Monthly Archives: February 2006

The Nihilism of Narcisus: Or what Happens when a Sadomasochist lives by the Golden Rule.

Recently I saw a comment on Titusonenine that mentioned a piece by Benedict XVI entitled “Europe and its Discontents” which appeared in the December issue of First Things (since I’ve apparently allowed my subscription to lapse, I missed it until now), in which the Pope argues that Europeans have given themselves over to a troubling sort of self-loathing. Here’s a selection:

The last element of the European identity is religion. I do not wish to enter into the complex discussion of recent years, but to highlight one issue that is fundamental to all cultures: respect for that which another group holds sacred, especially respect for the sacred in the highest sense, for God, which one can reasonably expect to find even among those who are not willing to believe in God. When this respect is violated in a society, something essential is lost. In European society today, thank goodness, anyone who dishonors the faith of Israel, its image of God, or its great figures must pay a fine. The same holds true for anyone who dishonors the Koran and the convictions of Islam. But when it comes to Jesus Christ and that which is sacred to Christians, freedom of speech becomes the supreme good.

This case illustrates a peculiar Western self-hatred that is nothing short of pathological. It is commendable that the West is trying to be more open, to be more understanding of the values of outsiders, but it has lost all capacity for self-love. All that it sees in its own history is the despicable and the destructive; it is no longer able to perceive what is great and pure. What Europe needs is a new self-acceptance, a self-acceptance that is critical and humble, if it truly wishes to survive.

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The Hand of Welcome: Hope in a Contraceptive Culture

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).

“Come to me, all who labor and are heaven laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).

That contemporary western culture has many problems is beyond dispute, as a cursory glance at the current affairs section of any bookstore will illustrate. What is debated is exactly what those problems are and where they stem from, what are their root causes? Despite the differences in description and definition advanced by cultural commentators there is arguably a common thread that wends its way through all of them, namely the original human sins of pride and accidie; “accidie is a spiritual listlessness or depression, a reluctance and finally a refusal to respond to God. Pride on the other hand, puts the self in God’s place.”[1] The prevalence of these in our society has led to a variety of situations that, while promoted or accepted by different facets of our society and the political spectrum are all at a basic level, affronts to the Gospel.

The spiritual restlessness that is a hallmark of our time is the result of these sins. Pride and the “sickness that stalks at mid-day,” as accidie is sometimes called, bring people into a sort of spiritual no-man’s land where allegiance is won by the highest bidder.[2] People find themselves searching for fulfillment in a variety of places and ways. Like Qoheleth, satisfaction is sought from good food and good drink, power and authority, material wealth, hopes for posterity—but found to be illusory and fleeting. Many who have experienced some or all of these attempts at satisfaction discover that the desire for something has only grown stronger. Yet there still remains a sort of spiritual despair arising from a society that has rejected the idea that truth can be anything beyond individual. Ours is a society wherein people have the means to invest in themselves and covet the things they believe will bring them happiness. But there are visible fruits of spiritual decay all around us.

The particular evidences of these sins cut across time and ideology, being confronted or supported at different times by people of varied political persuasions. But it is the same spirit, the spirit of sin and death, the spirit of our first parents’ rebellion against God that animates each of these actions whether politically supported from left or right. Our society manifests this spirit of decay in many ways, but at a fundamental level they all consist in the use or abuse of others toward our own (individual or corporate) ends. This is a situation that may seem ironic in a society that so highly values the individual; yet, in such a society the individual comes to be seen as a commodity as well. The structural elements that lead to these abuses are implicit within liberalism and capitalism whenever they are unmoored from basic virtue.

At the close of the twentieth century liberalism triumphed over its sibling ideologies; communism and totalitarianism are entertained by few people as viable alternatives and socialism, once so vibrant an ideology in Europe, has begun to give way to liberal thought as European politics have increasingly become more Americanized. Today European conservatism and socialism have “increasingly lost [their] more socialist respective conservative features and become variations of a basically liberal polity.”[3] Even in those nations where totalitarianism is attempted, leaders use plainly populist and liberal language to justify their rule.[4] Indeed, the primary threat to liberalism today seems to be terrorism, which may owe its own existence to the fruits of liberal ideology.[5]

As capital markets expand, they seek to predict and control human action and desire; as an outgrowth of the intellectual and political order arising after the enlightenment capitalist practice shares many assumptions with ideologies that have their roots in this era, for “it is clear,” as Alisdair MacIntyre notes, “that the Enlightenment’s mechanistic account of human action included both a thesis about the predictability of human behavior and a thesis about the appropriate ways to manipulate human behavior.”[6]  The history of the ideologies arising out of the enlightenment has been one of continual attempts to control human behavior.  Communism, socialism, totalitarianism and liberalism agree that humanity must be controlled but differ as to the means of that control and the best means for the satisfaction of human desires. Each begins either by freeing the individual from traditional bonds, or in constructing new identities to superimpose over the old.

In seeking to empower the individual—often morally, usually economically—our society has extended what it means to be free in the Anglo-American school of thought. This school of thought bears some differences to the continental school. John Dewey articulates the difference this way in Freedom and Culture:

In the American and English liberal tradition, the idea of freedom has been connected with the idea of individuality, of the individual. The connection has been so close and so often reiterated that it has come to seem inherent [. . .] in the continental European tradition the affiliation of the idea of freedom is with the idea of rationality.[7]

In the continental school the person is most free who has the most reason, whereas the Anglo-American concept is that the person is most free who has the most individuality, the most choice. The world wars, especially the second, stand as testament to the failure of the continental belief in freedom; again from Freedom and Culture:

The same difference in contexts that give freedom its meaning is found when representatives of totalitarian Germany at the present time [pre WWII] claim their regime is giving the subjects of their state a “higher” freedom than can be found in democratic states, individuals in the latter being unfree because their lives are chaotic and undisciplined.[8]

Few people today would associate freedom with discipline, instead the Anglo-American principle of freedom equating to individuality has become standard.

Granting these differences, the common point of departure for both the Anglo-American and Continental schools is that people desire safety. In their own ways both guaranteed safety. But safety from what? Ultimately the safety sought is from facing one’s own mortality. But the goal is more: it is with making people feel truly safe by empowering them to make choices, choices that help them forget about death.

The Anglo-American system, with its focus on autonomy, seeks to empower the individual, to make the person feel as though they have control over their choices and by extension over their life.  The function which government and to a broader extent society, has taken upon itself has been to expand the amount and means of choice, seeking to give people a feeling of control and authority over their own mortality and life—the ultimate expression of this being assisted suicide. As Stanley Hauerwas relates:

[W]hen you live in a liberal society like ours, the fundamental problem is how you can achieve cooperative agreements between individuals who share nothing in common other than their fear of death.  In liberal society the law has the function of securing such agreements. That is the reason why lawyers are to America what priests were to the medieval world. The law is our way of negotiating safe agreements between autonomous individuals who have nothing else in common other than their natural fear of death and their mutual desire for protection.[9]

The progression is: more choices equate to more power, more power equates to more control, more control means more authority over life and circumstance. So in some ways a new jaguar is an evocation of the power exercised over life and fate, or rather, it is the pretense of power and control. Of course, this belief is not totally unfounded; after all, those with more money often do exercise greater control over their health care and other important issues than the poor who lack such resources.

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Looking back: A Proposal for the Formation of a New Province of the Anglican Communion in the United States

Before this summer’s upcoming General Convention, I thought it might be worthwhile to take a look at this early proposal by the Rev. Dr. Guy F. Lytle III, my friend and mentor.

Guy Lytle:

A Proposal for the Formation of a New Province of the Anglican Communion in the United States

What do we do now? That is the question many are asking since the 2003 General Convention. The constant rhetorical drumbeat of “Unity, unity, unity,” sounded from ’815′ and other pulpits across the land, is sincerely meant, and should be sincerely pursued, by all those who take our Lord’s commandments to heart. But ‘unity,’ in its true and classical sense, can never mean ‘unity at all costs.’ When Truth is forfeited to unity, then unity has become an idol. Our own Reformation principles bear this out: if certain well-placed men and women hadn’t believed Truth was more important than unity in 16th century Europe, would there even be an Anglican Communion today?

Whatever the Post-modernist mindset says, Truth cannot be forfeited to unity. We must be prepared, in the service of God, to take bold steps for the sake of the Gospel. Some will find the proposal I am about to make dangerous. Some will say we are bigoted fundamentalists for even considering it. Certainly it will call down the wrath of the institution; they will probably threaten our churches, buildings, endowments, and lands. But I do believe it is the right thing to do, for Truth’s sake. It is a positive approach to the current crisis, not the mean-spirited “pick up my marbles and go home”-response some will paint it to be.

Most importantly, I believe it is the only way there will be a true Anglican Christian presence in the U.S. To lose that voice would be an evangelical tragedy.

What do we do now? Taking into account all the various meetings, special conventions, parish forums, and internet news items for the past two months, I believe the gathering in Dallas should ask the Anglican Primates, meeting in London in October, to order the American bishops to:

affirm their commitment to biblical orthodoxy; request that V. Gene Robinson voluntarily abandon his scheduled ordination to the episcopate; withdraw consent to the election of V. Gene Robinson as the next Bishop of New Hampshire, should he refuse to withdraw voluntarily; and revoke their tacit allowance of the blessings of same-sex unions.

Taking these four steps would allow the American bishops to preserve the unity of the Church, show the respect due fellow Christians (as mandated by our common baptismal vows), and repent of ‘Western arrogance,’ racism, and cultural hegemony.

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General Ordination Exam Set I: Christian Doctrine and Missiology

QUESTION:
At the First Council of Constantinople, a movement led by Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nazianzus, among others, resulted in the declaration of the Full Divinity of the Holy Spirit and the adoption of the third paragraph of the ‘Nicene’ Creed. In a three page essay:

1. Describe the theological issues concerning the Spirit’s divinity at the time of the First Council of Constantinople, the extent to which they were resolved, and how.

2. Identify the ongoing theological implications of the First Council of Constantinople for contemporary pneumatology. Include in your answer appropriate consideration of the doctrine of divine providence.

*********

MY ANSWER:

There can be no greater support for Prosper of Aquitaine’s dictum “legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi” than that provided by the study of the history of Christian thought. From the time of our Lord onward, we find believers struggling to come to intellectual terms with what they see, hear and believe—with what they already practice. The biblical narrative itself clearly illustrates and supports a belief in the divinity of Christ long before any definitive creedal statement on the matter (this is perhaps most easily illustrated in John’s gospel and in the letters of Paul where Christ is so frequently invoked along side the Father). That creedal statement, with the Creed of Caesarea serving as a basis, was produced and promulgated by the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. and portions of it are intimately familiar to Episcopalians. Yet, the Creed as we know it did not take shape until several decades later at the First Council of Constantinople (381), hence it is also known as the Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan Creed.

All things being fulfilled in their time, the time was ripe in 325 for a clear statement of Christology, of Christ’s divinity and relationship with the Father. At the time however, little theological reflection had taken place on the role or character of the Holy Spirit, as such pneumatology was not sufficiently developed to support a clear statement of belief, and as such the authors at first Nicea left us with as much of an affirmation as they were prepared for, i.e. “And [we believe] in the Holy Spirit.”[1]

When there is not clarity there is variety; this was certainly the case in regards to beliefs about the Holy Spirit in the interim between Nicea and Constantinople. Despite their defeat at the Council in 325 Arians remained a force within the Church. Post-Nicea the Nicene party who supported the formulation that the son was homoousia sought rapprochement with the semiarian party that favored the term homoiousia, indeed, compromises at Synod in 362 put the two groups on a path toward settlement—one which Athanasius, the great defender of the Nicene cause, was able to see beginning during his correspondence with Basil of Ancyra, a leader among the semiarian party, toward the end of his life.

The foundation for the final resolution of this controversy however, was laid by the subsequent generation of theologians, particularly the three leaders known as the Cappadocian Fathers: Basil of Caesarea, his friend Gregory of Nazianzus and younger brother Gregory of Nyssa. Their task involved a difficult work of clarification and differentiation. Because of the ambiguity of the words ousia and hypostasis—used as synonyms in philosophical literature and even at Nicea—both of which could refer both to “the individual subsistence of a thing as well as to the common essence of which all the members of the same species participate,” a great deal of disagreement had emerged over the decades.[2] For instance, Origen could never have affirmed the Nicene formula that stated the Son was of the same substance as the Father for he “understood homoousios to designate co-ordinate members of a single class, beings sharing the same properties,” and the gnostics he had so ably argued against believed that the souls of the holy were of the same substance as God, leading him to perceive such an affirmation as a belief that God was subject to the possibility of change or corruption, something Origen could never countence, and important element in the debate since the Nicene and anti-Nicene parties could in certain terms be seen as left-wing and right-wing Origenists, suffering in the same semantic confusion as their predecessor.[3]

The first step toward clarity offered by the Cappadocians was the strict definition of hypostasis “as the individual subsistence of a thing,” and the use “of ousia to refer to the essence that is common to the various members of a species,”[4] hence the Trinity is defined as three individual subsistences participating in one essence or three persons in one substance. Such clarification offered the chance for fruitful debate and set the path forward in Christian theology.

Despite the great benefit offered by the clarity of the Cappadocian definitions, there was still a great deal of disagreement surrounding the nature of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit’s relationship to the Father. Basil understood this, and knew that it was pointless to defeat the Arians in the realm of Christology only to succumb to the Pneumatomachians, who were “Arian” in regards to the Spirit—i.e. they argued that the Spirit was a creature and not co-eternal or co-equal to the Father—in the realm of Pneumatology. Basil demonstrates the connection between the issue of Arianism and the Pneumatomachi in that his published work Against Eunomius (an Arian) in the third book, where he affirms and attempts to prove the Divinity of the Spirit. His most extensive work on this subject was his treatise On the Holy Spirit, which was written in response to criticism of his liturgical changes.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Basil’s effort to affirm the divinity of the Holy Spirit is the role that prayer and liturgy played. Basil altered the Caesarian liturgy, specifically the doxology, that had stated “Glory be to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Ghost,” which he altered to state “Glory be to the Father, with the Son, jointly with the Holy Ghost.”[5] Basil justified this change theologically on the grounds of the Baptismal formula; his argument can be summarized thusly: “If saving regeneration begins through baptism in the name of Father, Son and Spirit, with name in the singular, then Father, Son, and Spirit form a coordinate series, with all three sharing equal rank.” Indeed, as Jaroslav Pelikan notes (as a generalization), quoting Hans Lietzmann in Credo, “It is indisputable that the root of all creeds is the formula of belief pronounced by the baptized, or pronounced in his hearing and assented to by him, before his baptism.”[6]

Though Basil died (c. 379) shortly before First Constantinople, his work was carried forward by his friend and brother, Gregory of Nazianzus and Gregory of Nyssa. The success of his arguments is strikingly illustrated by the virtual end of the Arian controversies at the first Council of Constantinople shortly after his death.[7]

The ongoing implications of the decisions of First Constantinople are manifold, not least in the West because of the charge that the filioque creates a hierarchy in the Trinity, at least implicitly lessening the status of the Holy Spirit, and ecumenical opinion seems to favor a version or modification of the Eastern view, i.e. sans filioque and its negative accretions.[8] There is no doubt that the most direct way that the Council of Constantinople affects us currently in the Episcopal Church, as well as in the other liturgical Churches that recite the Nicene Creed on a regular basis, is in its addition of the third paragraph to the Creed itself.

It has been noted that people often limit their concept of the work of the spirit to the process of sanctification, and it is certainly a true and important aspect of the Spirit’s work. And yet, as the Creed demonstrates, this is not the limit of the Spirit’s role. The Creed affirms that the Holy Spirit is Lord and the giver of life—the Spirit in other words is that aspect of God’s triune being which gives life to the lifeless; the Spirit is called our advocate and comforter in scripture. In Acts the Spirit descends upon the fledgling church in tongues of fire and in the Gospel of John, Christ breaths on the disciples and says “receive the Holy Spirit” (possible biblical support for the filioque.) The Holy Spirit is that Person of the Trinity which inspired the prophets, speaking through them the words of God, and like the Father and the Son he is to be worshiped and glorified.

Whether one accepts the filioque or not, the intimate connection between the Persons of the Trinity cannot be denied. Indeed, wherever one Person of the Trinity is, the other two are there also because of the perfect harmony of the Godhead. The Perichoresis in which the Trinity exists is such that the Persons are indivisible even as they are individual. Through the testimony of Scripture and the Creed we see that the Spirit is the giver of live—God breaths life into Adam, and the Spirit (breath/spirit—ruach in Hebrew) animates the earth creature. Indeed, the Spirit of God as the Person of the Trinity sent to inhabit and imbue the Church both corporately and individually, is intimately involved in the fulfillment of God’s divine purposes, the eschatological summing up of all things.

God’s providence is such that it can embrace his will both for the entirety of creation and for the individual soul without differentiation. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is a God who desires to dwell with his people, to redeem them from their sins and restore creation which groans for redemption. The Work of the Spirit is therefore unitive, restorative and sanctifying. The Spirit is unitive as it indwells the believer, offering strength and sustenance. The Spirit is restorative as the Comforter who heals the people of God from their self-inflicted wounds and is sanctifying as the giver of all good gifts (charismata) which testify to the Kingdom of God and its power in our world. The Providence and provision of God is such that the Spirit works out the salvation of the individual and the restoration of the cosmos through its indwelling power, restoring all things to relationship with the creator and allowing participation in the very life of the Triune God.

Bibliography

Bettenson, Henry, and Chris Maunder, eds. Documents of the Christian Church. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Cross, F.L., and E.A. Livingstone, eds. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Third Revised ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Gonzalez, Justo L. A History of Christian Thought: From the Beginnings to the Council of Chalcedon. Vol. I. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1987.
Hastings, Adrian, Alistair Mason, and Hugh Pyper, eds. The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought: Intellectual, Spiritual, and Moral Horizons of Christianity. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Pelikan, Jaroslav. Credo. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.
Williams, Rowan. Arius : Heresy and Tradition / Rowan Williams. Rev. ed. ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2002.

[1] Henry Bettenson and Chris Maunder, eds., Documents of the Christian Church (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 27-28.
[2] Justo L. Gonzalez, A History of Christian Thought: From the Beginnings to the Council of Chalcedon, vol. I (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1987), 287.
[3] Rowan Williams, Arius : Heresy and Tradition / Rowan Williams, Rev. ed. ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2002), 135.
[4] Gonzalez, A History of Christian Thought: From the Beginnings to the Council of Chalcedon, 287.
[5] Ibid., 309.
[6] Jaroslav Pelikan, Credo (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 382-83.
[7] F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Third Revised ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 167.
[8] Adrian Hastings, Alistair Mason, and Hugh Pyper, eds., The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought: Intellectual, Spiritual, and Moral Horizons of Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, {2000), 305.

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Theology of the Body/Vocatum: Re-visiting Brokeback, for the sake of re-maining hip

My father, like the cowboys in the Brokeback film, knows that forces of nature are as strong and sudden and driving as wind and rain and the procreative instincts of animals, and that they can be just as deadly. Nature can break the back of the weak and leave it for dead. And it is not love.

An insightful review of the film that has come to represent so much of the culture wars.

{Read it all}

Now playing: [I've Been Delivered~The Wallflowers~iTunes Originals - The Wallflowers~4:59]

Last year: From Lutheran Bishop Obare

The Most Reverend Walter Obare Omwanza
The Presiding Bishop of
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya (ELCK)
Gothenburg, Sweden,
February 5th, 2005

WHY ARE WE HERE TODAY?

The date of February 5, 2005 will have it’s permanent place in the future history of Lutheranism. On this very day, The Mission Province of Sweden received the first Bishop in the person of Arne Olsson, an assurance of two more bishops in the very near future. On this same day Lutheran Christians in the Lutheran Churches in Sweden and Finland received newly ordained pastors who are to serve them with the Word of God and the Holy Sacraments. In all this that we have accomplished here in Gothenburg, the passage of the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians has, once again been realized, “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men” Eph. 4:8.

This date of February 5th, 2005, naturally raises the question, why are we here having arrived from various parts of the wide world? Why us, from Africa, Eastern Europe, Germany, Scandinavia and North America? This question can be addressed to us even with a certain degree of indignation. The same question can also be asked out of perplexity and embarrassment. But we should not forget either, that there are Lutheran Christians in Sweden and Finland who can answer this question with the deepest thankfulness. Their prayers have been heard as was heard the request from Macedonia to St. Paul: “Come over and help us!” (Acts 16:9). We have not come to Gothenburg out of frivolous love of adventure. I want to make the reasons of our coming very clear to all who, for one reason or another, raise this question.

1. We are here demanded by the Christian love and solidarity. Time and time again, the motivation for my resolution to come over and help Lutheran Christians in Sweden and Finland has been expressed in the words of St. Paul in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, concerning the well-being of the mystical body of Christ, the church, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it” (1 Cor. 12:26). This was also my Biblical reply to the letter of the Primate of the Lutheran Church of Sweden a full year ago, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.” My decision to take this step has not been an easy one. I have struggled with this call. But a call it is, a call from God. I did not make my decision lightly. How many times have I been tempted to listen to well-meaning advice not to come here! I have received an abundance of such advice. Yet, my conscience is in bondage to the truth. I have received my Episcopal office in a Lutheran Church to serve the divine truth and Christian love. Christian Biblical truth and love cannot be insensitive in the presence of suffering. This suffering has been felt even on other continents and this is the reason why we are here. The state of emergency among our Lutheran brothers and sisters in Europe, especially in Scandinavia, has been heard and felt. This state of emergency is not an issue of yesterday. Indeed, it has been an open wound in the Lutheran body for decades, at least since 1983 when the 1958 clause of conscience was abrogated in Sweden after an intense and politically well-orchestrated media campaign.1 What is worse, such a clause was never adopted in Finland.2 What this meant in practice was that Lutheran Christians have been denied their fundamental Christian freedom to attend apostolic services in their churches. Instead, various attempts have been made to force them to church services that are not conducted according to the Bible and according to the order handed down to us by the Apostles of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I speak out openly. In Africa and in other parts of the world, we completely fail to comprehend this kind of rigid ecclesiastical tyranny in the age global human rights, including the freedom of religion and worship. Civil and church regimes that resort to coercion and even tyranny are never promoting a good cause, on the contrary. As long ago as the 17th century, England left the tyranny of the kind Archbishop William Laud 3 pursued, seeking watertight ecclesiastical uniformity by unscrupulous, merciless, worldly means. Germany has left behind the years when the Prussian king even used troops to crush the peaceful resistance of his Lutheran subjects who could not accept church union with Protestants whose teachings ruined the Lutheran doctrine. 4 Scandinavia should have left this kind of tyranny against Christian consciences far behind in the 19th century when governments, laws, state-church bishops and diocesan chapters persecuted in many and various ways popular Lutheran revivals in the Nordic countries.

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Swedish traditionalists

Biskopsvigning800X600

Since I posted the Church of England’s response to the moral revisionism within the Church of Sweden, I thought I would post a link to the “Mission Province,” the Swedish Lutheran equivalent to the Anglican Mission in America or the Anglican Communion Network. Last year Bishop Obare of the Evangelical Lutheran church in Kenya crossed territorial boundaries to ordain Arne Olsson Bishop for the missionary province.

Give them a visit

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Church of England response to the Church of Sweden’s approach to same-sex couples

The Church of England Responds to the Church of Sweden’s statements concerning same-sex partnerships:

A Response from the Faith and Order Advisory Group to the decisions of the Swedish Church Assembly concerning homosexual partnerships


In 2002 the Theological Committee of the Church of Sweden produced a discussion document entitled Homosexuals in the Church. As part of our relationship with the Church of Sweden under the Porvoo agreement, the Faith and Order Advisory Group (FOAG) was invited to comment on this document and a response by the Revd Canon Professor Oliver O’Donovan and The Revd Dr Jeremy Morris was sent to Sweden in 2004 on behalf of FOAG.

In October 2005 the Church Board of the Church of Sweden submitted to the Swedish Church Assembly a further document entitled Life Together and on the basis of this further document the Church of Sweden adopted a new official policy on homosexual partnerships. This new policy and the document underlying it raise important issues for our relationship with the Church of Sweden. Once again FOAG was invited by the Church of Sweden to respond and Professor O’Donovan and Dr Morris produced a further document which was sent to Sweden in January. The text of this second response is given below. It is hoped that this exchange will take its place in an ongoing dialogue between the Church of England and the Church of Sweden on the issues that it raises.

These recent developments in the Church of Sweden are part of a wider pattern of developments in relation to homosexuality, in a number of churches, that have raised serious issues for the Church of England’s ecumenical relationships. In order to think about these issues in their proper theological context, FOAG has initiated a major piece of work. This will look at the questions of what it means for the Church of England to be in communion with another church and how that communion might be affected by different approaches to ethical issues.

In addition to be being made available to members of the General Synod and sent to all the Anglican and Lutheran Churches of the Porvoo Agreement, the document below has been placed on the Council for Christian Unity’s section of the Church of England’s website www.cofe.anglican.org/info/ccu

The Revd Prebendary Dr Paul Avis

General Secretary: Council for Christian Unity

Church House

London SW1P 3NZ

27 January 2006
The Swedish Church Assembly decisions on homosexual partnerships

1. The nature of the decisions:

Two decisions were taken by the Swedish Church Assembly on October 27th 2005 on the recommendation of their Governing Board. They were: (a) the approval of four “statements”; (b) the insertion of a new paragraph in the Church Order conferring on the Church Board power to issue rules on the wording and use for an order of service for the blessing of registered partnerships.

(a) The four statements were as follows:-

It is not permissible to condemn the homosexual individual or place a burden of guilt on homosexual orientation;
The Church shall actively work to counteract discrimination of individuals on the grounds of sexual orientation;
The Church of Sweden should not sanction or run organised activities with the aim of “curing” homosexuals of their sexual orientation;
Homosexual orientation, or a life in partnership, does not constitute grounds for refusing ordination for service in the Church.
The first two of these are statements of principle, aimed at setting standards for pastoral care of homosexual persons, their scope limited to orientation (not practice) and to individuals (not couples). The second two are concrete decisions, one forbidding church involvement in adjustment-therapy, the other forbidding the church to treat homosexual orientation as an obstacle to ordination, and adding, as in parenthesis, “or a life in partnership”. All the material in these statements derives from the Theological Committee’s discussion document, Homosexuals in the Church (2002), which was circulated for discussion in parishes and dioceses. The fourth statement, however, taken out of its explanatory context in Homosexuals in the Church, assumes a more decisive sense than the Theological Committee gave it, which was simply that homosexual orientation or involvement in partnership should not imply exclusion a limine from ordination, but that “the homosexual person should be tested in the same way as other candidates”, leaving open the question of what kind of tests might be appropriate. The documentation of the Assembly’s decision never qualifies the position in this way, and leaves it to be supposed that a partnership will be sexually active.

(b) The second decision goes beyond the conclusions reached in Homosexuals in the Church, which found too wide a disagreement on the subject to be able to make a recommendation. In the document submitted by the Church Board to accompany its recommendations to the Assembly, Life Together (2005), a “well founded” disagreement was acknowledged, but it was argued that a “common ethical basis” could make such a disagreement tolerable. The blessing of partnerships was thus “compatible with the faith, creed and doctrine of the Church of Sweden”. No priest should be obliged to perform such a service of blessing, but it would be the duty of the Rector of a parish to ensure that a priest was available to conduct it, extending existing “right to marriage” provisions to include registered partnerships. The Church Board will now determine the order for the blessing of a partnership, having sought an “opinion”, which it is required to consider, from the House of Bishops. There will be a process of “evaluation” of the rite while it is in use. The new rite will supersede an existing form, authorised in 1995 as a pastoral office of prayer with registered partners and extended in 1999 to allow the attendance of a congregation. It will not have the effect of constituting the partnership, as a marriage service in the Church of Sweden may, but of blessing a partnership made by civil procedures, analogous to the blessing of a civil marriage.

Life Together acknowledged that “critical views” had been presented by “various ecumenical partners”, referring in particular to other Swedish churches, but argued that to wait for ecumenical consensus must mean “paralysis”. The reaction to the decision from the Church of Sweden’s ecumenical partners, including other Porvoo churches, has been stormy.

2. Moral-Ecclesiological issues:

In its reply to Homosexuals in the Church the Faith and Order Advisory Group of the Church of England expressed two anxieties among others: that there was insufficient clarity about how homosexuality was to be understood; and, that with too little acknowledgment of the role of the church as a moral community, the formula of “reconciled diversity” was invoked too quickly, and without the necessary ecumenical qualifications, to justify persisting in a course which put the integrity and unity of the Swedish church at risk. A course of action taken on the basis of such disagreements could hardly, it seemed, command the authority of an act undertaken in faith by the body of Christ led by the Holy Spirit. To these concerns there must now be added further concern at the speed with which this highly unresolved discussion in Homosexuals in the Church was brought to final decision and the basis on which the disagreement was disregarded as an obstacle. Life Together held that disagreement was tolerable, “provided that the common ethical basis is clear and explicit”. Following a distinction drawn from the work of the theologian Gustav Wingren, it argued that love is “the fixed point” in the order of creation, and that existing institutions and orders are “moveable”.

But that formula was surely not intended to mean that the use of the term “love” would itself be sufficient to ensure community of ethical outlook in the face of any possible substantial disagreement. Love, in the universal tradition of Christian ethics, responds to the unfolding of God’s love in creation, redemption and new creation, and is embodied in forms of mutual service that attest the wholeness and healing of the created order. To agree about love is to agree about its possible forms of embodiment. What conduct authentically embodies Christian love in the Church of Sweden’s view, and what conduct fails to embody it? How much weight is to be given to the traditional principles of Natural Law and to the commands of the Decalogue and the Sermon on the Mount? Much more unfolding of this pregnant formula is needed before it can be appealed to in support of the claim that the Swedish church, notwithstanding its far-reaching differences of moral judgment, has a “clear and explicit” common ethical basis.

Different circumstances call for different judgments; and a variety of emphasis in the evaluations Christians make of concrete situations can contribute to the wholeness of the judgment of the whole church. One Christian community should certainly not expect to see eye to eye with another on every specific issue, nor to make the same decisions in every concrete circumstance. But an underlying community of Christian moral outlook cannot simply be taken for granted. It requires more than a perfunctory mention if it is to be sustained in the face of concrete disagreements that tend of their very nature to raise disturbing doubts and suspicions. A community making a controversial decision carries a burden of responsibility to ensure that its reasoning is well understood, and understood to be Christian reasoning, even if it does not command immediate agreement. It needs to assure its critics that its actions are founded on a Spirit-given discernment of the application of the Gospel to its situation, not on submission to the moral fashions or ideologies of the age. In this case that would seem to require a much more painstaking exploration of the place of human sexuality in the purposes of God, open to wider questions and relating them to the doctrines of creation and redemption under the guidance of the whole teaching of the Bible about the will and acts of God. Without such an exploration it must be impossible to judge how extensive or how tractable the disagreements presenting themselves within the Church of Sweden are likely to prove, let alone think constructively about how they may be overcome.

3. Ecumenical-Ecclesiological Issues:

The Church of Sweden is by no means alone in having to face divisive pastoral and theological questions about homosexuality. The churches of the worldwide Anglican Communion are in the same position. It is not necessary to rehearse here the disagreements surrounding the resolutions of the Lambeth Conference of 1998 and attempts made since, most recently by the Primates meeting at Dromantine in 2005, to make progress towards a united approach. Since the authority of the Lambeth Conference is not at issue in relation to the Swedish Church, the problems posed by this decision are not symmetrical with problems arising from within the Anglican Communion itself. Nevertheless, they pose significant difficulties for the Church of England, bound on the one hand to the Anglican Communion through the Lambeth Conference and the other Instruments of Unity and on the other to the Church of Sweden through the Porvoo Agreement.

Given the similarity of the questions we face, the Church of England can sympathise with the pastoral motivations prompting the first two statements approved by the Assembly. Interpreted with the same care that is evident in their drafting, they could serve to foster a common spirit of constructive charity in the same way that they united the signatories to Homosexuals in the Church. On the third statement it may be observed that while there exist obvious targets for this condemnation, it runs the risk of condemning at the same time responsible therapeutic ministries suitable for certain kinds of case, and of begging some of the important underlying questions of principle. It is with the fourth statement, however, taken together with the Assembly’s second decision to authorise a rite for blessing of registered partnerships, that the Church of Sweden embarks on a course sharply divergent from that adopted by the Anglican Communion and by the House of Bishops of the Church of England. While nothing is said here to undermine the ecclesiology of ministerial order at the heart of the Porvoo agreement, it inevitably implies an unwelcome new limit on the interchangeability of ministries, since a Swedish priest in a registered partnership wishing to minister in the Church of England would be required, within the terms of the Overseas and Other Clergy Measure, to live according to the disciplines of the Church of England and would therefore have to expect to be asked for assurances that his or her relationship was consistent with the teaching set out in Issues in Human Sexuality.

The Church of England has obligations of loyalty to the processes and disciplines of the Anglican Communion on this matter. It also has obligations of loyalty, shared with the Church of Sweden, to a constructive process of building on the Porvoo Agreement and strengthening the fellowship of its members. Central to that fellowship was a commitment “to establish appropriate forms of collegial and conciliar consultation on significant matters of faith and order, life and work” (Porvoo Declaration, Commitment B8.) It was not, of course, the sole responsibility of the Church of Sweden to implement this commitment; nevertheless, the level of consultation prior to a major decision of importance both for Faith and Order and for Life and Work, fell short of what any reader of the Porvoo commitments would have expected. The Church of England received Homosexuals in the Church in 2004, two years after its publication, and a response was sent by the Faith and Order Advisory Group in the same year. Further communication over that response is still awaited. The refusal of the Governing Board to countenance delay while ecumenical partners’ objections might be considered was in itself disappointing; even more disappointing was the complete silence about Porvoo and its commitments in the advice the Governing Board gave to the Church Assembly. However, the Church of England welcomes a further invitation to respond to the decision now taken, and hopes that it will afford an occasion to discuss matters of concern in greater depth than hitherto. It is not clear whether this will be in time to influence the form of the rite to be published or the preliminary opinion to be prepared by the Swedish House of Bishops. For reasons to be elaborated below, it is very much to be hoped so.

The FOAG response to Homosexuals in the Church indicated that nothing in such a decision, which was then only hypothetical, would in and of itself alter the relation in which the two partners to the Porvoo Agreement stood to each other. But it also warned that it could well create difficulties in the implementation and further development of the Agreement. Subsequently, Life Together appeared to regard ecumenical difficulties as more or less inevitable and not worth spending time over. This creates a further danger that division will be worsened by an impression that the Swedish Church has taken all too lightly, and on its own, a decision with heavy implications for the whole oikoumenê, and not least for its Porvoo partners. But even if no special problems were raised for the Porvoo churches by decision (and responses have shown that the Church of England is not alone among them in finding it difficult), ecumenical understanding must go forward multilaterally as well as bilaterally, and the anxieties of other churches, not least those of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic communions, need to be weighed seriously in the course of deliberation and responded to with due care and respect.

4. The Theology of Marriage

There remains the question of the liturgy for blessing gay partnerships, still to be devised. Its content could be decisive in determining how serious an ecumenical block was put in the way of future relations.

Much will turn on how closely it is to resemble the form of Christian marriage. The Church of England, both in response to the Government’s policy consultation on the Civil Partnerships Act and in the House of Bishops’ guidelines on clergy in civil partnerships, has stressed the difference between partnership and marriage. As the Archbishop of Canterbury has stated: “It doesn’t presuppose there is a sexual relationship, it doesn’t presuppose that there is…what we would call, as Christians, a marriage.”[1] This position has not been without its critics, but it makes some important moral distinctions. The difficulties the Church of England finds with the new rite are likely to be much greater if it implies an equivalence between a registered partnership and marriage, whether marriage is understood simply as a created ordinance or as a sacramental image of the union of Christ and the church. They will also be much greater if it suggests that the church’s act of blessing a partnership is equivalent to the nuptial blessing, or that the homosexual orientation is an original gift of God in the unfallen order of creation.

A liturgy which, it is asserted, will express the “faith, creed and doctrine” of the Church of Sweden, needs to be unquestionably at one with the faith of the ecumenical creeds which the Porvoo partners share. The theological exposition in Life Together (which has not as such been endorsed by the Assembly) lays especial weight on the nature of blessing as an act and draws a direct comparison between the blessing of a partnership and the blessing of a marriage. In arguing for the extension of the concept of sacramentality to gay partnerships, it comments: “Here the distinction between what belongs to creation and what belongs to salvation loses its significance.” In what we hope will quickly become a much improved level of communication, the Church of England will wish to press the point that major doctrinal issues, not only ethical ones, are at stake in judgments of this kind.

[OMTO’D/JM] [12/01/2006]

[1] BBC Radio 5 Live, Dec. 6th 2005. http://www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/page.cfm?ID=73

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Frank Schaeffer: “Stripped of Spiritual Comfort” from Orthodoxy Today

Its sad, but it helps to know that Episcopalians aren’t the only one’s dealing with a church heirarchy with more to say than thought to back it up.

Stripped of Spiritual Comfort
Frank Schaeffer
No endorsement implied.

Orthodox Peace Fellowship robs peace of military parents.

A few weeks ago my wife, Genie, and I got the news that our Marine son, John, would shortly be deployed to the Middle East. He is gone to war now. We have been dreading this moment. We don’t dare go for a walk. What if he should call? I wake with a sickening jolt each dawn. Genie is quieter than usual. I snap at her over small things. The ground feels brittle under my feet. My one comfort has been prayer and church. Now I’m feeling forlorn even about going to church.

I am a member of the Greek Orthodox Church. Some Orthodox Christians calling themselves “The Council for the Orthodox Peace Fellowship in North America” have circulated an antiwar declaration harshly condemning the U.S. government’s policies in Iraq. In this “peace statement” the authors call all soldiers who kill in battle murderers, no matter what the cause. They accuse our country of using “any means” to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

I don’t agree with the authors, and I believe they have simplistically misrepresented the teachings of my church. But that is not the point. They are entitled to say or believe anything they want, as individuals and private citizens.

I am saddened because so many of my bishops and priests have signed this antiwar statement in the name of my church and my God. They have dragged not only my church but Jesus into their stand against our government and the war in Iraq.

This last bit could have been written about any nymber of things the Episcopal Church USA has done recently. Spiritual arrogance comes to mind.

{read it all}
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