June 30, 2011

Thought for 06.30.11

The proposed Anglican Covenant threatens to destabilize, deface or destroy the one thing of value that Anglicanism has to offer: our polity as a comparatively loose fellowship of self-governing churches. Anglicans have little to offer world Christendom by way of doctrine, except in the choice language of some of the very best English around. We do have (variably throughout the communion) some wonderful liturgy, again in rather fine language and music (some of which has indeed been borrowed by other traditions.)

But it is the idea of being a fellowship, a communion — not a "church" or a "federation" — of self-governing churches whose individual decisions do not bind the others, even as they cooperate in mission and ministry, that forms our only peculiar offering to the tapestry of world Christendom. It is a model of service and fellowship, of work with rather than power over, commended by Christ himself as a model of churchly governance. If that is not worth preserving, then we have little else to offer.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1896

Gracious God, we thank you for the witness of Harriett Beecher Stowe, whose fiction inspired thousands with compassion for the shame and sufferings of enslaved peoples, and who enriched her writings with the cadences of The Book of Common Prayer. Help us, like her, to strive for your justice, that our eyes may see the glory of your Son, Jesus Christ, when he comes to reign with you and the Holy Spirit in reconciliation and peace, one God, now and always. Amen.

It is said that when Stowe met Abraham Lincoln, the President observed, “So you are the little lady whose book started this war.” Such is the power of prophetic witness for justice.

ikon written by Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Thanks, Savitri

Happy to see this morning that Savitri Hensman of the Guardian has cited my work, Reasonable and Holy, as an Anglican resource in the continuing sexuality discussions. Thanks, Savi!


June 26, 2011

How to Approach the Covenant

Mark Harris has penned a thoughtful reflection on the state of the Anglican Covenant, in particular in light of the finally released opinion of the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons. (All such committees and commissions are very conscious of the fact that only the General Convention can speak with final authority on the meaning of its own documents; which may in part have been behind the, shall we say, shyness about the release of this report. No harm done, and it is good to see their thoughts, even though they are not the last word.)

One of the long-term concerns about approaching the Covenant is the awareness that its genesis was in part in response to actions of the Episcopal Church (and the Anglican Church of Canada), and given our unwillingness to refrain (after a season of restraint) from acting on our best determinations, some have said that we cannot in good conscience sign the Covenant.

This seems to me to lay too much emphasis on the genesis and not enough on the deuteronomy -- that is, on what the Covenant actually says.

As I see it, the way to "not cross our fingers" is to reject Lambeth 1.10 and the Windsor Report as authoritative from the start, and to reaffirm that the "mind of the communion" is not settled on the matters on which some seem to think it is. And to reaffirm our belief that the "objectionable" actions of TEC are in fact in accord with Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, even to the extent and in the manner described in the Covenant. And then move forward from there, whether we adopt or refuse or commit for further study. In other words, to take a stand and allow our response to the Covenant to be informed by that stand.

This approach is possible because, unlike the Jerusalem Declaration, the Covenant does not address specific issues, specifically not the specific issues that brought us to this place. (Hence its rejection by some who wanted a specific checklist on the hot topics, much in the manner of the classic confessions). It is up to us to make our case, or re-make it, if need be, and then have the courage, if the case cannot be accepted, to say, then fare well -- we have no wish to be part of a Communion which imposes doctrinal conditions that cannot be proven from Scripture, itself a violation of a timeworn Anglican touchstone. (Obviously there is disagreement across the communion, and no true consensus on the sexuality issues: a result of this very lack of convincing proof of the moral wrongness of same-sex marriage or the ordination of men or women who happen to live in such covenanted relationships.)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 25, 2011

Cornerstone of Civilization

New York State has joined a literal handful of other US judicatories and about the same number of international jurisdictions in approving marriage equality, to take effect in about a month.

The response has been elation on one side (my own) and the expected warnings of doom on the other, led locally by the Roman Catholic bishops of New York, who question the state's interference in what they call "the cornerstone of civilization." That this comes from a group of celibate men, who none-the-less appear by all standards to be relatively civilized, does not appear to have dawned upon them.

When it comes to cornerstones, civilization has more than marriage to rest upon. Most social scientists and historians credit agriculture and animal husbandry (quiet in the back!) as more central to the establishment of civilization than marriage — and in fact, most marriage law may more likely be seen as an outgrowth of civilization than its cause.

It is also evident, from the historical record (including the biblical one) that "one man / one woman marriage" has not been the only "civilizing" form even of marriage down through the years. As a reminder, allow me to share once again, my "Biblical Wedding Cake Toppers Bookmark" — suitable for keeping one's place in the tangles of the Torah or the Pauline Epistles.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 23, 2011

James Weldon Johnson

Eternal God, we give thanks for the gifts that you gave your servant James Weldon Johnson: a heart and voice to praise your Name in verse. As he gave us powerful words to glorify you, may we also speak with joy and boldness to banish hatred from your creation, in the Name of Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

A great poet, of many inspired works including "The Creation" and "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing."

ikon by Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 21, 2011

Let Them Have It

The NY State Senate is still tied up with a resolution that would finally permit same-sex marriage in the state. The tie up is largely due to “concerns” from some religious leaders (by no means all — several Episcopal bishops including Sisk and Singh to name but two have spoken out in support of the resolution). These other concerned religious leaders, perhaps best represented by the one with most to fret about, Archbishop Dolan, wish to have the act amended to provide greater “protections” to various of their members and agencies.

Of course, as we all know (don’t we?) no church can be forced to perform a marriage against its doctrine. Roman Catholics can turn legally divorced persons away without blinking an eye; no rabbi can be forced to officiate at a marriage of non-Jews; nor could an Episcopal priest be required to solemnize a marriage in which both of the parties are unbaptized. There is, in short, no civil right to marriage that trumps a religious right to refuse to solemnize those deemed outside the relevant religious tradition. There is no right to a rite.

So the “concerns” are more removed from the actual issue of marriage itself, at least in the ritual or religious sense. A church that rents its hall for parties may want to refuse to rent it for a gay couple's wedding reception. A church-related agency for adoption or foster-care may want to refuse to place a child with a married lesbian couple.

And my opinion is, let them have it. Let them discriminate on these grounds. There are other halls to rent, and adoption and foster care agencies to place children. (I do feel for the children who may not find or be delayed in finding a loving couple to care for them; but the responsibility for this will lie with the religious leaders who place a premium on their own concept of righteousness at the expense of the little ones.)

This view is not, by the way, meant to accommodate the individual person of strong religious views, but only institutionally related facilities. The homophobic baker should not have the right to refuse to bake a cake for gay couples — though, at the same time, there are other bakers who will be glad to oblige. But we do get into sticky areas of fondant and marzipan when personal beliefs, however deeply held, are granted special privilege to operate apart from some institution committed to that peculiar view, and for specifically doctrinal reasons.

I say this because I believe the arc of history is on our side. Even the baker will soon find herself with fewer customers, were this provision even to be extended so far — which as I say I do not advise. If the Roman Catholic Church wishes to take what it thinks is the high road — let them do it. History — and the Almighty — will be their judge, as history and God are mine.

But I can read history as well as anyone, and conservative churches wed to the bigotries of the past soon are wearing unbecoming widows' weeds. They do not have a particularly good track record in this regard, whether the matter be the treatment of spiritual movements, of slavery, or even of cosmology.

What the Almighty will say when all is said and done... well, that will depend upon who is acting with greater consistency with the Gospel.

Update and clarification: I neglected to mention the issue of church-related agencies that receive state financial support. I by no means want to suggest that, for example, a church-affiliated adoption agency should continue to receive public financial support if it chooses to limit its services on the grounds of religious beliefs. To continue to offer financial support would be precisely to favor a particular religious aspect of their general work. They cannot have it both ways: if they are claiming an exemption from respecting the civil rights of others on religious grounds, then the civil society has every responsibility to withhold its support of what is, by their own admission, an action based on religion.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 13, 2011

Basil the Great

Almighty God, you have revealed to your Church your eternal Being of glorious majesty and perfect love as one God in Trinity of Persons: Give us grace that, like your bishop Basil of Caesarea, we may continue steadfast in the confession of this faith, and constant in our worship of you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; for you live and reign for ever and ever. Amen.

ikon by TSH

Anglican Communion Bovarism

What shall it profit you if you gain a whole world church at the cost of your true self?

I rarely repeat posts on this blog, but in light of recent comments about "the Anglican Church" I think this one from almost exactly three years ago, slightly edited, bears repeating.

It seems to me that the effort to transform the fellowship of autonomous national and provincial churches known as the Anglican Communion into some kind of (even loosely) centrally governed world church is placing more of a burden upon the existing structures than they can either bear or even bear with. The genius of Anglicanism is to be a fellowship of autonomous churches who do not need to be bound by each others' local decisions. One province or national church is free to ignore things in another that would not go over well in its own bailiwick.

The real danger to this "blessed liberty" is that of Bovarism. Madame Bovary is probably the most misunderstood novel ever written — people see it as a kind of romance (and if one is to judge from the film adaptations, that is how it is almost universally played). But it is not a romance, rather an anti-romance: a study in the damage caused by romanticism. The "heroine" could have been perfectly happy in her life had she not filled her idle hours with reading fantastic romances, and imagining that this was what "love" was really about. In fact, her ordinary life as the wife of a modest middle-class doctor could have been as loving as she was willing to make it. Instead, she embarked upon one failed and tawdry exercise after another, until at last even her suicide was botched -- instead of downing the swift and romantic cyanide she gobbled the nasty and corrosive arsenic; and even as she lies dying — pathetically clasping at a last shred of fantasy grand tragedy — she is robbed of romantic death as the lyrics of a bawdy street song float through the open window.

"Bovarism" is this tendency to live in a romanticized world, in which real joy is bypassed in exchange for an unattainable and impractical ideal; real joy is destroyed by romantic ambition.

The Anglican Communion can continue to function as it has — a bit disorganized, even dysfunctional, at times, yet still able to do much good. Or it can quest after becoming something it never need become, nor very likely can become, and in the process lose the one gift we Anglicans offer as a model for the church in a day which alternately quests after submission to authority or anarchic disconnection.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 12, 2011

G K Chesterton

O God of earth and altar, you gave G. K. Chesterton a ready tongue and pen, and inspired him to use them in your service: Mercifully grant that we may be inspired to witness cheerfully to the hope that is in us; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
image by the hand of Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 11, 2011

Glittering Prizes

Word from Scotland:

The Most Rev David Chillingworth said: “The prize is a global church held together by the richest of aspiration and the most minimal of structure... But we are human — the question is whether we need some structure and some boundaries to help us to live up to that aspiration.”

If a global church is the prize, I'll take what's behind door number two.

If I aspired to be part of a global church there's one down the block. And I've always thought inspiration was more important than aspiration.

Besides, holding something together by aspiration reminds me too much of those Monty Python apartment house blocks built by hypnosis.

I do not think there is, among the members of the Anglican Communion, a common or forceful aspiration towards world-churchdom. If I am mistaken, I await the great groundswell of support for the Anglican Covenant, about which I've seen little enthusiasm apart from a kind of desperate urgency from some quarters.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 8, 2011

The Covenant Crisis

As I have noted previously, I find myself poised somewhere between the two extremes of the Anglican Covenant debate. At one end are those who appear to think that not only is no agreement needed, but that the very idea of pan-Anglican governance is inimical to our identity as Anglicans. At the other extreme are those who appear to think that the AngCov is not merely the best way forward but the only way forward to settle the disputes that have raged through the Communion over the last two decades or so.

I find myself much more inclined towards the former than to the latter. In fact, I find the latter position not only to be facially absurd — if the member provinces of the Communion cannot agree on the Covenant itself, it cannot very well be the basis or means for subsequent agreement — but contradictory to the historical evidence, and arguably misguided as a way forward even were there signs of widespread willingness to move in such a direction.

The latter view is well typified by this comment from the Rev’d Dr. Alyson Barnett-Cowan, Director for Unity, Faith and Order in the Anglican Communion Office.

It’s become quite clear that if we’re to be a global church, we need something that expresses how we live together as a family.

One of the good things about this thesis is that it recognizes — by expressing it as a goal — that the Anglican Communion is not “a global church.” So what is it? It is “a fellowship of autonomous churches.” This fact raises two questions: 1) what is autonomy? And 2) is autonomy circumstantial or essential to Anglicanism?

The meaning of autonomy

Autonomy means self-governance. In the Anglican usage it is really more like its political equivalent “sovereignty.” When a church is autonomous it means that there is no “superior synod” to which it is answerable. (Mark McCall has argued just the opposite, on the basis of political double-speak that refers to “autonomous regions” within some larger governing structure — but it is double-speak I am attempting to clear away, and there is no need for the church to ape the duplicity of the state! “Conditional autonomy” belongs in the category with “partial virginity” and, as Groucho observed, “military intelligence.”)

One of the catchphrases of the AngCov debate has been the Windsor Report’s, “Communion is the limit of autonomy.” I reflected on this at length almost three years ago, and my views have not changed since. My point is that if autonomy is limited then it isn’t autonomy. Even if it is merely voluntary self-censorship, it is precisely submission to a heteronomous influence.

My sense is that all of this is the heritage of the liberal knee-jerk reaction to past colonialism adopted at the Toronto Congress in 1963 under the mealy-mouthed term mutual responsibility and interdependence. “Mutual responsibility” I can certainly buy — no church is an island, as John Donne might observe were he around to participate in our current discussions. But “interdependence?” While “responsibility” carries with it some idea of gifts, “interdependence” is far too needy a term. This is not to say, with anti-Pauline brusqueness, “I have no need of you.” Rather it is to acknowledge the reality that while the various churches can learn from each other and work together with each other, the idea that we “depend” on each other is both a historical and logical fallacy.

Circumstance or essence?

Which brings me to the second question. The Church of England’s assertion of autonomy from the Church of Rome is not a mere historical accident. The sense of national autonomy was passed down to all of the daughter churches arising from the English colonial and imperial adventures, and the further granddaughters borne by those churches. As I noted in my previous post on this subject, so keen were the English to keep the American church separate from them, that they forbade (by Act of Parliament) the newly consecrated American bishops White and Provoost, and anyone they would consecrate or ordain, from ever functioning within his Majesty’s dominions. (Obviously this Act of Parliament was either repealed or ignored at some point.) This sense of autonomy was so powerful that it led to the formation of a separate Protestant Episcopal Church of the Confederate States of America at the time of the Civil War — a new entity created with some sense of regret at the necessity in the South and utterly ignored in the Union and the General Convention.

I have written before about the practical advantage of autonomy — it allows for provincial testing of contextual developments in discipline and worship and for their gradual reception or rejection by other provinces. (Such developments have happened at a slower pace in the past, and much of the tension in the Communion in our time is no doubt due to the rapid increase in the pace of communication and almost instant reactivity.) Autonomy is the safeguard both of local privilege of development and local insulation from foreign developments judged unacceptable. As I have noted time and again, no other province is forced or even expected to adopt what they regard as innovations in any other province, and autonomy is the bulwark against such pressures, if they are perceived to exist. The true statement is: Autonomy is the limit of communion interference.

Globalism as a confusion with Communion

The Anglican Communion is not a “global church” and I don’t want it to become one, for the very reason that such globalism will stifle the greatest gift Anglicanism offers to world Christendom (and if we have nothing to offer why do we exist?) — autonomy in diversity in a fellowship of churches who are not bound by each other’s local decisions.

This is a different model to the Roman, the church which “subsists” in the college of bishops in union with the heir of Peter. It is more like than unlike the Orthodox model of autocephalous churches pledged to a common inheritance of liturgy and canon law, each Orthodox entity holding itself to be the local expression of the fullness of the whole church.

Anglicans have historically understood the national or provincial church in much the same way, though without the common canon law aspect. It might be helpful to apply to the church the same term the Anglican Founders applied to Scripture: sufficiency. Each national or provincial church is sufficient unto itself for its own maintenance. It does not require or depend upon any input from any other sister church, although it welcomes and celebrates its communion with the other members of the Anglican family. Unlike an individual diocese, which cannot create a successor to its own bishop without the input of the larger church body of which the diocese forms a part, the national church or province is sufficient and competent to its own maintenance.

Finally, the Anglican Communion is, as the good Canon observes, a family. Families do not, in fact, require a written document to govern their behavior with one another. A few basic ground-rules defending autonomy, rather than generating a specious interdependency, would not be bad. Lionel Deimel put together such a list a while back. Such rules, some of which go back to Nicaea, include respect for provincial boundaries, fidelity to the Creeds, Sacraments, and the sufficiency of Scripture for salvation. If we are to have a Covenant, let it be one that preserves what is best in what we have, rather than mooning after something we have never had, and likely don’t need.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 7, 2011

The Latest Anglican Fudge

A number of my friends have begun to pick apart even what up until now has been perceived by many as the least problematical three-quarters of the proposed Anglican Covenant: sections one through three. It seems to me that their hermeneutic of suspicion is working overtime, and they are reading the document in the most negative light possible. Even direct citations from documents as well established in our Anglican DNA as the Lambeth Quadrilateral are being subjected to the glare of cross examination and judged sinister.

That approach would be wise if the AngCov were a contract, such as could be enforced by some coercive means. But this misunderstands, it seems to me, both the nature of the Covenant, and anything that might come from it; and of the Anglican Communion itself.

The AngCov — particularly in the much edited fourth draft now before us — should be seen in the tradition of AFDs — Anglican Fudge Documents, such as the 39 Articles (as amended in the Elizabethan settlement) and the Book of Common Prayer itself. Although these documents were designed to rule certain extreme positions off the table, the primary intent was to be as ambiguous and inclusive of the big messy middle as possible. As the clever readings the mid-19th century Anglo-Catholics applied to the Articles demonstrate, it was possible for people in good conscience to read [in] readings quite at odds with either original intent or strict construction.

Does this mean that the Episcopal Church — or anyone else who hasn’t already — should adopt, subscribe or accede to this latest batch of fudge? Probably not. Although I cannot muster either the angst or the ire towards the AngCov that my friends in the “No Anglican Covenant Coalition” (NACC) have accumulated or espressed, the reasons for adoption, accession, or subscription seem mighty thin. I say this for several reasons and in light of several things which I take as facts:

Too many provinces have already expressed disdain for one or more hard inclusions in the AngCov for it to provide an acceptable degree of chewy fudgicity — the big tent is already about one-quarter empty.

The Anglican Communion is not, and has never been, a strictly structured united entity — not that this AngCov would make it so (particularly given the confusion of purpose in section four) — but is rather a historical reality, given only a quasi-formal structure through ad hoc and pro tem invitations, recognitions, assemblies, and consultations. It barely rises to the level of a federation, let alone a unified body. The “Instruments of Unity” would better by called “Instruments of Ecclesiastical Networking.” The notion of Canterbury at the center as a hub to which various spokes are joined is a legal fiction. To go further and claim, as the AngCov does, that this office is the “focus and means of unity” is, at least on one reading, not only risible, false and absurdly dissonant with reality, but blasphemous (Canterbury is not Christ).

Depending on how one defines “communion” the Anglican Communion isn’t one. If one uses “mutual recognition and interchange of ministers” as the definition (and this is commonly the touchstone in ecumenical discussions, and their fruit) the Anglican Communion wasn’t “in communion” from the very beginning when Seabury gained his orders from non-jurors and the Canterbury-consecrated White and Provoost (and their successors) were forbidden in English law to function anywhere within the realm or colonies, and latterly when duly ordained women, first as priests and even now as bishops, were prevented from functioning in England due to the English fastidiousness towards clergy ordained abroad having to be ordainable at home. Robert Runcie coined the paradox“impaired communion” — which like “partial virginity” is more or less a contradiction in terms.

So, in light of this, I am moved to ask, as the Almighty did of Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?” Perhaps they can — but not at the insufflation of the Anglican Covenant, which is neither particularly spiritual nor manifestly holy.

I have previously used the example of the unwanted gift of fruitcake, and the unwanted gift of fudge is much the same. Not sharing the dire concerns of the NACC, I still suggest General Convention affirm parts one through three of the AngCov, when read in their best possible light, as consistent with the doctrine and discipline of the Episcopal Church, and promoting — nay insisting upon — further interprovincial discussion of the document as a whole, with special regard to the inner inconsistency and incoherence in section four.

Of course, I may think differently by the summer of 2012. But I doubt it.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 5, 2011

Ini Kopuria of Melanesia

Ini Kopuria, the first Elder Brother of the Melanesian Brotherhood, was born soon after the start of the twentieth century on the island of Guadalcanal in the Solomons.

Ini attended St. Barnabas School on Norfolk Island, an institution started by Bishop J. C. Patterson with the purpose of training young men to teach their own people. Ini’s daily contact with the Anglican Christians at St. Barnabas led to his own developed sense of religious calling. One story about his time there relates his strict adherence to a rule of silence during Lent, and on one Ash Wednesday, when confronted by a teacher who questioned this practice, Ini replied by letter, refusing to break his vow. It was then that many around him began to notice his calling to a religious vocation.

Although it was expected that upon leaving school, Ini would return to Guadalcanal to teach his own people, he surprised everyone by becoming a police officer in the Native Armed Constabulary. Though initially unhappy with his role in the police, he earned the respect and admiration of his superiors with his dedication and wisdom. In 1927, after he had left the police force, he was asked by the Commissioner to return to the police and go to the island of Mala to quiet local unrest. Ini is said to have remarked, “It would be bad if I were to go there with a rifle; I may want to return one day with the Gospel.”

It was during his recovery from an injury in 1924 that Ini came to the realization that only in service to Christ would his life find meaning and fulfillment. Under the direction of his Bishop, John Steward, he took his vows as the first Elder of the Melanesian Brotherhood, an Anglican order devoted to the spread of the Gospel among the non- Christian areas of Melanesia. The Order, characterized by its vows of simplicity, in this day continues its work of peacemaking and includes not only Melanesians, but also Polynesians, Filipinos, and Europeans. (From Holy Women Holy Men)