Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Taking Out the Trash

I A Line in the Sand
It seems to me that some in very high places, like ++Rowan and various right-wing Anglican luminaries, like to insist that there is a distinction between homosexuals and homosexual practice or activity. I am not sure that the distinction has been thoroughly thought through; in fact, I believe once it is thought through many will see its untenability. It is time to throw it out. The difficulty is twofold: (1)its theological grounding, and (2)facts on the ground in the Communion that render it irrelevant in practice. Here I want to concentrate on the latter point, (2).

The problem, so the story goes, has to do with celibacy. One may find himself or herself with clear, persistent homosexual inclinations so woven into one's dispositions and daily life that for all practical purposes they partially constitute one's personal identity. That's one thing, they say: being a homosexual. Being homosexual, they claim, is not in itself sinful.

It is quite another thing for one to act on such inclinations; indeed, it is a sin. The homosexual ought to abstain from sex, or else marry and have at it with someone of another (I suppose) sex. There is no condition whatsoever on which it is permissible for anyone, homosexual or not, to engage in homosexual sex. Period. A homosexual who abstains has done nothing wrong, the story goes; such a one may be ordained to whatever office, whether deacon, priest, bishop, archbishop. In theory even celibate gay unions may be blessed--nihil obstat, ceteris paribus. For it is not being homosexual that is a sin, but rather homosexual activity.

The distinction is extremely important in context. It serves like a fig-leaf in our current unpleasantness, permitting those excoriating the Episcopal Church to claim they respect all persons as such. Their opposition to GC2003 is not--they say--opposition to homsexuals as persons, but opposition to homosexual activity. Their stand, they claim, is thus not bigoted, and homosexuals cannot cogently make civil rights claims against them--for no persons as such are included in the criticism, only what persons do.

Attacking homosexuals as persons, after all, might seem uncomfortably reminiscent of persecution of homosexuals in the Holocaust. Then maybe various neo-orthodox warnings about Christianity capitulating to culture might seem to come into play in a rather new and unexpected context, and Christian tradition might seem unduly infected--once again--with a strain of virulent paganism spreading a disease of hatred and exclusion as it once did with Jews, women, and blacks. Oh the headache!

II. A Bogus Distinction
You can see how important the distinction is; it would be a real shame if something happened to it. Let's see how the distinction plays out in practice.

Suppose I am evangelizing for the Episcopal Church in my diocese, and some upstart asks Aren't you guys part of that Anglican Communion? I am obliged to say Yes. Then: And don't you guys support the persecution of homosexuals, you know in Nigeria or whatever?

What do I say? Well, not all of us do; you see there are various national churches, provinces, each autonomous. We have no say in the Church of Nigeria's support of persecution-- I would of course be talking complete bull.

After all, whether we really are and will be autonomous is quite up in the air. Being a distinct national province might not really mean much after the polity of our church has been sufficiently worked over. You can imagine a rather dystopic future: some rabid, right wing Anglican assembly of Primates votes in a binding, Communion-wide resolution implying a provincial obligation to support political legislation criminalizing discussion of homosexuality or advocacy for homosexuals, and we are compelled, being subject to the assembly, to comply.

Far fetched? Well, my interlocutor could ask You say it is far fetched, but who would have thought the Nigeria law would pass now in 2007? What can you say to guarantee homosexual persons will not be persecuted and attacked? As you know, that sort of thing has been the norm in the past, both in England and in the US. Your precious communion has already failed the issue of moral principle; now aren't we just waiting to see how far the stain will spill over?

At any rate, for the moment we still have a choice, and need not be party to a koinonia that sees fit to tolerate persecution of homosexual persons. That seems a rather misplaced toleration, no? To anyone with a bit of history it may be uncomfortably close to the Holocaust. Not in the sense of playing Neville Chamberlain--if only!-- but in the sense rather of being the good German who kept his head down and did as he was told.

Sometimes it is odious to keep one's head down and do what one is told. Sometimes a better response would be resistance.

We should fear the wrath of the power of Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit more than the wrath of ++Rowan Williams, ++Marty Minns, and ++Akinola; a bit of fear here would be entirely appropriate. Pleading the distinction above in section I is bizzare to anyone with reality as it is now unfolding in mind. For the horse has already left the barn; Elvis has already left the building: the Anglican Communion, ++Rowan's little organic unity, is already persecuting homosexual persons in Nigeria via the Nigerian Church.

It, ++Rowan's organic unity, formerly known as the Anglican Communion, had a chance to register an objection loud and clear when it might have effected something significant before the law was ratified. Or at least it might have acted to declare solidarity with those bearing the image of Christ among Nigerian homosexuals. It chose not to do so. What madness is this? We are acting like people possessed--indeed, I am learning anew the gravity of Mark's exorcism stories. We are nearing the limits of argument.

We need not be party to a koinonia that sees fit to persecute homosexual persons. As I have noted before, there are other international communions of churches to which we might work to belong, and spade work has already been done preparing the ground for what could be membership in another Christian communion apart from the Anglican Communion. True, these others, like the LWF, might well not condone blessing same sex unions or ordaining active homosexuals to the episcopate--but they have this on the AC: they have not participated in persecution. What would happen if all of a sudden we found a voice on this issue, and requested some sort of acknowledgement in the Communion that its silence on Nigeria was and remains morally wrong?

Monday, February 26, 2007

Getting Serious With Siris: I

[N.B.: I have amended the nomenclature at the end, switching the numbering of salvation1 and 2 around--they were the reverse of what I had wanted. Otherwise, the post is intact.]

Siris recently issued a rather comprehensive critique of my case for blessing same-sex unions, a critique so wide-ranging that I shall reply in parts to keep others who might wish to enter the lists from having to fight through material that may not be of interest. It is a good piece of work, forcing me at several points to make concessions and clarifications where I had hoped to be able to rest content. Moreover, it seems to me to be a model of debate: focused, clear, and cogent throughout. I would love to know which early modernist with a sweet tooth for G.B. this is--there are not all that many after all, and although Siris seems to have a taste for English evangelical theology, that is not enough to tell me whether I have really found a conservative opponent.

A Couple Objections From Siris
Anyhow, here in Part-I I will reply to what I take to be the two core pieces of Siris' criticism, namely:

(A) The idea behind the argument is that it, unlike other arguments, is supposed to be "set out in the style of the Anglican right"; Bates argues that the only step at which the orthodox right can balk is (6). I don't think this is true; the most natural place for conservative Anglicans to balk is at (4). The Scriptural ground for it is Ephesians 5:21-33; but that passage says nothing about the relation members of the Church will bear in the world to come. Instead, it talks about the relation the Church itself bears now to Christ as its savior. R, as elaborated in 3, does indeed obtain between Christ and male saints; but we are nowhere told that R should be the model of marriage.

Premise (4) to which Siris refers is:
4. Here below, marriage should be modeled on R.

And "R" is used to in my premise (3) this way:
3. In the world to come, the members of the Church will bear a new real, reciprocal relation to Christ; call it R.

The second piece of core criticism from Siris, IMHO:
(B) The Church, as Body of Christ, has been made fit through His salvation to be the Bride of Christ; but the individual Christian is not the Body but a member, a cell or organ of the Body, and the relation between self and body is a far more intimate union than the relation between self and body part. For in a real and straightforward sense I am my body; my relation to my eye is not so straightforward. The reciprocity between myself and my body is so close that, while a distinction must be made that breaks identity and sometimes is very important, they can, in all situations save those that require high precision, be treated as equivalent. This is why corporate reciprocity provides a good sign or symbol of marriage. Not so with myself and my eye; and it would be utterly absurd to say that our model of marriage should be this relation between self and eye. Since the eye is part of the body, by simple synecdoche we can model the relation between self and eye on the relation between self and body; but there is a massive asymmetry in one that shows that we are, in fact, dealing with a figure of speech, however fruitful it may be, and not a close analogue.

There is of course more to Siris' rejoinder than what I have designated (A) and (B) above, but these are where the emphasis seems to fall: (A) being a contention about Scripture, and (B) being a more speculative, even philosophical, contention.

In Reply to (A)
Siris' (A) seems to make at least two important points. First, according to (A) the relevant passage, Ephesians 5:21-33, does not have to do with the eschaton at all, but rather simply with this life here below. Thus to Siris I am mistaken in taking it to apply to the union of Christ with members of the church at the eschaton. Second, according to (A) nevertheless members of the church will indeed bear a new, real, reciprocal relation to Christ at the Eschaton--call it R if you like--but marriage need not be modeled on it, or rather we are not obliged to take the eschatological R as a model. Thus, in sum according to Siris, on the one hand the passage I cite and rely on for (4) above does not refer to an eschatological situation, and although there is an eschatological situation in which the church and Christ are related according to my R in (3), presumably set out in passages other than mine from Ephesians, it is not a model for marriage.

Note well that Siris does not contest that Ephesians 5:21-33 applies to marriage here below; for instance, presumably we could agree on the wording of (C):

(C) [1]The wife should be to her husband as [2]the church is to Christ,

and that (C) is implied by the text. However, we disagree about part [2] of (C). Siris sees (C)[2] as referring to the relationship of the church here below to Christ, while I see (C)[2] as referring instead to the relationship of the church at the eschaton to Christ.

Why should you prefer my reading to that of Siris? The answer is pretty simple, I think. The church here below as it stands in relation to Christ, in spite of the fact that it is inspired here below by the Spirit, is not a fit ideal for moral emulation in marriage. The church here below is rife with immorality and imperfection, spots, rashes and grave infections: a true mixed body consisting so far as we can tell of both the saved and damned. Its union with Christ here below is a rather spotty affair--like a TV with an off and on reception, at times degenerating almost into an incoherent fuzz. To think that such a state of affairs, such a union, even with its good, Spirit-inspired intentions, is capable of functioning as an ideal is to set an alarmingly low--and rather uninspiring and unedifying--bar for marriage here below. Christ and even Paul can hardly be though to have wanted to model marriage after such a sorry mess.

But if instead you should take the church at the eschaton in its relationship of union with Christ as the standard, you have found a firm and fixed, everlasting and true ideal for marriage here below. For the church at the eschaton united with Christ is saved in ultimate finality--it is perfect, spotless, whole and immutable with respect to its being joined with Christ. The church at the eschaton can serve the function of ideal for marriage here below without ambiguity. At least prima facie, there is a case for reading (C)[2] eschatologically rather than mundanely. Thus, I maintain my initial reading of Ephesians 5: as if refers to marriage here below and offers a model for our emulation, it must say something about the relationship to the church and Christ at the eschaton. So much for (A): Siris' second point in (A) is otiose if my reading of Ephesians 5 stands.

In Reply to (B)
Siris' main idea in (B) seems to be that a member of the church is rather like an eye in a living, human body. Just as the eye is incapable of entering into contracts--signing for a house or car, say--apart from the body as a whole, so the individual member is incapable of entering into an eschatological union with Christ. The church as a whole, not the individual believer, is Christ's proper partner in that union.

Siris might seem to have to make something like this point, as we saw in considering (A) above that Siris admits there is a church/Christ union at the end of all things, though to Siris it is not referred to in Ephesians 5:21-33 and is not a model for marriage. If the church as a whole is Christ's partner at the end, then the partner-relation is not suited for marriage, as no individual human here below is corporate in the way the church is. That, at any rate, is the best I can do in making sense of Siris in (B).

Here I must make a concession to Siris, though not I should say a telling one--when God saves, it seems that God saves a people rather than merely a person. Whatever the power of God taken absolutely, Scripture witnesses God's clear preference and intention for saving communities, groups--Israel and the nations, the church and "all things". There is something friendly to communitarianism here which I do not wish to deny or denigrate. But the fact the Father is only willing to save the church as a community will not avail Siris.

Note that "community" is ambiguous between being taken distributively and collectively. The union with the church at the end of all things is exclusively either

(i) a union between Christ and each of the members of the church,
(ii) a union between Christ and the church, but not between Christ and any member of the church,
or else
(iii) a union between Christ and the church, and between Christ and each member of the church.

Version (i) reads the union purely distributively; version (ii) reads the union purely collectively; version (iii) mixes both senses. On versions (i) or (iii) my argument can be made to go through, inasmuch as there will be an eschatological relation between Christ and each member of the church that is suitable for serving as a model of marriage here below. Siris needs the relation to be (ii), it seems.

Even if (ii) holds, it is still not clear pace Siris that the relation between the chruch as a whole and Christ at the end must fail to serve as a model for marriage here below. In fact, the notion that there is some obstacle here seems rather forced. There is hardly, after all, anything inconsistent or absurd with a father modelling the relationship he has with his son after the relationship a coach has with his team. The plurality of the team's members need not be reproduced in the relatum of the coaching relation. Just so, the plurality of the church's members need not be reproduced in the wife in her relation to her husband for that relation to be modeled after that of the church to Christ. Or, to take another example, a husband may take it upon himself to model his behavior toward his wife on that of a dictator toward his citizens, and in spite of the fact that his wife is one rather than many, he may--sadly--succeed.

At any rate, I take it that (ii) is in fact false: that at the eschaton Christ does enter into a real, reciprocal relation with each individual believer. Humans as members in the church are rather unlike eyes in the human body. The Pauline analogy between the place of the individual in the church and the place of the organ in the body breaks down at a certain point--as we should expect from the very nature of analogy; Siris simply presses it too far. For it is clear that God does enter into relations here below with individual members ofthe church as individuals: in Holy Baptism, in forgiving our sins, in being present to us in the Holy Eucharist. More to the point, the salvation Christ brings to the church is nothing if not the salvation of each member of the church. We may distinnguish senses of salvation accordingly:

salvation1 offered by Christ to the church

salvation2 offered by Christ to each member of the church;

my argument acknowledges that there is no salvation2 without salvation1, as I only speak of "members of the church", thereby presupposing a membership relation. I do not mean to contemplate salvation outside the church here below. But I wish to insist as well, apparently against Siris, that there is no salvation1 without salvation2; in effect, we should say there is salvation1 just in case there is salvation2.

But by relation R in my argument I mean the same relation as the one referred to as "salvation2"; granting salvation2 is enough for my purposes.

A Quick Note on +++Rowan's Opening Speech


In case you have not already read it, go ahead and have a look at +++Williams' opening speech to the February Church of England Synod; for those trying to make sense of his thinking, I believe this is an essential piece of the puzzle, framing much else. I am not sure--and who can be?--how much is rhetoric and how much sincere, but suppose for a moment he really does mean just what he seems to say.

Of foremost importance is his conception of the Anglican Communion, or AC; he has what seems to be a very definite view on which he will not compromise at all. It is quite remarkably a bedrock view. He says,

Much has been made of the relative nobility of a ‘Here I stand’ position as compared with the painful brokering and compromising needed for unity’s sake. It’s impossible not to feel the force of this. Yet – to speak personally for a moment – the persistence of the Communion as an organically international and intercultural unity whose aim is to glorify Jesus Christ and to work for his Kingdom is for me and others just as much a matter of deep personal and theological conviction as any other principle. About this, I am entirely prepared to say ‘Here I stand and I cannot do otherwise’. And I believe the Primates have said the same.

I have put the most important parts in boldface. The AC is an organic unity of some sort; he nowhere calls it a church, but he seems to come very close. For instance, he says

For those of us who still believe that the Communion is a Catholic body, not just an agglomeration of national ones, a body attempting to live in more than one cultural and intellectual setting and committed to addressing major problems in a global way, the case for ‘drawing back’ is not attractive.

For him, the AC is a special catholic body in some sense--as +++Williams' own words insinuate, a contentious sense. There is, he seems to think, a union constituted by the koinonia of the Anglican Communion to whose continuation one might be obliged on grounds of the catholicity of the--I presume--universal church. Moreover, he seems to think that the groundwork justifying his conception of the AC has been set up over the course of the last century--he does not see himself as unduly innovating up to this point, although he does seem to think additional innovation in the AC's structure is called for. He is evidently confident that many Primates around the AC share his conception, and it seems he also thinks he has the support of bishops in the Episcopal Church, for whom he speaks here.

In effect, +++Williams has provided us with a good way of framing the upcoming decision making that the Episcopal Church must make about the Communique, and down the road, an Anglican Covenant. Acceding to the Communique and the eventual Covenant ratifies +++Williams' understanding of the AC, and it may well be very, very difficult in a practical sense to back away once such a conception is ratified.

What kind of church are we? That is a somewhat different question from What kind of church do we wish to be? Tanzania has turned out to be a rather mixed lesson in the nature of normative catholicity by +++Williams and company, and if +++Williams is right, that catholicity is binding on us whether we like it in the Houses of Bishops and Deputies or not. It may very well be that the HoB and HoD decide to ratify the Communique and yet-to-come Covenant; in that case, it will make more sense to view GC2003 in terms ++Schori advised, as an expression of our charism, for which we may be called to pay dearly, but which we must come to view as functioning in a more structured context within the AC. For very many on the left, such a new articulation of corporate life may require a rather radical shift not just in tactics, but also in identity--will it be possible to be a Christian with the required moral integrity from within such a corporate life?

Some may be worried by the rather sharp nature of the "Here I stand" oppositions +++Williams envisages. It seems he thinks either that (A) in case of conflict between unity and justice, unity wins, or that (B) TEC has not made a cogent case for there being an opposition between unity in justice, or (C) both (A) and (B). In my view, (C) is clearly the best reading of his speech. He has complained on several occasions about a lack of cogency to TEC's case--but his "Here I stand" rhetoric seems to add something important to (B), namely a conviction in the overriding importance of catholic unity, come what may in other matters. Is it right to hold (A), pace conjunction with (B)?

There is a certain irony to +++Williams' complaining about a lack of cogency on the part of TEC's case for the actions of GC2003, as he is already operating as Archbishop on the assumption that his contentious notion of catholicity is correct, when it itself involves innovation, indeed revision of what had been taken to be the proper being of the AC. It is just such de facto binding theological innovations a covenant should be designed to protect members against, as it is hardly the case the notion of koinonia has undergone reception and acceptance in the AC of the kind called for in the case of the actions of GC2003. Is it not self-evident that +++Wiliams' innovations are more radically intrusive on the lives of member provinces than any action of GC2003? That is, +++Williams' manner betrays an unaccountable, self-serving, and indeed incoherent exercise of power that should give some contemplating their place in the AC under a covenant pause. Is +++Williams really so naive as not to see this, or might he suppose it his privilege?

Again, we may accept such exercises of power as called for by our identity, by our being as this church, and if so, the Anglican left will have to significantly revise its practice. One may well wonder what room would remain to accomodate critique from the Spirit of praxis within the Church, and whether a communion so structured as to inhibit that critique is in fact obstructing the Spirit.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A Tacit Liberal Triumph at Tanzania

My opposition to the Communique is based on the moral turpitude of scapegoating homosexual Christians, and follows from a Scriptural case consistent with the general strategy of canonical criticism popular on the right. Here I would like to see myself in medieval terms, carrying on their transformation project (hat tip to Wolterstorff) with respect to blessing SSBs, i.e. transforming mere belief into knowledge a la Augustine and to a lesser extent Anselm.

But that opposition has limits drawn by an overriding pragmatic consideration: bringing SSBs into the liturgy of the BCP, here and throughout the Anglican Communion, and even further abroad in the formal worship of all our Christian relations, so that we might see some day a Pope presiding over same-sex blessings. Argument has its place, yes, and we are obliged to carry on in part for the sake of those who are open to argument but also for those who are closed; it is not for us to decide, and we would be unable to tell anyhow. In any event, even if the soil proves too rocky and the birds too hungry and the weeds too many, we can see argument at least as part of a more modest transformation project among ourselves.

For the moment,I am awfully impressed by what seems to be an utter rout in the Anglican left's favor, one that has not been sufficiently attended to, and which may point the way forward on SSBs. I mean the place of women in the Anglican Communion: the fact ++Schori was seated, remained seated, celbrated Eucharist so successfully at Zanzibar, and entered a high office of the Communion pretty much shows that opposition to women's ordination is functionally dead in the Anglican Communion. Strident FIFNA-types will continue to protest, but their battle is lost. With ++Schori enfolded, there is no discernible future for resistance in the Anglican Communion to women's ordination. Before Tanzania, there might have been a question; a slender opening remained to the opposition if ++Schori could be turned away for some reason. Now her presence is an ongoing repudiation in praxis where it counts, laying the foundation of precedent and setting up facts on the ground enabling still further gains elsewhere. That is indeed a great victory for the left, if not the victory they were hoping for most of all.

Note several things about the victory. It didn't really have a whole lot to do with theological argument. Yes, more or less heavy theology did go on for and against WO, but its relevance to ++Schori's acceptance was peripheral. Practical considerations in the Communion led to now probably irreversible results favorable to ++Schori and WO. The same might work to normalize SSBs and ordination in the life of the AC: find a greater danger to distract and unify against. Maybe there is some X against which homosexuals could gain? Or maybe there is some other effective realpolitik strategy? The point is, there is reason for hope for change that has nothing to do with convincing the recalitrant and obstinate. Who knows? Maybe the Spirit favors subtle blindsiding to full fisted arguments? The Communion just moved mightily to the left in spite of itself, and it could be made to do so again.

And the victory is to a large extent, but not by any means wholly, ours: a victory of the Episcopal Church. The entire Communion has just been made to benefit--at our expense--insofar as women everywhere have ++Schori's shattering example as a precedent. And ++Schori's example came at great expense to the Episcopal Church in terms of international outrage and internal division. But this victory is also a vindication of what ++Schori refrerred to recently as our charism, our prophetic ministry to the Communion. Nobody should have any doubt as to that ministry's concrete reality and its potential for surprising and even unexpected success. That is, there is reason to believe some similar success is in store for our advocacy of blessing SSBs and ordaining homosexuals to the episcopate; the for-all-we-know real accessinility of such success gives excellent reason for hope if any were needed.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


It seems that some bishops may see global Christian koinonia as essential to their episcopal office, and there is something to be said for such relationships constituting proper episcopal function. Granting the premise, however, it does not follow that membership in the 78 million-or-so member Anglican Communion is necessary for maintaining a catholic episcopate. It is, up to a point, convenient. But remember we are talking about koinonia falling short of being one church; we are in effect talking about being in full communion. That is a pretty low bar, and it is scandalous that so many Christian churches find developing full communion on an international scale so difficult. Nevertheless, consider where we already are.

We are in full-communion right now with the ELCA, which is part of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). The LWF has some 66 million members spread over 78 countries, including state churches in Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, and Finland. Before you get all snitty about sacraments up in here, remember the LWF is a signatory to the '99 Joint Declaration with the Roman Catholic Church.

And, we are in full communion with the Mar Thoma Church, which retains an historic episcopate and has about a million members centered in India, but spread internationally as well across New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, et al.

We're also in full communion with the Iglesia Filipina Independiente.

Were we to enter into full communion with the United Methodist Church, we might consider entering into a close relationship with the World Methodist Council, comprising 75 million members across 132 countries. Our Methodist brothers and sisters sprang from Anglican stock not all that long ago, after all.

And imagine full communion with the Presbyterians (USA), who are members of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, with about 75 million members over 107 countries, including congregationalists among their number.

Full communion with Baptists? Heavens forfend? Well, the Baptist World Alliance has 47 million members in around 200 countries, including 18 million here in the BWA's local arm, the North American Baptist Fellowship (they do not seem to include the Southern Baptists in their number).

Point? Well, just how far can the local adaptation of the historic episcopate be stretched? Is there any point to our seeing ourselves as a bridge church establishing an international, cross-denominational koinonia? Should we aim to have this form a basis for our episcopacy's full being rather than membership in the Anglican Communion? We have established with the Communique that our polity is, after all, up for grabs--at least temporarily. As long as flexibility is a given, we might ask these sorts of questions seriously.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Just Say No

For whatever reason, PB Schori signed off on the Communique and its attendant Schedule.

Although it would be workable, the Episcopal Church in my opinion should not sign on.

I do not have any sense for how the House of Bishops sees membership in the Anglican Communion; of more importance is how the Windsor Bishops see membership in the Communion. It seems to me that these Windsor Bishops, left and right, have been cultivated by the CoE and the AC with the express purpose of fomenting a split in the Episcopal Church should the HoB deny the Communique coming out of this meeting. And maybe PB Schori thought--I do not know--that the threat of such a split is too dangerous, and that her office would be unable to resist it and hold the Episcopal Church together. In effect, the Archbishop gets to reign in the Episcopal Church and gets the loyalty of the Nigerian Church in return knowing that our HoB does not have the will, even under PB Schori, to resist him: quid pro quo.
The Empire lives on for a time.

But this document contemplates a vast alteration in the Episcopal Church's polity; we may very well never be autonomous again if we say "Yes" to it, as the divisions institutionalized by the document will not heal, at least in our lifetimes. These changes, and the institutionalized division they imply, are not worth upholding a dead remnant of British Imperial power. For the Anglican Communion is not a church in itself, and its authority is not properly ecclesial. It will be up to the House of Bishops to say "No" clearly. Would that they had the courage! I am confident General Convention would turn it down.

As a consequence, we can expect to be thrown out of the Anglican Communion--so be it. That is part of the price to be paid. It is not worth compromising our being as church in order to belong to that unchurch. But the HoB should not unilaterally withdraw from the AC on its own; it should let Rowan do it. Let him claim it as his legacy.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Valentines Day Note to PB Schori: A Scriptural Case for Gay Unions

I. Setting the Table
It seems many on the Anglican right prefer to keep going--mistakenly--as if there were simply no Scriptural case for gay unions. What counts as a "Scriptural case" is a matter of no small importance of course, and one which would, I think, be rather difficult to spell out in a set of relevant necessary and sufficient conditions; indeed, so it is for any attempt at defining. Nevertheless, I think what is desired is pretty clear: something based not in systematic theology of philosophical theology, say, but biblical theology--and biblical theology not of the bad old historical-critical kind (Barr? Bah!), but biblical theology more along the lines of canonical criticism (think Childs) or narrative theology (a la Lindbeck, Frei, et al).

Let's face it: the Anglican right has chosen its ground with notable care--indeed, their style of Bible-reading sustains what may seem otherwise miraculous, that is, a "common ground" of meaning between evangelicals and traditionalist Anglo-catholics that is both respectable in scholarly circles and recognizable as the old-time religion from those in the pews who care to listen up but who are without fancy learning. The same cannot be said for historical-criticism, postmodernism, liberation theology, feminist criticism, and many others. Indeed, the right wing style of Bible-reading does much more: (1) it permits common ground between Anglo-American right wingers and African/Asian/South American evangelicals a la Akinola and Gomez , while as a bonus it (2) just happens to fit well with Archbishop Williams' way of reading the Bible.

And so the conservative Anglican way of Bible reading--a loose amalgam of techniques associated with the canonical criticism and narrative theology--has alot going for it, and it would be utterly unrealistic to expect a seismic shift in their way of reading any time soon, especially as it has worked so well for so many. Thus, any attempt to reason with them that does not engage them from within their way of reading, or in fancier garb, from within their hegemonic hemeneutic, is doomed a priori to failure. Thus, all along the multform Anglican right, expect arguments based on systematic theology, form criticism, liberation theology, historical criticism, etc to meet with stony silence, with hearts unmoved. Among the first rules of rhetoric and oratory: Know thy audience! Let it be so.

Is there a case that would fit within the confines of canonical/narrative thinking in favor of what GC2003 (and our neighbors in Canada) did? Oh yes, there is; never fear.

II. Oops--Don't do it Again
But first, have another look at how TEC argued in To Set Our Hope on Christ and tell me what is wrong with it, presuming what I said above in (I) is accurate:

Arg. I
(1) Same-sex unions realizing the unitive end do so by God's love.
(2) Any realization of the unitive end effected by God's love is holy.
Therefore, (3) same-sex unions realizing the unitive end are holy.

Arg. II:
(1) Same-sex unions exhibiting effects of the Spirit are holy.
(2) There are same-sex unions exhibiting the effects of the Spirit.
Therefore, (3) There are holy same-sex unions.

Arg. III:
(1) The church is permitted to bless holy unions.
(2) Some same-sex unions are holy.
Therefore, (3) The church is permitted to bless some same-sex unions.

These work together: Argument I's conclusion, (3), provides justification for (1) in Arg. II; (3) in Arg. II provides premise (2) in Arg. III. Finally, vindicating GC2003, the conclusion to Arg. III justifies blessing same-sex unions. What is needed is empirical evidence for Arg. II (2)--that there are in fact same-sex unions exhibiting effects of the Spirit, namely actualization of the unitive end. I think the evidence is out there, no question.

But no such array of argumentation, no matter how impressive, will satisfy the Anglican right. For it is not engaging them on their ground. These arguments are doomed to be ineffective because they are not couched in the right's preferred idiom of biblical criticism.

The same goes for Charles Hefling's recent use of Anglican theology in Other Voices; he is right, mind you, to say there is a vast, undeveloped but sure traditional ground for arguing from right reason to make our case, and I think the case will be soon be well fashioned by various hands. But so what? Develop that ground as you will, it will be utterly ineffective in our current debate. That is not to say it will be simply useless--there are still provinces blessed to respond to right reason, but these are by and large already sympathetic.

III. My Two Cents
What is needed is another type of case, one set out in the style of the Anglican right: one that works within the frame of their preferred narrative, appealing to the canon as canon, one that will not hack away at obscure and nearly unique Greek terms, historical contexts of temple prostitutes and boy toys, one that doesn't appeal to gay liberation, etc.

Here it is:
1. Christ was resurrected in the flesh, and will exist in the world to come.
2. In the world to come, members of the Church will be resurrected, male and female, in the flesh.
3. In the world to come, the members of the Church will bear a new real, reciprocal relation to Christ; call it R.
4. Here below, marriage should be modeled on R.
5. R obtains between males: for instance, Christ and each blessed male.
6. As R obtains between males (from 5), and marriage is to be modeled on R (from 4), marriage may obtain between males.

The only step orthodox conservatives on the right should balk at is the conclusion, (6). Every other step is grounded in the Bible-qua canonical narrative. True, various left wingers from different TEC factions would balk at one or another of the premises; that's fine. They are not the intended audience, though they are free to listen in if they wish. The argument is something like a a razor-sharp two-handed sword, something meant to be carried into battle with both hands for the purpose of taking care of business.

Why is it any good? First, it fits its target audience--I think--exceedingly well. Right wing Anglicans should have a hard time denying any of the premises (1)-(5) in good conscience. If they try, immediately call their orthodox credentials into question, and go on to point out if they wish to Revise such a substantial point of traditional doctrine as is expressed in (1)-(5), how can they complain about our perceived revision without sheer hypocrisy? Go on to finish by pointing out that while your opponent may Revise substantial doctrine, you will not, but will remain faithful to the venerable and holy tradition expressed in (1)-(5); point out thereby you love Christ more than you hate homosexuals. Now go and ponder the absolutely gruesome eschatological implications of that.

Second, if you actually beilieve (1) to (5), as I do, then you have the added attraction of defending something that is true, so far as you can tell.

Third, I have noticed from bringing this argument up before that it invites specious objections based on the gratuitous assumption that R is symmetrical. It is not; to say as I do above that R is reciprocal is merely to point out there is a type of real relation, R1, going one way, from Christ to each human, and a type of real relation, call it R2, that goes from each believer to Christ. So far, trivial: what is not trivial is the assumption that R1=R2. That is not an assumption the argument needs, and I deny the identity. Inasmuch as Christ is true God there is ample foundation in reality to uphold asymmetry in R. That is, Christ's being is not morally neutral or indifferent for the purpose of the argument. He gets to do things in virtue of being God that are not permitted to us, like standing in R to many men and women (if you have any doubt, go and read some more Aquinas). None of the mere men and women however stand in R to many, but only to One--to Christ. Their standing in R does not license marrying a plurality. Thus, the argument does not in fact sanction polygamy. But that line of objection is so tempting, you can count on it being made. Wait for it to be made, and then bring down the sword.

Fourth, the way I have put it above, the church for the purpose of R consists of its members. It is not something over and above and in addition to its members--giving it such status would be to engage in a fruitless piece of ad hoc metaphysics. Thus, where the church is pictured as a singular entity, it is not meant that we should think Christ enters R with the singular entity and not with the members of that entity. But even if some recalcitrant should hang on to a metaphysical view of the church as an entity unto itself with respect to R, the argument can still be run. Concede R, and change the argument to talk about S instead--that is, in virtue of entering into R with the uber-entity-church, Christ also enters into S with the members of the uber-entity-church, and marriage here below is meant to be modeled after S.

Finally, the argument as stated does not mention women. There is a shortcoming, at least prima facie, as has been pointed out cogently on several occasions. But only prima facie; I would suggest adding Paul's maxim that we are no longer male or female in Christ. What is permitted for men with respect to the parameters of marriage should be likewise permitted to women wherever possible. We should come to see two things: (1) see that maleness is not normative humanity. Aquinas was wrong to assimilate humanity to being male, and to go on to picture females as defective males. That view, predating Aquinas of course, has done the church inestimable damage, and continues to tear at its flesh. And (2): what matters for union in Christ is being human; for Christ assumed not maleness, which is not an essence of itself of course, but humanity, which embraces at least both maleness and femaleness within itself.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Anglicanism's Conceptual Space: A Sketch, Part II (Wright's Fallacy)

I. The Truth is Out There
The historical norm for Anglicanism, I have argued, defines a conceptual space according to the notion:

(~1) There are Christians, and the church lacks infallible knowledge.

That is to say, it is the norm for Anglicans to admit that there is no office, no council, and no group of Scripture readers that possesses infallible, saving propositional knowledge. It may be that most Anglicans, especially now, think otherwise or would loathe to assent to (~1) if it were put to them. And it may well be, as I suspect, that Anglican theologians from the Reformation forward only reluctantly backed into accepting (~1) and did so with a rather low profile.

For they recognized from the beginning that the church in order to survive as such at all would have to take stands on a wide variety of matters, ecclesial and otherwise, regardless of the fact it lacked infallible knowledge. That is to say, it would have to take these stands understanding that it could err presently as it had in the past.

Indeed, infallible propositional knowledge is hard to come by; critique and controversy are much easier. But we should not be overly surprised or dismayed about its inaccessibility. For the most part, the church has not relied on such knowledge here below for its continuing identity and growth. Rather, Anglicans have relied on

(A) A continuing form of life,


(B) An ongoing relationship with God the Father.

The refrain "Come worship with us!" encapsulates a typical Anglican answer to skeptics. Is Christianity true? Well, you won't know unless you try, unless you come worship. In other words, the actuality of worship praxis implies (A) and (B), with the emphasis on (B). And once you have a relationship with the Father in the midst of the common life of the church, the praxis of skeptical questioning is otiose. One may indeed have many questions: Who is the Father? Who is this Jesus guy through whom we are constantly approaching the Father? Why do I need to approach him in the first place? But questioning can be sustained from within the common life of the church in worship even without answers, and ipso facto, the right answers or infallible answers to the questions.

That is why we should hesitate mightily before requiring orthodoxy around the Trinity and Incarnation, much less other lesser matters, of laity and ordained. Even though a requirement of submission to propositional text setting out defined orthodox contect--say like the 39 Articles--is perfectly consistent with a lack of infallible knowledge, such required submission threatens to cut off the process of questioning at the heart of a lively faith ("lively" here in the 16th century sense). Questioning involving, say, works from Bishop Spong and Carter Heywood may turn some ecclesail hair grey prematurely, but it may, and should be made to, contribute to the life of the church.

Why so? The Truth is one; there is not one truth for religion, another for science, one for straights and another for gays. Even though we might be able to approach the Truth for the most part only asymtotically, it is still there to be approached. We are hard-wired to approach it, and debate is an essential part of the questioning through which the Truth which is the Logos through whom we are privileged to approach the Father may be grasped in part.

II. How Wright is Wrong
Consider N.T. Wright's recent interview with Ruth Gledhill in contrast. There he said,

Part of the difficulty is that [2] there is a myth about in some circles that historic Anglicanism has no particular doctrine and is just a matter of worshipping together and believing what you like. [3] If you go back to the 16th and 17th centuries who will find them arguing in great detail over the Articles of Religion which became the Thirty-Nine Articles. They were hugely important. [4] The idea of doctrinal indifferentism is a very recent idea which has sprung up in some parts of America.

I have added some brackets in order to better keep track of Bishop Wright's claims. This is an interesting bit, I think, because Wright here addresses the core of our current difficulties. Whence the authority for doctrinal assent? And with what force ought it to be regarded? It may seem to some that he has, in his [2] above, nailed my position on the head: Anglicanism consists of no particular doctrine, and is just a matter of worshipping together while believing whatever--laissez faire. But that it decidedly not my position at all, and is hardly what TEC attributes to historic Anglicanism. Seeing the difference is very important.

I have said, and I think this is TEC's position, that Anglicanism must take doctrinal stands, that its practice must consist in definite doctrines. The point is not to avoid commitment to propositional content. As of this hour, TEC is committed to a large body of propositional content abouot the Faith: go read the Catechism, the Chalcedonian Definition, et al. So I think TEC's leadership would of course not be surprised at Wright's [3] above: that Reformation theologians in England and Caroline divines heatedly debated the truth of certain propositions. Of course; so we continue to do so today. Wright's charge of Doctrinal Indifferentism in [4], the doctrine he alludes to in [2], is lucidly false. It is a straw man, and the fact he makes the charge shows he is ignorant of what is truly at stake.

III. Righting Wright's Wrongs
It seems to me that Wright holds some form of Doctrinal Homogeneity:

(DH) All church doctrine should be held with equal force.

I presume he thinks the church possesses core doctrine that is necessary to its continuing identity--even TEC admits such in the findings of the Righter trial in 1995. But then, by (DH), it follows that:

(5) All church doctrine is necessary to the identity of the church.

But (5) is patently false--as is implied even in the 39 Articles which Wright cites, as these articles admit, inter alia, that church councils can err. There is something self-defeating, even self-referentially incoherent, in Wright's strident posturing throughout the interview. His thinking there is muddled--perhaps he does not really wish his audience to examine what he says there too closely. Perhaps: I cannot tell.

My point is that Doctrinal Homogeneity is false. Everyone should agree that it is in fact false, left and right, even Wright, I think. But admitting the falsity of (DH) poses an existential question (EQ): Will the question of what doctrine is necessary for the identity of the church and what is not affect your relationship with God, your worship? If the question does not affect worship, something is wrong: primary and secondary theology are being artificially separated.

But what would it mean to pose the existential question (EQ)? One could opt for holding that the church has infallible knowledge in some particular way, and then go on to build that option into the liturgy. Having infallible knowledge, the church sure could settle exactly what is and is not necessary doctrine. However, I think that option is the wrong way to go, at least for an Anglican. But then bereft of infallible knowledge, we are faced with the problem of how to live well with each other in Christian community; after all, the church must make definite doctrinal stands, as GC and others have done again and again, whatever Wright may claim to the contrary. It seems to me the best policy will include conscious adoption of epistemic humlity about exactly where the boundary between necessary and unnecessary is. That is, we should not pretend to be more sure than we really are about what doctrine is necessary to being church; to so pretend is not a matter of moral indifference, but positive vice.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Various Contemporary Reflections

I wonder if secessionist Episcopalian parishoners saying, in effect, "We paid for it, we built it, the parish is ours", have really thought about what they are saying.

Granted: in some states the law in fact may be on their side--but in any case it is very hard to tell ahead of time where lawsuits will end up, even with knowledge of state-level property law. Pursuing lawsuits seems to leave the matter of who will eventually own parish property rather up in the air until the cases run their course. This goes to show in a very practical way that a Bishop should not end up in the position of having to rely on the state to enforce episcopal polity.

It may well be that some--even some bishops--do not fancy episcopal polity a thing worth defending seriously. I suppose they think it a thing ultimately indifferent to the Faith, or even a thing positively hindering the contemporary growth and preaching of the Faith. This is what I hear Episcopalians saying when they claim to own a piece of parish property primarily because they paid for it themselves, that they are the trustees in charge of keeping it up, etc. They take it for granted that of course they were never doing any of these things for the larger church embodied in the diocese of their bishop, or in the province of the Presiding Bishop and General Convention--such notions of belonging, such directionality or intentionality in their stewardship seems to have been completely missing. As if had someone told them Episcopalians are not congregationalists or baptists in their polity, and that all their effort and treasure is going toward something belonging not merely to themselves but to a larger entity altogether, they would not have lifted a blessed finger, they would not have spent a single dime.

For my part, our peculiar episcopal arrangement is something worth defending seriously. Resisting the profoundly anti-Anglican antics of the muddled congregations in Truro, Falls Church and elsewhere involves our church in a costly rear-guard action to be sure, even a lamentable necessity, but one we are called to despite our inclinations to simply live and let live.

If it is indeed so important to defend episcopal polity as, to be unduly modest, a causally accessible possibility in our republic, our Bishops et al should not have left that defense to the expedient of secular law. What? I mean this, for instance: Bishop Lee should have inhibited Father Minns long before he became Bishop Minns, and brought the parish of Truro under a vicar. If the canons national or diocesan precluded it--which I for the record scarcely believe--he should have taken the risk anyhow, throwing himself in effect at the mercy of his fellow bishops, clergy, and the larger body of Episcopalian laity.

Remember the Connecticut Six and all that? I have great respect for Bishop Smith's wisdom and courage; I think he did the right thing and should have done more of it. This should be relatively clear in retrospect to any following current events in Virginia. You want to keep from depending on the unreliable hands of secular, state power? You recognize that legal right does not always line up with what is right? You want to defend the exercise of episcopal polity among our people? Well and good: you have to exercise clear and strong discipline among your ordained. I expect, and hope, our bishops in the future will take a good deal more seriously membership in even potentially schismatic organizations.