Thursday, June 29, 2006

Yo! It's Lookin' Ugly Out There

God willing, let there be some Upcoming Vacancies...
Nunley confirmed that the Episcopal Church's elected leadership may, if necessary, declare a diocese vacant, and that in such a case the Presiding Bishop would call for the election of a new diocesan bishop, among other actions.

Ruth Gledhill quotes an unnamed, recent poster to the HoB/HoD Listserv. I reproduce it at length, because I think the point here is so important, interspersing my comments within brackets:
Any number of folks have suggested recently that we frame some sort of amicable divorce to let the disgruntled go peaceably and nicely That would be a terrible strategic error. First, we have no reason to believe that the harm and humiliation that groups like the ACN, etc have sought to perpetrate upon TEC would end.
[Excellent point! Recall the Chapman Memo and David Anderson's recent comments: they want to destroy the Episcopal Church and seize "the franchise" for themselves, eliminating the rest of us from it. Our enabling the destruction of our church is NOT a virtue, but a pathology.]

In fact, if we let them leave with all their resources we have simply given them a platform to carry on their promised war against TEC. Remember, please, that they are collecting parish directories in order to allow their lay arm to continue to agitate among TEC's membership.
[Remember that Duncan, Iker, Howe etc are not genuine theological conservatives; like bizarro mirror images of the sixities radicals they probably loathe, they are agents of destruction, tearing down institutions for better career placement. These bishops stand in the line of Machiavelli, not the line of the apostles.]

"So step one is to promise them a long legal battle for every scrap of property and every dime in every bank account. We need to make it clear they will spend the next ten years litigating.
"The standard is that if there is one person in a parish or one person in a Diocese who wish to remain in TEC they become the legitimate stewards of everything that is now TEC's
[Yes; this is a no-brainer. This is the only acceptable moral standard for proceeding--and this comes from me, stranded in the Desert of Central Florida; the wolves are at my door.]

"Second, let's remember that these folks have no constituency from which to draw for growth. Catholics will always pick Rome over Rome wannabes and in the evangelical-fundamentalist world the folks withdrawing from TEC are guppies among sharks.
"Their fantasy life says that they will grow and grow and just show us all, but the reality is that apart from the Truros and Planos, they have lived sheltered lives as bible thumpers. Which means, again, that they can only hope to grow from trying to sew more discord in TEC.

[Another excellent point; these schismatics are by nature vampiric. When they find Roman Catholics and Orthodox, Pentacostals and Baptists, Nazerenes and Assembly of God-ites do what they are trying to do better than they can (think of CNN's pathetic efforts to imitate FOX News) , the schismatics will return to flaying ECUSA alive and feasting on the parishoners they are able to cut off and devour.]

"Third, I certainly hope that in San Joachin, South Carolina, Pittsburgh and Fort Worth people are preparing Diocesan Conventions to replace those who are leaving. Whomever has the authority should declare those Sees vacant and support local folks as they re-organize. This same organizing should begin now in every other Diocese that has withdrawn it's accession to the Canons and Constitution.
[As you see from my post below I agree with this; I believe it takes only two priests and ten laypersons to get the ball rolling--including one priest and six laypersons from Central Florida. Do I have any takers???]

Fourth, we are already an international church, spanning turf from Taiwan to France. We should offer alternative primatial oversight to any parish or Diocese anywhere in the world who would rather beassociated with TEC than the curial-fundamentalist WWAC emerging under ++Rowan's mismanagement.
[Again, we should already be doing this.]

Before he assigns us second class status, let's demonstrate the power of a participatory democratic church. We should be prepared to welcome as Sister and Brother Provinces those like Scotland, Ireland, Wales, South Africa, Brazil, etc who will notsupport the emerging shape of the WWAC."Hopefully the Executive Council and the PB's office will take leadership in these matters, but if not, then instead of continuing to worry over the true impact of B033, we could instead become proactivein this full court press against the theo-terrorists of the ACN-IRD-AAC-NAG-ACI grouping."
[People, if there are any of you out there reading this--it is not God's will that we imitate the Weimar Republic and succomb to this band of thugs. Yes, "thugs"--GO READ the Central Florida pronouncement and smell the rot of theonomic reconstructionsim; it would be positively loony, even rushdoony, if it weren't outright Evil. The spirit of Nigeria is here, here in Central Florida. I implore you, Bishops, Presiding Bishop(s), Priests, Ministers of Christ do something now to send the wolves from the fold.]

Being and Bishops in Central Florida

Events are moving apace; step out for a beer somewhere in the Diocese of Central Florida, come back and this happens:

We hereby appeal to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the panel of reference, and the Primates of the Anglican Communion for immediate alternative primatial oversight. We understand that none of our actions violate the canons of the Episcopal Church.

Interesting. What indeed is alternative primatial oversight? It seems to mean that the Diocese wishes to be under another provincial leader, another leader different from Presiding Bishop Griswold; we are not to infer Central Florida would accept PB-elect Schori. Of course, Griswold is no Archbishop, but rather a Bishop who is first among equals. Just what, then, is Central Florida requesting? Another person to fill the role that Griswold fills, another provincial leader.

Why is that important? Note:

It is our firm intent to remain a diocese with constituent member status in the Anglican Communion.

Perhaps CF thinks being a normal member at the Anglican Communion, having a seat at the table, requires being part of a province. They would have had such membership now had they remained under the leadership of the current PB. Stepping out from under the authority of the PB without being under the authority of another provincial leader who has normal membership in the AC would mean existing for a time without membership in the Anglican Communion. That is, CF would lose the membership it had in the AC--something CF wishes to avoid, as such a loss for CF would mean no longer being Anglican, i.e. losing its very esse.

Thus, this move by CF is quite interesting--we are to see CF not as withdrawing now from the authority of ECUSA's PB, but rather soliciting another provincial leader via Williams while remaining under ECUSA's PB. The transition from provincial leader to provinical leader must be seamless.

Key question: is it a canonical violation for a Diocese or the Bishop of a Diocese to so solicit memebership in another province? This is, of course, to solicit membership in another church.

Here is a relevant article (III) from the Constitution of CF:

The Diocese of Central Florida acknowledges its allegiance to be due to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ; and recognizing the body known as the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America otherwise known as the Episcopal Church to be a true branch of said Church, having rightful jurisdiction in this country, hereby declares its adhesion to the same and accedes to its Constitution and Canons.

Note well, the 2003 Canons imply at Title IV, Canon 1, Sec. 1 (e) and (f) that a Bishops, Priests, and Deacons are obliged to obey the canons of their Dioceses and of ECUSA's GC, disobedience being a liable offense. But by CF's own constitution, the Diocese recognizes ECUSA as having rightful jurisdiction, and itself as adhering to ECUSA.

The key question: is the Bishop violating the constitution of CF by soliciting overisight from another provincial leader, i.e. asking Williams to become part of another Province? We are not talking about another province of ECUSA, e.g. Duncan's phantasy Province X, but another church altogether. He has, by signing on to this statement, declared an intent to lead the Diocese to renounce ECUSA's jurisdiction as well as its constitution and canons.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

On Holiness

An interesting discussion over at Tobias' place touched on the nature of holiness. Assorted righties claimed (1) homosexual activity necessarily violates holiness, and (2) that we are called to be holy, thus (3) all homosexual activity is immoral. While I agree with (2), I think (1) is false, so that (3) does not follow.

Anyhow, I owe an explanation of holiness. I posted this, roughly:

At the core of the biblical notion of holiness is our being set apart for the use of God, with the understanding that we are not in our "fallen" state already available to God. We are thus faced with the problem of moving from being unavailable to becoming avalable to God.

Holiness is not achieved by obeying rules--that is necessarily always insufficient. To disagree would be to immediately move into a notion of holiness based on merely human works--an absurdity. The reductionist tendency to read holiness as nothing over and above obedience to a set of rules is just the type of legalism so tempting to us in all ages which Jesus protested in the Pharisees of his day.

The Holiness Codes of the OT operate with a background notion of perfection or wholeness, and behind that an inchoate apprehension of ideal types. Note the apprehension of ideal types is Necessarily always inchoate, i.e. screwed up, even if it were somehow directly revealed to the authors and redactors, such as whispered by lil' angels in their ears. To say a reception of such types constituting perfection is not screwed up somehow is to assert comprehension of God (theology being God's revelation of God's self-knowledge)--absurd.

The Hebrews may have figured our being set apart for God's use implies an approach to God, entering God's domain as he dwells among us. That is, the OT effort to be holy, i.e. obeying the Code, implies an effort to become godly or to participate in the nature of divinity. Thus, holiness and participation in divinity are the terms linked by the mediation of the code. They participated in divinity, becoming holy via obedience to the Code.

We still as Christians participate in divinity, obliged to become holy--think of our sacramental life as participation in the Person of God in Christ.

But whereas the Hebrews had the Code as their mediator-- from our point of view an exteriorized version of the Logos--we have the very Logos in the Person of Christ. We have no need of the Law in the sense of a Code when we have the very Person of God mediating our particiaption in God. This is what it means to have Christ as our one and only mediator.

That is not good enough for your some--they want something else in addition. Christ being insufficient, bring back the Law! This is pathetic--quoting Paul to subvert Paul.

As Paul recognized and the Gospel Christ foretold, the mediation of the Person of God fufills the Law. Remember the Law bridged a number of gaps, intending the Hebrews' becoming perfect, like God. The Law generally intending perfection, intends its own supersession in Christ; to deny this is to think it is part of the Law to be settled with the imperfection of the Law--again, absurd. The perfection of the Law implies the elimination of the Law--similar to the ministry of John the Baptist: the consummation of his ministry was its supersession.

But as Paul points out, the elimnation of the law is not a license to immorality. What you might ask in exasperation could the possible sense of immorality be with the elimination of the Law?

Remember, the Law never took its meaning from itself; this is the fatal flaw in divine command theory. It is not "These words are to be obeyed simply because these are the words I have spoken"--God could do it that way, but we know in Faith through Christ Jesus that he has chosen not to do it that way.

The Law always took its meaning from what is required for being in relation with God, being part of the divine community. Even in the OT this is the focus for the Law--entering into the presence of God as available to God is just being in community with God. That is why the new thing of Jesus as our One Mediator consummates the old thing of the Law in the very elimination of the Law.

But now our relation to God is constituted via our relation with Christ--there is no other way into the community of God. The proper question is: what are the necessary conditions for our community with Christ? It cannot, of course, be a matter of sufficient conditions in our grasp.

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: 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.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Lord Have Mercy

Christ Church, Plano, declared that it will "disassociate" itself from ECUSA, whatever that will come to mean in concrete terms. This is a truly massive mistake, I think, both because it is based on quite lousy theology, and because even if it were based on sterling theology, it would be the wrong type of thing to do.

But suddenly I am ashamed of donning armor and preparing to enter the lists again.

Going over various pages on their website, I kept coming across these little pictures of children. I just can't stand it; my heart burns. I know, I know--the pictures are on the margins and seem to serve as barely visible yet obligatory ornament for the "really important" business in the middle of the page: why Plano is leaving, the rector's thoughts at GC2006, and more.

Of course, in reality the really important parts of these pages refer wordlessly to the young children of Plano--who have no idea what the sound and fury of GC2006 is all about. They are in their mothers' arms, holding daddy's hand, peeking over a rock.

Let us pray with Plano that God keeps them in his love and wisdom, that they will declare unto those little children the noble works of God that have impressed the faith of their parents and fellow Christians, and that they will forgive us, laying to rest any remnants of antipathy that might have driven them to this extremity at the foot of the Holy Cross.

Go forth, that you might bring all nations into the fold of Christ and the Spirit to all flesh....

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Our Young Episcopalian: Anne-Marie

Dude, Stop Harshing GC2006

GC2006 was the first I seriously paid attention to--and I was shocked at the deep and strong support among the representatives in our House of Deputies for the actions of GC2003. I had no idea; this is very encouraging.

Their conviction in the face of strong threats and pressure to the contrary implies alot of Episcopalians are taking the implications of their sacramental lives, constituted by the baptismal covenant and the eucharist, seriously. They conceive support for the acts of GC2003 as part of the Church's ministry of reconciliation, and they are willing, as those bearing prophetic witness should, to face the relevant crucifixion: the vitriol of the so-called orthodox, expulsion from the Anglican Communion, marginalization among the majority of Christians. The GC was ugly at times--shoddy arguments, puzzling logic-chopping, odd voting alignments, walk-outs and more, but these accidents, when have they not accompanied the church, that corpus permixtum? More important is the evidence among so many deputies (God save the bishops) that they take their covenant with the appropriate gravity; what is essential to the church being the church is there in force.

Yes, yes, they were impressed by Griswold's last-minute maneuvers to get B-033 passed. But they were impressed by persons, mind you: the persons of of our PB and PB-elect with their backs against the wall appealing for B-033 at the last possible minute, persons whom the deputies must have regarded as trustworthy out of Christian fellowship. We are right to be so moved by persons, for in that moment of appeal we may be moved by the shadow of the face of Christ in the other, even if that other is saying something wrong or half-baked.

That disposition to regard personal relation is at the core of the formation Episcopal liturgy attempts to carry through; it was evident at GC2006 in the HoD, but it was evident also in the actions of GC2003. Most deputies are not systematic theologians, I venture to say, but they are impressed at their experience of homosexual persons who would come up as candidates for blessing as couples, and that impression is a datum for theology, not an inconvenient item to be repressed or written off.

For at the core of sacramental life's approach to the Father is personal encounter with the Son, and not merely in subjective terms. We learn to see the love of homosexual couples as participation in the life of Christ, as a work of the Spirit in its ministry of reconciliation. That is, here too God surprises: He will be Whom He Will Be, whatever the vast dead weight of human tradition suggests.

So do not fault GC2006; they did quite a good job all things considered, and even gave Abp. Williams an opportunity to do the right thing with the generous passage of B-033; let us hope he makes good and fruitful use of it. It is not necessary that the Anglican Communion break up; if Williams wants, the covenant process can go forward.

Even to those on the right prepared to respond with "But they are devoted to the wrong covenant! This is the wrong notion of reconciliation!" the devotion of the deputies should be notable--there is a strong desire here to follow the lead of Christ, as they perceive it, come what may.

What we may need as a church is to refocus on evangelism; we have these strong faith convictions, and are willing to suffer for them, Let us raise our voices! And that will require renewal in biblical theology. I am almost certain much more can be done in adult formation among ECUSA's parishes to study the Bible using, say, Kerygma or EfM or Leader Resources or.... Whatever you choose, we must not leave our brothers and sisters in Christ defenseless when the wolves come around--be sure that there will be more conservative backlash. But more importantly, with such a laity we have a potentially powerful resource for doing the work of Christ beyond GC2006 in a wider world of violence and exploitation addicted to the excesses of materialistic consumption. The harvest is ready, brothers and sisters.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Sexual Orientation and Personhood

From more than one speaker on the Anglican right one hears the canard that while there are homosexual actions and inclinations, such orientation is not truly a matter constituting the person--and you might even hear various therapies purporting to instill heterosexual orientation alluded to as evidence. Indeed, over at Whitehall recently I read this:

The notion that a homosexual orientation is a "part of who gays are" is a diabolical lie. Sexual attraction, homo or hetero, is not a part of who anyone is fundamentally. That would mean that without that homo or hetero inclination, they would stop being who they are. But that is incoherent. If I stop or start having a particular sexual inclination (a.k.a. "orientation"), I won't thereby stop or start being Father WB. On this score, +Robinson, +Griswold and co. need to go back and take a crash course on Aristotelian Metaphysics. That's not something I would normally recommend, but I think it would really help in their cases.

I was struck by how confident--note the grave phrase "diabolical lie"--the author was that Aristotle would support this take on sexual orientation. True enough, there may be no Attic for "sexual orientation", but the author is not making that kind of merely linguistic point. He has a sense of what a person is presumably issuing from Aristotle's metaphysics, and according to his view, sexual orientation has no part in what a person is. It is accidental, like sitting down or being six feet tall. That is, one can lose an accident--standing up from having been seated--and retain one's personal identity. Griswold and company, taking sexual orientation as necessary for retaining identity, are thus mistaken.

Pace the fact there is no contemporary consensus around what makes for our apparent persistence--we are talking Aristotle here. What of it? Does Whitehall have a good case? I fear not. In short, he has too thin and abstract a notion of personhood to fit in with what Aristotle has to say.

In his ethics, Aristotle makes heavy use of the notion of a habit or disposition (i.e. hexis)--for instance both virtues like courage and vices like cowardice are types of habits. Given a capacity for a given habit, one acquires the habit through repetition. Thus, one is not born virtuous or vicious all at once at birth. Rather, one's moral character is formed over time--indeed, must be formed over time if it is to be formed at all. We cannot attain our telos or proper end--arete or moral excellence--outside of a long process of performing actions guided by desire; there are many other necessary conditions on attainig arete. But if we act and desire well, in time we acquire virtuous character, which is to say we become virtous persons, attaining moral excellence.

What is the point of my thumbnail sketch of Aristotle's ethics? I want you to see that given an ontology of habits and dispositions, sexual orientation can indeed constitute personhood. That is, a homosexual orientation, confirmed by repeated action guided by homosexual desire, produces a habit in the agent, effecting a change in him or her by supplying a metaphysical entity--the disposition--that goes to constitute his or her character. Inasmuch as character in part constitutes personhood, and character is constituted in part by sexual orientation, lo and behold: personhood is constituted in part by sexual orientation.

The only plausible way to stop this deduction would be to cut personhood off from character--but what would become of personhood so conceived? I venture to say we would no longer be talking about actual persons, but an abstraction or a universal of some sort. Sticking with what constitutes actual persons means admitting actual character and actual sexual orientation as constituting at least in part who the person is. Thus a course in Aristotelian metaphysics would only confirm Griswold and company in what they already believe, I suppose: one can truly be homosexual. One may disavow Aristotle, but claims of incoherence and diabolical deception--the hyperbole of choice over at Whitehall--simply have to go.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Thanks, Tom Wright

Here's a tasty morsel thrown our way by the Bishop of Durham, N.T. Wright:

In particular (references are to paragraphs of the Report), there is a strong note of sorrow for the way in which ECUSA has 'contributed to division in the Body of Christ' (7) and followed the pattern of America's imperial actions in the world.

Oh well.

The Bishop of Durham’s ill-advised parallel between America’s re-invasion of Iraq and GC2003 is plain dumb—but it is very, very important nonetheless. In spite of himself, he shows his moral judgment on GC2003 is not to be trusted. In a way, that is a shame: ECUSA could use a wise, circumspect voice with a firm hold on the realities around the debate over GC2003, and we should rue Wright’s spectacular self-decapitation.

Wright’s comparison could only make sense from within a warped world view. I presume any sound world view would retain the clear difference between what the horrors of the Iraq War Wright alludes to and gay couples who would be candidates for Christian blessing. Compare the deliberate use of white phosphorus on civilian-occupied areas in the current Iraq War on the one hand, and lifelong gay unions characterized by Christian piety, love, affection, and virtue on the other. Even if one found such gay unions somehow essentially unfit by sheer divine command, the chasm between them and the horrors of the Iraq War can hardly be seriously questioned.

Does the Christian evangelical world view in which Wright and others are steeped really and truly teach the moral equivalence of these? Do we really want to raise our children in Wright’s warped environment? I would be ready to chalk it all up to a terrible slip of the pen, a proposition per accidens as it were, if only the Dean of TESM, another Christian evangelical by the name of Paul Zahl, had not said similar things. He had the naked audacity to draw a moral parallel between ordaining a gay bishop and a terrorist setting off a bomb.

Somehow—as if to compensate for the glaring lack of demonstrable harm in lifelong gay unions that would be serious candidates for Christian blessing—evangelical Christianity in Zahl and Wright has elevated the moral danger of such unions to preposterous extremes. They are victims, poor things, not merely of moral blindness, but outright moral hallucination, seeing bloodshed, atrocity, the horrors of terror and war where there is affection and love. Demonization is detrimental to the debate we on the right and left over homosexuality are obliged to perform--the Anglican right has a moral responsibility to fulfill the obligations of discourse, and such apparent abdications of that responsibility as these are morally reprehensible. It would be ludicrous if human lives were not at stake.

But make no mistake—human lives are at stake. Gays are being used and marginalized not only in Nigeria, but here in America. They are repeatedly being used in American politics as objects to instill moral panic and ensure votes; they are marginalized in repeated attempts to amend the US Constitution make damn sure they never attain equal civil rights; they are marginalized when people on the Anglican right throw around conspiratorial terms like “liberal gay agenda”; they are marginalized and used by the Anglican right when, saying sexuality is not the issue, they see gays as tools to achieve a re-alignment of American Anglicanism—a re-alignment the AAC’s David Anderson openly admitted as a goal on CNN. We might well dwell on Archbishop Akinola’s comments, including his breathtaking insinuation that gays are sub-human. This subjugation of human persons by the Anglican right is of the very essence of immorality.

But the flagrant immorality of treating gays as means, as things like tools, this repeated marginalization and demonization—what else can you call the words of Akinola, Zahl, and Wright?—is not seen for what it is; it is seen for what it isn’t. It is as if their moral perception has been warped by the void of privation they have entered by being parties to such deeds, as if they were nearing some black hole to nowhere whose gravity warped the God-given light around them such that they just could not see things aright. A few days ago I drew a parallel between the treatment of gays on the Anglican right and Christianity’s filthy history of anti-Semitism; I see that parallel here confirmed.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

From Freiburg to Columbus

I. From Freiburg
Today my family took a road trip with our other academic comrades out into the beautiful countryside surrounding Freiburg to Staufen and Sulzburg--small towns tucked between the Black Forest and the Rhine valley. We went from the Platz of the Old Synagogue in Freiburg (destroyed in 1938, now a parking lot), where friends picked us up, to the "Ehemalige Synagoge" in Sulzburg. The Sulzburg synagogue was trashed in 1938 as well, but still stood and was later restored--though to my knowledge it has no surviving congregation. There--in this ghostly structure--we heard works from Victor Ullmann (these constituted mainly from Hebrew texts) performed by local University students.

Another fragment: the modern religious sculpture of Franz Gutmann, which we managed to see outside a small baroque Roman Catholic church: St. Trudpert , Munstertal: Jesus weeping into his hands, the tears flowing out over the ground. We think we saw another piece of his--a searing crucifix in a small RC church off Bertoldstrasse in Freiburg. Together they gave some small light to what was otherwise a very sombre, dark experience.

II. To Columbus
As the notorious but brilliant philosopher Carl Schmitt would have said, the essence of the political is opposition--a political group as such needs an other to serve as an enemy. We who support GC 2003 must try to leave the political behind at Columbus--it is easy to see right wing Anglicans as the other, and by doing so to constitute a convenient worldly institution, but this would be to fail to see Christ in them, it would be to fail to live Christianly.

It may be that the right will tag those who support GC2003 as an other, an enemy, nonchristian, on the way to eternal hellfire etc. I want to say: "So what--ultimately, it is nothing" with the Eschaton in mind. Let them rage, God will sort it out, accounts will be concluded.

But the words died on the way out--surely God will settle accounts over these synagogues as well, all sounds a little too much like the odious piety of the butchers of Bezier. And in the meantime there is an empty synagogue, or--even worse--a parking lot, asphalt, oil smudges. That is an awfully high price to pay, and pay, and continue to pay--an awful lot of silence, dead space, privation: evil, from generation to generation. Is it possible to oppose the Anglican right at GC2006 without making it out to be an enemy, without falling into the merely political?

An terrible amount of evil has endured through the ages in the Christian church--anti-Semitism is but one example--and the Christian church has had an awful lot of trouble getting the evil out. Even when it is removed, even redeemed, it is still there, like a scar, like a corpse next to the altar.

This tiny group, this shrinking piece of the Body of Christ about to be cast away by the larger megalithic communion has dared to say "No" to the culture of death, the old power of Leviathan which had dared to make something political of the church by declaring enemies to be extirpated: when they succeed with gays it will be Moslems or women or both next, and then onto other groups when they have devoured these and reduced them to tears and wailing. It must be possible for those who still support GC2003 to stand up without equivocating, without selling out their gay brothers and sisters to the morally dubious institutional agenda of the Anglican Communion.

Maybe it would be better to stand up now.

Saint Serena

I am not sure how many of you have been to the Roman Catholic pilgrim church of Triberg—I mean that little German village in the middle part of the Black Forest. My wife and child and I have returned to Freiburg from a bit of a trek—facilitated by a train here and there—to Triberg. And although we did buy a clock or two, the church was the first thing we went to see, climbing endlessly uphill with sleeping baby and empty stroller.

Thankfully, the church was open to pilgrims, and we were able to go inside to pray and reflect a bit (a Friday). The impressive interior seemed a tad rococo or late baroque to me—lots of gold ornament contrasting with the rustic wood pews, statuary of various saints overlooking us in relatively vivid color, a magnificent altar. Overwhelming, especially when the interior quiet was contrasted to the invasive blurtings of modernity staggering in from outside (I mean car and motorcycle noises, but the description includes us, alas, with our halting high German).

Then my wife whispered: there is a skeletal girl behind glass to the side and in front of the altar. Yes—Serena, reclining like a Roman matron on her couch, resting her head on a hand (if I recall correctly) and holding what I think was a goblet in the other hand: she was a martyr to the Virgin, wearing what seemed to me to be an extremely ornate dress. And yes, she was skeletal, though what remained of her mundane body was discreetly outside plain view.

We were impressed indeed, even intimidated. Imagine human remains on display at your local parish church: Saint Q...could it happen? Would it “fit”? Not just a knuckle or part of the skull (though go ahead and imagine that if you can) but the whole body. Would your congregation file in weekly before the saint’s remains, kneeling, say, only a few feet away for Holy Eucharist? Mind you, this church is still in use; there is a congregation doing just that.

What manner of Christianity, what parish spirituality supports or would support such a display of a saint’s remains? It is worth thinking about. We are a notoriously corporeal religion, from our emphasis on bodily resurrection to the weekly Eucharist. We are given to know Christ in the flesh—and what about this flesh, the saint’s bones displayed? Might the Spirit work in a congregation through that display to not merely remind them of death, but of life, the life that they are to live even now, already?

Well, what about it? I can picture an angel saying something like “If this could not move you to return to your Father, what would? This is not violent, but only the naturally appointed end awaiting all brought out of hiding into plain view.” Why am I repelled? What am I hiding in the interest of propriety and tidiness that needs to be brought to plain view if I am to return to our Father? And what about you?