Lambeth Palace Speaks

We finally have some words from the Archbishop of Canterbury in response to the actions of TEC at their General Convention in Anaheim.

And guys, it’s good, it’s really good.

4. The first is to do with the arguments most often used against the moratoria relating to same-sex unions. Appeal is made to the fundamental human rights dimension of attitudes to LGBT people, and to the impossibility of betraying their proper expectations of a Christian body which has courageously supported them.

5. In response, it needs to be made absolutely clear that, on the basis of repeated statements at the highest levels of the Communion’s life, no Anglican has any business reinforcing prejudice against LGBT people, questioning their human dignity and civil liberties or their place within the Body of Christ. Our overall record as a Communion has not been consistent in this respect and this needs to be acknowledged with penitence.

6. However, the issue is not simply about civil liberties or human dignity or even about pastoral sensitivity to the freedom of individual Christians to form their consciences on this matter. It is about whether the Church is free to recognise same-sex unions by means of public blessings that are seen as being, at the very least, analogous to Christian marriage.

Rowan makes it very clear that the issue of blessing LGBT relationships cannot be viewed simply as a “justice” issue because it is ultimately a theological issue and if the theological argument isn’t there we can’t move ahead as a church on this issue.

And did you spot that subtle rebuke of C056?

However, the issue is not simply about civil liberties or human dignity or even about pastoral sensitivity to the freedom of individual Christians to form their consciences on this matter.

Compare that to this resolve from the motion.

That bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church;

Do you see what he said? “Generous pastoral response” which involves allowing local rites to be used would be an utterly un-Catholic activity. A Bishop who did that would be changing theology and that is at the moment simply not acceptable.

You know folks, when Rowan is good he is excellent. Let’s carry on reading.

7. In the light of the way in which the Church has consistently read the Bible for the last two thousand years, it is clear that a positive answer to this question would have to be based on the most painstaking biblical exegesis and on a wide acceptance of the results within the Communion, with due account taken of the teachings of ecumenical partners also. A major change naturally needs a strong level of consensus and solid theological grounding.

8. This is not our situation in the Communion. Thus a blessing for a same-sex union cannot have the authority of the Church Catholic, or even of the Communion as a whole. And if this is the case, a person living in such a union is in the same case as a heterosexual person living in a sexual relationship outside the marriage bond; whatever the human respect and pastoral sensitivity such persons must be given, their chosen lifestyle is not one that the Church’s teaching sanctions, and thus it is hard to see how they can act in the necessarily representative role that the ordained ministry, especially the episcopate, requires.

So Rowan raises the issue of the theological argument and then dumps TEC’s contribution into the trash. This is utterly damning for TEC – what Rowan is saying is that there is, as yet, no good theological argument for supporting same-sex activity as a valid Christian expression of God’s love working through us in our human relationships.

Further, because of this Rowan argues it is “hard to see” how someone in a gay sexual relationship can be ordained and recognised as a priest, let alone be consecrated as a Bishop. This is once again utterly damning of TEC, because they have for years been ordaining as priests men and women who are sexually active in relationships outside of marriage. What Rowan essentially says here is that TEC isn’t just proposing to do things that have no theological justification, it has been doing things that are “Un-Christian” for years.

It is a massive hand slap and the GLBT lobby in TEC completely understand this. Over at Integrity they’re positively spitting about it.

“We are frankly tired of being told we ‘haven’t done the theology,'” said Integrity President Susan Russell, “when the truth is that there are those in our wider Anglican family who do not agree with the theology we have done. But what we can do is keep doing it. We can keep reaching out. We can keep working together with our communion partners on mission and ministry all over this Worldwide Anglican Family of ours with those who will work with us. And we can stay in conversation with those who won’t.

Read that last sentence again because we’ll be returning to it later.

Here in the UK Changing Attitude have put their finger right on the nub of the matter. Colin Coward writes:

One trustee of Changing Attitude identified three things in the Reflections that make life impossible for LGBT Anglicans:

Does the Archbishop really expect those of us living in long-term relationships, whether the church recognises them or not, to break up with our partners and live solitary lives, even though there is nothing in our conscience or our own theology which would suggest it was a bad thing? Or is he happy for us to lead those ‘lifestyles’, as he puts it, as long as we keep them separate from our church and our God?

Spot on Colin – your trustee has identified the obvious conclusion to be drawn from what Rowan writes. So what’s the answer to the questions that Changing Attitude raise? Let’s carry on with Rowan to find out.

9. In other words, the question is not a simple one of human rights or human dignity. It is that a certain choice of lifestyle has certain consequences. So long as the Church Catholic, or even the Communion as a whole does not bless same-sex unions, a person living in such a union cannot without serious incongruity have a representative function in a Church whose public teaching is at odds with their lifestyle. (There is also an unavoidable difficulty over whether someone belonging to a local church in which practice has been changed in respect of same-sex unions is able to represent the Communion’s voice and perspective in, for example, international ecumenical encounters.)

10. This is not a matter that can be wholly determined by what society at large considers usual or acceptable or determines to be legal. Prejudice and violence against LGBT people are sinful and disgraceful when society at large is intolerant of such people; if the Church has echoed the harshness of the law and of popular bigotry – as it so often has done – and justified itself by pointing to what society took for granted, it has been wrong to do so. But on the same basis, if society changes its attitudes, that change does not of itself count as a reason for the Church to change its discipline.

To put it bluntly, the answer to Changing Attitude’s questions seem to be “Yes” and “Yes”.

Do not underestimate just what a significant moment in the life of the Anglican Communion these opening ten paragraphs are. Rowan has laid out in no uncertain terms that to bless same sex relationships is, at present, an un-Christian thing to do, that to ordain and consecrate such people is completely outside the bounds of catholic ecclesiology and furthermore, arguments in favour of doing so that ultimately simply appeal to the moral stance of modern western society is not acceptable theology.

Blimey! That’s even more blatantly conservative then his speech at the 2005 AAC in Nottingham and marks a clear line in the sand from Rowan. It is an absolutely unequivocal endorsement (for the moment) of the traditional theology on sexual activity and a conservative biblical anthropology. We can expect some pretty annoyed responses to this from the revisionist camp.

Rowan then moves into a discussion of how the Anglican Communion (and the wider catholic church) should come to a discernment on issues like this, and here things get more interesting. While he highlights the traditional Hookerian three-legged stool of authority, he raises vital issues for a church which expresses its doctrine not so much in a confessional statement but in its shared liturgical and sacramental life.

17. Clearly there are significant arguments to be had about such matters on the shared and agreed basis of Scripture, Tradition and reason. But it should be clear that an acceptance of these sorts of innovation in sacramental practice would represent a manifest change in both the teaching and the discipline of the Anglican tradition, such that it would be a fair question as to whether the new practice was in any way continuous with the old. Hence the question of ‘recognisability’ once again arises.

18. To accept without challenge the priority of local and pastoral factors in the case either of sexuality or of sacramental practice would be to abandon the possibility of a global consensus among the Anglican churches such as would continue to make sense of the shape and content of most of our ecumenical activity. It would be to re-conceive the Anglican Communion as essentially a loose federation of local bodies with a cultural history in common, rather than a theologically coherent ‘community of Christian communities’.

Rowan’s point is clear – to change liturgy is to change doctrine and that cannot be done on such an important subject on a unilateral basis. There is a mutuality in our life of worship that needs to be recognised and guarded, otherwise we lose any claim to be part of a catholic apostolic church.

How then do we handle the situation of one part of the church choosing to unilaterally change core doctrine and it’s liturgical and sacramental expression? The solution says Rowan is the Covenant, but what shape should that take? Do we want a Covenant that ultimately excludes, one that attempts to include as much as possible, or one that recognises severe differences and yet stretches as far as possible the bounds of unity in Christ?

20. The Covenant proposals of recent years have been a serious attempt to do justice to that aspect of Anglican history that has resisted mere federation. They seek structures that will express the need for mutual recognisability, mutual consultation and some shared processes of decision-making. They are emphatically not about centralisation but about mutual responsibility. They look to the possibility of a freely chosen commitment to sharing discernment (and also to a mutual respect for the integrity of each province, which is the point of the current appeal for a moratorium on cross-provincial pastoral interventions). They remain the only proposals we are likely to see that address some of the risks and confusions already detailed, encouraging us to act and decide in ways that are not simply local.

21. They have been criticised as ‘exclusive’ in intent. But their aim is not to shut anyone out – rather, in words used last year at the Lambeth Conference, to intensify existing relationships.

Here Rowan’s description of the nature of the evolving Covenant is related back to his previous discussion on the development of our shared liturgical life. Note carefully where he writes the following:

They seek structures that will express the need for mutual recognisability, mutual consultation and some shared processes of decision-making. They are emphatically not about centralisation but about mutual responsibility. They look to the possibility of a freely chosen commitment to sharing discernment (and also to a mutual respect for the integrity of each province, which is the point of the current appeal for a moratorium on cross-provincial pastoral interventions).

This is crucial to Rowan’s argument – any sense of unity must carry with it mutuality in decision making and doctrinal understanding. Of course, some Provinces will simply not be able to agree to such an understanding of mutuality, so the choice has to be made how to still remain in fellowship with them.

22. It is possible that some will not choose this way of intensifying relationships, though I pray that it will be persuasive. It would be a mistake to act or speak now as if those decisions had already been made – and of course approval of the final Covenant text is still awaited. For those whose vision is not shaped by the desire to intensify relationships in this particular way, or whose vision of the Communion is different, there is no threat of being cast into outer darkness – existing relationships will not be destroyed that easily. But it means that there is at least the possibility of a twofold ecclesial reality in view in the middle distance: that is, a ‘covenanted’ Anglican global body, fully sharing certain aspects of a vision of how the Church should be and behave, able to take part as a body in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue; and, related to this body, but in less formal ways with fewer formal expectations, there may be associated local churches in various kinds of mutual partnership and solidarity with one another and with ‘covenanted’ provinces.

The key point in this paragraph is the sentence

fully sharing certain aspects of a vision of how the Church should be and behave, able to take part as a body in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue;

because this implies that even the outer tier of membership may have its bounds. Ultimately membership of the outer circle of Anglican identity will be dependent upon what limits to fellowship those in the inner circle will permit. The vision of how the Church should be and behave will logically be dictated by those who have agreed such things, not those who have failed to agree. A “two-track” approach will still bring with it certain qualifications as Rowan rightly points out.

23. This has been called a ‘two-tier’ model, or, more disparagingly, a first- and second-class structure. But perhaps we are faced with the possibility rather of a ‘two-track’ model, two ways of witnessing to the Anglican heritage, one of which had decided that local autonomy had to be the prevailing value and so had in good faith declined a covenantal structure. If those who elect this model do not take official roles in the ecumenical interchanges and processes in which the ‘covenanted’ body participates, this is simply because within these processes there has to be clarity about who has the authority to speak for whom.

One wonders whether those who choose one way of witnessing to the Anglican heritage (that of a shared liturgical and sacramental life, and by definition a shared doctrinal witness) will truly be able to find themselves in fellowship with those who reject the very same limitations on shared liturgical and sacramental expression.

Ultimately this is a brave but dangerous path Rowan has set upon. He seems to have very clearly accepted the reality of a two tracked Communion, but within that are ecclesiological issues that need to be thought through. Rowan’s final prayer for the life of this church is heartfelt, but I seriously wonder whether his best hopes for our common life will be fulfilled.

If the present structures that have safeguarded our unity turn out to need serious rethinking in the near future, this is not the end of the Anglican way and it may bring its own opportunities. Of course it is problematic; and no-one would say that new kinds of structural differentiation are desirable in their own right. But the different needs and priorities identified by different parts of our family, and in the long run the different emphases in what we want to say theologically about the Church itself, are bound to have consequences. We must hope that, in spite of the difficulties, this may yet be the beginning of a new era of mission and spiritual growth for all who value the Anglican name and heritage.

Those who cry that this letter from Rowan is simply more of the same fudge have not read it carefully enough. This letter is no pot of fudge, it is a confection of much greater sophistication. The question now to be asked is what the Primates and their Provinces will do having tasted Rowan’s vision of the future for Anglicanism.

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