Let me see... what have I forgotten? Something, I'm sure. I've got the Blue Book, and the laptop has the BCP, BOS, LFF, NRSV, C&C2006, the last three Journals of General Convention, and most of the emails from the House of Bishops/Deputies listserv. I think I'm ready.

So in the dim hours of Saturday morning I'll be on my way. This means limited Internetworking for the next day or so, and depending on the fees, maybe limited in California, too. Besides, I've got a very busy schedule.

In addition to the usual Deputy assignments, including service on the Ministry Legislative Committee, there are three extra-curricular items on my agenda. First, I'll be signing copies of my book, Reasonable and Holy: Engaging Same-Sexuality, at the Church Publishing display in the Exhibit Hall on Wednesday July 8 from 1 - 1:45 pm or thereabouts; that is, if anyone wants a signature or the book! Then I'm on the schedule to co-moderate with Fr Nicholas Knisely in a forum discussion of B033 for new deputies — if it hasn't been discussed to oblivion or resurrection by that point. I"m also to be a table host at the Chicago Consultation luncheon.

Then, as well, there's that short meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury, which has given rise to hope in some circles and gnashing of teeth in others. I feel a bit like Mary in the Protoevangelium: "I behold two peoples with mine eyes, the one weeping and lamenting and the other rejoicing and exulting." I tend to preserve a status somewhere in the middle of that particular spectrum; though I think the meeting itself is a Very Good Thing (as I think Christians meeting and being in relationship are at the heart of the Gospel and the Mission of the Church), I primarily see its value simply for itself, as a ding an sich, rather than in terms of consequences.

So this will be my last post for a bit, until I can grab a chance to report on how things are going in Anaheim. Orate fratres.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

July 1, 2009

Not a requirement

One of the major arguments against blessing same-sex marriages is that they are not supported by Scripture. Leaving aside the question of whether that is actually true or not (!), I think it is important to examine the underlying misconception in that argument.

The Anglican tradition holds that the Church may not require or impose that which cannot be proved from Scripture.

But the Anglican tradition equally holds that the Church may allow things not provided for in Scripture, condemn things that are allowed in Scripture, and allow things that are condemned.

So the thesis that allowing the blessing of same-sex marriages requires explicit scriptural approbation fails.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Fedex cathedra

We receive the faith once delivered knowing that even the fastest delivery takes time, and that the package requires unpacking.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Mot d'escalier:

... and instead of signing for it, we are signed for it.