Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Church not inclusive?

Below is an excerpt from a recent interview with The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams,

Q: "Unity in the Church - worldwide - is to you a means of coming closer to the truth. As you put it, 'If we don't stay together, 'we are only following our own local denomination or our personal preferences. Where then do you draw the line? How far can unity be stretched within the boundaries of still being based on the Bible? In reply to this question Williams starts off with a rebuke of those who argue it is high time the Church accepted gay relationships.

A: Their ideal is the inclusive church. ,,I don't believe inclusion is a value in itself'', says the Archbishop. ,,Welcome is. We welcome people into the Church, we say: 'You can come in, and that decision will change you.' We don't say: 'Come in and we ask no questions.' I do believe conversion means conversion of habits, behaviours, ideas, emotions. The boundaries are determined by what it means to be loyal to Jesus Christ. That means to display in all things the mind of Christ. Paul is always saying this in his letters: Ethics is not a matter of a set of abstract rules, it is a matter of living the mind of Christ. That applies to sexual ethics; that is why fidelity is important in marriage. You reflect the loyalty of God in Christ. It also concerns the international arena. Christians will always have reconciliation as a priority and refuse to retaliate. By no means everything is negotiable for me. I would not be happy if someone said: Let us discuss the divinity of Christ. That to me seems so constituent of what the Church is.''

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I don't disagree with the Archbishops statement however we may be interpreting the word "inclusive" in different ways. According to Merriam-Webster:


in·clu·sive
Pronunciation: in-'kl├╝-siv, -zivFunction: adjective1 : comprehending stated limits or extremes 2 a : broad in orientation or scope b : covering or intended to cover all items, costs, or services - in·clu·sive·ly adverb - in·clu·sive·ness noun

"Comprehending stated limits or extremes" and "broad in orientation or scope as well as covering or intended to cover all items, costs, or services." Could not the word inclusive be one way of describing the humble submission all Christians are called to make before God in Christ Jesus? Gay and lesbian Christians that I know long to live out their Christian lives (inclusively) in community with others, couples seek fidelity and support for their commitment --- the kind of support our marriage liturgies ask the gathered community to give straight couples. When I use the word inclusive I certainly mean it in the sense that all are invited --- but I also use it to mean that all invited are called to be open to having our entire lives (inclusively) turned upside by the Holy Spirit's work. As the Archbishop says, "conversion means conversion of habits, behaviours, ideas, emotions." I believe that gay and lesbian persons are equally called to conversion. Yet what does that conversion look like? Does it mean that gay and lesbians are to be converted from being gay or lesbian to being straight? I don't think so perhaps for some that is possible but for many it is impossible. Gentile Christians were not asked to become Jews. However, conversion means that like straight persons, gay and lesbians persons are called upon to have their habits, behaviors, ideas and emotions transformed (inclusively). Our culture's saturation with sexuality, with promiscuity, infidelity is not limited to homosexuals but sadly includes heterosexuals as well. Are we not all gay and straight Christians alike called to conversion? Called to live out our full lives (inclusively) under the Lordship of Jesus Christ? Might that mean all of us must be open to change?

For more of the interview with Archbishop Rowan Williams please click here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Comment on Rowan Williams Interview

I find it disagreeable and unfortunate that the interviewer, Wim Houtman chose to label the two sides as conservatives vs. radicals rather than conservatives vs. progressives or liberals. Having said that, this interview is, nevertheless, the first time I've read any statements by the Arch Bishop of Canterbury(ABC) that helped me to find consistency in all of his actions and statements. It seems clear from this interview that Rowan views his responsibility as ABC as being that of doing everything possible to maintain unity within the Anglican Communion. His approach to working toward that end is very much like that of Bishop Peter James Lee of Virginia. It is no wonder then that he has appointed Bishop Lee to that group of six bishops who are charged with finding a way forward in ECUSA.

Putting aside how one defines the word 'inclusive', my respect for the self-sacrifice of Bishop Lee in setting aside his own personal views, and even in holding his personal views close to his chest, has increased over time. And reading the perspective given here by Rowan Williams restores a great deal of my previously diminished respect for what had so far appeared to me to be a pandering to the right on his part. This interview helps me to see his actions in the much more favorable light of wisdom in the sense of the putting aside of self.

I could wish he had simply taken a strong principled stand in favor of inclusion of gay and lesbian persons. That thought, however, leads to still another point in this discussion. I must agree with the Archbishop that inclusion is not, in itself, a biblical value or a value of our faith. It seems to me that a faithful response to the teachings of Jesus demands that his followers first establish that a particular life style can be seen in God's eyes as holy before it can be affirmed as acceptable before God.

I happen to be among those who believe the key to holiness is faithfulness in relationships and not how the plumbing is arranged and used. Again, however, I must agree with Rowan's statement when he says, “Even about divorce there are certain things in the Bible that seem to give a bit more room for manoeuvre. It is harder to say that about homosexuality.” As I read what Rowan is saying here, he is not saying that no biblical case can be made for full inclusion of homosexuals in the faith community. What he is saying is that the case is more difficult and much less obvious. He is admitting to the reality that he is sworn to defend, that, as a Bishop in the church, he cannot simply dismiss the arguments of conservatives on the issue because their arguments are, in fact, supported by a strong biblically based ethic. In spite of my liberal convictions and interpretation of scripture, I cannot deny the truth of Rowan's statement on this matter.

It has seemed clear to me all along that the reason the Presiding Bishop and many other bishops who voted in support of Gene Robinson's election have not been more aggressive in their defense of their actions can be found in the realization that the conservative position cannot simply be dismissed. While we progressives and liberals can use the Bible, and especially Jesus' actions and teachings in reaching out to the despised and rejected, to defend our views, we cannot quote a verse or even a passage that clearly supports our position. Defending our position requires rather an exegesis, or even more. Conservatives can quote passages that seem clearly to support their views. The ABC seems to be saying that he can't simply dismiss those biblical verses without running the danger of appearing to cut the church loose from its Biblical anchor. I hear him saying that, because of his position, the weight of that is much greater for him than it is for an average parish priest or perhaps even for an average bishop.

All of that being said, however, it seems to me that there is in the ABC's statements much good news for progressives. For all of the spin of conservatives that the ABC is aligning with them, the statements by Rowan in this interview strongly support a very different picture of where he stands. Several statements by Rowan make it clear that it is not his intention merely to capitulate to and adopt the position of conservatives on matters of sexual ethics.

The first such statement comes when he says, “Ethics is not a matter of a set of abstract rules, it is a matter of living the mind of Christ.” Abstract rules can also be read, Levitical rules or Pauline rules. But living the mind of Christ cannot easily be defined. That is precisely where the tension lies as every Christian seeks to discern the will of God for his life. That is what prayerful discernment is for. It is to discern the mind of Christ.
The second statement that makes clear that Rowan is not capitulating to conservatives is when he says, “In terms of the issue under consideration: there are enough Christians of good faith in every denomination - from evangelical to Roman Catholic - to whom it is not quite so self-evident. Who are absolutely sure that we have always read the Bible correctly. They are saying this is an issue we must talk about. But if we are going to have time to discuss this, prayerfully, thoughtfully, we really don't need people saying: we must change now.” Though that statement may seem directed only toward liberals and progressives, a careful reading makes clear that it cuts both ways.

The third statement that makes clear the ABC isn't capitulating is when he says, “I would feel very uncomfortable if my Church would say: this is beyond discussion, for ever. Equally I have to guard the faith and teaching of the Church. My personal ideas and questions have to take second place.”

Finally in response to a question regarding the 1998 Lambeth Resolution that says homosexual practice is incompatible with scripture Rowan says, “That resolution also says we shall continue listening in the Church to the actual experience of homosexual Christians. We haven't done a great deal of that yet. Now Lambeth resolutions don't fall from heaven. There have been resolutions in the past that have then been discussed and moved on.”
In short, to the extent that conservatives might be looking of the ABC to clearly stand with them against liberals and progressives or visa versa, they will not find him doing so in this interview. Rather the ABC is clearly stating that he feels he must set aside his personal views to work toward three goals:

1. Maintaining unity within the Church
2. Maintaining a position that is faithful first of all to the mind of Christ, while being careful not to inadvertently undermine the authority of scripture.
3. Attempting to keep open a space within which the conversation can continue.

I can live with the Arch Bishop's stance. At least now I don't feel totally abandoned by him.

TH