Thursday, 15 November 2007

Cultural Ricepaper

In a letter dated November 12 Andrew Goddard has replied to Giles Goddard. I consider that Giles Goddard's letter of 3 November has a vision for the future. In contrast Andrew Goddard wants to hold the line against ordained and especially consecrated ministers being in open, stable, gay relationships, and against blessings for such relationships. I think the crux of his argument exists within a small number of choice paragraphs, which are reproduced here, and which deserve some comment.

The following part paragraph is startling in its admission and its consequence:
Relationships may have moral integrity in varying degrees without the church's formal authorisation. The integrity that is claimed for some homosexual unions does not depend on any ceremony. Indeed, when, in the ordinary course of events, the church solemnizes a marriage, it is not purporting to pronounce on the moral quality of the relationship involved. It is shaping the expectations of the community and conferring evangelical authorisation on the form which the relationship takes.
By moral he does not mean, of course, moral reciprocity, which is a binding agent of society as identified in social anthropology. He means a moralistic ethical view. However, society has now conferred a moral reciprocal view upon these relationships - it is already (by so doing) commented on the expectations of the wider community: given these relationships a recognition of stability and social-building, that the Church officially seems so far unable to do.

There is still, however, a huge admission in this: that the integrity of a relationship does not depend on a ceremony. A ceremony? Is that what it is? So now there can be lots of relationships of integrity, but the Church chooses only to solemnise only a few of these. He calls this "evangelical authorisation". It's a sort of Church-choice then, like a bit of holy gloss on just a few of these relationships of integrity. The paper between one Church-choice and another Church-choice is getting a little thin.

Indeed, the Church-choice might change!
authentic developments cannot be ruled out; and we can learn to conduct our dialogue in such a way that, if and as new understanding does offer itself, we will be open to it. Borrowing a phrase from Issues in Human Sexuality, the Statement speaks of "respecting the integrity" of members of the church who "conscientiously dissent" (i.e. reflectively and with careful thought) from the church's teaching. That is to say, the church can recognise the seriousness of the stance these members are taking, want to engage equally seriously with them, acknowledge that such an engagement may have the long-term effect of developing the tradition of church-understanding (though nobody is in a position to say how and to what extent)...
So it is possible, then, that the Church-choice, this "evangelical authorisation" might actually change over time, after a lot of thought, after a lot of respecting those who "conscientiously dissent" from its current state. So what is slowing down the Church-choice being extended then?
...what is being asked of people like me is such that it becomes almost impossible for us as a Communion to ‘jointly seek Christ’s fullness in the Body of Christ, the Church’. To accept those terms would further damage relationships with parts of the Church from which we are currently divided and would miss our 'Ephesian Moment' by imposing a Western, liberal (politically as much as theologically) mindset as ‘the standard, normative one’ (Walls)...
Ah, it is other cultures. Or rather, to give the possibility, Western culture is cultural, which might mean the other culture (the let's call them "just say no" types) isn't a culture but absolute. He's not saying that though, is he? Both are cultures. We find this in understanding this so called "Ephesian Moment".
...the Ephesian moment is whether or not the church in all its diversity will demonstrate its unity by the interactive participation of all its culture-specific segments, the interactive participation that is to be expected in a functioning body.
So that's about it then. It is just cultural difference. He does not want cultural difference, despite the fact that since imperialism Anglican religion across continents has varied. For the sake of a so called "Ephesian moment", the Church-choice "evangelical authorisation" is denied to a group who have relationships that can be of integrity (no judgment conferred!).

This is a soft evangelical version of Church-together Catholicism (the one that allows a Church tradition to develop according to agreement based on baptism, bishops and having communion). Well just as the Anglican Communion is not a Church, so here cultural relativity is actually declared over "evangelical authorisation" (but frozen) and an "Ephesian moment" is a gloss to not enact such relativity. No absoluteness of scripture here, no clear judgment, no equality of integrity to decide who gets and who doesn't get a "ceremony": it's just a case of a Church coming to a view about "evangelical authorisation".

Thin! How thin can the argument get? So what about African priests accepting (even participating in) polygamous relationships then? Where is the "Ephesian moment" to cover up cultural relativity in that? Or perhaps they receive a sort of "evangelical authorisation" in some quarters there, but not here in the West. Well, nobody makes much of a fuss about that, so no issue then. Cultural relativity and noise says it all.

The next time someone says Open Evangelicals agree with Conservative Evangelicals, perhaps they should read this letter. Relativity is a pushover.

It is time the Church started treating relationships of integrity and potential stability with equality.

[Note: Please see the comment below from Andrew Goddard, particularly about him using the words of others - not obvious from the formatting at Fulcrum]


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure about your analysis.
There are only three possible views on same sex relationships. One is that they are on the same footing as heterosexual relationships, the other is that they are immoral and unbiblical and can never be accepted. There is a middle view, which I believe Andrew Goddard holds. Same sex relationships are not fully accepted yet, and he personally cannot fully accept them, but he nevertheless accepts that he may change his mind in the future, or that the church may change its mind.

Are you saying that only full acceptance is an option and that everything else is "thin"?

Obviously, my own view on same sex relationships is firmly liberal, but there have been other moral issues where it took me longer to get to my current stance, and I suspect that's true for most people. Can we really deny the journey and only accept the final destination, and even then only if it reflects our own views?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

No. I am saying his argument is thin. His argument is personal, yes, but also cultural and supposes that unity in a communion implies uniformity on issues where there is enough noise.

I am sure he has a journey as we all do, and this explanation is set against Giles Goddard's opinion - which may give it a hue that otherwise he may not readily give. Nevertheless he has given his explanation.

I set his explanation against the fact that real people are excluded - excluded from blessings and from honesty in ministry.

You and I both add comments to Thinking Anglicans. On it is the anonymous NP, except of Holy Trinity Brompton (though may not be so typical even of there) who woodenly quotes scriptural verses on the surface with repetition, and at the same time tells me that there is a standard of agreement between Open Evangelicals like Andrew Goddard and those like himself. Well there is not.

I regard the statements of the anonymous NP as a form of concrete ignorance, a kind of prattle. The arguments of Andrew Goddard are rather more in depth and subtle. The problem with this argument is that there is not much there other than uniformity with those who are as culturally insensitive as those people they accuse. Except their cultural insensitivity has real, negative, outcomes.

Anonymous said...

Well, yes, Pluralist, the reason there can be no real convincing anti gay argument is that there is no real convincing anti gay cause once you know that gayness is a perfectly normal way of being and morally neutral in itself.
So opponents are reduced to NP's rigidity or Andrew Goddard's thinness.

To that extent you're right in pointing it out. Personally, I prefer the thinness because it at least acknowledges a possibility and that's the very least basis we need for living side by side. And I want to encourage people on the thinness end of the spectrum because they'll be the ones who eventually tilt the balance.

Andrew Goddard said...

Thanks for engaging with my latest to Giles. Won't try and respond in detail at moment as I'm trying to work out why I think you've misunderstood me. However, wanted to clarify that the first two passages you quote are actually taken from O'Donovan (sorry but the formatting on-line does not make that totally clear). So, although I basically agree with him, they are not strictly my words. Similarly, the last is a quotation from Walls in the article that Giles cited.

All the best,