February 24, 2019

Room at the Table

It was announced recently that spouses of bishops were invited to attend the 2020 Lambeth Conference, except for the spouses who happened to be of the same sex as the bishop. Reportedly, the disinvitation was handled personally, in a communication from the Archbishop of Canterbury to each of the disinvited.

This disinvitation comes about as an effort to ensure that at least some of those bishops who might be offended by the presence of such spouses will feel able to attend. Of course, it may lead some bishops — offended by the disinvitation itself — to choose not to attend.

Part of this can be put down to the English anxiety about protocol and etiquette that agonizes about seating plans at banquets and who can be reliably seated next to whom, or even more perilously, who simply cannot be invited because Someone Else would be offended at their presence. This concern is a real one, but while it may have a place in a social setting, or at the diplomatic table, it seems far less appropriate for a church. Even in a social setting, as Dear Abby pointed out to the lady who didn't want to have “that sort” in her home even though she had been invited to theirs, “Perhaps you are living in the wrong sort of neighborhood." But neighborhoods are one thing, and the church quite another.

This is, of course, one of the great ironies of the Anglican Malaise of the last few decades: which centers on the paradox of the high and valued goal of seeking unity in Christ, while at the same time being willing to excise or exclude some members of the body whom others find offensive. The goal, quite simply, is not unity, but majority. It marks a wholesale by-in to an ideal Girardian “scapegoat” ethic in which the supposed well-being of the bulk of the body is maintained by judging and excluding a subset of its members. For the church, it is a form of self-mutilation.

The exclusionary advice of Paul of Tarsus notwithstanding (as he seems on his bad days not to have been averse to shunning and exclusion, in particular shunning and excluding those who sought to shun and exclude — and you can see how that works in the end) the Founder appears to me to have rejected such strategies, preferring to let good and bad in this fallen world of ours mingle, unjudged and unsorted, until he has Time to do that work at the last.

His method, it seems, is to do good, treating all the same, and let the chips fall where they may. The church could, and probably will, do worse.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


wdg_pgh said...

"His method, it seems, is to do good, treating all the same, and let the chips fall where they may."

And where does it say that? Oh, yeah--in today's gospel reading.

otming said...

This is why I am no longer an Episcopalian. I was catechized by Sam Portaro, I worked with Elizabeth Carl, the first openly lesbian person to be ordained, before she became a priest. I thought I had found a church that welcomed all. Then I found myself in a place where the bishop forbad same-sex marriage ceremonies within his diocese, even if a priest was perfectly willing to officiate; an Episcopalian couple had to go outside its geographical boundaries. And the denomination was okay with that, even though it allowed priests to plead conscience if they disagreed with a bishop who allowed same-sex marriages. If negative freedom of conscience is honored, why isn’t positive freedom?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, WDG.

Otming, this is part of the downside of a church polity that is structured globally but executed locally; and that cuts both ways, as you describe -- and a few recalcitrant bishops to the contrary, a priest who wishes to bless a same-sex couple's marriage cannot be stopped from doing so in any of the domestic dioceses of The Episcopal Church. All clergy still have a right not to solemnize any given marriage, but General Convention (2018) intended that this should not be a bar to a couple being married in their own diocese. We are living in a time of transition, and the movement towards justice is slow; but when I think of what I have seen in my own lifetime, I am convinced that only the power of God could make it so.