Comments: What We Think We Are Doing

Well, well, continuing ... Bravo and thanks, as ever, to Bshp. W.

One of the fairly constant intellectual factors in doing global Anglican Theology together with other believers these days, simply (and that is, not so simply?) boils down to the fact that the rational part has changed and is changing so very quickly.

Insofar, as by rational part of doing theology, we are - taking account of the science? We hardly finish reading the latest round of peer reviewed journals, than somebody somewhere can pretty clearly see the empirical outlines of new stuff, already on the several empirical horizons. A sort of steady open space always has to be left because the ink is barely dry before something significant in the science is changing and will change again.

Now, once upon a time I believed that a typical vitamin of Anglican Theologies was their various, shared abilities to do pretty much this task - engage with the known empirical bodies of knowledge without, as Canterbury is so fond of repeating, foreclosing too quickly, staking out way too much closed and certain. Now, even Canterbury cannot manage an open theological mind in public when it comes to queer folks, so intead that task mainly falls to secular society, British government, public policy, and law.

The science about queer folks and related embodiment-evolution phenomena has, however, frankly shifted dramatically in the past several decades or so. At least since WWII. And, futher, that changed science has fairly comprehensively foreclosed the lingering-long-standing traditional debate or conversation or reflection (or sad-sick preoccupation?) - all pretty consistently up to wondering - always, Asking: What in the world (and soul and body and mind and community and human condition) is wrong with those queer folks? Includes a free ticket to ex-gay (aka mostly close-religious?) therapy?

We are doomed at the moment to repeat the key failures of intellect and courage in theological reflection which were dramatized in Thomas Aquinas relying so heavily on Aristotle's biology of reproduction, male/female. Or somebody banking way too heavily on Ptolemy, over Copernicus-Galileo-Bruno.

Okay, Bshp W, it's sort of a mess right now. But, perhaps in retrospect like the global tragedy of the HIV-AIDS epidemic and a range of other pressing issues, we are willy-nilly being forced to move ahead, and try to get at least some of our collective Anglican homework done while we cope/respond to ... Uganda?

Posted by drdanfee at Wednesday, 17 February 2010 at 12:54am GMT

"This political, non-theological way of going forward is great ammunition not only for the schismatics within our church, and their foreign partners busily violating is deafening silence the third Windsor moratorium on cross-border interventions, but also for those supporters of punitive measures against gays in Africa. It seems lawless - Bishop Pierre Whalon -

The episcopal ordination of Bishop Gene Robinson was not lawless (it being within the parameters of the TEC Constitution). Nor was it without prior theological reckoning. Like a certain biblical precedent, those affirming the need to go ahead with that procedure would have been entirely justified by the statement: "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us".

If the Church Universal were to have to wait for everyone to accede to every new movement towards the inclusivity of the Gospel, then there may never have been the emancipation of slaves or of women in the Church.

Similarly, if everyone had to wait for the Church of Rome to agree, theologically, with ordination of women, or with the use of contraception, then we would still be living in the dark ages before the 'Enlightenment'. Consider how long it took Rome to accept the scientific revelations of Galileo and others about the flat-earth syndrome.

One of the problems of waiting for other people (or branches of the Church) to catch up with the revelations of scientific observation - even today - is that Provinces of the Church like Uganda and Nigeria are still persecuting people whose sexuality is different from the 'norm'.

I applaud TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada for their pro-active treatment of LGBT and same-sex relationships, having realised their integrity as falling within the spectrum of what scientists have now perceived to be the range of human sexuality and part of the human condition.

The theology has indeed been already done - at least in North America and in parts of Europe. Perhaps the problem is that it has not, as yet, been sufficiently discussed in other parts of the Church - such as territories of the so-called *Global South* which, by virtue of their colonial past, have not yet moved into the era of modern science and technology. This is not unrelated to the fact that the G.S. Churches have never made good on the Windsor plan to 'Listen To' the case for the inclusion of LGBTs within the Church.

Prophetic action in the Church has always been suspect - especially to those whose world-view is restricted to the era of mediaeval theology. The conservative element in the Church is always worried about the prospect of change. However, in the world of today, where scientific observation of what pertains to the common good is daily more accessible, the charism of REASON is needed more than ever in our understanding of what God is up to in the field of human relationships, and the possibilities of celebrating human love in the context of Eros as well as Agape.

The Global South, it might be noted, chooses it's own understanding of 'morality' by ignoring the third Windsor moratorium. But then, they would claim that this was for the 'greater good' of everyone else in the Communion. They did not hesitate to act without the consensus of the Anglican Communion, either. So there may be faults on both sides.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Wednesday, 17 February 2010 at 2:21am GMT

I think the theology has been and is being done. It would perhaps be better if there was a clearer authoritative statement on certain matters but I get the sense that TEC is trying to be inclusive toward its more conservative members on the one hand and demonstrate some degree of restraint on the other.

I think that the degree of reflection and action demonstrated in the election and consent to Gene Robinson and resolutions carried by the General Convention over many years (Bishop Robinson didn't appear completely out of the blue) do demonstrate consistent thinking on behalf of TEC over a long period of time or else the action wouldn't have been agreed.

In spite of what the Archbishop of Canterbury may say it is not actually at heart a complicated matter (it is complicated by politics, but the theological and exegetical issues are not complex) and as for required time some churches have spent 3 to 4 decades on this to get to where they are now and Lambeth resolutions on the topic go back to 1978.

Posted by Craig Nelson at Wednesday, 17 February 2010 at 10:54am GMT

I am not at all persuaded by Bishop Whalon's plea that the theology be done -- whether by TEC's House of Bishops or by anyone else.

First of all, commenters elsewhere have responded that there is no Anglican theology. Or that Anglicans theologize by doing, rather than by writing. This point is important: the Anglican tradition is not confessional, and it has a limited number of belief boxes that one needs to check off. This doctrinal flexibility is a famous advantage of Anglicanism. Why damage the brand?

Second, why damage the Anglican brand in a way that can only make conservatives feel less welcome? I thought the whole point of the Elizabethan Settlement was that theological agreement on certain issues was not necessary, indeed was counterproductive. If Elizabeth didn't need to sharpen disagreements by laying down theological expectations, why should we? Sometimes undertheorized practice is a good thing.

Third, along with others, I too smell a double standard. Bishop Whalon hasn't explained why, on this issue, there should be some requirement that theology be done, when no such expectation was officially applied in other major moral-theological struggles. Why is this one different? Is it because it involves gays and lesbians, instead of slaves or women?

Or is it because Bishop Whalon's ecumenical work in Europe is more challenging because TEC is ordaining LGBTs? That's only to be expected, and it reflects the Communion on a larger scale. If Rome is the issue, as it seems to be with some people who wear mitres, then one can only wonder why Anglican bishops care so much about the church that Elizabeth split with.

Posted by Jeremy at Wednesday, 17 February 2010 at 12:09pm GMT

Bishop Whalon, in his further comment, explained that he did not mean no theology had been written to support full inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians in the Church. What he did say is that the theology of full inclusion had not been officially adopted by General Convention, so that inclusion was proceeding, but not on the basis of the Episcopal Church's theology. Instead, a combination of pragmatic and political decisions was leading to full inclusion in many (but not all) dioceses of the Episcopal Church.

I do see a parallel with the political strategy of many liberal supporters of civil rights. Despairing of legislative changes, they turned to the Federal courts. This was a short-term solution, but long-term it has contributed substantially to the polarization of our political process.

General Convention might pursue one of two paths to "doing the theology." One might involve an official commending or adopting some of the substantial writings in favor of inclusion, but the other could argue (on the basis of the decision of the Righter trial) that human sexuality issues do not constitute "core doctrine." Members of the Church are not all of one mind, and a period of testing through experience is going on.

I have another thought that I would like to post in a second comment.

Posted by Charlotte at Wednesday, 17 February 2010 at 1:13pm GMT

I myself am not qualified to "do the theology," so these are the guesses of an outsider. But here they are:

1) NT Wright's version of the "theology of the body" is probably the real argument that needs to be countered. Wright insists on a dual-natured human being, falling into one, but only one, of two mutually exclusive categories, either male OR female, with distinct natures and different thought patterns, emotional lives, and appropriate social roles. That finds a welcome among social conservatives in all parts of the world, certainly in the American South, where society is still structured in this way.

However, to get there, Wright has to make what amounts to an effective denial of the "immortal part" of the human being. The human being is essentially embodied, for Wright; flesh and blood given new life in Christ, but flesh and blood all the same. We are our bodies; Wright denies the existence of an immortal soul. He is, effectively, a Christian materialist, a viewpoint certainly congenial to modern tastes, but one that amounts to an astounding denial of 1900+ years of consistent Christian teaching. I am surprised no one has picked up on that fact yet.

2) British Evangelicals have a very particular way of making an argument, and if the argument doesn't come to them in their preferred form, they will reject it altogether. If we want to try to reach them, we might imitate their preferred method. It very closely resembles the exegesis done by theoretical Marxists and the followers of other Continental philosophers; some of us might be familiar with that from graduate study in the humanities. Basically, it consists of mining the sacred and authoritative writing until it is made to yield a synthesis of texts authorizing one's own preferred position, which is then projected back onto the authoritative writing. It is more than proof-texting, and the textual synthesis can be quite artful. Though I found it tedious in the extreme when I was in graduate school, obviously British Evangelicals don't.

Posted by Charlotte at Wednesday, 17 February 2010 at 1:34pm GMT

This section of Pierre Whalon’s initial article intrigues me:

“It seems to me that the Holy Trinity had had enough of the “don’t ask–don’t tell” policy that was de facto on the church-wide level up until 2003, and therefore the Spirit introduced us all to the new Bishop of New Hampshire. Now we had to deal with the reality of what we doing, and defend it. Not by some appeal to psychology or endocrinology or genetics, or other contested, ephemeral, and finally dehumanizing “scientific answers,” but some honest-to-God theology, a reasoned argument based firmly on Scripture and the other, lesser resources of the Tradition.”

Intentionally or not, Whalon, in this section, has put his finger on the bottleneck. As I read this, I was reminded of an old question: which comes first, theoria or praxis? The best answer is that that the two really are part of the legendary hermeneutical circle. I take Whalon’s argument to be a reminder of that.
However, I think it is also helpful to remember, as we engage the hermeneutical circle, that the issues around the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the church, are not primarily, or in the first instance, a theological problem. The issue of human and civil rights, and contemporary insight into sexual orientation, are not really found in Scripture, in the same way, that despite a vibrant theology of God as creator, the notion of modern cosmology is absent from scripture. Human rights are not about, nor do they require, revelation. Human rights are based on a growing evolution about what is intrinsic to human being. Rather than searching the scripture and tradition in order to discover and explain what rights gay and lesbian people may have, we might more profitably attempt to explain how new practices with regard to blessings and ordinations, build common ground with a growing positive social consensus about the human person. It would help, if we would actually, not only talk to, but also learn from, people in the human and social sciences. –Rod Gillis

Posted by Rod Gillis at Thursday, 18 February 2010 at 3:25am GMT

My impression from Bp. Whalon's response is not that he believes we don't have a theological framework, but that he is frustrated that General Convention won't officially validate it.

The truth is, our egalitarian polity is extremely rare in the Anglican Communion, and Whalon, being in Europe, probably has a better grip on that than most of us in TEC. Given that, most provinces would *only* read the theological groundwork if it were officially endorsed and promulgated by our governing body. Anything without that *imprimatur* (ha, ha) would be regarded as mere extracurricular reading.

I confess a similar frustration with General Convention in it's sideways policy of unofficially recognizing progressive theology as a way to keep from *officially* offending our conservatives. It's a sort of unhealthy double life in a church that organizes itself as we do.

Posted by MarkBrunson at Thursday, 18 February 2010 at 4:46am GMT

Charlotte
"1) NT Wright's version of the "theology of the body" is probably the real argument that needs to be countered."

I believe that Tobias Haller has done just that in "Reasonable and Holy".

Posted by Erika Baker at Thursday, 18 February 2010 at 9:41am GMT

“British Evangelicals have a very particular way of making an argument, and if the argument doesn't come to them in their preferred form, they will reject it altogether. If we want to try to reach them, we might imitate their preferred method. It very closely resembles the exegesis done by theoretical Marxists and the followers of other Continental philosophers...”--Charlotte

In other words, the British evos are theological sectarians in the same sense that, for example, the Militant tendency, are political sectarians? Interesting analogy. That would certainly account for the fact that they believe they must dominate and drive out all others who do not agree with them; very Trot-like, indeed.

Kurt in Brooklyn, NY

Posted by Kurt at Thursday, 18 February 2010 at 2:52pm GMT

Bishop Whalon is right in saying that TEC has failed to articulate a theology behind its actions.

Perhaps TEC should look northward. The Canadian General Synod has made theological statements. In 2004, it "affirmed the sanctity and integrity of committed same-sex relationships". (and as a member of that synod, I can affirm that the discussion on the floor was quite theological, particularly concerning the term "sanctity") In 2007, the Synod stated that the blessing of same-sex marriages was not a matter of "core doctrine". If this year's Synod does move forward, we can hope for at least some theological statement or rationale, and not just an approval.

Posted by Jim Pratt at Thursday, 18 February 2010 at 5:42pm GMT

Rather than searching the scripture and tradition in order to discover and explain what rights gay and lesbian people may have, we might more profitably attempt to explain how new practices with regard to blessings and ordinations, build common ground with a growing positive social consensus about the human person. It would help, if we would actually, not only talk to, but also learn from, people in the human and social sciences. – Rod Gillis -

Rod, I believe, has a point here. The whole Church needs to take on board the fact that we are in a new era of the discovery of humanity as it has been renewed 'en Christo'. Overturning the status quo in the understanding of our common human status, in God, by the amazing praxis of his incarnation, Jesus brought life-enhancing and new elements to bear on our relationship to God.

This is one of the reasons why he was hounded by the Traditionalists, as being 'heretical' and therefore the enemy of traditional Judaism. But Jesus took great pains to demonstrate that, in fact, what he was doing was 'living out' the true reality of what it means to be human. His radical embracing of all classes of people - Pharisees and Sinners, Women and Men, Jew and Gentile - was living testimony to how he overturned religious ideas about what it meant to be pure and holy.

By his love for all people, regardless of their gender or status in society, Jesus set the model for fullness of life in God. The interesting point here is that even Jesus had to learn, from his own experience of 'growing up', what was most important about being 'fully human'. It was not what might be called 'instant wisdom'. Why then should we be surprised that there needs to be an evolutionary theological process in the Church?

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Thursday, 18 February 2010 at 6:34pm GMT

On one level it's an interesting conundrum.

Either first study then make a declaration, carried by the required majorities without doing, then 'do' *or* prayerfully, deliberatively and in the context of prayer, study and debate over several decades at each time attempting as a collective body to discern the Spirit's leading before proceeding to the next step.

The difference between the two is not so great. The former is the model more likely to be adopted by the Church of England (as it has used in debates over women priests and bishops), Church of Scotland (Presbyterian, of course) and the American Lutherans (ELCA) on sexuality.

TEC's approach is more Anglican, if I may dare say. But I would want to reflect that what TEC have done is a lot more than set up a working party then vote on its recommendations and get it adopted by the House of Bishops and it's a lot more, and deeper, than merely consecrating Bishop Gene Robinson.

And of course TEC didn't consecrate +Gene Robinson out of the blue. In order for him to get to that point a whole series of organic things had to have happened at the level of parish, diocese, General Convention, House of Bishops. He had to have been a well regarded priest for one thing to even be on the list. Section 3 of To Set Our hope On Christ chronicles the nature of this in some detail.

Of course, TEC hasn't produced a catechism, symbol or declaration or anything like a document with an 'imrpimatur'. But I think if it is proceeding through discernment the imprimatur can only come as the conclusion of the process.

And of course the process itself is impeded through the Windsor Report 'restraint'. I find that each General Convention is in fact making declarations the conclusions of which appear in no way to resile from the consecration of +Gene Robinson but attempt at the same time to display 'restraint'.

Posted by Craig Nelson at Thursday, 18 February 2010 at 8:30pm GMT

I have to disagree with Jim Pratt, that TEC should look north to Canada "The Canadian General Synod has made theological statements. In 2004, it ‘affirmed the sanctity and integrity of committed same-sex relationships’ ". The debate over the term sanctity at the GS he speaks was a tortured debate grounded in resistance by conservatives to applying the term to gay and lesbian relationships. The Anglican Church of Canada has developed several “reports” on this issue, all piously named after one saint or another. The reports reflect a great deal of theological expertise, but share a common set of flaws. (1) They are parochial with little or no inter-disciplinary work, or obvious contribution from the social sciences or humanities. (2) The reports were produced by committees which were staffed with the goal of balancing liberal and conservative views and so serve a political goal. (3) They fall into the trap of largely ignoring the issue of human and civil rights and concentrate instead on "pure theology" and so obscure the issues. I’ve actually had priests tell me at meetings, in response to a critique of the church’s current policy on human sexuality “But this is the language of human rights you’re using, isn’t it” Presumably, they think this a bad idea. The concept of human rights evolves from the Enlightenment .The concept is a response to obvious palpable oppression, much of it conducted by or with the support of churches. Human rights are about what is essentially valuable about the human person. Christian theology starts with what is wrong with the human person, what has fallen from grace, what needs the external remedy of grace and salvation. —no wonder the church is unable to find its way home on this issue. As for TEC they are engaging this issues as Americans do best. Their chutzpah is a gift of the Spirit to their church. –Rod Gillis

Posted by Rod Gillis at Thursday, 18 February 2010 at 9:49pm GMT

The problem with Wright's argument and similar is simply that he must (A) confuse, obfuscate, and oversimplify the empirical realities of human embodiment, then (B) raise his falsfied male/female simplicity to indicate essential-categorical sheer marks of being. This may be done sketchily or elaborately, but the two step is just about the same, regardless.

Part A refuses what we now know to be real and empirical - sex is NOT categorically equal to gender, and none of that is exclusively-categorically equivalent to a unitary heterosexual-only human sexual orientation. In fact, sex is itself a rather complicated biological business of human embodiment, with variations, continuums, and shifting patterns or dynamics of biological development. Thus, even just considering the biology, several dimensions vary along their respective continuums as the organism grows, ages, over time. Not even the biology we know fits so neatly into the presumed sex paradigm that is never critically weighed next to the alternative, plentiful evidence.

Part A gets even harder to simplify when one then adds in neurology, social, and psychological aspects of sex becoming gender. Neither is gender itself a simple, unified reality. We can distinguish gender identity, gender roles, and then work all that out, through social and family and other multiple-different cultural-historical contexts.

Then Part A empirically gets even less neat and categorical, since sexual oriention varies, along a continuum rather than being categorical as traditionalist theologians simply presume without critical or empirical ado.

Part B builds on these dodgy foundations with bad theology. Even the NT Jesus hints contrarily - when asked about the famous case question of whose wife the woman would be after the resurrection, Jesus forthrightly denies the premises of the case. This can be read to suggest, clearly, that the woman after the resurrection is some other kind of female (if female at all in earthly terms).

PS. Closing elaborate, overly detailed hermeneutical circles may wear people out, as if daring anybody to see an end in sight. (Example, Robert Gagnon ... after sorting/sifting a mountain of claimed details, his argument basically boils down to a third grade assertation that men are men and women are women, and that anything is a violation, disorder, immorality, whatever. NARTH, ditto.)

PS. Closing elaborate, overly detailed hermeneutical circles may wear people out, as if daring anybody to see an end in sight. (Example, Robert Gagnon ... after sorting/sifting a mountain of claimed details, his argument basically boils down to an impervious conviction - men are men and women are women, anything more complicated must definitively be nothing but a violation, disorder, immorality, whatever. NARTH, ditto.) The theological anthropology, updated, is only difficult/tricky, if we must confine ourselves to premodern suppositions about the human realities involved.

Posted by drdanfee at Friday, 19 February 2010 at 12:30am GMT

All the thinking and publishing in the world is worthless without the actions to go with it. OTOH, the actions have value without the thinking and publishing, if they are right.

Posted by Pat O'Neill at Friday, 19 February 2010 at 3:55am GMT

The theo-anthropological truth is that Chalcedon teaches there is one humanity whom Christ assumes. Genesis teaches us this same truth in terms of theo-anthroplogy, that we are one humanity. We are one and not only one among ourselves but also related to the rest of creation.

Within that one humanity is a lot of variation, but that variation is no cause for division. That there is division is because of Sin.

Folks who hanker after separate maleness and femaleness tend to obscure this "we are one humanity" in their theologies and tend to cut across "that which is not assumed is not healed." JPII's Theology of the Body is a major offender in this regard, and I would say is non-Chalcedonian if not anti-Chalcedonian. Romanticization of women in his works into a separate female nature so reduces real women into a Virgin/Whore complex that I'm surprised it hasn't been laughed at outright post-Freud.

Posted by Christopher at Friday, 19 February 2010 at 3:17pm GMT

I've had a stomach full of heterosexist 'theology'. It's useless to me -it's passes straight thruogh me.

Stop the BS and the prevarication.

Let's get on with living and loving and enabling others to love & live.

Posted by Rev L Roberts at Friday, 19 February 2010 at 3:43pm GMT

Rod,
Yes, the debate at GS'04 was tortured and marked by conservative resistance to the term "sanctity". And that is precisely what made the resolution a theological statement.

As to the St. Michael Report, written at a time when same-sex marriage was still before the courts and Parliament, came out and stated boldly that the issue was not "unions", but covenanted relationships that are the equivalent of marriage.

To use only the language of human rights can lead us down the path of defining God in our terms (see, e.g, arguments by some conservative churches against state-sponsored welfare, which are phrased more in the language of Smith and Hayek).

We need to more clearly advance the argument that we see in committed, loving relationships between two persons, regardless of gender, an image of the love and grace of God that should be celebrated by the community. And we need to articulate that "God shows no partiality", and that the Holy Spirit confers gifts on individuals regardless of their sexual orientation, and calls individuals from "all sorts and conditions" to ordained ministry. Neither the ACoC nor TEC is there yet, but I think the Canadian church is doing a better job of plodding (however slowly) toward that goal.

Posted by Jim Pratt at Friday, 19 February 2010 at 7:34pm GMT

I have found in Pierre Whalon's piece a new level of wisdom that I've not seen before in all the many scribblings of the past decade or two.

What I take from it now is the value of General Convention working towards publication of a statement, an apologia if you like, that sets out the theological reasons and passions that have led The Episcopal Church to its present practice. I hope I have learned from my North American friends the particular and valued role that General Convention has within the life of this part of the Anglican Communion, and also the unique and rigorous processes by which bishops are appointed in the USA. But taking that role seriously, it seems to me that it would be a good, courageous step for General Convention now to publish a statement that defends and celebrates the actions of the Episcopal Church. What is to be lost in doing such a thing? What would be gained is a clear commitment to the gospel: we found this treasure to which we believed we were led by the Holy Spirit, and now we want to share it with every person on the face of the earth.

I only wish my own part of the Anglican Communion here in Australia could do likewise - at any level.

Posted by MrsBarlow at Friday, 19 February 2010 at 10:56pm GMT

"it seems to me that it would be a good, courageous step for General Convention now to publish a statement that defends and celebrates the actions of the Episcopal Church. What is to be lost in doing such a thing? What would be gained is a clear commitment to the gospel: we found this treasure to which we believed we were led by the Holy Spirit, and now we want to share it with every person on the face of the earth.

I only wish my own part of the Anglican Communion here in Australia could do likewise - at any level. - Mrs Barlow, on Friday -

Hear, hear, Mrs Barlow. Them's my sentiments, too. Here in Aotearoa/New Zealand, we have the former Chair of the St. Michael's Report as my Diocesan. Bishop Victoria has helped to bring the diocese together on many things - including the need for a more attractive presentation of the Gospel to our young people. One hopes that this will cover a rather more explicit theology of sexuality in our Church than has formerly been in evidence.

However, we do have one trump card in New Zealand, Dr, Jenny Te Paa, who is familiar with the process of theological education in such matters. We also have Archbishop David Moxon, who is busy helping to bring together the new plan for a new hermeneutical study of the Scriptures, planned for use within all Provinces of the Anglican Communion.

With these substantial strands of leadership, together with your illustrious Primate in Australia (not Abp. Jensen) I am hopeful that we may soon assist our sisters and brothers in North America in pursuance of the inclusive Gospel of Christ. In the face of the antedeluvian antics of Abps. Akinola and Orombi, we need to get our act together.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Saturday, 20 February 2010 at 4:51am GMT

Thanks to Jim Pratt, “To use only the language of human rights can lead us down the path of defining God in our terms.” I’m grateful because his statement is an example of fundamental misdirection in these kinds of conversations. The churches are not using only, or even mostly, the language of human rights. Churches, in this instance, largely ignore both the language and the notion of human rights. It is not only the language of human rights that may lead to defining God in our terms. Classical atonement doctrines, for example, define God in very unpleasant terms agreeable to medieval society. The problem with much of the theology of sexuality is that it’s mired in outdated anthropology. Attempts to make this anthropology relevant usually opts for generalizing over collaborative work with thinkers in non-theological disciplines. We speak in generalities like love, image and likeness of God, faithfulness, and the like. These are theologically friendly notions. However, they are not a surrogate for a contemporary understanding of the human person. As for Canada doing a better job theologically than TEC, liturgy is not a bad place to look for clues. The baptismal covenant used both in The States and in Canada demands that we “respect the dignity of every human being”. This Covenant is American. The five questions were developed by the drafting committee for the American 1979 BCP. (Lionel Mitchell “Praying Shapes Believing” p.101). It’s a good solid step away from the dreary Augustinian anthropology of classical Anglican baptismal rites. Q five is short sharp and pointed, saying in nutshell, so much more than mind numbing Canadian reports that parse doctrine from “core doctrine”. That is, if talking to the wider society is one of our goals. Besides, when a person who happens to be gay or lesbian is ordained a bishop, what better theology can there be than using a rite that articulates no distinctions?
–Rod Gillis

Posted by Rod Gillis at Sunday, 21 February 2010 at 2:55am GMT

The link provided below may help in evaluating the claim that Jim Pratt makes in his post
“ … The St. Michael Report, written at a time when same-sex marriage was still before the courts and Parliament, came out and stated boldly that the issue was not "unions", but covenanted relationships that are the equivalent of marriage.” The St. Michael report in its overview (8) states “…any proposed blessing of a same sex relationship would be analogous to a marriage to such a degree as to require the Church to understand it coherently in relation to the doctrine of marriage.” This view is merely consistent, for instance, with the theology that informed the pastoral rules that (previously) governed the possible blessing of marriages of divorced persons who remarried elsewhere but later wished their marriages blessed in church. There is nothing “bold” in this. It bears no direct relationship to the civil situation that has developed in Canada. St. Michael also states: “Every discovery in human learning, scientific research, and socio-cultural development must be understood in the context of the fundamental reality that all we do and are, including our sexuality and sexual acts of intimacy, is a response in faith to the person of Jesus Christ” Disagreeing with such a sentiment is sort of like disagreeing with the words to “God Save the Queen”. But, don’t you find a kind of quasi-fideism lurking about here? To expand an old axiom, new knowledge brings with it, not simply a response in faith to Christ, but new responsibilities with regard to conviviality. New learning can be constitutive of community for sure; but new models of spontaneous conviviality can trigger reflection that in turn may give rise to new learning. The issues are more about core community than “core in the sense of creedal” doctrine. –Rod Gillis
http://www.mapleleafweb.com/features/same-sex-marriage-canada

Posted by Rod Gillis at Sunday, 21 February 2010 at 6:24pm GMT

"In 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's new Conservative government introduced a motion to restore the traditional definition of marriage; the motion was defeated in the House of Commons by a margin of 175-123. Prime Minister Harper publicly stated that the vote was decisive and that his government would not return to the issue." - www.mapleleafweb.com -

Thanks to Rod Gillis' posting (above - 21 Feb), we gain an insight into Canada's legislation in 2007 which recognised that same-sex marriage merits the same legal status as that of heterosexual couples.

I have no doubt that the St. Michael's report from the Anglican Church of Canada would have had some influence in liberalising legislation for the human rights of Gays and Lesbians in Canada. Perhaps we need a similar theological output from other Churches in the Anglican Communion to enable this sort of emancipation to happen in other parts of our world. This is a prime example of the Church helping the community into an understanding of the spiritual realities of the sexual diversity of God's creation.

No doubt this is a world away from the current climate of legislation in certain countries of the so-called 'Global South (Uganda and Nigeria, for example), but nevertheless, such human rights issues should not be held back by Third World primivism in the area of sexual propriety.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Sunday, 21 February 2010 at 10:09pm GMT

Fr. Ron Smith made mention of the Harper government's motion regarding a socially regressive definition of marriage.The vote was taken as a non-confidence measure in a minority parliament, and probably to give Harper's ultra conservative "base" their day in court as it were. I'm doubtful though, that Canada's St. Michael report has had much impact outside pious circles. However, it may have given some comfort to the several urban based dioceses in Canada that have openly moved on the blessing of same sex unions. But, there is one common denominator between ecclesiastical life and secular life in Canada, and that is in the area of producing reports, commissions,hearings, and participating in political cliff hangers. We love this stuff up here--its as much a part of our identity as the Canadian shield. No wonder our most recent General Synod ended in a "puddle of consciousness". -Rod Gillis

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 22 February 2010 at 12:20am GMT

As much as I'd like to say it were otherwise, the Anglican Church of Canada was actually well behind the curve on the issue of equal marriage. The change was driven by court challenges. Every party in Parliament was split on the issue.

(The social democratic New Democrats were the only party to whip the vote. The one NDP MP who voted against equal marriage was sanctioned by being stripped of her critic roles and committee appointments, something which was unprecedented in the 80+ year history of the Independent Labour Party cum Co-operative Commonwealth Federation cum New Democratic Party. Indeed, on two of the most contentious votes in Canadian history, the then CCF had permitted the party leader to defy the whip and vote against the declaration of war on Nazi Germany in 1939, and the leader of the by then NDP actively encouraged MPs to break with his and the party's decision to oppose Pierre Trudeau's implementation of martial law in 1970 if their conscience required it or if they felt the political consequences would be too steep.)

Posted by Malcolm+ at Monday, 22 February 2010 at 4:09am GMT

"Say no more" - as the saying goes. I certainly opened up a hornet's nest here. However, I do still think that the Anglican Church of Canada has been more open than most other Churches of the Communion (except, perhaps TEC) towards the needs of ther LGBTs within the Church community.
The St. Michael's Report was quite a revelatory experience for for at least one 'Down-Under' Christian. At least they uncovered the fact that same-sex issues were not issues of core doctrine.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Monday, 22 February 2010 at 9:53am GMT

Context is everything, Ron.

In the context of the Anglican Communion, the Anglican Church of Canada is a radical and progressive voice.

In the context of Canadian civil society, we are a bunch of dithering ecclesiastics a generation behind in the conversation. Heck, in a country where equal marriage is the settled law of the land, we're still just debating "the blessing of same sex unions."

Posted by Malcolm+ at Monday, 22 February 2010 at 7:51pm GMT

"Heck, in a country where equal marriage is the settled law of the land, we're still just debating "the blessing of same sex unions.
- Malcolm+ on Monday -

Point taken, Malcolm, and I think the Communion is grateful for the fact that the Anglican Church of Canada has at least woken up to the situation as it has been already put into practice in the civil realm.

As you will see from the Letter on the subject of Civil Partnerships in a later thread on T.A., there are other Christian bodies in the U.K. urging their government to recognise their right to respond positively to the real needs of Christian LGBT persons within their particular Church fellowships. What a threat that will be to the power-broker Lords Spiritual in the U.K.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Monday, 22 February 2010 at 11:02pm GMT

Father Ron wrote “I think the Communion is grateful for the fact that the Anglican Church of Canada has at least woken up to the situation as it has been already put into practice in the civil realm. Caution is in order for those who evaluate the Canadian scene from a Pollyanna perspective. The General Synod defeated, in the order of bishops, an enabling motion that would have allowed dioceses to proceed with a local option. Some dioceses moved anyway surfacing tension in the house of bishops. The Council of General Synod is in a deadlock unable to work to task on a request to bring a draft revision of our National Marriage Canon forward. The polarization of the Canadian church has been reaffirmed recently in the results of a National Church visioning exercise. This month’s editorial in “The Journal”, the National Anglican news paper here states, “Focus on same-sex blessings: you get frustration, anger, schism.” The Canadian House of Bishops recently recommended the so-called Anglican Covenant to our forthcoming General Synod for consideration, but stopped short of recommending it for adoption. Canadian bishops, like the church at large, are divided on the matter. Canadian Anglicans may have woken up to our progressive civil context, but we’re rubbing our eyes in confusion and disarray. It should be noted that not all Anglicans in Canada have joined the St. Michael Report fan club. I know Anglicans love reflecting on creeds and formularies, but some of us see the St. Michel report as a theological version of the antiques road show. The movement on gay and lesbian rights in the Canadian Church is largely due to the faithful and active presence of gay and lesbian people in urban parishes. Be grateful to them for their “gracious restraint” and their courage. The credit certainly does not belong the ecclesiastical structure that is running in several directions at once looking for a fire hose. –Rod Gillis

Posted by Rod Gillis at Tuesday, 23 February 2010 at 2:02pm GMT

"The movement on gay and lesbian rights in the Canadian Church is largely due to the faithful and active presence of gay and lesbian people in urban parishes. Be grateful to them for their “gracious restraint” and their courage. The credit certainly does not belong the ecclesiastical structure that is running in several directions at once looking for a fire hose." – Rod Gillis -

Thankyou, Rod, for your enlightenment on this issue. I had always thought that it was the institution of the Anglican Church of Canada that had advanced the cause of LGBTs in the Anglican Communion - in league, of course, with our gallant sisters and brothers in TEC who, under the inspired leadership of Presiding Bishop Katherine, have sought to maintain the integrity of the Scripture, Tradition and REASONable view of Christianity. However, I, and probably other readers of this T.A. blog, are now in a better position to understand what has really been going on in the A.C.of C. on this issue.

Theological speculation has always been a poor relation to praxis, and on this issue especially the apparent lack of practical follow-up to the St. Michael's report would seem to have weakened the impetus for change in Canada and other parts of the Anglican Communion. Am I correct then in thinking that there is a lack of nerve within the hierarchy of the C.of C. to follow through?

As a member of a non-GAFCON Anglican Church in the South Pacific, with various indigenous traditions and customs, we are looking to the North American Continent's experience of similar cultural diversity to lead a Communion-wide leap into a more modern understanding of gender and sexuality issues, as they impinge on present-day Christian ethics and morality. It would be a great pity if the lead already taken by TEC and the A.C.of C. were to suffer from a lack of nerve

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 23 February 2010 at 11:28pm GMT

Fr Ron asks: “Am I correct then in thinking that there is a lack of nerve within the hierarchy of the Cof C. to follow through?” The short answer is yes. The few exceptions are courageous. You might research the home pages and diocesan newspapers of the following dioceses here: New Westminster, Montreal, Huron, Ottawa, and for something very foxy, the diocese of Toronto. I highlight the polarization in the Canadian Church because it helps one understand the pressure on Canada from the wider Communion, most especially from the so-called instruments of Communion. It has been effective unfortunately. Polarization leads to deadlock and vulnerability from outside interference. Canada (including gay and lesbian communities) is a small theatre in a larger campaign. The struggle in the Communion about gay and lesbian inclusion is part of the conflict over the shape of a postcolonial Anglicanism. Churches in western democratic nations, most especially TEC, are bearing the brunt of this. It’s very important that Canada resist the bullying strategy in The Communion aimed at isolating TEC. What’s more, North American conservative fundamentalists exploit this situation in the service of their theological ends. The defeat of an enabling motion by General Synod here in 2007 may have been a good thing. The advancement of gay and lesbian inclusion in Canada has been largely an urban parish based from the ground up movement. I doubt if there is any going back. The next General Synod (2010) leaves HoB and CoGS scrambling to get the agenda back. Good luck with that. Interestingly, some of our retired archbishops, most notably the late former Primate of Canada, Archbishop Ted Scott, have made a big contribution to moving things forward here. They chose to intervene on the ground rather than in the structure. It’s wisdom without power—you gotta like it. –Rod Gillis

Posted by Rod Gillis at Wednesday, 24 February 2010 at 5:14pm GMT

Thanks again, Rod, for your further posting on this so important issue of the wider Communion on the Anglican Church of Canada to 'conform' with the slow pace of reform elsewhere. It will probably take the independence of TEC to continue the struggle for justice in the North American Churches on the subject of inclusivity of LGBTs.

Only the latest movement by the Church of England to extend the full pension rights of surviving partners of same-sex civil-partnered clergy saves the Mother Church of England from being last in the field of securing common human rights within the Church. However, this is a significant step in the right direction towards inclusivity, and I hope Canada's Church leadership will be duly encouraged by that process.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Wednesday, 24 February 2010 at 9:14pm GMT

Fr. Ron noted: "the latest movement by the Church of England to extend the full pension rights of surviving partners ... is a significant step in the right direction towards inclusivity, and I hope Canada's Church leadership will be duly encouraged by that process." As far as I understand it,the Pension Plan in the Canadian Church is required to pay benefits to surviving partners, regardless of gender.Its required by law. The Anglican Church of Canada also lobbied the federal government here over a decade ago, long before same sex marriages were on the horizon, to extend employment benefits to partners in same sex partnerships. But of course, what we have discovered is that lecturing others about justice is an easier task than doing justice in house. -Rod Gillis

Posted by Rod Gillis at Wednesday, 24 February 2010 at 11:11pm GMT

In fairness, Ron, while the Anglican Church of Canada may be behind the curve in Canada on this issue, it isn't (overall) behind by that much - and the ground did shift quite suddenly in the opening years of the millennium.

While lecturing others is always easier, I think the Anglican Church of Canada did fairly well on accountability with the Residential Schools issue - against legal advice, we were the first body to respond to the issue by accepting responsibility and apologizing for our role.

And the Residential Schools issue did draw a lot of energy out of the Church during a period where one diocese went bankrupt and several more were on the verge (my own diocese would likely have been next) - all the while dealing with a Liberal government that pretended the Residential Schools were a Church issue alone and trying to evade responsibility themselves.

Residential Schools was one of a handful of issues where the present far right Conservative government has actually positioned itself to the left of the Liberal record (as opposed to the Liberal rhetoric), the others being the environment and child care - where inadequate action on these two files is better than no action at all - and, ironically, the Afghan detainee issue which has caused the Cons so much trouble.

Posted by Malcolm+ at Thursday, 25 February 2010 at 5:05pm GMT

Malcolm + wrote “the Anglican Church of Canada may be behind the curve in Canada on this issue, it isn't (overall) behind by that much” I think it depends what you mean by ‘The Anglican church of Canada’. Most groundbreaking innovations and ideas don’t usually come from bureaucracies and policy statements. Most theological innovation comes from new scholarship or creative experimentation. It is only later as “green shoots” in renewal or new thinking become ubiquitous that bureaucracies and over arching church structures get involved. Often it is with the purpose of both embracing and at the same time trying to control and regulate the creative work of others. This is a fair analysis of what has happened with full gay and lesbian inclusion in Canada. It has been a “from the ground up” movement in places where gay and lesbian faithful have impacted local churches. However, once the structure steps in to “own the conversation” things become more corporately political. I think several gay and lesbian friendly dioceses in Canada were hoping that General Synod would support them by way of endorsement of a local option. It defeated this option at General Synod because of the vote in the House of bishops. A vacuum was created by the HoB vote. The ball was served back to more local venues. Movement forward has occurred. It remains to be seen whether The Canadian Church is behind the curve. Will the HoB and CoGS come to GS 2010 looking for a way to reaffirm what has been done in Montreal, Huron, Ottawa, New West, and in the halfway house measures in T.O.? OR, is the energy going to go into trying to regain control of the national conversation on full Gay and Lesbian inclusion, spinning it in a way that meets the need of the structure and the so called instruments of Communion? –Rod Gillis

Posted by Rod Gillis at Friday, 26 February 2010 at 12:44am GMT

The post from Malcolm + on the residential school’s legacy (Canada) is more complicated than his post allows. The historic complicity of the Canadian Church in government-sponsored racism cannot be reasonably contested. However, the residential schools agreement was also about saving the General Synod from the dire financial consequences of litigation. Folks interested in the complexities of this issue, including perspectives from a first nations perspective, may be interested in this archived article about the settlement. –Rod Gillis
http://www.anglicanjournal.com/issues/2003/129/apr/04/article/schools-agreement-signed/?cHash=addad5c57b

Posted by Rod Gillis at Friday, 26 February 2010 at 2:55am GMT
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