28 July 2009

THE NOTION OF "CHOICE" IN ANGLICAN COMMUNION MATTERS

THE NOTION OF “CHOICE” IN ANGLICAN COMMUNION MATTERS:
A REVIEW OF “COMMUNION, COVENANT, AND OUR ANGLICAN FUTURE”

The Very Reverend Sam Candler
28 July 2009

I appreciate both the presence of Archbishop Rowan at General Convention 2009 and the position in which he is placed in this present age. He has been given both the vocation of overseeing the Church of England and the vocation of stewarding the Anglican Communion of churches, in an age that ricochets between uniformity and plurality. At one moment, we acknowledge the plurality of modern culture; at the next moment, we yearn for the routine and comfort and predictability of uniformity. In addition, the tension between uniformity and plurality is made fiercer by communication methods which react and provoke more quickly than ever before.

In Archbishop Rowan’s quick essay of 27 July 2009, “Communion, Covenant, and our Anglican Future,” he rightly perceives our tension; and he writes, at best, descriptively of our present Anglican situation. He is certainly correct in acknowledging that the Episcopal Church yearns to remain in Anglican communion. But he is also correct that ongoing decisions in The Episcopal Church have been the occasion for anxiety in some other parts of the communion.

Though descriptive, Archbishop Rowan’s essay also dips into diagnosis and prescription. In some of these matters, he will be open to theological critique. A primary critique will certainly be directed toward his repetition of the common perception that homosexuality is a “chosen lifestyle.” Within two paragraphs, he uses “chosen lifestyle” and “choice” three different times.

The Episcopal Church’s General Convention resolutions concerning homosexuality have never claimed that homosexuality was simply a choice, or, much more, a “chosen lifestyle.” Rather, Episcopal leaders have realized, over time, that being gay or lesbian was definitely not a choice for those members of our Church. Indeed, for many heterosexual persons, the realization that homosexuality is not chosen at all – no more than heterosexual persons choose their heterosexuality—has been the turning point in their ability to recognize God’s grace in homosexual relationships.

Obviously, the most prescriptive of Archbishop Rowan’s remarks is his suggestion, again, that the Anglican Communion of churches might develop a “two-tier”, or, less provocatively, a “two-way” structure of formal Anglicanism. One way of being Anglican would stress the values of local faith and theology, and local autonomy; the other way would stress the values of more global, and probably more ordered, forms of the church.

I find it curious that Archbishop Rowan repeats the language of “choice” not only in relation to homosexuality, but also in relation to Anglican Communion matters. He suggests that there may be those who will, in good faith, decline a covenanted structure. He implies that those who “elect this model” will also “not take official roles in the ecumenical interchanges and processes in which the 'covenanted' body participates.”

It is the way that Archbishop Rowan uses “choice” which is bothersome, as if it would be as easy for someone to choose a homosexual lifestyle as it would be them to choose a certain way of being Anglican. At their deepest levels of identity, neither homosexuality nor Anglicanism is a choice. In particular, Anglicans have claimed that Anglican Christianity is a gift; and part of that gift is a joint realization of local grace and global grace. I understand that certain formal parameters of an Anglican Covenant have yet to be developed, notably any “two-way” system. However, it seems to me a distinctly un-Anglican maneuver to sever local autonomy from global communion. Those very poles, taken together within one orbit, are exactly what define the structure of the wider Anglican tradition.

A certain constituency of Anglicanism has always regarded our church as catholic. Our catholicity has been seen as a “given,” a “gift,” not something we have chosen at all. A distinct alternative to catholic Christianity has been known classically as protestant Christianity; and its development was associated quite often with choice, with free will.

Now, Anglicans generally prefer to be both catholic and protestant; but Archbishop Rowan, in my quick review, is sounding too much like a protestant and not enough like the catholic that I know he is. The Anglican tradition is too historically rooted, too old, and too rich, --indeed, it is too catholic—to be relegated to a matter of choice.

Let us remember that only recently has “choice” come to play much of a role at all in Anglican Communion matters. This is an age when we, as a communion of churches, have been considering our common identity at just the same time that we (and the world) have been strained by sexuality disagreements. Many want to resolve both issues with rigid uniformity. But can we return to an Anglican identity without the “bureaucratic absolutism” which Archbishop Rowan disavows (in paragraph 13 of “Communion, Covenant, and our Anglican Future”)? I hope so.

I suspect that Archbishop Rowan yearns for a classically catholic sense of ecclesiological identity; it is ordered and mostly uniform. In addition, I recognize that ecumenical relationships and conversations are easier with this model; Archbishop Rowan mentions them explicitly in this essay. However, the suggestion that “covenant” denotes a choice of association and membership is part of a rather distinctive protestant ecclesiology. The Anglican tradition is more catholic than mere choice; and it is more protestant than mere uniformity. If some sort of covenant does become a sign of Anglican identity in our future, let us pray that it arrives as a gift and not a constraint. Let it arrive as a choice for catholicity, a choice that always reveals itself later as unchosen divine grace.

4 comments:

  1. ABC Rowan doesn't surprise me. Especially when he says in section 2 para 9 "It is that a certain choice of lifestyle has certain consequences." This is not the same argument he gave when he was Bishop of Wales. but it is the one he needs to give so he can save the AC, or so he must think.
    But I now I'm wondering exactly what ABC Rowan means when he says "choice." Yesterday I spoke with a young man in my circle who is in discernment for ordination and in a loving relationship with another young man. If there is anything that distinguishes these two young men from majority of GLBT persons that frequent my world it is that they are so very well mannered.
    So that got me to thinking, ABC Rowan is a smart man, a very smart man. Could it be that he is also being very, very Anglican? Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.
    for instance, what distinguishes the CofE from its American counterpart more: the percentages of clergy who are GLBT or the percentages of clergy who are GLBT AND OUT? Rowan could just want TEC's GLBT clergy to "mind their manners" and to a degree get back in the closet. Couldn't that be the choice of which he speaks?
    Plus it has this extra benefit; the Africans would love it! (Pardon the "broad brush.") Then from the closets where some hide their polygamy they could wink at us knowing we had our secrets, too.
    The Covenant is easy if we're all winking at each other, don't you think?

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  2. Sam, something being a "gift" does not completely exclude choice. One must also choose to accept that gift (even if this choice, in some way, is itself possible via grace). If we do not accept that gift, then we don't accept it.

    TEC is choosing to walk away from the rest of the Communion. It may be right in doing so; it may be wrong in doing so. Perhaps it "must" choose. Nonetheless, this is a choice, as exhibited by the deliberative processes of General Convention.

    This essay smacks of a rather pathetic "we couldn't help it" type of attitude. If indeed TEC can do nothing other than walk away, then it can do nothing other than walk away.

    I would prefer it walk away quickly as I grieve the very thought of the Christological problems becoming part of this controversy, and Presiding Bishop Schori arguing "I do not choose to deny the Resurrection; my denial of it is a gift; I suppose I must deny the Resurrection." (I interpret Schori's "interpretation" of the Resurrection meaning something other than "Christ rose from the dead", to be: a denial of the Resurrection - and I believe this is a very legitimate interpretation).

    TEC, please acknowledge that you are walking away, and do so quickly; tend first to Christology and forget about sexuality. Without Christ we lose hope. Let the people do sexually whatever they want, you are in no state to give advice regarding sexuality when your Christology is not sound. First insist that your leaders teach about who Christ is, without denying essential aspects of who Christ is. Then consider other matters, including what is and is not ethically acceptable sexual behavior. Don't worry about the Communion; this should be the last of your worries.

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  3. As Andrew Sullivan wrote:
    The premise used to be that homosexuality was an activity, that gays were people who chose to behave badly; or, if they weren’t choosing to behave badly, were nonetheless suffering from a form of sickness or, in the words of the Vatican, an “objective disorder.” And so the question of whether to permit the acts and activities of such disordered individuals was a legitimate area of legislation and regulation.

    But when gays are seen as the same as straights—as individuals; as normal, well-adjusted, human individuals—the argument changes altogether. The question becomes a matter of how we treat a minority with an involuntary, defining characteristic along the lines of gender or race. And when a generation came of age that did not merely grasp this intellectually, but knew it from their own lives and friends and family members, then the logic for full equality became irresistible.

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  4. drdanfee
    Well the probable losers in a two track communion will necessarily include the first trackers.

    On the real world level, first trackers will continue to live in western democracies where competent, gifted queer folks make valuable contributions - to work team productivity at office or lab, to extended family life, to being friends in leisure and sports and children's play groups, to leadership in public policy or law or some other major domain of public progress.

    That is a huge amount of good stuff that simply cannot and will not ever be able to be acknowledged or celebrated among first track official communion goers. Trust me, the strain will at first seem featherweight and invisible and completely free of any cost; only later to be revealed as excruciating, high cost, and painfully diminishing to first trackers.

    Think I'm kidding? Just check in quietly, honestly with all the families who have categorically condemned and ostracized their lovely queer offspring or other family members. Hiding the cost and pain simply does not really make it go away. Subtle hearts never quite forget the roaring emptiness of all the spaces where the queer folks used to be, giving, loving, working, contributing.

    Structuring this first track will only consign global Anglicans in the first track, solidly and resolutely to what I believe modern soldiers have called, The Hurt Locker.

    Practically, neither Rowan nor Tom Wright nor many of the other leading first track figures seem to have glimpsed that parishes or whole dioceses may dearly wish to be closer to second track Anglicans. How that might play out over time is something hardly considered by those same figures. They cannot let themselves imagine how life can be enriched by having free, gifted queer folks openly living and loving among us. All they can let themselves imagine is darkness and doomsday, hellfire and brimstone. They grew up in eras when queer folks were invisible, silent, enslaved creatures locked away from open air and warming sunlight, subhuman hardly citizens; small wonder if their religious vision is impoverished. Dark and doom is the only possible status quo church life they can picture for queer folks.

    Being Anglican is going to get a whole lot worse; and a whole lot better. Lord have mercy, thanks be to God.

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