Well, I did what I said I was going to do: took the train to Dover, bought a map and bottle of sun tan lotion, then walked along the cliffs to Samphire Hoe (the country park made out of the Eurotunnel spoil heap) read my book for a good three hours then retraced my steps slowly along the coast to catch the London Victoria service back to Canterbury. The sun has shone all day, but hazily enough for me not to burn and I now feel thoroughly into the plot of “Animal’s People”. I’ve had a good supper (before the queues), a cooling shower and made liberal use of the after sun spray.
So what to write about today? Perhaps it’s a chance to give a sense of where I feel I (personally as opposed to the conference as a whole) am at this instant on the Anglican Communion issues we’re going to be dealing with next week. I may well change; I have to be open to that if I’m taking the process seriously, but this is how it feels this middle Sunday evening.
I think it is possible to envisage some sort of covenant document, broadly along the lines that the Design Group have come up with, which uses the traditional Anglican formularies for the bulk of its text, recognises that as Anglicans our mission is to enculture the gospel along with evangelising the culture, and clearly avoids attempting to lay down the line on doctrinal issues that are not part of the historic creeds and on moral positions. A covenant will need to have some criteria for determining whether a particular church is adhering to it, and there have to be ways in which new areas of concern can be raised and addressed in a timely fashion where they are so grave, have so wide an impact or are sufficiently divisive not to be simply matters that provinces (or dioceses) can determine autonomously without being called to some form of account. My area of greatest scepticism is whether such a covenant can ever be used to deal with matters that have already become rancorous.
I’ve heard enough stories this last 10 days to know that even TEC bishops who voted against Gene Robinson are facing territorial incursions from parishes who think the game is now pick-a-bishop. That really will not do. We mustn’t let this particular issue off the hook again.
And so to bed! I read and study my bible habitually, prayerfully and hard, learning both from the insights the Holy Spirit provides me and from the long tradition of piety and scholarship within which I am continually formed and reformed. My personal conclusion is that what St Paul and the Old Testament are condemning are not faithful, loving and stable same sex relationships as we see them today but rather matters of cultic sex, sex as the expression of a particular power relationship, and promiscuity. The other main argument, that God didn’t create Adam and Adam, collapses into a narrow form of Thomism (in which every “thing” can have only one good and natural purpose) that is explicitly rejected in the Prayer Book (and its revisions) marriage service and therefore cannot be claimed as Anglican.
Nonetheless, if I ever thought this issue could be “adiaphora” (something a local church can determine without needing to heed others) I no longer do. The consecration of a bishop in an active same sex relationship has certainly helped some Christians in North America to feel more fully accepted by the church, official liturgies and blessings for such partnerships have done the same for the couples involved and their friends. But the price is being paid elsewhere, particularly in places where Christians are on the defensive or in a minority in relation to Islam, and are often seen as slack on topics such as the consumption of alcohol. In countries like these male homosexual activities are often still criminal. There is no way they can tackle these issues at present in their contexts nor could they defend themselves by saying that “it’s not us, it’s just the Americans”. Indeed the very fact that it is the USA (in many parts of the world I doubt Canada is adequately distinguished) leading that plays into the anti-imperialism and hatred of America that is so strong across the globe. Invasion by American cultural values is no more popular than invasion by its troops.
As a C of E bishop I recognise that were I to insist on carrying out the consequences of my own views on this subject rather than upholding what Synod and the House of Bishops have agreed then I would have to resign. But my Anglican ecclesiology and catholic spirituality teach me to be obedient to the collegial will, properly expressed, not least because I might well be wrong. Equally, I believe that any individual church that claims to be Anglican needs to have a polity which gives full weight to the whole communion. It’s here where I find I am looking over the next few days to my American brothers and sisters for reassurance.
Highlight of the day: a good long read.
Lowlight of the day: the campus shop had closed when I got back and there’s no beer in the fridge.