Thursday, March 09, 2006

Can we Talk?

Two announcements came out today. The first was the announcement that Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold and President of the House of Deputies George Werner have formed a “special committee to handle General Convention resolutions concerning the Episcopal Church's relationship with the Anglican Communion.” The second is that the Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, has sent “a pastoral letter to the 38 Primates of the Anglican Communion and Moderators of the United Churches, setting out some thinking on the Lambeth Conference in 2008….” These are both about the future of the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church's place in it.

I was struck by these statements in the Archbishop’s letter: “Despite the levels of bitter controversy over sexuality in the Communion, I do not hear much enthusiasm for revisiting in 2008 the last Lambeth Conference’s resolution on this matter. In my judgement, we cannot properly or usefully re-open the discussion as if Resolution 1.10 of Lambeth 1998 did not continue to represent the general mind of the Communion.” My first reaction is simply that I believe him. First, I don’t imagine he’s heard much enthusiasm to reconsider that resolution. Second, I certainly imagine that there would be as much support for that resolution now as there was then, at least in the opinion that homosexuality is not compatible with scripture. There might be some discussion, some rephrasing; perhaps, but I doubt it. In ten years I haven’t had much sense of change; more of hardening of positions.

My second thought is that the second statement may not be true. If we are to actually engage in a listening process, it would seem to me to be worthwhile to consider what has happened since 1998. There needs to be a report, a summary, even a thorough review.

What would that show? It would certainly show that, for good or ill, the Episcopal Church stepped out, taking initiative in confirming in General Convention the election of Bishop Robinson in New Hampshire. It would show that after years of support, even growing support, in diocesan convention the Diocese of New Westminster in the Anglican Church of Canada voted to develop a rite for the blessing of non-married couples, including same-sex couples. It would show that the Church of England has had to develop a response to a civil law allowing civil partnerships non-married couples, including same sex couples. Certainly, these at least challenge the ”general mind of the Communion.”

It would also show that there has been as much or more violation or ignoring of the same resolution in its second half. That was the part that called for listening to the stories and the concerns of GLBT people in all the provinces of the Communion. If two provinces have knowingly violated the first clause (and England is struggling), how many have violated the second provision? Such a review would also show, surely, the number of bishops who have chosen to see Resolution 1.10 as grounds to violate other resolutions, including the commitment to respect provincial and diocesan boundaries. Now, at this point none of this is news. All of these various events have been well reported. But a thorough review, bringing all these things together, would demonstrate how little respect many provinces seem to have for the Communion, and how little commitment to pursue Communion except on their own terms.

And perhaps that is the most important reason to reassess Resolution 1.10. Perhaps there has been movement on that resolution, but not in the first provision. I wonder if we were to reconsider it if we wouldn’t discover that many bishops were prepared simply to reject the listening process. It might not be movement in the way I would like; but surely it would demonstrate a change in the “general mind of the Communion,” and produce a more honest statement.

I don’t know that I actually want any of this to happen. I have high hope that the General Convention will make a sincere effort to affirm our commitment to the Anglican Communion and to relationships in communion in general and also affirm full membership in the Church for GLBT Christians – sufficiently full membership as not to be barred from any ministry in the Church. I have high hope that the Archbishop of Canterbury will invite all the bishops of the Episcopal Church, with perhaps one regrettable exception, to the 2008 Lambeth Conference (“Whoops, there goes another rubber tree plant.”). At the same time, there is something to be said for being honest, even bluntly honest, about the context. We can hope the Archbishop can be persuaded there is in fact reason to at least reflect on the events following from Resolution 1.10.

Addendum 3-12-06: There is a very interesting and helpful reflection on the same reports at Mark Harris's blog, Praeludium. You can read it here .

2 comments:

Bill said...

Marshall,
I am certainly in agreement with what you say here, especially that there should be some sort of review of what has happened in the last 10 years. And I think it would show, as you suggest, that the Anglican Communion has been been remiss in its promise/duty to listen to the stories of GLBT people in the Communion.
I am afraid, however, that even if it were to happen, it would change nothing. I hope I'm wrong. I have been before. But in this case, I don't think I am.
One of the problems we have as Americans in coming to consensus, or even agreement to disagree, is that we are the children of Revolution. From the time I can remember, the ideals of the American Revolution have been held up and praised as the model for the world. It is most obvious in how we make law. After some time of not very extensive debate and discussion, the party in power passes a law. If there is enough opposition, someone violates the law on purpose and says, "so sue me." The case proceeds through the courts until it gets to the Supreme Court and a decision is made. Roughly half the people like it and half don't. So the discontented half lays in wait for an opportunity to pounce on it again. That may be an acceptable way to make law, but it's not a very good way to make theology. We have made lots of theology this way.
I'm not quite sure how this all works in the Anglican Church of Canada or the Church of England, but it looks a lot like they have imitated us.
Anyway, God bless us all, my friend. We need to do some industrial strength prayer for the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as we head into summer.

Marshall said...

Bill:

I don't know that it would necessarily change anything, either, except maybe confront the Silent Majority of the non-ECUSA, non-Anglican Church of Canada primates with a necessity of calling the sin on both sides. Granted, I see the determination not to listen and the determination to destroy the Communion as more serious than seeking inclusion in the Spirit in the face of contrary opinion. And I acknowledge the possibility of being wrong.

But so much attention has been paid to the purported sins of sexuality and so little to the inhospitality that even Scripture identifies as the true sin of Sodom. Any true reflection of these days must acknowledge both, and each in proportion, I think, to the volume of its voices and the quantity of its ink.