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.


Bill Locke said...

It is indeed alarming to see this rush to implement what we haven't agreed to - this was a conversation amongst sisters and brothers in Christ, wasn't it? Discouraging also to see the fiction perpetuated that Lambeth 1.10 is somehow the "standard of teaching" of the Anglican Communion. Since when did resolutions by bishops become the teaching of all Anglicans?

Scott Gunn said...

Yes, indeed, our primates are claiming new levels of authority in Anglicanism. I'm willing to accede to doctrinal statements of the bishops who met in the ecumenical councils of the undivided church, but our bishops simply do not have the same level of authority. Rowan has also been disturbingly casual with his use of the phrase "the Anglican Church", which simply does not exist, unless he's referring only to the Church of England. I believe we would do well to attend to the autocephalous polity of the Eastern Orthodox churches.

Jim Strader said...

What source of power or chaos is pushing the Archbishop of Canterbury to establish deadlines for the establishment of the Pastoral Council and the Primatial Vicar? Jim Naughton over @ Daily Episcopalian has facilitated a discussion as to whether or not the Presiding Bishop and/or any other body than the General Convention may establish such non-provincial leadership for portions of The Episcopal Church. Could it be that ++Rowan is working as hard as he can to place The Episcopal Church into a corner where we have to say No so loudly to his intrusions into ourpolity that he disinvites our bishops from the Lambeth Conferences.