Friday, February 23, 2007

"What was that lawyer's name again?" - The fallout from last week's Anglican Communion Primates meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania continues to spread, as reported by the NYT. As mentioned elsewhere, the tenure of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori - to paraphrase scripture - has been brief and full of troubles, much of them stemming from the Episcopal Church's actions in regards to gay rights.

Anglican church teaching, reiterated in a series of meetings since 1998, states that sex is reserved for married heterosexual couples. The Episcopal Church directly challenged that teaching in 2003 by consecrating V. Gene Robinson, a gay man living with his partner, as bishop of New Hampshire. The church’s bishops have also allowed priests to bless gay unions.

In response, more than a third of the other Anglican churches around the world — by some counts more than half — have curtailed their interaction with the Episcopal Church. The church has also faced an internal rebellion from nearly one-tenth of its dioceses, which have appealed to the Anglican Communion to free them from oversight by the presiding Episcopal bishop, Bishop Jefferts Schori. Several dozen more parishes have aligned themselves with bishops outside the United States whose churches are more conservative theologically.
Indeed, the response from both without and within the Episcopal Church has been swift, dramatic and sustained, and I suspect it exceeded what Dr. Schori and her liberal co-religionists anticipated when they sought to trifle with established Anglican teachings on the subject of same-sex unions and ordaining gay clergy. Despite the fact that liberals within the Episcopal Church avoided any immediate sanction, the Anglican Communion made its stance known by giving the U.S. church until September 30 to confirm that it "will not authorise any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions" and agree that openly gay candidates for priesthood within the church "shall not receive the necessary consent," lest the relationship between the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion be "damaged at best."

In a previously cited communique, the Communion also established a Pastoral Council to monitor the Episcopal Church's compliance with the strictures that have been put in place, as well as a Primatial Vicar who will provide leadership for those individual dioceses that have become alienated from the Church. To be sure, none of this sits well with the majority of the Church's rank and file, many of whom (according to the NYT) are said to be defiant about the whole situation. Some like Rev. Susan Russell, an Episcopal priest in Los Angeles, aver that the Church shouldn't "roll over and turn back the clock on blessings." Others question how Dr. Schori will be able to sell the "agreement" to the U.S. body, and seem concerned about meeting the requirements of the Primates while "protecting our integrity as a church."

For her part, Dr. Schori proposed that both the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion "forbear for a season."
The Episcopal Church has been asked to consider the wider body of the Anglican Communion and its needs. Our own Church has in recent years tended to focus on the suffering of one portion of the body, particularly those who feel that justice demands the full recognition and celebration of the gifts of gay and lesbian Christians. That focus has been seen in some other parts of the global Church, as inappropriate, especially as it has been felt to be a dismissal of traditional understandings of sexual morality. Both parties hold positions that can be defended by appeal to our Anglican sources of authority - scripture, tradition, and reason - but each finds it very difficult to understand and embrace the other. What is being asked of both parties is a season of fasting - from authorizing rites for blessing same-sex unions and consecrating bishops in such unions on the one hand, and from transgressing traditional diocesan boundaries on the other.
Dr. Schori began her missive to the U.S. church by recounting the Primates' visit to the Anglican Cathedral in Zanzibar, which was built over the market where African slaves were sold to traders who delivered them throughout the New World. She went on to subtly cite the parallels between present situation regarding gays and lesbians and the abolition of slavery, commenting that "we can note the less than universal agreement about the moral duty of Christians over a lengthy period."

By now, I trust that I need not reiterate my personal opinion on the appropriate place of gays and lesbians within the church, but suffice it to say that there may well be dramatic differences between the way conservatives and liberals might have handled the situation in question. To be sure, conservatives view themselves as part of a larger continuous whole, as opposed to an end unto themselves. As noted elsewhere,
"it stands to reason that those who place a value on the sacrifices of our forebears... will more than likely find themselves politically right of center."

Moreover, once you look past the stereotypes to the contrary, it is evident that conservatives typically do not seek to perfect human institutions - such as a particular Christian denomination, as they readily accept the corrupt and debased nature of humanity. Rather, conservatives would more likely employ human nature to the benefit of all (e.g., capitalism) or develop alternative
means of achieving their aspirations (e.g., the development of the "new media" or establishment of voucher systems to counter liberal hegemony over the mainstream media and K-12 education respectively.)

But if the Episcopal Church wishes to continue the ordination of gay priests and blessing of same-sex unions, it should seek to do so honestly. Such acts should be undertaken as a result of an open, free-flowing debate between those who are for and against, involving both clergy and laity. And if comity cannot be found between the positions of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, then the U.S. Church should stand erect and prepare straightaway to secede from the Communion.

Perhaps this is the historical parallel for which Dr. Schori should grasp. The current position of the Episcopal Church is not unlike that taken by the Confederate States of America, in as much as they sought to subvert the Union for as long as they were able before ultimately declaring their seditionist intentions. Would that the Episcopal Church endeavor to either fully maintain its ties with the mother church (which would mean submitting to its teachings and guidance) or make a clean break with the Anglican Communion, as its conscience might ultimately dictate. Either way, the Church's current position is morally and intellectually bankrupt,
and for it to maintain its present course is to take half-measures with respect to its commitment to tradition and justice.

No comments: