Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Your Lambeth Update--and Rant! Yes, it's long, and if you don't give a fig about the Anglican Communion, don't bother reading this. Really.

On the 29th, Archbishop Rowan Williams gave his Second Presidential Address to the Lambeth Conference 2008. I read it through this morning and I'm still thinking about it, and none too happily.

"I want now to engage in what might be a rather presumptuous exercise — and certainly feels like a risky one," he said about midway through the address. "I want to imagine what people on different sides of our most painful current debate hope others have heard or are beginning to hear in our time together. I want to imagine what the main messages would be, within an atmosphere of patience and charity, from those in our Communion who hold to a clear and traditional doctrinal and moral conviction, and also from those who, starting from the same centre, find fewer problems or none with some recent innovations."

Here's what he says is the traditional perspective:

‘What we seek to do in our context is faithfully to pass on what you passed on to us — Holy Scripture, apostolic ministry, sacramental discipline. But what are we to think when all these things seem to be questioned and even overturned? We want to be pastorally caring to all, to be “inclusive” as you like to say. We want to welcome everyone. Yet the gospel and the faith you passed on to us tell us that some kinds of behaviour and relationship are not blessed by God. Our love and our welcome are unreal if we don’t truthfully let others know what has shaped and directed our lives — so along with welcome, we must still challenge people to change their ways. We don’t see why welcoming the gay or lesbian person with love must mean blessing what they do in the Church’s name or accepting them for ordination whatever their lifestyle. We seek to love them — and, all right, we don’t always make a good job of it : but we can’t just say that there is nothing to challenge. Isn’t it like the dilemma of the early Church — welcoming soldiers, yet seeking to get them to lay down their arms?

‘But please remember also that — while you may say that what you do needn’t affect us — your decisions make a vast difference to us. In this world of instant communication, our neighbours know what you do, and they see us as sharing the responsibility. Imagine what that means where those neighbours are passionately traditional Christians — and what it means for our own members, who will be drawn to leave us for a “safer”, more orthodox church. Imagine what it means when those neighbours are non-Christians, delighted to find a stick to beat us with. Imagine what it is to be known as the ‘gay church’ in a context where that spells real contempt and danger.

‘Don’t misunderstand us. We’re not looking for safety and comfort. Some of us know quite a lot about carrying the cross. But when that cross is laid on us by fellow-Christians, it’s quite a lot harder to bear. Don’t be too surprised if some of us want to be at a distance from you — or if we want to support minorities in your midst who seem to us to be suffering.

‘But we are here. We’ve taken a risk in coming, because many who think like us feel we’ve betrayed them just by meeting you. But we value our Communion, we want to understand you and we want you to understand us. Can you find some way of being generous that helps us believe you care about us and about the common language and belief of the Church? Can you — in plain words — step back and let us think and pray about these things without giving us the impression that the debate is over and we’ve lost and that doesn’t matter to you?’
I would be very curious to hear from someone the Archbishop calls a "traditional believer" whether or not this in fact is representative of his or her belief. The thing I find troubling about this is that it presumes "traditional" means "non-Western" ("what you passed on to us," and "we want to support minorities in your midst," suggests that the point of view expressed is traditional and particularly African). But "traditional" beliefs are world-wide and, in fact, quite prevalent in our own country. The "minorities in your midst" are the very tradional believers whose point of view the Archbishop is trying to represent.

Meanwhile, here's the Archbishop's presentation on the "not so traditional believer," as he terms it:
‘What we seek to do in our context is to bring Jesus alive in the minds and hearts of the people of our culture. Trying to speak the language of the culture and relate honestly to where people really are doesn’t have to be a betrayal of Scripture and tradition. We know we’re pushing the boundaries — but don’t some Christians always have to do that? Doesn’t the Bible itself suggest that?

‘We are often hurt, angry and bewildered at the way many others in the Communion see us and treat us these days — as if we were spiritual lepers or traitors to every aspect of Christian belief. We know that no-one is the best judge in their own case, but we see in our church life at least some marks of the Spirit’s gifts. And part of that is acknowledging the gifts we’ve seen in gay and lesbian believers. They will certainly be likely to feel that the restraint you ask for is a betrayal. Please try to see why this is such a dilemma for many of us. You may not see it, but they’re still at risk in our society, still vulnerable to murderous violence. And we have to say to some of you that we long for you to speak up for your gay and lesbian neighbours in situations where they are subject to appalling discrimination. There have been Lambeth Resolutions about that too, remember.

‘A lot of the time, we feel we’re being made scapegoats. Other provinces have acute moral and disciplinary problems, or else they more or less successfully refuse to admit the realities in their midst. But those of us who have faced the complex issues around gay relationships in what we feel to be an open and prayerful way are stigmatised and demonised.

‘Not all of us, of course, supported or took part in the actions that have caused so much trouble. Some of us remain strongly opposed, many of us want to find ways of strengthening our bonds with you. But even those who don’t stand with the majority on innovations will often feel that the life of a whole church, a life that is varied and complex but often deeply and creatively faithful to Christ and the Scriptures, is being wrongly and unjustly seen by you and some of your friends.

‘We want to be generous, and we are hurt that some throw back in our faces both the experience and the resources we long to share. Can you try and see us as fellow-believers struggling to proclaim the same Christ, and to be patient with us?’
There are parts of this that speak to me. But by and large I would say that I, as a "not so traditional believer" am not trying to speak to a disembodied context; instead, I, and I think many of us, have been converted because of flesh and blood people who have shown us that it is possible to be gay and Christian. We have seen the incarnation, as it were. The Archbishop suggests this when he says that we have seen gifts of the spirit in the lives of gay and lesbian believers. But that's the starting point--for me at least--and the reason for my position. I didn't start with the theory; in fact, my theory was changed by the people I met.

Once again, here too it seems that the Archbishop has not divided groups into traditional and non-traditional believers, but into cultures and regions. In this case, the focus seems pointedly to be The Episcopal Church. ("Not all of us, of course, supported or took part in the actions that have caused so much trouble," sounds a great deal like code, with "actions" a substitution for "consecrating Gene Robinson in 2003.")

Taking this on was risky and presumptuous. Of course there was no way the Archbishop could capture in a few paragraphs what each side of the divide on human sexuality believes. But it also seems disingenuous to say that this is about traditional and untraditional when it seems to me to be more about the U.S. and Africa. Surely there are "not so traditional believers" in Africa; we saw it in the Telegraph's list of the 50 most influential people in the Anglican Communion.

But mostly I resent the implication that I have come to my opinion about human sexuality as a result of bowing to pressure from the culture around me. I am not offering blessings to push boundaries. I believe what I believe because of love--love for people I have come to know and respect and care about. And, whether or not "traditional" folks believe me, love of Scripture. And there is no mention of love in the Archbishop's address.

I also resent the fact that the Archbishop has "not so traditional believers" speak about homosexuals. The truth of the matter is that many believers are homosexuals. The Archbishop says "they" show signs of the spirit; "they" will feel betrayed--as if "they" were not US. The not so traditional believer is not being asked to get rid of "them." We're being asked to cut off our own hand--and we don't believe that hand is causing us to sin.

Finally, I resent the rather namby-pamby tone the Archbishop puts in the mouth of the not so traditional believer. "We see in our church life at least some marks of the Spirit’s gifts"--no! We DO see the Spirit's gifts. "Can you try and see us as fellow-believers struggling to proclaim the same Christ?"--no! We ARE fellow-believers (and I would not have said, but firmly believe "whether you see us that way or not"). I don't think it's helpful to be mealy-mouthed, here. I can't imagine Jesus saying to anyone, "Can you try to see me as the Son of God?" We know who we are; we are believers and Christians and beloved children of God and it's crazy to let any other people define us otherwise.

So. I'm disappointed. We'll see what comes out of the next couple of days, but I'd have to say from my perspective the era of waiting for the washing machine to be open continues.

1 comment:

qoe said...

Church (of every denomination) higher-ups for generations have railed against the people leaving church to deal with their relationship to God on their own terms. But THIS is a prime example of WHY intelligent, thoughtful and compassionate people DO leave the church.

The church, SINCE DAY ONE, has been not about the living revolutionary way of Jesus, but has been about creating and maintaining the status quo of empire. And it has done that very well, too well... to the extent that there is no church universal where God's kingdom can come to be fully lived and recognized for its ALREADY extant and palpable beauty. The revolutionary movement that Jesus proclaimed through his teachings dies a little each day that human beings dishonor and abuse other human beings. "The Church" does NOT embrace, embody, or enact the gospel when it proclaims that while everyone may be invited to the feast, not everyone can sup. "The Church" does not live the gospel when it maintains double standards for living beings and perpetuates a political institution that is in every way an imitation of the those institutions that Jesus decried.

What am I saying here? Well, who knows, perhaps I am saying that it is time for me to leave the church, like all the others who have been disillusioned, to join with all the disenfranchised, and attempt to live the Way in the kingdom that lies outside the boarders of the church, on a more personal level of understanding.

Evidently, The Church has lost sight of the kingdom. And that is a sad thing. But I cannot let that STOP ME from practicing the teachings of the gospel and attempting to live a life where my relationships are all defined by the formula "I and Thou."