February 16, 2010

Theory or Praxis?

Bishop Whalon has written a thoughtful article about the sequence in which things have happened in the Episcopal Church concerning gay and lesbian persons, their relationships, and their role in ordained ministry — particularly in regard to the lack of clear statements from the General Convention, and the lack of a formal theological position certified by that body.

I would note at first that the General Convention is a legislative body, not a council of theologians. Nor do I think there is much "official theology" on the ground even when it comes to mixed-sex marriage: the 1928 BCP catechism, for example, is completely silent on the subject; the Articles of Religion only tell us that it is permitted to clergy and an estate allowed by Scripture. The 1979 Prayerbook doesn't say much more, and surely the defects (in the sense of what is wanting) in the Preface to the marriage liturgy (even as expanded from 1928 in our present BCP) should forestall anyone considering it a well-thought-out "theology," though it does, as I have reflected in Reasonable and Holy, provide the beginnings for such a theological reflection.

However, the real issue, to my mind, behind Bishop Whalon's article isn't so much about theology but about General Convention's proper role as a legislature: that the Episcopal Church, through General Convention, has not officially recognized the licitness of same-sex marriage, and by consenting to the election of a partnered (and legally married) gay bishop we have set the cart before the horse. I agree with my friend Bishop Whalon that this is a problem, and it continues to cloud the air with inconsistency.

In short, I would suggest that the theology has been done by the relevant theologians (obviously not to the liking of some others!) but that it is now time — or will be in 2012 — for General Convention to do its legislative duty in response, and give that theological work whatever "official" recognition is needed — by accepting its conclusions and providing formal recognition for the blessing of the stable, monogamous, lifelong relationships of same-sex couples on an equal footing with mixed-sex marriages.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Marshall Scott said...

Tobias, forgive me for responding here in the same words that I responded at the Cafe. However, I think your loyal readership would be a good community for reflection.

It seems to me that in his response to the post at Episcopal Cafe, Bishop Whalon answered the question I had in reading the earlier post on his article: he does indeed feel there needs to be an action of General Convention. I think that has its place. Indeed, I think that's one place we can find the theology - but not in the resolutions.

One of the most valuable events in Anaheim, I believe, was the session of the House of Deputies devoted simply to listening. People spoke to their experiences and their beliefs about where the Episcopal Church might go in the future. And if one paid attention, there were many who cited, at least in summary due to time constraints, theological positions on which they founded their decisions. Sure, much of it seemed "bumper sticker" theology: summary statements, offered in the words the speaker thought would offer the most punch. However, it would be presumptuous and dismissive to imagine that those brief statements weren't grounded in long, deep reflection. Were we to review again a transcript of that session, we would hear that a great deal of theology had not only been done, but had now been shared in General Convention.

It was argued in response to the previous post that "there is no Anglican theology." I take issue with that in two ways. First, I think there is an Anglican process of doing theology, modeled by many, that incorporates explicit reflection on Scripture, the history and tradition of the Church, and reasoned reflection on our experience before God. Second, there are certain prisms that are particularly important for Anglicans, including a focus on the Incarnation; reflection on the Church Fathers; expression in our Worship; and an understanding of Scripture that is multivalent and faithfully critical.

In that light, I think a good deal of theology was expressed in General Convention. Sure, it was expressed in argument for or against resolutions, more than in the resolutions themselves. And, sure, there was a minority, siblings who didn't find compelling the theological positions of the majority. That said, perhaps that activity in Convention should be both a resource and an expression for us as to the theology that has been done in this Church on these difficult issues - at least as much a resource and expression as a report from the HOB Theology Committee, and any resolutions that might rise from that.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Marshall. Having participated in a few of those discussions, I can attest that some theological work does happen on the floor of the Houses at GC. However, that is of benefit largely as it informs our decisions on resolutions -- and it is the resolutions that endure. The conversation that informed the decisions is lost except to memory -- it is not even recorded in the Journal. If there were a way to "resource" these conversations (and the work done in the legislative committees as well -- often at greater depth than on the floor of the houses) it would be great.