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A TEXAS DECISION

I was fascinated to read the papers Ephraim Radner and Katherine Grieb gave to the House of Bishops the other day. I have to confess that I haven’t read anything Dr. Grieb has written before reading her address. Fr. Radner, whom I greatly respect, is perhaps the only writer I know who makes the Archbishop of Canterbury’s writing style read like journalism. He was much less difficult to read this time for which I am grateful. I’m sure our bishops were similarly pleased.

Again reading these papers back to back was almost like reading something from older theological texts and contemporary theological literature all at once. As someone brought upon Gore and Temple, Ramsey and Austin Ferrar, I read Radner with a quicker understanding than I do Grieb. That may be prejudice or just the fact that I’m getting ancient. Do note that I said “read” and not “agree.”

One understands that both these people were present and active at creation as the first draft of the Covenant proposal was produced and agreed upon. It’s perhaps no accident that they represent two of our “parties” within TEC. However, once again, as far as I know, no report was given by someone who represents the middle way. Certainly there must have been someone on the Covenant committee, admittedly not an American, who represents the wider tradition of Anglicanism? There must be a scholar in America – if foreigners were disqualified –who could have approached the Covenant idea and language from the center and talked to the bishops?

Once again we are presented by the spectacle of two people arguing for their position. One supposes we are still wed to the idea of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, an 18th Century notion, at least seminally, probably culled from cricket and still practiced in modern legislative bodies and at football matches. Neither activity has much practical use and seems to corrupt the souls of participants.

Perhaps in the sacred halls of Rationalism, peopled by gentlepersons of breeding, property and sound learning, such a method may work. No one gets upset, no voice is raised and at the end, all adjourn for port and a cigar.

We are well past that. Over the past four decades we have learnt to fight, to draw blood, to win. Much we have fought for was timely and right. However war scars the victor and well as the vanquished. One can’t just say, “We won the vote” and that is that. Isn’t this particularly so when we claim to be Christians? None of us is without guilt. We have embraced the secular divisions in our midst and blessed without question their method and intent. Some of us have learnt to hate well.

Some of us want to take the war further. They want to retreat into an American religion, proclaim that the American Church is different, Holy Spirit guided in a particular manner, uncontaminated by foreign influence. I suggest that there’s more than a tinge of American folk religion, Mormanism, Christian Science, Adventism in all this. That it flies in the face of the New Testament witness, ignores the dreadful history of schism in the history of the Church and drives a dart into the heart of the Ecumenical Movement seems to matter little. That it would create the schism some –not Fr. Radner –traditionalists dream about seems not to matter. What matters is winning. I do not doubt the sincerity of those who champion gay rights, but I also believe that obsession has entered in and a good dose of hubris. What else could convict liberals to wrap themselves in the flag and advocate isolationism? Rush Limbaugh Episcopalianism.

Therein lies the danger of Dr.Grieb’s proposal, one culled from the modern divorce court rather than from Holy Scripture or the life and experience of the Christian Church. Separation from the Communion for five years is an invitation to schism, particularly during a period which will include the next Lambeth Conference and probably the launching of the Covenant process. A five year separation is merely a kind way of lessening the pain of a final divorce. Yet when we decided to stress the covenant area of baptismal theology we forsook the way of division and schism. We grasped a powerful ecumenical vision, one which Anglicanism demonstrates daily.

I am all for getting the House of Bishops’ Theological Commission back to work so that we can understand, for instance, what our church believes the word “blessing” means and how it differs from “marriage”. As far as I can see the whole idea of blessing objects, animals and some people emerged from the Anglo-Catholic movement and took on, finally emerging in what was called “The Book of Offices” commended by a very low church PB who was Bishop of Virginia. I love these ironies. I have read nothing official which tells us much about what we think we do when we bless Sarah’s tadpoles. I’m sure that what ever we do to these incipient frogs isn’t what we mean to do in a same-sex blessing service. The ad hoc liturgies in use look and sound and read a great deal like a wedding services to me.

So how can we go to the length of courting external and internal schism when we haven’t defined our terms, done our theology or even considered the pastoral responsibilities and consequences associated with developing a unique pastoral ministry to blessed couples? Sure, some people may have suggestions. But this isn’t the same thing as recognizing that women have been denied equal opportunities or that non-Whites were and still are not always welcomed and valued. The issue isn’t about gays, it’s about the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. It isn’t about sexually active gay clergy in relationships with people of their own gender, or of the opposite sex for that matter, it’s about the nature of Ordination and its witness. Why must we must both individualize and then corporatize everything in that order? That very practice is unchristian.

At this moment in time our Canons do not allow the ordination of persons living in sexually active unmarried relationships. There is no sanction for the blessing of same-sex couples. Thems the rules. How ironic that we are being invited to rend the Body of Christ on issues we haven’t yet decided. I’ll grant you that in Anglicanism one knows the battle is lost when Canons are quoted, but that’s an area which makes TEC distinct. Its legalism is its own invention and has no biblical justification, at least since the time of St. Paul. When I was a lad the Church of England’s Canons had hardly been touched since 1603/4 and contained lovely regulations about the night attire of the clergy. Then +Geoffrey Fisher, the organizer in chief got to mischief and a new set of Canons emerged. They haven’t done much good; perhaps not much harm either, but most Anglicans abroad are less than captivated by Canon Law. After all we’ve been practicing Anglicanism for four hundred years. Maybe that’s one of the misunderstanding in the Tower of Babel we have created in the Communion?

I believe that there can be no justice-in-mercy while we practice schism internally or externally. Schism is a denial of our baptismal covenant and vows. Nothing would be better for our church and ourselves than to bow the knee, recognize our mutual dependency and trust that in unity, mutual submission and positive engagement God’s will will be done. I have a feeling that such an act of corporate submission would initiate a revival in our midst, drawing back from the abandonment of our tradition and temperament and learning anew the virtues of charity and tolerance which once, along with the learning of the clergy proclaimed our church to be “stupor mundi.”

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