Sunday, March 26, 2006

Another Voice from "Across the Pond"

While the latest episode of "As The Anglican News Spins" focuses on elevating the comments of the Bishop of Exeter to the ECUSA House of Bishops from personal perspective to Anglican authoritative let's not forget there are a variety of perspectives represented "across the pond" on the choices and challenges facing our Anglican Family. Here's what Marilyn McCord Adams has to say:

Face to faith: "Liberal Anglicans should not sacrifice their beliefs in order to hold on to church unity at all costs"
Marilyn McCord Adams
Saturday March 25, 2006

[From the Guardian]

Liberal tolerance is easy even for liberals to misunderstand. Liberal societies do and should respect the right of citizens to hold whatever beliefs they like and to organise groups around them, so long as they do nothing to jeopardise the life, liberty, health or property of outsiders. Typically, however, liberal tolerance does not extend any entitlement to set public or institutional policy. In the US for example, the Ku Klux Klan is still a legal organisation, whose members meet to reinforce one another's racist beliefs. But the government's respect for their conscience does not grant them any right that schools be segregated.

In recent Church of England controversies over women priests and bishops, the notion of conscientious objection looms large. Conservatives insist that they could not, in conscience, stay in the C of E, if it makes them accept the offices of women priests and bishops, or even of male bishops who ordain women. Knowing that liberals have a soft spot for tolerance, conservatives demand respect for their conscientious convictions in the form of institutional accommodation. Knowing that liberals have a penchant for inclusivity, conservatives confront advocates of women bishops with a forced choice: either stop pressing your convictions, or split the church.
Even liberal bishops are congratulating themselves after February's general synod, on their steering "a via media between clarity and charity".

They boast that the endorsed scheme for transferred episcopal arrangements will forward the process of ordaining women bishops, while changing ecclesial polity to guarantee parishes in dioceses with female bishops or male bishops who have participated in the ordination of women the option of working instead with male bishops whose hands are clean. Inclusivity has been secured, albeit by a move that will compromise the symbolic authority of liberal and women (but not of conservative male) bishops.

Certainly, conservatives have been "wise as serpents" in setting up the dilemma. But in trying for the "innocence of doves", liberal leaders have betrayed their own cause. Liberal beliefs - that conservative positions on gender and sexuality evidence the grip of oppressive taboos - are also conscientious. Sacrificing such beliefs in order to hang on to already impaired communion with those who will remain only if you do what they tell you sends the message that dividing the church is more sinful than misogyny and homophobia, and more important than first-class ecclesial citizenship for women and for homosexual Christians. Conservatives thereby win a double victory: not only do they co-opt the church's institutional structures; they confirm the widespread suspicion that liberals do not have enough backbone to be conscientious at all.

There is no health in this, because "going along to get along" is not the gospel. The synoptics virtually guarantee: because the reign of God stands in judgment over any and every human social system, its coming by successive approximations is sure to violate our socially constructed identities repeatedly. Our part is to discern for all we're worth and to live up to the light that is in us. Because we are fallible, we are not entitled to make undermining other people's lifestyles our ends or chosen means, but we have to accept that it may be a known but unintended side-effect of putting our conscientious convictions into effect. Refusing to do so shows no charity to the oppressed whose cause we feel called to sponsor. Nor can we consistently believe that it shows charity to those who are dug in against us, because our considered opinion is that they are imprisoned by illogic and taboos.

Finally, liberals must not make an idol of unity. In institutions, as in biology, differentiation and division may be in service of richer and more mature integration. John's Jesus prays for unity, but the Jesus-movement precipitated a schism within Judaism. It was not his first choice, but it is how the gospel spread.

-- The Rev Marilyn McCord Adams is Regius professor of divinity and canon of Christ Church, Oxford
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006


Anonymous said...

Ironic headline, "Liberal Anglicans should not sacrifice their beliefs in order to hold on to church unity at all costs", since the reappraisers have been telling the reasserters for years now that "schism is worse than heresy." Maybe it all depends on who's being forced to swallow the perceived heresy.

Anonymous said...

How about a negotiated separation? We have two "gospels" in one institution, and we cannot live with such a situation for much longer.

Of course, to admit that there are two different messages being proclaimed, while honest, would also be to admit that one is ancient and the other new, and I am not at all sure that those who have a new gospel want to admit that their proclamation is a novelty.

Anonymous said...

This is not the first time in her career that Marilyn Adams has come out with a patronizing teaching position that serves her vision, but not that of Jesus Christ recorded in Christianity's historic canon of scripture. Jesus condoned neither factionalism nor elitism among his disciples; rather all of us are to be servants of one another. To offer sanction for more disunity among Christians on the grounds that Christians have always had disagreements is mere twaddle.

Anonymous said...

I agree with +Adams when she says "Liberals should not sacrifice their beliefs in order to hold onto Church unity at all costs." Rev. Susan is fond of saying that the DNA of Anglicanism runs in the veins of the Episcopal Church. I think she needs to take a closer look. What might have been, is no longer there. I'm not seeing any benefits to remaining in the Communion. So far no one has proffered a convincing argument. I'm ready for the split and ready to move on. Progressives need to come to terms with this idol of unity. To the average person in the pews, being part of this "Anglican Communion" means little or nothing.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Hiram, "novelties" have popped up in the past couple of millenia. We no longer believe slavery is Godly, for example, much as it may pain you that we do not.

Anonymous said...

JG, slavery can only be justified as good by twisting Scripture in the same fashion that is used to justify the goodness of homosexual sexual relations.

The OT regulates slavery, which exists as a result of a fallen humanity, and in an economy that was labor-intensive and cash poor. The NT statements about slavery show that Paul did everything he could do mitigate the effects of slavery without a direct challenge to a system of slavery upon which the Empire depended.

And in both OT and NT, slavery was not the same as in the American South, which twisted Scripture to approve of slavery and ignored the regulations.

Jake said...

This is an excellent essay. Are you familiar with Adams' chapter in Gays and the Future of Anglicanism: Responses to the Windsor Report?

I did a review of it last October. Here's one of my fav quotes:

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.

Anonymous said...

John Gibson says, "Sorry Hiram. There is NOTHING in either testament about homosexuality. Strike one."

That is a statement which requires a definition of homosexuality to make sense, because in both OT and NT, there are references to same-sex physical intimacy, forbidding such intimacy. You seem to have a particular definition of "homosexuality" in mind when you say it is not spoken of in Scripture.