Now Tom Wright adds his criticism

When the leading Bishop of Fulcrum, and a fully paid up member of the “Let’s have a Covenant” camp writes stuff like this, you know the game is up for TEC.

In the slow-moving train crash of international Anglicanism, a decision taken in California has finally brought a large coach off the rails altogether. The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church (TEC) in the United States has voted decisively to allow in principle the appointment, to all orders of ministry, of persons in active same-sex relationships. This marks a clear break with the rest of the Anglican Communion.

Both the bishops and deputies (lay and clergy) of TEC knew exactly what they were doing. They were telling the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other “instruments of communion” that they were ignoring their plea for a moratorium on consecrating practising homosexuals as bishops. They were rejecting the two things the Archbishop of Canterbury has named as the pathway to the future — the Windsor Report (2004) and the proposed Covenant (whose aim is to provide a modus operandi for the Anglican Communion). They were formalising the schism they initiated six years ago when they consecrated as bishop a divorced man in an active same-sex relationship, against the Primates’ unanimous statement that this would “tear the fabric of the Communion at its deepest level”. In Windsor’s language, they have chosen to “walk apart”.

Granted, the TEC resolution indicates a strong willingness to remain within the Anglican Communion. But saying “we want to stay in, but we insist on rewriting the rules” is cynical double-think. We should not be fooled.

And Tom strikes right to the heart of the debate we are having here over “permanent, stable, faithful”.

The appeal to justice as a way of cutting the ethical knot in favour of including active homosexuals in Christian ministry simply begs the question. Nobody has a right to be ordained: it is always a gift of sheer and unmerited grace. The appeal also seriously misrepresents the notion of justice itself, not just in the Christian tradition of Augustine, Aquinas and others, but in the wider philosophical discussion from Aristotle to John Rawls. Justice never means “treating everybody the same way”, but “treating people appropriately”, which involves making distinctions between different people and situations. Justice has never meant “the right to give active expression to any and every sexual desire”.

Such a novel usage would also raise the further question of identity. It is a very recent innovation to consider sexual preferences as a marker of “identity” parallel to, say, being male or female, English or African, rich or poor. Within the “gay community” much postmodern reflection has turned away from “identity” as a modernist fiction. We simply “construct” ourselves from day to day.

We must insist, too, on the distinction between inclination and desire on the one hand and activity on the other — a distinction regularly obscured by references to “homosexual clergy” and so on. We all have all kinds of deep-rooted inclinations and desires. The question is, what shall we do with them? One of the great Prayer Book collects asks God that we may “love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise”. That is always tough, for all of us. Much easier to ask God to command what we already love, and promise what we already desire. But much less like the challenge of the Gospel.

We are rapidly getting to the point where TEC is no longer going to be Anglican.

11 Comments on “Now Tom Wright adds his criticism

  1. Peter,

    I would be interested in your reactions to Scott Gunn’s post on Bishop Tom’s article, which you can find here: http://www.sevenwholedays.org/2009/07/14/when-tom-wright-gets-it-totally-wrong/ I think he makes some good points – not least about the fact that the Resolution as passed does not say exactly what +Tom seems to think it says. If you take the Resolution at face value, is it really so strident?

    Also, I am not at all convinced by +Tom’s Pagan/Christian distinction with respect to sexual mores. It’s not really helpful and I think you could also argue that it’s factually wrong!

    Justin

    • Firstly, thanks for all your tweets from Synod Justin – really useful (and amusing).

      I have a lot of time for what Scott Gunn writes, but I think this time he is blinkered to the reality of the situation and is arguing semantics. For example:

      The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church (TEC) in the United States has voted decisively to allow in principle the appointment, to all orders of ministry, of persons in active same-sex relationship.

      No, actually. If you read resolution D025 carefully, it says no such thing. We do not have “appointment” to holy orders in this church. We have “discernment” and “call” to holy orders. D025, through our Constitution & Canons, provides plenty of opportunity for people to be challenged in their expressed call to ordained ministry. More to the point, and somewhat disappointing to me, resolution 2006-B033 (the call for restraint on bishops in same-sex partnered relationship) is not explicitly overturned here. So we have both the admission that God will call those whom God chooses (2009-D025), and a remained call for restraint (2006-B033).

      It seems to me that Scott is arguing that because there is an appointment process in TEC that this means that what Wright writes is presumptive. Not at all. The language of D025 simply says has called and may call such individuals, to any ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church which call is tested through our discernment processes acting in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. It’s been pointed out by several liberals that the language of B033-2006 is this Convention therefore call upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint. That means that once the 2009 Convention sat the call for restraint ceased to have any valid effect.

      The bottom line is that for the moratorium to continue, all GC-2009 had to do was to ignore the subject or clarify the moratorium. To pass D025 is to reject both those options, and in doing so to move beyond them.

      You might have more of an argument on the Pagan/Christian sex issue, but then a cursory read of papers like Gordon Wenham’s presentation to NEAC 4 would add a deal of support to Wright’s position.

  2. Peter – you have endlessly told us that time was up for the Episcopal Church over the years, but all has come to nothing. Who decides this? How do they act? What are the procedures? Who has the authority? It seems to me that there is only one person who could bring about a significant action against the Episcopal Church, and that is the Archbishop of Canterbury. I am not convinced that he can or will do it. I await to be shown to be wrong.

    T Wright: ‘Justice has never meant “the right to give active expression to any and every sexual desire”.

    Peter, who is asking for the above? Wright seems to be creating a scenario that does not exist.

    Additionally, why is it necessarily the case that something is spurious because it is a recent innovation. Likewise, just because sections of the gay community have moved in a constructionist direction does not meant that they are right, nor that the two cannot be held together some in way. For example, it is perfectly possibly to believe that there is something essentialist in the identity of a black person, or a women that demands equality as well as believing that many aspects of gender and race are constructs.

    I always find it interesting the dichotomoy between desire and inclination and activity on the other hand that Wright mentions at the end. As a gay man, when am I being active and not active? It seems to me that Wright, like many of his persuasion, want to localise sexual activity around the genitals rather than seeing all of our actions as expressions of the sexual impulse within us all to relate to other human beings.

    • I think we now just sit and wait. My understanding is that behind-the-scenes in the places that matter there is a great deal of genuine anger with the way GC-2009 has handled this issue.

    • I suggest you start from the positive and not work up form the negative.
      In other words, what, biblically is the fullest and most wholesome expression of maleness and femaleness together?

      That is much more constructive than “what can I be allowed to do”?

      Sin is a vector (or any series of vectors) that passes through a defined coordinate.

      That is why Jesus said lusting in one’s heart after a married woman is adultery and hating one’s brother is murder.

    • ‘All of our actions as expressions of the sexual impulse within us all to relate to other human beings’, Winston. Have you been knocking back a bit too much of the Freud? I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t use my sexual impulses when I relate to other human beings. What about Colossians 3:5-17?

  3. All I can say is ‘Bravo, Bishop Tom’.

    I thought his ‘Pagans, ancient and modern’ line was spot-on.

  4. Hi Peter,

    It is all well and good to say “Rowan, English House of Bishops, over to you” and for conservatives to demand “action” – in reality, as Winston and Justin have pointed out, ECUSA has NOT “approved the ordination of lesbians and gays” AND there is little that the ABC can actually do.

    Resolution D025 does not change ordination canons, it says no-one will be kept from the discernment process, it does not guarantee that the discernment will lead to ordination. ENS news ran a headline, ” bishops approve opening ordination to gays and lesbians” and later changed it to, ” Bishops affirm openness of ordination process” There is a difference!

    The wording of D025 has been described by a bishop who voted against it thus,
    ” it will be interpreted nationally as a rejection of B033. I actually think it is more nuanced and subtle than that.”

    So, back to Justin’s comment, the wording is NOT strident. Despite conservatives’ howls of outrage – because it does of course signal, as Susan Russel puts it , ” a Church that is ready to move on” – Rowan is unlikely and unable to take any “decisive action.”

    • Resolution D025 does not change ordination canons, it says no-one will be kept from the discernment process, it does not guarantee that the discernment will lead to ordination.
      That’s really just semantics isn’t it? Ask yourself this question – does D025 mean that B033-06 is still in place? If yes, then why bother passing D025 because if B033-06 is still in place then obviously it’s not just the Canons etc of TEC which will be taken into consideration. If B033-06 is not still in place, then your whole point is moot because there is no point to passing D025 (which, if it is not read in relation to B033-06, essentially simply says “Mexico is full of Mexicans”).

      No-one is suggesting for a moment that TEC is now going to go ahead and consecrate as many men and women in active gay relationships as possible. What D025 does do however is signal very clearly TEC’s intent that a candidate for episcopal office who is in such a relationship will not be barred from office because they are in that relationship. This is abundantly clear, because D025 completely avoids any sense of the language of B033-06.

      Tell you what, I’ll bet you right now that if D025 stands, within the next three years we will have much larger numbers of clergy in same-sex relationships nominated for episcopal office, and at least one of those candidates will be approved. You seem to be suggesting to me that that won’t happen. Let’s see who’s right.

      • When passed, Resolution B033 did not change ECUSA canons. It offered guidance but did not legally enshrine any moratorium. So headlines saying that the Episcopal Church has “overturned” the moratorium are also innaccurate.

        Of course it is all semantics!!! All I was pointing out to you is that given the “nuanced and subtle” wording it is unlikely the ABC will do much – or that he will be able to do much about it!

        I wish when you read my posts, you would look at what I am ACTUALLY “suggesting”. I am NOT suggesting that ECUSA won’t appoint another gay bishop, I think it is carefully moving towards that point. ECUSA feels it has exercised “gracious restraint” for too long with no recognition of the cost of that restraint in terms of the loss of gifts, vocations and ministries. If you actually read my post, I say that,

        ” it (D025) signals, as Susan Russel puts it, a Church which is ready to move on.”

        If you know Susan Russel, you will know what “move on” means!

        There is some vague memory floating in my head about 2010 as a year mooted for reconsidering issues ( don’t know if that’s ECUSA though?)

        I actually agree with you that in the next three years we will probably see ECUSA consecrate or make significant moves to consecrate another actively and openly gay bishop. ( We must always remember we have several closeted actively gay bishops over here.)

        All I was pointing out to you, is that Rowan is as powerless to act in this particular instance (D025) as you suspect he is reluctant to act – he does, however, genuinely “regret it” because he knows how much it will deepen the divisions that exist.

  5. Sue – we have quite a few closeted bishops over here, and lots of gay clergy in active relationships. As Peter knows, no one really acts against them either, so we are as ultimately compromised as the Episcopalians. What I find interesting is that even the evangelical bishops here do not generally act against their gay clergy – mine certainly doesn’t, nor does he want to ask me if I am in an ‘active’ gay relationship.

    With regards to action against the ‘liberals’, I have been reading lots of Anglo-Catholic blogs after FOCA (I know they changed the name, but I do like the original). The message is clear from them – they know that FOCA is not for them – they just do not get evangelicalism. As a result, with Fulcrum not on board, and the Anglo-Catholics drifting, it seems that it isn’t just the Archbishop who is paralysed in responding to the changes afoot.

    Peter, if you have the time, I look forward to you responding to some of my earlier points re. Tom Wright.

    Pax, W.

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