Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Is This Enough from Canterbury?

It seems our plate is before us; I hope you brought an appetite.

Rowan is right that the prophet must be prepared to suffer, and indeed be a suffering servant; if ECUSA is committed to bearing its actions at GC2003 as prophetic, it must be prepared to accept second-class status in the Anglican Communion.

Yet I cannot help but think as I read this that much is awry.

I. Shorter Rowan Wiliams
Our Archbishop asks, What is the current tension in the Anglican Communion actually about? and answers:

...it is a question about how we make decisions corporately with other Christians, looking together for the mind of Christ as we share the study of the Scriptures.

According to Rowan, the gay problem is not the moving issue here, just the "trigger"--if not gays, it would be something else. Splits and quarrels like this in an era of globalization, he says, are inevitable. Preserving the genius of Anglicanism--a way of living Christianly able to hold evangelical, Roman Catholic, and liberal elements together--will require an explicit articulation of the terms of beloinging, especially the sacramental ones. As the row over the gay problem shows, the Anglican Communion can no longer presume "mutual respect" among provinces will suffice to hold us together around terms left implicit. This explicit articulation will take the shape of a covenant: confess, or be moved outside the "unrestricted" [bravo Rowan--brilliant weasel word!] sacramental community of the Anglican Community to "associated" status.

II. Ecce Homo
Note the reticence here, as with Eames' Windsor Report, to address substantive moral issues, like blessing SSUs, outside those around procedural fairness. He seems rather annoyed with ECUSA, and in a number of passages writes very pointed, negative things about GC2003--but he does so almost always because of the way ECUSA went forward.

Oh, note I said ALMOST always. He does indeed lower himself from his lofty office to make a substantive moral point. He attacks Gene Robinson personally in this missive to the Communion, implying Robinson was in the moral wrong according to Episcopalian formularies. Whether Robinson was indeed in the wrong is beside the point. Williams could could have re-phrased the point and made his case so that it would appear in general terms without singling Robinson out; for some reason he does not. This is simply breathtaking:

But the decision of the Episcopal Church to elect a practising gay man as a bishop was taken without even the American church itself (which has had quite a bit of discussion of the matter) having formally decided as a local Church what it thinks about blessing same-sex partnerships.

Well, as Rowan says, for those other than Gene at least, It isn’t a question of throwing people into outer darkness. Apparently, Williams is above treating Robinson with any pastoral sensitivity; Rowan has the larger realities of the Communion to consider here. Note the painful irony: in making this one substantive moral point, taking a swipe at Robinson, Williams makes a moral spectacle of himself, treating a person as a means to an end, a tool. No other particular persons were singled out for harm in the rest of the essay, to the best of my knowledge.

He is clear:

The Archbishop of Canterbury presides and convenes in the Communion, and may do what this document attempts to do, which is to outline the theological framework in which a problem should be addressed; but he must always act collegially, with the bishops of his own local Church and with the primates and the other instruments of communion.

That is, it is not the Archbishop's place to personally address substantive moral issues in the wider Communion. Commentators displeased that Rowan failed again to, say,denounce the Church of Nigeria's support for that state's draconian anti-gay laws have clearly missed Rowan's apparent commitment to consistency.

What do you think? Does Rowan have the office of Archbishop right? He has spoken out on moral issues in the Communion, of course, but I think he would say in response that those instances are not to the point; they were not Communion dividing issues.

III. Shadows of a Dream
We shall have to work with Rowan's covenant idea and hope for the best. There is no viable alternative other than preemptively breaking away. Probably the covenant's fruition will mean second class status in the Anglican Communion, and maybe even the spectacle of Rowan encouraging a parallel Anglican province in the U.S.

It may be that Rowan's rather well-crafted rhetoric is enough of an anaesthetic to make all this seem encouraging.

But whatever the necessities of day to day life in the Communion, we should be clear among ourselves. Rowan's speech is primariy a piece of rhetoric, a play of images, a shadow in a dream, idle chatter in the cave.

The covenant process will very likely be used as a means to reduce ECUSA and whoever else stands with her to second-class status; that will be the actual end of the effective plurality crafting it, not the end Rowan envisions: securing explicit terms that will hold us together. No; these explicit terms will not hold us together, they will tear us apart, merely consummating what he believes has already begun.

The covenant process in reality very likely will be a tool to eliminate the very genius of Anglicanism he claims to wish to defend--a way of living Christianly able to hold evangelical, Roman Catholic, and liberal elements together. It will very likely institutionalize the elimination or suppression of Anglican liberalism. In short, Rowan has no way forward to preserve Anglicanism, understood in his terms.

Rowan seems oblivious in this piece to the realities of global power politics as they are playing out the Anglican Communion. He does not address the fact that demographic and historical contingencies have placed the Global South in a position to dictate terms of unity. Instead, he merely plays truth and unity off against one another.

In concrete terms, this blatant power imbalance may result in the covenant carrying substantive content beyond procedural rules or circumstantially neutral content like the Quadrilateral, content effectively excluding ECUSA from the Communion--picture parts of Lambeth '98 1.10 getting written into our new confession.

Indeed, he seems oblivious too about how many on the evangelical right regard homosexuality, and his desire to see the gay problem as a mere trigger might cloud his judgement here. For our impasse is largely about this issue and this issue alone; if it were not for this issue, we would not be threatened with schism. Note: NT Wright thinks the acts of GC2003 are morally on par with the Iraq War; Zahl sees those acts as on par with terrorist bombing; parties in the global south have seen gays as sub-human or agents of Satan, and have supported their political suppression.

Will any set of procedural rules suffice to maintain unity when one party is in the grip of such moral panic? Wouldn't it have been better if he had acted from his office to calm the panic and openly rebuke such excesses, even if he wanted to leave the substantive theological issues open? His dictinction between civil rights and church theology, his chatter about the possibility of defending civil rights for gays while denying their ordination etc, closes the barn door after the horse has left. His straight talk about what is logically consistent is bizzarely blind to the actual world--we cannot leave the actual Anglican Communion where gays are oppressed by the Anglican Church as in Nigeria for Rowan Williams' shiny and sweet Possible World.

Rowan and the Windsor Report's silence on substantive moral issues around 1.10--something he seems to think comes with the office--does not imply that the question of gay ordination or blessings is really open to discussion. Given the power reality, in practical terms it is already closed--his silence gave, and indeed was necessary for giving, the Global South this opportunity to shut down discourse.

5 Comments:

At 9:49 AM, Blogger *Christopher said...

I was reflecting more upon just this.

This frees in some ways for a time to allow for more discernment. After all, the churches Paul helped found found themselves somewhere in the second tier. Just read Galatians if anyone thinks that the Council of Jerusalem settled matters.

In some sense we are witnessing a new Trent. That council was largely in reaction to the Reformers and hardened up in council many points that were open for more latitude before, and Rome has been having to slowly undo its excesses and misunderstandings ever since. What was lost was an earlier more flexible catholicism and a new centralization emerged in the next two centuries as that council was embodied.

A shift away from understanding that Truth emerges through divine worship over time was solidified in a shift to a strengthened Papacy.

Of course, it is in that nature of prophetic that we don't have a guarantee we are correct, and in challenging what has been received, we must bear the penalty, but neither at least as I have understood Anglicanism,is it true even in our surest method, divine worship overtime by which Scripture, Tradition, and Reason are applied. Much less in gathered councils, for as the articles do declare: even the councils have erred. Indeed, they declare the Church has variously erred from time to time.

Anglicanism has been a way through which we can disagree on much and be assured that in those things necessary for salvation, we can find theme taught and most importantly articulated in worship, not that we can be guaranteed on a sundry host of matters as being correct, even if Lambeth decided them: such as changes to birthcontrol or recognizing that there is no bar to women being ordained in Scripture. After all, officially our Orthodox and Roman Catholic sistern and bretheren disagree with us there, and they are the bulk of the Church.

So a future "Council of Canterbury" covenant will not guarantee Truth on various and sundry matters either even through some process that carries with it the force of "we have determined thusly", and I do wonder that if that is the future of how we seek Truth, it would be better to be Roman Catholic. At least they have a strong sense of that way of discernment in infallibility, and the Pope rarely speaks thusly unbeknownst to some neocon RC'ers.

I do beg to differ with you on one point, ++Williams has spoken out on moral issues in this matter--his singling out +Robinson is a part of that speaking as is his failure to once name by name those who would do gay people harm. I'm not sure I'll go as far as Br. Thomas Bushnell, BSG, but I don't honestly think a listening process was ever in the works. For many, I.10 closed the matter long ago. No process need happen. Persecution and stripping of basic civil liberaties being necessary to quarantine those who fail to apprehend that truth now settled.

All in all, though, if second tier status is the way we'll go, I hope three things: renewed vision for mission (and not just in the U.S.), a renewed commitment to Truth discovery overtime in divine worship, and a strengthening of theological reflection. I don't see a need to get overly worked up as I've grown tired of the entire spectacle. We Anglicans are drama queens and we've focused so on ourselves and our internal squabbles

 
At 1:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I totally agree on RW vision as dream, although I would rather call it opium for the faithful. It may sound sweet, but at some point there’s painful withdrawal. And it’s not sweet for gay and lesbian people in Nigeria and elsewhere.

I also agree on the drama queen description, but I have to add that it’s a pretty expensive drama show too. All those “instruments of unity” (the term makes no sense to me, if there’s unity it does not need “instruments” – are we talking about instruments like chains? - and if not, it needs them even less) – all the current and proposed “instruments” will cost dozens of millions of pounds and dollars. When you think how else that money may have been spent (AIDS, malaria, hunger, education, ecology etc etc), it looks like these funds are just wasted for entertaining Anglican narcissism of a relatively small group (=drama queens); in some ways, it’s very non-Christian. Isn’t it about time for the “primates” to graduate into human subspecies? Or are they out there to prove that evolution is a reversible process?

Another question, if Episcopal church is (at least possibly) taking “prophetic stand,” then what is the position/function of the RW (Rowan Williams)? A high priest who is ready to arrange a slaughter of an uncomfortable prophet? Did he think about that? And what about ‘only the whole Church knows the whole Truth’ as someone put it” – could he have relied on some more identifiable and more reputable sources? And if “only the whole church” then why do we need a second tier – and then, is the second tier a part of the church or is it not? Has anyone seen in the Bible anything about a multi-tiered Church?

And that’s another thing that struck me in the document: RW’s emphasis on Bible without mentioning tradition or reason, which we use to interpret it, and which he himself must have used to arrive to his statement about non-discrimination against gays and lesbians (whom otherwise Bible calls to stone!). Is it him who decides who can and who can not use reason and tradition in interpreting Bible? That sounds like papacy to me.

Finally, his references to the majority’s opinion. Well, as a good Patristic scholar he knows very well that there were times when majority of the Church was, for instance, Arian (a brand of “heretics” in the 4th century), so that does not hold the water. Another thing that he must know is that what he’s doing, he’s doing in the full knowledge that it may cause division and parallel jurisdictions in the US and elsewhere (perhaps, even in UK!); that’s called “schism” and, historically, it never resulted in anything good.

Two-tiered approach theoretically may or may not work. I believe ECUSA has been in the “second tier” for a century or so after American independence, and survived and perhaps even thrived and organized many missions worldwide (that was before the Anglican Communion was around!). And who can guarantee that the Orwellian majority, which is more equal than others, will not insert into the proposed Covenant a requirement to excommunicate all the gay and lesbian persons, to stop ordination of women etc, in which case ECUSA won’t be alone in the “second tier”! I really doubt that the formal bureaucratic Communion with its instruments is necessary at this point. Perhaps, like the proverbial seed, Communion may have to die the way it is now, in order to be reborn into something useful (which I don’t find it now: it does organize some reasonably helpful activities and dialogues, but all that can be done more efficiently on personal level over the Internet, without the expensive bureaucratic apparatus in Lambeth; and apart from those very few good things it does stir a lot of troubles).

I find that one of the troubles with the Windsor report and, to a lesser extent, with the new RW’s document is that they put administrative instruments of unity before sacramental / mystical communion, bureaucracy before the experience of God and Church in the Communion/Eucharist. However, if that sacramental communion ceases, the bureaucratic instruments won’t be able to help either, that would be a GULAG rather than a Communion.

 
At 2:13 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

These are very good comments IMHO; thank you both.

christopher,
You are dead on to emphasize that the point of Anglicanism is not to secure guarantees, and that in fact we can claim guarantees about extremely little. Thus, our acts in 2003, for lacking a guarantee, are in the same boat as much alse that counts as received belief in the AC. To emphasize consesnus, as the ABC, is not to distinguishj along a binary of guarnateed/ not guaranteed. This is a serious flkaw, a fatal flaw, in whatever theology stands behing the ABC's reflection.

I wish I had noticed that earlier!

anonymous,
I especially like your historical point: ECUSA has been in a second class-like situation, and worse, before in its history, and it seems merely top be our lot to return to such a status again.

Again, I wish I had noticed this earlier.

Thanks again.

 
At 2:23 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Ah, however, I want to underline at least two things:

(1) Some of the intensity behind the animus to GC2003 and 2006 comes from a moral panic, where homosexual acf\ts are equated to terrorism, wartime atrocities, subhuman behavior. That is, something very odd, a kind of blatantly false moral picture, has otherwise very intelligent conservatives in its grip. This calls for a special responses--discourse under such conditions is near impossible.

(2)Mentioning VGR by name is a very dangerous thing to do for the ABC; he is at risk of adding a new energy to the AC: instead of the Communion being one centered on its relation to Christ, it begins to be one centered on opposition to a merely human person. One in which we must scapegoat VGR--he, in a morally negative way, becomes the effective focus of unity and disunity. I do not need to tell you any such Communion, to the extent it is so constituted, is demonic.

I have noted before in earlier posts how Williams seems to mitake what real communion is--that earlier suspicion is confirmed hin his missive. On the one hand, there is William's consious discourse--but as I have noted, it occurs in a special land, something like Plato's Cave; his conscious discourse does not address reallity. I suggest the main event is not his conscious discourse, but what is unconsciouys--the use of VGR as a scapegoat is here. The episcopate leaves us especially open to mimetic desire, as Girard would have it, and Williams--consciously or not--has begum to use said desire as glue to constitute his Communion.

 
At 11:44 PM, Anonymous J.C. Fisher said...

Methinks that an ABC who can't bring himself to name a particular human being, +Gene Robinson, in a screed, probably isn't prepared to write the same human being, +Gene Robinson, a "Requests the Presence of Your Company" invite... :-(

[And worse, probably thinks the subject beneath discussion]

 

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