LINES IN THE ANGLICAN SAND: A Sociological Analysis - Gary L'Hommedieu

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Fri Jul 30 22:31:57 EDT 2010

LINES IN THE ANGLICAN SAND: A Sociological Analysis


By Canon Gary L'Hommedieu 

"...The overwhelming opinion was that separation  would inhibit dialogue on  and other issues among Communion Provinces, dioceses and individuals and would therefore be unhelpful...." (Anglican Communion Office, minutes of the Standing Committee, July 26, 2010)


 In a meeting late last week the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion Office ruled out the use of biblical dialogue in refusing to discipline The Episcopal Church for its flagrant violation of Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10, which has been cited by the Primates as the norm for defining human sexuality in the Anglican Communion.

Both the 2004 Windsor Report and the now circulating Anglican Covenant presuppose the authoritative, normative status of Resolution 1.10. By the Standing Committee's action, what appeared to be a boundary marker, albeit a disputed one, turns out to be a mirage.

Mr. Dato' Stanley Isaacs, an attorney and a Standing Committee member from the Province of Southeast Asia, proposed that TEC be "be separated from the Communion" because of "sexuality issues," most recently the consecration of a second practicing homosexual bishop, and this in the midst of announced plans by American dioceses to prepare rites of blessing for same sex unions. Both matters were specifically forbidden by a unanimous agreement of the 2007 Primates' Meeting in Dar es Salaam, even signed by the American Presiding Bishop. By the explicit language of the Windsor Report such actions constitute "walking apart" from the Anglican Communion.

St. Paul prescribed a type of dialogue when believers deviate from behaviors considered normative for the Christian community. It's called go away and come back when you've changed the behavior. Then we'll talk. In the meantime it's not clear here what we're talking about.

The Standing Committee has decided, in effect, that the boundaries of the Anglican Communion must be moved to accommodate the deviant party. Resolution 1.10 is now relegated to the archives of the Lambeth Conference and can in no way be interpreted to represent the morality of the Anglican Communion, even if a vast majority pays it lip service. This is not meant to be a provocative statement but a social fact.

According to French sociologist Émile Durkheim, the morals of a community are discerned according to their "external marks," namely, the people's willingness to enforce their own rules. These define the moral character of the community. They are real insofar as they supply the community's identity-in the present case, the church of the apostles-and insofar as the community will rise up to defend them. If the people don't stand on these boundaries and defend them, then that's proof that they no longer exist.

Traditional societies intuitively recognize the danger, short or long term, in permitting its defining values to be wantonly violated. To tolerate deviance beyond a certain point means that the rules have changed, whether they have changed on paper or not. It also means also that the group itself is not what it used to be. Individuals will have their reasons for pretending otherwise. The fact remains: when the boundaries are moved, you are in new territory. 

Durkheim did not think of morality "moralistically" as we typically do-in terms of assigning right and wrong. He recognized that every group had its own values of right and wrong, and that every group acted as if its morality was the morality. He did not referee between different ethical points of view. His point was that when a group no longer stands behind its own values, then those values are no longer real.

Here's why Durkheim's view of morality is important: not to get him to argue for our side of the sexuality issue. The importance of his descriptive analysis is to point out a social fact: that the Anglican Communion's proclaimed doctrine of sexual morality-Resolution 1.10-no longer carries a moral character. This is infallibly witnessed by the leadership's refusal to substantiate the norms of the Communion through sanctioning the deviant Episcopal Church. 

As a general rule when diverse cultures are thrust upon each other, a new dominant society eventually emerges. Spiritual maps must be redrawn reflecting the values of the dominant power (the "winners"), which are not necessarily those of the majority, even the vast majority. 

The Standing Committee acted last week to change the spiritual "territory" of the historic Christian faith by permitting the "markers" of human sexuality to be moved in one of that faith's primary territories, the Anglican Communion. It doesn't matter that the Archbishop of Canterbury continues to pay lip service to Resolution 1.10 as the normal standard for sexual practice in the Communion. He will not permit that boundary to be enforced. When one presses against it, one meets no resistance, proof that there's nothing there. 

The Standing Committee claims it is doing all this out of pastoral concern for the Communion as a whole. In patronizing tones it "acknowledged the anxieties felt in parts of the Communion about sexuality issues," but acknowledgement is not a moral act, nor a pastoral one. It is merely checking items off a list.

This is a shameless manipulation by parliamentary hacks in overruling the known moral position of the majority. It is classic colonialism: redrawing the spiritual maps of distant "dark" continents according to the needs of those sitting at the table, and purporting to do so on behalf of those diminutive souls who regrettably could not be present.

If the local authorities in these faraway lands-i.e., the Global South-permit the Standing Committee to have its way, they will by their acquiescence endorse the actions taken at this table. They will give substance to the new boundaries, acknowledging them to be the real ones.

----The Rev. Canon J. Gary L'Hommedieu is Canon for Pastoral Care at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke, Orlando, Florida, and a regular columnist for VirtueOnline.

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