February 29, 2012

Read carefully

The Archbishop of Canterbury has made an important but typically dense speech to the World Council of Churches. In it he rightfully calls for the legal protection of sexual minorities. He then, however, gets off track with his reflections on law as a means to culture change. This is most evident in his passing reference to same-sex marriage. (I have to contest the Daily Mail's headlining this as if it were the primary point of his essay!)

The real problem in paragraph 14 is that he speaks of categories of marginalization or stigma, which is far from the reason some are advocating for marriage equality. The issue is that marriage is a fundamental human right. It has nothing to do with GLBT persons wanting "acceptance" but their wanting free access to rights and responsibilities to which they are entitled by virtue of their being human. Same-sex couples are seeking marriage equality — not the removal of some stigma.

By bringing these issues together — along with the even more remotely connected issue of assisted suicide — the Archbishop loses focus and ultimately mars what could have been a very helpful reflection on human rights and the laws meant to protect them. Simply to assert that law often steps out ahead of culture is mind-numblingly obvious. This is precisely why declarations of human rights have to be made from time to time: because the culture hasn't yet reached that level of understanding and tolerance. Rights have to be declared because some in the culture — sometimes the majority — are denying them.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 28, 2012

Thought for 2.28.12

Why is it that some who are most fervent in defense of objective truth seem to adopt positions that are subjective at best and improbable at worst?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 27, 2012

Thought for 2.27.12

Some people fear challenges to their faith;
others find faith in the challenge.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 20, 2012

No[t This] Anglican Covenant

Over at Thinking Anglicans,  I had raised the issue that the Proposed Anglican Covenant does not reflect a consensus in the Communion, and a correspondent suggested the problem wasn't the draft document but the idea behind it, which he described as "un-Anglican." I thought I should explain myself a bit further, though I think reading my past comments on the Covenant show the trend of my thinking.

My only reason for not joining the "No Anglican Covenant Coalition" lies in the title chosen for the Coalition. I am well-set in my mind against the current draft PAC, but I do not in the long run think the idea of a set of rules for the conduct of inter-provincial affairs in the Anglican Communion is in itself "un-Anglican." We have, I think, a sufficient such arrangement in the by-laws of the ACC, but I am not averse, nor do I think it contrary to good sense or our traditions, to exploring other ways of working together across the Communion. But the current document is not it. As I've said in the past, I think the IASCOME Covenant for Mission or the Continuing Indaba and Mutual Listening Process much more helpful towards edification; in particular as the PAC explicitly calls for de-edification (i.e., "relational consequences" that will decouple or lessen the "bonds of affection").

The problem most people seem to have with the current draft lies in section 4; which while attenuated remained in place in spite of the considerable feedback against its inclusion. Without Section 4, (esp. 4.2) I do not think we would be seeing the lack of consensus, and the document might well be adopted by a wide margin. Of course, this would not please those for whom Section 4 was not punitive enough -- so even then it would not be a consensus statement.

The real problem is that there is no consensus in the Communion at the moment. That was the point of my comment. I've long said that, as in pre–marriage counseling, times of conflict are not the times to work out agreements for managing conflict or for getting married; and if the present Anglican Communion were a couple seeking to wed, I would counsel waiting for quite a bit rather than crafting a pre-nup.

Hope this explanation is helpful to those who find my position difficult to grasp.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

No Consensus

It is becoming clear that there is no emerging consensus that the Proposed Anglican Covenant is suitable as a mechanism for determining consensus. It is heading for failure by its own standards, even if marginally adopted.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 18, 2012

Contraception Coniption

In response to my earlier post on the subject of the extent to which religious expression has to engage with a larger social world, one correspondent expressed astonishment that I did not see what he believes to be the point: that a constitutional right is being infringed by a merely civil action.

My point, of course, in that post, and now, is that there are in fact limits to the free exercise of religion, and many of them are parts of statutory law. These regulations do not prohibit free exercise of religion, to use the language of the Constitution, and they provide some separation between the religious doctrine and the civil provisions.

Some Roman Catholics are upset at having to provide health insurance to employees in church-related institutions that includes coverage for procedures or prescriptions to which they are opposed on religious grounds. I do understand their opposition. They do not understand the legal principles at play, and have come up with analogies — such as Bishop Lori's Kosher Deli required to serve ham — that go far to revealing their lack of understanding.

What they fail to grasp is that health insurance is but one part of employee benefits. Some of these benefits have long been mandated by law, as, for example, minimum wage. The provision of health care insurance is now similarly mandated. But the fact that the health insurance includes coverage for contraception is ultimately no different — ethically speaking in regard to the employer's responsibility or agency either for the provision or the use of contraceptives — from the salary itself being spent on things of which the employer might disapprove on religious grounds. To take the Bishop's example, there is nothing to prevent a Kosher deli-worker from spending his wages on ham, or even bacon-and-swiss, sandwiches. Neither the deli nor the church is responsible for the religiously objectionable act. They may not like it, but they are not morally responsible for it.

To take an extreme example, imagine a Roman Catholic priest who uses a portion of his stipend to pay for his sister's abortion. This is, needless to say, a very grave matter and carries a very serious penalty, which the church is by all means free to impose. But for that very reason it would be absurd to suggest that the church itself was "providing for the abortion" simply on the basis of the fact that its funds, paid as a stipend, were used to that end, and by one of its officials at that.

No individual's religious rights are being abridged or impeded by the provision of health care insurance — nor is the church's collective right to teach as it chooses to teach. There are several degrees of separation between the teaching and the insurance, any one of which is sufficient to insulate the church from any moral responsibility. It is as simple as that.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Maxim for 02.18.12

Epistemic humility does not mean submitting to others’ certainties. It means sitting lightly with one’s own.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Two More Nays to the Covenant

I'm happy to say that the diocesan synods of Leicester and Salisbury [UPDATE: and Rochester and Portsmouth] have voted against the proposed Anglican Covenant, the latter in spite of, or perhaps because of, an exceptionally double-minded address by Bishop Graham Kings. I read his speech before hearing about the result of the vote, but found it an astonishing example of the kind of ideological blindness I referred to in my previous thought for the day.

I say this because I would like to think the half-truths and outright misrepresentations in this address were the result of self-deception rather than a desire to deceive. However, a statement such as

The Anglican Communion Covenant – and the full title is very important for ‘Communion’ is at its centre – is the proposal backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Primates’ Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council. This is considerable backing and should not be dismissed today ‘unadvisedly, lightly or wantonly’, to use words from the Book of Common Prayer Marriage service. Sadly, some of the dismissal of it has been along those lines. I suggest it should be accepted ‘reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly and in the fear of God’.
can hardly bear the standard of truth, since the proposed Covenant was not, for instance, available for review by the Lambeth Conference, and the extent to which the current draft is "backed" by anyone other than the Archbishop is surely open to question. It can fairly be said that all of the above approved the idea of a Covenant, but Bishop K here implies that the current proposal is their dish of tea. There is also some deeply revisionist history about the ordination of women, particularly omitting the disuasions from their ordination to the episcopate. I perhaps need say little more about using the analogy to the marriage service for something many recognize as a pre-nuptial agreement with dissolution clauses built in!

Then there's that ironic urging of heeding Deanery Synods in favor of the Covenant, and voting for it so that the General Synod, rather than the Diocesan Synods (such as he's actually addressing, and to which it was referred), can be the final arbiter. This odd leap-frogging of authority is a phenomenon I've long noted in Covenant advocates -- every other level of authority is appealed to, so that dioceses and the world-wide communion are imbued with ecclesial reality, but the maligned "national or provincial church" is seen as a kind of legal fiction. I think ultimately, like water, ideologues want to seek the level where they think they will succeed, regardless of any intrinsic logic of authority.

In any case, it is reported that the two dioceses named above have turned it down, and Salisbury by a substantial majority: House of Laity: 19 for; 27 against; 0 abstensions.House of Clergy: 11 for; 20 against; 2 abstensions. House of Bishops: 1 for; 1 against.

Other synods may be meeting today as well, but this puts the current score, if my calculations are correct, at 5 dioceses for, 8 against. [UPDATE: now 10 against... that's two to one] We shall see how this goes over the coming weeks and months. But if England says No to the "Anglican" Covenant, those scare-quotes will have been well-earned.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

UPDATE: notice I've added two additional dioceses that both voted no. I also did some additional research on the claims about "backing" the Covenant in Dr K's speech. The ACC did not have the final draft in hand when it supported the draft it had with the proviso that revisions be made to Section 4; and the Primates' Meeting in 2011 appears not to have addressed it at all, though they could have.

Thought for 2.18.12

There are few better sedatives than ideology.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
in response to a question from Grandmère Mimi about how certain people can sleep at night.

February 15, 2012

Further thoughts on renewal

A small portion of my more than 20-year-old monograph on the state of the religious life has been extracted and posted at Daily Episcopalian. I commend it in part because the issues of renewal and restructure in the church reflect similar patterns to those experienced by religious communities, historically and in recent years. The excerpted passage deals with the "doubt" phase of a community's life-cycle, and in this post-Constantinian era many of the churches are going through precisely this phase.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 13, 2012

Religious Freedoms Are Limited

The recent to-do over insurance plans providing contraception seems to me to be a good example of exactly where the boundary to religious freedom lies -- with oneself and those who share ones beliefs. Thus it is perfectly fine, to my mind, for a church to be allowed to tell its clergy and its religious employees not to have a certain kind of insurance coverage -- or to let the coverage be there but unused, which it seems to me is the real ethical point. (I mean, just paying for something because you have to does not indicate approval --- Lord knows I can mention several foreign wars of the last five decades upon which I wish my tax money had not been spent.)

But it is wrong to assert that the mere provision of a benefit is unacceptable in the context of something not directly a religious institution such as a church, but what the old orders would call "a work" (a school or hospital, for example), in which employees may well not be adherents of the particular sect or beholden to its beliefs.

In short, it is fine for the Roman Catholic Church to teach against contraception, and to insist its adherents make no use of it, but completely specious to claim that they are morally compromised by providing insurance coverage that happens to include this benefit to people who are under no obligation to use it, nor, in some cases, under any obligation to adhere to the teaching.

Otherwise, any Jehovah Witness-sponsored organization should have the right to insist that its secular employees not be covered for blood transfusions; 7th Day Adventists should be able to forbid their non-church employees from being fed hospital food containing meat, and Jews and Muslims, pork. And let's not even get started with the Christian Scientists, who ought, under this understanding, to be able to refuse the need to provide health insurance to anyone who works for them.

On that, just to be clear, I do defend the right of any person not to have health insurance on the basis of their religious belief; and I think that Christian Scientists should be granted that individual exemption, just as some of the Mennonite (Amish) groups members are --- though for different reasons concerning opposing receipt of government assistance.

But let's be clear: the individual right to make moral decisions for oneself is not something to be spread and imposed on others. If you don't want health coverage, no one is forced to use it, even if you are required to pay for it. A truly principled "martyr" would pay and stand tall in refusal to use.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 11, 2012

Restructuring the Church

I had the chance (and the bandwidth) late last week to view the  presentation by the Presiding Bishop and Bishop Stacy Sauls, concerning the restructuring of the church, and "becoming" a Domestic and Foreign Missiionary Society. I have a couple of thoughts on its strengths, possibilities and weaknesses.

I applaud the effort to look at changes to the structure of the church to empower mission. That includes streamlining, reallocating, and so on. I think a lot of change is needed, and have my own ideas about where that could happen.

But I think there were gaps in the presentation that need to be filled, as well as more of the clarity in distinguishing which structures we are talking about. The General Convention and its interim bodies, and the staff at 815 Second Avenue and in other satellite locations, are not the same thing; and the mission of the church is broader still. The Episcopal Church is not one monolithic, unified structure, and portraying it as a pyramid with General Convention at the top is hardly an accurate picture. It might be true in terms of governance, but clearly not in terms of mission. And I don't think that is a bad thing.

First and foremost, the idea of organizing the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society was not to found a centrally based or governed mission agency, but on the contrary precisely to empower every member of the church as a missionary in person. I have never thought of General Convention as "missionary" -- any more than I would think of Congress as "military" -- General Convention is there to govern the church, and to direct and serve the mission; as is the staff at 815 (what PB John Maury Allin called and modeled as a "service center"); and all those interim bodies are there to do the same. But the mission is primarily carried out by the members of the church working as individuals and in coordination with others in their parishes and dioceses. (Just as the army carries out the policies of the government but is distinct from the government.)

Second, we need to be very clear about what we mean by mission. The BCP has a definition of mission, summed up in three questions and answers on page 855.

Q. What is the mission of the Church?
A. The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

Q. How does the Church pursue its mission?
A. The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.

Q. Through whom does the Church carry out its mission?
A. The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.
These answers do a number of things. The first places mission in a theological as well as a human context. That is, it is about people, but it is also about God. The second prevents us thinking that worship and proclamation are not just as much mission as the soup kitchen is. The third makes it clear that all of the members of the church are called and equipped to carry forward this mission.

It seems, therefore, odd to talk, as the presentation does, primarily about the national budget, while ignoring the billions of dollars raised and spent by the parishes -- only alluded to in the presentation -- when talking about the proportion of money spent on mission. The proportion of our "Gross Episcopal Product" spent on mission is substantial -- as we have to include the salaries of the missioners, the maintenance of the places in which we worship, and so on. It is deadly dangerous, and verges on a kind of missionary gnosticism, to forget that the cost of running a parish is a crucial part of its mission. Seek economies, by all means, but let us not say to the foot, I have no need of you!

One of the major problems in how people think of mission, it seems to me, is revealed in the commonly inverted understanding of Matthew 25 -- as if the mission of the church was identical with the works of mercy described there (which is not to say the church shouldn't do them, under the Golden Rule). But the text is not about the ministry or mission of the disciples, but about ministries performed (or not) to the disciples by those to whom the disciples went on mission. Matthew meant this passage as a comfort to the disciples as they were sent on their way to the "nations" -- not as a job description for the disciples' task, but as a comfort to them and a warning to those who would be on the receiving end of their mission to "baptize all nations" --- and let us remember that was the ultimate "mission of God." (It is odd in our present day that some are second guessing the importance of baptism as the essential and first sacramental mission of the church, leaping right to communion as if the radically transforming death to self in baptism were not essential in order fully to share in the communion Christ desires for us -- the accomplishment of the mission.)

In other words, the mission of the church is about much more than ministries of social service -- which is not to denigrate social service, but to see that it grows out of, but is not identical to, the unifying mission of the church. I have known congregations that become "doughnut churches" where much energy is spent on outreach, but there is no center or heart, and the energy is quickly expended and the parish is on the verge of collapse. Ultimately, the Matthew passage raises another important distinction: that between mission and ministry. They are related, but they are not the same. Much of what is done by the staff of the Episcopal Church Center is service; ministry rather than mission.

In the long run I think the PB and Bishop Sauls are onto some good things, but I fear that the focus on GC and 815 -- important as that is -- misses where the mission is most ably happening. I would like to see GC and 815 leaner and more effective in serving that mission, and to the extent that this is their aim, Amen, and again I say, Amen!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 10, 2012

Thought for 02.10.12

Your religious rights end with your own body. You have no right to expect or demand that all will do as you believe all ought to do.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
with the emphasis on the expectation; one can, of course, “demand” anything one likes, but no one need heed those demands

Plug from the Pacific NW

I'm pleased to see that the Diocese of Olympia, in recognition of passage of marriage equality in the state of Washington, is commending my book, Reasonable and Holy (see the sidebar) along with Gray Temple's excellent volume on the subject. Both are available at Amazon and Google Books (if you prefer the electronic versions!).

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 8, 2012

Thought for 2.8.12

Lord deliver us from those who claim to speak for a group solely on the basis of their membership in the group. Unless one is appointed or elected to do so, it is better to speak for oneself; perhaps even then.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
whose thoughts are his own, though he is happy to share them

February 7, 2012

Michael Elliott BSG – Rest in Peace

Gregorian Friar, Priest, Prophet, Activist, Missiologist, Educationalist and Friend

Brother Michael Elliott BSG died peacefully in Auckland Hospital in the early hours of Wednesday 8th February 2012 after a short period in hospital, three weeks before his 74th birthday.  He had recently celebrated the 50thanniversary of his ordination to the diaconate and the 49th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.

Michael lived an extremely full life, ministering and working around the world.  He leaves behind him a global network of friends and students and the lasting legacy of his contribution to the development of reflective practice and situation analysis pedagogy in applied theological education.

He instilled in all who met him his deep commitment for social justice, political and theological integration, the power of the Gospel to transform the situations of the poor and marginalised and the renewal of the Anglican Catholic tradition.

In his many ministry postings he lived out the prophetic tradition in his radical writing, teaching built on the foundation of his conviction that those with whom he ministered did not need to be filled up as if they were empty vessels, but needed a tool kit to critically examine their experience.

Michael was born and raised in New Zealand.  After schooling he was formed for ordination at the College of Saint John the Evangelist and was awarded his BA from the University of Auckland and his LTh from the college.  He served in the parishes of New Lynn and Thames in the Diocese of Auckland as an Assistant Priest.

In 1965 he travelled to Massachusetts where he studied for and received the degree of Master of Divinity from the Episcopal Divinity School and served in the parish of St John Beverly Farms.  His time in America began a close friendship with the Gardiner family which continued throughout his life, who he referred to as his ‘American family’.

Michael travelled to London and served as the Warden for the Pembroke House College Mission in Walworth (1966-69) where he worked closely with Bishop John Robinson during the days of the radical Woolwich theological movement, before being invited by Archbishop George Appleton to direct a team at the St Luke’s Centre in Haifa, Israel.

In 1973 he returned to the United Kingdom to work for the British Council of Churches in the Community and Race Relations Unit and then returned to serve in his homeland of New Zealand as the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical Secretariat on Development, a ten year appointment that provided the opportunity for him to work across the country raising issues of social justice and development.

In 1987 he was appointed the Sir John Cass Chaplain to London Guildhall University, living in the famous Barbican Towers, and in due course became the Director of Inner City Aid, a charity established by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales.

Michael’s move to Oxford to take up an appointment as the Tutor for Applied and Community Theology at Westminster College commenced a close working relationship in a range of educational partnerships with Dr Bernard C. Farr and later David John Battrick BSG which continued until his death and included curriculum development in institutions in the United Kingdom, India, the Americas, Europe and East Africa firstly through Westminster College, then through the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies and more recently through the Oxford Educational Trust.

During this time he developed a programme which enabled many New Zealand clergy to study for an MTh in Applied Theology through the University of Oxford.

Alongside these appointments Michael served as an honorary priest in the Parish of St Mary Magdalen, Oxford, a Trustee of the Peanuts Trust, and as the Director of the Institute for Social Research and Education, and then later as one of the founding directors of the Freire Institute, which grew out of many years of collaboration with his close friend Father Ron Mitchinson.

In 2002 Michael was appointed as the Director of Ministry and a Residentiary Canon in the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon in Wales which he recounted as his happiest period in ministry.

When others of his age would have been enjoying retirement Michael continued to teach as a Part-time lecturer in the Centre for Contemporary and Pastoral Theology at the University of Lampeter in Wales until 2009, where he also supervised Masters and Doctoral dissertations.
During this period he also became the lead-programme writer for the newly founded Newcastle School of Theology for Ministry in New South Wales, Australia and lectured regularly within the School on situation analysis for mission and ministry.

He made his profession of vows within the Brotherhood of St Gregory in July 2008, becoming a very active member of this community of mission friars in the Anglican Communion.

Amongst his many books and articles, his most widely acclaimed is ‘Freedom, Justice and Christian Counter-culture’ published in 1990 by SCM Press in London in which he set out his manifesto for Christian anarchism.

Michael returned to New Zealand in 2009 to be closer to his sister and to continue his work with the Newcastle School of Theology for Ministry.

He commenced treatment for cancer in 2010 but continued to teach, write and travel until a few months before his death, including a final trip to attend the Annual Convocation of the Brotherhood of St Gregory in New York and a visit to friends and former colleagues in the United Kingdom in the Northern Summer of 2011.

He is survived by his sister Rosemary, her husband John, and their children and grandchildren who cared lovingly for him throughout his illness.

Soli Deo Gloria: To God Alone the Glory.

from Brother David John Battrick BSG, writing from Australia

February 6, 2012

Jonathan Haidt — Nails It

Last night's Bill Moyers interview with Jonathan Haidt was a superb example of rational analysis of issues. A primary theme of getting people to talk across their differences without polarizing demonizations reminded me very strongly of the goal of the Continuing Indaba and Mutual Listening Process.

Have a look.

Jonathan Haidt Explains Our Contentious Culture from BillMoyers.com on Vimeo.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 5, 2012

Thought for 02.05.12

Few gay men in 1960s Britain ever would have imagined that within 50 years Parliament might be debating same-sex marriage. They were initially happy no longer to be sent to jail!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
responding to an assertion that the move from civil partnerships to marriage is a sign of disingenuous political tactics, when it is simply how things move against entrenched opposition: step by step, just as in the movement from slavery to manumission, to emancipation, to segregation, to equality. Don't blame the oppressed for their "tactics" when the need for any tactic is the result of the oppressor's intransigence.

February 4, 2012

Derby: No to Covenant

I'm awaiting further confirmation of this but the Diocese of Derby (UK) Twitter feed shows that the vote on the Anglican Covenant was decidedly negative:

Bishops: for 0; against 1 (bishop Humphrey not present)
Clergy: for 1, against 21, abstention 2
Laity. for 2, against 24, absention 1
I'm terrible at maths, but that seems an overwhelming No. Derby has been an Indaba partner with New York and Mumbai (India) and according to the Twitter feed comments on the debate the Indaba experience contributed to the negative vote. This is natural, because Indaba represents the ideals the Covenant lauds but paradoxically disables in its notorious Section 4.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Salisbury Stakes

Bishop Nick Holtam of Salisbury has raised the stakes in the same-sex marriage debate in England by coming out with a moderately supportive position, contrary to that of the Archbishop of York. The story in the Times is still behind a firewall, but I hope it will be visible soon. In it, the Bishop is quoted as saying, basically, that apart from procreation — which he notes is not required of heterosexual marriages even if it is the norm — there is nothing meaningful to distinguish a same-sex couple from a mixed-sex couple other than their sex, and that this is not enough on which to create a boundary to recognizing same-sex marriages. The Bishop testifies to his own change in point of view due to his experience of loving same-sex couples.

Some will ask (as they have already asked), "If it isn't about procreation, then why should we have marriage at all!?" — though it is interesting that they didn't raise that question in the face of infertile couples. And of course, the answer is, If what life is about is only the generation of more life, then life itself must have a value extrinsic to its generation. Life is more than a merely self-fulfilling prophecy or circular argument. It has value even if it does not lead to procreation. And that value is, for human beings, love, which is the divine image in humanity, a meta-biological reality. As I've said before, love and fidelity are virtues, biology isn't.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 2, 2012

Update on York’s Interview

A full transcript of the Archbishop of York's interview with the Daily Telegraph is now available. Although it casts some of his more offensive comments in a kindlier context, those comments themselves remain problematical as examples of circular and/or definitional reasoning: i.e., marriage is between a man and a woman because that's what marriage is; and, the state shouldn't get involved in such things because it isn't the state's business to be involved in such things. That failure to recognize the important role of the state in the history of the institution of marriage was the main focus of my earlier critique.

I do appreciate his desire to support same-sex couples who are raising children. Pity is he doesn't see how helpful civil marriage would be in making that task easier, by simplifying much of the legal tangle people face. And church marriage might do even more to support both the individuals and the institution.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
h/t Thinking Anglicans