Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Canterbury Attempts to "Hold the Center"

By now you have probably read the Archbishop of Canterbury's latest interview. Here's some of his statements:

...I don't believe inclusion is a value in itself...Welcome is. We welcome people into the Church, we say: 'You can come in, and that decision will change you.' We don't say: 'Come in and we ask no questions.' I do believe conversion means conversion of habits, behaviours, ideas, emotions. The boundaries are determined by what it means to be loyal to Jesus Christ. That means to display in all things the mind of Christ. Paul is always saying this in his letters: Ethics is not a matter of a set of abstract rules, it is a matter of living the mind of Christ. That applies to sexual ethics; that is why fidelity is important in marriage...

...In terms of decision-making the American Church has pushed the boundaries. It has made a decision that is not the decision of the wider body of Christ. In terms of the issue under consideration: there are enough Christians of good faith in every denomination - from evangelical to Roman Catholic - to whom it is not quite so self-evident. Who are not absolutely sure that that we have always read the Bible correctly. They are saying: this is an issue we must talk about. But if we are going to have time to discuss this, prayerfully, thoughtfully, we really don't need people saying: we must change it now. The discussion must not be foreclosed by a radical agenda. The decision hasn't been made yet. Or rather, the tradition and teaching of the Church is what it always was...

...Twenty years ago I wrote an essay in which I advocated a different direction. That was when I was still a professor, to stimulate debate. It did not generate much support and a lot of criticism - quite fairly on a number of points. What I am saying now is: let us talk this through. As Archbishop I have a different task. I would feel very uncomfortable if my Church would say: this is beyond discussion, for ever. Equally I have to guard the faith and teaching of the Church. My personal ideas and questions have to take second place...
I assume that the essay Dr. Williams is referring to is The Body's Grace. It is a beautiful piece of writing. It is difficult to accept that it was created simply to "stimulate debate".

I recently noticed that rh is reading A Church At War by Stephen Bates. He offers this quote from Dr. Williams:

In other words, if we are looking for a sexual ethic that can be seriously informed by our Bible, there is a good deal to steer us away from assuming that reproductive sex is a norm, however important and theologially significant it may be. ... If we are afraid of facing the reality of same-sex love because it compels us to think through the process of bodily desire and delight in their own right, perhaps we ought to be more cautious about appealing to Scripture as legitimizing only procreative heterosexuality.

In a church which accepts the legitmacy of contraception, the absolute condemnation of same-sex relations of intimacy must rely either on an abstract fundamentalist deployment of a number of very ambiguous texts or ona problematic and non-scriptural theory about natural complementarity, applied narrowly and crudely to physical differentiation without regard to psychological structures.
So what is going on? Has Rowan changed his mind?

I don't think so. I think the key quote from the interview is this segment;
"As Archbishop I have a different task. I would feel very uncomfortable if my Church would say: this is beyond discussion, for ever. Equally I have to guard the faith and teaching of the Church. My personal ideas and questions have to take second place."

Dr. Williams has decided to hold the center, at any cost, it appears. No doubt he considers this his pastoral duty. Unfortunately, because of the extremism of the Global South and a small contingent within TEC, the center has shifted more to the right. The center now shares more with the purists than it does with the message of the Gospel.

It appears to me that Dr. Williams has taken a consequentialist approach in resolving his ethical dilemma, seeking the greatest good for the greatest number. In so doing, most likely he will lose the Episcopal Church as well as all gay and lesbian Christians and their supporters currently within the Anglican Communion. No doubt he has considered the cost and is willing to pay it for the sake of unity.

I would not want to be in Dr. Williams' shoes right now. I recognize how difficult the decision to adopt this stance was for him to make. But that does not keep the deontologist within me from reminding the Archbishop that some things are always right, and some things are always wrong, regardless of the greater good. Achieving unity on the backs of your gay and lesbian brothers and sisters is wrong.

Even if we are abandoned by Canterbury to fend for ourselves, the Episcopal Church will continue to proclaim the radically inclusive love of the living God. We will not reject that calling.

Here's more responses to this interview:

From the Telegraph; Gays must change, says archbishop.

From the Christian Post; Anglican Head: American Church has 'Pushed the Boundaries'

From 365Gay; Anglican Leader Accused Of Deserting Gays

Thinking Anglicans offers a response from the Rev. William R. Coats:

...The fact is a good deal of the Communion - neither the Africans nor the American radicals - has no intention of discussing this matter. For them it is a closed matter, And this part of the Communion has heard nothing from the Archbishop that would encourage them to engage in such a discussion. In fact they continue on their destructive path convinced that he is on their side. Why? Because for them - from first to last - this has been a matter of power. It was the power of Archbishop Akinola and his minions which caused the issue to be framed they way it was, namely as a matter of core doctrine. It was his power that has silenced Canterbury on the high-jacking of Windsor, on the curtailment of any discussion of homosexuality in 2/3 of the Communion, on the implanting of foreign bishops on American soil, on the granting of radical American bishops ecclesiastical privileges beyond that of the good order of the church and legality...
No doubt we will hear statements similar to Dr. Williams', in tones that will get progressively more adamant, from other Anglican bodies in the months and even years ahead. I do not see any reason for the Episcopal Church to even respond to such strident demands. In the words of Canon Edward Rodman; "Leave them alone to stew in their own juice, I have better things to do."

Press on toward the Kingdom.


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