09 September 2006

The Archbishop of Canterbury and "the gay issue"

I'm not quite sure what to make of this:

Gays must change, says archbishop - from Telegraph.co.uk

Everyone - the reporter, and interviewed folks on both sides of the issue - seem to be assuming that the Archbishop's remarks represent a fairly radical reversal of his previous views on the more progressive side of these issues. More of Dr. Williams' comments can be found here (HT: Will). I felt like I was searching in vain for a quote that made that supposed reversal crystal clear. He was making several nuanced distinctions, and to be honest, I was frustrated: is this theological sophistication, or political double-speak? What's the difference?

I guess, in the end, I came away thinking that, the "higher up" you get in a large church institution, the more impossible it is to distinguish between spiritual discernment and political reality. I have a very high degree of respect for Rowan Williams, and I am definitely not accusing him of being a cynical political animal. In fact, his words that I've linked to here, like all I've read from Williams, are those of a powefully intelligent, deeply faithful, and fundamentally compassionate man. But despite that, his job is an intrinsically political one. As is the job of anybody in a position of leadership/authority in a church institution of sufficient size. I think that's just reality.

And I find myself wondering: is it worth it? Are our Archbishops, Bishops, Priests, Pastors, etc. happy? Better question: are they able to joyfully discern the calling and sending of the Spirit, and serve God and God's people, in the face of the unavoidably political nature of their jobs? Are these institutional structures worthwhile? Do they bless the world and the church more than they sap our energy, our passion, and our strength?

C'mon, folks. I need help here. Somebody please reassure me that large institutional church structures bless the world, and we wouldn't be better off with loose networks of small congregations and house churches, joining/networking together to do things like large-scale and international mission/service/aid work. Anybody? My e-mail address is at the top of the blog if you don't want to comment.


spankey said...

this may not help, but even the lay leadership of a small house church is intrisincly political. to put a positive sping on it - anytime we call others to live radically into the Gospel message of Jesus Christ we preach politics. to view it negatively - church leadership (big or small) is a game of political double speak. we draw sophisticated, nuanced distinctions all the time as we deal with holding together a group of people who normally would have nothing to do with one another, but come together in worship God (when worship and God have different defintions for each member).

having now re-read my comment, i know this doesn't help. while this is an issue for the instutional church, it too is an issue for the "loose networks of small congregations and house churches." sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

Mike Croghan said...

Thanks, Steve. Real encouraging. ;-)

Of course you're right, but don't you think that this issue is intensified as stuctures get both a) larger and b) more hierarchical or otherwise theoretically "unified"?

Jayce from Rochester said...

Let me hone your plea into something a little different: "is bureaucracy so overbearing that it drowns out the voice of God?", or "are there questions irrlevant to the position of the church?"

On that second note: the litmus test is the consistency with which any member of the church would answer -- that is, if different people's answers to a particular question are significantly different, then that question isn't really relevant to their similarity of being members of the church. So rather than, "is being gay right or wrong?", consider, "did God make some people gay?" and see if responses are more consistent.

Rachel said...

I have to say, I had no idea. Has my head been in the sand while this news has come out? Yikes. I have no words of encouragement other than to say that if we keep our eyes on what God is blessing and not worry about what pleases us (the right church, the right kind of pews), we should have no worries. God has been in and with the institutional church, sometimes laughing, sometimes weeping. And from what I can tell, God ain't exactly an either/or kinda God. Wide as the ocean. Big, roomy, expansive. The table is big enough for all sorts of expressions of the church. Thanks for pointing me to that article. I'm gonna start looking around for more news. Blessings.

Anonymous said...

What is your position on this issue anyways? Just curious. Found your blog from my friend,Ray of COTA in Seattle. i live in Richmond, VA.

Mike Croghan said...

Hi E.P.,

My position is basically "the progressive one" (he says, as if this issue had two monolithic sides). That doesn't mean that I agree with all of the actions and positions of various parties on the "progressive side" as this has worked its way through the Anglican Communion. But fundamentally, I feel that the biblical case against gayness is far too weak to trump the radical welcome that is fundamental to the way of Jesus. Even if being gay is sinful (and again, I think the biblical case for this is flimsy), I would sooner exclude a very acquisitive person from a church leadership position than I would a gay person, based on the relative weight the Bible gives to sexuality issues vs. money/generosity issues. (But in truth, I wouldn't use anything like that as a litmus test, I hope. If I were deciding who got to be in church leadership positions, that is. Which I'm not.)

Oh, and the other issue: blessings/marriages. I think we need to decide who gets custody of the term "marriage" (church or state), separate the two very different concepts (secular/civil and religious), and, on the faith side, yes, I personally would support blessing unions of same-sex couples. But I wouldn't expect another Christian or another congregation to do the same.