Friday, 12 September 2008

The Logic of Orderly Separation

Ephraim Radner now thinks that operative categories that he once supported for handling Anglican Communion disputes: longer appear to be useful categories, in large part because they do not accurately reflect the actual relationship of expectation and possibility that the disputing parties hold, one to another and with respect to their own commitments.

He is shifting his ground because he realises that one side has these underlying commitments (towards inclusion) that cannot be given up, and yet the other side won't give up its activities (presumably border crossing) without these commitments being dropped.

He is a bit verbose and meandering about this, so there is a need to summarise.

  • 'Moratorium' implies something temporary, whereas the commitment should be dropped entirely.
  • 'Reception' works against the notion of restraint, something being introduced and tested in a context.
  • 'Listening'" turns into doing, or at least justification.

Thus such a process must mean:

either the extinguishing of the traditionalist party itself as a vital ecclesial existence, or the dissolution of a church that holds both parties together.

This is because these processes are introduced in order to be discerned.

On top of this is the debate about equivalence and even the Archbishop's own condition:
Rowan Williams' putative hypocrisy (or "mental illness" as one person called it) over having held personal views theoretically "open" to gay inclusion, even while he now firmly promotes ecclesial adherence to the traditionalist teaching of the Church.

He sees that with society moving to civil partnerships and gay marriages, and these being embedded, that the Churches on the ground are moving in that direction.

He's right: we see this with Californian Episcopal bishops upholding gay marriage in that State.

Not only this but gay relationships permeate lay and clerical personnel active in the churches. Indeed they do, as sons and daughters and even the people themselves discover new relationships.

Later on he acknowledges that practices of reproduction (donor inseminations leading to conceptions, and adoptions) take into account the varied sexuality making up family life today.

Thus the experience and legal situation that is becoming common upholds the inclusivists' demands.

Traditionalists by contrast listen, could find authoritative statements made that decide towards inclusivity, and find scholarship undermining their stance.

For me, this should not be a surprise: traditionalists are always defensive. Evangelicals may attack, but traditionalism defends. Yet the traditionalist who defers to authority can see the potential of change, he is stating. (It's like the old one about the Pope suddenly overturning centuries of Roman Catholic assumptions.)

It is all something of a dilemma for a traditional Church that also believes in the plurality of freedom of belief that includes its own freedom. These Churches cannot simply become sectarian, because they have invested into society over long periods: they are, in a broad sense, historical Churches. (One notes this in the most advanced of Roman Catholic theology: that, unlike postliberal Protestantism and largely Anglican Radical Orthodoxy, it does not design its own withdrawal into bubbles of existence but engages with the world of plurality, conversation, ambiguity, debate.)

This is the problem Ernst Troeltsch identified a century ago: that the cultural grounding of the Ecclesia has gone. Those that retain distinct beliefs find the model of the Ecclesia problematic.

It also affects inclusivists. Whilst they broaden socially, consistent with how the Ecclesia has always related to the population of a locality, even inclusivists have difficulties relating their inherited beliefs to ordinary thought with a dislocation that their forebears could not imagine. God becomes more of "a mystery" and the incarnation becomes broad and dissolved.

All Ephraim Radner can come up with, however, is a traditionalist demand to harden up the language: 'cessation' instead of moratorium, that equivalence between gay inclusion and boundary crossing is practical not moral, and 'reception' is too activist regarding doing inclusion - for example, it is theoretically possible for the ordination of women to be reversed, but hardly likely, and so is the not necessarily equivalent case with blessings and sexually active gay partnerships in ordained ministry. Empathy from 'listening' also assumes the potential to change, even as a by-product. It is constrained in its teaching of love and understanding, he claims - that listening about mistreatment includes gay people's expressions of not just violence they people have received but also the lack of inclusion in communities of churches, which presumes against the traditionalist.

So it is all asymmetric (the process of discernment meaning in some sense introduction), and asymmetry must skew actual, practical, traditionalist ecclesiology. This brings him to consider orderly separation.

He takes his cue from the Bishop of Winchester, the Rt. Rev. Michael Scott-Joynt for a negotiated, orderly separation.

How on earth that would work in the Church of England, which covers positions of inclusion and traditionalism one wonders. Presumably it would require disestablishment and a way of dividing the property. The Church of England's likely acceptance of female bishops will alter it in a more liberal direction with narrower borders - traditionalists becoming self-excluded on this basis.

Ephraim Radner does not want separation, but it just may well be practical.

So he wants cessation, no moral equivalence, and a rethink of reception, and that inquiring personal views can go along with public traditionalism. But this is not separation: this is just what one part that separates would maintain. An innovatory Church can maintain categories like moratorium, listening and reception. That is, after all, his point, isn't it? He says:

And the survival of catholic Christianity makes plain the moral necessity of such orderly separation by demonstrating the demands of one logic over the other. It is separation that preserves Anglicanism as a Catholic form of Christianity.

In other words, those categories that are biased towards innovation must be outside of the preserved Church.

He still thinks a Covenant or something else that is effective could work by reducing diversity. Why? Why, when these categories still exist? Is this some sort of last throw? All a restrictive Covenant would do is create first and second divisions within a centralising Communion. The made into second division Churches simply are not going to accept such a position. Such a Covenant would not get through to begin with, but if it did such Churches would indeed be separated, by them making their own arrangements in a restored flexible Communion, like a spiritual commonwealth, with innovation understood using (in part) a theology of the Holy Spirit.

This is the logical outcome of his views (and, for that matter, of mine).

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