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Friday, August 01, 2008

Lambeth rant

The Lambeth Conference is almost over and this will probably be my last post on the subject. I'm not sure why it's captured my interest so, but I'd guess there are reasons I can't articulate. Anyway, I wanted to mention two things that have struck me about the conference. Warning - this is kind of a rant :)

The first thing is represented by a post at America magazine's blog by Austen Ivereigh - Anglicans look to the Roman Umpire. The post is about the influence that the Catholic Church has had on the Lambeth Conference and about how, ironically through approaching schism, the Anglican Church appears to be getting closer to the Catholic Church. Here's just a bit of it ....

[...] Consider this: Cardinal Kasper’s is the third address by a cardinal to this Lambeth Conference – the previous two were by Cardinals Ivan Dias and Cormac Murphy-O’Connor. The Vatican team has been 10 strong: in addition to Kasper and Dias, there have been two Catholic archbishops, four bishops and two monsignors. Also attending have been Fr Timothy Radcliffe, the former master-general of the Dominicans, and Fr Guido Dotti, a monk of the ecumenical Italian monastery in Bose, Italy (where Dr Rowan Williams is a regular guest).

In other words, the number of Catholic guests present and giving papers at this Lambeth far outstrips any previous, and is an indication of the intense involvement of the Catholic Church in the Anglican drama.

The clever headline in this week’s Tablet above an article by Victoria Combe audaciously sums it up: ‘Rise of the Roman Umpire’ .

Faced with ecclesiological meltdown, the Anglican Church – with the Archbishop of Canterbury out in front -- has turned to the Catholic Church for guidance, wanting at least some of what holds Catholics together.

And here’s the irony. As Anglicans have plunged down a path which makes unity with Rome ever more improbable, a crisis has been triggered which has caused the Anglican Church to want to become more like the Catholic Church ....

I think there are a number of Anglicans who might disagree with the statement - a crisis has been triggered which has caused the Anglican Church to want to become more like the Catholic Church - and not all of them would be Americans or Canadians. But I digress. Hey, I'm a Catholic .... shouldn't I be thrilled that the Anglicans want to be just like us? I'm not thrilled, I'm actually pretty sad. Why? Because I'm a Catholic, yes, but before that, I'm a Christian. I know I'm atypical but what that means to me is trying to be friends with Jesus with the least amount of guilt and shame I can manage. And that leads me to the second thing I wanted to talk about ....

This second thing is represented by a blog post about Lambeth from Canadians at Canterbury - Rivers of Bishops. The author of this post mentions that after a day at the Lambeth Conference, he attended a talk given by the Revd Dr. Richard Burridge, Dean of King's College, London. Here's a little of the post .....

[...] He gave an excellent presentation comparing and contrasting the debates over slavery, apartheid, and sexuality in the Christian community. His argument was not that these debates were interchangeable, but rather that the same strategies and claims with respect to biblical authority by both sides have been used in all three instances. Specifically, those who argued in defence of slavery and apartheid relied on clear biblical texts and solid exegesis in defence of their positions, and accused their opponents of undermining the authority of the bible through adopting secular innovations.

The discussion following the presentation was equally illuminating. The first audience member to speak, a bishop from India, pointed out that even discussing sexuality in his culture was taboo. Given this, he asked what "the west" was "prepared to sacrifice" in order to respond to realities such as this. The most cogent and moving responses actually came from another audience member, likewise an Indian bishop, who said that perhaps the real problem was the taboo in discussing sexuality, especially given the largely undiscussed problem of the abuse and exploitation of girls and women in that country. He challenged his colleagues to take the lead in breaking the taboo. Another audience member, a priest from Uganda, talked of his courageous ministry to gays and lesbians in Kampala; for which he was removed from his parish post. He identified the problem as one of theological education in Africa, and challenged North Americans and Europeans to offer themselves as educators of those seeking a deeper understanding of the scriptures in the poorer nations of the world .....

I found online the same lecture mentioned above, Being Biblical?, given by Dr. Burridge, but in 2007 (I think it's given annually), at this page, and I thought I'd just post one part of it, a part about Jesus ....


Jesus' teaching

If you ask most people about Jesus of Nazareth, we find what Goldsmith terms the 'common assumption that Jesus was primarily, or most importantly, a teacher of morality.' [29] Yet, amazingly, the gospels do not portray Jesus as just a teacher of morality. Furthermore, to read them as ethical treatises or for moral guidance is to make a genre mistake, for that is not what they are. They are biographical portraits of Jesus which do include some examples of his teaching. However, Jesus' ethical teaching is not a separate and discrete set of moral maxims, but part of his main proclamation of the kingdom of God as God's reign and sovereignty are recognized in the here and now. Such preaching is primarily intended to elicit a whole-hearted response from his hearers to live as disciples within the community of others who also respond and follow, more than to provide moral instructions to be obeyed. When he touched upon the major human moral experiences, such as money, sex, power, violence, and so forth, Jesus intensified the demands of the Law with his rigorous ethic of renunciation and self-denial. However, at the same time his central stress on love and forgiveness opened the community to the very people who had moral difficulties in these areas. Therefore, as befits a biographical narrative, we must now turn from Jesus' teaching to confront this paradox in his activity and behaviour.

Jesus' example

Jesus' demanding ethical teaching on things like money, sex and power should require very high standards from those around him, with the result that ordinary fallible human beings would find him uncomfortable. However, when we turn from his words to the biographical narrative of his activity, the converse is true. It is religious leaders and guardians of morality who found him uncomfortable, while he keeps company with all sorts of sinners - precisely the people who are not keeping his demanding ethic. He is criticized as 'a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners' (Matt. 11.19 // Luke 7.34). He accepts people just as they are and proclaims that they are forgiven without the need to go to the temple or offer sacrifice. His healing ministry is directed towards such people and the eucharistic words at the Last Supper suggest that he saw his forthcoming death as being 'for' them. A biographical approach means that it is not enough simply to look at Jesus' words and moral teachings; to be properly biblical involves facing the paradox that he delivers his ethical teaching in the company of sinners whom he accepts, loves and heals. Furthermore, a major purpose of ancient biography was mimesis, the practice of imitation, of following the subject's virtues. This is reinforced by the Jewish habit of ma'aseh, precedence, where the disciple is expected to observe and imitate his master as a way of imitating Torah and ultimately becoming holy as God is holy. Therefore, to imitate Jesus, it is not enough simply to extract his ethical teaching from the Sermon on the Mount; we must also imitate his loving acceptance of others, especially the marginalized, within an open and inclusive community.


At the Lambeth Conference, the conservative Anglicans justified their homophobia and sexism by saying they are following Jesus. My church does the same. I don't even remotely recognize their Jesus.


Blogger cowboyangel said...

It's been interesting reading your reports, Crystal.

I really don't know what's going to happen to the Anglican Church.

He gave an excellent presentation comparing and contrasting the debates over slavery, apartheid, and sexuality in the Christian community. . . . the same strategies and claims with respect to biblical authority by both sides have been used in all three instances.

That's what I was hinting at in Kaspar's comments on the ordination of women.

But I think there's an important issue here in terms of homosexuality.

I'm going to offer a theory on what may be happening, which shouldn't be read as what I think about the subject.

I don't think one can logically form a progression of thought between slavery, apartheid and homosexuality. As far as I can remember, if you DIDN'T have slaves in the Bible, you weren't practicing an "abomination." I'm sure that some Anglicans and other Christians ARE justifying their homophobia by saying they are following Jesus. But I don't know if it's fair to tar everyone that way. The portrayal of homosexuality in Scripture is pretty severe. My guess is that Anglicans and other Christians feel like if you accept what seems to them one of the worst sins, then you are basically rejecting Scripture altogether. It's really an existential threat to the Bible itself and their entire concept of Truth. If the Church accepts homosexuality as being okay, then there's really nothing these people can fall back on anymore.

I think that's why the topic is so heated. In the end, it's a line in the sand for these people over Scripture. One could handle moving away from slavery - after a lot of awful justification - because it wasn't regarded in the same way. Much more so than slavery or ordaining women, homosexuality - right or wrong - is seen as one of the ultimate sins. The next step is simply taking Jesus off the cross and replacing him with Satan.

Now, that may not be a rational way of looking at Scripture and of the world at large, but I do think it's how many people see it. Again, the ultimate issue may not even be about homosexuality - it's a life or death matter over the Bible itself.

And, for others, the tradition of the Church. But I don't think that argument penetrates as deeply for some people as that of rejecting Scripture. Tradition of men can change and be fluid. The Word of God, for these people, cannot.

Obviously, there's also a lot of cultural history towards homosexuals involved, as well as personal psychology, ignorance, and simple nastiness of some people. But I don't think one should assume that's the case with all of the people engaged on the other side of this schism.

They are basically being challenged to re-think everything they've ever know or believed. That's not easy. In fact, the older they are, the less likely they will be to do so.

All of this to say, I'm not surprised the intensity of what's going on in the Anglican Church right now. And I don't think it's going to help matters by people on each side dismissing each other with terms like liberal or conservative, or accusations of either homophobia or sexual immorality. Trying to find paths of openness and mutual understanding would seem - to me, at least - more the way of Christ.

8:45 AM  
Blogger Liam said...


Nice post -- I especially like the Burridge quotes on Jesus.


I certainly see that a lot of people in whatever Christian Church who are opposed to whatever form of support of homosexuality may think the way you're explaining, but I don't think the slavery/apartheid/homosexuality comparison is that far off. Yes, according to Leviticus homosexuality was an abomination, but so was eating shrimp. What is their focus and why are obsessed with Levitical law and some sentences from Paul that can be variously interpreted.

Here's Biblical integrity for you, straight from the mouth of Jesus:
"If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to (the) poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."[Matt 19:21].

I don't see them dismantling capitalism. If they're worried about following what the Bible said, they should start with the Gospel.

9:22 AM  
Blogger Liam said...

Sorry if I sounded too angry. I appreciate the difficulty of change and I think ancient institutions' slowness to change is positive in a lot of ways -- it keeps them from just changing with intellectual and theological fashions.

I just am very tired of the obsession of different churches with sexuality -- whether it's "Humanae Vitae" or the fact that attitudes towards homosexuality can tear apart the Anglicans or drive them farther from communion with Rome. It seems to be based on exclusion, which is the farthest thing from the message of Christ.

There must be respect for the sensibilities of people of a more conservative bent, especially when it comes to developing nations which can be very socially conservative and at the same time understandably bitter towards the way the West treats them. But still, I get impatient with people thumbing through the Bible to find out who we're supposed to hate.

9:32 AM  
Blogger Jack said...

Crystal, sometimes I think we reverse our thinking on sexuality and the Church. Most seem to say, because of certain theological reasons, the Church developed a strong anti-sexual tilt and the idea of the superiority of celibacy.

I reverse this in my analysis. Certain historical, not necessarily theological events, led to a celibate power structure in the Church. This power structure then finds theological reasons for demeaning sexuality and defending their own position as celebates, thus protecting their own power base.

I have written before that the church's, almost perverse , position on sex is exactly what you would expect from an institution where all real power rests with celibates. Jack

11:32 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi William,

I think the guy was not saying that slavery, apartheid and homosexuality were alike themselves, but that the way they had been justified by scripture was similar.

The portrayal of homosexuality in Scripture is pretty severe.

From what I've read, the homosexuality in the scriptural passages is not the same as what we today call homosexuality. It refered to heterosexual people performing homosexual acts for varios reasons - to hurt others (like in Sosom) or for religious rites (like in Paul). If you're interested, I can look up some references.

if you accept what seems to them one of the worst sins, then you are basically rejecting Scripture altogether. It's really an existential threat to the Bible itself and their entire concept of Truth.

I think this isn't so as many things said to be sinful in the Bible are allowed now without the whole system breaking down. One thing that Jesus constantly mentions is about money/the poor - financial stuff - the Bible has many more references, for instance, to the sinfulness of usuary than to homosexuality, but no one is calling the banking industry an abomination and people revel in the spirituality of abundance.

Jesus never said anything about homosexuality. The OT mentions it but it mentions many things as bad that we now do with impunity. Paul mentions it, but also says slavery is ok, and we overlook that. I think the people who are most upset about homosexulaity as a sin are people who hate homosexuals, and they use the Bible to justify that hate.

11:35 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Liam,

Oh, I wrote my answer to William before I read what you wrote. You did a better job of saying what I wanted to say.

It was interesting how some of the bisghops at Lambeth from countries where homosexuality is a crime used that as a reason for not changing their relisious stance on it. It seems to me that in a war between respecting others' culture or respecting the dignity of life, life shlould win, even if it's difficult to make the change. Easy for me to say, living in the US, but ....

11:40 AM  
Blogger cowboyangel said...


I wasn't trying to start a theological debate on the topic of homosexuality. Personally, I don't give a rat's ass. I think it's between an individual and his or her maker. I'm not even sure I believe in God anymore, at least the God of organized religion, so I could care less about the details of a theological argument over the subject.

I'm just trying to point out - and it's only a theory - what might be causing such strong emotions. For Liberals - as you yourself say - slavery, apartheid and homosexuality are all on the same continuum. But as I was trying to point out, for theological conservatives, there's not a small gap between slavery/apartheid and homosexuality - they belong on two different continuum altogether. Does that make any sense? If conservatives overestimate the gravity of the "sin," I think theological liberals underestimate the gravity of what's at stake. So, you get the same old arguments on both sides, repeated ad nauseum. Believe me, I heard all of this 25 years ago. I don't see any new ground being broken.

I suppose what I'm trying to say is that trying to convince someone that homosexuality is either okay in the Bible or that it's evil doesn't really work. Because, again, I don't think it's really the issue. Isn't it really about people having to re-think the very concept of religion, of what constitutes Truth, of what role the Bible plays in the lives of Christians? That's not easy stuff.

Fundamentalists clinging to the Bible as an easy rule book is obviously no answer. But neither is an attitude that sometimes seems blase in its rejection of the Bible. Oh, we're modern people now, we don't need it. For some it has been the pillar of their religion for two thousand years. And for the Catholic Church it's been at least one of the main cornerstones. As I say, I think it's easy for theological liberals to underestimate the gravity of what's being proposed. For them it's a question of civil rights. For conservatives, it's a question of Evil. The debate about slavery didn't take place in that context. And look how long it took for Christians to finally let go of it. You're the one who keeps telling me the Church moves so slowly. So why, on this issue, do you expect them to suddenly be living in the 21st Century?

But still, I get impatient with people thumbing through the Bible to find out who we're supposed to hate.

Sure, so do I. But I'm guessing that not everyone in the upper reaches of the Anglican Church is doing that.

It's sad, really. I read comments like those of Kaspar, and I don't think there's any way any constructive engagement is going to take place. The man's living 100 years ago, and he falls back on an argument that goes back even further in time.

11:42 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Jack, From what I've read, one of the reasons for celibacy was that, in England at least, there was a problem with the sons of clergy "inheriting" the church buildings, etc. Weird to realize that the apostles were married and that even some popes, for a time, were married with children. But there were those Essenes who I think were celibate.

11:44 AM  
Blogger cowboyangel said...


I didn't see your comment before I responded to Liam. Please read my comment to him.

Again, I'm not trying to argue the matter. I'm trying to point out the vast differences in the way people see this issue, and why that may be happening.

11:50 AM  
Blogger Liam said...


Yeah, you make some good points. It just seems to me that theological conservatives, as opposed to fundamentalists, have come to grips for the most part that scripture is a complicated business and you can't just cull proof texts from it. Like Crystal said, they don't have a problem with explaining away the prohibition of accepting interest for loans. Most of them have no problem with evolution or understanding that, say, the Gospel of John was not actually written by the apostle John. But they (most of the Catholic hierarchy and the conservative part of the Anglican hierarchy) suddenly become very primitive scriptural scholars when it's time to talk about homosexuality or ordination of women, etc. I find it intellectually dishonest.

At any rate, I think you're right about how the conversation has been going in a circle for a long time now. In some ways I'm a theological conservative -- I never understand liberal theologians who have to explain away miracles or feel that the resurrection or the incarnation are not really important because Jesus was nothing more than a great moral teacher. I'm in it for the eternal and the mysterious.

I also don't want to say that sexual morality doesn't exist and it's everything goes. It just seems to me that the gender politics and sexual morality control practiced by these guys is a lot more about power than about scripture.

12:02 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

I think the divide between liberals and conservatives on this comes down very much as a mirror image of their opinions as to whether or not homosexuals are born with the disposition, or if the disposition is acquired (some would go as far as to say chosen)

Therefore, for conservatives, the difference between blacks & women & slaves on the one hand and homosexuals on the other is a difference between status and behavior. There are even many African-Americans in the Civil Rights movement who resent the comparing of their own cause to those of homosexuals who campaign for equal rights. I'm not saying they are correct, I'm just pointing it out. If homosexuality is inbred and not acquired, the biblical arguments hold no water whatsoever.

Homosexuality and the cause of it are a complete mystery to me. From a natural selection point of view, I can't see a reason for it, but that's irrelevant, because it exists. Most likely, I'd guess it is a mix of hormonal/genetic/environmental factors, but in the long run, we should all just be working for the extension of basic human fairness, decency, and compassion towards all human beings. The Bible doesn't make for great science, and shouldn't be used to substitute for science.

Regarding womens' ordination, in this case the Catholic Church rests much more on tradition and the defense of previously stated dogmas than it does on scripture. Most Catholic theologians would readily admit that the scriptural arguments against women's ordination are weak. I can't possibly reiterate the point about 'previously stated positions' enough. It drives so much of what comes out of the Vatican. They still feel as if they will undermine the authority of the papacy if they reverse themselves on any stated position.

Nowadays, That's trying to close the gate after the heifer done left the barn, as far as I can see. Still, we need to move slowly (sorry), or else we'll just split up into pieces.

Some consider this a tepid and disengenuous excuse, but in discussing women's ordination, JPII did speak of his respect for women. What he did say was that there are limits to his authority. In other words, he may very well have loved the idea of ordaining women, but sincerely felt that tradition did not allow him to do so. He didn't feel like he had the authority to do whatever he likes, whereas the Anglican Communion had no compunctions about using authority any way they saw fit. I'll leave everyone to decide whether or not they think he was sincere in saying that.

12:51 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

I'm in it for the eternal and the mysterious.

Me too - I wouldn't bother to be a christian if I didn't believe in the resurrection and miracles and the incarnation. It would be less stressful and more fun to belong to the chess club. I think one can be liberal and still be a "supernaturalist".

12:54 PM  
Blogger cowboyangel said...

scripture is a complicated business and you can't just cull proof texts from it.

Right. But asking people to deal with complexity in their religious beliefs isn't easy. That's even more difficult than asking them to deal with complexity in politics.

My God, man, you're asking people to "think!" :-) About God. About Truth. It's sooooo much easier to fall back on "God said it, I believe, and that settles it."

But the serious issue, it seems to me, is that the concept of the Bible as this solid thing that forms the pillar or cornerstone of religion is changing, yet it's not clear for many people what's going to replace it. So, it feels like you're simply removing the pillar or cornerstone. Thus, people freak out.

1:02 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

All this insane twitter about the Church and sex. JP2 and the hierarchy leading the 'faithful' around about bad sexual thoughts, masturbation sends you to hell,one cell is a "person", JP2 and the theology of the body, sex must always be "open" to conception---I said it before and I'll say it again---pure crap put out by a bunch of celibates, many highly unstable. Jack

2:01 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Jeff,

JPII did speak of his respect for women. What he did say was that there are limits to his authority.

If not hum, then who? He managed to have the authority to tell everyone they couldn't even discuss the issue. I don't think he respected women at all.

3:51 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


I don't think there's anything intrinsically wrong with celibacy. Many people are celibate through no choice of their own, whether their mate is ill or dead or they just don't have anyone .... they don't all become demented :)

3:53 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

OK, I actually don't know if JPII respected women or not, but if he did, he had a strange way of showing it.

3:58 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

Crystal, I have nothing against celibacy. But to say it is intrinsically superior to marriage is absurd. And the reverse: To say marriage is intrinsially superior to celibacy is equally absurd.

I don't like either group giving advice or dictates to the other. Jack

7:36 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


8:09 PM  
Blogger Canadians in Canterbury said...

Hey Crystal -
Happened upon your blog post when I was doing a Google search to see if our blog had picked up any comments. I am the poster of the referenced article.

I just wanted to stress that what Burridge was arguing was not that the debates were the same (obviously, for reasons mentioned, there is no equivalence between the three topics), but that the same sort of exegetical strategies, claims of authority, and invective directed at opponents was deployed.

As a footnote, Burridge did mention what he thought was an equivalent issue, that of the remarriage of divorced persons. This debate, which occurred largely in the 1950s and 60s, was heated; but it led to few defections, and was generally settled amicably.

While Burridge didn't elaborate on this, I have often thought that the comparative ease with which the Anglican Communion dealt with remarraige after divorce had a lot to do with the fact that there are more heterosexuals whose marriages dissolve sitting in the pews than there are gay and lesbian people. How else to explain the comfort in which abide evangelical, catholic, traditional, and inclusive Anglicans when it comes overturning an explicit dominical command?

By the way, Burridge's full lecture is available at the dean's page on the King's College London website.

Revd Neil Fernyhough

11:15 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Fr. Fernyhough,

Thanks for commenting.

That's interesting about remarraige after divorce. It's hard not to come to the conclusion that you mention .... I guess almost everyone could imagine themselves in a situation where they might wish to remarry after divorce, but they don't have to worry that they might suddenly become gay/lesbian. Human nature - yikes! :)

1:10 AM  
Blogger Jack said...

Crystal, I must comment on the divorce thing. As you know, I am old. A divorce still looks bad to me. Not so much on religious grounds but on 'breaking your word.' Ya, square I know. Not divorcing use to be a 'family value.' Now it seems every family value politician has divorced or had a mistress. Just the old talking (me).

6:41 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

I'm divorced. Married for about a year when the ex dumped me for another. My mom was divorced three times. I guess I have a jaunticed view of marriage/divorce, and it didn't help to see how much the church charges for an annulment.

7:01 PM  

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