February 9, 2010

The Unequal Measures

The Archbishop of Canterbury has addressed the General Synod with an unusually measured tone and content. Finally he appears to recognize that some of his comments have caused more pain, and served less well, than he imagined or intended.

Still, I find the whole process of thought concerning how we are to get along as a Communion to remain more or less one-sided, though in this speech the Archbishop does his best to even the scales, and put some responsibility on the other side. However, on the whole, restraint is still in general posed as restraint from action rather than restraint from reaction. It become a form of, “Please don't do what the rest of us, or most of the rest of us, don't like; or even, in the long run, what a few of us cannot bear.”

I still find it odd, as in Bishop Graham Kings’ recent essay, that the interaction and relationship of "autonomy" and "interdependence" are not better understood, but instead set off against each other as opposed notions. The Anglican Covenant refers to "communion with autonomy and accountability." Interdependence does not mean submission, but relationship — which is the dwelling the Archbishop appears to be framing out, but is still tentative about moving into.

Interdependence in relationship with autonomy is a two way street: the pledge is for all of us to bear one another's burdens, not to control each others' lives. (See Covenant 3.2, which calls for mutual respect, not control.) So this means, perhaps that the Communion will need to put up with gay bishops in one province, and criminalization of homosexuality in the nation in which another province exists, accepting that in a large and complex world and church, with many cultures and traditions and laws, all things will not necessarily be the same in all places.

The one thing that can be common to all is the willingness to abide in relationship, and abide with these tensions rather than allowing them to divide us as we stand in judgment of one another instead of bearing with one another.

Let Love be the thumb on the scale, and restraint be restraint from judgment and wrath.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Deacon Charlie Perrin said...


I think that what Bishop Kings refers to is not "interdependence" but "codependence." (As in: don't do that! It will make Dad drink.)

Daniel Weir said...

Perhaps the most important gift that we should be seeking is the gift of patience. I see too many people looking for a quick fix, too many people to do the hard work of abiding in relationships that are difficult.

June Butler said...

Finally he appears to recognize that some of his comments have caused more pain, and served less well, than he imagined or intended.

Only now is the ABC realizing that his comments caused pain? Well, better late than never. I'll wait to see if actions follow his words of apology.

Paul said...

I appreciate the distinction between restraint from action a opposed to restraint from reaction. Without calling out both of these issues, the answer to every question is a knee jerk conservatism which doesn't serve the church well in a fast changing society.

What I find galling about affairs in the Communion is how we manage to get along with diverse viewpoints in every part of our lives except within the church. My wife and I have some dear family friends who are very conservative protestants. There are things we agree to disagree about, but we have no closer friends in town. Life has a way of throwing the most unlikely people into your path, and most of us manage that process fairly well. What is it about church that makes it so important for us to agree on absolutely everything? Why does the tolerance we exercise at work have to stop at the church door? Shouldn't the church community be a model for the rest of the world, instead of the other way 'round?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the thoughts. Charlie, quite right about the codependency, as I noted earlier....

Daniel, patience, as the saying goes, is a virtue! (And I don't mean David!!)

Mimi, a mixed bag, this address, but it does show a bit more listening going on, I think.

Paul, that's it exactly! The Elizabethan church was able to embrace two mutually exclusive understandings of the Holy Eucharist without falling apart; the medieval church had two completely different theologies of marriage between the North of Europe and the South, but somehow managed to get on with things. Once again I think the Internet exacerbates our awareness of things going on that we don't like elsewhere in the world -- and some feel the need to respond rather than to let it be.

Closed said...

I think the problem is not merely that some of his comments have caused pain, they have shown contempt whether or not it is his personal sense or that of the institution. It doesn't matter, the fact that such a high placed public ecclesial figure does so has given tacit permission to others that showing of contempt toward lgbt persons is "okay". I remember a few years back when a young gay man was bombed to death in London. +Williams' remark was to the effect that this was sad because it could happen even to one who is celibate and embraces church teaching. That is when I knew he does'nt *get it*. He continues to abstract us in ways that our Benedictine heritage and the theology of Richard Hooker and our particularist heritage will not allow.

Bob G+ said...

On first listen, I thought the Archbishop's speech was very good. I particularly appreciated his expression of a distinctively Christian understanding of freedom and liberty. I think this is something that we to often tend to disregard in the Episcopal Church - we are too quick to take upon ourselves the secular or currently trendy cultural definition, which is certainly getting us no where in both our public and ecclesial settings.

I also find intriguing his ideas of three dimensionality. It is common sense, I think, particularly for an Anglican, but perhaps he is attempting to put into new words or establish a new vision for the Via Media so that those of us so tainted by our current troubles can claim it again.

Erika Baker said...

I don't know enough about the history of the debate about the Holy Eucharist. What strikes me, though, is that everyone was perfectly happy to tolerate different views about homosexuality until the debate was frothed up in a concerted campaign.

And the more heated and the more prolonged the conflict grows, the more polarized it becomes and the more it seems important to everyone to have a firm opinion on it, and slowly it isn’t important to merely have an opinion, but we also need to “win” and so everything escalates more and more.
Wars function according to the same principle.

You can observe the beginnings of these mechanisms at work whenever the Communion discusses any issue in great detail, whether it is Substitutionary Penal Atonement, lay presidency, women priests or homosexuality. Things you normally barely think about become hugely important and then a real dividing line between Us and Them.
And if it’s in somebody’s interest to make sure that one particular issue becomes a genuine breaking point, they only have to ensure that the debate is never settled, never forgotten.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Christopher, I think contempt is too strong a word. The fact is that Rowan is careless in his speech, and suffers from a divided mind, which leads to further less than well-thought-out comments, and plays a big part in his obvious failure, as you say, to "get it" -- a failure that often plagues people who live too much in their heads or their hearts without engaging both. And I agree that his carelessness opens the door for others to show contempt. On the whole, in regard to Rowan himself, I think "negligent" would be more accurate than "contemptuous" -- from my own personal interactions with him, I find him open and willing to listen, but the inner wheels turn so furiously that I don't think he is always a good "hearer." We are working on that, and I think this speech is at least a small step forward.

Bob G, it is my hope that Rowan himself can bring some of that three dimensionality to bear. We shall see.

Erika, I would love to be able to agree with you on this, as on the other thread concerning mutual respect. But I think it is less than an honest reading either of history or the present situation not to see the root of the problem lying with what I will call Puritanism for the sake of brevity. This is application outside the realm of 17th century ecclesiastical divisions: the Puritan is one who cannot accept diversity of opinion on anything he or she thinks is of importance -- and the history of the church from the time of the apostles on is littered with the aftereffects of their refusal to exit diversity of opinion, or change in the tradition -- starting with those who disregarded the decision of the Apostolic Council, and continued to insist (with good scriptural warrant), that circumcision was required for inclusion in the People of God. It is Puritans, who by their very nature, need to "win." They "need" uniformity of opinion in order to feel secure in their own beliefs.

This is not to say that Puritans have the sole franchise on intolerance -- there are intolerant folks on the "progressive" side too, generally arising in dialectical response to some Puritan revolt against a "big tent." And we are the poorer for that, too.

Closed said...

Perhaps there is some other word than negligence that is less than contempt but more than negligence? I am 35. Imagine the younger lgbt folk in the UK alone. I'm sorry, but I can almost guarantee that for many of them negligence is not quite strong enough a word for the impact of +Williams' words. His words make very public and often the institutional heterosexism of the Communion and that in truth the impartial process of examining called for from Lambeth since the 1970s is not possible. When this is coupled with actions like those toward Johns+ and +Robinson, again, negligence is too kind. I think of the way +Robinson was treated when he wished to visit Canterbury cathedral during Lambeth. It was appalling, and +Williams said nothing in regard to this glaring lack of hospitality coupled with clear hostility on the part of the staff.

So, I'm not the first to have felt that his words come across as dismissive and even scornful at times, again, admitting that they do so because sloppy and not well though through. I note that +Robinson challenged him at New Orleans for precisely the same thing, a sense of contempt. Negligent may be a closer to better word, but it is a serious negligence revealing again that listening is sorely lacking and allusions to a listening process are at this point numbing when coupled with actions that show a real willingness to treat us in ways he would not wish to be treated.

That the dire situation in Uganda is not mentioned at all while concern about who gets to be bishop stays front and center reveals a serious problem. Too much head and too little flesh. I am reminded, "Listen with the ears of your heart." Both/and. The result is rather codependence than interdependence. We turn a blind eye to fascist-like activities and chastise those who live out of the liberality characteristic of our tradition, a liberality that has demanded that no one else do the same, only that no one else support putting us to death or imprisoning us in Jesus' Name.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Christopher, I think it is fair to recognize that negligence sometimes rises to the level of the criminal.

Perhaps because I have had the chance to meet and speak with him, I tend to be a bit more charitable in my judgments concerning Rowan. I do not think he is a born leader; he probably thinks too much, and like many thoughtful people, he is probably too able to grasp the possible negative consequences of some of his actions, and thus be paralyzed either into inaction or actions contrary to his own heart. This is, I think, exactly what happened in the case of Jeffrey John. His fear of revolution led him to a course of action (or inaction). ( the situation with Bishop Robinson is a bit more nuanced than you present it -- remember that England operates under a strict don't ask don't tell regime, for good or ill. Which is not to say Rowan could not have taken a bold step -- but again, lives in fear of the reaction.)

The other thing you need to be aware of is the English --- or I should say British --- love of multilayered ways of working, in which sometimes the left and right hands not only don't know what each other are doing, but even that they exist. (Have you seen "MI-5"?) Thus you can be sure that many back channel activities were in play concerning Uganda even if no public statement was being made. My own participation in the Indaba Process is another example. There are groups within groups, for reflection, focus, program, and on and on, with sometimes very tenuous connection with each other. But the work called for by Lambeth 1978 and since is in fact going on. I will be in London next week, in fact, and at our last meeting planned to meet with Rowan once more. I think the light is slowly beginning to dawn.

Erika Baker said...

the Puritan has to win, no doubt.
Personally, I'd also like to win this particular battle, so in that respect I'm no different.

The point I was making, though, is that it is not necessary to lie about people, to diminish them and to ridicule them in order to believe in the correctness of your own views.

I agree that it far too often goes hand in hand!

Brother David said...

indifference, neglect, heedlessness, inattention, disregard, slight

Take your pick.

Brother David said...

Erica, the difference between you and The Puritans, is that you are not wanting to win at any cost, and they appear to be very willing to do anything to win, even to the point of selling their very soul. The end justifies the means, and many of them have been very willing to lie, to belittle and to demonize. Even to the point that they are willing to turn their god into an ogre, to make Him out to be actually more hateful than themselves to be able to live with themselves.

I think that it very much goes back to the phenomenon identified in the work of the husband & wife team of sociologist Paul H. Ray and psychologist Sherry Ruth Anderson in their book The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World. They identified a group that they called the Traditionalists. A key aspect of this group is that they are fighting tooth & nail to maintain a tradition that is mostly mythological. They are throwing their all into preserving a historic worldview that never actually existed as a whole outside of their own corporate minds. And they are desperate to perpetuate this construct no matter the cost to others or even to their own integrity.

As this Tradition grows more and more threatened, as it moves farther into the minority, I fear that their attempts to conserve it will become even more desperate, and they will become more desensitized to the actual evil in many of their actions.

A brief example is Matt Kennedy. I do not believe that Mr. Kennedy is an evil person, but on SFiF his reaction to the murder of Dr. Tiller was of shameful indifference. He could not be bothered to even fathom it an evil deed. In his words it was that a serial murderer had been justly executed.

Brother David said...

Adrain's take on it all;


June Butler said...

"Listen with the ears of your heart."

Christopher, your most recent comment speaks what is in my heart. I'm tired of giving Rowan the benefit of the doubt because of his peculiar personality. But then Jesus' words about 70 times 7 call me to forgive over and over again, and I'm willing to forgive Rowan's negligence/comtempt, whatever descriptive is applied. But I'm jaded, and I say, "Enough of words; show me your deeds."

Having said that, I'm pleased that you, Tobias, continue to engage in the listening process.

With respect to Uganda and Rowan's thus far weak public pronouncements on the draconian laws, the much ballyhooed behind-the-scenes activity can look an awful lot like head-in-the-sand.

Tobias, I posted a similar comment to this one some time ago. If both comments make it through eventually, please post only one.

Closed said...

Fr Haller, I have no doubt that all that you say is true. Remember, my shelves have every one of his books. I do not dismiss his theological acumen or his personal warmth or even that he knows or likes lgbt persons.

And yet, either public and personal cohere or they do not. At present the public presentation and face of the CofE and Anglican Communion as shown through +Williams is deeply heterosexist often in subtle but nonetheless dismissive ways and too readily slides toward okaying contempt shown by others. The words of +Williams have often supported this presentation no matter his personal feelings, communications, or sense of things.

Remember when +Williams noted that "the gay bishop" (his words) was a big part of the problem? That type of language falls on the heads of every gay person, not just one bishop. Or the "chosen lifestyle" or words about conversion in the Dutch radio interview? It's as if he's never really sat down and heard the life realities of lgbt persons. And others pick up on that to clobber persons sometimes unto death.

I have no doubt he is a delightful and thoughtful on a personal level, but that is not enough when he insists on this public face and chooses to speak only on behalf of the church in ways that set aside the personal. This is personal and deals with persons, not abstractions. What he has spoken is not something that we speak to the young.

When his latest words are coupled with "self-sacrificial" I cringe. Within the overall context of his many speeches on us these last years, that terminology takes on codependent connotations, even doormat connotations.

Again, I really don't care about back channels. Those do nothing of what is actually presented or is used in public ways. And what has been presented has pushed aside the personal for an institutional and public tendency to denigrate and dehumanize lgbt persons in subtle nobless oblige ways on the part of many and in none-to-subtle ways on the part of others.

The work may continue, but this failure to cohere public and personal is a deep failure of leadership from a Benedictine point-of-view.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Christopher, I don't really disagree with the bulk of your points here. Rowan is simply not an effective leader, and moreover, tone-deaf and insensitive to his own use of language. He really doesn't "get it" -- or hasn't, as what I'm observing is that he appears finally to recognize at least the part of this problem.

As to his language about sacrifice and restraint -- I was going to reflect on this at greater length, but the fact is he addresses this language towards the north and the west (both to gays themselves and others in leadership in the "progressive" wing) because he thinks we will listen to him; that is, he knows is a lost cause addressing public concerns to the Global South, or his own Evangelicals. He knows, as in Jeffrey John's case, that love of the church will outweigh personal advantage. (Try talking to Duncan along these lines!) I'm not saying this makes it any better -- but I think it is good to understand why he does what he does if we are to appeal to him to change his behavior to a more Benedictine, and integrated, way of living and working. Conversio mori will not be easy for him. I am not trying to excuse, but to understand. This, I think, is the truly Benedictine way of "obedience" based on listening with the heart as well as the head.

Closed said...

Again, I want to communicate that at heart lies a deep disappointment with a theologian I love and admire not because I expected he would change everything presto chango, but because he would humanize the situation. There is still hope for this, no? Please convey this to him if possible.

As someone getting a fledgling dip into leadership as president of the board of my community during a transition from foundress to guardian, I have found myself having to *step up* in ways that are uncomfortable for me, including face into conflict and being able to offer gentle-firm-honest words. Leadership is difficult. One of the books that has helped me with this is to date is this: The Benedictine Rule of Leadership: Classic Management Secrets You Can Use Today


Erika Baker said...

I think my last post didn't get through.

I think you're probably right, when we believe on a mythical past we cannot be objective about the present.
I cling to those people I know who manage to object to homosexuality while truly accepting and loving their lgbt family members. If they can do it, it IS possible.

I agree with your assessment of Rowan, but Christopher has a point. It is one thing to understand why your toddler has tantrums, parents nevertheless have the responsibility to help him grow out of them.
In Rowan's case, the gracious self-restraint is asks of us is actually deeply damaging not only to us but to the whole church which simply drifts deeper and deeper into righteous puritanism.

IT said...

How long are we going to make excuses for him? I think Tobias is right, he bullies those on our side because we actually can be bullied. In turn, I think he is afraid of those on the other side, because they really WILL break it apart.

Or would they? In any case I have to think that a sterner response early on would have been a shock but easier to get through. Rather like ripping off a bandaid in one movement, rather than millimeter by millimeter. His dallying has entrenched the two sides far more than need have happened.

Christopher, that sounds like a most interesting book.

Closed said...

Fr Haller,

I am going to have to say I find his use of "sacrificial" one more abstraction and reduction of our three-dimensionality as persons. My relationship is a whole lot more than that. What the ABC's words come across is how we lgbt persons are of use to the rest of the Body. It's as if the mouth and stomach decide who is important, reinverting Paul's image of the Body to it's Roman Pagan Imperial perspective. We exist as much more than being the convenient sacrificial for the rest of the Communion. He has yet to put flesh on us with his words.

Unknown said...

I don't have much to include to this (other than to say I love this conversation), but to respond to Tobias' response from 2/11.

He said:
"This is not to say that Puritans have the sole franchise on intolerance -- there are intolerant folks on the "progressive" side too, generally arising in dialectical response to some Puritan revolt against a "big tent." And we are the poorer for that, too."

Tobias, you are theologically correct and speaking to a spiritually appropriate level of self-recognition that is profound and truly beneficial, however, in conversations such as these, such a depiction has had the effect of doing more harm than good. All too often, in public conversations, the act of attributing mutual guilt fails to serve the important purpose of honesty, but of creating greater dishonesty. For example, Exxon/Mobil gives $2 million to one political candidate and $2 thousand to another; any attempts to demonstrate the need for mutual restraint has the more likely effect of treating both as equals in their behavior, which further serves to create a dishonest balance, rather than merely pointing out an honest similarity. Does this make sense?

I have become all too sensitive to attempts to remind the progressive left of its place when the unrestrained right is so rarely condemned with integrity.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Drew. Part of this comes from my awareness that I only have [limited!] control over my own behavior, and so I have to take responsibility for it. Thus, while I am sensitive to what may well appear to the progressive side as a disproportionate intolerance on the conservative side, I know that is not how it is perceived on the conservative side -- and I need to acknowledge that fact; because communication involves listening as well as speaking, and hearing and understanding what those with whom I disagree are saying and respecting that, even if I disagree with their perceptions, or think their perceptions to not match reality. After all, they may well be telling me the same thing about my perceptions!

I'm in London working on the Continuing Listening Process, and it is so very apparent to me how much all of us on various sides of debate and conflict are less than fully aware of our own intolerances and prejudices -- because they are "ours" we tend not to be aware of them. This is why listening to the other is so very important, for they can tell us things about our rhetoric that we don't think rhetorical!

I take your point that his _can_ lead to untruth or dishonesty, but it is important to do our best to keep an eye out for that, and be bold and speak in kind with the sort of loving critique modeled to us in the best in the tradition. Not all will be able to adopt a posture of humble listening, but that is an admirable goal...

Peace to you, and all joy and blessing.