03 November 2007
Thanks for yours dated 16th September. I was pleased to receive it and glad that our correspondence has re-opened, especially in view of the other developments in your, Lis and the children’s lives for which I am sorry.
However I have to say that I found your letter’s contents perplexing. Although you acknowledge that there are outstanding issues from mine dated March 16th, and you suggest returning to them in the future, the purpose of the letter appears to be more to warn TEC of possible consequences if it fails (in your view) to respond appropriately to Dar Es Salaam, and to outline your understanding of ways in which the Communion as a whole might respond. In other words, I’m not absolutely sure how it fits into our correspondence.
In fact what you feared did not come to pass – the House of Bishops did agree to refrain from consecrating Bishops in same-gender relationships and not to authorise the blessing of couples of the same gender. You then issued two pieces, the first rejecting the Statement itself and the second rejecting the report of the Joint Standing Committee.
I have read all these carefully. I have to say that both their tone and the content fills me with a deep sadness. It is increasingly clear to me that the present situation is one which is potentially very damaging to those who maintain the conservative position, and the way in which you, and Fulcrum, have responded to the New Orleans statement is further evidence of this.
Your responses seem to contain a barely suppressed anger at the current situation in which TEC are seen entirely as the culprits. They read in a way which is deeply ungenerous, and I find this surprising because it does not square with my knowledge of you. I suspect that the reason for the lack of generosity and the refusal to recognise the very significant achievement of the TEC Bishops at New Orleans is that a reading of the situation has begun to emerge amongst the conservatives which is distorting the whole discussion.
Until the election of Bishop Jefferts Schori and the increasingly clear resistance to the conservative position among the Primates, things seemed to be going your way. There was a genuine expectation that TEC would be excluded from future discussions, and a real possibility that an “alternative” to TEC might be recognised in the United States. But initiatives such as the “Global Center” and the very clear guidance of the Presiding Bishop, together with the more and more random actions of conservative Primates in Africa and the internal disagreements among conservatives in the United States, have begun to indicate that, in fact, there may be tentative grounds to hope that the Communion may come through this episode in a state which is broadly continuous with the pre Lambeth 1998 situation. In other words, the classical orthodox Anglican gospel of inclusion and welcome will continue.
If my reading is correct – and of course you’ll challenge it – it turns the conservatives from victors into victims. What had previously been seen as a relatively smooth path towards a reassertion of Reformation/neo-Calvinist theology (and I have a great deal of respect for Calvin’s theology and faith) has become something very different. The superficial unity of those who oppose the recognition of love between people of the same gender has not been sufficient to withstand the tendency amongst conservative groups to go their own ways, and we are beginning to see that again here. As I write, the Diocese of Pittsburgh votes to secede, and Bob Duncan compares himself to Martin Luther.
A victim mentality is very different to a victor mentality. Blame and responsibility are ascribed to others, and the actions of the self are often seen as providing their own justification. Thus, a major concern of mine about your responses is their startling one-sidedness. You go, in forensic detail, into the process undertaken by TEC and the JSC, challenging both the method and the validity of their conclusions. But you seem to accept, without question, the validity and status of Lambeth 1.10, the Windsor Report, the Dromantine Communique and the Dar-Es-Salaam Communique – in spite of the fact that the processes involved in each of these were at least as flawed and in many cases far worse than anything which happened in New Orleans or within the Joint Standing Committee.
As an academic, I would expect more even-handedness on your part. Even the slightest acquaintance with Lambeth 1.10 should tell you that the “debate” which led to the final version of the resolution was deeply unedifying and a completely unacceptable basis for any subsequent policy decision. Openly biased chairing by the then Archbishop of Canterbury combined with the tactics of the playground to produce a motion which bore very little resemblance either to the recommendations of the Bishops in the conference working party or previous Lambeth resolutions. If you are in any doubt, it’s worth re-reading the relevant part of Stephen Bates’ book “A Church at War.”
Arising from this fiasco came the Windsor Report, which a small group of conservatives have consistently attempted to turn into a quasi-legal document instead of the consultation document intended.
There was little representation at Dromantine by “inclusive” Christians, but it is very clear that the conservative lobby groups were there in force, influencing and manipulating the agenda at a distance. I’m sure I don’t have to remind you, too, that a large number of Primates absented themselves from Holy Communion.
We were at Dar Es Salaam, and so we have at first hand information about the attempts by Martyn Minns and his associates to set the agenda, and the overt bullying tactics of mainly but not exclusively the Archbishop of Nigeria.
I remind you of this simply to attempt to create some sense of balance in our discussion. Motes and beams, if you like. The TEC and JSC processes may not have been perfect; but the processes leading up to the Dar Es Salaam statement to which they responded were very far from perfect too. It’s possible to construct a perfectly coherent argument that the last 10 years have been preoccupied with undoing the damage Lambeth 1.10 caused to the Communion.
We are, as Christians, called to love – indiscriminately and generously. Without let or hindrance. Not to say that anything goes, of course; but to seek to recognise Christ in our brothers and sisters.
Your most revealing comment in your letter to me is where you suggest that American Anglicanism might be put “in a form of quarantine [creating ] a cordon sanitaire around the existing province”. The more I reflect on the present situation, the more it feels as though a pathology has developed within the Communion which has corrupted our dealings across the body of our churches. You warn on several occasions of the dangers of a “hermeneutic of suspicion” , and yet your entire position is one of deep suspicion of the motives and faith of the members of TEC. Your reference to “quarantining” TEC indicates that you see the welcome offered by them to lesbian and gay people as a sort of sickness which is in danger of infecting the Communion at large.
I’m sure you’ve read the work of Walter Wink – most notably his “Powers” trilogy. You’ll know that among the many extremely thought-provoking ideas within his work, a major strand is the idea that an institution or an individual can become bent out of shape; a Domination System can emerge which enables the power of evil to confront the mystery of God. I wonder if the conservative faction in the present discussion doesn’t have, somewhere within its present response, the notion that the “revisionists” are motivated by such a power. But it is equally possible to say that the debate at Lambeth 98 was just such an attempt to create a Domination System; Resolution 1.10 created an access point which bent the body of the Communion out of shape, and a very great deal of the subsequent story of the Communion has been a result of something which neither reflected nor respected Anglican faith, polity or the Gospel. I refer you to Dr Joe Cassidy’s article “Humility, Grace and Freedom” in which he asks the question - where is grace in the current debate?
The main reason I initiated this correspondence was in the hope that we would, somehow, be able to find a mutual understanding of one another’s faith and personhood, under God and in Christ Jesus. My reading and reflection over the summer – especially Miroslav Volf’s book “Exclusion and Embrace” but also my reflections on the life of this parish, St Peter’s Walworth – has driven home to me more and more strongly how essential it is that those of us who think so differently on the subject of human sexuality recognise and affirm the bonds of affection to which we are called.
But this is a huge challenge, and I suspect in the end that the challenge is greater for you than it is for me. Because I have a good understanding of your position, of how you reach it and why you hold it with such passion. I have spent time as a conservative evangelical. My faith is firmly rooted in Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected. I have a great deal of respect for evangelical theology and faith; the tragedy, for me, is that it has become so bound up with a particular understanding of human sexuality and relationships.
Re-reading our previous letters, I am struck very strongly by the fact that in spite of the thousands of words which have passed between us, our letters seem in many ways like an extended school debate. For me it has been important that, in the words of my letter dated 25th February, you are “prepared to allow the potential for a diversity of views on this subject [relationships between people of the same gender] within full members of the Communion” ; the constant theme in your letters has been a restatement of the conservative position and an expression of concern about how someone with my views may be enabled to continue to be a part of a Communion which should, if I understand your correctly, have no serious potential for a new understanding of the place of human sexuality in Christian faith and life - hence your support for a Covenant.
Frankly, that hasn’t got us very far. But I think it’s symptomatic of the wider debate, which has now become so destructive. Because as yet, I think we have been unable to have the grace to seek to learn from one another. The “listening process” is not well under way: it has scarcely begun, between you and me and between conservative and inclusive Christians. That’s why we need Lambeth 2008, and that’s why the Joint Standing Committee was right to call for a period of reflection. As long as this controversy is seen as a debate, there will be a perception of victory and a perception of victimhood, and both of those contain grave spiritual dangers.
So as our correspondence recommences, I’m very deliberately challenging you to try to take yourself out of the theological position in which you’re so firmly rooted and seek genuinely to understand the Christian integrity of my faith and life. Which is very far from perfect... but that’s the same for everyone!
I’m sure you know the work of Andrew Walls – especially his essay “The Ephesian Moment.” In it he draws parallels between the situation facing the Ephesians and the situation facing twenty first century Christians. Although he’s writing mainly about culturally diverse understandings of the Gospel, the essay is entirely applicable to this discussion. Three paragraphs leapt out at me as I read it:
“But in our own day the Ephesian moment has come again, and come in a richer mode than has ever happened since the first century. Developments over several centuries, reaching a climax in the twentieth, mean that we no longer have two, but innumerable, major cultures in the church. Like the old Jerusalem Christians, Western Christians had long grown used to the idea that they were guardians of a "standard" Christianity; also like them, they find themselves in the presence of new expressions of Christianity, and new Christian lifestyles that have developed or are developing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to display Christ under the conditions of African, Indian, Chinese, Korean, and Latin American life. And most of the world’s Christians are now Africans, Asians, or Latin Americans.
There are two dangers. One lies in an instinctive desire to protect our own version of Christian faith, or even to seek to establish it as the standard, normative one. The other, and perhaps the more seductive in the present condition of Western Christianity, is the postmodern option: to decide that each of the expressions and versions in equally valid and authentic, and that we are therefore each at a liberty to enjoy our own in isolation from all the others.
Neither of these approaches is the Ephesian way. The Ephesian metaphors of the temple and of the body show each of the culture-specific segments as necessary to the body but as incomplete in itself. Only in Christ does completion, fullness, dwell. And Christ’s completion as we have seen, comes from all humanity, from the translation of the life of Jesus into the lifeways of all the world’s cultures and subcultures through history. None of us can reach Christ’s completeness on our own. We need each other’s vision to correct, enlarge, and focus our own; only together are we complete in Christ.”
It seems to me that the Communion is, in spite of everything, moving towards “some new consensus” which will involve a recognition that uniformity of thought on these issues is neither possible nor desirable – and, I hope, the acknowledgement that “we need each other’s vision to correct, enlarge and focus our own.” To some extent, that’s what TEC’s begun to model, which may be one reason why the New Orleans statement was so roundly rejected by conservatives. And it’s happening in the UK too. The Anglican churches of Scotland and Wales are far ahead of the Church of England in the acceptance of difference, but even in England, I was glad to be at the Woolwich Episopal Area clergy conference alongside the widest range of theological positions. Although, sadly, a few absented themselves from it, it was a conference marked by generosity and common purpose.
I certainly do not have a postmodern view that each version of Christianity is equally authentic; my question to you is whether you have an instinctive desire to protect your own version of Christian faith, or whether we can jointly seek Christ’s fullness in the Body of Christ, the Church?
The question for both of us is, how do we find Christ in our fellow Christians?