The Archbishop of York makes his case


John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, who seems like a smart and subtle fellow, is pressing our bishops to enact full moratoria on the consecration of non-celibate gay bishops and on the blessing of same-sex relationships. He is meeting with various bishops, in smallish groups, I think, to press his case.

Those of us who were in the second floor bar of the Hyatt last night along about midnight (that was ginger ale in my glass) saw him walk through in the company of Bishop Jon Bruno of Los Angeles, an interesting site because Bruno is built like a tight end, and Sentamu like a marathoner.

His argument, as I understand it, goes something like this:

(A caution here: I haven’t heard this directly from the Archbishop, and some of what people are portraying as his argument may be their own developments on his thinking).

If you don’t enact full moratoria, several things might happen, none of them good: either you will be marginalized within the Communion, or the Communion will have to cope with intra-provincial splinters as the Akinolians attempt to assemble an orthodox international fellowship.

On the other hand, if you vote for moratoria, you will be on the right side of Windsor whereas Akinola of Nigeria, Orombi of Uganda and Venables of the Southern Cone, among others who have crossed your provincial boundaries to lay claim to parishes or start churches, will be on the wrong side, and then they will be the ones subject to whatever discipline it is that the Communion can muster.

In addition, if we accept the moratoria, we buy ourselves time, the argument goes. Akinola won’t be a primate forever, and Orombi’s has a weak hold on his bishops’ loyalty (north-south tensions in Uganda). If the Communion outlives their tenures, perhaps the storm will pass.

Looking at this argument strictly in tactical rather than moral terms, I don’t find it persuasive.

While a moratorium on consecrating gay bishops is easily effected (in fact, I think the chances we will elect a gay bishop before Lambeth ’08 are already quite small), a moratoria on the blessing of same sex unions would present enormous problems. If you ban something, you have to police the ban. Most of our Church would have no stomach for this, and I think most of our bishops would hope never to learn about whatever blessings might occur. But you could count on watchdogs in each diocese to ferret out violations of the moratoria and demand that the priests, and perhaps the congregations involved be disciplined. (I know there are several people in our diocese who would relish this role.) If the bishops failed to punish the people involved, this failure would be used by groups like the American Anglican Council here in the US, Anglican Mainstream in the UK, and a number of foreign primates, as evidence that we were acting in bad faith. Hence, as a means of pacifying Anglican waters, and improving out standing in the Communion, it would gain us nothing.

If, on the other hand, the bishop disciplined the priest involved, and then the next priest involved, and the next priest involved, he or she might very well face a popular revolt. This moratorium would have an effect precisely opposite to the one its proponents suggest. It would not “create space” in which a conversation could occur.” It would not “buy time” for reconciliation. It would not “put this issue behind us” and allow us to focus on mission. Rather, it would convulse the Church

In return for taking an action that would alienate perhaps the majority of the people in our pews, we have the promise, if that is not too strong a word, that Communion pressure would be brought to bear on the primates who have claimed control of some of our churches. This would be easier to believe if Communion pressure had been brought to bear when the primates of Rwanda and South East Asia came to this country in 2000 to ordain bishops for the Anglican Mission in America. As nothing effective was done to then, three years before the consecration of Gene Robinson, it seems unlikely that the Communion can rouse itself to do much now.

UPDATE: Second thoughts on this paragraph I had written:

“Finally, while I am convinced that the Archbishop of York, and probably N. T. Wright, the Bishop of Durham, are speaking for the Archbishop of Canterbury, I am not so sure that they are speaking, for the Communion. The chairman of the Anglican Consultative Council, Bishop John Paterson is here, as is the Secretary General of the Communion Canon Kenneth Kearon. (I saw Paterson last night. And I think Kearon is still in town.) They have been conspicuously uninvolved in the effort to get us to go farther than the current crop of Windsor-related resolutions take us. I am not sure what to make of that, but it doesn’t strike me as though we are looking at a fully-coordinated effort to get us to abandon our gay brothers and sisters, and that gives me reason for hope.”

However, while I was writing an interesting thing took place in the morning press briefing. After Bishop Ed Little of Northern Indiana said that the Arch of Y was here representing the Arch of C, Canon Jim Rosenthal, communications director for the Anglican Communion office rose, very politely and with apologies I am told, to say that in fact, while York had read Rowan’s message to the Convention he was not here as Rowan’s rep.

He said: “`The Archbishop of York is here on his own right, he is not here on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury.”

He emphasized that York is a powerful primate on his own (indirectly delinking him with Canterbury) “I`if you live in England, you know the Archbishop of York is a very, very powerful seat.”

This leads me to ask whether it is possible that thei bishops’ believe they are under pressure from the entire Communion, when, in fact, they are under pressure from a handful of British bishops, and the usual suspects on the Anglican right.

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