Friday, July 17, 2009

Jim Naughton takes on Durham in "Face to Faith" in The Guardian

Bravo! [source link] (in tomorrow's Guardian)

The suffering on all sides of the homosexuality debate must be borne by the entire church

The General Convention of the Episcopal Church concluded its triennial meeting in Anaheim yesterday, and apparently succeeded in annoying Tom Wright, the bishop of Durham. In some circles this accomplishment in itself justifies the expense of lodging some 880 deputies, 150 bishops and thousands of visitors in hotels near Disneyland for 10 days.

Writing in the Times, Wright asserted that the Episcopal Church is seeking to perpetuate the schism it began six years ago in consecrating Gene Robinson, who lives in a civil union with his partner, Mark Andrew, as bishop of New Hampshire. This is not the case, but I am always grateful when Wright comments on my church. Those of us who argue in favour of the full inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians in the Anglican communion and against the centralising agenda of Rowan Williams are in need of foils, and Wright, who seems to believe condescension is a charism, fits the bill perfectly.

Wright is among those who assert that the Episcopal Church's desire to move toward ecclesial equality for gay Christians increases the strain in the Anglican communion, in this case, to the breaking point. But this formulation assumes that gays and lesbians are not themselves part of the communion and that the rejection and demonising they have endured at Anglican hands somehow doesn't count.

Our church has not sought to increase the strain in the communion, but to redistribute it. The suffering on all sides of the debate over homosexuality must be borne by the entire church. Ideally, it would be borne by the entire communion in the form of generous pastoral discretion and respect for the discernment of individual provinces, but Williams and a majority of the primates have rejected this most Anglican of accommodations in favour of a single-issue magisterium on the issue of homosexuality.

Gradually, tentatively, the Episcopal Church has begun to push back. The result, in Anaheim, was a pair of resolutions that attempted to be firm yet conciliatory, recognising the need to move, but move slowly, in order to bring along as much of the church as possible. A resolution that touches obliquely on the consecration of gay bishops is best understood as a description of the conflicted state in which we find ourselves, and the tortuous road we took to get here. It recognises that gay and lesbian Christians are called to ministry in our church, notes that some people oppose their participation at certain levels, and makes clear that as we work through this issue, we aren't in a position to guarantee the outcome.

Members of the communion unhappy with this legislation will be even less pleased by a resolution that will allow bishops to practice pastoral generosity in dealing with gay couples who want their unions blessed. This same resolution also authorised the collection and development of "theological and liturgical resources" regarding the "holy unions" of same-sex couples. These "resources" could not be adopted by the church until 2012, at the earliest, but they might be deployed in dioceses in which the bishop is offering pastoral generosity.

In passing this legislation, the Episcopal Church asserts the false nature of the choice we are being offered by Williams and other leaders of the communion. It is not necessary to toe a narrow doctrinal line of the archbishop's choosing to enjoy deep fellowship in the Anglican communion. Fifteen primates, along with priests, theologians and lay leaders from around the communion, were with us in Anaheim. These relationships, parish to parish, diocese to diocese, are unlikely to founder whether we get invited to the next big Anglican purple party or not.

In short, we did not resolve the tensions either in our church or in the communion, but we learned better how to bear with one another as we attempt to discern the will of God. I'd like to think that is a contribution to the larger church.

Jim Naughton is the canon for communications and advancement at the Episcopal diocese of Washington


Cany said...

Quite a statement; glad he wrote it and pleased to read it.

Just enough wag of the finger done in a nice way.

I'm glad he wrote it. Mine would have been less generous.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

This really seems to me to be not a push back, but a case of back to square one, of back to basis: back to the canons of the church and their due cause application?

Fr Craig said...

I always have my breath taken away by the hypocrisy of those who accuse US of schism! We aren't the ones who have left and stolen property, we aren't the ones who refuse communion with those we disagree with, we aren't the ones invading other provinces. How can those people sleep at night?
Susan - bless you and all of you for the hard, long path you have trod. We straight folks are blessed by the work you have done, for our Church is more and more like the Kingdom of God.