Monday, March 8, 2010
The Rose Maniple's Charge to General Synod 2010
Nearly 40 years ago, delegates from across North America converged on Chicago to found Integrity in order to lobby for the interests of gay and lesbian Anglicans at a time when the Church's traditional approbation of their family life was for the first time being called into serious question by critical Biblical and theological scholarship. In the intervening decades, we have waited patiently as we have been used as a political football for the fomenting or prevention of schism. Reams of theology have been printed, latterly in these very virtual pages, but before me by such writers as Norman Pittenger, Rowan Williams, Jeffrey John, and Tobias Haller. These arguments remain unanswered by the hard-right, which prefers to sit from its comfortable perch of the fictitious "plain meaning of Scripture" rejecting any efforts at meaningful conversation.
In the American church, reactionaries who had made no legal overtures against actually heretical bishops like Spong and Pike made the Righter case a hill to die on. In the Church of England, they blocked the appointment to the episcopate of a gay priest living by the very obligation of celibacy they insisted as the norm, putting paid to any credible claims of non-prejudice. (One regular contributor to the Ship of Fools forums is the current Bishop of Willesden, who is often lauded by Shipmates as a humane, moderate Evangelical. If so, the CoE must be quite a different place as in Canada objection to a celibate gay bishop would have no basis in our discipline and far from being moderate would be a mark of the batshit lunatic fringe).
For their efforts to make the lives of their gay and lesbian members a little easier, the Canadian and American churches have been rewarded with cross-border interventions. The enormous evangelical St John's, Shaughnessy, the largest Anglican church in Vancouver, along with others degenerated into geographical schizophrenia and set themselves up under the province of the Southern Cone. (At last check, the people and clergy of St John's have yet to relocate to Latin America as such a canonical move would according to the Southern Cone's own constitution and canons obligate them to do). Prospective reformers have been warned that a "moratorium" is necessary to preserve unity: the mistreatment of gay and lesbian Anglicans must be resolved at a latter date as to do so now would imperil the Communion. Yet those bishops who have followed the moratorium have not seen reciprocal compliance from the "Global South." On the blogosphere, the reasonable frustration of gays and lesbians is characterized as militant rage, while opponents freely write all manner of invective against "priestettes" and "sodomites." (N-word or No n-word, the Mad Priest can't hold a candle to David Virtue for off-colour rhetoric).
Documents such as the Chapman memo and statements from the American Anglican Council show that in fact despite their benign protestations the ACNA crowd intend to supplant the ACoC and ECUSA as the Communion's presence in Northern America with a pure, heterosexual church. They are not invested in the "dialogue" that our national church has painstakingly attempted to conduct. They made up their mind. Similarly, other groups of Anglicans have sought refuge in special canonical accomodations erected by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.
As it stands, the Anglican Church of Canada nationally recognizes that same-sex unions are holy, and allows the Nuptial Mass to be offered for same-gender couples provided the Nuptial Blessing proper is omitted. This is akin to the manner in which marriages are solemnized by deacons. Thus our situation is not the same as the Roman Catholic Church's, where any attempt to amend the canonical basis of marriage in such a way would fail owing to that body's ongoing prohibition of all same-gender relationships. We are instead in a kind of limbo, a temporary one that cannot be sustained for much longer. In fits and starts the past two general synods have paved the way for a nationwide enabling resolution. Moreover, Canon 21, On Marriage in the Church, does not seem to bar same-gender marriages as such although it assumes an opposite-gender composition.
This year, synod delegates assembling in Halifax will likely be asked to vote finally on the future of gay and lesbian Anglicans in Canada. Please remember that these are real people whose lives are being debated, and have been with no apparent end in sight for decades. Canadians favour evolution over revolution, and our church has been spared much of the invective levelled at our Episcopalian brothers and sisters in the United States because of our cautious approach. The Canadian church has tried in good faith to accomodate and engage with dissidents, but that good faith has not been returned. Eventually the bandage will have to be pulled. Some will leave the Church, although most who are inclined to do so will already have availed themselves of the multiplicity of jurisdictional options now available to like-minded churchmen. If they have chosen to die on this hill, let them die on it, for any amount of churchianity is yet dead without charity. These dissidents will not suffer if an enabling resolution is passed. Gays and lesbians, however, cannot be expected to remain indefinitely, providing the bulk of "manpower" in the Church while formally excluded from full participation in its sacramental life. Many have already been lost to secularism and alternative religious traditions and are likely too disillusioned to be coaxed back. But as synod delegates you now have the opportunity to do the right thing: some will scorn and deride you for taking such an action but do not lose heart, for history will vindicate you. In 50 years, when the controversy over same-gender marriage has expired, those who left to form an all-heterosexual ecclesiastical club in the ACNA will be remembered with the same infamy as their spiritual forebears who formed their own "Anglican Orthodox Church" (how's that for a Holy Roman Empire construction!) in order to be free of the evils of racial integration. Which side will the Anglican Church of Canada wish to be on?