27 October 2007

Save the primates

My name is Savi Hensman, I am active in the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement and Inclusive Church, I live in London and I will be contributing to the blog from time to time.

‘Third of primates “under threat”’, a BBC news headline yesterday announced. This was not about the struggles in the Anglican Communion, but instead about the threat to apes, monkeys and other (mainly four-legged) primates because of the destruction of their habitats. These animals are not only beautiful and precious in their own right but also contribute to the understanding of human diversity, yet many are at risk of extinction because of human carelessness and greed. Another report, by the United Nations Environment Programme, highlights a crisis which involves extinction of species, climate change and excessive consumption of the world’s resources by the rich, among other factors. Some industrialists have objected to firm measures to cut emissions, and there has been an alarming lack of political will. Yet millions die each year because they cannot get access to clean air and water, and humankind as a whole is in peril if urgent action is not taken.

Senior clergy will no doubt continue to debate who should wield most power, which types of Christians should be included and on what terms. Yet those of us who are laypeople and parish clergy have been called by One who is even greater than a roomful of archbishops, assured of our worth and sent out to be the church, in an increasingly imperilled world. Working with other people of goodwill, we can perhaps halt the destruction before it is too late. So let us go forth and help save the primates!

21 October 2007

Catching up: more of the same

As I mentioned earlier today, this is one of those posts wherein I try to comment on many recent goings-on in the Communion (that happened while I was neglecting this blog in favor of parish concerns).

In no particular order:
  • This is no longer about only the Diocese of New Hampshire. Now we have significant news (good news, to my thinking) from several places. California wants to move ahead with same-sex blessings. So does Montreal. And Ottawa too. This complicates the conversation, but I think it also reminds the world that the proverbial horse is out of the barn. Whatever resolution we're going to reach needs to happen, because we're not going back on GLBT issues.
  • The Joint Standing Committee gave the ECUSA HoB a passing grade. Jim Naughton has a good commentary. What I find more interesting is the reaction from the right. When they think the Communion authorities are leaning their direction, we hear, "Polity! Authority! Discipline!" When the results are not what they want, we hear "Bizarre! Conflict of interest!" Nonsense. Bishops consult one another. It's what they're supposed to do. There was no conflict of interest, just consultation of interest. If you want to talk about conflict of interest, that would be a primate leaving the Primates' Meeting to consult with his secessionist plotting friends.
  • The Archbishop of Capetown says it like it is:
  • This has not been an easy road to travel. Much remains to be done and we must continue to strive earnestly together to find the path ahead. The experiences of my own Province, both through the terrible divisions of the apartheid years, and in the differences of our earliest history (which contributed to the holding of the first Lambeth Conference), have repeatedly demonstrated that holding fast to one another yields lasting fruit, while separation solves very little. Our God is the God of reconciliation, not of division, and we can take courage that he will continue to guide our way forward. I am sure that as we continue to abide in Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord, in whom lies the gift of unity, that we will find ourselves, our churches, our world-wide Communion, refined and strengthened, for the life of worship, witness and service to which we are called.
  • The HoB statement was not without its problems, as Lisa Fox notes. We can't deny sacraments to people while we claim that our church includes them fully.
  • Bishop Iker of Forth Worth says "We have Concluded there is no Future for us in The Episcopal Church." Please. Enough. I have grown weary of the attempt to make Every Instant A Dramatic Moment. Drama. Crisis. Doom. If you plan to leave, just leave already, and let us get on with the Gospel. If you want to stay, we'd like that. In the latter case, we need you to talk with us and work with us, not to threaten us and cajole us.
  • Canon (or Cardinal-elect) David Anderson has made an astonishing discovery: "With ears carefully turned to Lambeth, we find that Rowan Williams is determined that Lambeth 2008 will absolutely take place, and on his terms." This "discovery" is astonishing only because it maintains the reality of Lambeth Conferences since 1867. What did Canon Anderson imagine was going to happen? Was he hoping that Archbishop Rowan would phone him up for thoughts about who to invite, which font to use on the invitations, and whether to ask for the "Favour" or the "Favor" of a reply? Again, I say: please. Say after me: The Lambeth Conference is a gathering held at the discretion and design of the Archbishop of Canterbury. If you don't like it, AAC, maybe you should hold your own gathering. Oh, right. You're already doing that.
  • Finally, ECUSA's Presiding Bishop gave a lengthy video interview on Tuesday. I found most it to be compelling on honest. I had some problems with one bit, and so did Lisa Fox. Lisa had submitted a question asking how Bishop Katharine had suffered in all this, as she sometimes says. The answer was this: "Personally, what I suffer – the crucifixion I suffer – is not being able to include the fullness of the gifts of my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters – that they are not yet able to live those out in all orders of ministry in this church." I'll say the same thing I said to The Pope of Pittsburgh: stop. Don't talk about crucifixion. No one is dying in ECUSA because of this issue. No heterosexual people are really suffering too much in all this. Our GLBT Christian friends are suffering the most, in some places risking their lives just to be who they are. Please refrain from the dramatic language, which is neither helpful nor accurate.

20 October 2007

Could Dumbledore come to your church?

I've been swamped by parish work, and -- as regular readers of this blog will know -- the blogosphere takes a back seat to the needs of the people I serve as a parish priest. Things have slowed a bit, so later today, I'll post a "catch-up" about the goings-on of the Anglican Communion and I'll reflect on breakfast with Lord Carey of Clifton. (Well, it wasn't just me, but lots of clergy here in Rhode Island.)

For now, however, I was struck by this BBC news story:
Harry Potter author JK Rowling has revealed that one of her characters, Hogwarts school headmaster Albus Dumbledore, is gay. She made her revelation to a packed house in New York's Carnegie Hall on Friday, as part of her US book tour.

She took audience questions and was asked if Dumbledore found "true love". "Dumbledore is gay," she said, adding he was smitten with rival Gellert Grindelwald, who he beat in a battle between good and bad wizards long ago. The audience gasped, then applauded. "I would have told you earlier if I knew it would make you so happy," she said.
On the one hand, it's odd to care. After all, Dumbledore is a fictional character. But it will be interesting to see how Christians around the world will respond to this news. Will the Harry Potter series be listed on an index of banned books now? Will people perceive that this series is somehow subverting youth? I expect both of these things to happen, and I hope I'll have the charity to treat such dire pronouncements as fodder for humor.

Here's the serious side of this. As in life, lots of people found Dumbledore to be a captivating character, before they had any idea (or perhaps before Rowling had any idea) that he was gay. Readers loved Dumbledore for who he was as a character. His sexuality, really, was unimportant.

At the risk of tedium, may I be the seven millionth blogger to point out that this is how Christians might do well to treat one another? Imagine our church's future if we treated people as people first, and as sexual beings second. What could we do if we weren't worried so much about who sleeps with whom? This is not to say that our sexuality is unimportant, but surely it's not the most important thing on which we should spend our energy.

If Dumbledore materialized tomorrow in your church, would he be welcome? That's the point of InclusiveChurch -- to remind us that all are welcome in God's church. Dumbledore, c'mon in!

08 October 2007

Process and Loyalty

After Lambeth 1998 a complex procedure of consultation, reference and reconciliation was created under the broad heading of the “Windsor process”. Despite original intentions, it has been given a quasi-legal status, with the Primates taking upon themselves the role of judge and arbiter in developments in the Anglican Communion.

As part of the process, the Joint Standing Committee (JSC) was created, to consider responses by national churches which came into the Windsor ambit. The Joint Standing Committee has found that the Episcopal Church (TEC) has fully met the requests made of it by the Windsor Report and subsequently.

We are unable to understand how the conservative groups who are objecting both to the TEC statement and the JSC can justify their position.

These groups led the field in turning the Windsor report into a quasi-legal document. They consistently demanded that TEC follow the structures created after Lambeth 1998. TEC has done so. The Instruments of Unity have been brought into play. A response has been produced which is both generous and sacrificial. The TEC Bishops have been careful to follow the procedure laid out, despite the fact that it was imposed without their consent.

The eruption of complaint and objection can be ascribed to only one thing: the conclusions reached are not those the conservatives would have wished. They therefore wish either to change the structures, by demanding an extra Primates’ meeting; or to sabotage the Instruments of Unity by refusing their invitations to Lambeth.

It’s important to be clear. Many of those who are objecting to the JSC’s report want nothing less than the destruction of traditional, classical, broad Anglicanism. They will be satisfied only with the expulsion of TEC from the Communion, and the re-creation of the Church of England as a quasi-Calvinist, narrow sect. The intention behind the imposition of the Windsor process was, for them, to enable this to happen; as it hasn’t, they make further demands.

The sense behind calling another Primates’ meeting completely escapes us. A majority of Primates support the direction the Communion is taking at the moment - towards listening and mutual comprehension and away from narrow exclusion. For two reasons – either because they are committed to an inclusive church, or because they have much more important things on their mind – poverty, starvation and war, for instance. The last meeting of the Primates was, because of the behaviour of the Archbishop of Nigeria, nearly a fiasco. A vocal minority would not, this time, be allowed to dictate terms to the Communion.

Similarly regarding the Covenant. The Primus of Scotland (one of Inclusive Church’s Patrons) observed recently that the attendance by the Archbishop of the West Indies at extra-provincial consecrations removed any remaining credibility from the Covenant negotiations. It is hard to see how anything meaningful would be gained by extending discussions on the Covenant as proposed.

Some perspective is needed. The moratorium undertaken by TEC could usefully be extended to the conservative groups. We have too much posturing and politicking and too little listening. The responses made have been scarcely biblical; commentators would do well to reflect on Acts 15 and Galatians 3.Conservative groups need, somehow, to find a way to acknowledge that those of us who seek a more inclusive church are motivated by our profound and committed love for Jesus Christ. We seek a deeper understanding of the work of the Spirit in the world, now, today. We are committed to the Gospel as it has been received in our tradition, and we will carry on preaching this Gospel.

Some people – for example, those who have signed the Anglican Communion Institute’s recent statement– appear to have decided to remain within the Communion rather than wandering into the wilderness alongside Anglican Mainstream and “Common Cause”. We welcome their decision. But they should understand that there are consequences which come with that. It is a reasonable expectation that senior clergy – which includes Bishops in the Church of England - will show loyalty to the Archbishop of Canterbury; will accept the results of due process; and will work with those results creatively. The loyalty demonstrated by many of the objectors is at best vestigial.

We hope that the dust will be allowed to settle, and that conservative groups will, sooner rather than later, recognise that a serious and meaningful engagement with their brothers and sisters across the Communion is the only way forward. In the words of the JSC: “The process of mutual listening and conversation needs to be intensified. It is only by living in communion that we can live out our vocation to be Communion.”

Inclusive Church has organised a conference - Drenched in Grace – for 21st – 23rd November 2007 as part of our commitment to a renewed confidence in the Anglican way. Excellent speakers from New Zealand, the US and the UK will address questions of biblical interpretation, tradition and culture. We believe it will be an inspiring conference offering hope to all who celebrate classical Anglican theology. For further information visit www.inclusivechurch.net

03 October 2007

The current situation, in one drawing

Yes, a picture is clearly still worth a thousand words. Quite possibly, even more than that. I give you a drawing by Dave Walker at The Cartoon Blog, which neatly summarizes the situation in the Anglican Communion these days.

A Kenyan's response to the ECUSA HoB

Just to remind our readers that this is all more complicated than we are sometimes led to believe, here is a snippet from one Kenyan's reaction to the recent statements from ECUSA's House of Bishops. This is powerful stuff, and the writer makes a powerful argument. Read this excerpt, and then go read the whole thing. Pass it along to your friends.
The American Episcopal church has backed down to preserve the unity of the Anglican family worldwide. It has promised to exercise restraint with respect to the ordination of any more gay or lesbian bishops. And it has promised no longer to authorise the use of rites to bless same-sex marriages.

African Anglican bishops are, for the most part, celebrating. As far as they are concerned, they have won a major victory regarding interpretation of religious texts relating to homosexuality. Kenya’s archbishop has gone so far as to say that the capitulation is not enough — he is demanding no less than full “repentance.”

My personal opinion, for what it is worth, is that the African Anglican hierarchy itself has something to repent. It has proceeded as though African gay men and lesbians do not exist, even though some are also members of its flock. It has endorsed the prejudice and stereotypes about African gay men and lesbians — namely that they are both “unAfrican” and “unholy.” ...

What the African Anglican bishops have essentially said is that African citizens are “right” in their prejudices and stereotypes about African gay communities. It is thus the African Anglican hierarchy that should “repent.” If we do not stop and check ourselves, we can rest assured that the damage ultimately caused will not just be to the Anglican family worldwide. The damage will be to our own.
Don't believe it when people say the "Global South" says this or that. There are people in the Global South pushing for change, just as there are people in the US resisting change. And, mark my words, there will be Global South bishops at Lambeth, even if +Peter Akinola throws his own party elsewhere.

Come to think of it, maybe some priests should get themselves ordained as bishops to serve people whose pastoral needs are not being met in Kenya.

(Hat tip to epiScope.)

02 October 2007

Savi Hensman on the pace of change

As we move toward a more inclusive church (and the extreme reactions on the right indicate that they know this is where we're headed), it's hard to know when to push and when to wait. In the US, we contend with the tensions of our own internal unity, along with the tensions with other cultures with vastly different attitudes toward human sexuality. The same is true in many cultures, as we balance competing groups and interests.

Here's a bit of a recent essay by Savi Hensman:

Patience is of course needed, and the wisdom to choose when to move slowly and when to move fast. Yet there are serious risks in accepting the human-made barriers and hierarchies which keep people apart. Apart from the harm done to those who are excluded, the spiritual harm people do to themselves when they marginalise or stereotype others should be considered, given the close connection between love of God and love of neighbour. All of us have perhaps benefited at one time or another by being jolted into recognising a common humanity with those whom we would at one time have looked down on or barely noticed.

Greater understanding may arise from observing a previously unimagined reality. For example people who disliked the notion of 'interracial marriage', when given the opportunity to see how love could flourish between a couple one of whom was black and the other white, could be prompted to rethink their assumptions. This only became possible because some people were bold enough not to hide what others at first found offensive.

Indeed, why is that when we look back at struggles for justice or inclusion (arguments over slavery, racism, interracial marriage, divorce, the status of women), we see clearly the fear and privilege of those who resisted the forward movement? Why can't more of us see this in our present struggles? How do we balance moving ahead prophetically with persuading those who might be inclined to move if given more time? How to we decide when to "leave behind" some people, if we have to do that?

These are hard questions, and I'm grateful for Savi's writing on this complex subject.

01 October 2007

Pares inter pares

Meanwhile in England we have no popes. But we have had two Archbishops (as well as our normal complement) at the request of Inclusive Church. The Archbishop of Mexico and the Primus of Scotland - both speaking at a number of events around the country (well, in London and Manchester!).

You can read Bishop Idris' talk here. And very good it is too. His main point was that "Anglicanism is a system of doctrine and practice upheld by those in communion with the See of Canterbury." That's it. Nothing else. His take on the Covenant is that it's the last thing we need; we don't need more structure, we need less. A simple way to ensure that Lambeth is successful would be, he thought, to ask all the Bishops to confirm (a) that they will be there and (b) that they will take Communion. End of subject. "Actually" he says "I can suggest the wording of a Covenant like this - " As sisters and brothers in Christ we pledge ourselves to remain together in spite of any differences that arise” "

Meanwhile Archbishop Carlos of Mexico spoke about the history of the Anglican Church in Mexico. Like those of Brazil, Cuba and El Salvador, it grew out of a sense that that the formality and hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church presented too narrow a sense of the Gospel; the Anglican churches in all those countries are indigenous, and adopted Anglicanism when they recognised that it offered the breadth, conviction and diversity they needed. Sound familiar? His talk will be posted soon.

Archbishop Carlos began his sermon in Southwark Cathedral with the question "Anglicans in Mexico? I am happy to answer with a joyful 'yes' " At the end of his visit he told me that the impression of the Church of England in Mexico is that it is dying..... so he's delighted to be able to go back to Mexico and say "Anglicans in England? I am happy to answer with a joyful 'yes' "

More about their visit later.....