28 March 2007

Rowan says church must be a "safe place"

Today Rowan Williams has issued a statement about the Listening Process, recent statements, and present conditions in the church. Stressing the ongoing need for listening, +Rowan says that the church must be safe for people to express who they are. Also, for the first time (someone correct me if I'm wrong), Rowan has spoken out against anti-gay legislation of an extreme form, such as that in Nigeria. He has reminded everyone that the Lambeth resolutions provide protections for GLBT persons as well as theological statements about them.

Now, we might wish that he had named Nigeria and +Peter Akinola by name, but this is a positive step in the struggle for an inclusive church. While we are disagreeing about theology and ecclesiology, we must absolutely protect the lives and dignity of GLBT persons. This is crystal clear in the Lambeth resolutions and in the Windsor Report. Thank you, Rowan, for this reminder. I'm sure I'm not alone in hoping to hear more about our need to provide pastoral care, support, and dignity to all members of Christ's church.

Here are choice excerpts from Rowan's statement.

The commitments of the Communion are not only to certain theological positions on the question of sexual ethics but also to a manifest and credible respect for the proper liberties of homosexual people, a commitment again set out in successive Lambeth Conference Resolutions over many decades. I share the concerns expressed about situations where the Church is seen to be underwriting social or legal attitudes which threaten these proper liberties. It is impossible to read this report without being aware that in many places -- including Western countries with supposedly 'liberal' attitudes -- hate crimes against homosexual people have increased in recent years and have taken horrifying and
disturbing forms.

No-one reading this report can be complacent about such a situation, and the Church is challenged to show that it is truly a safe place for people to be honest and where they may be confident that they will have their human dignity respected, whatever serious disagreements about ethics may remain. It is good to know that the pastoral care of homosexual people is affirmed clearly by so many provinces.

Yesterday brought news that the summaries of work done on the Listening Process from across the Communion have been published. I've had a glance at them, but I haven't had time to write up a post with reflections, rants, and kneejerk reactions. I'm hoping to do that soon. Suffice it to say, that it is clear that the Listening Process has not even begun in several provinces, including Nigeria. Rowan's statement is a reminder that listening to the voices of GLBT members of our church should not be an optional exercise.

26 March 2007

InclusiveChurch responds to ECUSA bishops, releases statement on the state of the church

We acknowledge the frustration which has led the Bishops of the Episcopal Church (TEC) to reject the requests of the Dar Es Salaam Communique for the creation of a parallel church structure.

We welcome their strong affirmations of the equality before God and human rights of all people.

We wish members of TEC to know that we fully support them in their response to the Primates.

To lose the long-cherished principles of provincial autonomy, respect for diversity and active participation of laypeople and clergy would be to lose many of the defining principles of our Anglican inheritance. We have no tradition of centralising authority in the hands of a few senior bishops.

The majority of members of the Church of England find the continued failure of Anglicans to recognise the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people absolutely unacceptable.

It is increasingly clear to us that the process which the Communion has followed over lesbian and gay Christians has been very seriously flawed. Comparisons have been drawn with the ordination of women. In relation to that question a moratorium was imposed in 1948. But the next twenty years led to a conditional acceptance, following a great deal of work by the Communion and a serious and sustained engagement with the question.

But the initial Lambeth resolution in 1978 calling for sustained engagement over issues of human sexuality was honoured only in the breach. Twenty years later at Lambeth 98, the conclusions of the working party charged with coming up with a response to these questions were hijacked by a few conservative bishops with the active support of the then Archbishop of Canterbury. A resolution was produced which rowed back from the 1978 call. In other words, the "conservative" position became a "regressive" position.

In this context, the frustration felt by the Episcopal Church and expressed by its Bishops last week is entirely understandable. To add weight to that frustration, the "listening process" which was called for by Lambeth 98 and again in the Windsor Report has not been carried out with any degree of seriousness by those people who have most to lose by genuine engagement - that is, those parts of TEC loosely grouped under the American Anglican Council, the Province of Nigeria and conservative groups in England. And the cross-border incursions condemned by the Windsor process have, far from coming to a halt, merely increased.

In the meantime, the Church of England has moved on. The debates at General Synod on Wednesday 21st February showed that there is a desire by Synod to take a more mature and supportive approach to Christians who genuinely see the inclusion of lesbian and gay people as a Gospel imperative.

We are now in the ridiculous position where we have gay clergy living in relationship at all levels of the hierarchy - and where the blessing of same-sex relationships is taking place in a significant number of parishes. Parishes trying to live out the radical and inclusive welcome of Jesus Christ are thriving. But because of the untenable policy of the House of Bishops none of this can be acknowledged.

In the meantime, the Archbishop of Nigeria is proceeding at full speed with his support for the homophobic legislation proposed in that country which breaches the UN Declaration on Human Rights, unchecked by his brother Primates.

In this context, we do not see that Lambeth 1.10 can be considered any longer to hold legitimacy or credence. Nor do we see that the Windsor process (which was planned as a process of reconciliation but has been used as a process of exclusion) can continue any further. The road map, effectively, was torn up at Dar Es Salaam. We are now in a new world, in which it is hard to see how a meaningful Covenant can be agreed.

This week it is worth remembering that the entire House of Bishops was originally opposed to the abolition of the slave trade. It took William Wilberforce and his colleagues over twenty years to convince the Church of the rightness of their cause.

InclusiveChurch remains committed to its fundamental aim: to celebrate the diverse gifts of all members of the body of Christ; and in the ordering of our common life to open the ministries of deacon, priest and bishop to those so called to serve by God, regardless of their sex, race or sexual orientation. We will continue to work to fulfil that aim across the Anglican Communion. We look forward to ever increasing friendship with inclusive Christians around the world.

Giles Goddard
Chair, InclusiveChurch

Changing Attitude England welcomes HoB statement

Make sure you read the whole release, wherein Changing Attitude England has welcomed the recent statement from the ECUSA House of Bishops.

Changing Attitude England welcomes the statement and resolutions issued by the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church at their recent meeting. The response agreed by General Convention in 2006 to the requests made of The Episcopal Church in the Windsor Report and the Primates’ Dromantine Communiqué of 2005 was made at huge cost to their gay and lesbian members. We stand with our brothers and sisters in Integrity who have worked tirelessly for the removal of all discrimination against LGBT people at every level of the life of The Episcopal Church and for the authorisation of a rite of blessing for lesbian and gay relationships.

That's from the intro. In the body of the statement, CA raises some very good questions:

Why is England not subject to the same attack and scrutiny? Could it be anti-Americanism in the case of The Episcopal Church? Some of the Primates have become obsessed with the two North American Churches and their active, practical commitment to justice and full inclusion. As a member group of Inclusive Church, Changing Attitude England is working to create a fully inclusive church in England.

And there is this promise. Note this well: if ECUSA is removed from the Communion or if a parallel jurisdiction is set up here, it will have effects overseas. As an ECUSA priest, I am grateful for this generous (and costly!) promise from people in England.

If The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada are expelled from the Communion, Changing Attitude will maintain communion with them. We will work to ensure that the Church of England remains partners with them in a global Communion. We will also be subject to censure by the Primates. We too ordain and bless LGBT people. We are not bound by the hostility to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people embodied in Resolution 1.10 of the Lambeth Conference 1998.

A video for the day

Today being the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in England, I commend this video:

In this sermon in the same cathedral during the Primates' Meeting, +Rowan Williams raised a very good point, always worth pondering. He noted that for many centuries, the Bible was understood to condone slavery, and the church worked to perpetuate the institution of slavery. A few prophetic voices challenged this reading of the Bible, reading some verses in support of slavery against the whole of the Gospel. Rowan wondered how we might be reading the Bible incorrectly today. He didn't mention any issues by name (clever man!), but human sexuality is clearly one issue that invites conversation about biblical interpretation.

Today, we should remember how the church supported the evil exploitation of humans in slavery. We should remember the enslavement of people today, and we should recall our duty to work for the freedom and dignity of all persons. And we should ponder how we might (as individuals and as a church) be supporting other kinds of evil in our world. Let us also give thanks for prophets, and for the desire for justice.

24 March 2007

You can help...get the ABC to the USA

OK, so this has been widely blogged, but I still love it -- so I'm posting it here for your reading pleasure. Eager to make a difference in the Anglican Communion? You can help get the ABC to the USA to talk with the HOB. (No doubt for his appearance they'll use the BCP instead of EOW.) Without further TLAs, I bring you this item:

See American bishops in their native habitat!

The bishops of the American Episcopal Church have asked Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to make an unprecedented and long-delayed visit to them in North America to discuss the Current Unpleasantness pre-occupying the Anglican Communion. The Americans assure ++Cantuar that their Christian hospitality will match that of the various fissiparous bishops he has broken bread with on multiple continents. So that the plate and pledge of parishes is not unnecessarily depleted, elements within TEC inclined toward reconciliation or at least a good face-to-face row are offering a business class ticket to any USA destination of the archbishop's choosing, along with lodging in a Courtyard by Marriott (tm) or better accommodation within strolling distance of the agreed-upon meeting place. A team of Th.D translators will be on hand to couch ++Cantuar's musings in terms accessible to the colonials. Tea and biscuits to be provided by the ECW.

All are invited to bid on this communion-saving encounter.

Make your bid now! (Tip of the Canterbury cap to Thinking Anglicans)

UPDATE: See this update from Brother Causticus over at titusoneten. It appears that eBay wishes to hasten the demise of the Anglican Communion. If this wasn't an InclusiveChurch blog, I'd threaten eBay with impaired communion or something.

21 March 2007

Pictures are worth 1000 blog entries...

This just in, from the Cartoon Blog.

(As an aside, I find Dave Walker's Cartoon Blog to be an excellent antidote to all the over-wrought rantings of bloggers, mine included. I think laughter is good for the soul and good for the church.)

HoB responses roundup

The Episcopal Majority bloggers are rounding up blogospheric reactions to the HoB statement. Check there, and check often. Thanks, Episcopal Majority!

The bishops and the Body of Christ

Over the past few days, I had been pondering the notion of church unity as it relates to the current "crisis." We're told, most often by conservatives, that schism is being forced upon them (or us, depending) by the situation. The trope is one that the US president likes to use ("either you're with us, or you're against us"), and in church circles you see it coming from the right, and sometimes from the left. This idea, as it applies to church, flatly contradicts 1 Corinthians 12.

I was moved by Susan Russell's post on St. Patrick's Day, in which she moves past the liberation-now-or-be-gone-conservative idea into the idea that LGBT Christians might be called to stay in the church to preach the Gospel of God's radical love:

And here we are in 2007 -- a church continuing to wrestle with whether or not it is going to fulfill its commitment to the "full and equal claim" promised the gay and lesbian baptized since 1976. On this particular St. Patrick's Day I believe asking gay and lesbian Episcopalians to hang in there and continue to take the vision of a Body of Christ that fully includes all the baptized BACK to the church that still holds their vocations and relationships hostage is almost as hard to imagine as asking Patrick to go evangelize the Irish who enslaved him. And yet that's the vision we've been given – that's the call we have received.

Over and against that spirit of self-offering love and costly witness, the day before St. Patrick's Day was the deadline that +Rowan had imposed for nominations for the Pastoral Council that is to oversee the Primatial Vicar. Setting the deadline several days before the House of Bishops could even convene for a discussion was hardly a way to keep the church in conversation. This was a way to say to the deliberative bodies of the Episcopal Church, "I have no need of you."

By coincidence, the last few days also saw the publication of the Panel of Reference report on six Florida parishes, in which boundary crossings were upheld and internal unity was laid aside. Remember, the original objection of the six dissenting parishes was an action by their diocesan bishop. What was that action? Although he voted against the consent of the Bishop of New Hampshire, Bishop Howard of Florida continued to participate in the life of the church. Those six parishes thought he should absent himself from the church -- that is, that he should excommunicate himself from his fellow bishops -- because of disagreement. Though Bishop Howard has steadfastly maintained conservative positions on sexuality, he also sought to keep the church together. He would not say to other bishops, "I have no need of you."

Over the next few days, the Akinolites and Minns-ions will try mightily to get this narrative out there: "The House of Bishops are severing their ties to the communion." But that is, I think, exactly wrong. We progressives, those of us with the vision of a church in which all are welcome, must tell another story.

Our House of Bishops has, in fact, honored the Gospel, hewed closely to St. Paul's understanding of the church, and reminded us of our Anglican identity. We cannot say, whether we are conservative or liberal, man or woman, straight or GLBT, American or African, that we have no need of others. The church is not ours to divide.

Here is part of what the bishops said:

...We do not believe that Jesus leads us to break our relationships. We proclaim the Gospel of what God has done and is doing in Christ, of the dignity of every human being, and of justice, compassion, and peace. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no male or female, no slave or free. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children, including women, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children, including gay and lesbian persons, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church.

And then they've done something that neither Peter Akinola, nor Lambeth Palace, nor the Primates have done. They have spoken about the terrible laws that are now contemplated in Nigeria. "We proclaim the Gospel that stands against any violence, including violence done to women and children as well as those who are persecuted because of their differences, often in the name of God. The Dar es Salaam Communique is distressingly silent on this subject." As Bishop Roskam said in the final press briefing, "While this was not dealt with by resolution, great concern was expressed about human rights violations for gay and lesbians, particularly in Nigeria, and the need for us as Anglicans and Christians to advocate against it." Amen.

Our bishops have also
reminded us that, in fact, our church has welcomed all voices. In contradistinction to the actual persecution of many GLBT persons, we progressives have not sought to exclude anyone from the church because of theological difference: "And, contrary to the way the Anglican Communion Network and the American Anglican Council have represented us, we proclaim a Gospel that welcomes diversity of thought and encourages free and open theological debate as a way of seeking God's truth. If that means that others reject us and communion with us, as some have already done, we must with great regret and sorrow accept their decision."

So, let us tell this story: God invites all people into the fellowship of the church. We believe this, and our bishops are rejecting the artificial choice between church unity and Gospel invitation. We no longer allow a "crisis" to sidetrack our mission as the church. If the so-called Global South primates want to kick us out of the Anglican Communion, or if they want to leave, we will be saddened. But today our bishops said that we will not sacrifice our vision of God's expansive invitation in response to a manufactured crisis.

On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

Tonight, I rejoice.

Bishops reject Primatial Vicar scheme

The House of Bishops have issed a statement in which they reject the pastoral scheme proposed by the primates. This scheme, which would have had a Primatial Vicar possibly accountable to our primate, and certainly accountable to an outside group of primates, was intended to provide some breathing room for those inside ECUSA who reject Bishop Katharine as primate.

The reasons the bishops cite in rejecting this scheme are worth quoting in full:

With great hope that we will continue to be welcome in the councils of the family of Churches we know as the Anglican Communion, we believe that to participate in the Primates' Pastoral scheme would be injurious to The Episcopal Church for many reasons.

First, it violates our church law in that it would call for a delegation of primatial authority not permissible under our Canons and a compromise of our autonomy as a Church not permissible under our Constitution.

Second, it fundamentally changes the character of the Windsor process and the covenant design process in which we thought all the Anglican Churches were participating together.

Third, it violates our founding principles as The Episcopal Church following our own liberation from colonialism and the beginning of a life independent of the Church of England.

Fourth, it is a very serious departure from our English Reformation heritage. It abandons the generous orthodoxy of our Prayer Book tradition. It sacrifices the emancipation of the laity for the exclusive leadership of high-ranking Bishops. And, for the first time since our separation from the papacy in the 16th century, it replaces the local governance of the Church by its own people with the decisions of a distant and unaccountable group of prelates.

Most important of all it is spiritually unsound. The pastoral scheme encourages one of the worst tendencies of our Western culture, which is to break relationships when we find them difficult instead of doing the hard work necessary to repair them and be instruments of reconciliation. The real cultural phenomenon that threatens the spiritual life of our people, including marriage and family life, is the ease with which we choose to break our relationships and the vows that established them rather than seek the transformative power of the Gospel in them. We cannot accept what would be injurious to this Church and could well lead to its permanent division.

At the same time, we understand that the present situation requires intentional care for those within our Church who find themselves in conscientious disagreement with the actions of our General Convention. We pledge ourselves to continue to work with them toward a workable arrangement. In truth, the number of those who seek to divide our Church is small, and our Church is marked by encouraging signs of life and hope. The fact that we have among ourselves, and indeed encourage, a diversity of opinion on issues of sexuality should in no way be misunderstood to mean that we are divided, except among a very few, in our love for The Episcopal Church, the integrity of its identity, and the continuance of its life and ministry.

I must confess I'm surprised by their conclusion and their boldness in saying it. As I've written elsewhere on this blog, I am passionately committed to an inclusive church and I hope for an inclusive communion. I pray and hope that ECUSA will remain as a full member of the Anglican Communion, so that we might witness to the world and so that the world might witness to us. That said, the cost of communion must not be borne solely by our GLBT members, and we must not support a fundamental alteration of the character of the Anglican Communion itself.

I applaud the bishops, and I am proud to be part of a church in which our episcopal leaders have stood up for Gospel values. No doubt the blogosphere will be seething with commentary and rants soon, and I will post interesting links here. I anticipate some mulling and further reflections, and I'll have more to say.

13 March 2007

Politicizing the sacrament?!

I just ran across this provocative (adjective chosen carefully!) piece of writing at StandFirm. Matt Kennedy has written a screed about "rainbow warriors," or people who wear any kind of rainbow insignia at communion services. Here's a sample:

Those wearing a rainbow sash or insignia publicly declare that: 1. they unrepentantly and willfully reject the clear teaching of both the Scriptures and the Church and/or 2. that they are themselves willfully and unrepentantly engaging in homosexual sex.The display represents an attempt to abuse the Lord's table for political gain and public notoriety. If permitted it will cause great injury to their own souls and to the Body of Christ. As ordained ministers of the gospel and pastors of a flock it is, in my opinion, our duty to prevent this abuse.

Ah, where to begin. First, I already took a deep breath before I began this posting. Second, said a quick prayer for a spirit of charity. Third...

It should be observed that Matt's fearless leader in global schism has already demonstrated mastery of politicizing the sacrament, and I agree completely that a celebration of Holy Communion should be just that. Would that all the priamtes, to name but one example, agreed with this sentiment.

Let us suppose, for the sake of this discussion, that I conceded the point that the Bible absolutely supports Matt's position on human sexuality. The Bible says much, much more about scandalous wealth. Should we not approach the Holy Table wearing $200 shoes or a $500 suit? That seems to be much more problematic, biblically speaking, than any infraction of sexual morality. Let us further suppose that I stipulated that those in GLBT relationships were sinners. Who better to approach the Holy Table and feast on Christ's body and blood. Is it not, after all, the call of the church to redeem sinners, not to be a community of the imagined pure? (I think a quick read of the Gospels will support my point here.)

Now, suppose I agree with Matt that rainbow flags are symbols of sin. Should we not then apply his logic to other symbols of sin? There are many advertising logos (say, Nike) which are readily equated with sweatshop labor. Shall we excommunicate those wearing Nikes? What about those bearing the symbols of empire-building, global exploitatoin, and military might? Shall we exclude those in uniform or wearing a flag pin?

Ah, ridiculous, isn't it. Matt is demonstrating, by handy counter-example, why we need to work for a church that lives out the Gospel truth. Jesus said the first commandment is to love God, and the second is to love our neighbor. He spent his time on earth showing us how to do that: always truthful, always ready to invite the outcasts to the banquet, always critical of the self-righteous religious establishment, and always reaching out his embrace to the whole world. That's our model of the church, I think.

For the record, I fully agree with Matt that the sacrament should not be time of poltical protest. I would never participate in an overt political action at a celebration of Holy Communion. It's not the place. I might carry a placard on the church porch, but not inside. I wouldn't encourage anyone to wear a rainbow sash or any other sign as a symbol of protest, but as a priest, my only words when they approached the altar rail would be "The Body of Christ."

UPDATE: See the comments for conversation with, among others, Matt Kennedy. I attempt to clarify what I've said as well. Thanks to Matt for reading this blog and taking the time to respond here. I'm in awe of his ability to produce so much content and to stay in so many conversations.

12 March 2007

Knisely: Called to walk ahead

Over on his blog, Nick Knisely has written a thought-provoking piece. I encourage you to read the whole thing, but here's the punchline:

...I’m finding that I’m finding that I’m drawn more and more to the parallels between the relationship of the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion on one hand and the Joseph and the other 11 sons of the Patriarch Jacob on the other. Joseph’s brothers decided that they could not tolerate his presence among them and took actions which sent him away from the rest of family and into that region beyond. But God used that act and Joseph’s life in Egypt to create a place that ultimately saved the lives of his father and his brothers. Perhaps as the Episcopal Church is told to walk apart and to go forth into a new world-view, it will be our task to find ways that the Christian Gospel can be preached effectively to a people for whom the old ways no longer work. And that some day God will bring all the members of the family back together again in a way that causes us to recognize that we need each other and we are not meant to live apart.

I suppose Nick may be right. I must say, if we are called to walk ahead (or, as I like to remind people, if the Akinolites choose to walk behind), then this gives our separation some meaning. Personally, I'm still hoping that we can walk together.

(Thanks to Jim Naughton for pointing me this way.)

What if we were all fasting?

Bishop Katharine has asked us to engage in a "season of fasting," but only GLBT persons are really asked to forego costly things. (As an aside, the other lesser fast -- from church boundary crossings -- appears to be widely ignored thus far.)

On parish is practicing an idea that seems to have merit, if we allow that fasting is an appropriate solution. Grace Church in Amherst, MA will bless no couples in their relationships. Here's what the local paper said:

Declaring a 'holy fast,' Grace Episcopal Church has decided to stop performing all wedding ceremonies because its bishops bar the blessing of same-sex unions.

'We are called to join the fast that our homosexual brothers and sisters in Christ have had to observe all their lives,' said the church's rector, the Rev. Robert Hirschfeld, in his sermon Sunday.

I question the notion of any kind of fast from blessing -- because I believe we should not withold God's blessing from those who seek it -- but if we are going to ask GLBT persons to fast, then all of us should make a costly sacrifice too. The House of Bishops practiced this in 2005-2006, and I wonder if they'll consider it again as they meet this month.

As we work toward a fully inclusive church -- not just of GLBT and "straight" people, but of all people, no matter what human criteria we are imagining -- we will need to figure out what steps to take. I admire the conviction of Grace Church, and I hope they will share with the whole church their experience.

Many of us have a vision for a promised land where all are welcome at the Holy Table. As we seek a path to that place, we need to decide if we'll go through the desert, through a sea, or through some other path. Our Presiding Bishop is asking us to enter a desert. Is this the right thing? Do we have a compass with us, so we don't get lost? Will we look for God's guidance on our way?

One thing is clear to me. If we're sending some of us into the desert, then we should all go with them. We are, after all, united in the Body of Christ.

Archbishop of Mexico becomes Patron of InclusiveChurch

InclusiveChurch is pleased to announce that the Archbishop of Mexico, the Most Revd Carlos Touche-Porter, has agreed to be Patron of InclusiveChurch.

The Archbishop said "As an Anglican committed to promote inclusiveness and diversity in our Church, I rejoice, celebrate and support the ministry of Inclusive Church. May the Anglican Communion continue to be a house of prayer for all people, where everyone is welcome, valued and respected." He is Presiding Bishop of La Iglesia Anglicana de Mexico and a Primate of the Anglican Communion.

Archbishop Carlos preached at a service hosted by Affirming Catholicism in Westminster Abbey on Monday, 26th February. His sermon can be found at http://affirmingcatholicism.org.uk/pages/default.asp?id=7&sID=63.

The Revd Dr Giles Fraser said "Archbishop Carlos represents traditional Anglicanism of a sort that is familiar to ordinary members of the Church of England. His approach stands in marked contrast to the dangerous distortion that is occurring in other parts of our communion. We are delighted to have him as our Patron."

A seminar on "Anglican Inclusion -- A Global Tradition” is being organised by IC to take place in the summer. Further details will follow.

08 March 2007

NY Times as Gospel witness?

I join a chorus of bloggers who are noting a NY Times editorial today. As some have observed, the Times is doing a better job of respecting "the dignity of every human being" than the primates have done, at least as far as Nigerian human rights are concerned. Before I post the NY Times editorial, here'a a quote from Lambeth 1.10: "This Conference...calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals..."

Now, here's what the NY Times says:

A poisonous piece of legislation is quickly making its way through the Nigerian National Assembly. Billed as an anti-gay-marriage act, it is a far-reaching assault on basic rights of association, assembly and expression. Chillingly, the legislation — proposed last year by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo — has the full and enthusiastic support of the leader of Nigeria’s powerful Anglican church. Unless the international community speaks out quickly and forcefully against the bill, it is almost certain to become law.

Homosexual acts between consenting adults are already illegal in Nigeria under a penal code that dates to the colonial period. This new legislation would impose five-year sentences on same-sex couples who have wedding ceremonies — as well as on those who perform such services and on all who attend. The bill’s vague and dangerous prohibition on any public or private show of a “same sex amorous relationship” — which could be construed to cover having dinner with someone of the same sex — would open any known or suspected gay man or lesbian to the threat of arrest at almost any time.

The bill also criminalizes all political organizing on behalf of gay rights. And in a country with a dauntingly high rate of H.I.V. and AIDS, the ban on holding any meetings related to gay rights could make it impossible for medical workers to counsel homosexuals on safe sex practices.

Efforts to pass the bill last year stalled in part because of strong condemnation from the United States and the European Union. Now its backers are again trying to rush it through, and Washington and Brussels need to speak out against it. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and one of the most politically influential. If it passes a law that says human rights are not for every citizen, it will set a treacherous example for the region and the world.

If the primates had said anything, I'd post it here too. Alas, deafening silence from the primates. Have any primates uttered a word about this? I'd like to know, if someone has spoken up. I'm hoping that +Martyn Minns or his priamte will speak up soon.

What could we learn from feeding 10,000 people?

Via BoingBoing, one of my favorite blogs, I read about "Sarah Rich of Worldchanging who is in Delhi at the Doors of Perception conference, checking out local food systems. She's posted a write-up of a Sikh institution, a Langar, which feeds 10,000 people a day on donated food and volunteer labor."

She writes: As Debra Solomon told us when introducing the excursion the previous evening: "They do the most exquisite dishwashing ritual you'll ever see." But actually, the Sikh guide who escorted us through the temple grounds told us in no uncertain terms that the kitchen activities are absolutely without ritual. "Cooking food is cooking food," he said, "No ritual. Just cooking." But if it can't be called a ritual, it can surely be called a dance -- a rhythmic, continuous choreography with mounds of dough, cauldrons of lentils, dozens of hands, and an endless stream of hungry visitors.

Every Sikh temple throughout the world has a Langar (Punjabi for "free kitchen"). This is not a soup kitchen. It's not exclusively for the poor, nor exclusively for the Sikh community. Volunteering in the cooking, serving and cleaning process is a form of active spiritual practice for devotees, but the service they provide asks no religious affiliation of its recipients. Our guide's chorus was, "Man, woman, color, caste, community," meaning you will be fed here regardless of how you fit into any of those classifications.

This spirit of inclusion and equality is reinforced by the kitchen's adherence to vegetarianism, not because Sikhs are vegetarian, but because others who visit may be, and by serving no meat, they exclude nobody.

You can read more here. Are there lessons for us in this? I think so. Talk amongst yourselves...

07 March 2007

Sad commentary: when the fact that people are heard is revolutionary

Jesus said to love our neighbors, and I usually think of listening as one big step in the process of loving someone. So it should give us pause when it is worthy of newspaper commentary that people were able to stand in a church gathering and be heard. Yet, here is Jonathan Petre, writing about the recently concluded General Synod.

What really angered conservative evangelicals was the way that openly gay clergy, whose behaviour appears to be in blatant breach of official Church policy, felt able to stand up in the Synod and talk publicly and unapologetically about their physical relationships with no fear of retribution. To the conservatives, no clearer indication of the bishops inability or unwillingness to act could be imagined.

One evangelical member of the Synod, Alison Ruoff, has reflected this strand of thinking in a letter to the Daily Telegraph. "For me, Wednesday in General Synod was a grim day for the Church of England," she writes. "Although on the face of it, things might have been worse, when looking at the texts that have come from the debates. However, some of the speeches that were made, particularly from members of the clergy, were in many ways truly shocking. No longer is there any shame about anything. Descriptions of 'loving partnerships', including the mention of sex, was par for the course. The bishops sat there unmoved. Yet some 10 years ago clergy would have not only have been disciplined but 'unfrocked'".

This cuts to the heart of what could drive Anglicans apart. If we take one another seriously, and if we can acknowledge that people on all sides are acting in good faith, it should not be remarkable or newsworthy when one simply describes one's position on an issue or discusses those whom we love.

This listening must become normal. It is, as +Rowan is fond of saying, part of the teaching of the Anglican Communion as found in Lambeth 1.10. And, for the record, it must work both ways. GLBT must be able to speak freely, and those of us who are progressive need to be able to allow others to speak, even when it's disagreeable or even hurtful. Listening is an essential step on the path to reconciliation and love.

IC statement on General Synod

OK, so from the American side of the Atlantic, England's General Synod looks opaque and vaguely confusing to most of us. I suppose our General Convention looks chaotic and vaguely confusing to many viewers on the European side of the Atlantic. Anyway, I didn't write about General Synod much on this blog, though important things happened, because I figured that hard code church junkies would be reading Thinking Anglicans or one of the other fine sites who cover such things.

However, for the sake of being thorough -- and to embody our transatlantic connection -- I am happy to post (several days late) this statement from Inclusive Church UK. In the future, we'll be more lickety-split with this sort of thing; we're still figuring out exactly what it means to be Inclusive Church in the US.

Without further delay, I bring you the statement:

A good day for the Church of England. A bad time for the Church of Nigeria

Members of the General Synod are to be congratulated on the tone and quality of the debates on Wednesday 28th February. In the first substantial debates on issues around human sexuality since the infamous "Higton debate" in 1987, contributions from all positions were characterised by honesty, charity and generosity.

InclusiveChurch hopes that the debates reflect a new understanding and respect for differing theological positions about lesbian and gay people within and outside the Church. We hope too that this new understanding will bring about a greater sense of cohesion between different parts of the Church so that we can now better preach and show the gospel of Christ’s love to those we serve.

John Ward, a member of General Synod and chair of the General Synod Human Sexuality Group, said 'There are no winners or losers. I am delighted that we can now be in dialogue without fear and that lesbian and gay Christians are full members of the Church. I believe that through prayer and communication something changed yesterday in Synod'.

As a Church we are once again called to "to engage in an open, full and Godly dialogue about human sexuality…and acknowledge the importance of lesbian and gay members of the Church of England participating in the listening process as full members of the Church." We hope that process of dialogue will include prayer, together, by people with differing understandings of the issues. Those of us who support a more inclusive position do this with deep respect and love for the word of God in the Bible. That love must be at the heart of the listening process so that all sides can engage with trust and confidence.

The motion on Civil Partnerships was amended to "note the intention of the House [of Bishops] to keep their Pastoral Statement under review". Clearly the present arrangements are not working. We hope that a review of the Pastoral Statement will begin soon. We hope too that it will take into account the urgent pastoral need for an authorised rite for asking God’s blessing on same-sex relationships, and will consider the implications of clergy who have entered into Civil Partnerships being proposed as Bishops.

We view with concern the demands placed on the Episcopal Church by the Primates, especially as we are very aware that there are lesbian or gay clergy at all levels of the hierarchy of the Church of England, some of whom have entered into Civil Partnerships.

In the context of Synod’s debates we deeply regret the continuing support of the Church of Nigeria for legislation to criminalise lesbian and gay people. This appears to be a breach of Lambeth 1.10 which restates the need to resist homophobia in all its forms. We encourage all who have contact with the Church of Nigeria to make their concerns clear. The Anglican Communion does deep damage to its mission if it is seen to be supporting legislation which is in clear breach of the United Nations Convention on Human Rights. A letter on this from 250 American faith leaders can be found at http://hrw.org/english/docs/2007/02/27/nigeri15425.htm.

Fun with bishops

Several sundry items from around the blogosphere. No relation, except that they all emanate from people who wear purple shirts.

First, off, another one bites the dust. +David Bena, retired suffragan of Albany has gone over to CANA. Mark Harris has some good pondering points on this one, most especially that this means the good bishop has abandoned our communion and should be dealt with accordingly.

Second, in a brief burst of blatant unfiltered truth-telling and subtle insight, the Archbishop of Wales has called it like he sees it. It would be nice to see more of the middle and less of the extremes from our primates. Oh, wait, I guess the notion that we might not be wholly correct is radical. Guess the middle moved. Anyway, this is from a recent newspaper article, pointed out by titusonenine.

The archbishop said it was shocking to see people from the traditional wing of the American Anglican Church "blatantly influencing the more conservative primates of provinces [and] making an inflammatory situation potentially explosive. Primates have briefed against one another and some primates have refused to receive communion from the same altar as other primates," he said.

The archbishop said Anglicanism was about diversity in unity. "Not only do we have to respect one another’s geographical integrity, but also one another’s moral and theological integrity," he said. "We need one another’s insights with all our diversities and differences. Anglicanism at its best is the realisation that none of us possesses the truth, and will never do so."

Third, the Bishop of Upper South Carolina, who is no liberal, does not much like the outcome of the Primates' Meeting. On his blog, he raises all sorts of great questions about polity, both the polity of the Anglican Communion and of ECUSA. More than that, he points out the obvious (but apparently not obvious to some):

In my view we have failed the homosexual community. I can find no better words to describe what I mean that those uttered by Archbishop Williams: "…(M)indful of the full text of Lambeth I.10, we should have done more about offering safe space to homosexual people…to talk about what it is like to be endlessly discussed and dissected in their absence, patronized or demonized. Again and again we have used the language of respect for their human dignity; again and again we have failed to show it effectively, convertingly and convertedly. …(E)very attempt to 'listen to the experience of homosexual people' is easily seen as…an exercise in winning battles rather than winning understanding." (Another hat tip to t19.)

Then, fourth, there is +Gerard Mpango of Tanzania, who says,

He said the Tanzanian Anglican church is in an "impaired relationship" with the Episcopal Church, the American branch of Anglicanism, over the issue. The recent election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church USA did not help. The problem is not that she is a woman, but that she supports gay relationships, he said. Mpango said the issue is very important to Africans. "We live with Muslims, and they use this against us," he said.

Until I traveled to Tanzania, I used to accept statements like that. But now I've had a chance to speak with a number of ordinary church-goers in Tanzania. Here's the thing. Mostly, they don't seem to care much about what Katharine Jefferts Schori says or does. In fact, a couple of Tanzanians I spoke with specifically said that schism is a much greater threat than the possible "taint" of American liberalism in evangelizing Muslims. I'd like to hear more from people in Africa -- not from archbishops -- on this one.

Finally, +Douglas Theuner (retired diocean of New Hampshire) writes very articulately about the current struggles in our Communion, especially as it relates to power, authority, and unity. He concludes with a sensible proposal:

Fasting from decision making during this period of Lent is an excellent penitential discipline. Then, I think the House of Bishops meeting in September ought to pass a "mind of the house" resolution asking the Presiding Bishop to convey to the Primates of the Anglican Communion that it has received their advice and counsel from Dar es Salaam and has given it prayerful and thoughtful attention and that it looks forward to being with them at Lambeth in 2008 for further discussion of these matters and others relating to the mission of the Church today. Nothing further should be required or is likely to be either helpful or honest.

06 March 2007

New Jersey enters the discussion

In a move that will surely rub a few conservative leaders the wrong way, the Diocese of New Jersey has offered concrete support to gay and lesbian Anglicans.

After a lengthy debate which drew over a dozen speakers plus the introduction and subsequent defeat of two amendments, the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey approved a resolution at its Convention March 3 that "expresses its deepest regret for the pain and anguish suffered by our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, their families, and friends, due to the adoption of [General Convention] Resolution B033." (From an ENS report.)

Interestingly, B033 rubbed me the wrong way because we didn't even name the people whom we were asking to bear a burden. We promised to refrain from consent from those whose "manner of life" were a "challenge" for others. An earlier version, which actually named gays and lesbians as the people who were bearing the cost of communion, has been defeated. Now New Jersey is stepping up to offer support for those harmed by B033. Full text of the NJ resolutions is not available at ENS, but I hope they also included an acknowledgement of the pain that people who find theological and ecclesiological change have suffered. Seeing and hearing our mutual struggle is part of the path to reconciliation. Lots of people have felt pain, for lots of different reasons. And, of course, lots of people have felt hope, for lots of different reasons.

The bishop [of New Jersey] also declared, "We are called to minister in New Jersey. New Jersey is not Tanzania, New Jersey is not Nigeria; New Jersey is not any of the 29 countries on the African continent where homosexuality is a criminal offense. We minister in a radically different context. In our churches are many gay and lesbian people who are living in faithful, committed unions who are asking for our acceptance, our support and our prayers. We have said that the Episcopal Church welcomes them and welcomes all. Gay and lesbian Christians are our brothers and sisters in Christ and our partners in mission and ministry, in work and worship, in fellowship and service."

And there it is. I pray for a church in which all are welcome. The struggle to live out the Gospel of God's boundless love will be played out differently in the many cultures of our world. If our Communion can hang together, we'll be able to see ourselves united in Christ, ready to challenge one another and ready to support one another.

05 March 2007

On Rowan's pastoral letter

The blogosphere is now buzzing with news of the pastoral letter of +Rowan Williams. Ironically, Rowan was just complaining that the church is seen as obsessed with sex, and then he writes a pastoral letter that's primarily about the church's response to...sex. This is a missed opportunity, on many levels.

Rowan could have easily written a chastening letter, reminding us all that people are dying while we fiddle away our time fighting about sex. He might have reminded us that Christianity is in a struggle for visibility in many parts of the world. He might have just said that we would do well in this Lenten season to remember (as he himself put it) that we are great sinners, and Christ is a great saviour.

Instead, Rowan has largely ignored the mission of the church in this latest pastoral letter. He seems very eager to fill positions on the Pastoral Council for a Primatial Vicar, when ECUSA won't even be able to contemplate these bodies prior to our House of Bishops gathering later this month. Offering an immediate nomination deadline of March 16, Rowan seems eager to short-circuit the polity of ECUSA. Why the hurry? With a couple of (admittedly awful) exceptions, the conservatives in ECUSA are not being persecuted or harassed in any way. Couldn't this wait, at the very least, until our bishops respond?

This is, sadly, part of a pattern. Rowan's compassion seems primarily directed at conservatives in the US. Conspicuous silence from Lambeth Palace has surrounded the Nigerian crimilization of GLBT activity and even speech about GLBT persons. Need we remind Rowan and others that Lambeth 1.10 also speaks about the need to protect the basic human rights of gays and lesbians? Where's the sudden concern for this matter, which will surely lead to prison sentences, and possibly death, for some people? Why are we more concerned with the protection of the Diocese of Pittsburgh than the actual lives of people in Nigeria and other places?

Let's look at the criteria for those Rowan seeks on the Pastoral Council. He wants people with "skills in canon law, administration and mediation, as well as pastoral insight and of course availability." Where is visionary leadership? Where is Gospel clarity? Where is a sense of mission of the church? Where is willingness to engage in listening or conversation? I fear we've become so institutionally oriented that there is not enough room for the Gospel or the Holy Spirit.

Rowan also drags this one out: "interventions in the jurisdiction of The Episcopal Church will be able to cease once there is sufficient provision within The Episcopal Church for the adequate pastoral care of such congregations." How's this one: until there is adequate pastoral care for all people who seek Jesus Christ (including, not least, gay and lesbian persons) in Nigeria, urgent intervention is required. After all, the same Lambeth 1.10 calls for pastoral care for GLBT people, and the Windsor Process calls for listening (as have Lambeth resolutions since 1978), and yet no GLBT persons have yet address the primates or Anglican bishops. Perhaps we need urgent pastoral care overseas for some of these people, marginalized by the failure to implement Lambeth 1.10.

You can see how quickly this gets ridiculous in the extreme. Perhaps Rowan was right a few days ago. The church is indeed obsessed with sex. Perhaps we should return to being obsessed with Jesus, and this would all seem appropriately silly. How strange is it to contemplate the battles over candlesticks, crosses, and vestments in the 19th century? And yet, here we are, setting up a Byzantine structure to administer battles over who can sleep with whom, all while people huddle outside our churches, longing for health, for wholeness, and for the Good News.

Time for tea and reflection?

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Jim Naughton writes that "stories are becoming more reflective and less reactive", and he cites several examples. I think this can only be good. We'll all get a deep breath, I hope, and perhaps pause to consider our Communion, our views of human nature, our understanding of scriptural interpretation, and our notions of church authority. Then we can figure what what we'll actually do about all this.

Executive Council on the Primates' Meeting

The Executive Council has just ended its March meeting. For those of you on the east side of the Atlantic, the Executive Council is the church body that acts in the stead of General Convention between sessions of the GC. So in between our triennial Convention meetings, the Exec Council (made of bishops, other clergy, and lay people) manages budget and program issues for our church. They're also the logical body to provide preliminary guidance on matters that might require General Convention action. This group, along with the House of Bishops, will respond to the primates' requests from Tanzania. (Yes, I know the primates only asked our bishops to speak, but our polity ensures that the voices of all orders of ministry are heard in major decisions, as Bonnie Anderson recently reminded us.)

Anyway, as I predicted, the Executive Council is speaking up on behalf of our GLBT members. They won't let us sell them out to neo-papal demands. Here's the reminder of what we stand for, from the Executive Council's letter to the church:

We wish clearly to affirm that our position as a church is to welcome all persons, particularly those perceived to be the least among us. We wish to reaffirm to our lesbian and gay members that they remain a welcome and integral part of the Episcopal Church.

And this part means they're going to mull over how to respond to the primates' requests (and also how to juggle power with the House of Bishops):

Executive Council recognizes that the requests made by the Primates, directed to the House of Bishops and the Presiding Bishop, raise important and unresolved questions about the polity of the Episcopal Church and its ecclesiology. We have authorized the appointment of a work group to consider the role, responsibilities and potential response of the Executive Council to the issues raised by the Primates. The work group will make a report and recommendations at the June 2007 meeting of the Council.

There's this, too:

We are in a process of discerning what it means to be members of a global and multicultural Anglican Communion, autonomous yet interdependent, diverse yet living a common life as a family of churches.

I haven't spoken with any Council members yet, but I'm guessing (based on previous conversations) they are not likely to accede to unreasonable demands. Will they push for independence for ECUSA from the Communion? Of course not. They'll try to find a path that honors the Communique and that honors our GLBT members. The two sticking points, I suspect, will be the demand for a continued moratorium on bishops living in same-sex relationships and the demand that dissident groups re-align themselves with ECUSA in the form of a Primatial Vicar's oversight.

Same-sex blessings, I think, will not be much of an issue, for one simple reason. With one possible exception, no diocese has authorized Rites of Blessing. We can in good conscience say to the primates (especially of that diocese changes its policy, though that's unlikely) that we have no authorized rites to bless same-sex relationships. Meanwhile, many priests -- including yours truly -- will offer God's blessing to people who seek it, including those living in same-sex relationships.

So the big questions come up: what will happen with bishops? And what will our polity allow us to promise on that front? Will the dissident groups cease their illicit arrangements with Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, et al, and return to ECUSA? Will the Primatial Vicar be placed clearly within the structure of our constituation and canons?

Again, I'll say, I'm optimistic about the immediate future because I place great trust in the leadership of our Presiding Bishop and especially in our Executive Council. I believe that if we can keep the Communion together (to the extent it's not already ruined) until Lambeth 2008, things will look much better. More on that in another post.

(Photo by Dick Snyder / ENS)

01 March 2007

If a picture is worth 1000 words, what's a video worth?

Here's a look at the whole diversity/unity/inclusion issue. Enjoy.

Oh, by the way, I commend the rest of Fr. Matthew's work as well.