Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Back of the Bus. Under the Bus. Whatever.

The archbishops of the Anglican Communion just finished four days of meetings at which they voted 27 to 3, with 6 abstentions, to sanction the Episcopal Church in the USA for “fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our provinces on the doctrine of marriage.” The Archbishop of Uganda walked out of the deliberations because that resolution didn’t go far enough to suit him: he wanted the American and Canadian churches to be asked to repent and voluntarily withdraw from the Communion for laxity on matters of homosexuality. The vote by the archbishops has been billed as the compromise that prevented the Communion from breaking apart entirely. Its ongoing unity is cold comfort for any of us who look to it for sexual justice and equity.

The row over sexual minority status within the world’s largest Protestant denomination came to a head with ECUSA’s ordination of its first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, thirteen years ago. It ramped up when ECUSA allowed same-sex marriages. The more conservative churches of the Communion aren’t much happier with the ordination of women priests or the consecration of women bishops.
There’s no Anglican pope. The Archbishop of Canterbury is viewed as first among equals. Justin Welby, who now holds that office, played it both ways in his public statements after the vote. On the one hand, he remarked that “consequences” were necessary for ECUSA’s break with majority practice. On the other, he was quoted in this morning’s New York Times as saying, “For me, it’s a constant source of deep sadness, the number of people who are persecuted for their sexuality.... I wanted to take this opportunity to say how sorry I am for the hurt and pain, in the past and present, the church has caused.”
So stop causing it, already. Welby delivered this well-intentioned and perhaps heartfelt, but deeply hypocritical canard after encountering protesters who included a number of Africans who risk violent death, imprisonment, even execution for the crime of being queer and out in their home countries. Christian charity runs deep in a room of a few dozen men rehearsing platitudes.  It thins out a fair bit when it comes to the faceless masses of people the church has marginalized for centuries, fomenting their persecution, rationalizing hatred against them, failing to offer unqualified support or solidarity, pandering to the worst and most bigoted elements of some societies--even as secular society in other countries has pulled way ahead. The victims of that record of malice and indifference might well call for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission instead of settling politely for the endlessly deferred prospect of toleration. Of the various provinces of the Anglican Communion, only ECUSA has had the courage to move forward, at considerable cost.
I was talking to friend of mine two days ago, when the news first broke of the decision, who years ago bailed out of Christianity altogether over the endless prevarication of the Anglican Church of Canada on the issue. The Canadian Anglican hierarchy has long attempted to frame the rights of sexual minorities not as a matter of justice but of pastoral compassion and mutual forbearance. The rhetoric of that particular evasion has been threadbare for decades.  (To be fair to the Canadians, there’ll be a vote at their triennial General Synod this coming summer, thirteen years after gay marriage became legal in Canada, on whether to change church law to allow same-sex unions. If that vote passes, a second vote will be required three years later. One wouldn’t want to rush things.)
Same-sex access to the deeply problematic institution of marriage is hardly in and of itself the radical rethinking of sexual ethics that the Christian tradition desperately needs. Neither is the ordination of openly queer priests. But not even those basic steps toward equity in the face of human sexual diversity are within the grasp of a small group of men who claim apostolic authority over 85 million believers worldwide.