August 27, 2009

Failing Solomon's Test

The Hebrew scripture reading at Morning Prayer today was the account of Solomon's test of the two women who both claimed to be mothers of the sole surviving child in their household. When Solomon gave the order that the child be cut in two, the true mother, moved by pity, was willing to let the other woman have the living child. This revealed her identity and Solomon's wisdom.

When it comes to dividing the Anglican Communion I think we are dealing with a similar situation — though a less lethal one: that is, even if divided, some sort of Anglican Communion, or a split-level Anglican Communion, or perhaps two distinct Anglican Communions (each claiming the title) will continue to exist; hampered in mission, diminished in scope, but still able to say, with Monty Python's medieval peasant, "I'm not dead yet."

Where I see greater resonance with this impressive episode in Solomon's reign is the similarity of certain voices from the edges to the voice of the not-mother of the child, "Let it be divided!"

To be blunt, the far right represented by GAFCON has already moved on the division and is unlikely to recant short of a change in leadership and a change of heart. They do not wish to be part of an entity that fails to live up to their standards, and are confident that they represent the vital body while those they oppose are a tumor or a gangrenous limb, to be removed not simply as a matter of convenience but in order to preserve the life of the body.

But to be fair, there are also voices on the far left of the progressive end of the spectrum who have been equally vehement in their rejection of continued unity if it is going to mean any hesitation in or denial of adopting what they see as righteous, good, and just. "Let the schismatics go!" is the watchword; or even more extremely, "We don't need no stinking Communion..." (or words to that effect.)

Somewhere in the midst of all of this are those who see a virtue in unity even if it is an imperfect unity; who see virtue in staying together even if it means a lack of clear consensus; who see a value in compromise even if it means everyone not being entirely satisfied.
And this is where I once again return to my appeal for patience, a laissez-faire attitude, and honoring the provincial autonomy of the member churches of the Communion. For there are many provinces in the Communion who are willing to live with anomalies taking place in other provinces — not all are insistent that all must do as they do in all things.

We are not, after all, a world-church — which is simply a statement of fact, not an effort to short-circuit what might emerge as a world-church after a considerable period of time.The proposed Covenant — more proposed than a covenant at this point! — may find ways, one hopes particularly Anglican ways, of fostering our unity without undercutting our traditional liberty in matters of rites and ceremonies and, more importantly, the relationships and ministries for which those rites and ceremonies are designed, and which they institute and support.

The majority of provinces in the Communion appear willing to engage in this process of exploration, listening, and reflection: respectful of others' actions without the need to approve those actions. This seems to me to be on adult and mature manner of working.

And I do not think it takes a Solomon to see the wisdom of such an approach.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

August 21, 2009

BSG Convocation 2009 and Ave Maria

Where I was last week...

The setting of Ave Maria is by Charles Rus, used with his permission.

August 20, 2009

Friends, Romans, and Pagans

Over at Hobdee again, I was challenged on my assertion that natural law arguments derived from pagan philosophy form the major part of the traditional case against same-sexuality. One need only look at Aquinas to see a typical example; while he of course mentions the Scripture to support his argument, his primary appeal is to natural law.

Such an appeal to pagan concepts of natural law as opposed to Scripture on this issue go back to St. Paul himself in Romans 1, in his only extended comment on male homosexual acts. (As those who have read my book will know, whether he is referring to female homosexual acts or not is an open question; it is as likely, and more consistent with the argument he is making, if the reference is to women who "exchanged the natural use" by allowing their husbands, as the rabbis would say, "to turn the table" and make use of "penetration by the other way" -- at least that is how Clement of Alexandria and Augustine of Hippo understood Paul.)

Paul himself critiques all of this behavior on pagan grounds, concerned as he is in this chapter with the pagans to whom he refers: those having failed to perceive God who is evident in nature and are convicted on the basis of their own understanding of and failure to abide by "natural law" derived from Stoic philosophy.

Jewish biblical law, as I hope most of you know, does not forbid lesbianism, nor "turning the table" between husband and wife. So Paul's appeal here must be to an extra-biblical law, in order to frame a cogent argument — since he is speaking of those "outside the law [of Moses]." This is also why NT Wright and others who read Genesis into Romans 1 are mistaken — the Gentiles to whom Paul refers didn't know Genesis, but, as Paul argues, should have been able to see what was right from nature, to which they did have access. That's point one of Paul's thesis. He then, of course, goes on to point two: blast those who relied on the Law of Moses for salvation.

That is the whole object of Paul's case, after all, in Romans: Gentiles are not saved by following natural law, Jews are not saved by following the Law of Moses — because no one is perfect in following any law at all. Law cannot save. All are saved, Jew and Greek alike, not by their own conscientious following of any law, but by Jesus Christ, and him alone, by grace through faith.

That is Paul's Gospel.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

August 18, 2009

Musings after Repose

Well, I’m back from Convocation, none the worse for the restful time, but facing all of the usual residua to which that meeting gives rise: photos, videos, minutes, reports, updates, usw.

Meanwhile, over at the Old HoBD Corral, I’ve been having a discussion on the Prevailing Issue, and why it (discussion) is so difficult. I’ve observed that many among the “Reasserter” side of things seem content to reassert what they believe to be the True Answer to the problem; and rarely seem willing to discuss the issue in anything approaching a rational argument, moving from agreed upon premises to conclusions in logical steps. As the name implies, they usually articulate a reassertion of the premise/conclusion in circular form. And that is a logical fallacy. (It may be true, but it is illogical).

If this leaves us at an impasse, it is because the reasserters are unwilling to “do the theology,” as they often accuse the progressive / reappraiser side of doing. In fact, what I’m suggesting is we all need to do some reappraising together. When folks simply forbid reappraisal, we end up with a situation such as that in the Roman Catholic Church, which in regard to the ordination of women has confessed that the theological rationale of previous years was insufficient, and recognized that the more recent theological arguments were tending towards dodgy ground; and so finally ruled, “End of discussion.”)

In our situation, I think it is more helpful to engage the issue, as indeed I have gone to pains to do in Reasonable and Holy: to look at the various tele* or goods of marriage, as variously defined in the tradition, to see if a same-sex couple is capable of achieving those ends or enjoying those goods. It is, it appears to me after my study, possible to answer that question in the affirmative.

It is also helpful to look at the larger question, “What is the telos of the human being?” — about which there is considerable consensus in the Christian tradition, from both sides of the Catholic/Protestant divide: to know, love, serve and glorify God and to enjoy him for ever. And we have been taught that we achieve or thwart that end in connection to how we treat other human beings, likewise made in the image of God. This is why the theology of the imago Dei, and the recent distortions in that theology (in an unwise attempt to frame a theological defense of traditional marriage) are so important.

Now, this is not to place all of the blame on one side. Much of the argument on both sides has consisted in people talking past each other, mouthing their conclusions and waving their catch-phrases as if they were self-evident truths. This is why I try to engage people in going back to the first principles upon which we actually agree and then working forward in stepwise fashion, to see where we might end up. This necessitates a willingness to adopt up front the Anglican doctrine of humility: that we have no doubt erred, and may well err again.

For some on both sides, as well, the topic is ended, the book closed, there is no further reason for discussion. In the face of that reality, there can be any amount of dust shaken from plenty of heels, a parting of the ways — or a willingness to agree to disagree. Many in the Anglican Communion seem willing to adopt that kind of “watchful waiting” approach; it seems to be the hope of the Archbishop of Canterbury (more on this later) and the sense of “moratoria” (instead of “prohibitions”). Still, even in holding out this possibility for change Canterbury and the communion moderates are offending both those who want to see the church adopt an amended view on The Subject, and those who see such an adoption, or even its entertainment, as departure from the faith once given.

One of my interlocutors at HoBD suggested I was unwilling to adopt “first principles” myself, but I suggested that what he was offering as premises looked like conclusions to me. I rejoined that to find common ground we must get behind those conclusions to find something more basic. He offered one such principle, upon which I can agree as a basis for discussion, a classical concept well in keeping with the style of first principles: “The scriptures are ‘God’s word written’ and therefore normative for matters of salvation and Christian life.”

Although this statement itself requires a good bit of unpacking (and I look to Richard Hooker for the classical version of that task) it is something I can and do fully accept and affirm. In similar language it forms part of the Lambeth unpacking of Chicago’s Quadrilateral.

Where he and I part company is not on this fundamental premise, but on the conclusions we draw from it. So examining the arguments by which we reach these conclusions, the logical steps and inferences (and the related and sometimes unstated premises upon which they rely), would be a helpful form of engagement. Of primary importance is getting those other unstated premises out on the table. Sometimes these unstated premises are seen to be self-evident, but my experience is that they form another part of the obstacle to clear thinking.

One of the things we clearly disagree about is not whether the Scripture is a “normative” (I prefer the old language of “sufficient”) guide to salvation and moral living, but whether Scripture actually addresses The Issue upon which we disagree: is same-sex marriage possible, and if so, is it moral?

These are not easy questions, and any argument from Scripture or Reason or Tradition is going to be complex, as there is no explicit prohibition (or approbation) of same-sex marriage in Scripture; Reason alone is unlikely to provide a clear answer acceptable to those who think Scripture is clear; and Tradition, while generally tending one way, is also mixed. This is why a glib conclusion, either way, while tempting, will not settle the argument.

I am content to continue the discussion. As a starter, I want to comment briefly on one of the unspoken corollary premises of the reasserter position: that Genesis offers us a “one size fits all” divine pattern for all human sexual relations.

I address this assertion at some length in R&H, as well as the discontinuities of this premise with significant aspects of the tradition, but I want to raise an additional question here, concerning taking Genesis as a template at all, that is, questioning the very premise. Why is Genesis seen as a template for all sexual relations but not for any or all other human activities? Why, for example, do we allow other forms of industry than agriculture? (Given that was Cain’s metier and industry was the invention of the offspring of Lamech’s polygamous unions.) Why do we allow women to use anaesthesia in childbirth? (Roundly opposed on biblical grounds in the Victorian era, until Victoria herself made use of it.) Why aren’t we all vegetarians? (Yes, I know God changed the rules in Genesis 9, but if we were so keen on living in accord with God’s original intent, vegetarianism is the most biblical answer.) More importantly, Why, if the subjection of women to their husbands is a result of the fall, has it taken the church so long to recognize women as restored to their antelapsarian state as equal collaborators?

These seem to be to be questions worthy of reflection in opposition to the view that the patterns laid out in Genesis are necessarily the only options available to the children of Adam and Eve, the children of God and siblings of Christ.

However, if there is no willingness to engage these questions, if we are simply at a standoff — none of us able to convince the other of the truth of our position, or even to discuss the matter with some degree of mutual care and willingness to perhaps change our minds — then our challenge is to see if we are able to live together in harmonious disagreement, and wait for time itself slowly to winnow truth. I am certainly willing to do so, as I think there are far more important matters facing us, about which we do have significant agreement, and our efforts and resources would be well spent in their pursuit. Such as the mission of the church to restore people to unity with each other and God in Christ.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

* A helpful correction from Bill Carroll

August 7, 2009

Thought for 08.07.09

Inside every institutionalist there is an insurrectionist trying to get out.

—Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

August 3, 2009

Biblical Wedding Cake Ornaments

Suitable for use as a bookmark in any Bible.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Reading Rowan — Part the Second

I ended the first section of this reflection on the Archbishop of Canterbury with reference to Truth; and I would like to focus on that theme in his second section. I will do that by sharing with you some of what I said to the Archbishop at the meeting in Anaheim.

Being True to Oneself

I deferred a call to ordained ministry for a number of years in large part due to the “don’t ask/don’t tell” policy that was in place in the Diocese of New York. I felt I could not in good conscience function in such a regime — in part because of the value I place on openness, authenticity, and honesty in pastoral ministry — and I could not imagine ministering effectively under such circumstances. With a change in that policy by the newly elected bishop, and a change in attitude reflected in the House of Bishops itself at the 1991 General Convention, I knew that it was time to answer that call. Little did I know that I would end up serving in a congregation 90 percent of whose members are from parts of the Anglican Communion in which I would not be able to serve with such honesty. In part because I preach the gospel and treat my personal life as a fact on the ground, as I think any pastor should, allows most of the members of the congregation to do the same. They support me, and my partner of 29 years, in our ministry with them; and they treat him with respect they would any clergy spouse. The women of the parish make cakes for his birthday, and people always ask after him when he is away on business.

However, as with all ministry, this is not ultimately about me: it helps the gay and lesbian members of my parish to be themselves as well. They come from parts of the world where they could only do that literally at the risk of their lives and safety, and more importantly, might never cross the threshold of a church.

This is an important witness to the Gospel, in the ultimate rule and moral standard that Jesus gave us: to treat others as we would be treated, to love our neighbors as ourselves. And to do that, we must be ourselves, reveal ourselves. Being forced to live in the closet — or even choosing it as the easier way — is a fundamental violation of human dignity as well as an almost gnostic violation of the embodied truth of persons in their integrity and identity.

I am reminded that the motto of the Anglican Communion, in the words surrounding the Compass Rose: “The Truth Shall Make You Free.” One of the principles of Ubuntu, a concept which has occupied so much of our thinking and working at this session of General Convention, is that we cannot authentically be ourselves unless we are in relationship. My question is, How can we be in authentic relationships if we are not open and honest about ourselves from the outset? If we are all wearing masks, it is not a meeting of true self with true self, but a masquerade, a game of mask facing mask, reflected “in a glass darkly.” What would happen; what wave of opportunities for new ministry might break forth across the Anglican Communion if we were to take off our masks — all of us? What would happen if we were to be set free by truth for Truth? I am reminded of an eponymous line from CS Lewis’s great novel, “How can we truly know and love each other face-to-face, until we have faces?”

What is Truth?

That is what I said, more or less, to the Archbishop. And of course, any discussion of truth, either with or without a capital T, is bound to be dicey. Let me say, first of all, I reject relativism: that is, I think truth has to do with reality; though perceptions can and will differ, I think there is something that is perceived. I also accept that certain things I believe to be true cannot be proven but must be taken on faith — such as that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior and Redeemer of the world. I believe other truths can be demonstrated: such as that committed, life-long, monogamous same-sex relationships are not only not sinful, but capable of showing forth the grace and love of God.

While expounding the truth, or what one believes to be true, can certainly lead to division, I also believe — and this is where I differ most sharply with the Archbishop — that it is expounding the truth that leads to unity rather than being in unity leading to truth. Let me be more precise (which may also serve to lessen the gap between me and the Archbishop somewhat) — it is first of all a question of knowledge, of what we believe to be true; in short, an epistemological question. How do I know anything at all, let alone whether it is true or not? Relationship is clearly an important aspect of knowledge — I learn from others, both human others and “the other” in the form of the sensible world, as well as the ultimate Other, God, through God’s self-communication in revelation and most particularly in the person of Christ. And I refine my knowledge (that is, I learn) in communication with those others, in listening to those others, and come to know what I believe to be true in that forum and interchange and relationship. And out of this there grows a form of dynamic community. This is how truth both leads to and fosters community, truth-speaking in dialogue and listening leading to understanding, and community (as opposed to division) fostering that conversation. As Paul said to the Ephesians, “So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.” One’s truth can only be heard if there are those willing to listen. Uncertain trumpets and ears not geared to hear are equally obstacles to the task of evangelism: a task which reveals the need to speak as well as to listen, and which itself testifies to the fact that, “All have not heard,” and that the Truth must be communicated and spread. The church as a whole and in its members is, after all, “called” — it is assembled by the proclamation, and then gives rise to yet more proclamation, in the sending forth to spread the Evangelical Truth.

It seems to me that the Archbishop may be calling “unity” what I am calling relationship or community. But he appears to me to have a more limited notion of the institutional forms in which such unity might be incarnated. He wants a tighter and more regulated union as opposed to what he dismisses as a federation — and yet it seems to me that federations work very well, or at least as well as more tightly unitary entities. Benedictines and Franciscans both have a lively sense of identity and community, incarnated in very different structures. And I cannot help but note that given the Anglican Benedictine heritage, it might be good to remember the essentially autonomous nature of each abbey — living a common rule but individually governed, with only a superficial ecclesiastical structure at a higher level of management, an arch-abbot whose primary task is to check in once and a while at each abbey to see how well they are following the Rule they hold in common, but exercise as individual foundations. Sounds like the Anglican Communion to me!

My concern about “unity giving rise to truth” lies in awareness of how central control can quash the very sensibility, adaptation to local circumstance, and experimentation through which truth is often perceived, expressed, and more widely received. Monolithic entities — especially when they think they already have the truth or even are infallible — tend not to be open to correction, reform or development; they often do not listen to the corrective warnings of the child who sees the naked emperor. It is very easy for unity and unanimity to lead to self-deception; even to conspiracy and repression of the truth. Sanhedrins often are not good at accepting input, even from some of their own number.

The Elephant in the Room

Let me take up for a moment the old parable of the blind men and the elephant. In their touching and feeling they think they are engaged with different things rather than one elephantine entity: a rope, a tree, a pipe, a wall, a fan. If they remain out of communication with each other they will of course continue in this misunderstanding. But they do not need to form a “union” or “unity” in order to come to a better mind — they need communion or community: in short, to communicate with each other, and the precise form of that communication — federal, synodical, or monarchial, is irrelevant. In the world of modern networking, a distributed and open communication system may be preferred over a central administration.

Of course, they must also have some prior concept of “elephanticity,” even if it is a vague or second-hand report of heffalumps or oliphants. Thus they build not only on their individual experiences but on their own past knowledge, gained from community, of an idea of an elephant. Had they no knowledge of an elephant, who knows what strange joint vision they might construct, without any relation to the reality of which they each had only partial experience.

But, and here I may be treading over into paradox and an Anglican koan — what if it is the elephant who is blind? What if it is the elephant who has no ability to form a concept of itself? How do you tell an elephant it is an elephant? How can the elephant know the truth of its own elephant-self without the help of those blind but sensitive witnesses whose limited knowledge can only be perfected in communion, yet without which communion cannot come to be. Mustn’t the elephant construct a self-identity as a unitary entity from the evidence of the individuals reporting on its aspects? It seems to me that the Anglican Communion — indeed the whole church — is best approached as an entity that has no understanding of itself apart from the understanding of its individual members, who jointly seek understanding: truth communicated leading to unity.

To use another analogy: Consciousness itself emerges from the bicameral nature of the brain: our brain is not a unitary entity, but a consortium of independent clusters of activity, cooperating with each other to give rise to self-awareness. The church is a body with many members, contributing different faculties to the whole in organs of sense and motion.

E Pluribus Unum

It is obvious that the church does not simply spring into existence fully formed. The One is formed by the community of the Many. It grows by the addition of new members. It is, as we ourselves are, woven in secret, knit together from various components with which it is equipped, to come together and grow together in Love. Perhaps the Anglican Communion needs a refresher course in Ephesians, to understand how telling the truth can lead to unity and communion, while duplicity (the dual-minded opposite of community) can produce only an appearance of unity, the masquerade of which I spoke, a false-front facade of an edifice that is empty at its heart, a Temple forsaken by the Spirit who does not simply bestow all truth, but who leads us into it.

This is why the so-called Listening Process is so important: and it reveals, to some extent, Rowan Williams’ own trust in an emergent unity — that is, if unity were necessary for dialogue, why treat dialogue and listening as a means to encouraging unity? This gives me hope that in the actual working out of things it may be that the Archbishop is an idealist and the Vicar is a realist, but we are both dealing with the same entity under it all. That is, we are looking at the same church from two different angles; and both of us are committed to the Listening Process as a means to a better end.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG