Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Eavesdropping at Lambeth Palace

A reader has pointed me to a thought-provoking blog entry by the Rev. Geoffrey Hoare, rector of All Saints, Atlanta. The entry, dated October 5, 2005, is quite long, but worth a read. I encourage you to read the whole thing before considering the excerpts that follow.

First, we need to keep in mind the events that led to this reflection;

...On Monday evening I attended the annual meeting of the Compass Rose Society on behalf of All Saints’. (http://www.compassrosesociety.org/AboutCRS.htm) It is a treat to visit Lambeth Palace, and to have time and dinner with the Archbishop of Canterbury in his official home. The gathering included Martyn Minns, an old friend, rector of Truro Church in Fairfax, Virginia, and one of the leaders in America of the movement to realign the communion (more on that further down the page), and Michael Ingham, the Bishop of New Westminster in Canada, the diocese that is singled out along with ECUSA for particular attention owing to their official approval of the blessing of same-sex unions in a council of the church...
What is recorded here are not sermons, or speeches, or internet flame wars. These are calm conversations over dinner at Lambeth. As such, I think they are worthy of our own calm attention.

For instance, consider this brief exchange:

...This is somewhat related to the answer that Rowan Williams gave to a question I asked him. I asked whether ‘repentance’ for a province of the church could mean anything other than an official proclamation saying ‘we were wrong, we are sorry and we won’t do it again.’ He answered that repentance is what we offer each other as Christians and that one branch of the church can offer another. Repentance or metanoia means the turning of life toward life in Christ and so means a willingness to say ‘I need to think again’ and that I will repent as I am drawn more fully into Christ. (Obviously this is not a direct quote from the Archbishop of Canterbury, but it is how I remember his answer)...
I find Dr. William's response more than a bit ambiguous, yet it still gave me pause to reconsider if I have correctly understood the use of the term "repentance" in the recently proposed resolutions from the Special Commission.

Geoffrey then asked his "old friend" Martyn Minns a question. Keep in mind Martyn's response is a sincere attempt to state his position. Imagine it without the heat we usually add to such statements. Read it to understand, not to agree or disagree. Personally, I had to read it twice to get the proper emotional distance to actually hear what was being said.

...I asked Martyn why the consecration of Gene Robinson was enough for him to want to split the church and realign the communion. Why is this issue of such fundamental importance to him? His response was to ask me how I could be so sure that I was right about homosexuality to go against the majority of world Christendom and cause a split in the church and in the communion. So as I mentioned in an earlier blog there is a certain amount of chicken and egg in this. Who started the war? Etc. He also said that my side (i.e. those who take a progressive position with regard to homosexual people) had all the power and the money. He spoke a lot of the anger and sense of betrayal of his friends in the global south in general and Peter Akinola in particular. He believes (as I do) that there really is no turning back, that there is a civil rights issue for the American church and that he, and people who believe as he does can no more be tolerated than racists or people who continue to think that women should not be ordained. He cannot see a way for us to stay together on that basis and he believes deeply that I am wrong about homosexuality, and that I am basing my belief on a new and thoroughly wobbly category when I say that I believe there is such a thing as a homosexual person. He argues that the complementary nature of men and women is found in the creation story and echoed throughout scripture, notably in the writing on marriage in Ephesians – a view with which I have great sympathy. His pastoral experience leads him to say that there are many people desperate to change their lives and that they find being told that they do not need to change does them a disservice and withholds from them the saving power of the gospel. He has many in his church he tells me who have successfully left behind their homosexual desires. He is truly sorry (and I believe him) about those who believe they have been damaged by some of the tactics of those who preach and profess that they can change homosexual desires into ‘natural’ ones. He is truly offended that he is now supposed to say that a same sex relationship can be holy and blessed in the same way that a marriage is holy and blessed. What do I need to hear in all this and to what do I need to respond?
There, in a nutshell, is the position of the AAC/Network. There is little chance that this position will change, at least in our lifetime. How do we respond? Here's Geoffrey's response:

...First, I am not prepared to break up the church over a wobbly category, an ‘idea’ of homosexuality. I do not know exactly how homosexual people are formed as such, whether it is somehow predetermined in the womb or whether (as I suspect) it results from a complex series of decisions and experiences that form and shape our sexual responses to one another. I am however prepared to break up the church over people who God loves. I see before me a parade of faces of people whose lives are infinitely better and more free when they are affirmed in the community of faith and allowed to make those life giving and self giving commitments of love that are open to the rest of us in marriage. Psychiatry long ago gave up on the idea that it was pathological to be gay or lesbian. St. Paul counsels that we test all things and hold fast to that which is good, and that the good is seen in an increase of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. I see those things in the lives of many we know and love at All Saints’. I assume this to be true in the life and ministry of Gene Robinson – certainly that is the testimony of his friends. I am prepared to stake everything on their being welcome at the Lord’s Table as they are, just as everyone else, with much to be transformed, but also with many an offering made acceptable in the grace of God. So I repent of being willing to break up the church over an anthropological category (‘homosexual person’), while holding fast to those people who God has raised up for service in the community of faith and who I believe does not hold as second-class citizens of the Kingdom.
I think most of us would add a hearty AMEN to this response.

But Geoffrey's reflection doesn't dodge the hard questions. He asks one that we have skirted around for some time. Maybe the time has arrived to address it:

...As a matter of good order I believe we are in a terrible position having a bishop of the church (the whole church or at least the whole Anglican Communion) who is not in a ‘sanctioned’ relationship. At the very least we must as ECUSA quickly find a way to acknowledge some such option for homosexual people. Only then can we ask our brothers and sisters around the world for some forbearance and grace in the face of this novelty.

When relationships are broken it is generally best when the person with the most power in the situation repents first. I hope the American Church can find a way to repent of approving Gene Robinson’s consecration before first agreeing on how to sanction the option of committed relationship for all gay and lesbian people. We do not need to repent of Bishop Robinson’s election, nor call into question his ministry. But we have given offense through our lack of attention to good order and we should clearly think again about how we deal with that in the councils of the Church. In other words, I repent of that and hope that we will do so as a whole body...
As I've mentioned before, Bishop Robinson has offered us a chronology of events regarding his personal life to refute the slanderous suggestion that he left his wife to be with Mark. But there is another interesting piece of information in this chronology; the last item, "Celebration of a Home". Why do you think that was included? Considering the secular and religious laws that do not officially allow the blessing of unions in most places, I have always assumed that this was a quiet way of including the date that Gene and Mark's relationship was blessed by the Church; they are not simply "living together."

Having said that, I also agree with Geoffrey in that I think things would have been much clearer if TEC would have voted to allow the blessing of unions and developed a specific liturgy for this rite before giving the consent to the election of an openly gay bishop. But, that's water under the bridge now.

What are your thoughts as you consider these words from the rector of All Saints?

One final personal note; I write this from sunny California, where I am visiting my father, who was recently diagnosed with leukemia. He received a wonderful report from the doctor this week, who said the cancer was in remission. We are hopeful. Please keep Paul in your prayers.


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