Monday, February 19, 2007

Pastoral Scheming

Well, anything positive said about the draft Covenant is now heavily overshadowed by the communique put forward by the Primates on Monday. Mark Harris sums up the situation over at Preludium with the cartoon to the right.

The delay in the communique itself was an indicator of how conflicted our Primates remain over the present situation. What this means for the proposed covenant is anyone's guess, even though the communique articulated an urgency to get cracking on it.

A promising opening

Like so many Anglican documents released in recent years, the opening is the best part. The Primates met and were generally more than just civil to each other, but apparently did what Christians around the world do: engaged our tradition's sacred texts, listened to each other with charity and some measure of grace, and recognized the shared work of the Church in ministering to the needs of the world. There was a good showing on what matters to so many in the world right now: poverty, hunger, and disease. This, of course, is only a blip in the media because it doesn't sell like sex does, but it is worth noting, and I believe we'll continue to hear much more about it from our Presiding Bishop when she returns.

There was also time devoted to hermeneutics, which have important significance in the present debate. How we interpret Scripture matters, and the better we understand how others in the Communion engage in this process, the better we all as Anglicans might better comprehend each others' positions in a wide variety of matters.

I was only disappointed in the opening sections that matters concerning the natural environment were not expressed by the Primates in their communique. The threat of global warming and the related use and abuse of fossil fuels play a role in our common life at present that is too often overlooked, and these important problems interlock with other major global concerns addressed by the Primates.

The Rift

In paragraph 10, the rift began to appear:

. . .The Windsor Report identified two threats to our common life: first, certain developments in the life and ministry of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada which challenged the standard of teaching on human sexuality articulated in the 1998 Lambeth Resolution I.10; and second, interventions in the life of those Provinces which arose as reactions to the urgent pastoral needs that certain primates perceived. The Windsor Report did not see a “moral equivalence” between these events. . . (emphasis added).

It's the last sentence that struck me. This provided the warm-up for a hard-hitting punch against the Episcopal Church. It starts to take the wind out of the sails of any claim that cross-jurisdictional actions by bishops and archbishops are to be held as matters of grave concern on the same footing as differences over human sexuality. I find this problematic, as it might be read to presume an ethic that one ill turn deserves another -- hardly a Christian principle.

So, not surprisingly, a large section was devoted to the Episcopal Church. While commended for the overall response we made to the Windsor Report, the nub for many of the Primates appears to be around the provision offered in some of our dioceses (including the one in which I serve) for pastoral oversight of same-sex blessings. The point of contention is that the Windsor Report demanded a moratorium on authorizing rites (as in addenda to the Book of Common Prayer) for such blessings, but not pastoral provision in local situations. There seems a desire amongst some of the Primates to close this gap. And then we get quickly into some really messy nuts-and-bolts:
  • Appeals for alternative episcopal and alternative primatial oversight (made for a "variety of reasons") have been heard by the Primates and bishops of the Communion, leading to some "well-intentioned" interventions that have, the Primates admit, "exacerbated" the situation.
  • The intervening bishops have no intention of ceasing to do so: "Those who have intervened believe it would be inappropriate to bring an end to interventions until there is change in The Episcopal Church."
  • Yet, the Episcopal Church is expected to comply fully with the Windsor Report first. And the Primates also acknowledged that these interventions continue to erode the trust of the House of Bishops in the Episcopal Church for the Primates Meetings.
And, yes, there was at least a little bit of what I must sadly call wishful thinking:
The Primates urge the representatives of The Episcopal Church and of those congregations in property disputes with it to suspend all actions in law arising in this situation. We also urge both parties to give assurances that no steps will be taken to alienate property from The Episcopal Church without its consent or to deny the use of that property to those congregations.
That horse, unfortunately, has already left the barn.

The House of Bishops in the Episcopal Church was also delivered what can be most charitably read as a demand. Others would call it an ultimatum:

In particular, the Primates request, through the Presiding Bishop, that the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church
1. make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorise any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through General Convention (cf TWR, §143, 144); and
2. confirm that the passing of Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention means that a candidate for episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent (cf TWR, §134); unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion (cf TWR, §134).

The Primates request that the answer of the House of Bishops is conveyed to the Primates by the Presiding Bishop by 30th September 2007.

If the reassurances requested of the House of Bishops cannot in good conscience be given, the relationship between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole remains damaged at best, and this has consequences for the full participation of the Church in the life of the Communion.

It's a classic, "you will x or else y" statement, while the consequences again remain unspecified for a very good reason, which I'll get to momentarily. Before we turn to the impact such provisions would have on real people on the ground, there is a very practical matter to be overcome: the House of Bishops is not empowered to offer assurances on behalf of the Church in the matter of any piece of legislation of General Convention. I hope our Presiding Bishop did her best to make that clear. I believe for that reason alone, the HoB could justifiably, and without malice, say no to at least the second demand. To do otherwise would risk violating our internal polity.

Update: Dan Martins notes in a comment on this point that the bishops could essentially covenant to veto any consent in this case, remaining within the bounds of our polity. But there remain, in my mind at least, practical questions about how realistic such a covenanting in the House of Bishops would be pastorally applicable amongst those they most closely serve. To make a very bad word play: would the Standing Committees stand for it?

Beyond matters of polity, my heart goes out to our LGBT leaders who, while nurturing committed relationships, are discerning a call to enter episcopal elections. The Primates, try as they may to directly interfere in these through the House of Bishops, also can and have, in some measure, through threats about the Anglican Communion, created conditions that make the election of a new openly gay or lesbian bishop profoundly difficult. It's a classic tactic in politics: appealing to people's fears.

The matter of same-sex blessings and authorizing rites locally further puts the pinch once again on our LGBT members living in committed relationships and desiring blessings on their unions. That will be something indeed for our bishops (prayers be with mine in particular) to wrestle with. Frankly, I would hope that our HoB could say no to this provision as well, as it places too much power in the Windsor Report and in the Primates to interfere in local diocesan, pastoral matters. Offended Primates notwithstanding, I agree with Fr. Jake and others that this request is out of line. Were the situation reversed, would we mirror the demand by requesting that, say, a diocese in Nigeria begin authorizing same-sex blessings, and promising consequences if they didn't? We have not, for better or for worse, done so in other matters, such as in the ordination of women.

Granted, that argument depends on an assumption that both sides are acting in good faith. I'm certainly not suffering the illusion that all of the Primates see the Episcopal Church as acting in good faith. That is an underlying and ongoing problem of trust that will only be mended through direct engagement and relationship from all sides. Demands and ultimatums and other such "pastoral scheming" will not, it seems to me, be helpful, except perhaps to drive wedges of division in further.

At any rate, we have a long way to go, and hoping for a response by the end of September, 2007 from the Episcopal Church regarding this is indeed quite wistful.

Once again, the Primates' Meeting has fallen into the sad morass of placing the weight of attempting to "solve" the present conflict on the backs of those already marginalized and alienated by Christianity within the Church and around the world. Whatever and whomever this "scheme" seeks to serve, it will not signal the engagement in listening "to the experiences of homosexual persons" also called for in Lambeth Resolution I.10, and only briefly (and, to my mind, rather vaguely) mentioned in the communique.

Some clarity is gained by yet again articulating:

Lambeth Resolutions, Primates' Meetings and their Communiques, nor any bishop in another province of the Anglican Communion, and not even our own Presiding Bishop have binding canonical authority over the pastoral acts of bishops and the local clergy within their jurisdiction. We can talk about impaired communion and bring to bear the Windsor Report, etc., all we want, but that will not change this simple matter regarding our polity. . .nor the core autonomy that we share in common with every diocese and province of the Anglican Communion, regardless of where we or they fall on the questions around human sexuality.

The assertion that we have violated trust might be apt inasmuch as we lack transparency, or otherwise act entirely without collegiality and charity in mind, but that appears to me largely not to be the case. Lambeth I.10 was a majority resolution, to be sure, but arguing or trying to enforce the notion that dissension from it is impossible lends only hubris to the discussion, particularly if that dissension is localized (diocesan), openly articulated, and generally, I hope, put forward from a place of prayer and faith, and without malice.

From another angle, to argue Lambeth I.10 trumps all at every level of the Communion assumes that the statement regarding sexuality in the resolution (upholding the traditional Christian teaching that expressing human sexuality may only be understood as holy in the context of heterosexual marriage) is a fait accompli. "Listening to the experience of homosexual persons" also articulated in the same resolution then simply becomes patronizing to our LGBT sisters and brothers, as there is no room for a change of heart or mind on the part of the listener, nor any potential faithful movement towards a renewed understanding of human sexuality. Nor can there be any exploration in how to bless covenanted relationships arising from that renewed understanding anywhere within the Anglican Communion. In short, this repeated use of Lambeth I.10 (with or without the context of the Windsor Report) as a measure of compliance attempts, in reality, to shut the door on the question.

Neither the bishops, priests, or couples involved in blessing same-sex unions attempt to do this against the Anglican Communion or seek to undermine it in doing so. That this is nevertheless implied in the sometimes bellicose statements and actions we have endured from some quarters is suggestive, it seems to me, of overinflated offense, and only reveals the heterosexism very much at work in our midst. Here's some wishful thinking on my part: would that the Primates study together the phenomena of sexism, racism, heterosexism, ageism, etc., and learn how to better identify these at work in their shared ministry, in our church's traditions, and in the contexts they each serve at home.

But barring intentional, Communion-wide engagement with the experience of LGBT Christians, to wait for "consensus" to form around same-sex blessings is simply to wait. It would be honest to ask anyway who would decide when the consensus would be great enough to justify allowing same-sex blessings or bishops in committed same-sex relationships. Hence, it seems to me the local option, pastorally administered and overseen by the diocesan bishop, is a conscientious way forward in some parts of the Church at this time.

Kudos and great respect most belongs to the members of Integrity; Changing Attitude, England; Changing Attitude, Nigeria, and the other LGBT Anglican organizations who had representatives and leaders on deck in Tanzania to put a human face on otherwise objectified "issues." Their courage and dignity in the light of sometimes raw and often subtly damning articulations of power and rejection is prophetic, Spirit-filled, and the greatest hope I see in the midst of all this at present. You can read more about their experience in Tanzania beginning at Integrity's website.

Look where we started, though: the Primates' Meeting in Tanzania covering issues of pressing global concern. Look where we ended up: trying to balance the unity of Communion once again on the backs of those at the margins of our common life. Since 2003 (and probably before), we've come back to this again and again and again. So it gets us in the newspapers, but what does it really say about the Anglican Communion, let alone Jesus Christ, to the rest of the world?

Hopeful signs

  • No "alternative Anglican province" in the United States will be forthcoming, at least soon. Of course I see this as good news. Some in the so-called realignment crowd will probably be disappointed. However you read it, the Primates' communique's primary concern regarding the Episcopal Church revolves around reconciliation within our province and helping maintain our unity. We will have to wait and see how San Joaquin and the Anglican Communion Network, et. al., respond to this in action. My hope is that they will avoid the temptation to tie any ultimatum of their own to how our House of Bishops responds to the Primates. Surely there has been enough insult added to injury that way already.
  • ++Katharine Jefferts Schori has reportedly been elected to serve on the Primates' Steering Committee, which helps make policy decisions in both the body of Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council. It will be a position of some influence. This is testament to ++Katharine's unwavering presence and calm, confidence-building and reconciling witness -- if not the work of the Holy Spirit!
  • She herself will be offering a response to the outcome of the Primates' Meeting in the coming days. Of course she is closely accountable to the House of Bishops, and precisely how she will take up her charge to present the demands of the Primates' Meeting to them will help shape the way they respond. We can trust that she will encourage a response that will be pastoral, measured, and true to who we as a church are right now in our shared mission to proclaim, in word and deed, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Whatever we see in the coming weeks and months, I hope and pray we continue to seek charitable and compassionate responses to each other across the rift. Now that the eyes turn to our House of Bishops, please pray with me even more fervently for them.

Worth noting:

Bending the Rule posits Time for Full Compliance
meditatio has All Eyes now Turn to the House of Bishops
Dan Martins writes from the other side of these questions with This One's a Big Dog (Hear it Bark!)
Fr. Jake minces no words with The Primates Strike Out
Tobias Haller wonders Of the Products of Primates
Raspberry Rabbit says The Fat Lady Sang - the critics grumbled
The Admiral of Morality trims his sails in Tacking into the Wind
These and other entries are tracked and compiled by Jim Naughton over at daily episcopalian


Closed said...

As Caelius once wrote in response to +Wright before GC2006,

Mysteriously today, there appeared a piece by +N.T. Wright, Bishop Palatine of Durham (he's no longer Palatine, but humor me...), in which the SCECAC resolutions were deemed insufficient by his Lordship and not in compliance with paras. 135 (or was it 136) of the Windsor Report. Well, Bishop Wright, I'll give it to you straight. I would prefer there be strong compliance with Windsor or no compliance. But at this point, we reassessors have no assurances that border-crossing will be punished, nor that the parts of Lambeth I.10 we like will be enforced. Thus, if you're going to quote committee documents or Lambeth resolutions (you only do so implicitly) as law to us, you must simultaneously give assurances that the whole of the law is enforceable in some settled tribunal. And the thing is, my Lord, it's not.

A half-law is not law at all, but mere capriciousness and arbitrariness. They can continue picking us apart and making waves in our polity, and all the while the AcofC, NZ, Australia, SA and others stay out of the way for fear they're next.

Let's not forget how Lambeth 1.10 was pushed through...with a lot of last minute nastiness.

Daniel Martins said...

Richard, re "the House of Bishops is not empowered to offer assurances on behalf of the Church in the matter of any piece of legislation of General Convention" -- You are, of course, correct as far as your statement goes. But the HOB is certainly capable of offering assurances as to its own behavior, and if they covenant to withhold consent, consent is withheld no matter what the Standing Committees do.

R said...


Thanks for the correction.

While I agree with you in principle, but, again, practically speaking, that could put a lot of our bishops in pastoral hot water with the people they most closely serve and lead. It seems to me the Primates are asking our bishops to commit an act that would simply run over our other ordained and lay leadership, most particularly in the Standing Committees. As conceivable as that might be in our polity I think it remains a practical (and pastoral) improbability.

KJ said...

Thanks for your analysis, Rich. As an Anglican (Perhaps I should say Episcopalian) neophyte, I have a hard time keeping up with "Who's on first?"