Thursday, March 29, 2007

Primate's Theological Commission Responds

After my recent bout of crankiness, I've settled down a little bit.

I've settled into a saddened disapoinment. Why give up on common theological reflection now? We were doing what the Episcopal Church has yet to do - reflect on issues of sexuality as a church, through the Primate's Theological Commission, which operates within the structures of our ecclesial institution. This is to be lauded! The members of the Commission are far from theologically uniform, except that they all agreed that the blessing of same-sex unions is a matter of doctrine. We were beginning with theological reflection together, before getting on with the inevitable politics. And this was good.

But for all their good work, the primate undermines his own commission and the Council of General Synod offers a very muddled series of resolutions.

We may not have the guts to do this right. It looks like we're reverting to politics first, and theological reflection after - an order of action that virtually guarantees that the only theological voice that is heard in the end is that of the winner, because the losers will have already been marginalised through this very political ostracization and then self-selection out of the church.

In the meantime I attended a workshop presided over by the chair of the Primate's Theological Commission, bishop Victoria Matthews. This was a little encouraging. Bishop Victoria got us started with some remarks about doctrinal development, then we looked at what we consider to be core doctrine, and after that what we consider to be adiaphora. Only after this initial conversation did we get to the matter at hand, the blessing of same-sex unions, and we did agree that this is a matter of doctrine. (We did not answer the question about whether these kinds of blessings are a faithful development of doctrine, as this question is yet to be engaged in common conversation through the structures of the church. We may hold private judgments, and we may well have voted on such issues. But we have not yet spoken together with clarity on the faithfulness of this development.) Many truthful voices were heard at this workshop, and I am thankful for this. I think we will move forward with a little more love and a little more truth. I hope that we can engage the next question, about the faithfulness of this particular doctrinal development, as we did at this workshop: theologically and as a church.

Bishop Victoria was kind enough to take a moment to converse with me about the muddled CoGS resolutions. I'm happy to see what she said in our conversation has now been released in the more formal language of a press release. (It looks like the Primate's Theological Commission is as unhappy with the CoGS resolutions as I am: see here and here.)

I am no longer all that optimistic about the place of common theological reflection in our church. I hope we have the guts to sit down together and hash this one out under the guidance of and within our instituional structures; this is where we can make some genuine statements about these issues as a church. If that fails, and we begin with the political, things will not end well, and the pubs may be the best place to find any theological conversation worth having.

Despite my saddened disappointment over the seeming undermining of our efforts at some ecclesial theological conversation, hope will never be lost. God's good graces will work within and without the church, and there is nothing we can do, in our attempts at winning or losing, to interrupt God's providential hand - though let's be honest, all atempts at winning this one politically does much to obscure God's work. We can't be sure of what the final choices will look like for us, and I still resist any brinksmanship. Christ will not abandon his church.

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