Parsing Rowan: Catholic, Covenant, and “chosen lifestyles”

Today the Archbishop of Canterbury has published some reflections on the recently concluded General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Please go read these reflections — slowly — and then read it all again. While progressives are likely to howl at several points in the text, there are also some bits that will give heartburn to conservative-leaning Anglicans. If, like most readers of 7WD, you are left of center and don’t like Rowan’s reflection, go have a (quick!) look at the comments on Stand Firm. You’ll see that folks on the extreme right are convinced that Rowan has sold out.

Pretty much every Anglican blogger on the planet is going to have some things to say about what has been written. I considered passing this one by, but I’ve decided to toss in a few comments to particular bits of what Rowan has written. Before that, however, I want to make a couple of general points clear. First, I am grateful for the leadership of our present Archbishop of Canterbury. While I have certainly not agreed with everything he’s done or said, I do believe he has — out of deep, genuine, and inspiring faith — done everything he can do in order to preserve the unity of the Anglican Communion, while respecting the contexts of each province. Second, he is often misread by Americans, who use many of the same words as our English friends, but with totally different meanings. He is not a rampant homophobe out to zap the Episcopal Church. Third, Americans have often accused Rowan of misunderstanding the polity of the Episcopal Church. Perhaps that is true, to some extent. But it is even more true that we have failed to see things from his perspective as Archbishop of Canterbury. It is, though on a vastly different scale, similar to the role of a rector; there may be things that I would personally like to permit, but which my office demands I refuse. (See John Alexander’s excellent reflections on “Person, Orders, and Office” for more on this.)

Now, on to a selective look at a few bits of what Rowan has offered.

No-one could be in any doubt about the eagerness of the Bishops and Deputies of the Episcopal Church at the General Convention to affirm their concern about the wider Anglican Communion… The relationship between the Episcopal Church and the wider Communion is a reality which needs continued engagement and encouragement.

Great! I’m glad Rowan came to Anaheim. We got to see what he’s like in person, and he experienced the Episcopal Church in all its glory and in all its problems. I am grateful that our efforts in resolutions D025 and C056 to affirm our “bonds of affection” were recognized. As I’ve said before, lots of Episcopalians need to get on airplanes and fly to the rest of the Anglican Communion to make real our desire to stay in close relationship. In times of difficult relationships, the only way they are worked out is with sustained engagement.

In response, it needs to be made absolutely clear that, on the basis of repeated statements at the highest levels of the Communion’s life, no Anglican has any business reinforcing prejudice against LGBT people, questioning their human dignity and civil liberties or their place within the Body of Christ. Our overall record as a Communion has not been consistent in this respect and this needs to be acknowledged with penitence.

Rowan has not always had a stellar track record calling out prejudice against LGBT people, and I’m glad that he places this concern front and center here. I’d like to see him continue this trend by reminding Peter Akinola et al that Lambeth 1.10 (“the mind of the Communon”) calls for a listening process and for condemnation of discrimination against LGBT people in civil society.

However, the issue is not simply about civil liberties or human dignity or even about pastoral sensitivity to the freedom of individual Christians to form their consciences on this matter. It is about whether the Church is free to recognise same-sex unions by means of public blessings that are seen as being, at the very least, analogous to Christian marriage.

On the first point, I agree. We ought not to confuse our individual rights and needs with the proper responses and needs of the Church, on any issue. One could easily write a whole book about that (“Personal freedom vs. Catholic identity”), but I’d like to move on to the second point. In the Windsor Report and its aftermath, we are talking only about same-sex relationships and same-sex blessings. While some people (from both left and right) might equate same-sex blessing with same-sex marriage, they are really different things. I’ll stipulate that we’re on the way to talking about same-sex marriage in the church and in the Anglican Communion, but we have plenty to talk about right now before we get to that point.

Personally, I see no reason why I should not bless the loving, faithful relationship of two men or two women who seek the blessing of God in the church. That should be within my purview as an incumbent cleric in a parish. For what it’s worth, this happens routinely in the Province of Canterbury, so Rowan should not imagine that this is only a Canadian or a US “problem.” I have written public letters in support of civil same-sex marriage, where it is a matter of civil rights — being in civil society. However, I personally feel that we need to have further reflection and consensus before proceeding to same-sex marriage ceremonies celebrated in churches. It is not because I have any belief these are not appropriate, but rather that we need to work out the liturgical and theological landscape first. The marriage service in our Book of Common Prayer will not work by merely changing pronouns; a more thorough-going reworking is required, and I do not believe it is the purview of a parish priest to rewrite the prayer book. However, to bless people, things, and relationships is within the purview of a parish priest. (Personally, I’d like to see the church get out of the civil aspect of marriage altogether, but that’s another posting.)

So while I think Rowan is right to draw a distinction between individual Christians’ practice and the practice of the Church, I think he is premature to suggest that we are at the point of discussing same-sex marriage as a Communion.

In the light of the way in which the Church has consistently read the Bible for the last two thousand years, it is clear that a positive answer to this question would have to be based on the most painstaking biblical exegesis and on a wide acceptance of the results within the Communion, with due account taken of the teachings of ecumenical partners also. A major change naturally needs a strong level of consensus and solid theological grounding.

Generally, this point is well taken. The river of church tradition is deep. But it is also wide, with currents and eddies all around. Rowan knows well that we have read some of the Bible consistently over two thousand years, but we have changed our reading of some bits of it as well. In fact, nearly any sensible Christian will admit this. The question then becomes, as Rowan suggests, when to change our reading. Must we wait for “a strong level of consensus and solid theological grounding”? What does that look like? On any number of issues (divorce, slavery, work on the Sabbath, liturgical practices, the role of the laity), our reading has changed. These changes have not always gone smoothly, and varying degrees of consensus were in effect when the first local or national churches began to change. I would say that a move to change our reading with regard to same-sex relationships is well within the river of tradition. Yes, not everyone agrees this is the time, but there has never been a time when everyone agreed on a particular change. It is ironic for an Anglican to insist on churchwide consensus, given our deliberate separation from the See of Rome. We should not make change lightly, but we should also not imagine that approval must be universal prior to the change taking effect.

This is not our situation in the Communion. Thus a blessing for a same-sex union cannot have the authority of the Church Catholic, or even of the Communion as a whole. And if this is the case, a person living in such a union is in the same case as a heterosexual person living in a sexual relationship outside the marriage bond; whatever the human respect and pastoral sensitivity such persons must be given, their chosen lifestyle is not one that the Church’s teaching sanctions, and thus it is hard to see how they can act in the necessarily representative role that the ordained ministry, especially the episcopate, requires.

Part of the point of this paragraph is taken up in my response to the previous paragraph. Here I want to tackle only two words: “chosen lifestyle.” Frankly, I find this puzzling. The overwhelming majority of scientists agrees with the understanding that our sexual orientation is largely determined biologically. It is an orientation, not a lifestyle choice. While not all cultures or persons share this understanding, I would have thought Rowan would share this view. That may be a key factor in reading him. Someone who has read his earlier (pre-bishop) theological corpus might be able to help me out here.

If sexual orientation is created, not chosen, then it is a disorder to expect humans to live other than the way they were created. The reason I am willing to pronounce God’s blessing on same-sex relationships is my understanding that these people are living out of their identity as people created in God’s image, just as I seek to do in my opposite-sex marriage. God has given a variety of gifts of sexuality (same-sex, opposite-sex, celibacy, and so on). Before a conservative tries the slippery-slope argument, the issue is always “created good” and consent. Just as God does not bless coercive opposite-sex activity, surely God would not bless any coercive sexual activity. I raise this because of the tendency for some folks on the right to suggest at this point that I am making an argument which paves the way for pedophilia, etc. Nothing could be further from the truth.

But back to Rowan. Surely he does not expect someone who is created with the gift of same-sex attraction to live as if she or he were a person created with the gift of celibacy? Or does he? If so, I would be greatly troubled, as this would overturn what I might have thought to be a shared Anglican understanding of personhood.

In other words, the question is not a simple one of human rights or human dignity. It is that a certain choice of lifestyle has certain consequences. So long as the Church Catholic, or even the Communion as a whole does not bless same-sex unions, a person living in such a union cannot without serious incongruity have a representative function in a Church whose public teaching is at odds with their lifestyle.

Again, this one is puzzling. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that I stipulated that it’s sinful to live in a same-sex relationship. So the argument would continue, such a person is not suitable for the exercise of ordained ministry or “representative function” in the church. Really? Let’s talk about me for a second. I regularly purchase things I do not need. I regularly fail in the exercise of my ordained ministry. I find my 17-year marriage to be a wonderful gift, but sometimes it is also challenging. I do not give as much as I could give to the church or to those in need. There are countless ways in which I fall short of who God wants me to be. In other words, I am a sinner — a lifelong public sinner. And yet my gifts as a presbyter are received and celebrated.

Now, as it turns out, I do not believe that it’s sinful to live in a same-sex relationship. But even if I did, I might see that any Christian has a problematic “lifestyle” and yet we are able to receive gifts from these sinners in the church. Why is one perceived sin different from others? Why can’t we see that one set of behaviors might prevent ministry in one cultural context, but that same behavior might be affirmed in ministry in another context?

This is not a matter that can be wholly determined by what society at large considers usual or acceptable or determines to be legal. Prejudice and violence against LGBT people are sinful and disgraceful when society at large is intolerant of such people; if the Church has echoed the harshness of the law and of popular bigotry – as it so often has done – and justified itself by pointing to what society took for granted, it has been wrong to do so. But on the same basis, if society changes its attitudes, that change does not of itself count as a reason for the Church to change its discipline.

The last sentence is spot on. The Church must not be in the passenger seat in moral matters. We cannot take direction from society. I’ve not heard people say, here in the Episcopal Church, “let’s change our position on human sexuality because of the latest Gallup poll.” Indeed, the church — both in England and in the US — has too often failed to lead on moral matters. We should look back across history and see that whether it’s indigenous people’s ministry, women’s ordination, or racial diversity, the Church has exemplified a pattern of behavior. Too often, we have been resistant initially (using many of the same arguments made by opponents of GLBT inclusion). Then, often just before or just after the “tipping point” is reached in wider culture, the church shifts its own teaching and practice. We’re at that delicate moment now. I think it’s time to move ahead, but not everyone does.

When a local church seeks to respond to a new question, to the challenge of possible change in its practice or discipline in the light of new facts, new pressures, or new contexts, as local churches have repeatedly sought to do, it needs some way of including in its discernment the judgement of the wider Church. Without this, it risks becoming unrecognisable to other local churches, pressing ahead with changes that render it strange to Christian sisters and brothers across the globe.

The three-hour free-form liturgies of those parts of the Anglican Communion which were founded by evangelical missionaries would not be recognizable to those formed by one-hour prayer book liturgies. Does that mean we should insist that these practices be avoided? In parts of England and the US, Anglo-Catholics are known to invoke the saints in prayer, to venerate the reserved Sacrament, and to wear layer upon layer of vestments. At least two of these practices are condemned in the 39 Articles of Religion, and they are all foreign to the experience of many Anglicans. Ought they to be suppressed? No, we are able to allow local variation in all manner of things, and one minor point of church practice should not be an exception; our attitudes toward those in same-sex relationships could vary across the Communion. This is consonant with our current practice in other areas. It is fine to many Anglicans with whom I have spoken, who are eager to stay in Communion and in relationship with the Episcopal Church, even when they do not share our understanding of human sexuality.

This is not some piece of modern bureaucratic absolutism, but the conviction of the Church from its very early days. The doctrine that ‘what affects the communion of all should be decided by all’ is a venerable principle. On some issues, there emerges a recognition that a particular new development is not of such significance that a high level of global agreement is desirable; in the language used by the Doctrinal Commission of the Communion, there is a recognition that in ‘intensity, substance and extent’ it is not of fundamental importance. But such a recognition cannot be wished into being by one local church alone. It takes time and a willingness to believe that what we determine together is more likely, in a New Testament framework, to be in tune with the Holy Spirit than what any one community decides locally.

Interesting. I am, generally speaking, inclined to agree that discernment is best practiced in community — the larger the community the better. But it seems to be unhelpful to suggest that the Holy Spirit might not move an individual or a local church to do something that is not agreed by others. A reading of Christian history would support my view, I believe.

Sometimes in Christian history, of course, that wider discernment has been very fallible, as with the history of the Chinese missions in the seventeenth century. But this should not lead us to ignore or minimise the opposite danger of so responding to local pressure or change that a local church simply becomes isolated and imprisoned in its own cultural environment.

We are all “isolated and imprisoned” in our “own cultural environment.” All of us. To many Americans, the current practice of the English church with respect to same-sex relationships seems hypocritical and unhealthy. (Cohabiting clergy in registered same-sex civil partnerships are required to tell their bishops that they’re not having sex; thousands upon thousands of couples have had their relationships blessed in English churches, but “there are no public rites.”) And yet, we Americans should recognize that this is the English culture working itself out. The same courtesy might be extended the other way across the Atlantic. The American way is to be “transparent” and open about, well, everything. Nigeria, England, and America all delight in cultural context. Let us celebrate that difference, even amidst our deeper unity on the most important matters of faith.

In recent years, local pastoral needs have been cited as the grounds for changes in the sacramental practice of particular local churches within the Communion, and theological rationales have been locally developed to defend and promote such changes. Lay presidency at the Holy Communion is one well-known instance. Another is the regular admission of the unbaptised to Holy Communion as a matter of public policy. Neither of these practices has been given straightforward official sanction as yet by any Anglican authorities at diocesan or provincial level, but the innovative practices concerned have a high degree of public support in some localities.

I agree. We need to do lots of theological work if we are proposing a change in church practice. I think that’s been done here in the US for same-sex blessings. I appreciate Rowan’s two examples of lay presidency and CWOB (Communion without baptism). These are, in m view, far greater threats to our catholic identity.

To accept without challenge the priority of local and pastoral factors in the case either of sexuality or of sacramental practice would be to abandon the possibility of a global consensus among the Anglican churches such as would continue to make sense of the shape and content of most of our ecumenical activity. It would be to re-conceive the Anglican Communion as essentially a loose federation of local bodies with a cultural history in common, rather than a theologically coherent ‘community of Christian communities’.

Well, here we’re getting to the rub. What is the Anglican Communion? It’s tempting to think of it as an ancient institution, dating back to Augustine of Canterbury in 597. But the Anglican Communion as we know it really dates back to the onset of the jet age, with the rise of the Anglican Consultative Consult and the Primates’ Meetings in the latter years of the 20th century. The Lambeth Conference might be over a century old, but even that was primarily a gathering of Euro-American bishops until the later years of the previous century. This current crisis is really the adolescence of the Anglican Communion. We are working out precisely what we share in common and how we differ. I would object strongly to the notion that we’ve ever had a “theologically coherent” community. We’ve been a people who have shared a colonial history, who have shared a liturgical heritage, and who have shared bonds of common affection. That need not change. (By the way, even within the Church of England I’m not sure it would be fair to say there is 100% “theological coherence” in the varieties of belief from Angl0-Catholics to charismatic evangelicals, let alone the difference from High Church Oxford to rural Tanzania.)

The Covenant proposals of recent years have been a serious attempt to do justice to that aspect of Anglican history that has resisted mere federation. They seek structures that will express the need for mutual recognisability, mutual consultation and some shared processes of decision-making. They are emphatically not about centralisation but about mutual responsibility. They look to the possibility of a freely chosen commitment to sharing discernment (and also to a mutual respect for the integrity of each province, which is the point of the current appeal for a moratorium on cross-provincial pastoral interventions).

Personally, I think the Nicene Creed, the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, and our common liturgical heritage are sufficient to articulate our identity. That said, I have no deep objection to a Covenant — a fresh statement of our common beliefs and mutual responsibility. But let us be clear, if the Covenant has within it the possibility of a province of the Anglican Communion being subject to sanction or to expulsion, then very few provinces will sign such a document. The General Synod of the Church of England is not going to ratify a document which might remove the Church of England from full membership in the Anglican Communion. This means that the Covenant as a tool for sanctions is dead in the water.

I am pleased to see Rowan call out cross-provincial pastoral interventions. When the Church of England rejects a punitive Covenant, the secessionist Anglicans will move in, setting up parallel jurisdictions. Though my English friends tell me I am crazy when I say this, I am going to say “I told you so” in a few years when FOCA has its own bishops.

But it means that there is at least the possibility of a twofold ecclesial reality in view in the middle distance: that is, a ‘covenanted’ Anglican global body, fully sharing certain aspects of a vision of how the Church should be and behave, able to take part as a body in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue; and, related to this body, but in less formal ways with fewer formal expectations, there may be associated local churches in various kinds of mutual partnership and solidarity with one another and with ‘covenanted’ provinces.

Again, do not worry, my friends in the Episcopal Church. We are going to be in the same tier as the Church of England and most of the rest of the Communion. If the Akinolites and Duncanites continue their own self-imposed excommunication, we’ll have our two-tier Communion, but not through any mechanism of the Instruments of Communion.

This has been called a ‘two-tier’ model, or, more disparagingly, a first- and second-class structure. But perhaps we are faced with the possibility rather of a ‘two-track’ model, two ways of witnessing to the Anglican heritage, one of which had decided that local autonomy had to be the prevailing value and so had in good faith declined a covenantal structure. If those who elect this model do not take official roles in the ecumenical interchanges and processes in which the ‘covenanted’ body participates, this is simply because within these processes there has to be clarity about who has the authority to speak for whom.

Repeat after me: the Church of England is going to be in the same boat as us. If the Covenant is modified to be palatable to the General Synod of the Church of England, it will be fine for the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. There is no forced choice between Anglican unity and full inclusion. Those who cannot abide unity with the Episcopal Church will leave, but that is their own choosing. The two-tier Communion of which Rowan speaks cannot happen, by my reading of the Church of England and the Instruments of Communion.

It helps to be clear about these possible futures, however much we think them less than ideal, and to speak about them not in apocalyptic terms of schism and excommunication but plainly as what they are – two styles of being Anglican, whose mutual relation will certainly need working out but which would not exclude co-operation in mission and service of the kind now shared in the Communion. It should not need to be said that a competitive hostility between the two would be one of the worst possible outcomes, and needs to be clearly repudiated.

The last sentence is right. We must not view ourselves in competition with separated Anglicans any more than we view ourselves in competition with Methodists or Baptists. God’s church is filed with many expressions and gifts. I pray for the well-being of my friends in separated Anglican churches, and I pray for our reunion. (By the way, we should not pursue a contentious legal strategy either, in my view.)

It is my strong hope that all the provinces will respond favourably to the invitation to Covenant. But in the current context, the question is becoming more sharply defined of whether, if a province declines such an invitation, any elements within it will be free (granted the explicit provision that the Covenant does not purport to alter the Constitution or internal polity of any province) to adopt the Covenant as a sign of their wish to act in a certain level of mutuality with other parts of the Communion. It is important that there should be a clear answer to this question.

I find this to be highly problematic. This suggests that some bishops in the Episcopal Church might adopt some kind of Covenant apart from the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church. I wonder if Rowan would approve if, say, the Bishop of Southwark decided to consider himself loyal to the Episcopal Church and to set up practices with regard to same-sex blessings accordingly? No, provinces must be able to act within themselves. If we must have parallel jurisdictions, so be it. But to have different statuses within a province would be confusing at best.

To recognise different futures for different groups must involve mutual respect for deeply held theological convictions. Thus far in Anglican history we have (remarkably) contained diverse convictions more or less within a unified structure.

Yes, and let our past be our guide for the future on this front. We are at this point not because of the consecration of the present Bishop of New Hampshire. We are at this point because of the rise of militant conservatives and those who would attempt to project a puritan life onto our Anglican identity.

If the present structures that have safeguarded our unity turn out to need serious rethinking in the near future, this is not the end of the Anglican way and it may bring its own opportunities. Of course it is problematic; and no-one would say that new kinds of structural differentiation are desirable in their own right. But the different needs and priorities identified by different parts of our family, and in the long run the different emphases in what we want to say theologically about the Church itself, are bound to have consequences.

Yes, agreed. As I wrote above, we are in our adolescence as a Communion. Just as a teenager may examine some aspects of selfhood and yet retains the essence of personhood created at birth, so the Anglican Communion must examine some aspects of itself even while clinging to its essential identity.

We must hope that, in spite of the difficulties, this may yet be the beginning of a new era of mission and spiritual growth for all who value the Anglican name and heritage.


On balance, I was pleased with what Rowan has said. Though it won’t be ideal to either the far left or the far right, I think he has attempted in a useful way to describe the current situation in all its complexity, with some theological and ecclesiological substance. There are no easy answers to any of this, but through sustained relationship, we can move together. As Rowan concludes, may this “be the beginning of a new era of mission and spiritual growth for all who value the Anglican name and heritage.”

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23 Responses

  1. Leonel says:

    With the expression ‘chosen lifestyle’
    Rowan is referring to the ‘chosen’ nature of engaging in actual same sex relationships and/or marriage-like services. I don’t think he’s at all referring to a sexual orientation as a chosen lifestyle, but rather to what is acted upon from that orientation. Tricky, sure, but also very clear in my view.

  2. Laura says:

    This is a very clear-eyed and dispassionate review of the Archbishop’s statements, I feel, which is what I have come to expect in your analyses, and appreciate greatly. Much to mull over. In the meantime, I will give thanks that I will never be the Archbishop of Canterbury.


  3. Kirk says:

    Excellent analysis as always Scott. I am glad you took the time to do this.

  4. David says:

    Your analysis captures perfectly what I admire about Episcopalians: among other things, acceptance of science, a wide view of humanity, commitment to the Church and to the message of Jesus, and above all, charity .

  5. Chris Smith says:

    As a Vatican II Catholic, I salute you Scott! This is a beautifully written review of your personal understanding of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s statement. I happen to agree with your read on this. I also admire the policies adopted by the Episcopal Church’s 2009 General Convention on these issues. Believe me, the top down centralized hierarchy model that is my own Roman Catholic Church has failed on just about every level and will most likely not survive for much longer. It is in a state of decay. It represents imperial Rome more than it represents Christ. It is without charity. I appreciate the love and “inclusion theology” that Episcopalians are showing LGBT people. To me, this is the Holy Spirit at work in your branch of the tree which is the Holy Catholic Church. Excellent analysis Scott! I have never posted on this website before.

  6. Scott Gunn says:

    Laura, +Kirk, David, and Chris — thanks for your kind words. When I finished, I saw that I had written nearly 4,000 words (on my “day off”) and I was a bit horrified. So I’m glad you enjoyed this.

    Leonel, right, I get the distinction. As I say in the post though, if one believes (as I do) that God has given some people the gift of sexuality in the form of same-sex orientation, it seems to be disordered to ask them not to act in the way God made them. I would not want to contemplate living in the way God made be (with opposite-sex orientation) without expressing the fullness of who I am. I do not “choose” to live the way I live in this regard; it is who I am. Clearly, this could use further conversation…


  7. Tony says:

    To Chris Smith, who styles himself a “Vatican 2 Catholic”: why not move over to the Episcopalian Church? For your “Vatican 2 Catholic” does not exist; there is simply the Catholic from Nicaea to Vatican 2. Such pick and choose type of Catholicism is oxymoronic…

  8. Fr Mark says:

    This is a really good analysis, thank-you, Scott.
    I suppose the bit that is really upsetting to us gay Brits is Rowan’s “planet denial” approach to the reality that many thousands of faithful partnered gay Anglicans work for the Church of England at every level. In fact, from my limited experience of TEC, I would say that the gay subculture in the Church of England is much larger, in fact, than that in the Episcopal Church.

    Throughout the time when the wider society in the UK was very nasty to gay people, the C of E was very relaxed: and now that the wider society is relaxed about sexuality, at long last, the C of E decides it cannot cope with gay people. This is a strange and disturbing twist in the C of E’s history, because it tells the rest of society that a covert culture of hypocrisy and dishonesty can flourish in the Church just fine, but, the moment people try to be open and honest, they get disowned by people like Rowan, who should, frankly, know better.

  9. Scott, as one who is often called a ‘conservative’, I have to say that I really appreciate your thoughtful analysis of Rowan’s reflections. Thank you.

  10. Scott, you make an excellent point when you speak of the Anglican Communion being only as old as speedy travel around the globe.

    I’m not going into detail about all the points that you raise, but after reading your post, I found myself scratching my head at these words:

    “On balance, I was pleased with what Rowan has said.”

    From your comments on the letter, I’d have concluded that you leaned toward the side of being displeased with what the ABC said.

    I suspect that the great mass of people in the pews on both sides of the pond and around the world don’t pay attention to what the ABC says. I’m one of the folks in the pews who does pay attention, but I’m tiring of parsing and trying to tease out the meaning of what the ABC wants to convey. I’m now drawn to the idea of no longer paying much attention to what he says.

    However, my question is: Who is the target audience for the ABC’s letters and proclamations? To whom does he speak?

  11. Scott Gunn says:

    Grandmère Mimi,

    I was pleased with the direction this statement has taken with respect to previous statements. Rowan is now backing away from language of schism, etc. My sense of the feel of this one is that inclusion is inevitable, and he’s trying to keep things together as that happens. That’s much different than a couple of years ago, when he seemed to think that the genie might fit back into the bottle.

    This whole Anglican Communion “crisis” is clergy-driven, as I’ve been saying for several years now. I think Rowan writes to overly anxious clergy, especially bishops.

    Your plan of ignoring things is probably sound. For my part, I’ve decided to weigh in on some of these things because I think it’s helpful in reading these things to have a clear, calm view. It’s too easy for progressives or conservatives (or whatever categories you like) to see one bit they don’t like and shut down or conclude the whole thing is rubbish. Like life itself, there is much good to be found, even when you spot some rubbish strewn about.

    Thanks for reading!


  12. Scott, you’re right in that this letter shows movement in the direction of acceptance that inclusion will happen. Plus, he does not seem to be in the business of misunderstanding and bashing TEC quite so much as in the past. So, yes. It may be seen as an improvement on past performance.

  13. Peter Mayer says:

    Scott, this is excellent stuff, and completely expected from you. Thanks very much for such thoughtful analysis. However, you need to do this stuff during work hours. Do something else on your days off, man.

  14. Sara MacVane says:

    I very much appreciate all the thought and the work which went into Scott’s reflection. He is of course correct when he says that all of us and all of our churches are culture-bound. I wouldn’t agree however that all cultures are equal or of equal value from a moral or a theological point of view. For example, when bishops (and archbishops) in the C-of-E, of whatever flavour, attack TEC and the Canadian church for ordaining gay clergy, electing a bishop, or blessing gay couples, there is a certain amount of hypocrisy involved, since they know that many of their C-of-E brethern do that too. The silence in the C-of-E is not so much discretion as the knowledge that any visibilty puts gay clergy in danger of losing their jobs or at least of foregoing any advancement in the church. It also might close down gay blessings completely, so many people in their own church prefer not to challenge the critics . Surely the outspoken critics, including of course RW himself, know this, but that doesn’t stop them from denigrating TEC and CoC where serious theological work is being done on the question, not merely in conformity to more mondane culture.

  15. Kevin Lloyd says:


    Good, thoughtful anaysis, as always. The distinction you make between “blessing” and “marriage” is an important one. I find it quite unhelpful when the media and others equate the two.

    I also appreciate your point about different levels of status vis-a-vis a Covenant within the same Province. I do think that Rowan is right about needing a clear answer on this, but it seems to me the answer should already by clear: as you say, parallel jurisdictions, maybe; different levels of status in the Anglcian Communion, no.

  16. drdanfee says:

    Thanks for bothering to slog through RW’s latest. I find myself pondering the old, familiar glass half full, glass half empty puzzle as I read RW, read the comments, and weigh it all.

    My own annoyance with RW is that he can never stand with anybody on the Anglican rights while he is standing for a big tent approach at the same time. I’ve waited and waited for him – to affirm, say, the reality that Nigeria still thinks very poorly of its queer folks, while England or Scotland or Europe not so much – while all of us still belong together in that big global tent which is supposed to blow away really soon according to conservative Anglicans.

    I’ve also consistently found RW more than half empty in the special glass jars where he deigns to consider our hot button dilemmas of human nature, sexuality issues, science, change, and church. He often seems to be prizing his insularness – as if he never personally learned anything much from knowing a queer person in real life, talking with them, understanding them, working on a team with them, and so forth. He certainly writes and talks as if queer people are somewhere else, always; out there, away over there, anywhere but already inside local-global society and church life and – gasp – being faithful, effective, blessed.

    As the protest on sites like StandFirm or FiF or AngMainstream or Fulcrum will show to some extent along the conservative spectrums; there is simply no connecting with conservatives about the queer folks, unless one at least agrees to say and believe very nasty stuff about them. Stuff that in my studies of five or six decades is shown to be overtly flat earth folklore, pure and simple.

    RW says in passing that queer folks must have some basic sort of human dignity or human rights or whatever; but he speaks and writes as if all that somehow were happening on some other, far away planet. We shall encounter it up close and personal, if ever, in a happenstance far distant Anglican future – not right here among us, in things like the latest GC where he was just involved as a guest and preacher.

    The emblem of this distancing is simple: Disinvite Bishop Robinson. At GC, did RW have coffee with Robinson or his diocesan reps, talk and learn anything from them all? Were signs of God’s love and blessing apparent in their daily lives, their witness, their persons?

    Inquiring Anglican minds and hearts wanna know, RW.

    The offhand and superior habits RW has adopted towards Robinson (and New Hampshire, too, by the way) – who never, ever has any important up close and personal existence for us Anglicans as person, as believer, or gasp, as Anglican bishop – are more or less the guide for how we all should rregard and behave towards queer folks. All that is way, way, way more than half empty, so far as tthe glass goes.

    I do not yet appreciate RW in that regard. Alas, Lord have mercy.

  17. Scott Gunn says:

    Sara, my intention was not to suggest that all cultures and their values are somehow morally equivalent. Rather, I was trying to suggest that each of us acts in the context of our cultures, and that should be taken into account when making evaluations of the actions of others. Perhaps I was too subtle for my own good. It is dangerous, but sometimes necessary, to make moral evaluations of other cultures. As a liberal American, I’m acting out of my own cultural context in my reluctance to condemn what appears to me to be hypocrisy in the Church of England. But since you’ve said it, I won’t argue.

    Dr. Danfee, your entire comment is well taken. Thank you for writing here.

    Kevin, I’m glad you managed to avoid Peter’s incessant demands for golf long enough to read 7WD.

    Peter, don’t worry, I’ll find some compensatory goof off time during work hours.

  18. Philip says:

    Dear Scott and dear all,
    I have never before submitted anything to a blog and even now feel I have nothing profound or new to offer. I do feel, however, that I must share just a little. I am blessed to be married with 2 daughters and 3 grandchildren – all of whom have been incredibly supportive in my ministry. I am a parish priest and, for my sins, an Area Dean. In our congregation we are blessed to have some lovely gay people some of whom live in civil partnerships. We also have a number of souls who for various reasons have had abortions, a good number of divorced and re-married, at least one alcoholic and some single mums. We also have some good souls who try very hard to follow Christ and who genuinely believe that such “choices” (forgive the term – just a shorthand for the whole lot)are sinful. In my Deanery I have some excellent priests who are gay and some equally good priests who are opposed to gay clergy living in partnership. I’m here as a very ordinary little priest trying to pray for and love the whole lot – and frankly the mess we are in is getting more critical, more painful, more demanding by the day – for me and for everyone else. In the mean time I find myself forced more and more to agree with the secular lobby when they denigrate us in the Church for being hypocritical, judgemental and just plain nasty. The truth is I cannot publicly agree with everyone – and maybe its the attempt to do so that has landed us, at least here in the C of E, in the mess we are in – not because we are sitting on the fence but because we have tried and tried and tried to hold all together “ut unum sint”. As I say, I have nothing to offer – just a very heartfelt prayer for all – and the request that you prayer for me and others like me who, although seemingly safe, seemingly not personally involved,and certainly trying desperately not to “take sides” are in reality having their hearts broken. Thank you Scott for your care and writing, thank you all for your contributions and my apologies if this is an inappropriate one.

  19. Scott Gunn says:

    Dear Philip,

    Thank you for your heartfelt contribution here. I hope it is the first of many. We all need to hear the voices of people who are honestly trying to sort this all out in the real world, quite apart from the din of the Anglican blogosphere.

    While I think every Christian is called to speak for the voiceless, it is not the vocation of every one of us to be a prophet. You, in your ministry, surely offer people some of God’s grace made real.

    As more clergy such as yourself live in this complicated reality, I believe God is offering fertile ground for discernment. You in your parish ministry may have just the answer that the Church of England needs as it seeks to grapple with real people in all their diversity, with sometimes opposite views. You have offered much here, and I hope you’ll continue to do so, not only in the blogosphere, but in your deanery, to local parishioners, and to your friends in General Synod.

    I shall pray for you, and I hope you will pray for me and for the whole church.


  20. JCF says:

    However, I personally feel that we need to have further reflection and consensus before proceeding to same-sex marriage ceremonies celebrated in churches.

    Scott: a year ago at this time, at some churches in the Diocese of Los Angeles, same-sex marriage ceremonies WERE being celebrated.

    If and WHEN—God speed the day!—the California marriage ban is overturned (by court or election), I hope those churches will immediately do so again. Don’t you? Or should they (or their bishop) be compelled to about-face, and slam the red doors in same-sex couples’ faces? 🙁

    [Note: I don’t disagree, in priciple, that TEC should get out of the marriage business altogether. I only say to opposite-sex couples, “after you”. ;-/]

  21. Fr Alexander says:


    First, I add my appreciation to that already expressed by many others for a serious and thoughtful analysis. There are many points that I would love to discuss with you in more detail, but I will confine myself to one that I think goes to the heart of both the ABC’s reflections and your response. You write:

    “On any number of issues (divorce, slavery, work on the Sabbath, liturgical practices, the role of the laity), our reading has changed.”

    Agreed. Actually you missed my favorite example: usury! For nearly fifteen centuries charging interest on a loan was a mortal sin — with lots of scriptural citations to back it up. Then sometime between 1500 and 1700 all that changed. You continue:

    “These changes have not always gone smoothly, and varying degrees of consensus were in effect when the first local or national churches began to change. I would say that a move to change our reading with regard to same-sex relationships is well within the river of tradition. Yes, not everyone agrees this is the time, but there has never been a time when everyone agreed on a particular change.”

    I’m not so sure. Yes, some previous readings of Scripture have been replaced by new readings by a consensus fidelium of the universal Church. Slavery may be one example. Usury is probably another. Some of the other examples you adduce elsewhere (remarriage after divorce, WO) are in fact still hotly disputed issues among Christians in which the old consensus has in some places been challenged and discarded but no new consensus has yet universally emerged.

    In any case, you have to admit that same-sex relationships are a momentous issue. And the re-reading of Scripture proposed is likewise momentous. Up to now, the Christian tradition has universally read Scripture to understand that sexual relations are licit only within lifelong heterosexual marriage. Insofar as the tradition has understood and accepted the concept of homosexual orientation, it has regarded it not as a “gift” but as an “objective moral disorder” (to quote the CCC), and has counseled people with this orientation to maintain sexual abstinence. (I have argued elsewhere that talk of the “gift of celibacy” is nonsense because celibacy — understood as a permanent unmarried state combined with sexual continence — is in the classical Christian view the default for people lacking a positive vocation to marriage; indeed, one of the great heresies of our age is the supposition that one is not fully human unless sexually active.)

    Such, anyway, is the traditional reading of Scripture. Now — and this will be a damning admission on my part in the eyes of my more conservative friends — I’m *not* saying that the traditional reading on this issue is inerrant or that it cannot be replaced by the “progressive” reading that you and others are advocating. Indeed, I think that just as the universal Church changed its mind on usury, so the universal Church may well change its mind on same-sex partnerships. But that is a matter for the Church as a whole to discern and decide by way of an evolving consensus at the universal level.

    The ABC’s point, I think, is that the communion-breaking potential of unilateral local action on this issue is so great that provinces such as TEC that do act unilaterally (as they feel they must in obedience to conscience) have to be prepared to accept the consequences, which in this case will entail being put on the second tier of a two-tier Anglican Communion. (I’m unconvinced that the CofE will also be on the second tier, as you so vigorously assert, but that is another question.)

    You conclude the paragraph with the following sentence, which causes me great pain:

    “It is ironic for an Anglican to insist on churchwide consensus, given our deliberate separation from the See of Rome.”

    Wow. I thought the classical Anglican argument was always that Rome separated from us — that the Pope excommunicated Elizabeth I, not vice versa. In any case, speaking as a loyal Anglican and Episcopalian, I maintain that the separation of the Church of England from communion with the See of Rome was a colossal tragedy that should never have happened — and this despite the undeniable good that God brought out of it in the way of a vernacular liturgy, etc. Schism is never justified — whether by ACNA, TEC, or anyone else.

    Pax et bonum,


  22. Kathryn says:

    Thank you Scott…In a week when the net is bubbling with vitriol, reading this was a wonderfully refreshing experience. As a very ordinary priest with 2 ordinary churches in an obscure corner of the C of E, I am still struggling to know where this leaves us…I’m committed to inclusion, while sharing with Philip the knowledge that many in my congregation and among my colleagues would take a different view. My worst nightmare is that lines will be drawn leaving the C of E on the wrong side of the tracks – and my grief is that Rowan’s words make this a more likely possibility. I have loved and admired him for many years, so share the disappointment (if not the outrage) of many who’ve blogged this week – but I love my ministry too and pray that it will be possible to continue to serve with integrity here.
    Your clarity and calm have helped. Thank you

  1. July 27, 2009

    reactions to Rowan’s Reflections…

    Media coverage: The Times Ruth Gledhill Archbishop of Canterbury attempts to paper over Church schism and also on her blog: Archbishop Rowan and TEC: Two-track communion the way forward. Guardian Riazat Butt Archbishop warns ordination of gay clergy co…

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