+Williams' latest missive directed to the Anglican Communion, concerned with GC2009, should not come as much of a surprise. If anything, there is a softening to his rhetoric around the Covenant and his curious notion of--what shall we call it?--diocesan autonomy. In particular, the menace implicit in his near-closing remarks (4.25),the question is being more sharply defined of whether, if a province declines such an invitation, any elements within it will be free...to adopt the Covenant,
is softened by the parenthetical--and new?--granted the explicit provision that the Covenant does not purport to alter the Constitution or internal polity of any province.
A year or so ago he might have encouraged dioceses to break away, discounting the reality of what he here calls the "local church" altogether; we should be thankful for this small movement in his apparent ecclesiology.I.
My main concern is with section 2, where there does not seem to be much movement in his thinking (his pre-office writings now ancient history), and where he seems to take sharpest issue with TEC's actions. He opens with a wonderfully crisp Modus Tollens
(spread out over 2.6-8) which may well represent the hardest and most recalcitrant element in his thinking on display in the missive:
(1) If the Church is free to recognize SSUs..., then there would be a strong consensus and solid theological grounding in the Church for that freedom.
(2) There is no such strong consensus and theological grounding in the Church.
Thus, (3) the Church is not free to recognize SSUs....
I am pretty sure Williams' MT is unsound, as (1) looks false to me. It seems the New Testament offers evidence of liberties taken before there was strong consensus, or--please--at least solid theological grounding. It is hard to imagine the earliest generations of the Church as capable of providing a strong theological grounding--in a sense univocal with Williams'--for any of the innovations they developed. It seems rather that such a capacity took centuries to develop, and that in fact what was developed is now seen as largely in error: who takes the impassible God of the Creeds seriously high up in the AC anymore? Or the Creeds' substance metaphysics? Do we have to accept Leontius of Byzantium's interpretation as truth, or, rather Truth?
(2) might be true, but it is decidedly odd. He is not saying unanimity is required, and he later on implies the lack of "strong consensus" may be an error (3.14-15)--so exactly where is the line where "strong consensus" is achieved? I would bet he has absolutely no clear idea, and he is not nearly fool enough to offer anything definite. Should we read "strong" as requiring a supermajority, so that we should see God as moving through overwhelming numerical superiority? That seems rather unbiblical to me, or at least ad hoc
--a concession to the sorts of cultural feelings of propriety whose normativity for the Church Williams elsewhere questions.
But then what? An ecumenical council? Could such a provision be maintained for other areas of innovation over which he presides in the CoE and AC? Is there strong consensus in the Church--not merely a local church like the CoE mind you, or a mere clot of locals like the AC, for ordaining women to the episcopate? It seems to me a double standard
is not a particuarly good standard
. Williams does not--after all this time and all this wrangling--have a defensible standard to offer the Anglican Communion, and while that is no sin, it is worthwhile noting.II.
I think Williams' opening argument in section 2 is unsound--but that is not the worst part of section 2. Things deteriorate precipitously
after the second sentence of 2.8, right through 3.11.
First, there is what seems to me like a bone-headed error, a possibly revealing slip which he might wish to have edited out. He thinks it follows on (3) that:a person living in such a union [a SSU] is in the same case as a heterosexual person living in a sexual relationship outside the marriage bond....
According to Williams, the case of a same sex couple that has sought out the blessing of the Church (big "c"), and irregularly received such a blessing, is equivalent to the case of a single heterosexual person
--not even a couple--living outside the marriage bond. It is not merely that the situation of a hetero couple
that merely cohabits but does not want marriage--having the real possibility of marriage open to them--is being compared to a same sex couple
that wants to marry but cannot, not having the possibility open.
That would be bad enough for Williams, because their situations are obviously different: optional mere cohabitation
and cohabitation without the marriage option are
different, and, um, the difference seems morally relevant. How on earth could he discount it? Now add in that the relevant same sex couples want to be married, but cannot be
--the difference is even more glaring. Irregular blessings do not exist for Williams; let us pass over them for his sake.
Anyhow, Williams is implying that for the Church, these obvious differences
amount to no moral difference
which the Church is free to take into account when delivering blessings; indeed, more: no moral difference, period
. But that is just wrong. If the Church were mistaken about not getting behind blessing same sex unions--something Williams has implied is possible--that would not affect their sacramental character. They would have a sacramental character even without the recognition of the Church;
so the Church regards the marriage sacrament.
That is to say, pace
Williams, the truth of (3) would not imply there is no difference between the same sex couple and the hetero single, as the Church could be wrong and the sacrament could be present for the same sex couple.
However, the real kicker is his likening the same sex couple to a heterosexual individual
sleeping around, as if the couple's bond is nonexistent, as if there is nothing there
that would make the couple more than one individual sleeping around and another individual sleeping around. That is, to say the least, insulting. But it also seems to defy reality; there are
lifelong, exclusive, loving homosexual unions. That seems, one would think, to be different from the swinging single's case in a way that the Church, and Williams, should register.
But it doesn't register with him, and--alas--its not registering does not seem to be a cognitive slip or a mere fault of expression
. He writesIn other words, the question is not a simple one of human rights or human dignity. It is that a certain choice of lifestyle has certain consequences.
Does he know better? Who knows. Is being gay a lifestyle
? What exactly is a lifestyle? Is being gay something that gays choose
of them? This seems comic. I submit what seems to me to be obvious:there are cases of gays who are homosexual without there having been an occasion, a time t, in each of their cases at which they effectively chose to be gay.
Bulletin to the Archbishop: that's not how it works. Being gay is not, and certainly is not always, a mere lifestyle that is chosen. There are, for instance, habits, dispositions, nonconscious desires and mental content, and socialization to take account of; extend the list ad plac
Strictly speaking, Williams' argument in 2.6-8 may be ignored if--as it seems--he means to address people who choose to adopt a gay lifestyle. It seems to be that the Episcopal Church means to minister to, and has baptized, genuinely gay people, men and women who--shock!--really are gay
through and through, and not just sampling the wares like Williams' single heterosexual on the prowl. If we are to take Williams at his word, then contrary to what might have been his intention, he is not addressing what TEC intends to do by blessing SSUs. A fort
, he really has nothing to say here about ordaining gays.
In a deep sense, we are talking past one another.III.
There is more to say; someone should take him to task for positing the separation of sacred and secular realms, as if there are secular facts really distinct from the religiously significant. I hope he does not believe that, but the missive seems to presuppose such a distinction.
I will stop with just one more point. Williams wrote (2.7)In the light of the way the Church has consistently read the Bible for the last two thousand years, it is clear that a positive answer to this question....
Ugh. Is there really a single way the Church has read the Bible over the course of its existence on any
question, much less the one of blessing SSUs? Why all the make-believe? There's the obvious problem that there have been several different ways the Church has read the Bible over its history, and not merely one way. There's the problem too that there is no one Bible for the Church, even now, that could be read or referred to as object for this fictional One Way of Reading. And then there is the problem that the Church existed for some time without a Bible, but merely with its "Scripture" being a version of pre-Jamnia Hebrew Scripture not quite the same as our Anglican OT--likely the LXX, with some really wild stuff like the Enoch
literature added on. In other words, he should be a little more circumspect before perpetuating partisan fictions.
But the main point is, even if there were exactly one Bible and exactly one right way of reading it, would we be reading about people who are gay? That seems to me to be a substantive question, and one pressed by Williams' bizzare picture of gays having chosen a gay lifestyle. If the Bible on homosexuality merely addressed heteros who tried to exchange their hetero orientation for a gay one (a la Romans
), that would not carry obvious implications for people who are gay simpliciter
, without any exchange. If it did not seem to recognize there were gay Israelites in speaking to men having sex with men, the same question arises: is this speaking to people who are gay? It may be, even if Williams were right about the Bible and reading, the impressive historical consensus on homosexual activity does not speak directly to people who are gay. For all the years and all the unanimity, there is a yet a gap
, a question about whether all of that addresses people who are gay, who really are
gay. And alas: the Bible will not speak of itself to that question.
What makes this worse: it seems the Church will succeed in avoiding this gap if it can. TEC and gays in general are not powerful enough to compel the Church here below to take the question up qua
question. Those on whose behalf the question would be taken up are--considering them worldwide--among the weak, the marginalized, the unseen.