Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Millstone of Heresy

"You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!"
Matthew 23:23

And just when we thought things couldn't get any uglier in the Anglican Communion, the bishops of Tanzania release a comprehensive statement declaring broken communion with all bishops and dioceses of the Communion involved with the ordination or consecration of homosexuals, and, it seems, imperiling the Primates' meeting scheduled there for February. Their anathema list includes:
  1. Bishops who consecrate homosexuals to the episcopate and those Bishops who ordain such persons to the priesthood and the deaconate or license them to minister in their dioceses;
  2. Bishops who permit the blessing of same sex unions in their dioceses;
  3. Gay priests and deacons;
  4. Priests who bless same sex unions;
Brother Causticus, with his scathing wit, cuts to the quick. . .if the Tanzanian statement is to be taken at face value (that is, taken in a "plain sense"), the Church of Tanzania has not only "uninvited" ++Katharine Jefferts Schori, but has just broken communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury and is, in effect, no longer part of the Anglican Communion.

This might all be a bit sad or even mildly amusing but, as Tobias Haller most eloquently writes, those who will suffer most will be the poorest of Tanzania, who are now effectively blocked from receiving aid from some of the wealthiest in the Anglican Communion by their own beloved Church. So now we see where the millstone of heresy will fall heaviest, and just in time for Christmas, too:

. . .Further to the consequent state of the severely impaired communion, the House of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Tanzania declares that henceforth the Anglican Church of Tanzania shall not knowingly accept financial and material aid from Dioceses, parishes, Bishops, priests, individuals and institutions in the Episcopal Church (USA) that condone homosexual practice or bless same sex unions. . .

Will the faithful bishops of Tanzania then wash their hands and blame us for the suffering of the poor in their country? Or, perhaps, they expect us to be merciful, and to channel aid in ways that they will not "know" we are sending it.

Either way, we are left with a millstone writ large that the Anglican Church of Tanzania's sexual ethics trump all, even good news for the poorest among us. Jesus' teachings. . .read in the "plain sense. . ." have something to say about this, too, I believe.

Sarcasm (almost) aside, the bishops of Tanzania and all struggling for basic necessities in their country have my prayers. . .even if they regard those tainted as well.


Anonymous said...

Another way of thinking about sending money to Tanzania is not to let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. So send money anonymously.

R said...


I'm sorry, this is much too simple.

I refer first to Tobias Haller's more personal experience in this matter, as that is the real, incarnational impact of this policy.

In a broader theological/ethical framework, I remain puzzled how, in this case, my money, given anonymously, is somehow less tainted than that given knowingly.

To illustrate using an example we are more likely agree on, is a church morally culpable if they unknowingly received funds raised through drug trafficking? Would the church, if they found out about it, not seek some kind of restitution for the lives harmed in the generation of that money? And if they didn't find out, would their benefit from that activity be any less morally repugnant? I think not. I, at least, would be shocked if the church found out and then washed their hands of the matter, saying, "We knew nothing."

So it makes no sense to me that the bishops could somehow shrug their shoulders before God and say, "We bear no responsibility, because we didn't know that aid was coming from that heretic on the West Coast."

No, the best, most honest thing they (or any of us) could say, it seems to me, is that no money is untainted.

Here's another take. Going back to the money raised in the drug trafficking example. Would it not also be possible to say, "this money was raised through evil -- but we turned around and used it for good. . ." and call that grace?

Why could not the good bishops of Tanzania accept "tainted" gifts from us heretics and use them for the good of those in need and call that grace in the same way? Do we not do this every day with our wealth, some fraction of which is always ill-gotten at the expense of another precious human being -- often by forces outside of our control?

And the question remains open: just how far will the bishops go? If they know a heretical diocese supports an international aid organization, will they deny all funding from that organization? This is the moral black hole of purity.

Here's the reality: at some point, in some way, somewhere in the world, a homosexual person or a "heretical" church institution touched or otherwise influenced every dollar that comes from every point of the globe into Tanzania. So where does the line get drawn? When are the bishops justified before God in their guarding the purity of their Church?

My point: we live in a world of moral gray in the matter of money, not black-and-white -- the good bishops' protest notwithstanding.

So we are still left with the foundational moral question I raised in my post: Does the Gospel tell us to risk injury to the poor if our own sense of spiritual purity is at stake?

Remembering Jesus' touching the unclean, his welcoming the outcasts and impure of society amongst his disciples, of healing on the Sabbath, I believe he would say, insofar as we have the power to make such choices, "No."

Forgive me, but I believe the Bishops of the Anglican Church of Tanzania have fallen on their own sword of biblical authority in this matter. Their policy does not, in my view, speak at all from the heart of the Gospel.

And given Tobias Haller's more experienced perspective, that one hair should fall from a starving child's head to protect the bishops' sense of spiritual purity is, at best, indefensible.

Anonymous said...

dear r,
I read your long post, but I still can't work out why Tobias and any one else can't send money anonymously.
I don't want to ignore anything of what you wrote, which essentially criticised the Tanzanian bishops, but why not send the money anyway?
If necessary give it to a conservative fund to send - or would that taint the money? or a secular fund.

R said...

I suggest you re-read Tobias' thread. I have nothing against sending money through conservative organizations. That would not, in my view, "taint" my contribution.

But that is not the point. As Tobias articulates better than I, the bishops' decision interferes in direct, person-to-person and church-to-church relationships built on trust. More than money, trust is of enormous benefit to helping those in deepest need.

I believe Tobias would agree with me, if I read him correctly, that we desire more than just a noblesse oblige approach of sending money to those we would help. Ideally, we want transformative relationships with them. Else we perpetuate the isolation that often accompanies great wealth and power. . .and further marginalizes the vast poor in our world.

I admit I could do much better myself in this regard.

I'm grateful to note that Tobias has since posted that the Bishop of the particular church/diocese he has a relationship with in Tanzania does not support the recent decision there, and so the relationship may continue.

I have a hunch that, come what may, this is where the real Anglican Communion will continue. In real, incarnational relationships where we meet, see, and love Christ in each other.

Anonymous said...

I am worried by your post (and I have read Tobias' too). It is one thing to seek relationship - and I am glad you do. It is another to acompany that with a dollop of money.
I think when Jesus suggested that we do not let our right hand know what our left hand is doing that we should certainly seek relationship - but to be anonymous with our gifts. That way the relationship stands as a relationship not as a channel of menetary giving. Perhaps I am being too idealistic here. Once again what I am saying will seem to simple I fear.

R said...


For what it's worth, my understanding of the context of Matthew 5:46-6:8, which you reference, is a criticism of giving in order to be seen, simply in order to feed our pride.

I didn't pick this up in anything Tobias wrote in his thread. The relationship matters primarily and by itself. But it also helps facilitate the giving, because in relationship, we have a stronger sense of what the needs are that we can help with.

I agree that giving anonymously is sometimes the only way to avoid the sin of pride. But I also believe that there are times where giving transparently and in a relationship between family, friends, in pastoral relationships, or between communities, is perfectly appropriate and compassionate.

In other places in the gospels, we see Jesus witnessing others giving openly in a positive sense: the widow's gift at the Temple treasury, the woman who comes to anoint Jesus himself with a precious jar of perfume, etc.

I see both anonymous and open giving happening at many levels of the Anglican Communion. Each of us has to discern what is appropriate in any particular situation.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it striking that the giving Jesus approves of is from the poor, humble or outcast? For those of us in richer countries the discipline of giving anonymously might be better for us. As you rightly said, we need discernment about this. (This would naturally apply to liberal or evangelical giving and I am sure that evangelicals are more guilty of triumphalism that liberals. it is our besetting sin).

R said...


Yes, very striking, indeed. Much to think and pray about. Thanks for being a part of this fruitful conversation!