Thursday, October 06, 2005

Marilyn McCord Adams: "Faithfulness in Crisis"

In Gays and the Future of Anglicanism: Responses to the Windsor Report Marilyn McCord Adams, Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford and Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, offers an essay which is aptly described by Bill Carroll as a "barn burner."

Adams begins by describing the "new polity" presented in the Windsor Report as "one that translates the poetry of mutual affection and nostalgia for Canterbury into institutional structures that move in the direction of canon law." If this was simply a recommendation, one might be willing to give such innovations serious consideration. The problem lies in the actual wording of the Report, which subtly shifts from the language of recommendation to that of a fait accompli, as Adams points out;

The polity outlined in the Report was already circulated and discussed in a variety of proposals. But even the original document has a tendency to speak as if the polity were already accepted and in force. It talks as if ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada had failed to meet their obligations - which would exist if there were an Anglican covenant to abide by the instruments of union to which ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada had subscribed, sealing the deal with provisions in their own canon law. As with "Issues in Human Sexuality" in the Church of England, the slide from the status of discussion to official norm, seems all too easy.
This is an important point to keep in mind. The Windsor Report is a report; nothing less, but most assuredly nothing more.

Among a number of examples of ineptitude within the report that Adams points out is this rather striking one;

Likewise wrong-headed is Windsor's remodeling of the distinction between essential and indifferent. First, the Report's move to promote ethics to creedal status is idolatrous. No serious Christian would deny that response to God's love is life transforming. But to give majority-report sexual mores - "the same teaching on matters of sexual morality as generally accepted elsewhere in the Communion" (communique para 12) - the same status as the Trinity is to promote human social arrangements to the status of the sacred. This is understandable because it is a fallen-natural tendency. But sober theology would insist that all human social arrangements - whether entrenched by long tradition (as are racism, sexism, slavery, polygamy) or innovative - fall short of the Reign of God because they reflect limited human social competence. Human beings have never been smart enough or good enough to organize utopia. That's one big reason why we need the Reign of God.
Adams affirms that there is a great need for the member churches to treat one another respectfully, but clarifies that this respect does not necessarily require submission to the majority view;

But to listen carefully and to treat with dignity are not the same as to agree, to do only what the other can recommend you to do, or to say only what the other can approve you to say. Spiritual discernment is not certified in the short run by majority rule. Northern member churches - not only ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada, but also the Church of England - are not entitled under God to delegate their own discernment within their own cultural contexts to the now-majority African and Asian churches. To do so is not to behave as fellow adults, as mature bodies in relation to one another, but to regress to the child's role.
In Adams' conclusion she calls for us to "seize the initiative";

Notoriously, American Episcopalians aligned with the Network agree with Archbishop Akinola about homosexuality. But those of us, who have thought gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons to be treasures of the church, should not mollify our message. We should seize the initiative and take the opportunity to clarify just how opposed our discernment is to theirs. I agree that northern Anglicans owe apologies to African and Asian member churches for being insufficiently respectful. And, in my judgment, the Anglican Communion, the Church of England, my own ECUSA need equally to beg pardon of gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons for ecclesiastical complicity in centuries of abuse.
The most scathing part of Adams' essay follows, in which she calls the Church to repentance for the spiritual violence we have done to gay and lesbian, bisexual and trangendered persons. It is a powerful litany, which I will not reproduce, as I want to leave you with some motivation to purchase a copy of this important work.


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