12th Nov 2007
Thanks for your letter and sorry my decision to focus on the pressing Communion issues in mid-Sept was ‘perplexing’ and left you ‘not absolutely sure how it fits into our correspondence’. It is interesting that discussing these political issues seems so fruitless. If I’m totally honest I have to confess I was left confused and rather alarmed at what you’d heard me saying and wondered whether we’re in danger of experiencing parallel universes.
I’m grateful you spent so long ploughing through my two recent pieces on TEC and JSC even though you liked neither their tone nor their content. The fact Gene Robinson agreed with my main critique of JSC - in relation to its understanding of what TEC had said about blessing same-sex unions – must though surely mean that my conclusion there does not arise from my alleged ‘deep suspicion of the motives and faith of the members of TEC’? I was particularly concerned you thought I attacked the process as part of my goal was to show that, though not perfect, given the constraints they were working under the JSC processes were nowhere near as flawed as some were claiming.
That question of processes leads to your serious charge of a failure on my part to be even-handed. Here I’ll cut most of the details but this really did feel like parallel universes. Of course Lambeth I.10 was not a perfect process (which statement or creed by any church gathering was?) but the weakness of your account is perhaps most evident in your charge of ‘openly biased chairing by the then Archbishop of Canterbury’. The debate on sexuality was chaired by Robin Eames (as Stephen Bates notes) and he did not experience it as ‘deeply unedifying’ but said ‘we have displayed how we can disagree and still love each other’. George Carey spoke clearly in the debate but so did Robert Runcie in the 1988 debate on women bishops (where I think he spoke early in the debate and in the eyes of many thereby stifled discussion and determined the outcome). George Carey also met before the debate with African leaders and agreed to support the amendment describing homosexual practice as “incompatible with Scripture” but given 1978:10 (“we reaffirm heterosexuality as the scriptural norm”) and 1988:34 (“reaffirms the traditional biblical teaching that sexual intercourse is an act of total commitment which belongs properly within a permanent married relationship”) I’m not sure why you think this ‘bore very little resemblance to previous Lambeth resolutions’. The statement about not advising “the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those in same gender unions” came of course from the conference working party (so how did it bear very little resemblance to their recommendations?).
The parallel worlds continue when you see the Windsor Report as a ‘consultation’. Its closing paragraphs so relevant at present do not exactly read as saying ‘here are some ideas we’ve come up with but let’s see what everyone makes of them’. Finally, while Dar too was imperfect the fact that at the end of a gruelling few days every one of the Primates present stood and gave assent to the final communiqué was – like the unanimity of the Lambeth Commission - a minor miracle.
We probably have to agree to differ on our readings of recent history but I cannot ignore your interpretation of my ‘most revealing’ comment about possibly withdrawing the Lambeth invitations to American bishops. This you tell me ‘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 really don’t know where to begin in replying to such a serious misrepresentation. I have no problem with TEC or anyone welcoming lesbian and gay people. The disagreement is about what ‘welcome’ involves. At no point did I identify the ‘sickness’(not a term I used) with that or with the election and consecration of Gene Robinson. The problem I identified was fragmentation, disunity and realignment and the solution was “that all bishops ministering in the US must be treated differently from bishops in other provinces”. The current position – all TEC bishops can come except Gene Robinson – appears much more to imply the problem is “lesbian and gay people” and it is interesting that very few ‘conservatives’ believe it right to focus so exclusively on him. The rationale for suggesting such a drastic response was clearly stated - containing “the divisions within American Anglicanism that otherwise threaten to spread across the whole Communion” – and this idea (which I floated as one option) would have the same ‘quarantine’ effect on ‘conservative’ American bishops who oppose Gene Robinson’s election and same-sex blessings (both within TEC and in CANA, AMiA etc) as on those supportive of these ways of welcoming gay and lesbian people.
Perhaps our visions of the Communion’s future – as of its recent past - are so divergent we need to draw back from this as well and look at other issues, thankful the big decisions are not ours - though we may find we have important and painful decisions to make in the future – and finding unity in praying for Archbishop Rowan and others as they take these decisions. In the meantime let’s see what we can do to – in words I wholeheartedly endorse – ‘recognise and affirm the bonds of affection to which we are called’ as ‘those who think so differently on the subject of human sexuality’.
You repeat your appeal of 25th February and ask if I am “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”. I tried to answer at some length on 27th February (I won’t repeat it here!) but on 25th March you replied, “I take your answer to be, with great sensitivity and tact, "no."”. That was one of the things I wanted to pick up in response last time as I’m afraid reducing my answer to ‘no’ was – given you want the answer ‘yes’ – rather closes down the conversation. I felt the same in your more recent letter when you said you understand me to say the Communion ‘should…have no serious potential for a new understanding of the place of human sexuality in Christian faith and life’ (adding ‘hence your support for a Covenant’, a sign our understandings of the covenant process are probably as incompatible as our readings of recent Communion history).
I’ll try to begin to respond to your question in a minute but first –sorry ! – I fear some of your descriptions of my position misrepresent and distort my views so a few clarifications, in the hope these too may open up potential avenues for fruitful discussion.
You described ‘conservatives’ and I think you included me in the group as ‘those who oppose the recognition of love between people of the same gender’. I want to say that I recognise people of the same gender can and do love each other. The question is what forms of love are Christ-like and godly and what sort of recognition the church as a whole can and should offer. I think it is also important to ask how these other forms of love relate and compare to marital love – love between a man and a woman who make an exclusive, lifelong commitment of love and sexual faithfulness to one another. The same questions apply to others eg love between people of opposite genders where both are unmarried or where one or both are married to someone else or love between an adult and an adolescent. Nobody is going to doubt that forms of love can and do exist in such relationships but the question is what shape love must take to reflect God’s love and to respect the significance of marital love which is given by God as a sign of his own covenantal love. There are also more specific question when love is expressed physically in a sexual relationship. Should the church teach this form of expression of love is wrong in all these relationships? Can it accept there are structures of relationship where (even if it still wishes to give moral teaching about proper sexual conduct) it does not ask questions about sexual behaviour just as it tends not to ask married couples about their sex lives?
On the question of “recognition” you will have seen in my piece on New Orleans that I objected to TEC’s appeal to True Union in the Body? and JSC clearly agree with me that public rites are not acceptable in the Communion. The question then becomes whether more consensus can be found on what forms of private pastoral care are appropriate rather than the highly-charged question of liturgical blessings or “marriages”. I wonder if some of these issues might be worth us exploring further?
So, back to your question and why (rather bluntly) I disliked my answer being reduced to ‘no’ (and, incidentally, found more to agree with than I expected in Joe Cassidy’s stimulating article which I’d not seen until you pointed it out).
- I believe my own views have developed over the years and they will, I trust, develop further as I study Scripture, dialogue with fellow Christians and seek to be led by the Spirit.
- I recognise there are genuine Christians who sincerely hold incompatible and opposing views.
- I have no desire to deny the genuine Christian faith and virtues of many Christians in loving same-sex relationships or to deny that Christ is at work and evident in their lives. To do so would be to bear false witness - one of the positive features following recent ‘other developments’ in my life has been the many words of Christian encouragement and concrete, often costly, offers of help and support I’ve received from gay and lesbian Christians I’ve got to know in recent years demonstrating that ‘bonds of affection’ can indeed be affirmed across this divide.
- I’m committed to the listening process because I believe the Communion needs a proper, corporate, considered means of exploring together what new understandings of the place of human sexuality it may need to develop.
In the light of that – and with apologies for such long quotations - my own view is summed up by Oliver O’Donovan in his “Reading the St Andrew’s Day Statement” which may help our conversation:
The faithful homosexual Christian, however, is in a situation which the church cannot recognise as one of "two forms or vocations" within which a â€œlife of faithful witness in chastity and holiness can be lived.â€ As it stands, the claim that there are two and only two such forms, though well supported, as the authors think, from Scripture, is not directly a biblical one but claims the authority of unbroken church tradition. If that tradition were shown to be essentially defective (i.e. without the supposed support of Scripture) or (less implausibly) to be more accommodating than has been thought (e.g. including homosexual unions as a valid variant of marriage), then, of course, there would be no general difficulty. But that supposes a radical development in the church's understanding of the tradition. The Statement does not rule such a development out a priori; in principle, no Anglican who believed, as Anglicans are supposed to believe, in the corrigibility of tradition could rule it out a priori. Yet the authors do not entertain the suggestion that such a development is in train or can be anticipated, and so they conclude: "there is no place for the church to confer legitimacy upon alternatives", i.e. to marriage and singleness. This phrase has been read as saying rather more than it does. It is the conferral of legitimacy, i.e. by implication some kind of ceremonial endorsement, which it rules out. Relationships may have moral integrity in varying degrees without the church's formal authorisation. The integrity that is claimed for some homosexual unions does not depend on any ceremony. Indeed, when, in the ordinary course of events, the church solemnizes a marriage, it is not purporting to pronounce on the moral quality of the relationship involved. It is shaping the expectations of the community and conferring evangelical authorisation on the form which the relationship takes. Something similar can be said about vows of celibacy. It is this formal function which the authors think inappropriate in the case of a homosexual partnership, given the church's understanding of the two alternative vocations. Yet the church member in this generally irregular situation is to be "assisted" and "encouraged" in discipleship; in any personal counsel that is offered, due weight is to be given to "the circumstances which make each individual case different from every other". This is the "flexibility" which the Statement claims for personal practice. It means the freedom to begin from the needs of this person in this situation, and from what the Holy Spirit is saying to him or her at this point. And it means being able to treat different people differently, responding to their different capabilities, receptivities, patterns of responsibility and obligation, curves of moral and spiritual development.
After drawing an analogy with Christian capitalists and how the church believed it gained ‘new understanding’ in relation to money, interest and economics he continues:
Can we imagine something similar happening in the realm of sexual ethics? Well, a development of the tradition cannot take place just by announcing that it is going to. It is the result of a deepening understanding on the part of the whole church, the outcome of serious and prolonged engagement with theoretical questions, practical problems and successful and unsuccessful experiments. It is not simply a matter of Bishops or Synods deciding that they will change their line. On the other hand authentic developments cannot be ruled out; and we can learn to conduct our dialogue in such a way that, if and as new understanding does offer itself, we will be open to it. Borrowing a phrase from Issues in Human Sexuality, the Statement speaks of "respecting the integrity" of members of the church who "conscientiously dissent" (i.e. reflectively and with careful thought) from the church's teaching. That is to say, the church can recognise the seriousness of the stance these members are taking, want to engage equally seriously with them, acknowledge that such an engagement may have the long-term effect of developing the tradition of church-understanding (though nobody is in a position to say how and to what extent), all without thinking that its advocacy of the traditional view is, as such, mistaken.
I would say ‘Amen’ to that, which is in large part what I think our conversation is about. I am therefore unclear why you took my answer to be ‘no’ or what more you are asking of me for it to become ‘yes’. Let me try out some options, again apologies that these may sound rather blunt but they are asked genuinely and in friendship to explore were we are, not antagonistically:
- Do I have to reject the conclusion of most of the Communion that the TEC experiment has been an ‘unsuccessful’ one and instead allow it to proceed as providing a way of gaining ‘new understanding’ and ‘authentic development’?
- Must I accept that it is alright for a diocese or province to proceed with little or no dialogue with the rest of the church to give public recognition and blessing to relationships which most fellow Christians today (never mind for 2,000 years – though Walls’ comments about Christians being ‘necessarily ancestor-conscious, aware of the previous generations of faith’ are important) believe to be wrong?
- Must I do this despite the fact that the moral disciplines of these relationships of love between people of the same gender have never been clearly stated and agreed even within those local churches taking this path?
- Have I to accept confusion about this area being brought into the wider life and mission of the Communion by acknowledging TEC was within its rights to consecrate as a bishop someone who - because he concluded in good conscience after prayer and counsel that he best expressed love with someone of the same gender - ended his marriage and subsequently began a loving relationship with another man?
I fear that if the answer to these questions is ‘yes’ then what is being asked of people like me is such that it becomes almost impossible for us as a Communion to ‘jointly seek Christ’s fullness in the Body of Christ, the Church’. To accept those terms would further damage relationships with parts of the Church from which we are currently divided and would miss our ‘Ephesian Moment’ by imposing a Western, liberal (politically as much as theologically) mindset as ‘the standard, normative one’ (Walls). It would mean severely damaging, perhaps even severing, our historic ties with those Anglicans who live out and share the gospel in parts of the world where (as Walls again reminds us) ‘most of the world’s Christians’ are to be found and who confirm within Anglicanism that ‘Christianity will be mainly the religion of rather poor and very poor peoples, with few gifts to bring except the gospel itself’.
Walls concludes his piece (which I didn’t know was online so thanks for the URL!) with words that though he intends them in a different way perhaps also speak to our current crisis in the Communion:
A developed world in which Christians become less prominent will seek to protect its position against the rest. The Ephesian question at the Ephesian moment is whether or not the church in all its diversity will demonstrate its unity by the interactive participation of all its culture-specific segments, the interactive participation that is to be expected in a functioning body. Will the body of Christ be realized or fractured in this new Ephesian moment?....the United States…may be crucial for the answer that will be given to it.
So I hope that you’re not asking me for ‘more’ in any of the forms I outlined and that this second attempt to answer your question does not sound like another ‘no’ but will enable us to pick up some of these subjects about loving same-sex relationships in future letters.
Sorry this letter has gone on for so long – at least it’s not as long as the HoB and JSC pieces!
To end more personally, thanks for your kind words about our current situation, congratulations on being ‘canonised’ the other week and I hope Drenched in Grace goes well. Following the Joe Cassidy link you gave I was interested to see the developments to the Inclusive Church site and have subscribed to the newsletter to keep informed of its growing work.
Look forward to hearing from you and praying for God’s blessing on you and your ministry.
All the best,
Andrew Goddard has been on the Leadership Team of Fulcrum since its launch in 2003. He is currently a Senior Research Fellow of the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics based in Cambridge (where he was previously Associate Director). He has taught Christian Ethics at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford and Trinity College, Bristol and is also an Adjunct Professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California. He is a canon at Winchester Cathedral and Assistant Minister at St James the Less, Pimlico where his wife, Lis, is Vicar. He is author of a number of books, most recently Rowan Williams: His Legacy (Lion, 2013) and co-editor with Andrew Atherstone of Good Disagreeement? Grace and Truth in a Divided Church (Lion, 2015).