Leaven in the lump

“Illiberal winds are blowing pernicious policy and polity changes our way.” the Rev. Canon Marilyn McCord Adams, Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford University says. “Illiberal winds are blowing pernicious policy and polity changes our way. The Communiqué from the Tanzanian Primates’ meeting brought the intentions of those who dictated its content more fully out of the closet.

“First, it sent the sinister signal that for the forseeable future, full membership in the Anglican communion will require a local church to enforce anti-LGBT taboos: no more episcopal ordinations of coupled gay or lesbian people; no more official or clandestine church blessing of same-sex couples. Second, the Tanzanian Primates’ meeting also interpreted by enacting and enacted by interpreting the new authoritarian polity of the Anglican communion: it appears that the Anglican communion is to be governed by a collective papacy, an international college of primates exercizing dictatorial powers. Both developments raise urgent questions: should, how can LGBT people live in churches with such policies, governed by authoritarian polities that could deliver more of the same and worse? What, if anything, can we, should we do about it?”


Spiritual Temptations and Ecclesial Opportunities

I. Times, Troubled and Troubling

These are troubled and troubling times for two reasons. Illiberal winds are blowing pernicious policy and polity changes our way. The Communiqué from the Tanzanian Primates’ meeting brought the intentions of those who dictated its content more fully out of the closet. First, it sent the sinister signal that for the forseeable future, full membership in the Anglican communion will require a local church to enforce anti-LGBT taboos: no more episcopal ordinations of coupled gay or lesbian people; no more official or clandestine church blessing of same-sex couples. Second, the Tanzanian Primates’ meeting also interpreted by enacting and enacted by interpreting the new authoritarian polity of the Anglican communion: it appears that the Anglican communion is to be governed by a collective papacy, an international college of primates exercizing dictatorial powers. Both developments raise urgent questions: should, how can LGBT people live in churches with such policies, governed by authoritarian polities that could deliver more of the same and worse? What, if anything, can we, should we do about it?

II. How Did We Get Here?

What accounts for this dramatic, even violent climate change within the Anglican communion? Liberal Beginnings: Since the wars of religion, the Church of England has been a predominantly broad church. It has been characterized by minimalist institutional definition in terms of the bible, prayer book, historic creeds, dominical sacraments, and episcopal form of government. Membership and ordination requirements have been vague and generic, requiring endorsement of the documents and participation in the practices (where interpretations of both are left unspecified), and a commitment to holy living (where this is defined in terms of human decency, concern for the poor, and not marrying too close kin). Likewise, the policing of conformity to these requirements by laity and clergy has been lax. The Church of England has not demanded sacramental confession before receiving communion, has avoided vigorous intrusion into private spaces, and has been complacent about ignorance, incomprehension, and misunderstandings of bible and creeds by clergy and laity alike. Yes, broad church has its downsides. But it is meet and right because the Church of England is an established church, not a sect. Its function is to welcome all citizens and to provide a spiritual home through the chances and changes, for all the seasons of their faith journeys. The Church of England is not a (s)elect corps of special forces of the strict observance, who forfeit membership by deviation from core disciplinary norms.

The Anglican communion has been a loose federation of legally independent national churches with historic connections with Canterbury. It is a latter day invention, a by-product of colonial expansion and missionary efforts. Apart from the archepiscopate of Canterbury, its so-called ‘instruments of union’ are recent: 1867 first Lambeth Conference (all bishops invited); 1968 Anglican consultative council (first inclusion of laity); 1978 first Primates’ meeting (all head bishops, although what is meant by ‘head bishop’ varies in different national churches). None of these instruments of union or their pronouncements has had any legally binding legislative or juridical force.

Sex and Gender Controversies Over the last 25-30 years, there have been forces afoot to move the Anglican communion towards greater institutional clarity and coherence, to give it a tighter institutional definition (more explicit requirements to stipulate not only which are the authoritative documents, but which are their correct interpretations), and towards stricter enforcement and an emphasis on gate-keeping.

Many different motivations converged to move the church in this direction. [1] Ecumenists believe that institutional tightening and clarity are required to get the Roman Catholic Church and the orthodox to take the Anglican communion seriously as a conversation partner. Their question is perceived to be, ‘is there enough/anything to the Anglican communion to negotiate with?’ [2] ‘Plain sense’ sola Scriptura evangelicals believe that greater clarity and coherence is demanded by faithfulness to Scripture. They feel that it is dangerous to their spiritual health to be part of an institution that not only permits but blesses what they take to be violations of Scriptural norms. [3] The latest wind-tunnel generators have been violations of ancient sex and gender taboos by North American member churches in the US and Canada, and they have added fuel to a well-laid plan by conservatives to take over the North American churches.

Lambeth 1988 commissioned what became the Virginia Report in the wake of the ordination of the first woman bishop by the Episcopal Church USA (formerly, ECUSA; now TEC). Despite its genteel tone (it is, after all, the Virginia Report), its acknowledgment that effective ministry is contextual, its endorsement of the principle of subsidiarity (that decisions should be taken as close to the ground as possible), the Virginia Report questions whether Anglican communion structures do not need to be strengthened if it is to hold together in the face of seemingly intractable disagreements. Nevertheless, its warning–that the Anglican communion would be unstable without greater institutional clarity and coherence–was muted by the fact that–by the time it finished its work–many national churches had ordained women bishops and the other national churches appeared to be tolerating it.

By contrast, the Windsor Report (TWR) crashes down like an iron curtain, with righteous indignation that anti-LGBT taboos had been violated by TEC’s ordination of Gene Robinson (a coupled gay man) bishop of New Hampshire and and New Westminster’s authorizing and using forms for the blessing of same-sex unions. TWR forwards a new authoritarian polity for the Anglican communion: what was a loose federation would be bound together by international canon law which would acquire legal status by each national church’s covenanting by passing a canon to conform to it. TWR locates control over significant innovations in theology or ethics–especially pertaining to whom we ordain and what we bless–in the instruments of union, who would in effect have veto power. Compliance would be enforced on pain of excommunication.

While the political theory of TWR has been convincingly critiqued from many angles in Gays and the Future of Anglicanism, our clear and present danger arises not so much from TWR itself as from what has come to be known as “the Windsor Process” that has been accelerating with alarming speed. TWR is written in a tone of presumptive legitimacy–as if TEC and New Westminster had violated already extant covenant obligations–and it goes on (like an American jury) to identify what sanctions should be imposed (‘time-out’, voluntary ex-communication from the decision making processes of the Anglican communion). But TWR has not yet been passed or covenanted to by any national church and so as yet has no de jureforce. Rhetorically, this principle of presumptive legitimacy is also extended to church study documents such as Issues and Some Issues, and to Lambeth Resolutions–not least Lambeth 1.10, which is regularly forwarded as ‘the teaching of the Church on human sexuality’. BUT these have no legal force either.

Somewhat unaccountably, the Primates’ meeting at Dromantine endorsed TWR as ‘a way forward’, many seeing TWR as a basis for discussion rather than a conciliar pronouncement. But TEC’s General Convention in June 2006 failed fully to meet the Windsor ultimata. Moreover, it elected the first woman presiding bishop, a woman who had authorized the blessing of same-sex couples in her own diocese. These actions of TEC, together with the (planned) appeal of 7-8 TEC dioceses for alternative primatial oversight, provoked the ABC’s “Challenge and Hope” which identifies covenanting to Windsor polity as a necessary condition of being a full communicant member of the Anglican communion. National (now called ‘local’) churches who fail to give veto power over innovations in doctrine and practice to the ‘instruments of union’ will become, not exactly Gentiles and tax collectors, but like the Methodists! In advance (last summer), the covenant process was envisioned as something that might take a decade to complete. In the summer, some still held out hope that it might be a creative and constructive exercize in which both the content and the purpose of the covenant would be up for world wide discussion at all levels of the church (primatial, episcopal, clerical, and lay). According to Kathryn Grieb (VTS professor and member of the covenant drafting committee), this vision was quickly exploded. In the event of the drafting, several of the liberal members of the carefully ‘balanced’ committee were unavoidably absent. The time-table was telescoped because the purpose was quickly identified as gate-keeping and ecclesial control. According to Grieb, the Tanzania Primates’ meeting took the draft for the finished product and applied it to issue ultimata to TEC: its House of Bishops must enforce a moratorium on the ordination of coupled homosexuals to the episcopate and promise to end the blessing of same-sex couples by 30 September, or else!

In taking this authority to themselves, the Tanzania primates interpret TWR polity to mean, not that all four instruments of union (whose membership would include not only primates but all bishops, not only the episcopate but priests, deacons, and laity as well), but that the primates have authority to act alone to dictate policy and threaten sanctions on national ecclesial bodies. Reportedly, the primates’ were confused and irritated that ++ Jefferts-Schori could not act on her own, independently of the House of Bishops; confused and irritated again, when TEC’s House of Bishops declared that it cannot act alone on behalf of the Episcopal Church without the more representative General Convention or Executive Committee. Reportedly, the ABC said that TEC’s polity was its problem, and that it was up to TEC to work its way around it and find a way to comply.

III. Problems and Perils

The Tanzania Primates’ Communiqué attempts to make homophobia official Anglican policy. In doing so, it only brings out of the closet into the broad daylight, the principles already implicit in Issues, which promulgates a double-standard offering second-class citizenship for coupled gay laypersons but requiring celibacy for gay clergy; in the forced resignation of Jeffrey John from his appointment as bishop of Reading; in the reaffirmation of the celibacy requirement in connection with the recent permission of civil partnerships. Founded rumor has it, misogyny as official Anglican communion policy will not be far behind. The Act of Synod is still in place; the ordination of women is still ‘in reception’ in England. The ABC is said to regret that the ordination of women did not wait for the approval of the whole, while highly placed Church of England officials publically hope that it will be reversed. Some of the secessionist US bishops to which the ABC is catering are opposed to the ordination of women.

Nowadays, conservatives protest that the use of the terms ‘homophobia’ and ‘misogyny’ is inflammatory, because it suggests pathology, while they regard their positions as conscientious and principled. In a Toronto speech last week, the ABC scolds:

“It’s not just about nice people who want to include gay and lesbian Christians and nasty people who don’t. It’s a question on which there is real principled disagreement. What are the forms of behavior the church has the freedom to bless, and be faithful to Scripture, tradition and reason? That is the question that is tearing us apart at the moment because there are real differences of conviction.”

To this protest, I make three replies.

[1] First, the human condition is non-optimal. We can say it in different ways: traditionally, ‘it’s a fallen world’ or ‘before death, human beings are not yet fully sanctified’; or more colloquially, ‘God isn’t finished with us yet’! Whichever way you say it, part of what this means is that ‘pathological versus principled’ is not a forced choice. The same convictions and practices can be both. Our conservative enemies insist that our conscientious convictions are pathological. But since human non-optimality is no respecter of persons, they cannot consistently claim immunity for the bible’s human authors or for themselves.

[2] Second, I do not use ‘misogyny’ and ‘homophobia’ as expletive slurs but terms with a fairly definite descriptive sense. What I mean by ‘misogyny’ is the (often unconscious) belief that women have to appear smaller than they are so that men can feel as big as they are. What I mean by ‘homophobia’ is the (often unconscious) belief/insistence that LGBT be (or at least pretend to be) other than they are so that others can feel comfortable and secure in their sense of who they are.

[3] Third, my point is not psychological but theological: homophobia and misogyny are contrary to the Gospel because they imprison everyone in lies about who we–each and all–are and about who we–each and all–are meant to be! It is not true that anyone has to appear smaller so that someone else can stand up to their full stature in Christ! It is not true that some have to stay in the closet so that others can be true to themselves. God Our Creator knew what God was doing. God calls us each to grow up into our full stature, and God has a way, God is determined to make a way for each and all to do it at once.

The Church’s sex and gender policies have been and are abusive, and that puts LGBT Christians in a double-bind. The Christian life seems to involve being part of the Church: extra ecclesiam nihil salus (no salvation outside the church)! Down through the ages, the message is sent: we drop out to our peril. But the Church, its polity and policies, are abusive. So we also stay to our peril.

If we try to pass through the horns of the dilemma by staying and working to change the system, we are also caught in a Scylla-Charybdis temptation. For our demand for institutional change may cloak a personal need for institutional approval. If it does, we may court the establishment, remodel ourselves to get accepted, compromise our principles, and settle for less–which is spiritually harmful, because it acquiesces in lies. Alternatively, if our desire is strong but our uncompromising representations are repeatedly and decisively rejected, we may become bitter–which is also spiritually harmful.

Current Church policy and emerging polity seemingly puts LGBT Christians in a ‘no win’ situation, which is where our enemies want us, perhaps need us to be.

IV. Wholesome Distinctions:

Happily, crises like these have a spiritual up-side, because they pressure us into making and living into some wholesome distinctions: between God and the Church (never make God guilty by association with the Church) and–since the Church is both human and Divine–between the Divine-side and the human-side of the Church.

God our Creator is Goodness, the source and first-and-final norm of goodness in other things. God is Boundless Goodness and can be imaged in infinitely many ways. Each creature is and/or has the capacity to be a distinctive godlikeness. Our first duty is to bring the image out in all its fullness while honoring God’s likeness in other creatures. When it comes to what we fundamentally are, rock-bottom, we can be sure that God is for us, for whoever it is that we really are, because if God had wanted something different, God would have made something else.

Moreover, God our Creator is too big to be an authority figure. God is of consistent purpose: God does not boss us around on the outside without regard for our inward potential and propensities. God works as an enabler on the inside, a live-in Tutor, designing individualized syllabi, trying to evoke our capacities, hoping to win our ever-more conscious collaboration, sparking our imagination together to create fresh ways to express who we really are, teaching us courtesy to make room for God’s other creatures to be what and who they are as well. For God, it is no fun just to squeeze us into a set mold. God does not have one and only one plan for our lives, some eternal idée fixe of who we are. God made us living and active so that we could add human to Divine artistry and invent new ways to be. Who we really are is both gift and task!

Human social institutions are not ends in themselves. Their raison d’etre is to be skillful means, to train us up in ways that will help us as individuals, and human beings together stretch towards our transcendent end of honoring and glorifying God by who we are and what we do, by our manner of life together. They are subject to evaluation and critique on the basis of how well they facilitate these aims. Because human beings are socially “challenged”, human social systems always spawn systemic evils, structures of cruelty that oppress and degrade. The vocation of Godward individuals and communities is to be alert, on the look out to spot them, to point them out and work to uproot them. Since only God can organize utopia, this side of heaven, Christian vocation will always include this prophetic, socially critical thrust.

The Church is human as well as Divine, and the human side has always shown an interest in confusing the two. The biblical Body-of-Christ imagery fits the Divine-side: God’s relation to Church and cosmos. God is the only one good enough and smart enough and resourceful enough to organize utopia, to integrate the good of individual creatures with the good of the whole. Historically, the Church has tended to appropriate this imagery to characterize and model its human-institutional side. Recently, the ABC has eloquently brought this rhetoric to bear in commending his here-I-stand-I-can-do-no-other dream of the Church as an inter-cultural, interdependent organic unity. Yet, in using it, the Church has fallen and continues to fall for many institutional temptations, the chief of which is idolatry, which conflates serving God and acting on God’s behalf, with being God. Forwarding its human institutional self as Christ’s body, its merely human head(s) as vicar of Christ, the Church slides easily into regarding itself, its institutional instruments and defining documents as bearers of infallibility in belief and practice. Remember how Pius IX had himself declared infallible? Remember, more recently, the ABC’s contention in “Challenge and Hope” that the whole church can’t be wrong the way ‘local’ churches and individuals can. Forwarding its human institutional self as Christ’s body and its merely human heads as Christ’s vicar, the Church readily assumes for itself Divine right to govern and discipline cosmos/church, and to express that right in authoritarian control (shades of the 17th century). Identifying itself with Christ’s body and noting that body-parts have no life cut off from the body, the Church confuses being a channel of grace and Holy Spirit, with controlling the means of grace and using the power of the keys to bribe people into doing what you want them to do. In making itself the only club in town (= the world), it easily equates club-membership with Divine election. Recall Rome’s end-of-the-twentieth century retreat from recognizing protestant institutions as real churches. The ABC’s conception of the Church, combines with the Tanzania Communiqué to send the message: national or ‘local’ ecclesial bodies are only organs of an international, intercultural body-politic. They, their laity and clergy, their bishops and primate are not in themselves real churches any more than a finger or a gall bladder is in itself a human body. Hence the theoretical conclusion put into action: national or ‘local’ ecclesial bodies should not try to function as independent churches to decide whom to ordain and whom to bless all by themselves.

The Body of Christ imagery is not apt for the human side of the Church, however, as a moment’s reflection on ‘pop’ political philosophy shows. The organic body is a fascist/marxist political model: just as the body is prior to its organs and the organs exist in and get their identity and raison d’etre from the body and its functions; so the body-politic is prior to the individuals, who get their identity and raison d’etre from the social whole. Individuals lower-down in the society shouldn’t really complain because they couldn’t exist or be themselves apart from the social whole of which they are apart. This organic body model is widely contrasted with ‘enlightenment’ liberal political models which begin with ‘atomic’ individuals whom they see as having existence and worth prior to contracting into a society.

As ways to organize a human state, the fascist/marxist organic body model proved politically disastrous. Twentieth century Europe has been there, done that. How can communitarians forget so quickly? Merely human beings are socially challenged and so neither smart enough nor good enough to organize utopia. Applied to the human side of the Church, the organic body-politic model is likewise theologically disastrous. Once again, it is idolatrous in reducing the worth and meaning of individual human beings to a human social construct.

By contrast, Christians believe that an individual’s worth is established by Divine good pleasure, and an individual’s identity is a function of what God and the individual collaboratively discover. To be sure, de facto, we are trained in many needful things by human societies; our identity is partly socially constructed. But whatever contribution our education into social roles makes, whatever zest and local color it contributes, fitting into those roles cannot turn us into the people God meant us to be, because the social roles are imbedded in social systems rife with systemic evils, in which–by playing our roles–we become complicit. The socially constructed identity is at its very best a remote approximation of what God has in mind and urges us to dream for. Social construction goes on, but it doesn’t get to the bottom of who we are and why we’re priceless. These things are rooted and grounded in GOD.

It follows that the human side of the Church, because it is a human institution, must presume that individual worth and identity has a transcendent ground. Individual worth and identity are not fundamentally something conferred by but at best something aided and abetted by the human institution. This means the best model for the human institutional side of the church is not the organic body, but the liberal state, whose minimalist institutions exist to create a context in which to allow individuals and groups to pursue their extra-systemic ends. And this means, contrary to current trends, that TEC’s bicameral representative government, the Church of England’s broad church, and the loose federation that the Anglican communion was (and legally still is) were more apt than the authoritarian structures that ‘the powers that be’ (or would be?) are now trying to substitute for them.

V. Detached Engagement, Prophetic Witness:

With these distinctions and analyses under our belts, we return to our urgent dilemmas:

How can we survive and grow as Christians, when the Church has become so abusive, so hostile and hurtful, so opposed to the Gospel?

Is there a way for us to stick with the Church and still live into our vocations to proclaim the Gospel to the oppressed and to speak truth to power?

For most of us, the answer to the second question is ‘yes’, but only if we are careful about our spiritual posture.

Detachment: The first step towards striking it, is detachment which observes the above distinctions–between God and the Church, between Divine and human aspects of the Church, and roots and grounds who we are and what we’re worth in God and in Divine Good Pleasure. Detachment really lives into the fact that GOD is our Creator. Our collaboration together is the final norm of we we are and what we should be and do. Detachment really lives into the fact that God is eternally for us, will work with us to birth many of the potential life forms we have it in us to be. The principal spiritual discipline, not only of us misfitters, but of all Christians is in every day and every way to live into Divine good pleasure, to let the healing balm, the warm sunshine of Divine good pleasure shine into every nook and cranny of our being. Part of this spiritual exercize is to draw the conclusion that if God is for us, we should not be against ourselves either, we should allow Divine Good pleasure to wash out self-hatred. Another part is daily to prune back our need for merely human approval by filling up on Divine love instead.

We are not new to this. Because we’re old hands, we know detachment is not ‘presto-chango’. It’s a process–call it (by contrast with Windsor) ‘the Divine Detachment Process’.

For authentic misfitters, the Divine Detachment Process is urgent, top priority. Round pegs settling into round holes may (mistakenly) feel they can afford to equivocate, try to please both God and human beings, and so move back and forth between social and Divine norms, even conflate the two as if they were one and the same thing. For us misfitters, flirtation with the idea that Divine norming is a regretable fall back, that God’s good pleasure is a second-best substitute for the real thing–the social approval that we’ve earned, that in some sense we’re otherwise entitled to–such flirtation is perilous because it makes us vulnerable the wrong way in hostile times. We must embrace the difficult spiritual exercize of dying daily, hourly, minute by minute, to our desire for human approval and our sense of social entitlement. (Remember, it’s a cross-religion!)

Notice, too, that this is not the same as removing ourselves from the abusive context. Merely ‘going away mad’ is not detachment, because we take our disappointed sense of entitlement with us, and it is the latter that has to be left behind.

The upside is that this necessity gives us an enormous spiritual head-start. Renouncing society’s right to say who we are and what we mean, frees us for full communion with Our Creator, with that gay men’s chorus, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

For a saint to emulate, think of ++Desmond Tutu–his clarity and stability, his freedom, and his joy. That is the goal at which the Divine Detachment Process aims. Being who we really are day by day, hour by hour, step by step, is our primary testimony, our basic protest against injustice. And this requires being unflappably secure, utterly convinced that Jesus loves us all the way down. Imagine–and this is not a guilt trip, because I’m not there yet either–what would happen if we all came close to ++Tutu in the conviction that God is for us. I tell you, that will be the day when the trumpet sounds and Jericho’s taboo-walls come tumbling down! Imagine Jesus’ grinning with tears of happiness. Imagine His renewed exclamation, “I saw Satan fall!”

Detached Engagement: Detached engagement is a different step that returns to the institution that needs reform and tries to get it to change its ways, not out of a need for institutional validation, but because systemic evils expose human institutions as unskillful, as caricaturing everyone who participates in them. It is not right for women to have to appear smaller, for LGBT people to ‘pass’ for straight. It is not true that taboo supporters really need us to appear smaller or to falsify who we are in order to be fully and truly themselves. We would do them a disservice by acquiescing in their too-small conceptions of everybody. Anti-LGBT taboos oppress and so betray the Church’s Gospel mission to proclaim release to the captives; taboos imprison everyone and keep us all from surfing in the wideness of God’s mercy. Detached engagement makes us ambassadors for Christ bringing the Gospel back to the institution that doesn’t want to hear it, whose leaders are afraid to see, hear, and act on it. But GOD is the perfect love that casts out fear. The Holy Spirit holds the Body of Christ together. And the Holy Spirit is all-powerful and resourceful and has no need of taboos!

Only to the extent that we resist Church and society’s demand to be our primary norm, to have first say and final verdict on who we are and what we should be, will we be equipped to re-engage human institutions that need reform. This means that social protest is not everybody’s calling, and even for the called it is apt to be a sometime and seasonal thing. Ideally, we would be so grounded in God’s love that we would be able to love our enemies, not wish them ill, so enter into what it must be like to be them, so empathize with their hardships and struggles as not to attribute to them any unworthy motives. Gandhi is said to have required this of his demonstrators, but history suggests they mostly fell short of that aim. Ideally, we would engage the hostile institution, step up to the plate and speak truth to power, only after we had become as rooted and grounded as ++Desmond.

De facto, we aren’t in control of the timing, and challenges come out of pedagogical order. It’s a cross-religion. Hard hits may not only cause concrete loss (of job, of professional and vocational opportunities), they may really set us back spiritually. Social sanctions assert society’s right to norm. When we’re hard hit, we may find it psychologically impossible not to credit it’s right to norm and to impose penalties. That’s the message society means to send. We take in, implicitly concede the devaluation symbolized by the abusive treatment, and react with despair and hatred both of self and enemy. Repeated abuse, persistent setbacks that nobody does anything about may fill us with rage and hurt and bitterness, so that our psycho-spiritual system is filled with poison.

Because our primary obligation is to God, to be the selves that we and God work it out for us to be; because our primary testimony is to stand up to full stature, to be ourselves to the full; we have to take care of ourselves, to know when it is and isn’t our hour, to be willing to retreat, to take time to recover, to place ourselves in contexts where the poison can drain out instead of festering to kill us off.

VI. Looking towards Lambeth?

We live in troubled and troubling times, when winds rapidly change direction. A year ago, conference organizers urged us to ponder how we could prepare for Lambeth 2008. A week ago, when I was preparing these remarks, rumors made it doubtful whether Lambeth 2008 would occur. Now the ABC insists that it will happen, but suggests that it may change in format, with less emphasis on legislative activity and more on small group bible studies etc. Whether or not Lambeth 2008 gets held, will be decided by others. Our problem remains, what agenda should we embrace, in our attempt to remain within the Church proclaiming the Gospel and speaking truth to power?

My answers are familiar and sum to “keep on, keeping on”!

First and foremost, stick to the Divine Detachment Process: live into Divine good pleasure and be true to yourself.

Second, create taboo-free zones, safe places outside the Church and (if possible) subcultures within the Church, where we can cheer lead one another and assess one another’s experiments in constructive ways.

Third, get the covenant issue on the floor of General Synod. If the Tanzania Primates’ meeting threatens rule of the Anglican communion by primates, the House of Bishops seem effectively to control much of what General Synod does. Yet, Mary Gilbert’s motion on Gay and Lesbian Christians shows how progress can be made through the route of a private member’s motion. Despite substantial amendments, Gilbert’s motion occasioned a real listening process on the General Synod floor. So far General Synod has not been invited to discuss the impending covenant. Like Christmas presents during Advent, what covenant would mean for the Church of England, whether and how it could be legal for the Church of England to covenant, and whether it would or should want to do so–these are issues locked in the closet and only alluded to in the ABC’s speeches. One way forward might be a private member’s motion that challenges the nature and purpose of the covenant–one that urges the Church of England not to be party to anything that goes beyond the old Lambeth Quadrilateral.

Fourth, if Lambeth 2008 occurs and emphasizes small groups, work to set up small group processes in which ‘testimonies’ and ‘stories’ can be exchanged. This might be done either in collaboration with the canon in charge of Anglican communion listening processes, or in satellite sessions that might attract some of the more malleable participants.

Finally, oppose illiberal polity changes within the Church, wherever and however and by whomever they are suggested, because illiberal coercion–both power-hungry and fearful–is the spirit of this present age!

The Rev. Canon Marilyn McCord Adams, Regius Professor of Divinity, Oxford, delivered this address to the annual conference of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement in London last week.

Past Posts