Monday, February 15, 2010

But You Haven't Done The Theology 2.0

Pierre Whalon -- who is a delightful man and a good bishop -- has just written a reflection over on Anglicans Online entitled "What We Think We Are Doing" -- which is essentially a reassertion that those advocating for the full inclusion of LGBT folk in the work and witness of the church are putting the cart before the horse because we haven't "done the theology."

It is patently unjust to everyone, including partnered gay and lesbian people, to keep on ordaining them and blessing their unions without providing a theological rationale for changing the church's teaching.
Episcopal Cafe has some commentary going on you might want to check out under the title "Have we not 'done the theology' or not owned what we've done?" Which of course I thought was a very good question. And so -- of course -- I put in my two cents:

My first response is a clarifying question: Is one of the pieces of the theology we haven't done "To Set Our Hope on Christ" -- the theological and biblical apologetic we took to the ACC in Nottingham in 2005?

Or the Claiming the Blessing Theology Statement published in 2002?

Or Tobias Haller's "Reasonable and Holy"?

Or the theological resources published by the Chicago Consultation?

Or is Bishop Whalon referring to the fact that the House of Bishops' Theology Committee has pretty much steadfastly refused to do the work it's been charged by the church to accomplish?

If that's the case, then I have a follow up question: Is the only theology that counts the theology that's done by bishops?

The truth is we HAVE "done the theology" -- what we haven't done is overcome the objections of those who insist we haven't done the theology because there isn't enough theology in Christendom to convince those with sole possession of the Absolute Truth that it's possible to come to different conclusions on these issues and still be part of the same Body of Christ.

In point of fact, there are still those who maintain we haven't "done the theology" on women's ordination either. And as my rector Ed Bacon famously said, "I'm so glad Mary didn't wait for the formulation of a Doctrine of the Incarnation before she said 'Yes' to God."

I'm all for doing theology. The more "faith seeking understanding" the better as far as I'm concerned.

But when our theological reflection becomes more important than our mission to proclaim the Good News of God's abundant love then I think we need to think long and hard about whether we're not doing the Peter thing and trying to build a booth to sit up on the mountain and theologize rather than get down on the ground and evangelize.


Jeffri Harre said...

Thanks for this, Susan. It hits all the salient points. We can theologize until we're blue in the face, and it still won't be enough.

See me not turning blue!

dr.primrose said...

I've become really worried that we haven't done sufficient theology about doing the liturgy in English. Did Cramner appoint any commmissions to talk the subject before the prayer book came out in English? Maybe, the Church should have spent 40 years talking about it before they did anything. Or maybe we should have followed the Roman example -- they had 400 years to consider the matter.

uffda51 said...

The inclusionary theology has been done but the exclusionistas have not done the science. "The Making of Me:John Barrowman" was produced by the BBC and is on YouTube. It covers the latest (2008) science and makes it accessible to the general public. I'm a little rusty on my geography but I believe that the BCC and the AC have their headquarters in the same country.

Frair John said...

One thing I will say, and I am no doubt not going to be well received for saying this, but when I finished "To Set Our Hope on Christ" I set it down and said, "Is that it? 30+ years of careful exegetical and theological work and THIS is the best we could present?" It struck me as what would serve as an introduction to a longer work, one that might address specific issues raised. It was/is a response, not an answer. Since we have done the work for 40 years, it all needs to be laid out, clearly, carefully, precisely, and all in one place. No matter how galling it might be to seem to be recovering ground, cover it definitively and let that final piece of work, fully theological not a pastiche of sociology , psychology and theological terms cemented together with warm fuzzy stories. Since the work has been done, why the hell not just set it all out, in one place in a document of sufficient weight and content to be seen as being the result of such work, and have such a work be given some form of status as our teaching?

uffda51 said...

I meant to say BBC, not BCC in my previous post.

MarkBrunson said...

Well, we couldn't call Pierre Whalon an exclusionist.

I believe, however, that he is very nervous about being cut off if we are kicked out of the AC and he's all the way over there in Europe. I don't think that that's the primary motivation, though, as he, like many liberals, is bending so far over to be accommodating to our enemies he's about to break everyone's back.

My father used to tell me: "Keep an open mind, but not so open your brain falls out."

Rev. David Justin Lynch said...

Bishop Whalon has made this much more complicated than it needs to be and is too hung up on ecclesiastical politics. This is not a hard issue at all. Every Sunday I say (but would prefer to sing) the Nicene in wherein are the words we "believe in ONE Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church." (Note that the creed does not include a belief in a protestant church). To be Catholic is to be inclusive. In the eyes of God, we are all one church - for everyone. To be an Anglo, and not a Roman, Catholic is to be an Inclusive Catholic!

MarkBrunson said...


I think you're right. I think a great deal of Pierre Whalon, having both argued and conversed with him (via email), but he is dreadfully hung up on some mythical beast called "Communion" in which all churches are one church, which doesn't seem either healthy or holy to me.

We've already got one faith and communion through the God we worship - whether we confirm or deny is not important - the rest is mere power-jockeying.

MarkBrunson said...

Okay, having read Bp. Whalon's response at The Lead, I believe what he's advocating is not some new and impossible criteria for theological proofs to work with, but, rather, an officially-rcognized acceptance by General Convention of the theological groundwork already done, thus, officially incorporating it into TEC's theological framework.

Here, he's expressing not so much a political primness as the same frustration I've often expressed at GC's unwillingness to officially back what we say we believe about GLBT, women, any number of controversial subjects. What Bp. Whalon, in that case, is doing is advocating a radical, even defiant, adoption of all the theological groundwork we've spoken of here in the face of criticism. We often bemoan the inability of other provinces to understand TEC's polity, but we must be willing to understand that many or most provinces do not have our "laid-back" approach to governance, and require an official position from our church's governing body backed by official theology adopted by that body.