Thursday, September 27, 2007

US bishops have bent the knee to the will of the bully

Commentary from Giles Fraser "from across the pond":

Uniting in homophobia, the Anglican church has delivered another blow to the battle against global religious fascism

Thursday September 27, 2007

After months of "Anglican church to divide" headlines, the end is, at last, nigh. Those Anglicans who are really no more than fundamentalists in vestments will split off and form a version of the continuing Anglican church, or whatever they will call it. And the moderate conservatives and the moderate progressives will settle down to business as usual. After much worry, the Archbishop of Canterbury will be able to have a good night's sleep. The church is safe.

If only it were as simple as that. The deal that the archbishop has brokered with the Episcopal church in New Orleans protects the unity of the church by persuading US bishops that the church is more important than justice. The prophets of the Hebrew scriptures would have been appalled.

For all the high-sounding rhetoric about how much they value gay people, the church has once again purchased its togetherness by excluding the outsider. The biblical text that hovers over this whole shoddy deal is John 11:50. As Jesus stands before the court, the high priest Caiaphas persuades the others that for practical reasons he must be got rid of: "You do not understand that it is better to have one man die than to have the whole nation destroyed." And so the deal is done.

OK, so no one has died here. A gay American bishop hasn't been invited to the Lambeth conference, a hugely expensive jolly that brings all the church's bishops to Canterbury once every 10 years. On top of this, the US church has agreed not to make any more bishops if they admit to being gay and having a partner. And they won't do gay blessing services either. Is this really so onerous a set of compromises in order to keep everybody round the same communion table? After all, compared with the desolation and misery that Hurricane Katrina wrought on those who hosted the meeting in New Orleans, ought we not to get a bit more perspective?

No: the struggle for the full inclusion of lesbian and gay people in the life of the church is a frontline battle in the war against global religious fascism. Robert Mugabe has called homosexuals "worse than dogs and pigs". Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government denies that gay people exist in Iran, and hangs the ones it finds. The Anglican Archbishop of Nigeria thinks homosexuality "evil" and "cancerous". There can be no compromise with any of this, irrespective of whether it is backed up by dodgy readings of holy texts or not.

Which is why the collapse of will in the US House of Bishops is so disappointing. Whatever happened to the spirit of the Boston tea party? One visit from the Archbishop of Canterbury and they get suckered into history worship, falling in line behind the ancient mother church as if they were still suspended on colonial apron strings. Unfortunately, for all its sharp prophetic witness, the Achilles heel of the Episcopal church is its snotty-nosed Anglophilia. Establishment liberals have only so much bottle.

US bishops are now returning to their dioceses with a troubled conscience. Many know that the logic of the New Orleans deal is the logic of unity through exclusion. The church styles itself as not playing by these rules, yet this whole sorry business is as visceral as a group of playground kids coming together to slag off the boy with the unfashionable haircut or funny accent. Finding someone to point the finger at is the best way of bringing people together. Global Christian cohesion is being achieved by a church that is defining itself against some representative other - in this case, a short, rather geeky gay bishop with a bit of a drink problem. He is a scapegoat straight from central casting.

The sad truth is, the issue of homosexuality isn't splitting the Anglican communion: it's uniting it like never before. Before this great global row, we hardly knew each other existed. Anglicans in the pews could hardly care less about Christians in the next door parish, let alone care for those thousands of miles away in Africa or Asia. But as crisis looms, common cause has been achieved. The Rt Rev Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire, has brought people together: hands across the ocean, united in homophobia.

It was the Episcopal church that held out longest against unholy unification. But in agreeing to these terms, they too have now bent the knee to the will of the collective bully. The fact that a fringe of rabid evangelicals may now quit the church must not distract from Rowan Williams's achievement in keeping us all together. A crisis has been averted. Gay people remain firmly on the outside; used by the church for vicars and vergers and sacristans, but officially little more than outcasts.

I have never been persuaded that Jesus was gay, as some do believe. But there is no doubt that he too was the outsider, despised and rejected. He also was the victim of official religious persecution. Which is why the other passage that today's Christians ought to give some thought to is the one from St Matthew's gospel that goes: "Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me."

Giles Fraser is the vicar of Putney and a lecturer in philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford


Anonymous said...

I don't think the Episcopal Church has given up yet. The bishops may have paused, but I think still plan to go forward. And if not, General Convention, which is the real agent of change, will push forward in 2009.

The other side, meanwhile, is leaving. Let them. It will be so much easier to go forward in faith then, toward the full establishment of the gospel as far as is humanly possible.

JimB said...

The proverb has it that it profits us nothing if we give up our soul and gain the whole world. But for Lambeth?

With credit to St. Thomas Moore and the screen play of "A Man For All Seasons."



RonF said...

The prophets of the Hebrew scriptures would have been appalled.

At the concept that we shouldn't ordain gay bishops? Really? Perhaps the author should re-read the prophets again, because I surely doubt they'd have been appalled at that.

On top of this, the US church has agreed not to make any more bishops if they admit to being gay and having a partner.

Really? Is that, in fact, true (I haven't read the communique from NO yet)? Because I'm off to the Diocese of Chicago's Diocesean Convention on Nov. 8th to (among other things) elect a new bishop for the Diocese. Unless I'm quite mistaken one of the 5 candidates is a lesbian who has identified herself as being partnered. If the Diocese of Chicago defies this, is the HoB prepared to withhold consents?

RonF said...

I wonder how many votes Tracey Lind will get in Chicago by people who want to make a statement rather than in consideration that she will be in their judgement the best person to be a Bishop for Chicago.

There was much talk before all this that "people outside TEC must realize that only General Convention can speak for TEC, not the HoB alone." I reminded them at the time that the HoB can always act on it's own in the areas that are in it's purview, e.g., by resolving that it's individual members could withhold consents.

I was occasionally condemned and generally ignored. Now it seems that this is exactly what happened.

So; if the Diocese of Chicago elects (for whatever reason) Tracey Lind, it'll be quite interesting to see what the bishops will do. I'm sure of one thing; we are in danger of hearing more about this at the Diocese of Chicago's convention than we will about the actual candidates.

Lorian said...

ronf, whichever candidate is elected in the Diocese of Chicago, if we are people of faith, we are to believe that the Holy Spirit directed the outcome of the election, and that the Bishop-elect is, perforce, God's choice for the position.

So, unless you believe that God is unable to influence the outcome of an episcopal election (in which case, why have them?), then the reasons why voters choose whichever candidate they choose are really of very little matter. If Tracey Lind+ is elected, it can only be presumed that she is the person God wants to lead the Diocese of Chicago at this juncture.

RonF said...

if we are people of faith, we are to believe that the Holy Spirit directed the outcome of the election, and that the Bishop-elect is, perforce, God's choice for the position.

I hope that the Holy Spirit will direct the outcome of the election. But I don't see where it's a foregone conclusion. Scripture shows us that while the Holy Spirit speaks to people, they don't always listen. Sometimes they listen to other people, other spirits, or to their own desires that are in opposition to the Holy Spirit. Just because the Holy Spirit will show the way doesn't mean that people will listen.

Lorian said...

So then, ronf, we pray that the Holy Spirit will be heard and heeded in this election, right? That's pretty much all we can do. And faith tells us that those prayers will be heard and answered. Rest easy, ronf, and trust God for the proper outcome, both to the Chicago election and the church's path at large.

"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God."

Whatever the outcome of the election, I'll trust God that the results are the Will of God.

RonF said...

So then, ronf, we pray that the Holy Spirit will be heard and heeded in this election, right? That's pretty much all we can do. And faith tells us that those prayers will be heard and answered.

That we can do, for certain. But it has long been a precept of the Anglican Church that while we can pray that the Holy Spirit be heard and heeded, it doesn't always happen. Refer to points 19 and 20 of the 39 Articles of the Episcopal Church (taken from the orginal Articles of the Church of England):

XIX. Of the Church.
The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.

As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred, so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith.

XX. Of the Authority of the Church.
The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation.

The creation of the Anglican Church was based on the concept that the Church we came from had erred; both it's officials and it's councils. Furthermore, it was anticipated from the very start that this could happen again; that while our prayers will be heard and answered, the answers might not always be what we had hoped.