In a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, posted on the Global South Anglican Web site, the so-called Global South primates (“GSPs”) practically ordered the ABC to change his private views about homosexuality.
[UPDATE: See the ever-reliable Thinking Anglicans for links to more reactions to the GSPs' letter. See also the text of the ABC's own short statement, which reads to me as though ++Rowan was irritated by the letter. Apparently one of the GSPs has claimed that the letter was not intended for publication; another GSP concurs on that point, but notes pointedly that he did not give permission for his name to be associated with the letter.]
The GSPs’ missive brings to mind the Borg, of the fictional Star Trek universe. If you happen to encounter the Borg, your only choice (according to them) is surrender, submission, and assimilation.
Question Time in Egypt
In late October, the GSPs met in Egypt. Their main agenda
clearly was to heap yet more anathemas on the Episcopal Church and the
Anglican Church of Canada. (Some observers thought that Nigerian
archbishop Peter Akinola was trying to use the meeting to position
himself as leader of a breakaway faction.)
The primates invited the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, to attend as a guest. In a question-and-answer session, unidentified people posed ten questions to the ABC about his personal beliefs and related matters; his answers were transcribed and posted on the Web.
In his response to the first of the questions, the ABC acknowledged his reservations about the church’s traditional teachings concerning homosexuality. He also embraced a duty to uphold those teachings despite his personal reservations:
Q1. We are all sinners who fall short of the glory of God and we should never use language that demeans another human being. Granting all these, do you believe that same-sex sex can be holy and blessed? If so, on what authority do you base this belief?
A1: The church overall, the church of England in particular, the Anglican communion has not been persuaded that same-sex sex can be holy and blessed.
Were it to decide that by some process - unimaginable to most of you - it would be by an overwhelming consensus and only at that point would it be possible to say in the name of the church, this is holy and blessed.
So I take my stand with the church of England, with the Communion, with the majority of Christians through the ages.
I have in the past raised questions about this. I was a theological teacher for 17 years and along with other theological teachers raised this issue and discussed it.
I have advanced ideas on this in the past, but the fact remains that the church is not persuaded, and the church is not William’s personal political parties [sic], or any particular persons.
I am loyal to the Church which has asked me to serve, and I myself hold if I am asked about doctrine and discipline, this is what the Church upholds.
So, the authority that I accept has to be the authority of the whole body and that part of the body which is the Church of England and the Anglican Communion has made its determination.
(Extra paragraphing added, emphasis edited.)
The traditionalist blogsphere reacted generally favorably to ++Rowan’s responses. See, e.g., the posts and comments at TitusOneNine, TitusOneNine (again), The Confessing Reader, and Drell’s Descants. (A moderate commentator, The Anglican Scotist, was less pleased.)
But did ++Rowan's responses satisfy our Global South brethren? Heavens, no.
The Borg React
In their own reaction, the Global South Primates started out by lecturing the ABC about the treatment of homosexuality in Scripture. That seems a bit presumptuous, given that Rowan Williams is widely regarded as one of the foremost Anglican theologians of our time.
Then the GSPs “urged” the ABC to rethink his personal views. They all but demanded that he realign his thinking with that of the traditionalists:
You stated that you as Archbishop must stand with this consensus. We are most grateful for your unequivocal words.
We wonder, however, whether your personal dissent from this consensus prevents you from taking the necessary steps to confront those churches that have embraced teaching contrary to the overwhelming testimony of the Anglican Communion and the church catholic.
We urge you to rethink your personal view and embrace the Church’s consensus and to act on it, based as it is on the clear witness of Scripture.
The GSPs didn’t stop there, by the way; read their entire letter for more.
Freedom of Thought? I Guess Not
This episode seems to offer still more evidence that nothing short of unconditional intellectual surrender is ever going to satisfy the radical traditionalists.
These folks have a peculiarly exalted view of the authority of Scripture, a view that borders on idol-worship. They appear to have no use for anyone who doesn’t share — or at least surrender to — that view.
According to these traditionalists, proper Christians cannot even think that God might bless same-sex unions. We are absolutely bound, they claim, by the scriptural doctrines to the contrary.
These traditionalists categorically deny any possibility that God might have thought — or might now think — any differently than the scriptural authors imagined. (This attitude seems almost like a sin against the Holy Spirit, but that's another subject.)
I wonder if the GSPs' letter, with its undisguised hostility to intellectual freedom, might not end up being a turning point in the debate. I certainly hope so.