Friday, January 04, 2008

Double Standards

Note: I wrote this piece on January 3, after writing about Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori's "call" to the Anglican Communion on its hypocrisy. It seemed to me that this double standard (about how the Communion has dealt with polygamy and how it is now dealing with homosexuality) was worthy of comment. Tonight (late on January 4), we have another big story about double standards, thanks to Dennis, and I will write about that as soon as I can.

More and more evidence is surfacing that double standards are the norm in the Anglican Communion, and that most Anglicans are ok with that as long as there's no tolerance of gay men and lesbians in the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Communion.

I am sad to observe that some of the more strident voices seem to believe that their adherents must make a choice between a purified, muscular version of Truth or a humble choice of tolerance.

Just recently, I was delighted by Bishop Jefferts Schori's "calling" the Communion on the fact that there are other gay bishops in her BBC interview. Several of us are aware that there are gay bishops and even primates in the Anglican Communion. For some reason, it's the honesty of the Bishop of New Hampshire that seems to have their knickers in a twist.

But it's not just honest gays vs. closeted gays. It's also about how differently gays are being treated vs. how polygamists have been treated in our Anglican Communion.

Following the link from Andrew Brown's Guardian essay, I was surprised to find this one, which the Anglican Centrist posted way back in October. If you know the Anglican Centrist, you know that he is no flag-waving ally of TEC progressives. But he has done some digging in Africa, and found a Kenyan plea for "pastoral response" to polygamists, while those same people excoriate gay and lesbian Christians.

The essay is well worth reading again (or for the first time).

I intended to publish just a few excerpts from Father Greg Jones' "Polygamy and the Church of Kenya." But the essay is so seamless that I cannot just grab "soundbytes" from it. Instead, here it is in full:

The presenting issue in today’s Anglican divisions over theology has to do with how much or how little to include gay people in committed life-long relationships in the life of the Church. Some have argued that not only is the plain sense of Scripture opposed to full sacramental inclusion of non-celibate gays into the life of the Church and its orders of ministry – but it also goes against logic, history and custom to do so. These days the leading opponents to full sacramental inclusion of non-celibate gay folks into the life of the Church are Africans. The Church of Kenya is among the most vehemently opposed Anglican provinces to any inclusion for gay folks seeking to live in committed relationships.

Among the arguments often made is that homosexual practice is prohibited by Scripture’s plain sense, and that African custom abhors the practice. Moreover, it is often argued that to make any change in the Church’s practice would open the door to all sorts of non-biblical innovations. The current Primate of the Church of Kenya, Archbishop Nzimbi, and his predecessor, Archbishop David Gitari, are quite staunch in opposing any revising of the Church's views on same-sex relationships. So staunch, that Archbishop Nzimbi is taking steps which seem destined to lead to global realignment and schism to prevent any such revision from taking place in the U.S., Canada, Britain, South Africa, or anywhere.

Ironically, Archbishop Gitari was in the 1980's an advocate for open-mindedness and pastoral care for those Christians seeking to live in polygamous marital unions. Indeed, Archbishop David M. Gitari wrote a thoroughly-researched argument on the subject in the early 1980’s in a report he was commissioned to produce by the Kenyan House of Bishops and Provincial Standing Committee of the Synod of the Church of the Province of Kenya. At the time, he was Bishop of Mount Kenya East Diocese, and the Chairman of the Theological Commission of the World Evangelical Fellowship.

In his writings, published in Volume 1, Number 1, of the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies’ respected journal Transformation, (1984), Gitari discusses many facets of the issue of polygamy among African Christians. He makes a biblical, cultural, and theological case for pastoral liberality regarding polygamy citing a range of theologians from Barth to Schillebeeckx. Indeed, Gitari argues that “polygamy may be more ‘christian’ [sic] than divorce.”

To be sure, Bishop Gitari does not explicity advocate that polygamy become a normative form of marriage for the Church. Not at all. But, quite clearly, Bishop Gitari argues for a degree of carefully defined pastoral care and inclusion into the Church of those in such marriages – and also for those who become polygamists even after having become Christians. While not advocating for authorized liturgies for plural marriages, or speaking to the ordination of polygamists, Bishop Gitari does nonetheless commend case-by-case approvals by local bishops for those living in committed polygamous relationships.

From what I understand, Gitari was critical of the language of the 1988 Lambeth Conference Resolution 26 which didn't go far enough to revise the Church's treatment of polygamists. That resolution read:

This Conference upholds monogamy as God's plan, and as the ideal relationship of love between husband and wife; nevertheless recommends that a polygamist who responds to the Gospel and wishes to join the Anglican Church may be baptized and confirmed with his believing wives and children on the following conditions:

(1) that the polygamist shall promise not to marry again as long as any of his wives at the time of his conversion are alive;

(2) that the receiving of such a polygamist has the consent of the local Anglican community;

(3) that such a polygamist shall not be compelled to put away any of his wives, on account of the social deprivation they would suffer;

(4) and recommends that provinces where the Churches face problems of polygamy are encouraged to share information of their pastoral approach to Christians who become polygamists so that the most appropriate way of disciplining and pastoring them can be found, and that the ACC be requested to facilitate the sharing of that information.

Gitari has said that the Church’s stance against polygamy “reflects the fact that our thinking has been so influenced by western theologians that we still continue to beat the old missionary drums which summon us to see that our cultural heritage is incompatible with Christianity.” In light of their emergence from the imperialistic theology of the Western missionaries who no longer held sway in East Africa, Bishop Gitari wrote that the Church of the Province of Kenya “should revise its views on polygamy at the earliest moment possible.”

It is true that the normative teaching in the Anglican Communion and in the local provinces of Africa holds for one man and one woman in marriage. Yet, it is also quite apparent, that leading clergy in Africa -- even the conservative former Primate of Kenya -- have advocated for something like a 'local pastoral option' for including polygamists. Now, while this is not the same thing as consecrating a gay bishop in a committed relationship, it seems to be a similar kind of thing as allowing clergy to offer pastoral leeway in receiving and honoring gay couples in their congregations. Many reasonable folks, moreover, may be able to see what looks just a little like hypocrisy here. How is it, many might wonder, that a leading African primate could argue persuasively for a kind of pastoral inclusivity and sensitivity to polygamists but against the same for gay couples?

Extremists bent on breaking the Communion over the homosexuality question will not be able to hear any mention of Kenyan Anglicanism's (to say nothing of wider Africa) toleration of polygamy. Oddly, the sacramental inclusion of polygamous Anglicans in Kenya is not seen as analogous to the sacramental inclusion of gay Anglicans anywhere else. Moreover, Kenyan apologists (and those for other extremist African provinces) will argue that the Church of Kenya do not 'promote' polygamy at all. But the point in my mentioning it is that the practice is tolerated – at least in Kenya if nowhere else – and that sacramental inclusivity and pastoral sensitivity to those practicing it have been encouraged by the former Primate of Kenya (and many others) on a variety of grounds biblical, theological, and cultural.

Does anyone imagine that if the Kenyan Church had elevated a priest to the episcopate who had three wives that the worldwide Communion would be on the brink of schism? If the answer is "of course not" – than why should we now be facing schism over what appears somewhat like unto it in the Episcopal Church?

Immersed as I have been in the Anglican blogosphere, I wonder how the heck I could have missed this reasonable essay from the Anglican Centrist!

And remember – as I said: the Anglican Centrist is no wild-eyed liberal. He frequently takes his shots at the progressives. But I think there is something very important in this essay.

For quite a while, I have tried to beat this drum: Many of the African primates came to Lambeth 1998, asking the "mind of the Communion" about the ongoing practice of polygamy. The Anglican bishops – then dominated by white Europeans – essentially said to the African Anglicans: We trust you to sort this out. The Northern-hemisphere bishops exercised what seems to me the gracious latitude of Anglicanism.

So why indeed cannot the same grace and generosity now be extended to the "Western" cultures who have a more generous attitude to faithful gay and lesbian Christians? Why, why, why?? I suspect it's because sex between gay men kicks up some primordial fear among most straight men worldwide. Somebody please tell me why a "pastoral provision" should not be offered for gay/lesbian covenanted relationships today, as they were for polygamous relationships in 1998.

If I were drafting a Lambeth 2008 resolution about faithful gay/lesbian partnerships, I think I would pattern it on the one adopted in 1998 for polygamous relationships in Africa: not the norm, but an acceptable pastoral provision.


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