A Response to +Rowan Williams' Citing of the Lambeth Conference

A Response to +Rowan Williams'
Citing of the Lambeth Conference

by The Rev Dr. Robert Stiefel RENStiefel@AOL.COM
The Archbishop-designate called on the Primates to "hold to the urgent common priority of mission and evangelism" to avoid being trapped on issues, "where the politics of our culture sets the agenda."

But Dr Williams, who recently admitted to ordaining a practicing homosexual, said that his main hope was to try and create a mutually respectful climate for reflection.

[See the report which prompted this chain in The Church of England Newspaper a small independent newspaper from a conservative evangelical perspective. -- LC]

Sisters and Brothers in Christ Jesus:

I submit that we and our British brothers and sisters are wildly overreacting to Rowan William's letter and missing his point entirely. First of all, whether we like it or not, what he says about the majority opinion within the Communion is a fact. And that the actions of any one diocese to the contrary, whether that of New Westminster by vote or of my own diocese by action, causes a substantial problem for the Communion as a whole. He does not state that this is in itself a bad thing, you will note. That the letter was not simultaneously given out as a press release means little. He intended it first for his colleagues (of whom there are hundreds) and being no fool he surely knew full well that it would quickly become fully public and taken up by the media.

He does say that he hopes to foster a "mutually respectful climate for reflection" and that he urges focus on the gospel mandates of mission and evangelism and not upon any one issue arising from cultural differences. I find that he is acting perfectly in character, acting as a diplomat to foster an atmosphere very different from that of the 1998 Lambeth, calling for theological reflection rather than culturally based bashing of one another (and wouldn't we argue that homophobia is culturally based and socially determined?).

As much as I have worked and fought for human rights to include us GLTB people, I can't argue that the issue is as important as world wide poverty and disease and corruption and violence, although it is clearly tangled up in these greater evils. Even as a gay man, I cannot be a one issue Christian. I am 61. I don't know if we will see GLTB people fully accepted and affirmed in my lifetime. In fact, given the history of the human race, I doubt it very much. Too much of our civilizations (yes, plural) over well more than 5,000 years is built upon fear: fear of loss and fear of the other.

Of course Rowan Williams is going to appeal to biblical imagery such as the empty tomb. He is interested in communicating with those with whom he disagrees, not jolting them into lockstep, automatic reactions whereby they won't listen to him at all. One has to lead others into new insights, not plunge or force them into them. What good would it do him or us for him to attempt as Archbishop-designate or even in his early months as Archbishop, as progressive a theologian as he clearly is, to enter into a project to teach African or Asian bishops the western development of the distinction between biblical literalism and theological metaphor? Especially given that so many Western Christians don't make that distinction, either. What would it gain him or us to start out by preaching liberation theology as a doctrine rather than practicing it towards those in political and economic bondage far more wretched than the social bondage most Western and European GLTB people find themselves in? And, no, I am not forgetting comments about millstones about our necks and wiping us off the face of the earth. I can't forget such comments, since I can hear them right at home in socially libertarian New Hampshire. Jesus taught us to love others as we would ourselves be loved. I think this means figuring out the others' needs and addressing them so that in turn our own needs will be addressed as a consequence of our own display of love. Why should an African bishop give a fig about our concerns when he is either drowning in or complicit in ongoing events such as genocidal civil war or unending famine or thoroughgoing political corruption?

Yes, I think our African and Asian siblings in Christ are using Western attitudes towards sexuality as a club with which to beat us: they don't like us. For centuries we exploited them and in some ways continue to do so. And they don't want to face their own internal problems and sinfulness anymore that Americans do their own. So they project Evil onto us as we have and in this and other matters project Evil onto them. And yes, it is real Evil on both sides. But until we get past the projection, we cannot serve one another in Jesus' Name nor let the Spirit transform Evil into Good.

In sum: we do Rowan Williams and ourselves a grave disservice to react so negatively and even hysterically to what in a historical and psychological, yes even theological perspective are opening moves towards mutual understanding and reconciliation in a vastly complicated world situation. This man is surely the most intelligent and well educated and thoughtful Archbishop since Arthur Michael Ramsey. Let's not dump all over him. Let's welcome and encourage him. Let's lay our agenda before him whenever we can in a manner that affirms his record of supporting it over the course of his career.

Please, let's not behave out of self-destructive temper tantrums. It gets us worse than nowhere and is exactly what our adversaries expect us to do according to their apparent belief that we are a) irresponsible, immature adult children who haven't grown up to be adult heterosexual males, and b) worse, behaving like women, who are of course clearly inferior and must be punished if they do not obey, and therefore c) behaving contrary to both nature and Scripture and surely are a source of corruption and evil. If this is an unfair even if partial summary of the views of those who opposed us in Lambeth, let me know.

Let us rejoice in the power of the Holy Spirit and in the midst of our hurts and fears proclaim "joy, anyway" as Louie Crew continues to do. Good God, it took nearly two decades to foster a change of heart of a bishop of Alabama, but there he was at General Convention in 1994 co-presenting the name of Jonathan Daniels for our calendar of saints and co-presiding at the 20th anniversary Integrity Eucharist.

Finally an appeal to Broadway: the opening number of Sondheim's "A Little Night Music" proclaims over and over, to a gentle and reflective waltz tune, that "Love takes time." Well, it surely takes more time that most of us want it to, whether in our immediate and personal lives or in the social and political arena. But if the life and teachings of Jesus as best we can know them hold weight for us, then we know that it is true, "love takes time."

With every blessing from your out, liberal, progressive and impatient brother,

Robert Stiefel
Dover, NH


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