Rowan’s Address to Synod

You can read the full thing here. For me, the key sections around human sexuality are these.

The debate over the status and vocational possibilities of LGBT people in the Church is not helped by ignoring the existing facts, which include many regular worshippers of gay or lesbian orientation and many sacrificial and exemplary priests who share this orientation. There are ways of speaking about the question that seem to ignore these human realities or to undervalue them; I have been criticised for doing just this, and I am profoundly sorry for the carelessness that could give such an impression.

This, you see, is where the Christian understanding of freedom has a distinctive contribution to make to the broader discussion of liberties in society.  Christian freedom as St Paul spells it out is always freedom from isolation – from the isolation of sin, separating us from God, and the isolation of competing self-interest that divides us from each other.  To be free is to be free for relation; free to contribute what is given to us into the life of the neighbour, for the sake of their formation in Christ’s likeness, with the Holy Spirit carrying that gift from heart to heart and life to life.  Fullness of freedom for each of us is in contributing to the sanctification of the neighbour.  It is never simply a matter of balancing liberties, but of going to another level of thinking about liberty.  And the ‘purity’ of the body of Christ is not to be thought of apart from this work.  It is not to put unity above integrity, but to see that unity in this active and sometimes critical sense is how we attain to Christian integrity.  The challenges of our local and global Anglican crises have to do with how this shapes our councils and decision-making.  It is not a simple plea for the sacrifice of the minority to the majority.  But it does mean repeatedly asking how the liberty secured for me or for those like me will actively serve the sanctification of the rest.

Now that strikes as me as being an argument built around 1 Corinthians 8 and 9. If that’s so, is Rowan subtly arguing a pro-gay line (this is the right thing to do, but don’t do it while others in the Communion are offended by it) or is the inclusion of references to purity and sanctification pointing the other way towards a more Romans 6 approach about how sin in our bodies destroys the corporate body (Romans 6 is replete with “we” rather than “you”). As one tweeting acquaintance put it, “‘…sacrificial & exemplary priests who share this orientation.’ & share their lives (& beds) with their partners“. The fact that Rowan didn’t say those words in bold might be the key to understanding this.

Perhaps though it’s just the master Hegelian presenting thesis and antithesis and letting the rest of us get on with it.


7 Comments on “Rowan’s Address to Synod

  1. I think you've hit the nail on the head with your last point. Whatever ++Rowan's private views, he is (I think) very conscious that his office carries with it a requirement to do exactly as you describe. It would be all too easy for him to pronounce ex cathedra. The fact that he has resisted doing this, but instead continues to confront us with – as you put it – thesis and antithesis, suggests that he does indeed want us to work it out for ourselves.

    • I'm not sure that the office of ABoC does require everybody else to do the thinking, it's just that Rowan has chosen to exercise his authority in this way. Another ABoC might take a completely different tack.

  2. Rather then 1 Corinthians 8-9, does he have in mind Galatians 5?

    I'm not sure about his assertion on what Paul has in mind when he talks about freedom. I've always understood Paul to be talking about freedom from sin and the law in Galatians, for example. That being the case, Christians are free, but we're not free to indulge the sinful nature (Galatians 5:13). More recently I've been thinking that we are also free to choose not to be free – to serve Christ, and to serve one another.

  3. I don't really think he is in the conservative or liberal camp, he is sitting right on the fence, the only place where Williams and Sentamu feel it is safe or expedient to be.

    Of course they will not say anything that can be interpreted as "it is 100% OK to be in an active gay relationship" any more than they would say the same of divorce or cohabiting, but neither will they say that " the Church doesn't welcome actively gay or lesbian laity".

    They know that plenty of their clergy, and several of their bishops, are in active gay relationships, they know that many bishops ordain people in full knowledge of that fact. All they ask ( tacitly, not in words) is that this is hushed up.

  4. Like Sue I'm not sure it's much help to try to 'pigeonhole' RW as conservative or liberal on this. I've skimmed thru' the text of his address and it seems to me that his position is as it has been for some years – ie that as Archbishop in a church polarised on 'the gay issue', he should not advocate one or other position but rather attempt to help each side listen and speak to the other, hoping that there will be mutual learning and that the church will discern as a united body, rather than by refusing to listen to voices of disagreement.

    In March 2006 RW gave an interview to the Grauniad in which he said (quoting the transcript):

    "I've been given a responsibility to try and care for the church as a whole, the health of the church. That health has a lot to do with the proper and free exchange between different cultural and political and theological contexts: people are actually able to learn from each other. And it's got a lot to do therefore, with valuing and nurturing unity, not, as I've often said, not as an alternative to truth, but actually as one of the ways we absorb truth. That means that, structurally speaking, in the church as I believe it to be, it really is wrong for an Archbishop to be the leader of a party; in a polarised and deeply divided church it's particularly important, I think, not to be someone pursuing an agenda that isn't the agenda of the whole".

    I think a key phrase there is "in a polarised and deeply divided church" – on other issues (notably nuclear weapons for instance) where the church is not so deeply divided, RW seems to express his own view more freely (see his address to the 1998 Lambeth Conference, 'Making moral decisions'). I quote him at length because I'd suggest that's a good explanation by RW for his modus operandi on 'the gay thing'. So as you say Peter, it's not that "the office of ABoC does require everybody else to do the thinking" but that he hopes to nourish a context in which we can try to discern together ('scuse the phrasing of that).

    Again I suspect you're right Sue, about the church having an honesty problem – looked at one way it seems to be maintaining the closet (or trying to) even as it collapses in so many other places. But given the above I'm not sure what RW can say publicly about that. Indeed I'm not sure what if any public conversation would be possible with him on 'the gay issue' now – by which I mean conversation covering central questions like whether being gay is a defective kind of heterosexuality or 'just is'. But that's a bit of a tangent….

    in friendship, Blair

  5. For what it's worth, I think that Rowan is trying to "sit on the fence" – and also to offer leadership.
    It seems blatantly clear to me, for example, that Rowan has been saying as much as he can to ECUSA "Don't consecrate more gays; don't ordain Glasspool" – and has been pushing the "English compromise" (Gay priests and private blessings; no gay bishops and no public rites) for years.
    Arguably part of this was suggested by Ephraim Radner in ECUSA. And – there is at least one sermon or lecture of his where he makes clear his theology or ecclesiology is that precisely through this kind of ongoing engagement as a church is the "will of God" discerned.

    But on the other side there is the phrase: "exemplary gay and lesbian priest". This single simple phrase, it seems to be, betrays his actual liberal views and doctrine. To FIF, to Reform, to Sydney, to Rome, it shows that Rowan is already lost: because Rowan admits and has ordained women priests he is no longer a true and worthy priest or bishop. In just the same way, by arguing that
    there are "exemplary gay priests" – whether or not celibate, those priests presumably self-identify (and so advocate) gay or lesibianism and that it is possible to be a Christian and identify as gay or lesbian.

    But – as much as I understand Gagnon, the reasserter argument, the Christian argument as Matthew Kennedy and the Global South Primates would phrase it: this is simply not the case. The very idea, the very conception of an "gay priest" – let alone an exemplary one – is as much a departure from Christianity as a "genocidal priest" or a "canine priest". Anyone even mentioning such a thing, let alone praising it, as Williams does here, has by that act shown that they are themselves no longer Christian (or orthodox, or Anglican, or whatever).

    As I understand the Christian argument, it really is that simple.

    And even just on the basis of that single phrase, I find it hard to believe that the Global South primates can now do anything less than break with the ABC and all liberal or moderate churchpeople in the CoE – and call the evangelicals and Anglocatholics out (and, by extension, out of Canada, Australia, the remains of TEC, NZ, as well).

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