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Thursday, November 04, 2010

I got mine. Pity about yours.

The Church of Ireland Gazette is reporting an interview with N.T. "Tom" Wright, former Bishop of Durham (UK) and now a Research Professor at the University of St Andrews, in which he says that the Church of England should not proceed to the consecration of women as Bishops if the move were to create a large division.

Oh, but wait! There's more!

He said:
"My own position is quite clear on this, that I have supported women Bishops in print and in person. I’ve spoken in Synod in favour of going that route, but I don’t think it’s something that ought to be done at the cost of a major division in the Church."
Honest to Pete!

"Why, some of my best friends are women. I've even married one."

If someone on the Religious Left (Is there a 'Religious Left'?) said something like, "My position is quite clear on this, that I have supported (insert your own demographic group: People of Color, People with Disabilities, Aged) Bishops in print and in person. . . . but I don't think it's something that ought to be done at the cost of a major division in the Church" . .. .

. . . .Well, there would be howls of protest so loud it would rattle the china on the shelves of Lambeth Palace.

And, rightly so.

His statement just drips with anxiety.

With all due respect, put on your man-pants, sir, and get a grip. I can feel my last, poor, tired nerve being pulled. Even now, I've started to clutch for my pearls.

If you don't know N.T. Wright, he's the theological architect of the Evangelical Right's position. He's quite brilliant, actually, and, I understand, a friend of Marcus Borg. He has written scholarly texts, but his popular books, What St Paul Really Said and Simply Christian, and Following Jesus are quite engaging.

He's a bit of a Jack Spong in that way. I don't always agree with all of his theological thinking and reasoning, but he always - always! - makes me think about my own theology. And, his books are never boring - always well written and well edited.

It's also clear that both Jack Spong and Tom Wright love Jesus. Very Much. They just understand his teachings in very different ways. Which is why I love being a member of the Anglican Communion.

Wright defines himself as a "reformed Calvinist" and his work has been soundly praised by the likes of some like Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury.

He has promoted more traditional views about Jesus' bodily resurrection, and Jesus' Second Coming - which he holds as part of the core beliefs of Christianity - and has been quite clear in his understanding of the biblical condemnation of homosexuality.

He argues that the current understanding of Jesus must be connected with what is known to be true about him from the historical perspective of first-century Judaism and Christianity.

Which is why his statement to the Irish Gazette completely befuddles me - when it doesn't frustrate me, almost to the point of anger.

Jesus was a revisionist and a reformer at his core, constantly challenging the organized religion of his day about firmly held doctrine like The Sabbath and Purity Codes regarding dietary and etiquette customs.

He told stories and parables about the Samaritan, the priest and the Levite. He healed the bent over woman and the woman with the hemorrhage, and answered the prayers of the Canaanite woman. He invited himself to the home of a Tax Collector, and ate with notorious sinners and prostitutes.

He welcomed women and chose to first reveal himself after his resurrection to a woman - a sign many women and men from antiquity to post-modernity have seen as a powerful statement about the intention of his mission in the world.

So, of course, Jesus would welcome women into the corridors of power and the councils of authority in the church today.

Wright knows this. Which is why he has supported the ordination of women to the diaconate and priesthood. So, why this statement? Why place the mission of Jesus in subordination to the unity of the church?

Well, it's what white, straight, educated men who are entrenched in patriarchy and enamored of their own power and authority within that oppressive structure say and do when they feel their positions are being threatened.

First, Scripture is elevated to the level of near-idolatry. When that doesn't work (and, it couldn't in Wright's case because he's already accepted the ordination of women), you plead before the Altar of Unity.

It's become a very sad, almost predictable sight.

Pathetic, actually.

What of the all-embracing, abundant love of God? What of the vocational call of Jesus to do the work of God in the world? What of the movement of the Spirit in the hearts and minds of people to reform the structures built by humankind which do not reflect the love of God and the vocation of Jesus?

Is unity in the church more important that the work of the Triune God?

Wright was also asked if he thought the proposed Anglican Communion Covenant, aimed, it is said (and I obviously don't agree) at keeping the global Communion together, would become a reality, Bishop Wright said:
"I think so, because I don’t think really there’s any alternative." He said the Communion could not afford to have "the kind of unstructured mess that we’ve had".
Isn't it interesting how anxiety and fear can block vision and reason?

It seems that Wright has forgotten that Anglicanism is, in its essence and Spirit, a wonderful, holy, unstructured mess.

It would also seem that the good bishop has lived this long and is somehow blissfully unaware - or, perhaps has forgotten - that, at its core, life is messy.

Life, at its best, is chaotic and unpredictable and unstructured because life, at its best, is infused with Love.

I'm reminded of what what St. Paul says about Love in II Corinthians 13:4-8 and what Gibran says in his poem about Love
When you love you should not say, "God is in my heart," but rather, "I am in the heart of God." And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.
I suspect that the "issue" of the consecration of women to the episcopacy in the Church of England is yet another manifestation of the unconditional, abundant, embracing, life-changing, transformative, messy Love of God.

No human structure can bind it or contain it. No human impulse, no matter how self-protective or well-intentioned, can make it any less messy.

This will come to pass. It is of God. It is of God's Love. It will have out.

And, it won't take an Anglican Covenant to hold us all together. God has had us in Her hands since the beginning. We have been carried thus far by faith. S/he has not taken us this far just to drop us on our heads.

The good bishop's words belie his desperation and anxiety. He knows only too well of the inevitability of the election (or 'appointment') and consecration of women to the episcopacy.

His words may sound like comfort to some as a "quick fix resolution", but I have to believe that a man of Wright's obvious intelligence understands, at the end of the day, that he has eaten too much of the bread of anxiety.

He knows in his heart of hearts, where he keeps the treasure of Scripture, that interference with God's Love will only end, long term, in disaster.

It always has. It always does. It always will.

So, as we say in the Colonies, 'get a grip', Bishop Wright.

To use your words, "because I don’t think really there’s any alternative."


Kirkepiscatoid said...

Let's see...where is it in the Gospels where Jesus says, "Don't rock the boat?"

(sound of me flipping through my study Bible)...

Oh, yeah...that's not in here.

However, I did find that great Gospel story where the disciples are in the boat and the sea is getting kind of rough and stormy and Jesus says to the STORM, "Peace! Be Still!"


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

He's got to get his head out of his beloved books and, in the midst of this tempest, keep his eyes on Jesus, whom I know he loves.

RevMama said...

Don't rock the boat? It seems to me that Jesus told someone to get OUT of the boat, and walk on the water with him.

Too many women, LGBT folk, people of races other than Caucasian, way too many have been sacrificed either on the altar of unity or on the altar of timeliness (as in: "Wait. It's not time to do that").

I'm sure the other disciples told Peter to just sit still and be quiet - because it was not time to get out of the boat and follow Jesus.

David said...

“but I don’t think it’s something that ought to be done at the cost of a major division in the Church."
with due respect, I can’t help but wonder if he is even listening to himself, because what this sounds to me like he’s telling me it’s a lot more important to accommodate the squeamishness and misogyny in certain quarters than to let loose the Holy Spirit to work through the lives and vocations of certain sisters with vocations to the episcopacy.
‘unstructured mess’?
why does this sound like yet another ‘authority’ unconsciously admitting that their biggest fear is really the possibility of giving up a little power to the active, unconditional love of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives- in our Church even.
human life will always (Praise God!) have a certain element of what he calls ‘unstructured mess’ because a) we’re human beings, not finished objects b) we (Thank God!) are not in charge, but if we’re lucky are part of a sacred working out of both meaning and salvation in our lives c) life itself is on-going, sometimes complex or confusing, but always- for people of faith- inherently sacramental.
wanting to give Tom the benefit of the doubt, I can’t help but wonder if this might not be a cry for help (conscious or unconscious) or a spur to get the voices of inclusion more actively engaged in both discussions. whichever it might be, Tom’s been added to my prayers.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

RevMama - Yup. Poor man. His anxiety is palpable.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

David - Your observations are absolutely spot on and so much more articulate than mine. I'm so frustrated with these old boys - especially the intelligent ones I KNOW love Jesus. We can disagree on lots of things, but honest to Pete this failure of leadership is what is killing the church.

I join you in praying for him.

Mary Jo Campbell said...

Perhaps the good Bishop should have a chat with Bishop Jon Bruno. The Holy Spirit has a role here.

Paul said...

“but I don’t think it’s something that ought to be done at the cost of a major division in the Church."

Conservatives in the C of E are making a big stink right now about the possible consecration of women as bishops. What we don't know is how many liberals and moderates have already walked out in quiet frustration with a church that seems stuck in the 19th century.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Jon Bruno totally rocks!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Paul - There is this cynical place in my heart that believes that every time a woman or a liberal/progressive walks away from church, some conservatives/"orthodox" cheer.

I hate that I feel that way, but I hate even more that I'm probably right.

walter said...

...Holding On Mysterium Unum, Holding Out Discerment: A sense of unity which is driven, stimulated that is, by disinheriting is not a sense of unity. Discernment in Christian faith as in any faith is key. Those that dress discernment as division and rally for unity are holding on competitive authority figure and miss the opportunity to experience and hold on creative prognostic comparison. It is not Love because it is Christianity; it is Christianity because is Love. I pray we are called to a deeper responsibility about disinheriting: discernment is not division and when we do not discern we have already emarginated, as simple and profound as that. I pray Dr. Elizabeth pearls may shine a bit deeper. In the name of the One who keeps us centered and focused and truthful, Jesus the Christ.

Buffalo Shepherd

Bill said...

This is such an old story it’s become almost laughable – almost. We saw this same mentality a couple of years back and unfortunately it was from our very own Presiding Bishop. Go slow and don’t rock the boat! We saw it in the early days of the civil rights movement. We saw it more recently in the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” fiasco. And of course, to the shame of the Catholic Church, we saw it during the Second World War when Pope Pius XII acquiesced to Mussolini and Nazi Germany by not pushing for answers to the Jewish question.
There can be no accommodation where one single group or for that matter one single person is being discriminated against. Two years ago, it was embarrassing for me as a gay man to see that a prominent civil rights organization was supporting women, blacks, gays and lesbians but chose to “not rock the boat” when it came to transgendered and cross dresser groups. They made a conscious decision to cut loose a small group which makes even gays and lesbians nervous. All of a sudden, gays and lesbians were on the verge of main stream status and they didn’t want to jeopardize those gains. In doing that, they were no better than Pope Pius XII and the decisions he made to cut loose the Jews in return for protection of the Holy City.
I for one can’t believe that we will ever have true freedom when one man or one women or one group is relegated to something less than full inclusion in society. “Whatever you do for the least of us, you do for me.” I seem to remember those words from somewhere. Words that we conveniently forget when we are well off and doing ok.