This is my response my response to The Anglican Communion: Mapping The Terrain by Andrew Goddard.
Dear Friends in Christ,
I read with interest Andrew Goddard’s latest analysis of the impending realignment of Anglicanism. In the midst of the very heated exchanges on this side of the pond I appreciate the measured tones of this analysis. From my view on this side of the Atlantic there are significant realities that are not registered in this analysis. I write as a parish priest of 25 years standing in The Episcopal Church and formerly the president of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Connecticut. I am now on the faculty of Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge Pennsylvania where I teach Pastoral Theology. Trinity is thought by many to be the center of a great right wing conspiracy and to be awash in funds from the family foundations of ultra conservatives. In any other place in the Anglican Communion and in any other decade the school would be seen as entirely in the mainstream of Anglicanism though particularly oriented toward evangelism and mission. I am still on the look out for the millions from the foundations but have not seen them yet.
Andrew Goddard describes four positions on homosexuality and the church. In his scheme there are two extremes. The extremes are unwilling to enter into any dialogue or reconsideration. There then are those willing to have the church enter into a period of dialogue and these are divided between those inclined to defend the traditional morality and those inclined to reinterpret it. In this country actual dialogue on this issue is nearly impossible. The actions of the General Convention and of numerous diocesan conventions since both the General Conventions of 2003 and 2006 make it clear that a majority of the leaders of a majority of the American dioceses are committed to pressing for “full inclusion” which they regard as a mandate of the Holy Spirit. There are eleven accredited seminaries of The Episcopal Church. Trinity is traditionally Evangelical, Nashotah House is traditionally Anglo-Catholic. Other than at these two schools it is very doubtful that a centrist in Goddard’s terms could get an appointment at one of our seminaries. In the majority of our dioceses it would be difficult to the point of impossibility for a candidate who was not perceived as a strong advocate for full inclusion to be elected bishop. There are very few centrists in Goddard’s terms in this country. As he notes dialogue in this country has not meant reasoned debate on theological and scientific grounds but the organizing of gatherings for the sharing of experience by people who self identify as Gay. Those who report healing from same-sex attraction, including members of the clergy are routinely excluded from these gatherings when they take place.
Among my scholarly interests is the theological significance of studies in human development. I can find very few people including previous bishops under whom I have served or more liberal colleagues in the clergy who are faintly interested in really wrestling with the scientific and psychological picture. I have published an open letter to the bishops that participated in the consecration of Gene Robinson asking among other things for examples of the scientific literature they found convincing in coming to their decision to risk the unity of the church over this innovation. There has been no answer. I have likewise had an open challenge on my blog for the citation of an article in a peer reviewed scientific journal which argued that same-sex attraction could be understood in terms of simple biological determinism. There has been no answer, though many attacks for posing the issue. Many who are proponents of the same-sex agenda regard the asking of such questions as an example of hostile homophobia. It may be possible to describe a sort of centrist geography where the issue of same-sex attraction could be discussed by faithful members of the church with different convictions. In this country I do not see more than a handful of people in this category. The actual facts on the ground are a massive majority in the bishops and clergy (the laity are clearly more conservative but not empowered despite posturing about a democratic church) who are enthusiastically pushing for what they consider the Gospel ministry of full inclusion and a small minority who are fighting a rear guard action against the new regime.
The overwhelming reality which must be taken into consideration in order to understand the American scene is that the dispute is not primarily about the proper theological response to same-sex attraction. It is about the nature of the catholic faith. It is very hard to explain this to those who are not living in this country. TEC has not changed its formularies. The Creeds are still recited in the liturgies Sunday after Sunday. The form is there but in a very massive way the Spirit is not. I think there is a real difference here between the English and American scene. You have in England with your tradition of scholar bishops (which we once had and lost) and with the gravitas of the great Anglican theological faculties at Oxford, Cambridge, Kings and Durham, to mention a few, a kind of theological ballast that the American church does not have. Our boat has tilted to the winds of the age to such a degree that its decks are awash. You have too much ballast for this to easily happen though the example ought to be a cautionary tale.
The fight here is no longer primarily about same-sex attraction. The Gay agenda is a done deal and irreversible in the American Church. The fight here is about whether there is any authority, scriptural, traditional, ecclesial, even scientific that trumps the new idol of experience. It is widely thought here that the scriptures are intriguing cultural artifacts of the religious experience of time bound cultures but certainly nothing more than clues to how contemporary people might work out and recreate their own religion. Increasingly it has become clear that the majority who do indeed embrace a new spirit based and experienced based religion are not able to tolerate traditionalists in their midst. Religion is seen by the majority as primarily about “radical hospitality” and “inclusion” and “liberation.” Traditionalists are seen as contemporary equivalents of slave holders and betrayers of the central tenets of the new religion. I find it very hard to make a case on the basis of the revisionist theology as I understand it for the inclusion of traditionalists. Slave holders can be tolerated for strategic reasons but not for moral or theological reasons. We perhaps can be allowed as long as we do not try to extend our influence.
In this country people on both sides of the dispute are really fed up. The revisionists are really fed up with the inability of traditionalists to get with the program and the traditionalists are really fed up with the real persecution and marginalization that has become their lot. There have never been more than perhaps a dozen out of more than a hundred bishops who would allow students to attend Trinity. In the diocese of Pittsburgh it has become clear that the best hope of keeping the flock together is to move toward realignment. Otherwise parishes will continue to bleed members weekly and clergy are caught between watching their parishes fade away or leading them in breaking with TEC.
It is certainly possible to describe an ecclesial landscape in which there is a large middle ground between extremes. In reality that middle ground does not exist in this country. In my view there can be a real place of discussion and engagement in the church over disputed issues if there is a theological consensus that is based on the catholic creeds and the authority of scripture. Establishing such a common ground is I take it the vision of the Windsor Report and the Anglican Covenant. Such a vision has been rejected both explicitly and implicitly by the majority leadership in this country.
The hope for the communion now is that there be a realignment of the Anglican Communion around the covenant that the Windsor Report envisions. In America there will be only a few scattered dioceses and the continuing Anglican bodies of the Common Cause Partnership that will be willing and able to sign on. The covenant process must go forward quickly if the American scene is to be saved from utter chaos.
Leander S. Harding, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology
Trinity School for Ministry