Clear as mud

A transcript of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s final press conference at the Lambeth Conference is now available. You can also listen to it online.

Beginning at the 21:10 mark, Dr. Rowan Williams attempts to offers some clarity to the old argument about what he means by a moratorium on same sex blessings. Note the first bold faced section. He certainly seems to be saying that the proposed moratorium on “same-sex blessings” is on the authorization of rites for same-sex blessings, not on the practice of providing such blessings.

However, note the second bold faced section. Here Williams conveys the impression that some Episcopal dioceses have authorized rites for blessing same-sex relationships. This isn’t the case. So what “practices” is he talking about? Are those “practices” unique to the “American” church, or do they take place in many provinces–including the Church of England?

Is the archbishop simply having trouble articulating what he means? Is he poorly informed about the state of play on this issue in the Episcopal Church? Or is he using TEC as a prop in a self-exculpatory charade? Same-sex blessings are widespread in the Church of England. Many of them are quite public, as the service at St. Bartholemew’s, London, in May made clear. The only discernible difference between the Episcopal Church and the Church of England on this issue is that some Episcopal bishops acknowledge publicly that blessings take place in their dioceses and are willing to admit that they are not troubled by this.

That wouldn’t seem a distinction significant enough to allow the Archbishop of Canterbury to let himself off the hook in assigning blame for the “strain” in the Communion. But that seems to be what he is doing.

One of the problems around this is that people in different parts of the world clearly define ‘public’ and ‘rights’ and ‘blessing’ in rather different ways. I’d refer I think to what I said in the address this afternoon. As soon as there is a liturgical form it gives the impression: this has the Church’s stamp on it. As soon as that happens I think you’ve moved to another level of apparent commitment, and that I think is nowhere near where the Anglican Communion generally is. In the meeting of Primates at Gramado in Brazil some years ago, the phrase ‘A variety of pastoral response’ was used as an attempt to recognise that there were places where private prayers were said and, although there’s a lot of unease about that, there wasn’t quite the same strength of feeling about that as about public liturgies. But again ‘pastoral response’ has been interpreted very differently and there are those in the USA who would say: ‘Well, pastoral response means rights of blessing’, and I’m not very happy about that.

(Question about moratoria and ‘gracious restraint’ and time limits.)

The indaba groups had a lot of discussion about whether moratorium should have a time limit on it, most do. I think frankly it is very difficult to come to a common mind on this at present and, I think a phrase used by the Primates ‘unless until a wider consensus emerges’ is about as specific as it’s got in the past so I don’t think we’re much further forward than that at the moment.

Archbishop, two of the three moratoria refer to actions that have happened mostly and exclusively in the Episcopal Church the lady from integrity posed a question about why lesbian and gay Christians were being sacrificed and that point has also been made by Susan Russell – are you putting a squeeze on the American Church to get into line?

I’m saying that some of the practices of certain dioceses in the American church continues to put our relations as a communion under strain and that some problems won’t be resolved while those practices continue. I might just add perhaps a note here that one complication in discussing all this is the assumption readily made that the blessing of a same sex union, and or the ordination of someone in the act of same-sex relationship is simply a matter of human rights. I’m not saying that is claimed by people within the Church, but you hear that from time to time, you hear it in the secular press and that’s an assumption that I can’t accept because I think the issue about what conditions a Church lays down for the blessings of unions have to be shaped by its own thinking, its own praying. Now, there’s perfectly serious theological reflection on this in some areas – I’m not saying there isn’t – but I don’t want to short-circuit that argument by saying it’s just a matter of rights. Therefore to say that the rights and dignities of gay and lesbian people as people in society is not what we’re disagreeing about – I hope and pray anyway.

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