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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Always, sideways

Pierre Whalon is the "Bishop in Charge" of the churches in Europe, based at the American Cathedral in Paris.

He is a friend of long-standing, having previously served for many summers at St. George's Chapel in Haberson, DE, a chapel of All Saints Church in Rehoboth Beach, and the church closest to Llangollen, our wee cottage on Rehoboth Bay.

Pierre is a thoughtful progressive man, who speaks with care and clarity about theological issues. He is not a political or social activist but his credentials as a friend of women and LGBT people have never been in question.

He recently wrote an essay in which he writes:
"It is my conviction that wherever one is on the spectrum of opinion, to have no theology for full inclusion, while more or less practicing it, is worse than having bad theology."
He goes on to say:
"This political, non-theological way of going forward is great ammunition not only for the schismatics within our church, and their foreign partners busily violating in deafening silence the third Windsor moratorium on cross-border interventions, but also for those supporters of punitive measures against gays in Africa. It seems lawless. In other words, it gives the appearance that shadowy avatars of some putative "gay agenda" really do rule our church behind the scenes, instead of Scripture and communal Reason, informed by Tradition."
He's right. Of course, he's right. Bishop Whalon is calling for an "official apolgia or defense, based on Scripture, communal Reason, informed by Scripture".

But, here's my question:

Can anyone point me to one such official apologia or defense, based on Scripture, communal Reason, informed by Tradition" we've done in the recent past?

Where is the "officially accepted" apologia or defense of the Sacrament of Marriage? Indeed, where's the one on divorce? Or, how about one on Reproductive Rights?

Hasn't our understanding of "accepted apologia or defense" of any position or sacrament, "argued on grounds of the Tradition" always come sideways and inferred through a combination of (1) BCP liturgies and rubrics (2) canons (3) resolutions of General Convention, (4) Theological "mind of the House" statements from the Bishops (5) Lambeth Resolutions.

I'm remembering that great line in the HBO Series when Elizabeth I (played by the magnificent Helen Mirren) is deliberating about what to do with her cousin Mary. Many are calling for her to be charged with treason so that she might be properly executed. Elizabeth is deeply conflicted and rightly hesitant, even in the face of mounting evidence, to order the execution of "anointed royalty".

One of the members of her court (- and her lover, played brilliantly by Jeremy Irons) looks over her latest decree and mutters, in that wonderful British way of being, all at once, amused and concerned, "Sideways, sideways, sideways, Bess. That's how you always do it. Always, sideways."

I suppose it's in our religious and spiritual and political DNA.

Indeed, we partake of this sideways theology every Sunday at Eucharist. One of the great examples of Elizabeth's inclusive theology can be found in the invitation to Holy Communion.

In order to settle the great Protestant-Catholic debate over consubstantiation vs. transubstantiation, the Book of Common Prayer authorized by Elizabeth I created a brilliant place to stand on the Via Media, which I think, in fact, defines it.

The presider says the following invitation: "The gifts of God for the people of God."

The rubric adds, "And may add: Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you, and FEED ON HIM IN YOUR HEARTS BY FAITH, with thanksgiving."

Brilliant, isn't it? Whether or not you believe it is consubstantiation or transubstantiation, there's enough wiggle room in the language that both theological beliefs are held in exquisite, invitational tension.

Even so, if you are uncomfortable with that, a simple acknowledgment of the fact that these are, indeed, "the gifts of God for the people of God" will suffice.

But, even when we "do the theology" there's always a political agenda to it.

Henry Parsley, bishop of Alabama, is the current chair of the House of Bishop's Theology Committee. As Lisa Fox points out in her blog post at My Manner of Life,
"Bishop Henry Parsley appointed a group which he intended to be secret, to consider the issues related to same-sex blessings and ordination of people in same-sex relationships. . . .

. . . .We know that Bishop Parsley appointed eight people – four of whom would argue for LGBTs' place in the Christian community, and four who would argue against it. He didn’t seek impartiality or contemplation. He sought advocates. Further, he wanted them to write two competing papers, which would be delivered to the House of Bishops in 2011. All that happened in the middle of 2009. . . .

. . . .The secret panel was told to prepare their papers for consideration by the bishops in 2011. What LeMarquand (a member of the HOB Theology Committee) reveals is that the papers are going to the House of Bishops meeting in March 2010 – a full year before the schedule we had been given.

I can't help but wonder if this is so the bishops can make their deliberations before the May deadline for consents on Mary Glasspool's election.

What else would account for the bishops and/or secret panel moving the schedule up by a full year?"
Sideways, sideways, sideways. Always, sideways.

Here's the thing: If we're going to have any officially accepted apologia or defense, argued on grounds of Scripture, Reason and Tradition about human sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular, then I think we've first got some back-filling to do in the great yawning void of "officially" accepted apologia or defenses about lots of other matters in our common life in faith.

Even before that, however, we'd probably need to pass a resolution conferring the ability and authority to confer "imprimatur" so we'll know, without any possibility of doubt, who, exactly, confers that "official" status onto the apologia or defense.

And then, we'll have to decide if that comes from an "official" statement written on the appropriate form of parchment paper and sealed with the appropriate kind of sealing wax with the impression of the seal of the Episcopal Church.

Oh, but would even that suffice? Might we also need the seal of the Archbishop of Canterbury? Might we also need the Archbishop of York? Or, would it be, finally, "official" if the Pope himself put his seal on it?

If we started the process tomorrow, I suspect, given the nature and character of the church I dearly love, that it will be at least another 200 years before we get 'round to the issue of human sexuality and homosexuality.

Meanwhile, we'll just keep doing what we have been doing as a Body of Christ - being obedient to the call of the Spirit of God, who, in matters of vocation, tends to act in direct lines of communication.

Hardly - rarely - sideways.


Ann said...

Odd - isn't it that we need "apologia" for this particular issue but none on things that affect the dominant power group? How about one for circumcision? That is a big topic in the news right now among those of baby making age - to cut or not to cut that is the question. LOL

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Bless you for this, Elizabeth.

Our theology is the Book of Common Prayer. Full stop. Let's get on with striving for justice and peace and respecting the dignity of EVERY human being.


Grandmère Mimi said...

The pope! Yes, the pope is the ultimate authority. After all, he's infallible!

The reality is that no matter what we do or say to bring folks around, there is no way that the Episcopal Church will arrive at justice in practice that will please everyone. As we see here, we can't even please everyone in the progressive wing of the church. For heaven's sake, let's get out of defensive mode and do justice!

David Henson said...


Your last few points about who gets to decide which apologia sticks makes me wonder, rhetorically, of course, whether it'd just be easier to go all the way and grant a little infallibility here and there just to clear things up as well. Which I suppose was you were hinting at with your question about the pope.

susankay said...

Delayed is denied.

Lapinbizarre said...

The Communion service of Elizabeth's 1559 Prayer Book combined the sentences at the administration of Communion from her brother Edward VI's two Prayer Books of 1549 and 1552, leaving it to the communicant to accept the Real Presence or the view the service as being purely commemorative: The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.

Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving.

Checking the text of this, I see that the Society of Archbishop Justus's extensive online compendium of texts of the Book of Common Prayer now includes the text of Jeremy Taylor's 1658 Office for the Lord's Supper, compiled during Cromwell's Protectorate. Aspects of it are radically different from the traditional Books of Common Prayer. The introduction to the online edition notes that " is important as it claims to be strongly influenced by ancient Eastern (Greek) forms, and also the Spanish Mozarabic Rite. Taylor was thus one of the first Anglicans to attempt to look to these ancient forms for renewal of the Liturgy". To anyone interested in the traditional Anglican liturgy, it is a fascinating document.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Lapin. For purposes of this essay, I didn't want to get into too much historical detail. I love it when the comment section begins to sound like the Adult Forum after the sermon.

Lapinbizarre said...

V welcome. While I'm on a roll, it's very beautiful that Jeremy Taylor inserts immediately before the Consecration a translation of the Greek prayer best known in Anglican (I SO hate how the ideologues of the Right have corrupted the word) circles as the hymn "Let all mortal flesh keep silent".

David |Dah • veed| said...

The Cathedral of Hope (now UCC, formerly MCC) in Dallas uses the phrase Bless these gifts that they may become for each us a Holy Communion.