A series of essays toward General Convention 2003 and beyond
By the Rev. Tobias Haller firstname.lastname@example.org
Almost immediately following the election of Barbara Harris as suffragan bishop in Massachusetts, Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie declared the Episcopal Church to be in a state of "impaired communion" with the Church of England, which did not, and does not, permit women to function in the episcopate. +Robert noted the difficulties raised and, adopting the classic British strategy of "watchful waiting," consciously took upon himself the role of Gamaliel. Now, however, +Robert's successor +Rowan Williams, faced with tensions in the communion, has applied the ethics not of Christ, nor of Gamliel, but of Jeremy Bentham, the utilitarian advocate of a purported greatest good for the greatest number, and the expediency of one (or two) suffering for the surmised benefit of the many. In doing so he has chosen the role of Caiaphas. It is _laudable to sacrifice oneself for others: we have our Lord's assurance that this manifests the greatest love anyone can show. But to sacrifice someone else_ is quite another moral matter altogether. And so the question must be asked: Who benefits? Who is helped, and how, by preventing the consecration of a gay bishop? And who is harmed, and how, as a consequence of such an act going forward? In what, exactly, is the crisis?
This cannot be a crisis of the faith. Sexuality plays a vanishingly small part in orthodox Christian doctrine, however large such issues loom in the minds of some. One searches the creeds in vain for some indication of the centrality of sexuality to the faith; the Scriptures themselves bear ambiguous witness, as does the tradition. As any seminarian can tell you, these are matters of pastoral, not dogmatic, theology; and even in this area most Anglicans have been able to swallow the camels of remarriage after divorce and polygamy, and only now seem to strain uncomfortably at the present gnat.
So why do so many in the communion respond to the present strain in its fabric with such single-minded and vehement energy? It is fair to say that +Rowan (at least) appears to have placed higher value on what he calls "communion" than on the historic and well founded principal of individual Anglican churches ordering their affairs free from the intrusion of "foreign bishops." However, it is difficult to tell exactly what the Archbishop means by "communion." Does he mean the external structures (few, recent, and tenuous though they be) of the Anglican Communion? It seems odd if not perverse to seek to overturn one of the foundational hallmarks of an institution in order to preserve a novelty. Is he referring to the recognition of ministers, which was the issue when Barbara Harris was ordained? There are those in the communion who hold women to be incapable of receiving priestly or episcopal orders; but to invalidate the ministry of gay clergy is simply a contemporary relapse into explicit Donatism. Or is he referring to the less formal relationships that exist between church and church, bishop and bishop?
Whatever he means, he cannot I trust mean the communion we share through baptism in Jesus Christ, since that cannot be strained, far less broken, by the ordination of anyone whomever. So exactly what is the great harm that is to be avoided, the great good avoiding it will bring?
We have been told that the actions in New Hampshire and New Westminster create great difficulty in engagement with Islam in various parts of the world. One would have thought the doctrine of the Incarnation was a more significant impediment. But then, the Evangelicals who make up the larger part of those protesting have never been terribly concerned about the Incarnation as long as it is filed by title, as long as one says the right words and answers the questions the right way on the canonical exams; but they pass by on the other side the deeper implications of the Incarnation, unheeded and unaddressed, and human dignity in the divine likeness lies battered and bleeding, as Evangelical bishops find if suitable to refer to men and women with whom they disagree as "satanic" or "worse than animals."
The Incarnation simply isn't at the heart of such Fundelical theology. Rather, such people are obsessed with that peculiar contradictory focus on works -- not as leading to righteousness but to condemnation -- the catalogue of "thou shalt nots" any one of which is sufficient (in their eyes) to knock one out of the kingdom of God, or at least out of the Anglican Communion. In doing so they have fallen into the very Pelagian trap they sought to avoid -- a moral universe in which salvation is not by Jesus' blood, but by personal purity; not by doing works of righteousness (heaven forbid the thought we could earn salvation by doing good!) but by abstention from the list of actions they find themselves able not to do, a list they shrink year by year as they nuance their own sins off the table and shift the world's attention to the ones that remain.
Thus the Puritan wing; but how to explain those of the Anglo-Catholic side (including +Rowan himself) who find themselves in a self-acknowledged strange alliance? Given the long and well-documented linkage of Anglo-Catholics with the Closet, is it not odd that any of them at all should find themselves thus allied? Can such an alliance, based it seems solely on negativity, and divided on the role of women in orders, long endure? Even leaders of the emergent sect, such as Bishop Duncan of Pittsburgh, raise doubts about the future unity of his continuing church. Is the Dean of Nashotah correct in saying that it all goes back to the ordination of women? And if so, what of the ordained women who are numbered in the ranks of this new orthodoxy's clericus? We have crises within crises, division on division, and whirlwinds will follow on the winds that such as these have sown in their puffed-up indignation.
And what of Caiaphas? Has he already played his role in summoning the Sanhedrin, and will he now fade into oblivion? Has he lost all credibility as a leader in forsaking his own mind to cast his lot with the loudest and angriest voices? Is that the way the wind is blowing? If he was not chosen to bring his own gifts, his own mind, his own views to this office, if all that is needed in Lambeth Palace is a windsock rather than a steersman, then I suppose we could just as well do without him, or replace him with a mechanical tabulator. But if, as Mordecai told Esther, he has come to the office precisely at this time to make use of his gifts, what a terrible loss to find this light so embusheled and bedsteaded.
Tobias Stanislas Haller, BSG
St. James Fordham - http://stjamesf.dioceseny.org
Brotherhood of Saint Gregory - http://home.earthlink.net/~bsg +Soli Deo Gloria+
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