Monday, February 26, 2007

Responses to the Communique

With everyone and their aunt responding to the Primate's Communique, it is hard for a busy parish priest to keep up with the welter of words, and until this morning I haven't even tried. However, I spent some time on this, my day off, scanning the various offerings that are being dished up here. Occasionally I have stumbled over a helpful nugget, but most of the time there is little that inspires (on either right or left).

As was to be expected, there are few people who seem to be hearing what the Communique says, or have perhaps even read it with care. Instead they have rushed into asserting the rightness of their own position over against the wrongness of those they consider their adversaries. There are several thoughts that I have been having as I have attempted to plough my way through this tangle of non-communication, and I tentatively share these.

The first is the observation that for many Anglicanism seems to have ceased being a historic Christian tradition rooted and grounded in the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it was understood by the Church of England, and then developing outward, eventually spreading around the world. It is almost as if the notion of "Anglican" has become to many a convenient hold-all into which can be poured whatever you want to pour.

So for some it seems that Anglicanism, which has always been a generous approach to the faith, is now so generous that there are no boundaries to its inclusion of all and sundry -- even that which will destroy it. As we look back at the Elizabethan settlement and then at the manner in which the church and communion have handled differences in the past, while we have always leaned over backwards not to exclude, there have inevitably been limits to our openness because of clear theological, biblical, creedal, and ecclesiastical mandates.

Our problem is that North American Anglicanism has, at least in the past several generations, become profoundly non-biblical and untheological, with the result that we measure what is going on more in anthropological and socio-political terms than using Scripture within the context of the church's on going tradition - and place within Catholic Christianity.

This means that the language being used in so many of these statements tends to be the language of human and civil rights and not the language in which the faith is cast. The picture that is then painted by bishops and others is that God is the God of such rights, and what the Communion's leaders are doing is trampling on those rights, and therefore flying in the face of God's will and purpose.

Human and civil rights are obviously extremely important and as churches we have struggled with their implications for a long time. However, what Scripture teaches about the nature of humanity made in God's image and about ethics and morality are also extremely important, and those of us in the mainstream of Anglicanism are saying that these cannot be over-riden.

This is not to suggest we don't reach out in love to all people, but it does mean we must with the utmost seriousness bear in mind what Scripture and tradition teach about the pattern of life of those in leadership in the church. Christian leadership is not a right -- it is a fearful responsibility and a heavy privilege. The pastoral challenge is how to be welcoming of all while recognizing that all offices of the church cannot be open to all as if the church were a golf club putting in place a new president or captain.

Then many of the responses seem to weigh heavily on the canonical and procedural way of doing things in the Episcopal Church -- and certainly this needs to be taken into account. But this seems to me to be a "business as usual" mentality in the midst of a vast crisis that the Episcopal Church has triggered by going it alone rather than working with the wider Communion.

What is clear is that the ones who call upon those of us who are a minority within the Episcopal Church to knuckle under and be team players, are not prepared to listen to the Communion when it says in a pastoral but clear way that they should do something similar for the good of the wider Anglican family. There is a mutuality to communion, and that is hard to find in many of these statements.

Some on the left are making comments which, in effect, say that they really don't want to be part of the Anglican Communion any longer. That is fair enough, as they break away from the wider church then they should not prevent those of us who are Anglicans wanting to continue to remain. One writes, "If the Anglican Communion must separate over this fundamental issue of human rights, then so be it. To everything there is a season. Perhaps this is the season for the growth of the gospel in truth and in love in ways that we could never have imagined" (Steven Charleston of EDS).

In the midst of all this are plenty of "victim" statements. For example, a group calling themselves InclusiveChurch state, "As the debate becomes more disconnected from the reality of everyday life of those we serve, it is increasingly clear that TEC is becoming a scapegoat." Now obviously I sit in a different place and this debate is not disconnected from the reality of my life and ministry, but when a province has, in effect, given the finger to the rest of the Communion and then the Communion acts upon it that action is hardly scapegoating. Rather, it is the majority trying to find some way to maintain a measure of order and biblical discipline.

This raises just one more element of many of these statements, and that is the loose or loaded use of language. This is the way it has been all along, and does little to help along a process that might somewhere or other have reconciliation and the Cross in it.

In the midst of all this some are eloquently counseling patience and care, which is most valuable - and vital. A first step, perhaps, in humility.

What the Communique does reflect is Archbishop Williams' concern that all parties should keep talking, for it is when the talking stops that the most destructive kind of fighting begins. In all its components it also reflects the fact that the willingness of a large part of the Communion to allow the Episcopal Church to continue forestalling the majority is now wearing thin.


Richard Kew said...

This piece has been posted on There are some helpful comments and critiques there

The Anglican Scotist said...

There is--as I am sure you know--an extremely long tradition within orthodox Christianity of grounding rights in natural law, which in turn is grounded in the very nature of God: parties as opposed as Augustine, Aquinas, Scotus, Suarez, Grotius, and Locke--of all people!--would agree on some specification fo such an outline. Indeed the tradition has been revitalized in the RCC from being detatched from essentialism--what would you say to Grisez or Finnis?

There is a very, very strong case for saying there is nothing at all unbiblical or un-Christian in claiming God is the God of rights. Why would you expect the Bible to busy itself with philosophical points accessible to pagans like Cicero and the Stoics? And to suggest Paul is hostile to natural law seems simply beyond credit.

When you wrote this, what were you thinking in disregarding such a manifest tradition?

Craig Goodrich said...

Perhaps, indeed, all parties should keep talking. But it becomes very difficult when not only the vocabulary but apparently the entire conceptual universe of one side is so narrow and shallow, and apparently walled in by totally impervious concrete -- modern and "completely improved," like the Los Angeles River.

Consider, for example, this line from Mrs. Schori's recent sermon:

Jesus laments over a community's unwillingness or inability to serve the needs of all God's people, an unwillingness to see all human beings as worthy of healing and welcome.

Now, this is obviously intended as a reference to the faithful who hold to the common Christian sexual ethic, and it repeats an accusation that has been refuted totally innumerable times -- indeed, in Lambeth 98-I.10 itself and continually for many years before that; St. Paul himself, in fact, refutes it (1 Cor 6):

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,

Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.

Drunkards, thieves, and effeminate are as welcome as they were in Corinth -- and on exactly the same terms.

But this point -- that we are all fallen creatures -- is impossible to communicate to the Left, along with other less central points about ecclesiology, communion, and so on, because their entire universe is contained within the four corners of the Op-Ed page of the New York Times.

Dr. Radner+, a pastor of near-infinite patience in addition to being a thelogian of such depth that an hour reading one paragraph counts in some cases as skimming, noted this phenomenon with unaccustomed asperity in an ACI article about a year ago, commenting "Something basic is going on here in this way of thinking by which political grievances are assumed to be equivalent to theological imperatives. I am not sure of its ground, but the method represents a category mistake of enormous proportions."

Until the ears of the Left can be opened to genuine theological discussion, I fear the only fruitful topic we can "keep talking" about is the disposition of parish property.

And I see a prime example, dear old scotist, is his usual indignant but irrelevant self...

Richard Kew said...

I think the Anglican Scotist is misunderstanding what I am saying about rights. The point is well taken that in our society, having been created in the image of God, there is a profound respect that is required for all human beings. The church is also welcoming of all human beings made in God's image.

However, there are several factors that come in to play in our present situation.

The first is that Scripture never confuses the genders, something that the church as a pale reflection of a secular culture, is attempting to do.

The second is that Scripture teaches very clearly that the highest ethical and moral conduct is expected of those who lead the church. In this the church has failed, listening again to the culture rather than the teaching of the Pastoral Epistles as well as elsewhere in the New Testament.

The third is that those who are called by God into his church come as redeemed sinners, but then are expected to allow the Holy Spirit to shape their lives until they reflect God's grace and glory.

Those who are pushing the innovative agendas in the church frame the whole business in terms of human and civil rights, and avoid theological definition almost completely.

Richard Bierman said...


Thank you for your helpful and astute analysis of curent Anglican affairs. I especially enjoyed your picture of TEC "giving the finger" to the rest of the communion (although, perhaps it should have been in quotes)

My fear is, that we may well continue talking,it will be AT each other rather than TO each other.

Thank you for your wise words and Blessings on your ministry.

Richard Bierman
Birmingham AL

The Anglican Scotist said...

Father Kew,
Thans for your response. If I understand you correctly, you are saying that you do not have a problem with a rights-based arguments; however, you think such arguments will not succeed for blessing same-sex unions.

The problem then, in your eyes, is not that God is painted as the God of rights; that is not a bad thing. The bad thing, you'd say, is saying in this case God is the God of--say--an obligation follwing from natural law to permit the blessing of same-sex unions.

Is that a fair understanding of your position?

The Anglican Scotist said...

Supposing I have a handle on your view, what you are asking to see is an argument repecting Scripture that would establish an obligation to permit blessing SSUs. The emphasis is on respect for Scripture.

In that case, I am curious as to how you would respond to this argument, which does seem to respect Scripture:

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.

Surely this is the type of thing you would want to see, even if you disagree sharply with the conclusion, right?

Richard Kew said...

In response to the latest postings by Anglican Scotist, I would say that while my position is slightly more nuanced and incisive than his representation of it, his expression of it is broadly fair.

However, I would not say the position I hold is a natural theology position, for that implies a sitting light to God's self-revelation in Scripture. There is certainly a biological component to my understanding of male and female as being complementary to one another, but Scripture asserts that that given-ness of gender is an element of what it means for humans to be created in the image of God.

I would assert that our culture is in a whole variety of ways seeking to emend what it means to be human, but certainly dismissing the notion of being made in God's image and rather assuming that we are at a particular point on some kind of evolutionary continuum. I see the whole same sex phenomenon as part of this challenging of the divine given-ness of human nature.

I would ask those who believe that this homosexual tilt is a legitimate evolutionary advance to consider that evolution has over billions of years come to many dead ends -- and this could well be one of them.

While I am not entirely sure that I fully understand what Scotist is trying to say in his suggested way toward accepting same sex unions, it does seem to project active sexuality into the afterlife. Muslims might believe such things, but I am not sure there is any justification for Christians to. Secondly, it still wants to fudge the given-ness of the complementariness of gender as part of our humanity, and I am not sure that grace allows for that either.