Monday, February 15, 2010

Doing Our Theology I

Bishop Pierre Whalon has posted a brave essay at Anglicans Online that has received significant attention. I think it is well-earned attention. I urge you to read his essay. Too many people are posting knee-jerk reactions. We need to listen to what he is saying.

He is not saying that we haven’t done the theology about LGBT relationships in the Episcopal Church. I believe he’s saying The Episcopal Church hasn’t issued a formal statement that explains why we believe it is a good and proper thing to ordain partnered gay men and lesbians to all orders of ministry and to bless the unions (or marriages) of gay men and lesbians.

I sense he thinks that is a failure on our part. And I agree with him in that.

I wrote about this a long time ago. The failure of our church to recognize and bless same-sex unions has been a stumbling block. It put us in the weird position of ordaining partnered people to the diaconate, priesthood, and episcopate without blessing their relationships. And that’s just weird. Backward, even.

I wish we had adopted a liturgy for same-sex blessings before we ordained Bishop Robinson. But that’s not the timetable we had. We were offered a chance to consecrate Bishop Robinson first, and we did. And I am glad we did. That’s how it is in our church: Sometimes the incarnate people in our church precede our theological positions. I am glad our church recognized Bishop Robinson’s fitness for ministry instead of awaiting a theological statement.

I believe Bishop Whalon has it right – that we need to articulate our theology so that we can “officially” explain ourselves to the wider Anglican Communion and beyond.

I also agree with the many people who say that there have been plenty of theological justifications. They include many resources that Susan Russell cites when she asks:

My first response is a clarifying question: Is one of the pieces of the theology we haven't done "To Set Our Hope on Christ" -- the theological and biblical apologetic we took to the ACC in Nottingham in 2005?

Or the Claiming the Blessing Theology Statement published in 2002?

Or Tobias Haller's "Reasonable and Holy"?

Or the theological resources published by the Chicago Consultation?

Some people are slamming Bishop Whalon, arguing there have been theological justifications. I agree there have been sound justifications. But I also agree with Bishop Whalon that none of those have been officially endorsed by our church, and I agree that is what is needed.

I believe our church needs to point to some of those theological treatises and say, “This speaks our mind. This is why we believe it is right to bless same-sex unions. And this is why we believe it is right to ordain people living in such unions.”

I believe we need to craft such a statement for our church and for the whole Anglican Communion. So I applaud Bishop Whalon for raising this question.


Blogger Wormwood's Doxy said...

Lisa--the point is that the House of Bishops has had PLENTY of opportunities to either "do the theology" themselves or to "articulate" the theology to the wider church.

They have done neither.

As much as I admire Bishop Whalon, he is being disingenuous about this. I agree with you that, in a perfect world, we might have done some sort of systematic theology of relationships before changing things on the ground---but then you would have to go back and do that for divorced people in the church first.

After all, that was a MAJOR shift in theology--allowing divorced people to take communion, to be remarried in the church, and to serve as clergy and bishops. Who "did the theology" on that? The answer is "Nobody had to, because THAT affects heterosexual people, and being pastoral to heterosexual people is Godly, merciful, and just." (The sub-subtext is "But don't ask us to do that for those icky gays!")

Arguments about how we should have done such-and-so before we decided to include GLBTs fully in the life of the church completely ignore the fact that we have never done so on ANY other issue. To demand that we do so for GLBTs is special pleading. And, as Jason Cox notes over at Episcopal Cafe, it is to call for the Anglican Inquisition.

Thanks, but no thanks.


2/16/2010 1:18 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

I appreciate your comment -- your very passionate comment -- Doxy. How ironic that you can speak more passionately about this than I can.

Perhaps I've spent too many decades gathering up the crumbs from under the table.

I am truly grateful!

2/16/2010 1:24 AM  
Blogger Pierre said...

Thank you Lisa for your comment on my piece. You articulated my point quite well.

In 1995 I wrote an article for the Anglican Theological Review which was eventually published in 1997, that outlined what I thought had to be done. So this to me is nothing new.

As for remarriage after divorce, Doxy, we adopted the existing theology and practice of the Orthodox churches, who have allowed remarriage for over a millennium. There was quite a struggle over that, as well. In my opinion, that move is what makes denying gay relationships patently unjust, since it goes directly against Jesus' teaching, whereas he said nothing about gay people.

Before we ordained women, there was already a, official consensus that two other churches had already acted on. The same with ordaining black people.

No inquisition needed...

2/16/2010 2:02 AM  
Blogger Wormwood's Doxy said...

Bishop Whalon--sorry, sir. I'm not buying it.

There was no consensus on ordaining women--still isn't in many parts of the world. It was only the irregular consecrations of the Philadelphia 11 that jump started the process in the U.S.

And I'm fine with that. Our theology is ultimately incarnational. We change because circumstances require it, and that is what we are doing with GLBTs.

I would be really interested to see your answer to the question that has been raised at Episcopal Cafe, and that I have raised here. Do you see "doing theology" or "articulating" it as purely the role of the bishops? If not, why do you make the claim that we haven't done the theology when plenty of lay people and clergy HAVE done it? And if you do see the realm of theology as somehow the sole purview of bishops, when is the House of Bishops finally going to do what the rest of us did long ago?

Quite frankly, Bishop Whalon, I'm getting tired of waiting. And I'm not even GLBT---I can only imagine how difficult it is for those who are. Just how many more years, and dueling papers, do we have to endure before those in purple will decide that GLBTs are not "half-assed baptized" (to borrow Bishop Harris' phrase)? Inquiring minds would like to know....


2/16/2010 3:07 AM  
Blogger Pierre said...

Dear Doxy,

I left a comment at the Cafe to make clear that I do not believe the teaching of The Episcopal Church is set by anyone other than the General Convention. And that is how it should be.

The teaching office of the church has traditionally been the episcopate. That is different than a magisterium, which establishes the teaching.
Of course, plenty of people have done various theologies on inclusion of gay and lesbian people. What frustrates me is that the church itself has not grasped that nettle.

There is a slogan abroad these days that says that the church acts first, then explains itself. Historically, however, a critical mass of theological consensus--as well as prophetic actions-- have preceded an official decision. Starting with Acts 15, for instance. OW is the same. Remarriage after divorce. &c.

More recent examples are economic justice (1988 GC) and anti-racism (GC 1994). These were preceded by pastoral letters of the House of Bishops, which GC endorsed and then set up programs to implement.

My point is, Doxy, is let's finish the job.

By the way, my favorite quotation of my ancestor, Bishop William Warburton, is "Orthodoxy is my doxy. Heterodoxy is another man's doxy." He was a wild man...

Blessings for a good lent.

Pierre Whalon

2/16/2010 6:04 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Thanks for dropping in here, Bishop Whalon.

I didn't see your 1995 or 1997 essays, but I appreciate this recent one.

I said it here and I've said it before: It is high time for the Episcopal Church to say that we're going to bless same-sex unions and ordain LGBTs... and to explain why!

2/17/2010 12:45 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Doxy, I think you are missing some of our history -- including the history about our church's ordaining women.

And I think you are beating up on a bishop who is a friend to you and to me.

I believe Bishop Whalon asked a good question that warrants asking. I hope he asked that question in hopes of prodding the other bishops to take the step they need to take. I'm asking them the same question.

Yes, Doxy, it may be that the House of Bishops in the past has shown cowardice. But let's not blame Bishop Whalon for that. Let's talk to our bishops as they move toward the March meeting. Let us speak our minds to them. But let's not beat up a bishop who has asked an honest question. And let's not project onto him positions that are not present in his essay.

I am encouraged by Bishop Whalon, and I believe that a majority of our bishops will take the brace step that's needed in March.

2/17/2010 12:52 AM  
Blogger Wormwood's Doxy said...

Lisa--I admire Bishop Whalon enough to call him out when he makes disingenuous statements/arguments, as he did in his essay. I am not alone in my criticisms, either--both Susan Russell and Tobias Haller have called him out on the same grounds as I did here.

I, for one, am not willing to let Bishop Whalon, or the House of Bishops, off the hook for their failure to lead in presenting the theological rationale behind full inclusion of GLBTs (and partnered GLBTs in particular). He claims that it is General Convention that must "do the theology"--conveniently avoiding the fact that the House of Bishops is one half of GC.

I am tired of hearing that "we haven't done the theology" because it simply isn't true--even if you want to claim that GC must do it, and that the mountain of materials created by faithful Episcopalians over the last 30+ years isn't sufficient. It's an argument schismatics love to use, and it's disconcerting to hear an ally employ it.

As others at Episcopal Cafe have noted, our theology is set out in our Book of Common Prayer, which is the only real source of theology in our church, and which is approved by GC. Our Baptismal Covenant says it all--"Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being?"

The bishops could have been out there making that case--but, with a few notable exceptions, they haven't done that. They have referred the issue to committees for years, with no real movement.

In fact, as I recall, Lisa, you were quite incensed over the formation of yet *another* (secret) committee that is, once again, putting together arguments for and AGAINST including LGBTs fully in the life of the church. Despite the fact that there were two-thirds majorities in both houses for D025 and C056, the House of Bishops still grants the naysayers 1/2 the slots on the Bishop's Super Secret Theology Committee?

I appreciate Bishop Whalon's support for full inclusion, but I will not give him or his colleagues a pass for that, or for their inaction and timidity over the years--which continues to this day. I'm surprised that you want to.

I'm happy that Bishop Whalon is publicly urging us to make the case for full inclusion. But let's not forget that the issue of treating LGBTs as full members of the church has been under discussion in TEC since 1976. I don't know about you, but I'm all out of patience.

And that is something I probably should work on for Lent! ;-)

Bishop Whalon, I do apologize if you felt I was beating up on you--I am most certainly trying to hold your feet to the fire, but I have not meant to be abusive. I came to TEC for two reasons--it ordained women and I perceived it to be inclusive of GLBTs. I have learned to my dismay that my perception was not necessarily correct, but I continue to work and pray to make it a reality across the whole church some day.

In all sincerity, I wish blessings to you both during this season of fasting and self-examination. I have a lot of work to do, so off to the desert I go....


2/17/2010 9:03 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Doxy, I appreciate your continuing engagement here. There is much substance in your reply.

I'm going to parse my reply in smaller responses.

Let me begin by saying what I said in my second paragraph: He is not saying that we haven’t done the theology about LGBT relationships in the Episcopal Church. I believe he’s saying The Episcopal Church hasn’t issued a formal statement that explains why we believe it is a good and proper thing to ordain partnered gay men and lesbians to all orders of ministry and to bless the unions (or marriages) of gay men and lesbians.

I think this is one point on which you and I disagree. I don't believe Bishop Whalon is saying "We haven't done the theology." No, he is saying that no official church body (such as General Convention) has endorsed that theology as our Church's position. As I've said, I agree with him, and I believe it's high time our church took at official, positive position.

2/25/2010 9:01 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Doxy, you wrote truth when you said: ... our theology is set out in our Book of Common Prayer, which is the only real source of theology in our church, and which is approved by GC. Our Baptismal Covenant says it all--"Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being?"

That's true, Doxy, but there's a problem with that. Our Prayer Book -- approved by GC in the late '70s -- also says that marriage (or holy union) can only exist between a man and a woman. If we are going to change our practice to reflect our theology, then someone needs to do so in some official way. We could wait until GC2012 -- at which time we could order a revision of the Prayer Book, then wait several years for it to be ratified. Or we can do it now -- in the way I have suggested. I'd rather hope that our bishops will do something next month, which our GC could ratify in 2012. Wouldn't you?

2/25/2010 9:08 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Doxy, your recollection is correct. I was livid at the creation of a "secret" theology panel. But we have made their identies known.

And it does indeed tick me off that the panel is 50/50 for and against SSBs and ordination of LGBTs ... when our church voted 2/3 for D025 and C056 in Anaheim.

But, Doxy, I believe there is a majority among our bishops who will support same-sex blessings and ordination of faithful gay Christians, when push comes to shove. Of course, I may be wrong. But for now, I am taking comfort in that hope.

2/25/2010 9:15 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Doxy, you may remember that I took a leave of absence from the Episcopal Church after GC2006, so that I could tend to my grief and disappointment. This church does indeed have the ability to hurt me deeply.

I have written here with some detachment. But I also recognize I may yet have to depart this church.

Here, I have spelled out my perception of what may happen and what I hope will happen.

If the bishops receive the "secret panel's" report and decide to kick the can down the road ... then I will have to reassess my position. If they decide now to side with those who paint gay/lesbian Christians as disordered and unworthy of blessing or ordination, then I'll probably have to take my leave. But I choose to be hopeful.

Doxy, my friend, I am grateful at your willingness to engage passionately in this conversation. Mind you, I feel as you do. But I am full of hope, whereas I sense you are full of doubt. I fervently pray my hope will triumph.

2/25/2010 9:24 PM  

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