On governance and human dignity
in church versus state

Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury addressed the new Parliament in St Margaret’s, Westminster, emphasizing the dignity of all persons. In the meantime, the fall out from his Pentecost letter continues.

He told the MPs:

…to give God what belongs to God is to set human beings free to relate to God and to fulfill their calling to be creative in the world. ‘Giving’ humanity to God is acting in such a way that the image is made more visible. It is bringing human dignity to light. So in the gospel story of the tribute money, Jesus refuses to make a neat opposition between Caesar and God, as his critics want him to. By all means, he says, pay your debts to the political order, give Caesar what belongs to him. If you are profiting from Caesar’s government, don’t grumble about paying Caesar’s taxes. But never forget that the ultimate point of any human political order is giving God what belongs to God – setting human agents free, acknowledging and reinforcing the dignity in which God has clothed them.


Shared dignity: it is this, rather than just a set of convictions and enactments around rights alone, that will provide the vision for a society in which the main concerns are to nourish the strength of citizens and enable them to use their strength for mutual care and service, and where the arguments are about how this is to be secured. It is a vision that will never allow the weak, the supposedly ‘unproductive’, the very old or the very young, the mentally ill and physically challenged and terminally ill, to disappear from the radar; on the contrary, it will always ask what are the strengths that they bring, the contribution without which society would be poorer.

Even though it a speech to legislators, the speech sounds like it might be a commentary on the Baptismal Covenant in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. But we know better. Given recent events, and hearing this laudable and insightful speech, one cannot help but ask if what applies to our civil life also applicable in the common life of the faithful?

In the Church, how do we “give God what belongs to God?” In the Church, how do we “set human beings free to relate to God and to fulfill their calling to be creative in the world?”

Thinking Anglicans posted a link to an analysis written by Andrew McGowan on his blog The Anglican Babel: A view from Australia. As Simon says, “Read it all, but here is an excerpt:”

… ++Katharine is still right here, however, and ++Rowan wrong. He is wrong in a tragic way—seeking, doubtless at great personal cost, a unity in the terms that existing Anglican Communion structures assume or require, but which in fact has now escaped us.

++Rowan is wrong in identifying the TEC ‘Communion Partners’ or others ‘who disagree strongly with recent decisions’ as those who want to be aligned with the Communion’s general commitments. I believe the vast majority of the members of TEC, including its leaders, do want to be aligned with the Communion’s general commitments and are, with specific and well-known exceptions. I have no more desire than the Archbishop of Canterbury to brush past the difficulties those exceptions present; but when did attitudes to homosexuality, rather than to the Creeds or the Sacraments, come to define the ‘Communion’s general commitments’?

This is an ecclesiological as well as a theological mistake, in that it characterizes the Communion not by its vast common depth of faith and hope, framed in specific and diverse history, but by the conversations of the thin layer that constitutes the ‘instruments of unity’, whose success has of late been desultory, and future significance increasingly uncertain.

++Rowan is also wrong in equating the positions in Inter-Anglican bodies such as IASCUFO with representation of the Communion as a whole. This is precisely the sort of context where Anglicans need to have the breadth of visions and voices that might take us forward in faith and charity, even if it is to a place of mutual disagreement and realignment. The removal of a TEC member of IASCUFO makes it a weaker body in all respects.

The position is slightly different regarding exclusion of TEC from the ecumenical dialogue groups, but the result no more inspiring; our dialogue partners may indeed now have a better chance of knowing ‘who it is they are talking to’—they will know precisely that they are talking only to some of us.

And while numerous commentators have suggested there are power grabs or constitutional problems with the dis-invitations, few have noted that membership of such bodies has never before been seen as a question of delegation, or of representing national Churches; rather their members have been chosen for expertise, and with a necessary diversity that reflects our own (than you Bruce Kaye for this point).

Not all blame, even for these specific missteps, should be laid at the feet of the Archbishop of Canterbury or of the Anglican Communion Office. It is patronising to conservatives in the ‘Global South’ and elsewhere to absolve them of responsibility. But here is where the singling out of TEC, at least as it appears in Canon Kenneth Kearon’s subsequent letter, becomes inexplicable (nb., after a week or two of no clarification, maybe change ‘inexplicable’ to ‘outrageous’). Most groups who have disregarded the other moratorium, of cross-border interventions, have not been mentioned in the prescriptions for dis-inviting participation in international bodies…

While Bishop David Hamid, the CofE Suffragan Bishop for Europe says on his blog that he will miss working with the Rev. Carola Von Wrangel, Rector of the (American) Parish of Christ the King, Frankfurt, who has represented the Episcopal Church on the Anglican-Old Catholic International Co-ordinating Council, his statement that “the consequences of the Episcopal Church’s actions are now felt directly here in Europe” drew heavy criticism from several readers.

For example, Mark Letters wrote:

It’s also odd, given that the C of E is just entering into full communion with the Church of Denmark. The Danish Church authorises blessings to same-sex civilly-registered couples, and is currently in the process of moving to the same situation which now obtains in Sweden, viz of offering non-gender specific marriage ceremonies, when the law changes here, as is anticipated within the next year or so. Norway, Finland and Iceland are all rapidly moving in the same direction.

In fact, a quick tour around the C of E’s non-British Isles partners in full communion in Europe makes it evident that it will soon only be the Church of England which has failed to come up with any proper pastoral provision at all for its gay members – it’s the C of E that’s the odd one out, rather than TEC.

Once again, the Archbishop seems to be of two minds all at once. One mind for the academic, the secular or for other faiths and the mind he brings to the Anglican Communion. They seem strangely at odds. Some say it is the sign of a complex intellect. It feels like splitting.

The Archbishop tells MPs that they must work to “set human beings free to relate to God” while he singles out the Episcopal Church and possibly the Anglican Church of Canada for providing pastorally for gay and lesbians and welcoming their ministry.

Williams calls for civil government that “nourish(es) the strengths” of its citizenry, while promoting a kind of ecclesiastical unity that comes at the price of sacrificing the dignity of the gay and lesbian baptized.

It is hard to imagine how a church leadership that has become so very tentative, so obviously afraid to speak truth to their own centers of power, can speak with any authority about the ethics of those who govern, let alone convey civic virtues of tolerance and inclusion to the citizenry.

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