Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Durham damns Blair as 'deeply unwise'

Durham damns Blair as 'deeply unwise'
The Prime Minister has announced that there will be no exemption for Catholic adoption agencies under the new Sexual Orientation Regulations. Instead, there will be a delay until the end of next year before they come into force, and during that time, Catholic agencies will have to refer gay couples to other agencies. The full statement, made in the Lobby this afternoon, Monday, is reproduced below, along with Ruth Kelly's response. Significantly, LibDem MP Dr Evan Harris welcomed it as the "first time" the Government has "stood up" to the religious lobby on a matter of public policy. His full statement is below as well. But the strongest statement came from Bishop Tom Wright of Durham. I was talking to him this afternoon on something else, to be blogged separately soon, and took the chance to ask him what he thought. He did not mince his words, and launched into an excoriating attack on almost every aspect of the present "Labour" Government. In fact, he was so angry he almost forgot to mention Iraq, throwing it in for good measure only at the last minute. The full quotes are below, but first, I was much moved this week to read my former colleague Andrew Pierce's testimony of his life as an adopted, gay Catholic. He actually supports the Church's stance - he was one of those who, without Catholic agencies, might have had a lifetime in care. There are lots of links to many interesting articles as usual at Thinking Anglicans and Anglican Mainstream. (Photo Gill Allen of The Times)
Dr Wright, in his car on his way to address a conference at Swanwick, was furious with the Government. "There is no way that the Catholic Church is going to change its mind on this one given 18 months or so." he said. "This completely fails to take into account the views and beliefs of all those involved. The idea that New Labour - which has got every second thing wrong and is backtracking on extended drinking hours, is in a mess over this cash-for-peerages business, cannot keep all its prisons under control - the idea that New Labour can come up with a new morality which it forces on the Catholic Church after 2,000 years - I am sorry - this is amazing arrogance on the part of the Government.
"Legislation for a nouveau morality is deeply unwise. That is not how morality works. At a time when the Government is foundering with so many of its policies - and I haven't even mentioned Iraq - the thought that this Government has the moral credibility to be able tell the Roman Catholic Church how to order one area of its episcopal teaching is frankly laughable. When you think about it like that, it is quite extraordinary. I suppose the hope is that in 18 months time there will be a different Prime Minister who might take a different view, and this will kick it into the long grass until then."
I am not sure there's much hope of Gordon Brown backing down on this one without alienating large parts of the party, but on the other hand, the prospect of losing thousands of badly-needed votes in Scotland might temper his opinion a little.
The Roman Catholic response from Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor was initially predictably muted. His critics will say that the Cardinal, having come out fighting a few days ago, has bottled it. (I wonder what the reaction will be in Rome? Will the Pope accept his resignation this summer, clearing the way for AB Nichols, who won the battle on education?)
But on the Today programme Tuesday morning, the Cardinal was in fighting spirit again. Asked about the Bishop of Durham's comments on this blog, the Cardinal responded: "There is legislation and legislation. Some legislation however well-intended does created a new kind of morality, a new kind of norm, as this does. The legislation about the adoption by homosexual people of children... it seems to me we are having a new norm of what marriage is. I think normally children should be brought up by a father and a mother. We hold that as extremely important. Clearly the Government has a right to legislate. Homosexual couples clearly are able to adopt in other agencies. But we want to hold on to that principle."
He also made the point that the Catholic Church does not intend to close agencies, but that they will lose local authority funding if they do not comply with the law.
By coincidence, the Catholic bishops' standing committee was meeting when the PM's statement appeared, so they had an opportunity to discuss it together. The Cardinal is clearly going to aim for some kind of deal, to avoid the Church having to close the agencies down. I understand the bishops were given some more detailed notes from Downing Street, outlining how this might be achieved, and the Cardinal's statement reflects that. Privately, some of the Catholic bishops are furious. One insider said: "Twenty-one months! It could have been 21 years. If something is morally wrong, what's the difference?" We can expect a more detailed response from the Catholics soon. Meanwhile, the Cardinal said: "It is clear from the Prime Minister’s statement that he has listened to some of the concerns of the Catholic Church in regard to its adoption agencies. We are, of course, deeply disappointed that no exemption will be granted to our agencies on the grounds of widely held religious conviction and conscience. We look to the forthcoming Parliamentary debate to address some of the fundamental issues centred on the well-being of the child, whose needs must always be put first. We note and welcome, however, the Government’s expressed desire that the experience and excellent work of our agencies is not lost, especially for the benefit of needy children. We appreciate the two year period that will be established for independent assessment. We note that one of its purposes will be to 'ensure the valuable expertise of faith-based adoption agencies in successfully placing the most vulnerable children, including the full range of post-adoption services, is retained and developed' (Terms of Reference). We understand that Local Authorities will continue to work with and fund our Catholic agencies in their vital and sensitive work during this period. This debate has raised crucial issues for the common good of our society. We believe there is an urgent task to reach a new consensus on how best the public role of religious organisations can be safeguarded and their rights upheld. An important part of our Catholic tradition is to work constructively with the Government in mutually respectful cooperation, in which we can act with confidence and integrity in the service of the common good."

Continues at http://timescolumns.typepad.com/gledhill/2007/01/sors_sorted_sor.html

When the Archbishop of Canterbury supported the Catholic Church in the gay adoption row last week, many were surprised.

Dr Rowan Williams, usually considered a moderniser, was criticised by liberals for asking Tony Blair to exempt Catholic adoption agencies from Government regulations - being introduced in April - which will force all agencies to offer children for adoption to gays.

The Guardian newspaper, in a comment piece, even suggested that the church's moral authority was 'fatally compromised'.Now it has emerged that Dr Williams may have been influenced by his close involvement with a remarkable couple who rescued a boy brutalised by a notorious social services paedophile ring.Horrified by the inference that the Archbishop is homophobic, the couple have spoken for the first time of their friend's 'immeasurable' help as they struggled to save a child driven to despair by abuse while in the care of the London borough of Islington.

And they described how Dr Williams even devoted an entire week's prayers for Liam, the terribly damaged boy they went on to foster.Liam Lucas was just one of the children abused by predatory paedophiles who took advantage of far-Left Islington Council's childcare policies in the Eighties and Nineties, when it pro-actively recruited gay social workers.

Paedophiles exploited its well-intentioned commitment to equal opportunities and soon most of Islington's 12 children's homes had child molesters on the staff who cynically pretended to be ordinary homosexuals. Numerous children and other staff made allegations of abuse, but were branded homophobes and ignored.Liam - now 29, in a permanent relationship and the proud father of year-old Isabella - was even falsely classified as gay by Islington social services, which decided he should be fostered only by single men.

Quaker couple Brian Cairns, 57, and his wife Kate, 56 - who became friends with the future Archbishop when they were students together - fought to foster him instead. The horrors Liam later disclosed eventually helped end a 20-year regime of appalling abuse.

Monday, January 29, 2007

No exemption from gay rights law

No exemption from gay rights law

Mr Blair's Cabinet was said to be split over the row Downing Street has said there will be no exemption from anti-discrimination laws for Catholic adoption agencies.
But Tony Blair's official spokesman said the agencies would be given 21 months to prepare for the new laws.
Catholic adoption agencies had warned they would close rather than place children with gay couples, saying that went against their beliefs.
The proposed measures are likely to face a vote in parliament next month before coming into effect on 6 April.
Prime Minister Tony Blair said he believed ministers had found a "way through" to prevent discrimination and protect the interests of children, which all "reasonable people" should be able to accept.
No exemptions
"There is no place in our society for discrimination. That's why I support the right of gay couples to apply to adopt like any other couple.
"And that way there can be no exemptions for faith-based adoption agencies offering public funded services from regulations that prevent discrimination."
But former shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe said it was not a compromise and meant Catholic agencies would have to close down.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, head of Catholics in England and Wales, had said the closure of his seven agencies would be a "wholly avoidable tragedy".

Monday, January 22, 2007

Trial of Pastor Bradley Schmeling, a preamble

Trial of Pastor Bradley Schmeling, a preamble
Thought to give you some feel for the place and the people.
It's cold in Atlanta. Though it is, indeed, the "sunny South" it is also in the grip of the same cold snap the rest of the country is enduring. Temperatures have ranged from the twenties to the forties [Fahrenheit], and it has been windy at times. Overnight, a winter storm came through, and this morning we awoke to rain, freezing rain, fog, and sleet variously in some areas of and around Atlanta. Definitely inside-weather.
The hotel, the Sheraton Midtown at Colony Square is a tall, thin, 27-story building, located north of central downtown Atlanta, just over 1/2 mile east on 14th Street from Interstate 75/85, which runs north to south through Atlanta. Georgia Tech University sprawls just under a mile away on the other side of the interstate highway. Piedmont Park and Botanical Gardens are two blocks further down 14th Street. Looking east from above the 5th floor of the hotel, you can easily see Stone Mountain, a trapezoidal hunk of rock sticking well above the relative flat of Georgia. Stone Mountain plays in the history of St John's Lutheran in that the fortune that built the mansion that forms part of today's St John's was made quarrying Stone Mountain and environs.
The hotel itself is a relatively modern building with all of the attributes that you associate with the name Sheraton. Staff are helpful, cheerful, and greet you with ease and eye contact. If you look in need of some, they stop and ask if they can help. Service is prompt. The lobby is a whirl of people coming and going for meetings, conferences in the various facilities, and reunions with family and friends that can be observed simply by hanging out in the Reception area.
The meeting space in which the trial of Bradley Schmeling is to take place is typical of multi-use facilities found in hotels all over Atlanta and throughout the country. It will be equipped with tables and chairs, and outfitted with pitchers of water, coffee and tea, as meetings always are in such venues.
All of this bright-eyed, motivated, efficient, even caring normality belies the serious capital ecclesiastical trial that is going to take place starting Friday morning. The sign on the entrance to the room and in the hotel lobby will most likely simply say "ELCA." The door, on the day, will be guarded, access restricted to the participants. That's because the ELCA wants to have a closed trial, in the middle of a nation and people that believe no trial should ever be secret.
Capital ecclesiastical trial? Being struck off the roster of clergy is the most serious negative outcome possible in this trial, there being no more serious ecclesiastical punishment that can be imposed. However, it is also possible that, enlightened by the Holy Spirit and moved by the evidence presented, the Hearing Committee could elect to take no action in this case and ask that the policy which caused it to be convened be reviewed for relevance to our current understanding of Scripture. Or, they could take no action in this case pending the issuance of the Social Statement on Sexuality in 2009. Between no-action and struck from the roster are suspension and censure, in gradations.
In a weird coincidence, just across the street from the Sheraton, the 14th Street Playhouse is currently playing "Defending the Caveman," a one-man show started in 1991 by Rob Becker, since 2003 handed off to others to present. In ninety minutes, the play delves with humor, compassion, and insight into the real differences between the thinking of men and women, differences that may stem from genetic sources, the result of human evolution across the millennia. The presentation's central theme is that if we recognize those stark differences instead of making judgments according to one's own gender-biased ideas, it is possible to understand rather than judging people hostilely. Couples attending this play usually start by poking each other as points are scored for one side or the other, but end up leaving the theater holding hands. It is no stretch at all to find the ELCA's policy, and the trial across the street that results from it, completely incongruous to the reality and hope Becker presents.
So, who is going to be in the room during the trial? Here are the persons who will participate:
Hearing Officer: James Ellefson, Southeastern Iowa Synod
Hearing Committee Members: 7–12 individuals (up to 6 from the ELCA elected list and 6 from the Southeastern Synod, names are withheld here as is common with juries)
Counsel for the ELCA: Daniel Connolly
Counsel for the ELCA: Erik Jorstad
Facilitator for the ELCA: The Rev Herbert Carlmark
Facilitator for the ELCA: David Hardy
The Rev Bradley Schmeling
Counsel for Bradley: The Rev Jane Fahey, Presbyterian Church (USA)
Counsel for Bradley: The Rev Robert Rimbo, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, New York
The Rev Darin Easler, United Church of Church, Bradley's partner
Mrs Judy Schmeling-Arnette, Bradley's mom
Ms Laura Crawley, President, St John's Lutheran Church, Atlanta
There are various events taking place at St John's in Atlanta beginning tonight with a prayer service, continuing with a prayer vigil, Prayers at the Cross on Friday night, a concert on Saturday night, and Sunday worship and evensong. Details are on www.stjohnsatlanta.org.
I will write to you again tonight and every night through the end of the trial, and then when the decision of the committee is announced, which could be up to 15 days from the completion of the trial.
"The Lord bless and keep us; the Lord make His Face shine upon us and be gracious to us; the Lord look upon us with favor and give us peace…"
…and justice.
Phil SoucyDirector Communications LC/NAcommunications@lcna.org

Go to http://www.lcna.org/ to follow Lutherans Concerned reporting on their advocacy.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Anglican News

Why the Virginia Parishes’ Departure Is Not Fundamentally About Homosexuality, Part One: The Authority of Scripture by Ralph Webb

You would think that after more than three years of stories about divisions in the Episcopal Church (TEC), it would be clear that the conflict is not all about—or even fundamentally about—homosexuality. True, the crisis gained widespread press coverage during the denomination's 74th General Convention, held in 2003. That convention is well-remembered as the one at which the Episcopal Church confirmed the election of the openly homosexual Gene Robinson as a bishop. It was also the convention at which local parish blessings of same-sex unions were "recognize[d]" as being "within the bounds of [the Episcopal Church's] common life" as long as they had the approval of the diocesan bishop. Still, those actions only inflamed deeper divisions, the roots of which first appeared decades earlier.
So it has been disappointing to see recent reports simplistically identifying conservatives breaking with the Episcopal Church as "anti-gay." To be fair, some reporting has gotten better: instead of claiming that homosexuality is the reason for the turmoil in TEC, many reporters now are noting that there are other issues involved. Nonetheless, it's still all too easy to conclude from some news stories that the primary reason why the Virginia parishes are departing involves opposition to homosexuality.
Representatives and members of the parishes disagree. They have given three primary reasons for leaving: the authority of Scripture, the mission of the parishes, and wanting to stay in the Anglican Communion. This piece covers the first of the three reasons; the other two topics are left for future articles.

The Authority of Scripture
The authority of Scripture is an issue that goes well beyond the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson or permission for same-sex blessings. Those innovations within the Episcopal Church raised the question of scriptural authority, because they seemed to go so clearly against the common Christian understanding of what the Bible teaches about marriage and sex. Orthodox Anglicans and other observers have felt that Episcopal leaders have not demonstrated credibly how the Scriptures can be read to affirm either homosexual relations or other sexual relations outside the marriage of one man and one woman. Moreover, those leaders often seem to discount the Scriptures, suggesting that biblical prohibitions do not apply to today's same-sex relationships—or even that the Episcopal Church has had a new revelation superceding the biblical prohibitions. The acceptance of such strategies for setting aside the Scriptures has serious implications—far beyond matters of sexuality.

For this reason, the ballot question used for voting in some of the Virginia parishes specifically contained a clause relating to scriptural authority. It stated "that The Episcopal Church has departed from the authority of the Holy Scriptures and from historic Christian teaching on the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the only Lord and Savior of humankind."

Notice that the clause charged TEC with departing not only from the Scriptures, but also "from historic Christian teaching." Another term for "historic Christian teaching" is "tradition." Anglicans, including Episcopalians, have long upheld an image of a "three-legged stool" as the basis for Christian decision-making. The three legs of the stool are Scripture, tradition, and reason.

What the departing parishes are saying is that one leg, Scripture, has totally broken off of the stool. A second leg, tradition, has also broken off. And if you read enough writings of orthodox Episcopalians, you can see that they believe that reason, as well, is at minimum proving to be a very wobbly leg.

Salvation through Christ Alone
The ballot question, significantly, said nothing about homosexuality. The charge that the parishes made was that the Episcopal Church has left Scripture and tradition "on the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the only Lord and Savior of humankind."

What is this all about? At General Convention 2006, proposed resolution D058, "Salvation through Christ Alone," stated in part the following:

Resolved, the House of _____ concurring, That the 75th GeneralConvention of the Episcopal Church declares its unchanging commitmentto Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the only name by which any personmay be saved (Article XVIII); and be it further
Resolved, That we acknowledge the solemn responsibility placed upon usto share Christ with all persons when we hear His words, "I am the Way,the Truth, and the Life. No-one comes to the Father except through me"(John 14:6).

This resolution takes its beliefs from both Scripture (i.e., Chapter 14 of John's gospel) and Article XVII of Anglicanism's Thirty-nine Articles of Religion (hereafter shortened to "Articles"). The resolution was never brought before a vote and, consequently, was discharged. Since the convention, new Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori repeatedly has said that Jesus is not the only way to God. This is an issue far more fundamental to the parishioners who voted to leave TEC than anything relating to homosexuality.

Some progressive Anglicans have tried to portray the bishop's remarks as in line with mainstream Christian teaching. They have argued that Christians throughout history, and in fact the Roman Catholic Church today, have believed that people can be reconciled to God through other religions. That argument has a ring of truth to it, but only a faint one. The Roman Catholic Church indeed believes that people who have not heard of Christ may be shown mercy by God. Paragraph 847 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes a Vatican II document on this matter:

"Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation."

However, the Roman Catholic Church also holds that such people are reconciled to God only through Christ. Paragraph 846 of the Catechism states that "all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body."

From this standpoint, nobody is beyond God's redemptive reach—regardless of historical or cultural circumstances. Still, the only means of reconciliation to God for anyone is through the work of Jesus Christ—the work completed in his life, death, and resurrection. And the usual way in which persons receive that work of salvation is by "faith [that] comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17) as proclaimed by the Church. This has been the normative position of the Christian Church down through its history.

This view is not just held by Roman Catholics. Many, though far from all, orthodox Anglicans and other mainline and evangelical Protestants hold to this view. However, that belief is not one that the presiding bishop has confessed in her interviews. She instead contended in Time magazine that Jesus Christ was the Christian's "vehicle to the divine" and, more explicitly, "that doesn't mean that a Hindu doesn't experience God except through Jesus." More recently, she elaborated on her beliefs concerning the second half of John 14:6, "No one comes to the Father except through me," in the Arkansas-Democrat Gazette:

[I]n its narrow construction, it tends to eliminate other possibilities. In its broader construction, yes, human beings come to relationship with God largely through their experience of holiness in other human beings. Through seeing God at work in other people's lives. In that sense, yes, I will affirm that statement. But not in the narrow sense, that people can only come to relationship with God through consciously believing in Jesus.

Bishop Jefferts Schori's use of the word "consciously" might make her remarks acceptable to some orthodox Anglicans. However, in describing her beliefs, she provided a self-professedly "broader" definition of coming to God through the "experience of holiness in other human beings…[and] seeing God at work in other people's lives."

Certainly, people come to faith through the positive examples of other Christians, but is Jesus any more than one of many examples of holiness? Jefferts Schori unquestionably has answered "yes" for the Christian. But what about the uniqueness of Christ for those who are not Christian? Absent in all of her discussions is a proclamation of Christ as "the only name by which a person may be saved," as Article XVIII of TEC's Articles state. It's this absence that concerns the Virginia parishioners.

Some who opposed the 2006 resolution on "Salvation through Christ Alone" maintained that it was unnecessary, as its subject matter was already covered in the Book of Common Prayer and past General Convention resolutions. Such a consideration is not persuasive for the Virginia parishioners and other orthodox Anglicans. When the General Convention has cared deeply about a subject, it has reaffirmed prior resolutions. For example, the 2006 resolution A167, "'Full and Equal Claim' for All the Baptized," in its final approved form reaffirmed three resolutions—one each from 1976, 1997, and 2003—concerning equality for gay and lesbian Episcopalians.

Recent Resolutions on the Authority of Scripture
This was also not the first time by any means that a resolution related to the authority of Scripture had been dismissed, rejected, or greatly revised at the General Convention. In 1991, resolution C047, "Affirm the Historic Anglican Appeal to Scripture, Tradition, and Reason," was approved at the 70th General Convention only after the elimination of six introductory clauses describing the authority of the Bible in the life of TEC. These clauses appealed to Scripture, the Articles, and the Book of Common Prayer for the resolution's justification.

A harsher fate awaited resolution B001, "Endorse Certain Historic Anglican Doctrines and Policies," at the 74th General Convention in 2003. It was rejected by a vote of 84-66 in the House of Bishops. The resolution itself appealed to two of the Articles and asked the bishops and deputies present to affirm that Jesus' teachings as recorded in Scripture were binding on Christians' consciences when churches went astray. Its defeat was seen by many orthodox Anglicans as a watermark that painfully revealed how far the Episcopal Church had left its scriptural and traditional moorings.

This issue came up again at the 2006 convention. Resolution D069, "Supreme Authority of Scripture," asked TEC to "[acknowledge] that the Bible has always been at the centre of Anglican belief and life, and declares its belief that Scripture is the Church's supreme authority, and as such ought to be seen as a focus and means of unity." This language was taken from the October 2004 Windsor Report. The Windsor Report was completed by a commission established by the Archbishop of Canterbury to seek ways in which Anglican provinces could maintain the highest degree of communion possible given the developments relating to homosexuality in TEC and the Diocese of New Westminster in Canada.

The "Supreme Authority of Scripture" resolution was approved, but in a drastically revised form. The previous stronger language from the Windsor Report was replaced with an acknowledgement of "the authority of the triune God, exercised through Scripture." That revision is an acceptable statement of one facet of Christian belief, but it is not precisely the same topic addressed in the original resolution. Furthermore, the sense of the resolution being a response to the Anglican Communion was lost by the removal of the original Windsor Report language. Even more critical was the impression left by the rewrite. In effect, by so drastically rewording the resolution, the 2006 General Convention arguably suggested that it disagreed with the Windsor Report's language concerning the Scriptures.

Scripture as a Point of Division
Given all of the above, it should be no surprise that Scripture sadly has become a point of division as opposed to unity among both Episcopalians and, more broadly, Anglicans. The Episcopal Church's rejection of Scriptural authority on both theological and social issues has led to the current crisis within the denomination. Many progressives argue that agreement on scriptural interpretation among Episcopalians as a whole is both impossible and undesirable. In contrast, the Virginia parishes and other orthodox Anglicans clearly see that a common allegiance to Scripture ought to be a uniting element. These important differences are being played out today and are leading many Episcopalians to separate from their denomination.
Date: 1/19/2007

Friday, January 19, 2007


A News Release from the Communications Office of The Diocese of Virginia
Diocesan Leadership Declares Church Property ‘Abandoned’
For release: Thursday, January 18, 2007
Contact: Patrick Getlein 1-800 346-2373 x 30

Today, January 18, 2007, the Executive Board of the Diocese of Virginia took a step forward in preserving the mission and ministry of the Diocese and the Episcopal Church for current and future generations of Episcopalians and adopted a resolution concerning the property of 11 Episcopal Churches where a majority of members – including the vestry and clergy – have left The Episcopal Church but have not relinquished Church property and have continued to occupy the churches and use the property owned by the Diocese.Specifically, the Executive Board declared the property of those churches – real and personal – to be abandoned in accordance with the Canons of the Diocese.“All real and personal property held by or for the benefit of any Church or Mission within this Diocese is held in trust for The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia.” (Canon 15.1)“No part of the real property of a Church, except abandoned property, shall be alienated, sold, exchanged, encumbered or otherwise transferred for any purpose without the consent of the congregation … [and] the Bishop, acting with the advice and consent of the Standing Committee of the Diocese.” (Canon 15.2)Having declared the property abandoned for the purposes for which it is set aside, namely the mission of the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia, the Executive Board is required to protect the property, according to the Canons:“[W]henever any property, real or personal, formerly owned or used by any congregation of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia for any purpose for which religious congregations are authorized to hold property under the provisions of the Code of Virginia or any amendment thereof, has ceased to be so occupied or used by such congregation, so that the same may be regarded as abandoned property by the Executive Board, which shall have the authority to declare such property abandoned and shall have the authority to take charge and custody thereof, the Executive Board shall take such steps as may be necessary to transfer the property to the Bishop…” (Canon 15.3)The unanimous decision by the Executive Board also authorizes the Bishop to take such steps as may be necessary to recover or secure such real and personal property.In addition, the Standing Committee met today for its regular monthly meeting and took up the issue of the status of the clergy attached to these congregations. Following today’s meeting the Standing Committee will communicate its determination to the Bishop according to the Canons.The 11 churches where property has been declared abandoned are:
Church of the Redeemer, Chantilly
Church of the Apostles, Fairfax
Church of the Epiphany, Herndon
Church of Our Saviour, Oatlands
Church of the Word, Gainesville
Potomac Falls Church, Sterling
St. Margaret’s, Woodbridge
St. Paul’s, Haymarket
St. Stephen’s, Heathsville
Truro, Fairfax
The Falls Church, Falls Church


A Letter to the Diocese of Virginia from the Rt. Rev. Peter James Lee, Bishop
January 18, 2007

Dear Friends:Today, the leadership of the Diocese of Virginia, supported by the prayers of faithful Episcopalians in this Diocese and around the world, took action to preserve the sacred mission entrusted to us by previous generations for the future of the Church here in Virginia and across the Episcopal Church.At the heart of our faith, is the reliability of the promises of God to God’s people. Nowhere is that reliability more clearly affirmed than in the promises of God that his exiled people will be returned to Jerusalem, to their spiritual home. (Jer. 36)
Because we believe that God’s promises to his people continue to be reliable, we will seek the return of the churches of the Diocese of Virginia that are occupied by dissidents.We are commanded by scripture to obey the civil authority. (Rom. 13)
While St. Paul admonishes individual Christians to avoid lawsuits with one another, obedience to the rule of law is a more controlling teaching. We believe the law supports diocesan ownership of church property.In some of our congregations, members led by their lay and ordained leadership, have voted to leave The Episcopal Church and to affiliate with a non-recognized organization of churches purportedly under the authority of Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola. The organization is known as CANA, or Convocation of Anglicans in North America.
The Church of Nigeria, like The Episcopal Church, is an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion with clearly defined boundaries. Bonds of affection in the Anglican Communion hold that provincial boundaries are not crossed by bishops without expressed invitation. Bishop Akinola’s effort to establish CANA within the boundaries of The Episcopal Church has occurred without any invitation or authorization whatsoever and violates centuries of established Anglican heritage. As the Archbishop of Canterbury has made clear, CANA is not a branch of the Anglican Communion and does not have his encouragement.When the membership of these congregations voted to sever their ties with the Episcopal Church and affiliate with CANA, they left remaining Episcopal congregations in those places without vestries, without clergy and without their churches, whether the remaining congregations numbered one or 100 souls. The spiritual abandonment of their Episcopal brothers and sisters of the past, the present and the future, is perhaps the greatest offense for which there is no redress under our tradition.In the structure of the Episcopal Church, individuals may come and go but parishes continue. And in some of these churches there is life springing from these dry bones. At St. Stephen’s in Heathsville, the remaining Episcopal congregation, a full third of the congregation before the vote to leave, has held a congregational meeting, elected a vestry, elected a delegate to Council and currently is worshiping at a nearby United Methodist Church until they can be reunited with their Episcopal Church property. In Woodbridge, a growing congregation of 50 Episcopalians of St. Margaret’s Church will hold their congregational meeting this Sunday, elect a vestry, confirm their previously elected delegate to Council and will continue to worship at a nearby location until they, too, can reenter their Episcopal church. Similar groups are organizing at The Falls Church, and there are nearly 100 people at the Church of the Epiphany in Herndon who may reorganize and continue as the Episcopal Church in that place.It is for these persons that previous generations of Episcopalians worshiped, worked, prayed and gave generously for the spread of the Kingdom of God. It is the trust that they created, and that we inherited, which now we must move to protect, preserve and expand for generations to come.For years diocesan leadership has worked to accommodate the views of the leadership of these churches. We have resisted attempts to deny them seat, voice and vote at the Annual Council when they stopped funding the budget of the Diocese. They have enjoyed access to our diocesan-managed medical and dental benefits. They have enjoyed other diocesan resources like grant funding for church planting, mission work and congregational development, Shrine Mont and Roslyn. I have met dozens of times with the leadership of these churches and with their counsel in an effort to find common ground on matters of theology. Three times I invited the retired Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey to conduct confirmations and receptions when my episcopal presence was either specifically refused or would have been a source of tension for the membership. I endured being told that the parents of confirmands would not want me to lay hands on their children at confirmation and I have received other personal attacks including death wishes in letters, reports and public statements.
I have tried to find a way forward in our dispute over property that would keep us from having to resort to civil courts. No longer am I convinced that such an outcome is possible, nor do I believe that such a move at this time is dishonorable. Rather, I believe as does the leadership of our Diocese and of our Church, that the actions taken to secure our property are consistent with our mission and with our fiduciary and moral obligations to the Church of our ancestors, to the church we serve today, and to the church of those who will follow us.The votes to separate from The Episcopal Church negated all the work we had done in good faith over the years to accommodate the views of the leadership of these churches and focused our attention on the only two remaining factors: the status of clergy and the status of property. The work of the Property Commission, which assembled immediately after the votes to separate, brought together the years of efforts at accommodation and the previous year of discussion over matters of property and clergy status. As that work was brought into the Property Commission’s view and shared with the Executive Board, Standing Committee and with counsel for the separated churches, it became clear that no position other than relinquishing our claim to Episcopal Church property would be satisfactory to those who have left. There would be no serious effort at reaching a fair market price for property. There would be no discussion of the issues on a case by case basis. There was repeated desire to wrap issues of clergy status, including matters having to do with clergy pensions, into the discussion of church property, an inappropriate bundling of unrelated issues. It became clear that the process of negotiation would be unduly cumbersome and would risk further a second alienation of those loyal Episcopalians who had already been disenfranchised by the vote of the majority of their former members.Recently, attorneys for the dissidents sent a letter threatening action against me and any other diocesan officials who “set foot on” or “trespass” on Episcopal Church property. By contrast, your leadership has not moved to change locks or freeze assets. Rather, once again, we have moved to accommodate these dissidents at the expense of our faithful people.
Following the votes of the majority of members of these congregations, the counsel of these now non-Episcopal congregations filed reports with the clerks of the courts in their jurisdictions under a statute in the Code of Virginia that they think gives them the right to Episcopal Church property. We have intervened in that action. We are supported in this by The Episcopal Church on a national level. [emphasis added] It is with a heavy heart that your leadership has moved in this direction, but it is not without a long period of efforts at accommodation and negotiation.These differences are not about property but about the legacy we have received for the mission of Christ and our obligation to preserve that legacy for the future.In the coming days and months there will be many opinions aired in the media, in letters and in countless blogs, opinions disguised as facts. I urge you to turn away from those as the distracting noise of the world intended to take your mind and your heart off the mission of the Church. Instead, I urge you to pray for our brothers and sisters who have moved to separate themselves from us. I urge us to remember that in their call away from the Episcopal Church, they may be responding to a genuine call to new ministry in a different place and in a different way. The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia will mourn their loss. We will suffer from their absence in ways we cannot know at this time in our life. I believe that they, too, will know times when our absence from their life will be a source of great sorrow for them.My dear brothers and sisters, the Church in these communities may look different moving forward. We will look different as a Diocese. And the road ahead will be long and filled with opportunities to lose heart. We must always have our eyes fixed on God, not be anxious, and trust in the reliability of God’s promises. For even in this, God is doing a new thing.
Peter James Lee

"Gay Lutheran minister faces church trial"

Gay Lutheran minister faces church trial
By GIOVANNA DELL'ORTO, Associated Press Writer

ATLANTA - A minister who disclosed that he was gay before Atlanta's oldest Lutheran church hired him as its pastor could now be defrocked for announcing he has a partner.
The Rev. Bradley Schmeling was chosen in 2000 to lead St. John's, though some worried his sexuality could threaten its standing with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. But last year, the 350-member congregation threw a party for him and his partner, when Schmeling announced he had found a lifelong companion.
Bishop Ronald Warren of the ELCA's Southeastern Synod, however, asked the 44-year-old pastor to resign. When Schmeling refused, Warren started disciplinary proceedings against him for violating church rules barring sex outside of marriage.
On Friday, Schmeling will face a hearing — structured much like a trial — where a committee of 12 ELCA members will decide whether he can remain an ordained minister in the church that sits among mansion-lined hills just east of downtown.
If the committee rules against Schmeling, he could face suspension or no longer be recognized as an ordained minister in the ELCA. In the latter case, if his congregation opts to keep him as its pastor, the ELCA could also discipline St. John's.
The ELCA maintains it's simply following its own rules, which bar unmarried clergy — whether gay or straight — from having sex. The denomination believes that sex is reserved for marriage and marriage for heterosexual couples. Still, many Lutheran churches support ordaining partnered gays and perform same-sex blessing ceremonies despite the policy.
Schmeling and his supporters say they hope his case will make the church more accepting of pastors in same-sex relationships.
"We've always been a church that emphasizes the unconditional love of God, so this policy runs counter to that," Schmeling said in an interview with The Associated Press last weekend.
Other mainline Protestant denominations, including the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Methodists and the Episcopalians, also have been struggling for years to resolve differences over the Bible and gay clergy.
The Rev. Irene "Beth" Stroud was defrocked by the United Methodist Church in 2005 for being in a lesbian partnership, while a Presbyterian assembly last year voted to create leeway for congregations to hire gay clergy.
Schmeling told both his bishop and congregation about his sexual orientation before he was chosen pastor. He didn't have a partner at the time.
ELCA spokesman John Brooks said that if a heterosexual pastor was in a relationship outside of marriage and he refused to repent, he would face similar disciplinary proceedings. When Warren announced in August that he was taking action against Schmeling, he said he wouldn't comment until a verdict was rendered.
In 2005, delegates to an ELCA national meeting rejected a proposal to allow sexually active gays and lesbians in committed, long-term relationships to be ordained.
Schmeling and his supporters say the policy barring sexually active gay pastors is discriminatory by forcing them to refrain from sex, while heterosexuals only have to wait for marriage.
Schmeling's hearing, which will be closed to the public, is expected to run through the weekend. Afterward, the 12-person committee — comprised of both clergy and lay people, including two members chosen by Schmeling — will have a couple of weeks to decide whether to take action, which could include a suspension or removal from ordained ministry.
"We want Bradley to be our pastor and we want to remain in ELCA," congregation president Laura Crawley said. "If he's removed from the roster, he'll continue as pastor."

Friday, January 12, 2007

Some more thoughts about celibacy, marriage, and Church Order.

The Rev. Dr. Jean Alden McCurdy Meade
Vicar Mount Olivet Episcopal Church
New Orleans, Louisiana
March 9, 2004

As we continue to discuss in the United States whether homosexuals have a civil “right” to marry or whether the term marriage cannot be reinterpreted to mean anything other than the union of one man and one woman, it seems to me that we in the Anglican Communion should make a distinction between what teachings for the ordained make for good church order and speculation about future conclusions of biological or psychological studies, personal experience, or polls about homosexual behavior as either sinful or worthy of receiving the Church’s blessing. We may need to consider all those things and others in the coming years and perhaps will someday radically reinterpret our Scriptures to accommodate a new anthropology of sexual inclusiveness. But we are nowhere near there now; and of course many of us believe that we will never be there as long as we believe in the authority of Scripture. But I am trying in this essay to bypass that argument and make another one: so please bear with me.
Can we not, in an abundance of caution, insist that those presenting themselves for ordination be able and willing to lead a life which we are assured by scripture and our traditional theology is blessed by God? And can we not require that as a matter of Church policy and discipline and order without making an ultimate claim about the lives of the laity? There is no right to be ordained – it is a calling from God and from the Church. Believing that one can live according to the teaching of the Church is a just requirement for ordination; and the stricter accountability that obtains for the ordained makes greater caution appropriate when testing the spirit of the age against our traditional understanding of holiness of life.
Precedent for this suggestion is found in the order and discipline of the Roman Catholic Church and of the Orthodox. Romans require all priests to vow celibacy, without saying that that is a higher or holier state of life than marriage, at least ever since Vatican II. It is just a requirement; and the present Pope has called celibacy of the clergy “a precious jewel.” Those not called to celibacy cannot present themselves for ordination; and those who are already ordained and find they can no longer keep that vow must leave Holy Orders – it’s just that simple. I believe that the history of Anglicanism shows that the dropping the requirement of celibacy in the 16th century was intended to emphasize that marriage is also an honorable state as set forth in scripture, and not just a “remedy for sin” as some medieval theologians had described it. Celibacy has always been honored in Anglicanism as a call given to some to follow in the way of Our Lord and of St. Paul, most notably, for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
In Orthodox practice, to which Anglicans have always looked for inspiration and guidance, there is even a more nuanced delineation between marriage, celibacy, and the requirements for Holy Orders. Men who are already married may be ordained to the priesthood; but they may not re-marry if their wife dies or leaves them without relinquishing their Holy Orders. As for Bishops, only those priests who have vowed celibacy and thus are part of a monastic life –whether or not they live in a monastery vowed religious priests are all attached to one - are considered for the episcopacy. So service as a parish priest does not require celibacy; but service to the larger church as a Bishop does.
In the spirit of humility and compromise, notwithstanding the natural law tradition which informs Anglican theology and anthropology, could we not in charity allow for some of us to be agnostic on the sanctity of the lives of homosexually active lay persons while still requiring that those presenting themselves for ordination, and most especially for consecration as a Bishop, be held to the traditional biblical understanding of the right use of our sexual nature and desires? The key word is assurance – we can be assured that the moral ideals of our clergy conform with the teaching of Scripture and our tradition if they vow celibacy or Christian marriage. We know they will not be leading other astray if they steadfastly seek to honor those vows. Right now, I respectfully suggest, that is all of which we have full assurance and so that is where we should continue to make our stand.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Good News for Gay Christians

Good News for Gay Christians
Sermons on the Subjects of the Day (7)
The last in a monthly Fulcrum seriesof seven sermons for the web by Oliver O'Donovan
Discuss this Web Sermon on the Fulcrum Forum
The notes in the text are hyperlinked into the end notes; to return to the text, click on the end note number
"He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms, he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young" (Isaiah 40:11)
In a thoughtful response to the St Andrew's Day Statement of 1996 Rowan Williams asked how the authors might address "the good news" to a certain type of homosexual Christian for whom he had a special concern.[1] Speaking in the first person, this Christian (to whom we shall assign the masculine pronoun) declares: (i) that he desires to live in obedience to Christ; (ii) he is unable to see himself reflected in the description of homosexuals in Romans 1, since he is not "rejecting something I know in the depths of my being"; (iii) that he conducts a life of moral struggle like other Christians; and (iv) that it is "hard to hear good news" from a church which insists his condition is spiritually compromised. This question frames very neatly the challenge the church faces. We may wonder whether the Archbishop's ideal homosexual Christian is too idealised. We may wonder whether he is typical. But doubts of this kind are no reason to refuse the challenge. If there are homosexual Christians who see themselves in this way, then, precisely because they intend to take the disciplines of the Christian life with perfect seriousness, we may and must listen and speak to them with perfect seriousness about the good news in Jesus Christ. However, there is another question that ought to be raised alongside the first, and addressed to anyone who sees him- or herself, in this portrait of the homosexual Christian. To raise this second question is not to evade the first; rather, it is to search out the shape that an answer to the first must take. This second question, too, is put by Rowan Williams: "How does the homosexually inclined person show Christ to the world?" For if the gay Christian is to be addressed as a believer and a disciple, a recipient of the good news, he has to be addressed as a potential evangelist, too. But we must take this second question a little further. The good news meant for the human race is meant for the church, too. What good news does the gay Christian have to bring to the church?
There is an elementary point about Christian ethics that I have sought to emphasise ever since the opening pages of my Resurrection and Moral Order published twenty years ago: there is no Christian ethics that is not "evangelical", ie good news.[2] There can be no change of voice, no shift of mood, between God's word of forgiveness and his word of demand, no obedience-without-gift, no gift-without-obedience. The gift and the obedience are in fact one and the same. They are the righteousness of Jesus Christ, encompassing and transforming our own lives, past, present and future. To preach the good news, then, is precisely what we do in expounding Christian ethics, if we expound Christian ethics faithfully. Preaching the good news is the only form of address of which the Christian church as such is capable, whether speaking to Christians or to non-Christians. When we use any other form of argument - quoting opinion-poll statistics, for example, or reporting the result of scientific experiments, or suggesting some practical compromise - the relevance of what we say depends on how well it is formed to serve the evangelical message. If the church speaks not as witness to God's saving work but as a pundit or a broker of some deal, it speaks out of character.
Yet to preach the Gospel, whether to Christians or non-Christians, is not a simple matter of offering reassurance and comfort. The Gospel, too, has its "hard words". The righteousness of Jesus Christ is not comfort without demand, any more than it is demand without comfort. It is never less than that demanding comfort by which God makes more of us than we thought it possible to become. And from this there seems to follow an important implication: the Gospel must be preached to the gay Christian on precisely the same terms that it is preached to any other person. "The 'hard words' theology is given to speak," as Jean-Yves Lacoste has written, "are still words of salvation, meant for mankind as mankind, not as Jew or Greek."[3] This should not be unwelcome to a gay Christian. What, after all, would it mean if we set gays aside from the bulk of humankind, offering them some special reassurance not meant for the children of Adam and Eve?
This was the point which the authors of the St Andrews Day Statement made when they wrote: "We must be on guard...against constructing any other ground for our identities than the redeemed humanity given us in (Christ)." These words met with a somewhat unsympathetic response. Either they seemed too obvious to be necessary, or they seemed too arbitrarily restrictive. From either point of view it could be thought that the authors had some obscure polemical intent in writing them. What they had in view in fact was simply to assert the theological ground of human solidarity in creation, fall and redemption, embracing gay and non-gay alike. If anyone thinks that point too obvious to mention, notice the range of inhuman views freely attributed by liberal polemicists to their opponents, as well as the range of "posthuman" views freely advocated by post-liberals![4] Homosexuality is not the determining factor in any human being's existence; therefore it cannot be the determining factor in the way we treat a human being, and should not be the determining factor in the way a human being treats him- or herself. Gays are children of Adam and Eve, brothers and sisters of Christ. There is no other foundation laid than that. "He will feed his flock like a shepherd"; from which it follows, simpliciter and without adjustment, that he will feed gays like a shepherd, too.
Yet, it can be replied, there are other, less fundamental senses to the concept of "identity". Can we not speak of a "homosexual identity" in this less fundamental way, as we might speak, without denying anything in human solidarity, of a racial identity or of a class identity? And may we not ask how the good news may be addressed specifically to it? Since Gregory the Great's Pastoral Rule bishops and other preachers have been preoccupied with how to address the Gospel to sections of the flock with special needs: a Gospel for the rich, a Gospel for the poor, a Gospel for the powerful, a Gospel for the powerless etc. etc., which, as Gregory claims, "sollicitously oppose suitable medicines to the various diseases of the several hearers."[5] I have to confess a reservation about this conception from the start. I am not sure that it can be disentangled from Gregory's idea of the preacher as a rector, or "ruler", who safeguards and services a certain kind of Christianised social order built on role-differences. Gregory's preacher strives to make role-differences comfortable for everyone, chiefly by preventing them being over-stated - excellent managerial sense, no doubt, but not the primary business of a Christian evangelist. The Gospel is addressed to human beings irrespective of their condition, and there is no prima facie place to dismember it into a series of gospels for discrete social sectors. Why would there be a Gospel for the homosexual any more than a Gospel for the teacher of literature, for the civil magistrate, or for the successful merchant (to name just three categories that the early church viewed with the same narrowing of the eyes that a homosexual may encounter today.) It is for the church to address the good news, we may say; it is for the recipient - homosexual, pedagogue, politician or captain of industry - to hear it and to say how he or she hears it in and from this or that social position.
Yet there is more to be said than that. The Gospel does have implications for the way we conduct ourselves in the world, and the way we conduct ourselves in the world is differentiated as the forms and circumstances that constitute the world are differentiated. There are special needs because there are special contexts within which the Christian life has to be lived out. Traditionally, these have been discussed in Christian theology under the heading of "vocation". The preaching of the Gospel can and must address distinct vocations, even though it must address them only in the second place, after it has spoken to us all as human beings, not in the first place. "He will gather the lambs in his arms, and gently lead those that are with young." Let us imagine a gay person who has "heard" the message of the Gospel but is yet unaware of any bearing it may have for his homosexual sensibility. Must there not be some following up of the good news, something to relate what has been heard to this aspect of his self-understanding? It is helpful to keep the analogy with teachers, magistrates and financiers in our mind. Suppose a Christian teacher who has found in the Gospel no implications for how literature is to be read and taught; or a Christian politician who has found no special questions raised by the Gospel about policies for military defence; or a financier to whom it has not yet occurred that large sums of money should not be handled in the way a butcher handles carcases. A pastoral question arises. In the light of the Gospel neither literature nor government nor money are mere neutral technicalities. They are dangerous powers in human life, foci upon which idolatry, envy and hatred easily concentrate. Those who deal with them need to know what it is they handle. The teacher, politician and banker who have not yet woken up to the battle raging in heavenly places around the stuff of their daily lives, have still to face the challenge of the Gospel. Is it any different with the powers of sexual sensibility?
Of course, this pastoral train of thought does not entitle us to demand that the gay Christian (or the teacher, politician and banker) should repent without further ado. Theirs is a position of moral peril, but also a position of moral opportunity. In preaching the Gospel to a specific vocation we must aim to assist in discernment. Discernment means tracing the lines of the spiritual battle to be fought; it means awareness of the peculiar temptations of the situation; but it also means identifying the possibilities of service in a specific vocation. The Christian facing the perils and possibilities of a special position must be equipped, as a first step, with the moral wisdom of those who have taken that path before, the rules as have been distilled from their experience. A soldier needs to learn about "just war", a financier about "just price", and so on. Again, can it be any different in the realm of sexual sensibility? Discernment is not acquired in a vacuum; it is learned by listening to the tradition of the Christian community reflecting upon Scripture. In this exercise, of course, we cannot rule out the possibility that we may reach a "revisionist" conclusion. No element formed by tradition can claim absolute allegiance. But the right to revise traditions is not everybody's right; it has to be won by learning their moral truths as deeply as they can be learned. Those who have difficult vocations to explore need the tradition to help the exploration. The tradition may not have the final word; but it is certain they will never find the final word if they have failed to profit from the words the tradition offers. And if it should really be the case that they are summoned to witness on some terra incognita of "new" experience, it will be all the more important that their new discernments should have been reached on the basis of a deep appropriation of old ones, searching for and exploiting the analogies they offer. No one who has not learned to be traditional can dare to innovate.
If this gay Christian, then, directed to traditional rules of sexual conduct as bearers of help, complains that the good news is difficult to hear because his position is treated as compromised from the outset, he has misunderstood something. There is only one position compromised from the outset, and that is the position that is "revisionist" from the outset, determined by the assumption that the church's past reflections on the Gospel have nothing helpful to offer. Certainly, no one who sets out from that starting-point will end up in catholic communion, for catholic communion presupposes a catholic mind. But the believer whom Rowan Williams introduces does not set out from there. He pleads that his purpose in life is "not just fulfilment..." but to become "transparent to Jesus, a sign of the kingdom". He accepts, in other words, the St Andrew's Day Statement's point that discipleship cannot be without a price in self-denial, but asks whether that price may not be paid, pari passu with the married, in the "daily discipline of a shared life". And then he asks how that daily discipline can fit in with its two exclusive categories of "marriage" and "singleness".
Two points about the Statement's appeal to these categories bear repeating.[6] First, the claim that these categories are mutually exclusive and comprehensive, covering the whole field of possibilities between them, is advanced on the authority of tradition, not of Scripture. Secondly, the Statement does not itself assert that "all who understand themselves as homosexual are called to do without such a relationship" (ie "exclusive, intimate and permanent", such as characterises marriage), but says, "Some readers will draw this inference, others may not." A development of the tradition is therefore not ruled out, though serious conditions for recognising such a development are stipulated. Further than that the St Andrew's Day Statement did not intend to go. Of course, no secret was made of the fact that the authors of the Statement approached the discussion with the assumption that the right category for the relationships of gay people was singleness, not marriage, and that this implied doing without an exclusive, intimate and permanent relationship. But it was never the intention of the Statement merely to declare what its authors supposed to be the case. Its intention was to pose open questions to gay Christians which might elicit what they supposed to be the case. It was an invitation to dialogue within the basic terms set by Christian faith. The authors knew full well that other answers might be given to these questions than the answers they themselves would give, and they wanted to discuss those other answers, too. They spoke to gay Christians as those who wanted to know, not as those who already knew. It had better be admitted straight away that the question-posing approach of the St Andrew's Day Statement proved a communicative failure. It did not elicit the reflective answers to its questions to gay Christians that it hoped to elicit. Commentators, friendly as well as hostile, refused to take its questioning at face value, filled in the assertions they thought the authors intended to be read between the lines, and cheered or jeered accordingly. The strategy for opening dialogue fell victim, in fact, to the prevailing hermeneutic of suspicion. Yet I still find it difficult to conceive any other strategy that could ever lead to a process of mutual exploration.
Liberal Christianity has no need to ask such questions, because it reckons it knows what gay Christians need, which is "stable relationships". Stable conjugality is the point at which liberalism has made its own peace with the tradition. Or, to put it more unkindly, it is its characteristic form of prudishness. There is, of course, a lot to be said in favour of stable relationships; but before settling on this as the decisive point, I would like to hear the question discussed by gays, rather than by liberals. Is this in fact the key to their experience? Or is there something important in the roaming character of some gay relations? There is room here for a seriously interesting discussion among gay people which will be instructive to us all. What the gay experience really is, is a question of huge importance both to gays and non-gays. By no means everyone who speaks from that experience believes that marriage is the right model for conceiving their relationships. Some have seen it as the "bourgeoisisation" of gay experience; and there are major advocates for the pattern of friendship. Such a debate among gays, if conducted frankly and in public, will provide the essential core-reflection, helping the rest of us feel our way towards an understanding of the dynamic of the experience and a sense of how the good news may bear most importantly on it. If gays are to pursue this debate well, they will need to engage in analogical thinking, which is central to moral reasoning. They will need to ask themselves about likenesses of experience and about unlikenesses, about ways in which known patterns illuminate unknown, about the extending of paradigms to encompass new types.
Rowan Williams's hypothetical gay Christian, then, framed and posed precisely the question which we need his help to answer. And at this point in his article the author intervened in his own person, apparently to sharpen the question: Can "sexual expression of homosexual desire," he asked, "if desire itself may be innocent of disorder, be confidently ruled out?" This way of putting the question actually turns it on its head: instead of starting from given social forms, marriage and singleness, and using these as a baseline from which to reach out analogically to interpret an elusive and mysterious experience, it starts from an experience, apparently entirely clear and beyond discussion, and reaches out to posit a corresponding social form. Wrapped up in this is a certain psychological positivism, an unbiddability characteristic of romantic, pre-Wittgensteinian psychology. Within, we have a self-interpreting mental state, "desire"; outside, we devise an action to "express" it, ie lead the mental state uncompromised from the inner expanses of the mind to the public world. Inner certainties demand untrammelled expression. But that approach can only invite a sceptical reply. What is this inner certainty certain of? How can we know what the desire is for? The language of "expression" is treacherous. It lets us suppose that our desires are perspicuous, when they are not. Sexual desire in particular is notoriously difficult to interpret; the biblical story of Ammon and Tamar is just one of many ancient warnings of how obscure its tendency may be. It is characteristically surrounded by fantasy, and fantasies are never literal indicators of what the desire is really all about, but are symbolic revealer-concealers of an otherwise inarticulate sense of need. But the point holds also for many other kinds of desire - let us say, the desire for a quiet retirement to a cottage in the countryside, or the desire to own a fast racing-car. We cannot take any of them at their face value. "It wasn't what I really wanted!" is the familiar complaint of a disappointed literalism. To all desire its appropriate self-questioning: what wider, broader good does this desire serve? how does it spring out of our strengths, and how does it spring out of our weaknesses? where in relation to this desire does real fulfilment lie? It is in interpreting our desires that we need the wisdom of tradition, which teaches us to beware of the illusory character of immediate emotional data, helping us to sort through our desires and clarify them. The true term of any desire, whether heavily laden or merely banal, is teasingly different from the mental imagination that first aroused it. And gays have no infallible introspective certainties in relation to their desires that would put them outside the common human lot of self-questioning. "I became a great question to myself!" said Augustine.[7] And it was the question of himself that the Gospel helped him address fruitfully.
None of which is to accept, what textbooks and pundits wearisomely repeat, that a homosexual is someone essentially characterised by an inevitable homoerotic desire. That would be to close down the exploration of the gay experience with a vengeance! Nor is it to accept the equation, too attractive to some liberals as to some conservatives, of desire (or sexual desire) and sin. It is perfectly possible to think of desires as no matter for blame, and yet be persuaded that their literal enactment can never be their true fulfilment. Think of the desires we conceive in relation to our enemies when we are angry, or of the desires we conceive in relation to money and possessions! Desire is, however, one aspect of what Christian doctrine used to speak of as "concupiscence", a brokenness of the world reflected in a confusion of desire that our human society itself instils in us. A recovery of the length, breadth and depth of the doctrine of original sin would rid us of a lot of misunderstanding at this point. The gay Christian who complains that the good news is difficult to hear because his position is treated as compromised from the outset could learn that it is not his position, but the position of the human race, that is compromised from the outset. The emotional resources with which anyone faces the world are a measure of the solidarity of human experience from which we have learned what it is to love other human beings in different relations; and in learning we are all, though in different ways, hindered. If the distinctiveness of gay experience reflects original sin in some way, it is because it also reflects the fractured quality of society and its loveless disorder, a disorder for which we all share common responsibility and all pay the common price, the fruit of our uneven social formation.
This train of thought offers us an insight into one aspect of the challenge presented by the gay experience, its novelty. The world has never seen a phenomenon like the contemporary gay consciousness. There have been various patterns of homosexuality in various cultures, but none with the constellation of features and the persistent self-assertion that this one presents. And we need hardly be surprised at this turn in history if we reflect on the extraordinary discontinuities that exist between late-modern society, taken as a whole, and traditional societies. To understand contemporary homosexuality without achieving some understanding of late-modernity as a civilisational phenomenon is out of the question. But then, how can we understand late-modernity without understanding contemporary homosexuality? Can we pretend to take a reading of the spiritual condition of our ultra-technological age without reading deeply the distinctive and novel forms of emotional experience that it has generated? It does not matter whether we suppose this society and its emotional forms will be short-lived or long-lived. The point is, they are of our day; they constitute a horizon of our mission. To live in our time, as in any other, is to have a unique set of practical questions to address.
If the first good news for the gay Christian, then, is that the "great question" - the question of the self, with all its pain and its hope, can be opened illuminatingly in the light of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, there is also a second good news. There is a neighbour with whom to explore the meaning of the contemporary homosexual situation, a neighbour who also needs, for the sake of his or her own integrity, to reach answers to questions which the gay Christian is especially placed to help search out. There is a neighbour for whom strict equality of regard and open candour - "irresponsibility", in the very best sense of that ambiguous word - makes it a primary obligation to put these questions and search for the answers with a persistent patience not to be cut short by the concerns of purely managerial efficiency. The negotiation of soft and evasive compromises will not appeal to that neighbour, because the gay Christian's true self-understanding and well-founded self-acceptance in the grace of God is a matter to be safeguarded in their relationship as securely as the integrity of the questioning itself. One name for this open and candid neighbourly relation is "friendship".
But always to rigorousjudgment and censurefreely assenting, man seeks in his manhoodnot orders, not laws and peremptory dogmas,but counsel from one who is earnest in goodnessand faithful in friendship, making man free.[8]
It is this open and candid relation that a liberal Christianity has refused by its managerial juridicalisation of the gay Christian's claim, by its "laws and peremptory dogmas", designed to settle questions without exploring them, to adjust relations without justifying them, to reassure the uncomforted without comforting them, in short, to manage the situation. Liberal Christianity has interpreted the missionary challenge of the gay experience as a summons to emancipate it. Whether gays would have presented themselves as a suppressed social class in need of emancipation if the prevailing narrative fashions had not invited them to do so, is not a fruitful question to ask or a possible one to answer. What is remarkable, however, is the persistent lack of fit between what gays tend to find especially important about themselves and the role they are given to play in the liberal emancipation narrative. The peculiar quality of the gay vision is sectional rather than universal; the specialness of the gay experience is important to them. Liberals are unable to take that specialness seriously, since their starting point is that gays are no different from anyone else save as they have been arbitrarily imposed upon. When the gay experience becomes self-reflective about its own specialness, and invites interrogation in its own right, not merely as another instance of a hard-done-by under-class, its usefulness to the liberal project will be at an end, since that will open up questions that were supposed to have been settled before the campaign began. It will force us to pay attention to the fragmentation of the modern moral world, and to its insufficiency as a measure to judge the performance of the church by.
The juridical language of justice and rights offers the gay Christian a certain kind of recognition; the language of questioning friendship offers another quite different one. At the level of existential reality the two are incompatible. The gay Christian today is therefore faced with a straightforward choice, a choice about the foundation on which he or she is to live. As always, the good news has a hard word in it: we can't have it both ways. The role of attorney's client, the perpetual petitioner before the court of pleas, is open and inviting, and there are plenty to welcome the gay into it - for the time being. But the catalogue of candidates for emancipation will be extended further, and the gay cause will lose the interest it once had - irrespective of whether it has won the concessions it fought for. The role of friend among friends, on the other hand, questioned and self-questioning, joined with those in pilgrim search for the new name that no man knows except the one to whom it is given, is an altogether different role, and perpetually available to those who seek it. The gay Christian thus faces in a particular way the choice that constitutes the human situation universally: whether to follow the route of self-justification, or to cast oneself hopefully on the creative justification that God himself will work within a community of shared belief.
In this second choice nothing less is offered the gay believer than is offered to any and every believer: a role in attesting the work of God, in speaking to others of the redemption he has wrought. "How does the homosexually inclined person show Christ to the world?" Williams asks. Again, it is an obvious first step to ask why there would be a different answer for a homosexually-inclined person than for any other person. At the deepest level there can be no difference. It is one and the same Gospel witnessed to by gay and non-gay, a gospel of redemption from the enslavement of sin and of the purification of desire. Yet gifts are given differentially to members of the body of Christ; vocations are distributed variously to serve the common mission. Some are given in the form of special skills and abilities, some in the form of special opportunities, especially opportunities of special experience and suffering. From the place of special sensibility in which the homosexual Christian may find him- or herself we may hear a testimony to the way the world confronts our mission in our time, to its fragmented identities, its disjunctions of feeling, its cruelties, its dislocations and the peculiar possibilities of redemption that God has put at its heart. The rest of us cannot do without this torchlight shone through the fog of the late modern world in which we, too, must grope our way.
What if the challenge the gays present the church with is not emancipatory but hermeneutic? Suppose that at the heart of the problem there is the magna quaestio, the question about the gay experience, its sources and its character, that gays must answer for themselves: how this form of sensibility and feeling is shaped by its social context, how it can be clothed in an appropriate pattern of life for the service of God and discipleship of Christ? But suppose, too, that there is another question corresponding to it, which non-gay Christians need to answer: how and to what extent this form of sensibility and feeling has emerged in specific historical conditions, and how the conditions may require, as an aspect of the pastoral accommodation that changing historical conditions require, a form of public presence and acknowledgment not hitherto known? These two questions come together as a single question: how are we to understand together the particularity of the age in which we are given to attest God's works? And then the Gospel has good news for us all: there is a friendship in which the most difficult questions about the self and the world in the era of time that is given to us can be explored and enquired into, a community in mission that can engage in the most difficult hermeneutic tasks. The good news preached by the church to the gay Christian coincides here with the good news preached by the gay Christian to the church. The content of that good news, perhaps, can be summed up simply by saying that the word "church" can achieve its proper content. The church is our neighbourhood in the confession of Christ and obedience to his law, a neighbourhood suffused with his love, a communion of mutual service and recognition.
The old-style liberalism that used to preside over the church's dilemmas in a confident spirit of practical compromise began from the assumption that everyone was divided from everyone else by recalcitrant disagreements. The Lord, the liberals prophets announced, had sent a perpetual famine of his word. We should stop asking questions of one another and hoping for answers, and eat the dry bread of commonsense compromises. Those who remember Pentecost may reasonably doubt that this was ever the wisest counsel for the church. But at the very least we cannot know whether and how much of a famine of the word there is in any disagreement until we submit it to the disciplines of patient common enquiry. No disagreement refuses to be analysed, and its constituent elements sorted out according to size and shape. No disagreement does not lure us on with the hope, however distant, of a genuine resolution. Can we promise ourselves, then, that if the churches would only discuss homosexuality long and fully and widely enough, they would end up agreeing? Well, we are not entitled to rule out that possibility. But suppose it were not true; suppose that after careful exploration and a search for common ground, there was an agreement-resistant core at the centre of the issue - a problem about how modernity is viewed, for example, or about the ontological status of self-consciousness - it might still be possible to set the residual disagreement in what the ecumenists like to call "a new context", and (who knows?) learn how to live with it. We have a parallel in the difference between indissolubilist and non-indissolubilist views of marriage, a traditional point of tension between Catholic and Protestant. That disagreement has not gone away; but if today it bulks less threateningly than it once did, that is because we are so much more clear about the extent of the agreed ground all around it - God's intentions for marriage, the pastoral desiderata in dealing with broken marriage etc etc. It no longer evokes threatening resonances. It is a problem reduced to its true shape and size.
There are no guarantees. There never are in the Christian life. But that is not a reason not to try. And seriously trying means being seriously patient. Anyone who thinks that resolutions can be reached in one leap without long mutual exploration, probing, challenge and clarification, has not yet understood the nature of the riddle that the ironic fairy of history has posed for us in our time.
Discuss this Web Sermon on the Fulcrum Forum
Professor Oliver O'Donovan FBA is Professor of Christian Ethics and Practical Theology at the University of Edinburgh. He took up this post on 1 August 2006 and formerly was Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology, University of Oxford and a Canon of Christ Church.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Do not believers, by virtue of the great culture of their faith, have the right to make a pronouncement on all this?

Shrimp here: downstream a reader weighs in with the opinion that Christians are above all to be kind to one another and doesn't all this talk about homosexuality violate this basic precept. A regular responded that ignoring someones actions which bring harm upon themselves is hardly kindness, hardly love. Both positions are understandable and the latter is where I usually come out. Perhaps an even better answer is given below in the Pope's Christmas message. Here's a point I hope people regard thoughtfully and respond in kind: the gay agenda wants to frame this controversy as a justice issue and has been so successful that NPR reporters report the other side as "anti-gay." Nothing factual there. The pope makes the point that these new pioneers of what it means to be human are actually anti-person, anti-human, anti-family, anti-faith. A human person is much more than their biological make-up. "Man and woman, He made them" means much more than one has a penis and one doesn't.

Is it really up to each person to decide who they are?

"Yet, precisely through the effort of supporting one another day by day, precisely through accepting one another ever anew in the crucible of daily trials, living and suffering to the full their initial "yes", precisely on this Gospel path of "losing oneself", they had matured, rediscovered themselves and become happy. Their "yes" to one another in the patience of the journey and in the strength of the Sacrament with which Christ had bound them together, had become a great "yes" to themselves, their children, to God the Creator and to the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Thus, from the witness of these families a wave of joy reached us, not a superficial and scant gaiety that is all too soon dispelled, but a joy that developed also in suffering, a joy that reaches down to the depths and truly redeems man. Before these families with their children, before these families in which the generations hold hands and the future is present, the problem of Europe, which it seems no longer wants to have children, penetrated my soul. To foreigners this Europe seems to be tired, indeed, it seems to be wishing to take its leave of history. Why are things like this? This is the great question. The answers are undoubtedly very complex. Before seeking these answers, it is only right to thank the many married couples in our Europe who still say "yes" to children today and accept the trials that this entails: social and financial problems, as well as worries and struggles, day after day; the dedication required to give children access to the path towards the future. In mentioning these difficulties, perhaps the reasons also become clearer why for many the risk of having children appears too great. A child needs loving attention. This means that we must give children some of our time, the time of our life. But precisely this "raw material" of life -- time -- seems to be ever scarcer. The time we have available barely suffices for our own lives; how could we surrender it, give it to someone else? To have time and to give time - this is for us a very concrete way to learn to give oneself, to lose oneself in order to find oneself. In addition to this problem comes the difficult calculation: what rules should we apply to ensure that the child follows the right path and in so doing, how should we respect his or her freedom? The problem has also become very difficult because we are no longer sure of the norms to transmit; because we no longer know what the correct use of freedom is, what is the correct way to live, what is morally correct and what instead is inadmissible. The modern spirit has lost its bearings, and this lack of bearings prevents us from being indicators of the right way to others. Indeed, the problem goes even deeper. Contemporary man is insecure about the future. Is it permissible to send someone into this uncertain future? In short, is it a good thing to be a person? This deep lack of self assurance -- plus the wish to have one's whole life for oneself -- is perhaps the deepest reason why the risk of having children appears to many to be almost unsustainable. In fact, we can transmit life in a responsible way only if we are able to pass on something more than mere biological life, and that is, a meaning that prevails even in the crises of history to come and a certainty in the hope that is stronger than the clouds that obscure the future. Unless we learn anew the foundations of life - unless we discover in a new way the certainty of faith -- it will be less and less possible for us to entrust to others the gift of life and the task of an unknown future. Connected with that, finally, is also the problem of definitive decisions: can man bind himself for ever? Can he say a "yes" for his whole life? Yes, he can. He was created for this. In this very way human freedom is brought about and thus the sacred context of marriage is also created and enlarged, becoming a family and building the future. At this point, I cannot be silent about my concern about the legislation for de facto couples. Many of these couples have chosen this way because -- at least for the time being -- they do not feel able to accept the legally ordered and binding coexistence of marriage. Thus, they prefer to remain in the simple de facto state. When new forms of legislation are created which relativize marriage, the renouncement of the definitive bond obtains, as it were, also a juridical seal. In this case, deciding for those who are already finding it far from easy becomes even more difficult. Then there is in addition, for the other type of couple, the relativization of the difference between the sexes. The union of a man and a woman is being put on a par with the pairing of two people of the same sex, and tacitly confirms those fallacious theories that remove from the human person all the importance of masculinity and femininity, as though it were a question of the purely biological factor. Such theories hold that man -- that is, his intellect and his desire -- would decide autonomously what he is or what he is not. In this, corporeity is scorned, with the consequence that the human being, in seeking to be emancipated from his body -- from the "biological sphere" -- ends by destroying himself. If we tell ourselves that the Church ought not to interfere in such matters, we cannot but answer: are we not concerned with the human being? Do not believers, by virtue of the great culture of their faith, have the right to make a pronouncement on all this? Is it not their -- our -- duty to raise our voices to defend the human being, that creature who, precisely in the inseparable unity of body and spirit, is the image of God?"

The good ship ELCA...

The good ship ELCA...
Or the Shellfish blog...