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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Getting stoned

I have two things on my mind today. The lessons from the lectionary for this Fifth Sunday in Eastertide and - sigh - yes, The Anglican Covenant.

Again. I'm sorry.

I'm very taken with the various images of stones in the lessons and the psalm.

The first reading is the stoning of Stephen from Acts 7:55-60.
"While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he died."
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 reminds us that God is our "strong rock, a castle to keep me safe, for you are my crag and my stronghold."

1 Peter 2:2-10 implores us to come to Jesus, "a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God's sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ".

In John's Gospel (John 14:1-14), Jesus reminds us that "In my Father's house there are many dwelling places." The gospel story ends with an astonishing promise,
"Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it."
I've been holding onto that promise as I consider a response to the Anglican Covenant from my brother, Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG, who has posted his thoughts over at his blog, "In A Godward Direction." His essay is "Still Thinking". You can find it here.

What follows is my response to him. You'll see that this morning's gospel account about 'stones' has influenced some of my thinking.

Let me first say that I am responding to Tobias because he is my brother, sure and true. I have nothing but the deepest respect and admiration for him. He is a good priest and pastor with a brilliant mind and articulate, eloquent voice. His wit is also quite keen and he sometimes makes me laugh right in the middle of a very serious thought. That's quite a talent.

I think what I love most about Tobias is his generosity of spirit. Her really does try to make people feel interesting and listened to, actually take interest in and listen to them. His operating assumption is a positive regard for absolutely everyone, unless proven otherwise incorrect. Even so, he is unfailingly gracious and kind and compassionate.

Which is why it is so difficult to disagree with him in any circumstance. It is even more difficult to do this publicly. However, I feel I must since Tobias is so well respected and his positions so highly regarded as to render his opinions highly persuasive.

Now, I hasten to add that I am no Tobias Haller. I am not going to be able to debate him, point by point. Oh, I could, but I would be a fool to do so. He could unseat me with his rhetorical flourishes and debating ability with one hand tied behind his back and a cloth over his mouth.

I'm simply going to tell you why I disagree with Tobias. More importantly, I'm going to tell you why I think the position Tobias takes is a dangerous one. Not 'end of the world' dangerous, but dangerous to the soul and spirit of Anglicanism.

So, to my thoughts:
Thank you, Tobias, for providing this thoughtful response on a Saturday evening when the mind of a parish priest is usually filled with other details. I appreciate the care with which you responded.

You write: "I have not made up my mind about whether I will vote for or against adoption at General Convention in 2012".

I'm sorry, Tobias. What you write here tells me that you are quite convinced about your position and you are trying to remain open to be otherwise convinced.

Which is fine. Really. You may "still be thinking" but I think your mind is quite made up. While I hear your arguments, I strongly disagree with your position. However, that does not mean that I don't respect you for it. I trust you respect me for my equally strongly held opposite opinion.

Let me just say one thing about what you call “genetic fallacy.”

It's called "context", Tobias. It's the the same way we read scripture. We understand more fully what Jesus was reported to have said because we understand the history of the times, what was going on - the laws, the culture, the customs, the economy. We know who was there and allowed to speak and was named. We compare that to who wasn't there and not allowed to speak and are not recorded in the account.

I am aware of the "process" of how the Covenant was written and who wrote it and from whom the authors sought feedback. It's the 'process' that's flawed which has produced what is in my mind a deeply flawed document.

As one bishop once said to me, "Better to have it said, 'Bad decision' than 'Bad process'." The decision to adopt the Anglican Covenant is, in my mind a bad decision because the process through which it came to be is bad.

The description of what Anglicanism is also flawed. It doesn't resemble much of anything I know about being in The Episcopal Church and part of the Anglican Communion.

And, you are quite right: the Four Instruments of Communion are not given any new power. They are just a new innovation, coming to us as it did from The 1997 Virginia Report of the Inter-Anglican Doctrinal Commission which was presented at Lambeth 1998 and, I think, at General Convention. As I recall, it was not approved by either body, much less the entire communion.

I know this because I was there. At Lambeth. In 1998. And, again in 2008. Which is really the genesis of my deep mistrust of "The Windsor Process" and why I think it's deeply flawed. I know something of how the process works for the Primates, Archbishops and Bishops.

I can still smell the stench from here, all these years later.

I was there, at Lambeth 1998 Conference, when Lambeth Resolution 1.10 was passed.

I clearly remember the "orthodox boyz" in purple shirts coming out of the room where the bishops, archbishops and primates had been meeting, pumping their fists in the air and shouting "V.I.C.T.O.R.Y," as if it were some tailgate party for Jesus.

It was an obscene display of hubris and arrogance.

It did not escape my attention that conservative bishops from across the world had already met the year before, in Dallas in September of 1997, to develop their strategy for the upcoming 1998 Lambeth Conference.

The Dallas Statement includes assertions such as the following:
“We call upon the Lambeth Conference to empower the Primates’ Meeting to become a place of appeal for those Anglican bodies who are oppressed, marginalized, or denied faithful episcopal oversight by their own bishops. In such situations, a way must be found to provide pastoral support, oversight and formal ecclesiastical relationships for faithful people.”
(See also “The Anglican Covenant: Where It Came From” by the Rev'd Dr. Caroline Hall)

That was part of 'the process' that brought us The Anglican Covenant, Tobias. Care and concern for "the oppressed, marginalized" white, affluent, heterosexual, able-bodied well educated men - which is so sadly ironic I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Were there any LGBT people who were authors or had any input about The Anglican Covenant? The answer, of course, is 'No'.
And yet, The Anglican Covenant is all about us - LGBT people, with an undercurrent of hostility to women in the episcopacy, as we see in the 2007 Primates Statement from Dar es Salaam. 
27. A further complication is that a number of dioceses or their bishops have indicated, for a variety of reasons, that they are unable in conscience to accept the primacy of the Presiding Bishop in The Episcopal Church, and have requested the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates to consider making provision for some sort of alternative primatial ministry. At the same time we recognise that the Presiding Bishop has been duly elected in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church, which must be respected.
Indeed, what we saw at Lambeth 1998, the very next day after Lambeth Resolution 1.10 came a resolution which granted "freedom of conscience" about the ordination of women, stating that "bishops should not be compelled to ordain or license women" . Ironically, it was Archbishop Penny Jamieson of New Zealand who moved the resolution.

This is what the process has brought us. V.I.C.T.O.R.Y. for those who consider themselves "orthodox" Christians - most of whom have now already left the building.

This - THIS - is why I am so clear that the process is shot through and through with misogyny, sexism, heterosexism and homophobia. No one is immune from the toxicity.

So, we have the Anglican Covenant that will "just" allow us to continue to talk with one another, but - oopsie! - now enshrines the innovation of the "Four Instruments of Communion" and elevates a Resolution at Lambeth 1998 to a place of esteem and authority neither has ever enjoyed - nor deserve.

You'll excuse me if I see the same technique utilized at Lambeth being employed in the process to approve the Anglican Covenant and understand my deep mistrust.

Why would we adopt, endorse, subscribe or accede to such a fatally flawed, deceptive document?

My suggestion as to how to proceed? Let's study all these new innovations - The Virginia Report's instruments of communion, and The Anglican Covenant - for, oh 20, 30 years or so. You know, the way we do with all 'innovations'. Like, say, the ordination of women.

Not yes. Not no. Just "We're still thinking." After all, it's a tried and true method of the Anglican way. You know. Like you're doing. I could live with that.

I'm sure the folks who gave us B033 will be able to whip up some good Anglican Fudge that will buy us some time, allow us to stay at the table - talking to each other or past each other as we have done for years - while the rest of the church moves on to respond to the call of the Spirit as we hear it in our own way, in our own cultural context, and the voices of people who have been pushed to the margins of power and authority in the councils and corridors of the church given a place to speak. And, minister. And, lead.

A gospel image comes to mind - John 8:1-11 - Jesus and the woman 'caught' in adultery.

Just imagine The Episcopal Church as the part of the Body of Christ which is the finger of Jesus in the sand, writing something, thinking about the allegations and decisions of the rest of the crowd while they are poised to condemn and throw stones.
7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.
That works for me.
In God's house, there are many dwelling places. The Anglican Communion, as C.S. Lewis once said, is "the roomiest room in all of Western Christendom". 

Let's take those stones that have been thrown against us, asking God to forgive those who cast them, and edify and expand our spiritual home that looks like the finger of Jesus, writing in the sand, waiting for all those who are without sin to leave until it is just the accused, standing before Jesus.

May we "be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ". 

Like the angry crowd who makes righteous accusations, may we put down our stones and walk away in peace.

Like the woman charged with adultery, may we all be left to stand before Jesus so we might, "Go and sin no more."

For this is the awesome promise of Jesus, "If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it."


Dom said...

Nice post.

I sure hope that the Episcopal Church does not vote to approve the Anglican Covenant. It seems to me that the Anglican Covenant was written to punish the Episcopal Church for being too intent on treating ALL of God's children with respect, dignity, and equality.

Also, regarding the statement about the undercurrent of hostility to women in the episcopacy, it's a bit hard to believe that in 2011 (or is this still 1811?) there would be issues regarding a woman being the Presiding Bishop. But sadly, there seems to be a lingering belief (diminishing, I hope) that women priests, rectors, and bishops are not quite the equal of men in the same positions.

I fervently hope that the Episcopal Church continues to move forward.

Jeffri Harre said...

Thank you, Elizabeth. You've articulated what I've been thinking much more clearly than what I've managed to get down on paper so far.

Tobias' arguments for accepting the Covenant seem to be the prevailing position for most of our (CT) General Convention Deputies and other leadership. Quite frankly, I'm appalled. Although, I shouldn't be surprised. Our Anglican roots in New England run deep--many of our forebears were Loyalsits during the Revolution, and a good number fled to Canada.

There are days I would go running to the UCC or the Mennonintes, except for the lack of liturgy in both groups of churches and an unfavorable view of lgbtq folks in the latter. (Well, there are other issues, both theological and political, but those are the major two.)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Me, too, Dom. I really hope we're able to stall this sucker. It seems to be the best way forward. Slowly.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Wait, wait, wait. Ian Douglas is your new bishop, right? Sigh. He's such a smart man. He just loves the church too much.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Elizabeth, for your kind words and for your heartfelt thoughts. I do see your concerns as very real. For me the problem is not the Covenant, or the rest of the Communion, but our own weak-willed namby-pamby leaders (some in pointed hats) who caved on Lambeth 1.10 (which is where I date our troubles.) Frank Griswold abstained for goodness sake; and a food number of US bishops voted for it because it had the clause about "listening." A real case of craven stupidity.
Further mistakes were made with B033, and KJS thinking she had to sign on at Dromantine. Ah if only she had said, "I will not!" Then we allowed our elected reps to accept the "recommendation" not to be voting memebers at the ACC on the issue that most concerned us! C'mon! Hit me again! I love it!

See, I can talk tough too, when needed. And I really am with you all the way on not allowing the old steamroller to be put back into action. But to stop it, I think we may need to be in the drivers' seat. The Covenant could be tool for oppression, but if we are part of the team implementing it. This is why, while I'm not sold on the Covenant (I'm really not!) I think rejecting it is far more dangerous. The steamroller will continue. And I for one refuse to lie down in front of it.

I fear that too many of the liberals in TEC have actually "bought" the notion that we violated Scripture when we consented to +Gene's election, or moved (ever so slowly) towards the tiniest blessing of same-sex couples. Our leaders lost the ability to talk back. You know me, I'm not afraid to talk back to Archbishops -- I did so to Runcie, to his face, when he waffled on women in ministry. And I did it to Rowan when we met at GC.

I see the Covenant as a chance to talk-back big time. Am I completely happy with it? NO! But with a suitable signing statement, laying out some of what I said above in ever so much more polite terms, we can convert what was (indeed) intended in its early drafts as a weapon against us and beat it into a plowshare to plow the fields and bring a fruitful harvest. Or, to pick up on your "text" -- I do not want to be one of those who reject what could well become, if properly employed, the cornerstone for a new beginning. Not because it's such a great stone, but because it is properly placed.

RevMama said...

Thank you, Elizabeth, for pointing out the dangers of the Anglican Covenant, which is most decidedly un-Anglican. While each of the four "instruments" has been around for a long time, as a group they are a new-fangled invention that have been given, if not more power, then a lot more clout, than they had prior to 1998 and much more than they deserve. The Covenant is a way to centralize the power - something which historical Anglican has been averse to do. As messy and complicated as it is, we do much better when we all gather at the table and talk and listen for the Spirit in our conversations. I haven't see much evidence of the Spirit in the Covenant.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

RevMama - Obviously, I agree with you.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Tobias. I need a bit of time to digest what you are saying here. If you don't remind, I'll post a comment here, sometime on Monday. Thank you, Tobias. I appreciate the opportunity to engage you in this.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for the chance to engage with both you and Tobias on this. Having just read his "Reasonable and Holy" this is good timing....

First, I feel I must point out that VICTORY is not only spelt out by purple shirts ... remember the cries when the General Synod over here approved the ordination of women as priests, I do...and I rejoiced, but not in triumph, in gratitude.

So to the Covenant ... I'm with Tobias (you will have guessed that ...) He seems to be saying Keep on talking, Keep on talking, Keep on bloody well talking... even and perhaps especially when those you are talking to stop listening.

IF the covenant can do this for us, and it is a very big IF, then I will vote for it. I'm not convinced, but I will keep on trying... Check the record of the General Synod for Feb 2011 - there weren't many of us articulating these kind of thoughts!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Tobias and Mark,

I don't think this is about "talking tough". And, I have learned, over the years, that talking to stones does not a conversation make.

I may be reading this all wrong, but it seems to me that we have been made an offer by Lambeth Palace which says, essentially, "Deal or No Deal."

There is no way to revise or amend or append the document. It's 'take it or leave it'. Passing a resolution which says, "Well, we're going to hold our nose and sign it but you have to know that we support 'all the sacraments for all the baptized' - including LGBT people and women is folly. Lambeth Palace already knows that. Once we've signed, we've signed.

Once we 'take it', there's no deal. Not with that lot. I don't see a chance of it and even if there were, based on my past experience, I wouldn't trust it.

I think this is time for us to take a stand against this tyranny and say that we will not be pressured by threat of expulsion or second class citizenship.

Which is why I am advocating for us to pass a resolution which says, "We're still thinking. Let's keep talking."

Based on my experience with two Lambeth Conferences and the "innovation" of the ordination of women, I think it's a very Anglican thing to do.

Matthew said...

Perhaps I am misreading Tobias, but a thought occurred to me based on his comment: Uganda. If we sign on and are in the "drivers seat" would this mean we (as TEC) has a responsibility (if we have the power) to relegate Church of Uganda to second tier status or at least their bishops who support the "kill the gays" bill or who are silent in their opposition? Its an interesting intellectual exercise but I'm not sure you can retire the steamroller. I'm not sure that a different group of people in the drivers seat is going to lead to any less bloodshed. Partly, its because I fear my own power and my own anger and my own resentment. I'm not sure I want power over Ugandan Bishops right now. In my dark moments, I feel that I might slaughter every last one of them if given the chance. Maybe the steamroller is inevitable but I'd rather be the victim than the persectutor.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew, Even though every impulse in every fiber of my body wants to reject the Anglican Covenant, I grow more and more convinced that the best thing to do is to stand up against the tyranny of this document and say, "Wait, wait, wait. We're still thinking." They know what we're thinking, but it foist them on their own petard.

Wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Didn't Jesus say something about that?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Matthew, it's not so much that I want to be in the steamroller seat to run over anybody, but maybe to turn the darn thing off or steer it away!

Elizabeth, you have got me thinking. (Yes!) I'm particularly thinking that we've done very little conversation on the Covenant with our current communion partners, nor they with us. Most of the talk has been internal and self-focused, if not self-obsessed. Maybe what we need at GC is a resolution stressing that fact, and saying we need time to engage with our partners before we adopt -- since it is our inter-provincial relationships that will most be touched by the Cov whether we sign or not. Then we could spell out the things we are concerned about together. I'd co-sponsor such a resolution with you if you're interested. I feel the whole adoption process on the covenent has been too much like a silent auction! One can read the chatter from all over, but the results (as in England) don't seem to match the chatter. I get the same feeling about the HoBD list.

For me the most important thing is that I see this as a Hillel moment (It is about us, but not just about us, and if not now, when?) and a bit of an Esther moment (Who knows if we've come to this place because of what we can do; and if we perish, we perish.)

Thanks for your willingness to think through with me, my dear sister in Christ!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Tobias = YES, YES, YES! You point out an obvious point that has eluded me because I've been so focused on (and appalled by) The Covenant.

Let's draft a resolution that says, first and foremost, that we have not had any - much less sufficient - conversation with our communion partners about this important document in our lives of faith. And, let's mention our other concerns and then respectfully say that we have 'received' the covenant and wish to study and be in further conversation about it.

It's a brilliant idea. Honestly, thoroughly Anglican. I'll draft something and send it to you and then we can float it by HOB/D and see how many other signatories we can gather.

June Butler said...

And excellent post and discussion, indeed. The resolution, depending on the final wording, just may be something, I could support. I've always been suspicious of the rush to ram the covenant through. Why the rush?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Oh, Mimi, I think we all know why the rush. It used to be called "the bum's rush." I call it the Lambeth Steamroller.

JCF said...

But to stop it, I think we may need to be in the drivers' seat. The Covenant could be tool for oppression, but [not(?)] if we are part of the team implementing it.

What did ++Griswold sign onto in October of 2003? At the "Emergency!!!11one1!" meeting of the Primates . . . just before +Gene was consecrated a week later? (w/ Griswold presiding?) Remember the screaming that occurred AFTER ++Griswold consecrated +Gene? "The lying traitor: he signed on...then he did PRECISELY the opposite a week later!"

I fear, Tobias, that if we (TEC at GC) sign onto the Covenant, the same will happen. The "Authorized Interpretation" will be pronounced as soon as a majority is reached [All of Sec. 4 at its most...Vatican], any objections by TEC will be so much "You signed on---now you have to live w/ it OR ELSE!!!"

All these "adoptions" and "signing statements" that other churches are doing, are so much Anglican Fudge.

I say, let our No be "No", and see what happens (Make it CLEAR that we intend to participate precisely as much as we always have---moreso, because ALL our bishops will participate, full-stop. Regardless of the plumbing of the bishops' spouses!)

Just my mite in the collection plate.