Monday, July 27, 2009

Archbishop Williams' Latest Missive

+Williams' latest missive directed to the Anglican Communion, concerned with GC2009, should not come as much of a surprise. If anything, there is a softening to his rhetoric around the Covenant and his curious notion of--what shall we call it?--diocesan autonomy. In particular, the menace implicit in his near-closing remarks (4.25),

the question is being more sharply defined of whether, if a province declines such an invitation, any elements within it will be adopt the Covenant,

is softened by the parenthetical--and new?--

granted the explicit provision that the Covenant does not purport to alter the Constitution or internal polity of any province. A year or so ago he might have encouraged dioceses to break away, discounting the reality of what he here calls the "local church" altogether; we should be thankful for this small movement in his apparent ecclesiology.

My main concern is with section 2, where there does not seem to be much movement in his thinking (his pre-office writings now ancient history), and where he seems to take sharpest issue with TEC's actions. He opens with a wonderfully crisp Modus Tollens (spread out over 2.6-8) which may well represent the hardest and most recalcitrant element in his thinking on display in the missive:

(1) If the Church is free to recognize SSUs..., then there would be a strong consensus and solid theological grounding in the Church for that freedom.
(2) There is no such strong consensus and theological grounding in the Church.
Thus, (3) the Church is not free to recognize SSUs....

I am pretty sure Williams' MT is unsound, as (1) looks false to me. It seems the New Testament offers evidence of liberties taken before there was strong consensus, or--please--at least solid theological grounding. It is hard to imagine the earliest generations of the Church as capable of providing a strong theological grounding--in a sense univocal with Williams'--for any of the innovations they developed. It seems rather that such a capacity took centuries to develop, and that in fact what was developed is now seen as largely in error: who takes the impassible God of the Creeds seriously high up in the AC anymore? Or the Creeds' substance metaphysics? Do we have to accept Leontius of Byzantium's interpretation as truth, or, rather Truth?

(2) might be true, but it is decidedly odd. He is not saying unanimity is required, and he later on implies the lack of "strong consensus" may be an error (3.14-15)--so exactly where is the line where "strong consensus" is achieved? I would bet he has absolutely no clear idea, and he is not nearly fool enough to offer anything definite. Should we read "strong" as requiring a supermajority, so that we should see God as moving through overwhelming numerical superiority? That seems rather unbiblical to me, or at least ad hoc--a concession to the sorts of cultural feelings of propriety whose normativity for the Church Williams elsewhere questions.

But then what? An ecumenical council? Could such a provision be maintained for other areas of innovation over which he presides in the CoE and AC? Is there strong consensus in the Church--not merely a local church like the CoE mind you, or a mere clot of locals like the AC, for ordaining women to the episcopate? It seems to me a double standard is not a particuarly good standard. Williams does not--after all this time and all this wrangling--have a defensible standard to offer the Anglican Communion, and while that is no sin, it is worthwhile noting.

I think Williams' opening argument in section 2 is unsound--but that is not the worst part of section 2. Things deteriorate precipitously after the second sentence of 2.8, right through 3.11.

First, there is what seems to me like a bone-headed error, a possibly revealing slip which he might wish to have edited out. He thinks it follows on (3) that:

a person living in such a union [a SSU] is in the same case as a heterosexual person living in a sexual relationship outside the marriage bond....

According to Williams, the case of a same sex couple that has sought out the blessing of the Church (big "c"), and irregularly received such a blessing, is equivalent to the case of a single heterosexual person--not even a couple--living outside the marriage bond. It is not merely that the situation of a hetero couple that merely cohabits but does not want marriage--having the real possibility of marriage open to them--is being compared to a same sex couple that wants to marry but cannot, not having the possibility open.

That would be bad enough for Williams, because their situations are obviously different: optional mere cohabitation and cohabitation without the marriage option are different, and, um, the difference seems morally relevant. How on earth could he discount it? Now add in that the relevant same sex couples want to be married, but cannot be--the difference is even more glaring. Irregular blessings do not exist for Williams; let us pass over them for his sake.

Anyhow, Williams is implying that for the Church, these obvious differences amount to no moral difference which the Church is free to take into account when delivering blessings; indeed, more: no moral difference, period. But that is just wrong. If the Church were mistaken about not getting behind blessing same sex unions--something Williams has implied is possible--that would not affect their sacramental character. They would have a sacramental character even without the recognition of the Church; so the Church regards the marriage sacrament. That is to say, pace Williams, the truth of (3) would not imply there is no difference between the same sex couple and the hetero single, as the Church could be wrong and the sacrament could be present for the same sex couple.

However, the real kicker is his likening the same sex couple to a heterosexual individual sleeping around, as if the couple's bond is nonexistent, as if there is nothing there that would make the couple more than one individual sleeping around and another individual sleeping around. That is, to say the least, insulting. But it also seems to defy reality; there are lifelong, exclusive, loving homosexual unions. That seems, one would think, to be different from the swinging single's case in a way that the Church, and Williams, should register.

But it doesn't register with him, and--alas--its not registering does not seem to be a cognitive slip or a mere fault of expression. He writes

In other words, the question is not a simple one of human rights or human dignity. It is that a certain choice of lifestyle has certain consequences.

Does he know better? Who knows. Is being gay a lifestyle? What exactly is a lifestyle? Is being gay something that gays choose? All of them? This seems comic. I submit what seems to me to be obvious:

there are cases of gays who are homosexual without there having been an occasion, a time t, in each of their cases at which they effectively chose to be gay.

Bulletin to the Archbishop: that's not how it works. Being gay is not, and certainly is not always, a mere lifestyle that is chosen. There are, for instance, habits, dispositions, nonconscious desires and mental content, and socialization to take account of; extend the list ad plac.

Strictly speaking, Williams' argument in 2.6-8 may be ignored if--as it seems--he means to address people who choose to adopt a gay lifestyle. It seems to be that the Episcopal Church means to minister to, and has baptized, genuinely gay people, men and women who--shock!--really are gay through and through, and not just sampling the wares like Williams' single heterosexual on the prowl. If we are to take Williams at his word, then contrary to what might have been his intention, he is not addressing what TEC intends to do by blessing SSUs. A fort, he really has nothing to say here about ordaining gays.

In a deep sense, we are talking past one another.

There is more to say; someone should take him to task for positing the separation of sacred and secular realms, as if there are secular facts really distinct from the religiously significant. I hope he does not believe that, but the missive seems to presuppose such a distinction.

I will stop with just one more point. Williams wrote (2.7)

In the light of the way the Church has consistently read the Bible for the last two thousand years, it is clear that a positive answer to this question....

Ugh. Is there really a single way the Church has read the Bible over the course of its existence on any question, much less the one of blessing SSUs? Why all the make-believe? There's the obvious problem that there have been several different ways the Church has read the Bible over its history, and not merely one way. There's the problem too that there is no one Bible for the Church, even now, that could be read or referred to as object for this fictional One Way of Reading. And then there is the problem that the Church existed for some time without a Bible, but merely with its "Scripture" being a version of pre-Jamnia Hebrew Scripture not quite the same as our Anglican OT--likely the LXX, with some really wild stuff like the Enoch literature added on. In other words, he should be a little more circumspect before perpetuating partisan fictions.

But the main point is, even if there were exactly one Bible and exactly one right way of reading it, would we be reading about people who are gay? That seems to me to be a substantive question, and one pressed by Williams' bizzare picture of gays having chosen a gay lifestyle. If the Bible on homosexuality merely addressed heteros who tried to exchange their hetero orientation for a gay one (a la Romans), that would not carry obvious implications for people who are gay simpliciter, without any exchange. If it did not seem to recognize there were gay Israelites in speaking to men having sex with men, the same question arises: is this speaking to people who are gay? It may be, even if Williams were right about the Bible and reading, the impressive historical consensus on homosexual activity does not speak directly to people who are gay. For all the years and all the unanimity, there is a yet a gap, a question about whether all of that addresses people who are gay, who really are gay. And alas: the Bible will not speak of itself to that question.

What makes this worse: it seems the Church will succeed in avoiding this gap if it can. TEC and gays in general are not powerful enough to compel the Church here below to take the question up qua question. Those on whose behalf the question would be taken up are--considering them worldwide--among the weak, the marginalized, the unseen.


At 10:44 AM, Anonymous thomsa said...

I found your comments here very helpful. I do, however, think that his unfortunate reference to the lifestyle as "chosen" was meant to specify not sexual orientation, but the SSUs of those who wish to be ordained to the episcopate. I think this is the context for most of what occurs in the second section as well, and this may change some of your assessment.

At 11:01 AM, Blogger P Stanley said...

I read the "lifestyle" reference as Thomsa does; I thought he was trying to draw the familiar but now tired distinction between orientation and action, and maintaining therefore that his stand against gay clergy was not directed at them or their gayness but at the way they chose to live as gay people: not because they are gay but because they have partners.

I'm not saying that reading makes it much better ... but perhaps a bit more coherent. And it's a very unfortunate choice of words, I think, since "gay lifestyle" is more or less a conservative term-of-art for a particular set of defamatory caricatures.

What I think it opens up is a different incoherence. If condemnation of the "gay lifestyle" of partnered monogamy is not only rational but required, it's hard to see why one would oppose any amount of secular repressive legislation against gay activities, since such legislation has characteristically fastened (as legislation does) on action and not orientation. If the Church is free (bound) to discriminate against gay people who do anything gay, why not the secular world? Which seems to leave RW in what you would hope is the uncomfortable place, since he seems to think that discrimination is both proscribed and prescribed.

At 12:53 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Thank you both for your comments; I think I see what you are saying about his use of "lifestyle". I'm going to try to reply, since I think others may follow Williams and agree with him.

Suppose Williams meant to say merely that for a gay to be with a partner is for that person to choose to adopt a gay lifestyle, and that Williams does not mean to say being gay itself only comes by choosing a lifestyle.

First, such a reading is not clear from his language here; it seems to require reading in some face-saving content. Even so, suppose that is what he would say if he could go back and clarify.

Second, is having a partner choosing a lifestyle? Is that how the experience of falling in love is for everyone, and in particular for all gays? If he means to insist on such a thing, he opens himself up to ridicule. There are cases where the phenomenology of falling in love, or the first-person experience of falling in love, involves no choice of whether to fall or not--in such cases where there is symmetry (A and B fall in love with each other), being partnered may involve no choice of any lifestyle by anyone involved.

He also seems unfaithful to Scripture--a betrayal of his own terms of discourse. Scripture, so far as I can tell, does not picture abstinence as chosen. Thus, even if I do choose not to be with this person or that person, that does not mean I can choose to be abstinent.

Williams' next step, were he to conduct a debate, might be to concede that being gay is not something chosen, and that being partnered is not/ need not be chosen, but--and here is where I think he would have to draw the line--that being sexually active is something that is chosen.

Now what is a defensible Biblical standard of being sexually active, and is it open to choice the way Williams needs? Look to Matthew and Luke: Williams can only make a plausible case by ignoring or discounting the Sermon of the Mount. That is, he has to restrict being sexually active to occasional exterior acts in some ad hoc domain: oral sex, sexual intercourse--but not say holding hands or looking longingly.

Such a restriction is indefensible--the Sermon in either iteration raises the standard of fidelity beyond the power of free choice. Even having a lustful urge counts as sinful as the consummated action, and I do not think we can choose whether or not to have urges. That is, pace Williams, if you are gay, you cannot help but be sexually active in the Sermon's sense. For anyone making Williams' argument, that means being gay is sinful; i.e. one is positioned in ongoing sin without having chosen to be so positioned. Should we call for mutilation or brainwashing?

Thus, all things considered, the reading of Williams you propose does not seem to be a substantive imporvement--indeed, it seems to lead him into an even more dubious dead end.

At 2:04 PM, Blogger Closed said...

In my last two posts I have taken him to task precisely on this sacred secular split.

Worse, now seeing this again "has consequences" could be used to justify unkind even vicious behavior, as he certainly decides is okay within the ecclesial sphere.

At 4:23 PM, Blogger Mitch said...

On your first point:
You say "(1) looks false to me." Your justification for this seems to be that things in the earliest times of the church don't bear it out. Certainly it is true that there was not "strong consensus" in the first centuries of the church but the church has evolved. The church started holding ecumenical councils to reach strong consensus on divisive issues. Your blanket statement about the history of the church being largely error is troubling as what you do in the church is built on that history. I know few in the church who are so willing to dismiss the creeds as error as easily as you do.

You say: (2) might be true, but it is decidedly odd.
and then ask:
so exactly where is the line where "strong consensus" is achieved?

As I view the issue the line where "strong consensus" is achieved is somewhere other than strong consensus against, where I believe the communion stands now. If (2) is true, which you allow, then we must at least aim for some consensus in favor before we move ahead in that direction. "And then what?" you ask? How about discussion throughout the communion and the covenant process. That's what comes next. That's the track we're taking, shall we let it come to completion, please?

On your second point, You say:
According to Williams, the case of a same sex couple that has sought out the blessing of the Church (big "c"), and irregularly received such a blessing, is equivalent to the case of a single heterosexual person--not even a couple--living outside the marriage bond.

That is absolutely not what +Rowan has said. In both sides of the statement which you quote +Rowan is speaking of an individual in their respective relationship.

A person living in such a union...
A heterosexual person living in a sexual relationship...

Your reading seemingly intentionally confuses his point.

Others have already commented on your apparent misreading of +Rowan's statement on lifestyle so I will speak to your misguided rebuttal.

Having a partner is certainly choosing a lifestyle. You erroneously equate "falling in love" with committing to one partner for life. To suggest that I didn't choose to marry my wife seems silly. The same must be applied to someone who chooses to live committed to a partner who, whether by law or religion, they cannot marry. The choice is still made. Prior to meeting my wife I loved a few others. We had deep and committed relationships, but the relationship ended. In almost each one of those cases the relationship ended while the love remained. We chose to end the relationship for various reasons. You can choose to be in or out of a relationship, not to speak to the choice of whom we love.

You claim that it is unfaithful to scripture to claim that one could choose abstinence. Didn't Paul choose abstinence and commend that lifestyle to the church in Corinth? Paul allows marriage only when passions cannot be controlled.

The rest of your imaginary debate about being sexually active is irrelevant.

On your final point:
No, there is not one way that the Church has read the bible through the centuries. There are some issues that have been interpreted consistently, though. I am unaware of any tradition in the history of biblical intrepetation that supports homosexual relationships. My understanding is that the church has been consistent on this.

Show me where there is a tradition of biblical interpretation which supports partnered homosexual relationships. It would be news to me to learn of it. I don't mean to argue that it cannot become part of the tradition of biblical interpretation, but the way you frame your objection implies that there is a strong tradition which condones that which the global south wants to reject. You imply the existence of the tradition and then leave us hanging. I fear that it is because there is no tradition and your objection is misplaced.

At 9:11 PM, Blogger Daniel Lee said...


RW's missteps suggest at least two quick things to me.

One, his formidable precision of mind is dog-eared and tattered, maybe from the weariness of presiding over a global communion whose fate is to become a slightly revised version of, say, some conservative USA mega-church? With a more formal liturgy?

Or? Two, some of these missteps were adopted wholesale from typical evangelical figures around him, so that he did not quite think them through? All I really have about this pronouncement are fascinating questions.

So far as the rebuttals posted go, I think our vexed dilemma is that traditionalists are trying very hard to preserve intact our received legacy errors, redacted now to the teapot tempests about how one chooses a gay lifestyle, and therefore, about what gay pairbonding is. People who can barely find straight sex unoffensive appear to have even greater difficulty imaging gay sex as anything but the worst and most damaging and dirtiest of Cheap Thrills.

Neither RW, nor any other traditionalistic believer can find his or her way to the new fangled stuff which construes being gay and gay pairbonding positively, by trying to work and rework, confined strictly to the most ancient and most negative legacy stuff.

Such an effort would be too much like trying to describe and measure the real cosmos by using every available Ptolemaic Cosmology idea and tool.

We can easily include queer folks in our church life. They have just about the same human potentials for living and thriving that we would presume them to have, if they had been straight.

I tag the traditional negative models as Cheap Thrills. Most if not all construe being gay through some sort of knee jerk, automatic Cheap Thrills lens or framework.

This is a neat deal, since if you do that, gay attractions will never show up as openings onto that special love for another man or woman, that deeper pairbonding, that committed and positive generativity – which is, after all, the substantial phenomenon, the core human reality for people who discover they are gay. Why else Come Out? It's because truth telling lays a foundation for laying claim to one's positive human potentials - for sexually and emotionally pairbonding in care, commitment, and self-giving. For working at your best, without the heavy burdens of the Closet. For being honestly connected and honestly valued by all the good people around you, gay or straight, including of course your beloved partner and perhaps your children.

Since traditionalistic believers who simply must condemn gay sex never, ever perceive self-giving love and human thriving in such couples, one must tentatively conclude they have never met positive, thriving queer folks individually, let alone in self-giving and life giving relationships. That's a sad pity in the short and long runs, maybe; but hardly an absolute and final and comprehensive basis for erecting, nothing but a traditional negative ethical and theological system of negative beliefs and judgments. How odd to make your most godly understanding of queer folks depend almost totally on what they really are not, actually.

As it is, then, nothing in RW's remarks suggest to me that he is anywhere close to being able to perceive and describe the real queer folks who for real live in our western democracies, thriving.

So he might not be our very best guide and advisor when it comes to us relating to those same, decent queer folks who are neighbors.

RW is simply not doing his homework in this grand essay. He touches a lot of legacy bases, and seems partly up on current events from the most recent GC meeting. But he hops right aside from engaging the real, positive queer folks who now exist in our real shared worlds, and also in our church life. If you do not know real queer folks, positive, up close and personal, no essay will ever, ever, ever change your mind.

Right now, RW reads like a blind man who is trying to describe that famous elephant. That Cheap Thrills Elephant.

At 1:06 AM, Anonymous JCF said...

Show me where there is a tradition of biblical interpretation which supports partnered homosexual relationships. It would be news to me to learn of it.

The "Argument from Absence" is VERY tiresome . . . particularly, as AS points out, whether the Bible speaks to "homosexual" ANYTHING is precisely in question!


A tangential hypothesis:

The Anglican Communion, as a whole, doesn't say anything condemnatory towards arranged marriages, does it? As long as there is an absence of compulsion or coercion---that the bride and groom freely consent to the marriage contract? [I imagine that such arranged marriages, even among Anglicans, is still quite common in many parts of the world.]

So imagine that there could be an arranged marriage of same-sex partners.

I make this hypothesis, with the notion that, in an arranged marriage, any person-specific sinful desires would be absent. (Nobody lusts after the other). No sinful desires (homo OR hetero), ergo no clouded judgment.

In this case then, wouldn't the "chosen lifestyle" be limited to the decision to MARRY itself? (Anything following in the Honeymoon Chamber being, well, private to the couple? *)

How then, would a same-sex marriage or opposite-sex marriage be different?

* Obviously, Rome follows the couple into said chamber, screaming "No Birth Control!". However---Praise Christ!---we're not Roman. ;-)

At 4:25 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Daniel Lee and JCF,

Thanks for the comments.

Indeed, ++Williams seems to weary of all this--and who can blame him? Is his heart in it? He's in a tough spot--but it has been this way for six, seven years. It has to be awful.

At 1:16 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


Thanks for the detailed rebuttal. I'll try to respond in kind.

First, let me say I accept the Creeds in the old-school way, complete with the impassiblity of God and the substance metaphysics, though I would read Nicea through Scotus or Aquinas, not the early Fathers.

But many Protestant theologians--left and right--reject the historical picture. People like Alister McGrath have problems with divine immutability and impassibility; most disbelieve in substance metaphysics--if, being postliberal or liberal, they have a cogent and conscious metaphysics at all. Point being, they--including Williams--have to say on pain of inconsistency that the early Church did not have a sound theology for the Creeds, yet they still take them as normative. What gives? We should admit we don't really know how to give a sound theological basis for our dogma--we've lost that talent as a community, if we ever had it.

I'll concede your second point--we--the AC incl. TEC--should stick together in the Windsor process. I'm not sure what remains of it, but we should still try.

About what Rowan said, I think I read him correctly on the reductive point, where he implies there is no such thing as a homosexual relationship, and the lifestyle choice point. I think Rowan knew full well what he was saying, and was not at all very nice.

About choosing to marry--please note the choice about whether to get married to Ms. XYZ is diffrent from the choice to be partnered to Ms. XYZ. you can have partners with whom you are not married--e.g. in adultery or fornication--and you can have partners with whom you have no sexual relations or marriage sacraments at all--e.g. falling in love with God or Jesus.

Even if it were true that you chose to be in a relationship or to end one, that does not mean all relationships are that way. You did not choose to have a relationship to your parents or siblings or God; you have one whether you like it or not, whatever you "choose".

And perhaps you even became friends with people before you ever ratified the friendship by a choice. Being in love can be like that. Indeed, you might find that you still have a relationship with the very people whom you once loved but later on "chose" to break up with--your choice not being efficacious.

You yourself say "Paul allows marriage only when passions cannot be controlled"--well then, what is that? A state of passion that cannot be controlled--even by choice?

Being able to choose NOT to have a certain type of passion (str8 or gay) might not be--Paul on your reading says--a state God has left everyone in. If you can choose, paul says, choose abstinence--sure, but so what? You have conceded my point in spite of yourself.

Finally, you say: "Show me where there is a tradition of biblical interpretation which supports partnered homosexual relationships"--but this is very easy to do, too easyin fact. Here is an example:

(1) the Bible supports relationships in which the fruits of the Spirit are manifest;

(2) some gay unions manifest fruits of the Spirit;

Thus (3) the Bible supports those gay unions where fruits of the Spirit are manifest.

This is an argument TEC has already made for years, showing the Bible supports SSUs. Bu tof course that is not enough for TEC's critics--and I strongly suspect it will not be enough for you.

But why?


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