May 30, 2012

Resource for Polity

Shared Governance: The Polity of the Episcopal Church is now available from Church Publishing and Google Books (with preview) and is making its way into the hands of Deputies to the upcoming General Convention.

The volume is a collection of essays by members of the House of Deputies Special Study Committee on Church Governance and Polity, appointed by President of the House Bonnie Anderson after the 2009 General Convention. I had the pleasure to be the chair of the committee and to work with the members to produce this resource. The essays cover the history and theology that underlies a system of church governance in which decision-making and implementation is shared among all church members, lay and ordained, at every level from the parish to the General Convention. Essays focus on the two Houses of the General Convention, their origin, structure, and interaction; on the role of the presiding officers of each House, and how their offices have changed and evolved since their creation; and on the Executive Council and the other committees, commissions, agencies and boards that function in the periods between sessions of the General Convention. There is also a brief essay on the wider Communion and Church.

The collection is intended specifically as an educational and reflection tool for Deputies to the General Convention, and offers a number of insights particularly geared to their work; however, any Episcopalian wanting to be better informed about how and why our church came to function in the way it does will find the essays helpful. Throughout the collection, effort has been made to provide an accurate perspective for the reader, and to dispel or correct some of the prevailing mythology concerning the origins and practice of our shared governance.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 29, 2012

Goodbye, A.V.

“Euthanasia - small.” That’s what the receipt from the vet reads, a concise summary to this morning's sadness. Of course, the burial followed, behind the rectory, with full feline honors from a visiting cat in the tree above the garage. It was a bit hot for digging, but the grave was dug, and Augusta Victoria, our companion from kittenhood on for almost fifteen years, was committed to the earth.

Augusta was a most sociable cat, no stand-offish empress as her name might suggest, but fully aware that noblesse often obliges mingling with the common folk, just to let them know that she has the interest of the plebs at heart.

And a warm heart she had, and great affection, and she will be much missed. Over the last year as her kidneys failed she lost sixty percent of her weight, and over the last two weeks had lost even more, and over the last two days had given up even on eating, and was stumbling in her walking and even as she stood at her water-bowl to drink. It was time, and a sad time it was.

I know it is sentimental to dwell on such things, but I take comfort in something C.S. Lewis once wrote about how just as we are made more than we are in Christ as we share in his life, so too the animals who share in our lives become more than they otherwise would be. Human beings are doubly blessed to have a God who shows us so much love from above, while creatures such as this show us so much love from below. May we be made worthy of that love, by that love.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 27, 2012

Facing the Corporal

A priest’s prayer...

If I set the table
will you here abide?
Is this small space able,
just four hand-breadths wide,
by your Word,
blessed Lord,
for you at my side?

Heaven cannot hold you,
Solomon once said.
Can this plate and can this cup,
can this wine, this bread?
By your Word,
blessed Lord,
here I lift you up.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
Pentecost 2012 — my 1,000th post at this blog

May 24, 2012

Putting the English On It

The bishops of the Church of England have introduced a few amendments to the legislation designed to come before the General Synod, permitting the ordination of women to the episcopate. The draft legislation had been adopted by 42 out of 44 dioceses, and there was a strong urging that the bishops not make substantive changes — without defining the limit to the substance.

Well, the bishops have made changes, which appear to placate (up to a point) those who are not only opposed to the ordination of women as bishops, but want to be assured that they will have their own pocket bishop who is not only male, but also theologically of a particular position (or positions); and that any such bishop acting by delegation will not be understood to be deriving his (it will always be "his") power to act by the act of delegation but the fact of his episcopacy. (At least that's how I read the somewhat tortured language. Check it out for yourself at the link above, courtesy of Thinking Anglicans.)

It used to be said, "There'll always be an England." Now I'm not so sure. This drive to placate and comprehend logically (and theologically) contradictory positions within one ecclesiastical enterprise seems to be working in direct opposition to all of the talk about the bishop as "focus of unity" heard in recent days. How many contradictions can simultaneously be embraced in a single church? And what happens when a woman becomes Archbishop of York or Canterbury? Or is this just a waiting game, in the hopes that the opposition will end with this generation? But which will end first, the opposition or the Church?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 20, 2012

Polynuptial equations

At some point in any discussion of the rightness or wrongness of same-sex marriage, or the reasons for and against it, the question, "What about polygamy?" is certain to arise. The odd thing is that the one raising the question often acts as if this is the first time the question has been raised, or that this is some new-found concern that needs to be addressed.

Well, the issue of polygamy has been addressed. It is addressed every time it comes up. I addressed it in my book on the subject of same-sexuality, available a click away in the sidebar. Just as polygamy is more or less as it has always been, the argument against polygamy is the same as it has always been. Same-sex monogamous marriage in no way opens the door to polygamy, any more than monogamous mixed-sex marriage did or does. And, let's face it, at least as far as Scripture is concerned, polygamy is a heterosexual phenomenon. As I noted in an earlier post, procreation has been a social pressure leading to polygamy; expressly in Jewish law, which understood the commandment to be fruitful and multiply as incumbent on all people, to the point of polygamy or even affinity incest being mandated in order to assure the preservation of a family line. (Our own church history was surely shaped by such a dynastic need, again even to the point of permitting affinity incest, and Henrician polygamy was briefly considered by his English advisors — as it was with Phillip of Hesse by the Lutherans!)

However, just to restate the point once again, the problem with polygamy is inherent in the plurality of spouses beyond a binary couple, because more than a couple cannot experience total mutuality. I hold this to be a problem from a moral standpoint, as an essential element of marriage is the mutuality of the couple. A trio or a quartet or whatever cannot have true mutuality — they may have a covenant or agreement worked out, but it cannot be purely mutual. In classic polygamy, for example, a man has two wives, with each of whom he has a relationship; but the wives do not have a relationship other than with the husband; and their own relationship is that of rivals or at best alternates. If polygamy or polyamory involves sexual relationships among all members of the trio, quartet, etc., there will still of necessity be imbalances, and normally some preferential treatment, as each interaction will differ from any of the others based on the participants. There is a fundamental difference between "two" and "three or more" that places such structures in an entirely different category. This is why the prefixes mono- and poly- are there, after all. The moral defect in polygamy lies in the very thing that makes it what it is.

If it is desired — either by the people in these plural relationships or by the church or state — to address the issue of whether people have the freedom or should have the right to enter such relationships, that is another question; one that the state or the church or the public is free to consider any time it likes. But it has nothing to do with monogamous same-sex relationships, any more than it does with monogamous heterosexual relationships, both of which are capable of and geared towards binary mutuality.

I think this is a sufficient answer to the question. If it is not, please say why not, and perhaps we could move forward from there. Or, even better, drop the whole matter of polygamy — as I have no interest in debating its approval.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 19, 2012

Both Your Houses

Should General Convention be Unicameral?

I’ve commented before on the rumblings abroad concerning the “restructuring The Episcopal Church” — which usually means restructuring the budget or the staff at “815.” I would like to set those issues aside for a moment and look at one way of restructuring General Convention itself. I launch into this in part because Bishop Provenzano floated the notion a short while ago, and it is one about which I have also reflected in the past: should we merge the separate Houses of Bishops and Deputies into a unicameral synod?

First of all let me define my model a bit more carefully, to avoid at least one of the objections I’ve heard: Bishops, clergy and lay deputies would sit in their diocesan deputations, have full freedom of debate, and all matters other than the merely procedural would be decided by a majority vote in each order. (This is not the same as our current “vote by orders and dioceses” — which is even more stringent. If it is desired to maintain that as an additional requirement for the same questions now requiring it, it is easily maintained.) The use of electronic voting could make this almost instantaneous, as it has been for the Deputies in the past (depending on the system used.) The requirement of a majority in each order (as is the norm in many other synods) is to forestall the concern that a sudden influx of bishops might overwhelm the assembly — something I think unlikely in any case, but this does provide a safeguard.

There are several advantages to this proposal, not least of which is the efficiency of being able to hold single votes on all matters rather than the separate votes in each house now required. Another thing this proposal would avoid is the occasional “improvement” of a resolution in one house in a way not supported by (and already debated and defeated) in the other.

On a more positive note, a unicameral house would actually embody our theology of ministry and order, which holds that all persons, lay and ordained, have a role in governance. It would better allow all to hear the wisdom and reflection of each particular perspective. Cutting the bishops off from the laity and clergy is not good for any of them — and we benefit greatly in hearing each other. A unicameral body would reflect the ideal of the church as gathered community.

We already have limited experience of unicameral work: General Convention sits as a single body to hear the presentation of the budget; and the legislative committees of each house, which up until about a generation ago met separately, have been meeting together (but voting by house) for the last several years, to very good effect in terms both of the efficiency and utility of hearings and deliberation.

So much for the benefits. Let me cite some of the objections I’ve heard to this sort of proposal and offer my response:

This departs from our original structure modeled on the Federal legislature.

General Convention does not in fact model the structure of Congress in its most significant aspect, a balance between the houses of Congress of proportional and unitary representation of the several states. The House of Deputies is not proportional, and the House of Bishops only circumstantially so, to the extent that a larger or wealthier diocese might be able to have a suffragan or two. A look at early history shows an even more surprising distinction: the two houses were not intended as equal bodies at the outset. In the original Constitution of The Episcopal Church, provision was made that until there were three bishops they would sit with their deputations in a single house, and only after there were at least three as a separate “house of revision” without the right to originate or definitively veto legislation. It is true that the two houses eventually gained the ability to originate and overrule the other house’s action (by non-concurrence) but this in effect undercuts the need for a separate house, since both do the same thing now. The notion of the bishops as a separate council of elder kibitzers (as originally conceived) was, as original intents go, far from the model of the US Senate and what the House of Bishops eventually became.

Won’t the assembly be even larger than the present House of Deputies, and unwieldy in terms of debate?

Even if every bishop, including retired bishops, were to attend the sessions of General Convention, and all deputations remain at the current maximum of eight deputies, the assembly or synod would only be about the size of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America “Churchwide” governing body, which at its last session had 1,025 members. This might be the time to consider changing the size of deputations to three lay and three clergy members, and restrict the voting bishops to those still in active ministry — or even more only to diocesans, as is the custom in some synods — but those are really separate issues that have to be argued on their own merits. However, the time saved in not having duplicative debates on the house floor would give more time for extended joint (now truly joint) legislative hearings, where much of the real work of Convention is done.

Don’t the bishops have some things to do that only concern them?

There are a few duties the bishops exercise on their own, and it would certainly be possible for them to arrive a day early to deal with that agenda, or defer such actions to their interim gatherings — which it would likely be wise to continue on an annual basis in order to encourage episcopal collegiality. Having met in a unicameral General Convention might help remind the bishops that their authority to act apart from that body is considerably circumscribed.

Will the clergy in particular feel comfortable speaking in opposition to their bishop?

This seems to me to be a real concern, and all I can say is that I would hope the clergy would feel confident in doing this — or perhaps more confident than they would in their own diocesan conventions. As a very public forum every speaker would be on the spot to speak their mind without fear of reprisal, and the courage to do so would be to the betterment of the church. Giving in to fear seems not a good reason not to grow into a more mature ability to speak one’s views in the body of the people.

Who would chair the meetings? What would happen to the President of the House of Deputies?

I suggest this adjustment to the structure: the Presiding Bishop (to be elected by the whole synod and not just the bishops with the consent of the deputies) would remain as President and Chair;anelected Vice-President, always to be of the lay or clerical order, would take the chair to spell the President, much as is done now with the House of Deputies; we would retain a Secretary of the General Convention and a Secretary of the House of Bishops (the latter for their separate meetings, also assigned, as was originally the case with the Secretary of the House of Deputies before it had its own VP, to take the chair in the absence of the PB).

So that’s a proposal I think worth examining. What do you think?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 15, 2012

Framing Some Questions

But suppose there is no child; do they remain two and not one? No; their intercourse effects the joining of their bodies, and they are made one, just as when perfume is mixed with ointment.” — John Chrysostom, Homily 12 on Colossians
 This quote from John Chrysostom popped upon the HoBD list recently. It provides a good rejoinder to a common assertion made by those who oppose same-sex marriage (and birth control) that the unitive and procreative aspects of marriage cannot be separated without seriously damaging the very concept of marriage itself. Even without Chrysostom’s testimony, it is obvious that the unitive and procreative are separated by nature during the “infertile period” and in not-all-that-advanced age, as well as by accident or illness.

Arguments that an infertile couple are “open to procreation” or that their conjugal acts are “procreative in principle” or “in kind” or “essentially ordered towards children” are a kind of verbal legerdemain. For example Girgis, George, and Anderson compare sex between an infertile couple to a baseball game in which a team plays but fails to win, analogized with failure to conceive. But it’s still baseball, they say. The problem with this analogy is that, apart from a no-hitter or a tie, one or the other team necessarily loses a baseball game; and the possibility of winning is real, not merely intended. The proper analogy to an infertile couple would be a baseball game played without bats, or perhaps in this case more appropriately, balls. Such a mimed game would not be baseball any more than infertile sex is “procreative.” To use an analogy from my own writings, air guitar is not musical. Only a pre-scientific mind would could think that procreation did not require, at minimum, sperm and ovum.

So, as Chrysostom wisely observes, the conjugal act is in and of itself, regardless of any actual, potential, or intentional procreation, unitive.

The real questions ought to be: What, if it is not procreation, is the locus of the unitive aspect of marriage? Can a same-sex marriage be unitive? Can such a marriage be moral?

I think that Scripture and reason together can give us answers to these questions, or at least guidance the testimony of which is not lightly to be discounted.

In response to the first question I say that limiting the unitive function to the genitals is problematical. That the genital is one aspect of union is beyond denial. But it is also obvious that the union is also in mind and heart, as the preface to the liturgy notes. Adam recognized Eve as of one flesh (and bone) with him prior to their conjugal (and postlapsarian) joining. And Jesus helpfully noted, in a negative context, that the eye and the heart could be the organs for adultery. (Matt 5:28) So “unity” is not solely or even necessarily a matter of genital union.

In answer to the second question I hope that no one will doubt that same-sex couples can experience union of heart and mind. It would also appear, again from a negative example, that (at least) a male couple can unite in the flesh in the same way as a heterosexual couple; the oft-cited Leviticus 18:22 could find no other way to describe male homosexual relations than in heterosexual terms: literally, “with a male do not lay the layings of a woman.”

Obviously these negative texts raise the question, “Can such uniting be moral?” However, I think it important to note that not every uniting of male and female is moral; in addition to adultery, there is also the harlotry condemned in 1 Cor 6:16, in which becoming “one flesh” is a scandal, not a good. So, clearly, uniting in and of itself is morally neutral — the good or the bad depends on something other than the union itself.

So the issue before us is whether the uniting of two persons of the same sex can be moral. Clearly it can be, and in a growing number of places is, legal. But the church’s proper province is morality, not legality.

I hope that this brief note has dispelled or at least disabled the circular “impossiblist” argument as expounded in the Girgis, George, Anderson paper (marriage requires a male and a female ordered to childbearing to be marriage, ergo only males and females can marry), and moves us to the real issue that faces us: is same-sex marriage capable of being moral.

To answer that we need to look at the locus of morality, which is not in the anatomy, but in the mind and heart, as Jesus taught.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 14, 2012

The Nature of Marriage

I find myself nonplussed by those who see marriage of any sort as primarily about self-fulfillment or self-realization. I see marriage primarily as the gift of one self to another, two selves to each other. It is in this mutual gift that each becomes more than he or she is alone; the self only realized in giving up the self to another, life found in losing it, or losing hold on it. It is in this that I find marriage reflects the love of Christ for the Church: it is gift, not grasping.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
in response to the cavil that same-sex marriage is primarily about people being "fulfilled" or satisfied in their sexual needs, and the red herring that to be fair to bisexuals we have to countenance polygamy

In Africa, The Spirit Leads Us

Conversations on the Scripture in South Africa 2011

In October 2011, some 25 Anglican leaders from across Africa gathered with more than a dozen Episcopalians from the United States for a consultation on issues of justice and human sexuality.

For three days the group prayed, studied the Bible, listened to presentations and talked about issues of theology, sexuality and culture. When formal sessions ended, they talked into the night, all in an attempt to better understand one another, and the unique context in which each participant lived and ministered.

The Chicago Consultation was proud to sponsor this event at the Salt Rock Hotel in Durban, South Africa with our partners from the Ujamaa Centre at the University of KwaZulu Natal.

This 11-minute video captures some of the high points of the gathering, including moving personal testimony from several participants.

The “Listeners’ Report, written by a team led by the Rev. Canon Janet Trisk, the Church of Southern Africa’s clergy representative to the Anglican Consultative Council, gives a comprehensive account of the time the group spent together.

The list of participants includes several people who attended at some risk to their careers and ministries, but permitted their names to be made public nonetheless.

Members of eight African provinces participated in the consultation, including a bishop from Nigeria, the general secretary of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa, the provincial secretary of the Church of Tanzania and numerous seminary faculty.

The delegation from the Episcopal Church included Bishops Jeff Lee of Chicago and Mark Beckwith of Newark, the Rev. Gay Jennings, the Episcopal Church’s clergy representative to the Anglican Consultative Council and the Rev. Bonnie Perry, co-convener of the Chicago Consultation.

Interfaith and ecumenical guests included a gay imam, representatives of the Church of Sweden and clergy of the Methodist and Dutch Reformed Church.

During much of the recent upheaval in the Anglican Communion over issues of sexuality we have been told that those of us who favor the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the church have no partners for conversation, in Africa no brothers and sisters who will join us in ministry.

The experience of the consultation tells us that this is not true, that the bonds of affection that sustain the Anglican Communion remain strong, and that generous-spirited Anglicans around the globe are more eager than ever to enter into the deep, prayerful, scripturally-informed conversations on which the future of the Communion will be built.

May 13, 2012

Word Play

One of the constant themes in discussions of same-sex marriage is the "just don't call it 'marriage'" meme — call it a civil union or a domestic partnership. 

Well, as to "union" Websters Unabridged (2d edition 1975) lists as definition 4 of marriage, "Any close or intimate union." The Book of Common Prayer itself refers to marriage as a "union" in its opening exhortation. So all this definitional fuss about "civil marriage" versus "civil union" is not based on any real usage of the terms, but is an effort to introduce a lexical distinction where none exists, or need exist. This is not to say that same-sex marriages and mixed-sex marriages are the same; obviously they differ in one important feature. But the word marriage is big enough to embrace them both.

We have marriages of high-boys with low-boys, as the Keno Twins will testify on "Antiques Roadshow"; laundries regularly marry matching socks, left to right; and Shakespeare argued against the introduction of impediments to the marriage of true minds. The word marriage has needed little expansion, and perhaps only the slightest of redefinitions, in order to cover, as it now does in a number of jurisdictions around the world, couples who happen to be of the same sex.

However, if you want to see a real assault upon language, read some of the tortured efforts to claim that infertile heterosexual couples are still somehow "open to the possibility of procreation" or "in principle capable of generating life" — which does more violence to the meaning of the words possibility, in principle and capable than "same-sex marriage" does to the word marriage.

 Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 11, 2012

Quest for the Holy Grail

Four Pages from an Illuminated Manuscript

1. The Madness of Lancelot: March and Lament
2. Percival: Chaconne
3. Bors: Elegy
4. The Confusion and Triumph of Galahad

A piece for trumpet, string trio and piano, from sketches first written in 1977
Here realized by my friends from Garritan Personal Orchestra

The whole composition is about 10 minutes long.

MP3 File

May 10, 2012

Of Slippery Slopes

Conservatives often assert that same-sex marriage will push us along the slippery slope towards the breakdown of marriage and polygamy. On the contrary it was the stress on procreation that led to the slide to polygamy under Jewish law and custom: both in the Levirate regulation requiring a man to bed his brother's childless widow; and the insistence on divorce of an infertile wife, or the taking of another wife or concubine (e.g., Hannah, Peninnah, and Elkanah; or Jacob, Leah and Rachel.)

Relationships that are based on achieving ends will fail when those ends are not met. Relationships that are based on mutual love, in which each to the other is an end in him or herself, will endure. As the Rabbis put it: "Any love that depends upon something else, when that something else disappears, the love disappears; but if it does not depend upon something else, it will never disappear. What is an example of love that depends upon something else? The love of Amnon and Tamar. And what is the love that does not depend upon something else? An example is the love of David and Jonathan." (Pirke Avot 5:19)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 9, 2012

Great Coach, What's the Game?

The Presiding Bishop has been attending the Provincial Synods of The Episcopal Church and delivering a stirring address at each of them. While I very much enjoyed the PB's address, I observed to another member of my deputation afterwards, "The PB is an excellent coach, but I'm not sure what game we are playing." This, it seems to me, is at the base of our problems with restructuring and changing how we work -- I'm not sure we are at all clear about the task.

For one thing, I think there is a good deal of confusion about the differences between mission and ministry and outreach and the corporal works of mercy. All of these things are important, all of them are interrelated, but they are different things. I tried to lay out some of these distinctions in an earlier post, by examining the Catechism's definition of mission and its implementation. I hope that some further careful thought will go into discernment and clarification prior to any effort at restructuring. Form follows function, a wise man once said. Making formal changes before we are entirely clear about the purpose for the form will accomplish little, and may damage much.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 6, 2012

Thought for 5-6-12

The argument that The Episcopal Church isn't hierarchical because the Constitution and Canons do not use certain code words is rather like the argument of those who rejected the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity because homoousion doesn't appear in Scripture.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG