Monday, November 14, 2011

Kindergarten Theater of the Absurd

By my rough count, two years after Benedict's overture to disaffected Anglican/Episcopalian priests, about a 100 US Episcopalian parishes, priests, wives and congragations now affiliate with the church of Rome. There are another 50 priests in England, and 3 bishops.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Is there anything else behind Vatican’s announcement of a no-fault path to the one true church for disaffected Anglicans?

Bishop John Shelby Spong, who is one of my heroes, in what he calls Ecclesiastical Kindergarten Games in the Washington Post, October 22, 2009, put these words in mouth of Rowland Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury:

"Your Holiness,… we are very pleased to transfer to you these fringe members of our church who still define women as subhuman and who regard homosexual persons as deviant and abnormal. We hope they will be happy in a church like yours. We Anglicans, however, must move on to engage our modern world. In the spirit of our new relationship, in which each church is free to offer solace through an invitation to those in our respective communions whose consciences are disturbed, we offer this new ecumenical initiative. We invite all gay Roman Catholic clergy who are tired of hiding in dishonesty to become Anglicans. To ease their transition we will allow some Roman liturgies to be used. We also invite all those alienated Roman Catholic lay people who can no longer twist their minds into first-century pretzels in order to assent to dogmas that the intellectual revolution of the past 500 years has rendered unbelievable to come now into a Church where they can explore truth with minds not fettered by the myth of "divine revelation." We invite those lay people who believe in sexual equality and who have long favored both the marriage of clergy and the ordination of women to the priesthood to come to us so that they will no longer have to live with spiritual schizophrenia. We invite those Roman Catholics who choose to practice birth control as a moral choice in an overpopulated world and who can no longer tolerate being told that family planning is evil and therefore condemned by God, especially since they have no intention of refraining from doing it, to consider becoming Anglicans, which would mean that they could stop living a lie. We will also receive your clergy without the indignity of re-training or re-ordaining them. We might require them to undergo some classes in thinking for themselves, since they have had little experience in that, and we might ask them to undergo sensitivity training in human relations. In the western world we have learned that this kind of training is necessary both in business and in such things as police instruction to deal with entrenched prejudices."

I love Spong’s fire, and think he’s right on. But, trying to keep an open mind, I would love to see a transcript of last Saturday’s friendly chat between Ratzinger and Rowan. Other than the obvious power grab and numbers game that has overtaken compassion, love, and forgiveness as the principle focus of our ecclesial institutions, is there something worthy of interest?

In the run up to the meeting, Williams asked: "Is there a mechanism in the church that has the clear right to determine for all where the limits of Christian identity might be found? … Is the integrity of the church ultimately dependent on a single identifiable ministry of unity to which all local ministries are accountable?"

I don’t pay much attention to the high-sounding arguments of theologians of any bent. But the evidence on the ground answers Williams question with a resounding NO. Most of the compassionate work, listening to the inspiration of the Jesus teaching, caring for people in poverty, looking after people with HIV, happens outside Rome, outside the spooky voodoo of Papal oracles.

As a gay man, I find it somewhat interesting that Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, and the Anglican Oxford movement, seem to be at the center of the controversy coming to a head. John Henry, perhaps the patron saint of Benedict’s Anglican rehabilitation program, became a catholic, and eventually supported Pius IX’s aspirations for infallibility. Most commentators agree that Newman was gay, though most certainly celibate. Although arguments about higher authority have to happen outside the sexual context, they never do. In that sense I am firmly Freudian: Love your Daddy.

Oh Blessed John, you’d have had a hell of time getting a cardinal’s hat in this day and age if you ever showed any emotional interest in your younger men friends–which you did. Maybe you might not have even been ordained if you had not dedicated your considerable intellectual gifts to the support of the Papacy.

I doubt that Benedict played footsie with Rowland under the table in Rome last Saturday. Both are far too straight-laced. But make not mistake: being gay, or not being gay, or staying in the closet, is the background of all their high-minded theological debate.

I would be inclined to dismiss the whole sham as real theater of the absurd except for one issue that they avoided. Their manufactured crisis shifts the focus, and scrutiny, away from the racism, homophobia, and horrendous violation of human rights underway across the globe, but especially in Uganda where it is aided and abetted by the arch-conservative, catholic-leaning Anglican hierarchy. I wonder if these men—they are mostly men—have even read the testament of Jesus, much less taken it to heart.

If we are to avoid a repeat of the Rwandan tragedy in Uganda, this time with gay people being the scapegoats, the rest of the world has to be vigilant, ready to apply pressure and step in if necessary. A strong case can also be made that the reactionary Anglican clergy in Nigeria are turning a blind eye to corruption in that oil rich country. Benedict and Williams’s sideshow is distracting the world’s attention from these real situations. Because Rome and Canterbury are from rich countries, wear fancy clothes, and are so self-important, the press’s is not giving full attention to the dangerous situation in Uganda and Nigeria. I hope that these potentates aren’t intentionally malicious, but being self-centered and stupid is hard to excuse in dire circumstances.

All the self-identified Christians I know would answer to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s rhetorical question this way: there is no clear, ultimate authority to decide who can follow the teachings of Jesus and who is disqualified, especially by being gay or a woman priest. The real question that’s going to tell the Pope that he is not what he says he is, that he makes no real difference in any positive way. A strong case could be made that his myopic, narcissistic focus allows great evil to be sanctioned by some of G_d’s men.

Follow up

21 November, 2009, 4:26 PST BBC News
“The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope agreed to seek closer relations between Anglicans and Catholics at a meeting in Rome, the Vatican has said.”

Translation of the double speak: Williams backed down, at least publicly, and decided that it was probably the Christian, and no doubt gentlemanly, thing just to make nice, be polite and not ask embarrassing questions. The Pope didn’t give an inch and might have said something like, “Well Bill, lets see how many “souls” I pick up for the RC side come January after Levada finishes the final details for immediate, penalty free conversions. Oh, and by the way, are you free for drinks and dinner when I come to London to elevate Newman to sainthood?”

Another possible scenario was sketched out by Damian Thompson of the, “… They both know that it’s all over.” Given that this high level meeting to discuss the momentous challenges that face Christians today lasted a mere 20 minutes, Rowan might have, in a polite and gentlemanly way to be sure, blew off the pope and delivered something like Spong suggested. “Thanks for taking these meddlesome priests and bishops. Good luck.” I doubt if there was any appeal to a higher authority. Leave that to high-level apologists, who these days are all much less gifted and thoughtful than Newman who at least tired for cogency and clarity in his thinking.

A final note: A Rogue Gallery

A quick glance at the results of the photo ops: really bad haircuts and goofy outfits. Goggle Images filled out the gallery. These guys are out of central casting, or the same gene pool -- hard to figure with celibate clergy on the Roman side. Do these guys inspire anyone to obedience to a higher authority, or G_d forbid, some connection with the transcendent (or at least a Hollywood version of spirituality)?

Rowan, honey, you need to see your barber; really, you’re a mess. You look like you live in a cave. But the public certainly won’t think you or your hairstylist is gay, which is a plus, I guess.

Does Newman in old age look as unhappy as I imagine or is it the gravitas imposed by Sir John Everett Millais?

The sketch of him as a young man is postitively handsome.

The photograph just shows an old man.

Please don’t blame me—I didn’t take the pictures. And no excuses—I won’t hear that poor Ratzinger just takes a bad picture. He’ll die with that odd sneer unless you believe in miracles.

All’s well that ends well – or badly. Pray!