Post Lambeth: This is Going to Take Alot of Work

It seems to me Theo Hobson is right:

Yet liberal Anglicanism failed to make a stand. There were obviously lots of angry noises, but they didn't add up to anything. Amazingly enough, Williams' call for patience was generally heeded. The nature of liberal Anglicanism quietly shifted. It became meek before the rise of evangelical orthodoxy.

Is it still possible to be a liberal Anglican? Not in the old way. Liberal Anglicans have to follow Williams onto the high wire, to some extent. By staying within an institution that has taken an anti-liberal turn, they collude in his act. In other words, liberal Anglicans have been Rowanised. They buy his long-range hope for reform that the church as a whole can accept.

Many on the Anglican left who supported GC2003 or the like have, in fact, followed Williams up onto the high wire, remaining within an institution lurching rightward in hope of something better coming in the future: extending the reforms of GC2003 et al would be all that much harder were the Anglican Communion to split. "Moratoria or marginalization" is clearly the message, whether it can be enforced or not.

This sort of message is not too surprising from Williams. He is not sympathetic to political liberalism, and although there is an element of liberation theology in his work, he does not seem to have been formed by anything analogous to the Civil Rights movement in the US--which seems to me to have decisively impacted the moral sensibilities of Episcopalian bishops. Liberation themes in his work--I have Resurrection in mind--could well indicate Williams will not tolerate acting so as to cast off provinces in the developing world, come what may, even if their primates and policies are offensive for one reason or another. He would rather call for sacrifice and toleration from the developed world than lose them--and from a certain scriptural point of view that kind of strategy is cogent.

That is to say Williams intentionally burdens the Episcopal Church, Canada, and any province sympathetic to GC2003 et al with the task of bringing the other provinces "on board." He simply will not assist; it is not in his job description, and it would risk driving away just the provinces with which he most wishes to keep in communion.

We are in the position of having to "thread the needle":

Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ (NRSV, Mt. 19:23-4)

We are like the rich person seeking to enter the kingdom of heaven--rich relative to other provinces. We have our problems, to be sure, but whether one considers FGM and the institutions of child marriage and honor killing, or infant and maternal mortality, or per capita GDP, literacy, economic and political freedom--and so on--it is clear that we have a vast array of advantages, much of which is ours from luck.

For us, in the midst of this wealth--this power--to cultivate something like poverty of spirit or meekness is like a camel going through the eye of a needle. The temptations to discard genuine meekness and poverty of spirit are just too strong. After all, we have arguments, hermeneutics, and what seems to be a slowly gathering international consensus on our side; we feel we are in the right, that it is a justice issue, that fidelity to the Good is at stake and fidelity to our own outcasts, the gay Christians in our congregations and even more outside looking in. And so far as I can tell these feelings are correct.

It seems to me our House of Deputies--accurately representing the vast weight of the laity and clergy--is considerably further to the left of the bishops. And it seems that way in England too; I would conjecture to many in the Church of England, Williams seems like some far-out, out-of-touch old man. And he probably is very much so. He and our bishops are in danger of being brushed aside, swept away--as we saw Williams brushed aside in the CoE's proceedings on ordaining women to the episcopate.

But remember these words from our Teacher:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

There is simply no sense in turning our advantages in political power and moral theology into more self-righteous hypocrisy; the church has plenty of that as it is. Abusing our power will not leave us happy in the end. Perhaps it is worth considering whether we should take on the poverty Williams requires of us, whether we should take on this poverty even if it should bring mourning with it, even as the thirst for righteouosness goes unabated. The last bit from the quote above grabbed my attention: it seemed to imply poverty of spirit can go with the prophetic calling. There is no inconsistency between answering the prophetic call and the moral standard of the Beatitudes.

In plain English that must imply consenting to the moratoria does not mean betraying our gay brothers and sisters. Though it seems impossible, foolish even to try--like the camel going through the needle's eye--nevertheless there is a way, there must be a way.

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.’

Again, in plain English, here are some tentative suggestions about what this might come to in concrete terms: at the very least, the work of building a case for the actions of GC2003 should continue. And we might well admit that the theological case for those actions can be made better, clearer, more persuasively. If the rest of the Communion is to brought over to our side--seeing that right wing assistance from the developed world will not soon abate--the making of a more cogent case should be a priority.

Then we should also bring agitation for civil rights for gays in Nigeria et al to the fore; that issue should receive a much higher profile in the affairs of the Communion. And there will be sacrifices--as when pastoral affairs at the parish level grind against moratoria at the Communion level. Father Dudley is something of an icon here--it being safe to assume the CoE sets a tenable pattern for unofficial, parish-level rites around blessing SSUs. The real sticking point will be around the election of another partnered gay bishop. Still, it seems there may be a number of ways forward; e.g. the bishop is gay, but becomes partnered only some time after election. There is no logical inconsistency here that should prevent assent to moratoria.

The Communion qua institution will see things as an institution, but it is surely true that the life of the church is largely outside the bounds of the necessary institution, and it is there we might find the life of the Spirit, in a type of exile looking forward to the day when institution and Spirit are brought closer together. It will take alot of work.

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